Creamy Cheesy Cauliflower Soup à la Irene

“I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.”
Calvin Coolidge, 30th U.S. president, native Vermonter

So, here in Vermont, an inland New England state, we found ourselves under a hurricane watch, then a tropical storm watch, for 24 hours this past weekend. Now, I’m used to being snowbound for 24-48 hours during a blizzard, but the end of August? I don’t want to waste a summer weekend day inside, I have things I want to do outside! But alas I was stuck with nothing to do but read, write, watch movies, cook, and eat. Hence, this latest soup.

I was lucky enough to snag a small head of organic cauliflower a couple of weeks ago in the “reduced produce” bin at the co-op for 49 cents! Unheard of! I love cauliflower, and organic usually runs in the range of $3.50-plus, so I was thrilled. I didn’t pay any attention to the fact that it was 80 degrees outside; I usually roast it in the oven with a little olive oil, but despite the heat, I knew I’d find some use for it.

I have fond memories of the fondue phase of the 1970s, especially cheese fondue. What’s not to love about melted cheese with wine, spices, and dipped bread pieces? I wanted to recreate that in a soup, yet in a healthier manner without cream or butter. Plus, I wanted to have a soup to heat up for dinner in case we lost power.

I finely minced two garlic cloves and about ¼ cup red onion together and put them in a pot with 2 teaspoons of warmed extra virgin olive oil. I should warn you that cooking garlic and onions early on a Sunday morning may not be the most welcoming of scents to wake to, but the blueberry pancakes made up for that later on. After they were good and soft, I added two diced carrots as well as a diced yellow squash. Not a lot of flavor in the squash, but it’s a watery and colorful vegetable, and would add both to the soup. Then I added the chopped cauliflower. No worries about dicing or chopping things just so, this was going to be blended, so small pieces are best. Once everything became soft, I added about 3 cups of chicken stock or broth (for a vegetarian meal, you can use vegetable broth or water), a couple glugs of white wine, and I let the veggies poach in the liquid at very low heat until they became extra soft.

My goal was to use a potato masher so this could be a one-pot dish and I wouldn’t have the blender to clean, but that didn’t work out. Mashing the veggies just made them, well, mashed, instead of pureed. So I pulled out the blender, ladled two scoops of soup, pureed, and repeated until it was basically smooth with just a few small bits of vegetables here and there. Now it was the consistency of wallpaper paste, so adding about ¼-½ cup of water thinned it out. A little more than a cup of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese was added and melted in the soup, a scant ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste, and lunch was ready! A yellowish-orange hued soup with some warm bread for lunch was just the ticket to wile away an afternoon of wind and rain.

The movie was “Funny Girl,” one of my all-time favorite musicals, and the electricity went off just when Omar Sharif was to propose to Barbra Streisand, but luckily it returned two seconds later. Just as I finished cleaning up the kitchen following dinner, it went out again, for good, until morning. Early Monday, the sky was an eerie pinkish color, no rain or wind, no chirping birds, but all was right in my world once again.

Creamy Cheesy Cauliflower Soup à la Irene

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
¼ cup red onion, minced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 small yellow squash, diced
1 small head of cauliflower, chopped into small pieces
3 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth (or water)
About 1/4 cup white wine
1 ¼-1 ½ cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
¼ scant teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

In a stockpot, heat the olive oil until warm. Add the garlic and onion and cook until soft, just a couple of minutes. Add the carrots and squash, stir, and cook until soft. Add the cauliflower, and cook until soft. Add the chicken stock, wine, and cook at very low heat until the vegetables are so soft they are almost mushy. In a blender, take two ladles full of soup and blend until soft. Repeat until the soup is completely pureed. If needed, add a little water to thin it out. Melt the cheese in the soup and add the cayenne, salt, and pepper. Serve warm.

Chinese Five Spice Tofu with Black Bean Noodles

A few weeks ago, following a couple of nights away from home with the girls, my sweetie took me out to dinner. We went to our usual, The Bobcat Cafe, a mere seven miles from home, where they brew their own beer and have a rotating menu based on what’s in the garden that season. I hadn’t been in a while so one menu item popped out at me, Chinese Five Spice Seared Tofu served on a bed of black bean noodles with sesame cabbage slaw and cashews. I was imaging noodles made of black beans, but when it arrived it was even better. Crispy triangles of spicy tofu atop a bed of noodles doused in just the right amount of black bean sauce and spice. I studied it carefully and I knew I had to make this at home. And the other evening I did!

I admit, my version wasn’t as good as the Bobcat’s, probably for the mere reason I didn’t use as much oil as they did. The noodles (which got really sticky and probably needed some oil or water before adding the dressing) got a thumb’s up from my audience; the tofu, not so much. Chinese Five Spice resembles more of a cookie spice than one you’d find in an entrée; it has a variety of compositions, but some of its main ingredients are star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and ground fennel seeds. It worked for the Bobcat, maybe next time I’ll use even less of a dusting. If you’re interested in trying the spice, get a little bit at your coop, that’s where I buy all my spices; bought in smaller amounts, your spices will stay fresher–and you’re saving money than buying a whole container of a spice you’ll use for one dish. At $16 a pound, I paid 65 cents, and I have a little bit leftover for another dish.

I liked this dish, and will probably make this again with some tweaks, like adding a tiny bit of oil and cooking water to the noodles. It was easy to put together on a work night, took about 30 minutes from beginning to end, and served with a quick saute of summer vegetables, dinner is ready!

Chinese Five Spice Tofu with Black Bean Noodles
• 2 cubes, fresh tofu, cut horizontally, so you have four pieces
• Chinese Five Spice (found in an ethnic grocer or your coop)
• About four cups cooked noodles (I had leftover lo mein noodles in my cupboard, but any mild, thin noodle will do)

Black Bean Dressing
• 2 teaspoons black bean sauce
• Rice vinegar to thin the sauce
• 1 large teaspoon sambal oelek (fresh chili paste), or to taste (if you don’t have that on hand, chili flakes can be substituted)

Heat some mild oil in a skillet and when hot, add the tofu, turning from side to side until crispy. Place on a plate when they are done and when they are cool, add a sprinkle of the Chinese Five Spice on each side. Cut into triangles and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the dressing together. Add more sambal oelek if you like things spicy! Set aside.

Cook the noodles in a large pot according to directions. Drain and place in a large bowl. (**Add a little bit of mild oil and/or cooking water if you don’t want the noodles sticky!**) Add the dressing and mix until all the noodles are covered with sauce. On a plate, add about a cup of noodles and two tofu triangles. Eat! Serves four.

* * * *
I listened to Alice Waters of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, on a podcast to and from work the other day. The restaurant is celebrating its 40th anniversary this week! Listening to her talk about food, the flavor of how eating in season is best, and her vision of having a restaurant where people ate good food around a table together was wonderful and inspiring. You can listen to it here, or pick it up on iTunes.

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup with Grownup Cheese Points

In less than a month, I’ll be taking out my favorite pot to start making soups instead of boiling water for corn on the cob, but the other night I had a hankering for a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. I had all the fixings, and since it wasn’t too humid, I thought Saturday night was perfect to make my favorite summertime soup. (Full disclosure, this is loosely based on a Cooking Light recipe of many years ago.)

Now, I love this time of year for the tomatoes, but I have a really hard time taking heirloom tomatoes that I pay $4 a pound and making anything other than a delicious side salad, sandwich, or something that shows off its glorious flavor. So of course, you can use fresh tomatoes if you are incredibly lucky and your garden is overflowing; I chose canned. I had one 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes and a 14 ounce can of petite diced tomatoes. I dumped the can of whole tomatoes in the Dutch oven, took a pair of kitchen scissors, and snipped them into small pieces. I then took my potato masher and went around the pan smashing all the tomatoes until they were somewhat smooth. I added the can of diced tomatoes to add some body, and took one clove of fresh garlic and put it through the garlic press. I almost never use my garlic press, but sometimes it’s really handy; I wanted infused garlic flavor, not pieces that we would be chewing. Using the press was perfect. I put the burner on the lowest heat to warm for about 20 minutes or so and I talked to my dad while it was simmering and losing some of its liquid.

Following this, it’s easy as pie. I added ¾ cup of milk, I used 1 percent, but you can use what you have on hand. I then added about two tablespoons of cream cheese (you can use low-fat if desired), and whisked it into the soup until it was creamy. I then added about ¼ cup of torn basil leaves and stirred. I took it off the burner while I started on my cheese points.

One of my favorite breads is the seeded baguette from Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex, Vermont. When I buy this, I usually cut it half and slip one half in the freezer for later use. I took out two pieces and after they thawed, cut them horizontally. I topped one with Cabot cheddar cheese, the other had my favorite dill weed cheese and placed them on a cookie sheet under the broiler and cooked them until the cheese was bubbly. Earlier, I had sliced half a red onion and soaked the rings in apple cider vinegar. I placed a few slices on top of the cheese, a couple of slices of tomato, and happily munched away. Heaven in a bowl and on a plate that evening.

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

(Note: Fresh tomatoes can be used in place of the canned tomatoes. I would estimate using 4-6 large.)
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes plus its juice
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, petite cut preferred
1 garlic clove, pressed
¾ cup milk (I use 1 percent)
2 Tablespoons cream cheese
¼ cup torn basil leaves, or to taste

In a Dutch oven, add the can of whole tomatoes, and snip the tomatoes with a pair of kitchen scissors or a potato masher. Add the diced tomatoes and garlic and simmer at the lowest heat for about 20 minutes or so. Add milk, and whisk in the cream cheese. Before serving, add basil, stir, and take off heat. Serves four.

Grownup Cheese Points
Take your favorite baguette and slice horizontally. Place your favorite cheese on top and place under the broiler until they become bubbly. Top with some vinegar marinated onions, sliced tomatoes, or as is. Any how you eat it and with whatever topping, it will be delicious. I promise!

Last-Minute Rice Salad with Mediterranean Spices and Vegetables

OK, so this may not be considered truly Mediterranean, but it certainly was last-minute! But on the plus side it’s healthy, vegan, gluten-free, and got rounds of compliments around the dinner table, from readers of this blog!

Sunday afternoon, we returned home following a trip to the grocery store and coop. I had plans for a Sunday dinner of roasted chicken and cooking for the coming week. I hadn’t even finished unpacking my bags when we received a phone call from friends inviting us to dinner. I was staring at the container of rice I had taken out of the freezer for dinner, knew I had some dilly beans, and had cukes in the fridge to whip up a Szechuan Cucumber salad. So with only a little time to create a totally on-the-fly salad that was delicious for guests as opposed to the home table, we agreed.

I had about two cups of brown rice I took out of the freezer that morning to thaw. That was ready to go. I took about a cup of frozen corn and edamame from the freezer, placed it in a bowl, and did other things while they thawed, then added it to the rice in a large bowl. This was all well and good, but it needed something more. I added some chopped scallions, which gave it a subtle onion flavor. I had about a cup of cooked heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo (Snowcaps) in the freezer that I thought would add a little more fiber and oomph. But they were large and I knew they wouldn’t thaw in time. I put them in a small skillet with a little bit of water and put them on low heat to warm. I think any bean would be tasty; black beans would go especially well with this.

For the dressing, I planned to make a citrus and spice mixture. In the Splendid Table’s cookbook How to Eat Supper (which is wonderful, by the way), Lynn Rosetto Kasper has a spice mixture called “Crossover Spice.” * (¼ cup ground cumin, ½ cup ground coriander, 1/8 cup (2 TBS) fresh ground black pepper. Mix and seal. They say it lasts 3-4 months in a dark, cool cupboard, but I’ve had mine longer and it is still incredibly fresh.) I always add a little bit to dressings and meats whenever I want a bit of flavor. I find it very potent, so a little goes a long way. I looked at my citrus situation. Half a lemon and half a lime. I was cursing myself that I didn’t get any limes at the store–until I remembered! About a month ago, I bought a bag of limes that were on sale with the thought of having a summer of margaritas, but which never came to fruition. They were in the depths of the vegetable bin and still good! The juice of that one extra lime plus a half teaspoon of the Crossover Spice and I was set. Simple, delicious, virtually no chopping, and it was ready on time!

I had this for lunch later that week and it was even better with a little spritz of extra lime juice and I added some leftover fresh corn. For a more substantial salad, you could always add some cooked chicken or fish. I served mine simply over greens and it was delicious.

Dinner with friends who are like family was wonderful. Chicken and shrimp kabobs, green salad, with a few sips of homemade Mead and Chocolate Cherry Stout (or was it Cherry Chocolate Stout? Maybe I had too many sips!). Nathan has been perfecting his brews and I was interested to learn the complexities of making beer. I’ve also never had tasted Mead before. To some, cooking might seem like a foreign language, but to me, it’s beer making!

Last-Minute Rice Salad with Mediterranean Spices and Vegetables
 2 cups cooked rice
1 cup frozen corn, thawed, or fresh if you have it
1 cup frozen edamame, thawed
1 cup cooked beans, whichever you choose
½ cup chopped scallions

Lime Dressing
Juice of one lemon
Juice of 1 ½-2 limes, or to taste
½ teaspoon Crossover Spice*

Put all the salad ingredients into a large bowl. Whisk the dressing in a separate bowl and toss with the salad before serving. Top with chopped scallions, if desired.

“Are You Goin’ to … The Fair?”

I thought I would give you a small sliver of Vermont life in August this morning.  

I usually attend two to three fairs each summer. Yet I find the older I get, the less tolerance I have for dust, crowds, heat, port-a-lets, and just the general ambiance. This year, I  may end up attending just one. When the days get a little shorter and there is just a hint of fall in the air, we make our annual trek to my favorite: Addison County Field Days. A county fair, where vegetable and baked goods receive blue ribbons, and vendors sell everything from Cabot cheese, to farm equipment, to taxidermy, to religion, all under one roof. You’ll see animals everywhere, with young girls in braids wrangling their young calves in front of the judge. An old-time tractor parade Tuesday evening welcomes the start of the new year. A two-night demolition derby that for some people is as exciting as Christmas (and of which I admit I’m one of them). The rides, the Ferris wheel, The Zipper, and the merry-go-round. And of course, it goes without mentioning, the food.

Our start every year is my favorite aside from the animals, the home and garden building, where everything from vegetables to artwork to knitted wear are judged. But my favorite is the baking contest. I scan to see what kind of cookies and pies people made and who received the blue ribbon. Every year I download the entry form with thoughts I will enter something, but it’s always just a thought, it never comes to fruition.

The sights and smells are the same every year, catching up with friends and the usual events. For me, it doesn’t matter what evening we go, I know what my dinner will be. I am a creature of habit, and every year I order my spicy sausage from Tony in his little wooden booth. They’re inexpensive and delicious. Just the right amount of peppers and onions with yellow mustard on top. This year we passed on our usual basket of crispy and flaky onion rings which I said was because I was full, although, truth be told, I couldn’t find our favorite vendor.

The deep-fried sticks of butter and butter sculptures I heard about at the Iowa State Fair aren’t present, but there is still plenty of food to eat. Smoked turkey legs, funnel cakes, candied apples, cotton candy, burgers, hot dogs, and pizza. The first evening every year, they have a Vermont dinner, where your entire dinner is made of Vermont food: chicken, ham, vegetables, coffee and milk, and dessert. But you can walk off  a lot of your  consumed calories by going from the cow barns to the horse stables and sheep tent.

Every time we go to Field Days, it never feels like an entire year has passed. The familiar sights are just that, too familiar to have had 12 months go by; that long winter is just a faint memory, mud season and the rains of June forgotten. But it has, and like always, it will. And so we end another year with the twinkling of the Field Days lights as we round the bend toward home.

The “I’m-Too-Busy-And-Stressed-To-Make-Dinner” Frittata

Last week, I spent an evening packing, cleaning, cooking, and preparing for a couple of nights away from home for the annual pilgrimage to Lake George with the girls. Time spent away from home that includes nothing but talking, laughing until we (I) cry, wine, good food, sun, and swimming. After packing just some t-shirts, shorts, and my bathing suit, I needed to pack up my food and make a peach pie. I always get stage fright before making a pie crust; even though it usually comes out decent, I get nervous I’ll totally botch it, so I leave it until the very last minute (which really doesn’t make sense for someone who lives miles from the closest grocery store for replacement ingredients . . . but I digress). It was after 7 p.m. when I began, which, with the counters covered in flour, sugar, and butter, left little room for making dinner.

As I was mixing the dough and rolling it out, I started to think about what I wanted to eat for supper. No time! I thought. I have no time to cook something separate, I have to get this pie made and baked and it was nearing 8 p.m. and had to work the next morning as we were leaving right after work. But, I knew I had some baby potatoes, fresh broccoli, garlic, and dill, cheese, and eggs in the fridge. So as I rolled out the dough, I started dreaming up this recipe for a frittata.

My description of a frittata is a crustless Quiche, which is good, since I was in no mood to make more than one crust that evening. I already had a saucepan of boiling water on stove to take the skins off the peaches, so I thinly sliced about four of the baby potatoes and set them in the water. They took just a few minutes to get tender before taking them out. I chopped a couple of cups of the broccoli and put it in the pan to blanch. I put both into a big bowl and added a clove of minced garlic, stirred, and set aside so I could finish making the pie. I actually thought with a little bit of lemon juice and a few gratings of cheese this would make an excellent dinner on its own, but wanted a little more protein. (I did make this as a side dish a few evenings later and it was superb!)

As I waited for the oven to preheat, I took four eggs, a splash of milk, a bit of feta cheese, fresh dill, and mixed everything together in a separate bowl. Added it to the bowl of veggies and placed it into a greased pie pan. Here is where it gets a little tricky with timing. Because I had the oven on for the pie, I cooked everything together. So I cooked the frittata on the top rack at 425º for ten minutes, then moved it to the bottom rack to bake at 325º for 30 minutes or so, or until the center had set. In hindsight I would have used maybe a cast iron skillet, because with just four eggs it was too thin in my opinion, but still delicious.

I sat down at 8:30 to a small glass of white wine and a slice (or two) of the frittata and I was one happy, satisfied, and less stressed cook, so unstressed that I forgot to take a photo! Oh, and the pie? It was delicious and received compliments–even on the crust!

I’m-Too-Busy-And-Stressed-To-Make-Dinner Frittata
4-5 new baby potatoes, thinly sliced
A couple of cups of chopped broccoli
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
4 eggs
A splash of milk
About ¼ cup of feta cheese, or to taste
Fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper

In a saucepan of boiling water, add the potatoes and boil a few minutes until tender. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl. Add the broccoli to the water and blanch, just a minute or two in the water, and add to the potatoes. Add the minced garlic and salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, mix the four eggs, milk, dill, and cheese. Add to the vegetable mixture and place in a greased pie pan. Cook at 425º for ten minutes, then 325º degrees for 30 minutes, or bake at 350 for about half an hour or until the middle is set.

Fresh Blueberry Coffee Cake

I’m not one for muffins or cakes in the morning (although I am a sucker for doughnuts on those rare occasions), but when the calendar turns to August, I really get a hankering for my Aunt Freda’s blueberry coffee cake made with fresh local berries. I’ll get up on a lazy Sunday morning, when the morning temperature is a little bit cooler than it’s been, and pull out this recipe to warm the kitchen. All told it takes about an hour, and who doesn’t have that on a Sunday morning?

I’ve made this with frozen berries in the winter, but it’s just not the same. I’ve included my “lighter” version for the topping, but who wants that? I’ll just take an extra long walk in the afternoon, but only after I’ve finished my cake and coffee.

Fresh Blueberry Coffee Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 3/4 cup flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 well-beaten egg
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup oil (canola or another light colored and flavored)
1 cup fresh blueberries,mixed with 1-2 TBS sugar (I only use two tablespoons if the berries are sour.)

4 TBS. butter (I use 3 TBS.)
1/2 cup flour (I use 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup sugar (I use 1/4 cup)

Sift dry ingredients into a deep, medium bowl and make a well in the center. Mix egg, milk, and oil together in separate bowl, and pour into well. Carefully stir in blueberries and sugar. Mix until combined. Add topping and pour into a 9” greased pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until done.

*Chris’s addition: When the cake is almost done, I put a tiny dash of cinnamon and nutmeg on top.

Odds and Ends, Bits and Pieces

Here is a compilation of a collection of different subjects I’ve been observing and working on, but none would make an entire article. So I thought if I bring them all together it could make one article, and it has!

Favorite New “Foodie” Podcasts
I’ve been listening to the women of “Dishing Up Nutrition” for a couple of months now, and it’s really changed how I eat and the way I look at food. All the hosts are employees of Nutritional Weight and Wellness clinic, that has offices around Minnesota, and offers classes and nutritional counseling. Topics range from nutrition to lose weight to how food affects your moods and menopause. I thought I knew a lot about nutrition, but it turns out I’m learning more!

Another new podcast I recently discovered is the “Dinner Party Download.” Geared toward those who entertain, it is an interesting, short mish mosh of facts, recipes, and jokes. It’s the same format every week; it starts out with the “ice breaker,” a joke, then “Side Dishes,” an interview with a journalist who pulls out a quirky story from the week’s news for you to talk about at your next dinner party. From there, it goes to a historical tale and then a bartender creates a cocktail to honor it! An interview with a “celebrity,” past interviews have gone from Broadway legend Elaine Strich to director Erroll Morris, to chef Gabrielle Hamilton. They always end the interview with two questions (for dinner party fodder, of course): What question are you tired of being asked? My answer: What do you do? I despise parties where everyone just talks about their work. Tell us something not a lot of people know about you? My answer: I’m ambidextrous!

Leftover Beans? Roast Them!
I opened a can of chickpeas a couple of weeks ago to put on my salads for lunch. That lasted one day. On Sunday, I found the container in the back of the fridge and decided I had two choices: toss them or eat them. I’m on a one-woman crusade this year to use up food instead of feeding the rabbits, so I have seen roasted chickpea recipes and since I had some chicken already in the oven, I thought I’d pop them in as well. I took a pie pan, added the beans, a little olive oil, a dash of cumin and coriander, and a spritz of lemon. I cooked them at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes or so, checking on them periodically to make sure they didn’t burn. They were tasty little bites and I thoroughly enjoyed them for snack the next day! I think this method can be used for any leftover bean with different spices. I thought they’d be great side to a cocktail buffet, like nuts!

In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark
I wrote about this once before, but now that I have the cookbook, I can speak with more authority. For anyone who likes to read cookbooks or enjoys cooking, Clark is for you. She is a breath of fresh air; unlike some cooks, she admits her mistakes and sometimes doesn’t want to cook. Dare I say she reminds me of myself; she will have something and try to find a way to make it at home, at times more cheaply. I admit I probably won’t try many of the recipes, but I am thoroughly enjoying reading them and about her adventures in the kitchen.

Root Beer Floats
I’ve never been one who really loves ice cream. In the summer, it is definitely homemade pies and shortcake that I love. But a couple of weeks ago following a day at the lake, we found ourselves desiring something sweet in the afternoon, but the cremee stand was unappealing. A stop at the supermarket and we went home to create our own root beer floats! The best is when the ice cream melts and you have a creamy, root beer concoction to slurp. Oh, and straws are required!

Pickling–and Sweating–in the Kitchen

Come the middle of July, when I see cucumbers, green beans, and fresh dill at the farmer’s market, I always buy extra to make dilly beans and pickles. I think dilly beans are a New England tradition, although I’m not positive. They’re just green beans pickled like you would a cucumber. I saw them in a specialty food store once, albeit a tourist trap, for $5+ for a pint! I knew I could make them more cheaply at home.

It never fails that the night I want to make pickles it’s always hotter than heck outside. Just turning on the stove top means a line of sweat on my brow. But no matter, once I eat these babies, it will all be worth it!

This recipe is for refrigerator pickles, so canning isn’t necessary. And I give all recipe credit to my good friend (and reader!) Deb Allen, at whose house I happily munched on homemade pickles one late and dark January night over Scrabble and knew I had to get the recipe. So you can make these year round or whenever you want a taste of summer!

The recipe is easy and I vary it with whatever vegetable I’m using. Take 1 ¾ cup of apple cider vinegar and 2 cups of water with 1/2 tablespoon of coarse salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. While that is happening, take your glass jar (I keep old spaghetti sauce jars just for this use, but any large glass jar will do.) and add 2 teaspoons of black peppercorns, several cloves of garlic chopped in half, lots of fresh dill, 5-8 dried chili peppers (or less, depending on how you like the heat–and these are also the small ones, a couple of inches in length), and add either your cucumbers or green beans. I always find it like a puzzle, trying to fit everything neatly in the jar. When the vinegar mixture is ready, pour it over the veggies and let it sit on the counter until it is cool, cover, then refrigerate. I find the four cups of liquid is just about enough for two jars. Have them sit in the fridge for a few days, then open them and you are going to have a zippy combination of vinegar, garlic, and hot peppers with a crispy bean or cuke. I never measure aside from the vinegar, so I’m always trying to tweak them toward a better flavor; should I use more dill or less dill, less garlic, more chilis or less? This summer I think I’m going to try pickling squash and some onions!

What’s best about this recipes is there are virtually no calories so you can eat guilt-free to your heart’s content! I recently read a German study where vinegar makes you lose weight, or something along those lines. I guess I’m ahead of the game!