Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fresh from the Garden Favorites: Pickles and Crumbles

The pregnant sun, hot and looming over Southern California can be oppressive this time of year but I dare not complain lest I be suddenly forsaken the glorious bounty that has unfolded from the ripe, warm bowels of the Cute Gardener’s backyard oasis that lies around the periphery of his house delivering us things like fresh black and boysenberries alongside squirmy, serpentine Japanese cucumbers each morning.

What to do with these crisp, staunch and curlicue variety of greens? Why pickle them of course, something I have discovered over the last few years to be a brilliantly creative thing. It’s kind of hard to mess up basic, refrigerator pickles. Simply cut your cukes, skin and all, into slices the width of your liking and place them in a pickling jar (you could even use old pickle jars that are depleted from the grocery store). Then create your pickling solution. This is where the possibilities are endless.

A basic solution calls for 1-1/2 cup of any kind of vinegar, 1-1/2 cup of sugar, and 1-1/2 cup of cold water. For those who don’t want to eat all of that sugar, you can cut down the amount or use substitutes like agave nectar or maple. Then you can build upon that and throw in anything you want to experiment with. I like to use things like dill, capers, peppercorns and celery salt. It takes about 24 hours in the fridge to taste what the pickle is going to turn out like and then you can still add more ingredients, continuing to tweak your solution per desire. Recently, I ended pouring a cup of red Italian wine into my jar halfway through a week of marinating along with some new crisp green beans from the garden. You want to try to be finished with your original pickles no more than two weeks from creating them.

In the mornings, I like to have fresh berries with my coffee, just-plucked from the garden, rinsed and served unadorned. But for the evening, nothing makes a better dessert than a crisp with a duo of blackberries and boysenberries underneath a healthier almond crumble that oozes hot and purple tartness into the mouth pre-bed.

Berry Crisp
Makes 2 16-oz. ramekins

3/8 cup almonds, finely chopped
3/8 cup walnuts, finely chopped
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup of packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into ½ inch pieces
4 cups berries (we used boysenberries and blackberries here)
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

1.     Chop nuts in small food processor and set aside.
2.     Pulse flour, sugars, and cinnamon in small food processor.  Add butter and pulse 10 times, about 4 seconds each pulse. The mixture will first look like dry sand, then like coarse cornmeal. Add nuts, and then pulse four to five times, about 1 second each pulse. Topping should look like slightly clumpy wet sand. Refrigerate topping at least 15 minutes.
3.     Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.
4.     Wash berries. Mix in sugar and cornstarch. Fill ramekins with berry mixture.  Distribute chilled topping evenly over berries.
5.     Bake for 25 minutes until fruit is bubbling and topping turns deep golden brown. Cool, garnish if you'd like, and serve.

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