Pork and Pickles

These are a few of my favorite things


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Boozy Cupcakes

I’ve been slacking something fierce, foodwise, lately. Partly thanks to my 9yo’s broken elbow (she’s fine but will be in a cast until the end of the year), partly thanks to the fact that I lose track of pretty much everything at this time of year. We’ve been eating a lot of quesadillas and leftovers, with the kids going through embarrassing amounts of boxed macaroni and cheese. I’ll get my cooking mojo back eventually.

Chocolate-whiskey cupcakes, aka car bomb cupcakes

Chocolate-whiskey cupcakes, aka car bomb cupcakes

But in the meantime, we have cupcakes. We’re going to a house concert by one of our favorite musicians, Jeremy Messersmith, and he’s had the brilliant (if rather intimidating) idea to make it a dinner party sort of thing where everybody brings potluck-type foods. Most of my favorite savory dishes don’t lend themselves to potlucks, so I elected to go with the cupcakes that have sort of become my signature potluck item. Turns out that the recipe was originally posted over at Smitten Kitchen in 2009 – I didn’t think I’d been making them that long, but I guess I have.

The idea of boozy cupcakes, as I tend to call them, is a lot of fun – there’s stout in the cupcakes themselves, then irish whiskey in the ganache that’s plopped into the center, then Bailey’s in the frosting. I love the flavors and textures of this, with the smooth rich bomb of whiskey-laced ganache in the middle of the cupcake. I generally don’t call them “Car Bomb Cupcakes” although that’s the drink they’re modeled on, because I’ve heard that the term can be offensive. “Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Ganache Filling and Irish Cream Frosting” is too much of a mouthful, so I just say “Boozy Cupcakes” and everyone’s happy.

I make the recipe as written, except that I add extra cream and whiskey to the ganache and more Bailey’s to the frosting. And I scoop out the cupcake centers with a melon baller, because that cookie cutter thing she suggests just didn’t work for me. Oh, and the centers of the cupcakes are sunken every time I make them, no matter what I do. I think it’s something to do with the recipe but it’s just not enough of a problem for me to rewrite the thing – the centers get scooped out anyhow, so it doesn’t really matter if they’re sunken.

I ended up doubling the frosting today since I must have applied more per cupcake than usual, and they’re topped with edible ball bearings because I’m one of those people who makes random Doctor Who references now.

 

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The Joy of Cooking and Butterscotch Pudding

Growing up, we basically had two cookbooks in the house – The Joy of Cooking and The Male Chauvinist’s Cookbook (sadly without that hilarious cover). The Joy of Cooking covered almost all of my early cooking experience, backed up by the array of recipes in my mom’s recipe box (including “Alice B. Toklas Brownies”, which had an interesting herbal component), so it only made sense that I should get a copy of it when I got my own place.

In 1997, when I got my first apartment, they had just rereleased Joy of Cooking, so that’s the version I have. Sadly, it’s the first edition to omit the directions and hilarious illustration for skinning a squirrel – I suppose the Rombauer family didn’t foresee the resurgence of “Chicken of the Trees” in foodie circles. A shame, that. I’m on the lookout for a squirrel hunting experience, by the way – hit me up if you’re in the Twin Cities area and are open to someone tagging along.

Anyhow. One of the first recipes I remember making after getting this is the butterscotch pudding, on page 1019. My book automatically opens to that page now:

Clearly a well-loved book.

It’s a super simple recipe. I honestly have no idea what inspired me to make it for the first time, since butterscotch is kind of a “meh” thing for me, but I’m glad I did – it’s the source of one of my favorite stories. Chris and I had just been married for a few months at that point and we had a friend who frequently came to hang out. One night I pulled a batch of this butterscotch pudding out of the fridge and our friend dug in, ate the whole serving in a few bites, and asked me to marry him. We all got a good laugh out of that. Ever since, I make this recipe from time to time because it makes me laugh. And also because it’s really *really* good.

It’s a very straightforward recipe, which is nice. You melt butter and mix in dark brown sugar, then cook it for a few minutes until it’s bubbly. Add cream to dissolve the caramel, then milk and a pinch of salt. Thicken with a cornstarch slurry, then stir in vanilla and chill.

Ingredients, minus the horribly unphotogenic cornstarch slurry.

That’s a little bit of molasses on top of the brown sugar, since I ran out of dark brown sugar and wasn’t about to run to the store just for that. Turns out I was also out of milk, but half and half made a passable substitution. And now I have to go to the store for real, because if there’s no half and half in the house tomorrow morning, things will be fairly ugly.

Butterscotch! You’ll want yours a fair bit darker than this. I should have caramelized this more, in retrospect.

If you, like me, run out of dark brown sugar and substitute light brown sugar, make sure you caramelize it a bit more than this. I was distracted and following directions instead of observing – your eyes, ears, mouth, and sense of smell are as important in cooking as the actual recipe.

Once you’ve added in the dairy products, you’ll want to slowly whisk about 1/4 of the caramel sauce into your cornstarch slurry. This slowly raises the temperature of the starch so it doesn’t seize up when you add it to the pot. Once you’ve tempered the cornstarch (what you just did!), whisk it back into the pot and cook over low heat until it thickens. Make sure you whisk/stir this constantly to avoid burning and uneven thickening.

Here’s where I confess that I screwed up – Joy tells you to let the caramel sauce cool before adding the cornstarch slurry directly to the pot. I’ve always modified this to save a little time and done what I discussed in the previous paragraph. My brain’s somewhere else today, and I remembered the part about not waiting for the caramel to cool before thickening it, but not the part about tempering it into the cornstarch. Therefore, I whisked the cornstarch slurry directly into the boiling caramel sauce. As you might imagine, I ended up with a somewhat curdled pudding. In an effort to salvage it, I passed it through a sieve before stirring in the vanilla. It worked, mostly. The texture is nowhere near as creamy smooth as usual, and combined with my failure to cook the caramel long enough I’ve got a tasty but not mind-blowing end product. With enough whipped cream it’ll be fantastic, though.

Lumpy texture in evidence

Cover this with plastic wrap, laying the wrap directly on the surface of the pudding (unless you’re someone who likes their pudding with a skin on top, which I’ve heard is a thing). Refrigerate for several hours before digging it.

Butterscotch Pudding, adapted from Joy of Cooking

  • 3TB unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 TB cornstarch
  • 3 TB water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

 

In a heavy pot, melt butter. Stir in brown sugar and cook until dark brown and bubbly, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and stir in heavy cream, stirring until the butterscotch is dissolved. Stir in milk and salt and remove pan from heat. In a heatproof bowl, stir cornstarch and water together. Slowly whisk in about 1/4 of the milk/butterscotch mixture, then whisk back into the pot. Over medium heat, cook pudding until it boils and thickens, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, then divide pudding between four custard cups, covering with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the pudding. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours before eating. Serve with whipped cream.


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Beefy Borscht

There’s something about the middle of November that just screams “make soup EVERY DAY!”, and who am I to deny an urge like that? I had some stew meat thawed and awaiting inspiration, along with beets, cabbage, and – oh hey – some beef marrowbones in the freezer. CLEARLY it was time to make borscht. Now, I’ve only actually had chunky (Russian-style) borscht once, and I wasn’t eating beef at the time, so this is my interpretation of it with some help from my favorite cookbook ever, The Joy of Cooking.

To start, I had to turn those bones into broth, which I hadn’t done since cooking school. Everything I read said to just put bones in water at first, since they throw off so much scum. They were NOT kidding. The only thing I wish I’d done differently was to have also put the stew meat in with the bones – I added them later, with the veggies, and ended up with a lot of gunk in the broth that I just couldn’t scoop out. Oops.

Not clear and pretty like I wanted, sadly.

So you simmer the bones/meat until they stop throwing off scum (which you need to scoop out with a skimmer of some sort), then you add your vegetables. I threw in an onion, unpeeled and cut into eighths, a couple chopped carrots, a couple celery ribs, a couple garlic cloves, parsley, peppercorns, bay, clove, thyme. Keep this at a bare simmer for as long as you can – the longer you cook it, the more collagen dissolves from the meat and bones, plus there are a lot of vitamins and minerals that leach out of the bones. Strain it and chill it if you’re not going to use it right away. Pick the meat out from your pile of bones and spent veggies and reserve it for the soup.

When you’re ready to make the borscht, you’ll want to gather up the following: beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, onion, garlic, canned tomatoes, tomato paste. Start by boiling the beets until they’re tender, at which point you can just slip the skins off. Set them aside to cool. Melt some fat (butter’s good, and I augmented it with some of the fat skimmed from the stock) in your biggest soup pot and throw in a sliced onion. Cook that for a bit and add sliced garlic, then a couple tablespoons of tomato paste. Cook that for a bit to concentrate the flavor, then throw in chopped cabbage, potatoes, and carrots. Saute for a couple minutes, adding a good bit of salt, then add your broth and a can (or jar, if you’ve canned your own) of whole tomatoes with juice. Bring it up to a boil and then simmer until the potatoes and carrots are tender. At that point, cut up your cooked beets and toss them in, along with the meat reserved from the broth. You might need to add extra water to thin out the soup (I did!) – you want this to be fairly brothy.

This really needed more water added to it, but I was nearly out of room in the pot!

Traditionally, borscht is served with sour cream and fresh dill. I have creme fraiche (SUPER DUPER EASY TO MAKE YOUR OWN!) and dried dill – they certainly made for a more-than-passable garnish for the soup.

All set to eat!

I just ate breakfast and now I’m hungry again. I think I know what’s for lunch!

Borscht

  • 2 quarts beef broth, either homemade or purchased (chicken stock is fine, too)
  • 2 TB butter or other fat
  • 1 medium onion, halved and sliced into 1/8″ pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1/4 head cabbage, sliced thinly
  • 2 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2″ chunks
  • 2 medium potatoes (yukon gold or red are good choices here), halved and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 28oz can whole tomatoes in juice
  • 3 medium beets, boiled, peeled, and sliced into 1/4″ chunks
  • 1-2 cups cooked beef (simmer stew meat in commercial broth until tender before starting the soup if you don’t make your own stock)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • sour cream or creme fraiche and fresh or dried dill fronds for garnish

Melt butter/fat in a large pot and saute sliced onion until softened. Add sliced garlic and cook until fragrant. Add tomato paste and stir for a couple minutes, until slightly darkened. Add sliced cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, then tomatoes (break them up with your hands first) and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes and carrots are barely tender. Add cooked beets and beef and simmer 15 minutes to heat through and meld flavors. Finish with lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, garnishing with sour cream/creme fraiche and dill.


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Bison Pasties

That’s “pasty” with a short a like in “happy”, not with a long a like the nipple covers that an exotic dancer might wear.

The women’s group in the church I attended as a child made the most amazing pasties a couple times each year. Ever since I moved away from home I’ve had an eye out for pasties, but I’ve never found any that stack up to the Ashland UMW’s recipe (though Potter’s Pasties comes closer than anything I’ve ever had). I really ought to just sweet talk someone into getting the church ladies’ recipe for me, but in the meantime I’ve started developing my own.

My first attempt was based on the recipe in this Heavy Table article. The dough came out *extremely* dry, to the point where I had to add another 1/4-1/3 cup of water to make it workable. And even then, it was really difficult to work with. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my pie dough skillz are lacking, but usually I’m not quite this terrible at it.

Serious failure. This was before I added more water, but the after wasn’t much prettier.

Once I got the dough to a point where I didn’t want to pitch it in the trashcan, I wrapped it in plastic and put it in the fridge for a timeout and got on to the part I felt MUCH more confident about – the filling. We went in on a quarter of bison with a friend last year and still have some of the ground meat in the freezer, but ground beef or lamb would also work quite well in this. I browned the bison in some lard, since bison is quite lean. And also because I love lard – have you met me?

Mmmmmmmeat…. *Homer drool*

Once the meat had lost most of the red color but before it was anywhere near done, I took it out of the pan and threw in the vegetables: a diced onion, several cloves of garlic, a diced rutabaga, 2 small potatoes, peeled and diced, and 3 shredded carrots.

Rutabaga, aka Swede, aka yellow turnip

A word about rutabaga: this one’s in the same category as celeriac for a lot of folks, and for the rest of us it’s in the category of things we only ever ate at Grandma’s house. I have had mixed luck cooking these things, to be honest. They’re good boiled and mashed with potatoes (mostly rutabaga with one or two potatoes thrown in). I’ve tried roasting them but they end up tasting like farts (hello sulfur compounds!) – clearly I’m doing something wrong there, because I have friends who rave about roasted rutabagas. Anyhow. They have a fairly thick skin and they’re an extremely hard vegetable – be very careful when cutting them up and make sure your knife is very sharp. A dull knife is way more likely to slip and cut you than a sharp one. This I know from personal experience.

All of the veggies went into the pan with some more fat and some salt and pepper and cooked until things had started to soften, which took quite some time since I got carried away and overfilled the pan. You’ll want to use less of everything or split your ingredients over two pans.

Just about done.

Once the veggies were done to my satisfaction, I dumped the meat and accumulated juices back into the pan and added about a cup of red wine, then let it cook for a few minutes to get rid of the boozy taste. Next time I think I’ll add some stock as well, to make this more saucy. And maybe a bit of flour to help things hold together a little bit more…

At this point I took the pan off the heat and just left it to hang out while I fought with the dough. After a failed attempt to roll the entire piece of dough out, I divided it into six equal pieces and rolled them out individually. I was shooting for circles but, well, they bore more than a passing resemblance to amoebas instead.

In an attempt to make this easier, I rolled out the dough between two sheets of parchment. It was not easier.

Yes, I could have trimmed these into circles, but sometimes I just get stupid when I’m cooking. Don’t judge. I think I got about 10″ rounds here, but may have forgotten to measure. I may also have been partaking in some of that red wine.

Fill and seal!

I put about a cup of filling onto the dough rounds, brushed half of the edge with beaten egg, and sealed them. I just now realized that this isn’t the way the church ladies closed them, but I’ll just have to do it the right way next time.

Brush the tops with beaten egg and pop into a 375° oven for 30-45 minutes, until they’re GBD (golden brown and delicious). If you want to freeze some (and you do, because pasties make THE BEST freezer meals), par-bake them until the crust is set, maybe 25 minutes or so, and then let them cool to room temperature. Freeze them, then wrap tightly and try not to eat them all in the first week.

For the ones you’re eating today, serve them with some ketchup – homemade if you’ve got it, and pickles. I happened to have pickled radishes on hand, and they were nice with the pasty. But I don’t recommend taking a bite of rutabaga and pickled radish together – they’re both rather sulfurous, if you catch my drift. Save the pickles to pair with the crust and you’ll be happier.

Om nom nom nom nom

I apologize for the lack of a recipe here – I’m not completely satisfied with my end product and don’t want to give you a recipe that will disappoint. The dough in the Heavy Table recipe is a great start, but I need to try again. For science!

 

 


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Celeriac; or what the heck is this hideous vegetable in my CSA box?

This week at our CSA drop site, someone had abandoned the celeriac (also called celery root) from their box. I snatched them up with this celery root and leek soup in mind, but a couple years ago I’d have been the person abandoning their produce. I mean, look at them – they’re *hideous*!

So ugly but so delicious!

And what is this stuff, anyhow? As you can guess by the name, it’s part of a celery plant, but a variety that’s been bred to form these big roots instead of a large bunch of stalks. They do form stalks (you can see remnants of them on the larger celeriac above) but they’re not particularly edible. To prepare it, you need to trim top and bottom and either peel it with a vegetable peeler or with a knife. I’ve got this OXO Good Grips peeler that I’ve probably had for 15 years, and it does a great job with thick peels like we’re dealing with here. I’ll sometimes use a paring knife or chef’s knife for the job, too.

Eek, it’s naked!

At this point you can cut it up however you like – dice, julienne, shred… But for this recipe we’re going to need it cut into 1/2″ dice. Toss the pieces into acidulated water to prevent browning, then let it sit while you deal with the rest of your ingredients.

Dice up a few slices of bacon and cook them over low heat to render the fat. While that’s cooking, slice up 2-3 leeks and throw them into a bowl of cold water to soak off the dirt that’s undoubtedly lurking between the leaves. Once the bacon’s nice and crisp, remove it from the pan and set it aside for later. Don’t throw out that fat, though! You should have a couple tablespoons of bacon grease in your pan – if you don’t, add a bit of lard or olive oil. Drain the leeks thoroughly and toss them into the pan, stirring to coat with fat. Let that cook on low heat for 10 minutes or so, until the leeks have wilted and are becoming soft.

Leeks cooking in bacon fat – let me assure you, this smells *heavenly*!

At this point, we’re ready to add the celeriac cubes – drain the water off and toss them in. Cook this for a couple minutes, then add 2 cups of chicken stock (substitute water or vegetable stock if you need to) and 3 cups of water. Add a bit of salt and a few grinds of pepper, too. Cover the pot and bring it up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let it cook until the celeriac is nice and tender, maybe 30 minutes or so.

Double, double, toil and trouble

Once the celeriac is tender, it’s time to puree the soup! I usually use my handy dandy immersion blender for this (a wedding gift I’m still using 14 years later!) but it wasn’t cutting it today, so I pulled out the blender and pureed the soup in two batches. Once it was nice and silky smooth, I poured it back into the pot and added half and half, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

The original recipe uses the bacon and some julienned apple for a garnish, but I just end up throwing them into the pot with the soup – I don’t have patience for fiddly presentations.

Dinner!

Along with the soup, I had one of the cheddar and beet green biscuits from this morning’s breakfast (recipe here). Quite the satisfying dinner!

Celery Root and Leek Soup with Bacon and Apple
  • 3 slices bacon, diced
  • 2 leeks, chopped and soaked in cold water to remove dirt
  • 1.5# celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 granny smith apple, julienned
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, cook bacon over low heat until bacon is crispy and the fat has rendered. Remove bacon pieces with a slotted spoon and reserve. Drain leeks and add to the pan with the rendered bacon fat. Saute until wilted, about 10 minutes, then add the diced celeriac. Saute 2 minutes and add stock and water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer, then cook until celeriac is tender (about 30 minutes). Puree, then add half and half, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Place julienned apple and bacon pieces in bowls and top with soup, then chow down.


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Kimchi

I got up this morning and said “You know what sounds like a good project for today? Sauerkraut!” We got a head of cabbage in our CSA box this week and I don’t really love it cooked, so I’ve been struggling to find a use for it since my favorite cabbage roll recipe really let me down the last time I used it. Sauerkraut is always a good use for cabbage – aside from being delicious, it’s very nutritious: cabbage is high in Vitamin C and fermenting it gives an end product that’s full of beneficial bacteria (lactobacillus, among others, which is important for digestion).

You’ve noticed, though, that this post is titled “Kimchi” – in paging through my copy of Nourishing Traditions to see what they had to say about fermenting vegetables, I found the kimchi recipe, which sounded WAY better to me than sauerkraut. I don’t know about you, but to me garlic, ginger, and chilis > caraway pretty much every day. Plus, I had all the ingredients on hand! (Scroll down to the bottom for the TL;DR version)

Clockwise from upper right: Cabbage, knife, 2 TB sea salt, carrots, dried chili pepper, garlic, ginger.

The measurements on the vegetables are pretty flexible, but you’d be wise to use the amount of salt specified below. Everything gets shredded or grated or minced and mixed together, then squeezed or pounded to release the liquid from the veggies.

I started by grating the carrots and ginger. I peeled the ginger because it wasn’t organic and also because I rather enjoy peeling ginger. I did not peel the carrots because they’re organic and I’m selectively lazy. I grated both on the fine side of the box grater, but it would have been just fine to do it in the food processor instead.

Shredded carrots and ginger. The spoon was for peeling the ginger – do you know this trick? It’s so cool! I also used the spoon to scrape the ginger off the grater, since the fibers got stuck on there pretty well.

Once you’ve got the carrots and ginger grated, it’s time to start on the cabbage. To start, cut the cabbage into quarters, then remove the core.

Before

After

Just cut along that diagonal line from the center of the cabbage down to the base and either compost the core or save it for snacking. Once you’ve got the core out of there, cut the cabbage quarter in half from top to bottom. Technically this isn’t a necessary step, but since I don’t like long strands I cut the cabbage into eighths. Slice the cabbage as thinly as you possibly can. A good sharp knife helps with this, but mostly it just takes practice. They make special tools for this, which can be great if you’re doing a large quantity, but for just one head of cabbage I’m not going to the basement to dig that thing out.

This is the first quarter of the cabbage, with the carrots and ginger.

Now, one head of cabbage takes up a lot of space once it’s shredded. In order to not have a huge mound of cabbage to work with at the end, I worked in batches. Shred a quarter of the cabbage, put it in the bowl with a quarter of the salt, and squeeze the heck out of it. Repeat three more times.

This is all of the cabbage, plus the carrots and ginger, shredded and salted and squeezed.

At this point, all that’s left to add is the garlic and chili.

This is roughly 3 large cloves’ worth of minced garlic. Maybe 1.5 TB or so.

You guessed it – throw it into the bowl and squeeze the veggies. You should have a noticeable amount of liquid collecting in the bottom of your bowl by this time – keep it all in there, because it’s going to cover your vegetables as they ferment!

This is what you want to see!

Divide your vegetables and liquid between two clean and sanitized (either boiled or chemically sanitized) quart jars and press down on the veggies until they’re covered with liquid. Put a lid on the jar and set it aside for several days to ferment.

See how the liquid is covering the veggies?

I posted about this project on Facebook this morning and several of my friends chimed in with suggestions based on their experience. One person suggested using white plastic reusable jar lids, of which I have an ample supply. Another friend shared a link to a DIY airlock lid project, which uses the regular two piece jar lids and an airlock (which you can get from a homebrew supply store, such as Northern Brewer). I was all set to use that when another friend commented that she ferments in regular Mason jars (as opposed to wide-mouth) and uses a #12 stopper and airlock to seal the jar. Since that was a bit easier than the DIY project, I stopped by Northern Brewer for some stoppers and airlocks. I’ll still try the DIY project, since NB didn’t have stoppers big enough for wide-mouth jars and I would like to ferment in half gallon jars, which of course only come in a wide-mouth version.

All ready to go!

This really is simple – you just put a little water in the airlock and insert it into the stopper, then insert the stopper into the mouth of the jar. The airlock allows the fermentation gases to escape while keeping outside air from entering the jar. You can absolutely ferment this in an unvented jar, but you may want to vent it once a day or so (more frequently if your house is warm) to avoid damaging the lid.

Nourishing Traditions suggests letting this ferment for 3 days, then transferring to cold storage. I’ll probably let it go until the airlock stops bubbling, and then it’ll either go in the back of the fridge or into the basement with the other canned goods. Our basement gets pretty chilly in the winter, so it’ll keep nicely down there. You could heat process this to seal the jars for longer-term storage, but that would kill all of the beneficial bacteria that developed during fermentation. Plus it would lose the great fresh crunch of a raw product.

Korean Sauerkraut, aka Kimchi (adapted from Nourishing Traditions)

  • 1 head cabbage, cored and finely shredded
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1 TB grated ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TB sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed pepper flakes (I used some dried chili we had, about 2 peppers’ worth)

Combine all vegetables and salt and pound or squeeze until vegetables have released their liquid. Pack into sanitized quart jars and press down on vegetables until they are covered by their own juices. Cover (either with an unvented lid or a lid with an airlock as discussed above) and allow to sit at room temperature 3 days or until fermentation has slowed. If using lids with airlocks, replace with unvented lids. Move kimchi to cold storage until needed. Eat!


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Pumpkin Sandwich Cookies With Cream Cheese Brown Sugar Frosting

The title’s a mouthful, I know, but luckily it’ll be hard to talk while you’ve got your mouth full of these amazing cookies.

Fall is, after all, the season where we put pumpkin in everything – beer, coffee (which I do NOT endorse), ravioli, pie – you name it! Why not put it in cookies and then, to take it completely over the top, make them into sandwiches with some complementarily-flavored frosting?

I’d been thinking about pumpkin cookies for a couple weeks before I stumbled across this recipe – I’d left my bike at my cousin’s house and when I went to retrieve it his wife sent me off with a bag of these fantastic cookies she’d made. They had pumpkin in them, naturally, and there were pecans and a nice glaze that may have had brown sugar in it. I was as amazed as anyone else when there were still cookies left after my ride home! She sent me the recipe but I was put off by the fact that it called for a whole *pound* of butter. In the end, it turned out that fantastic pumpkin cookies are worth an entire pound of butter, but one could halve the recipe and still have a gigantic amount of cookies. Scroll down to TL;DR for the recipe.

One whole pound of butter?? Worth it!

I switched up the mixing method a little bit from the recipe I was using – they added the spices, salt, and leaveners before adding the liquid ingredients, and sometimes I can be pretty firmly set in my ways when it comes to mixing. Plus I may have not been reading the instructions. So I put this together using the creaming method: beat softened butter until fluffy, then add sugar and beat until it’s even more nice and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time and don’t add the next until the first one’s been worked into the butter/sugar mixture. Add vanilla, add pumpkin, beat until everything’s combined. Scrape down the sides of your bowl frequently to make sure everything gets mixed in evenly! While your mixer’s working away, combine the dry ingredients – flour (I used half all purpose and half whole wheat because I prefer that texture), spices, leaveners, salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing until combined. I feel like you can mix these cookies a little bit more than you would with other recipes, because the pumpkin seems to tenderize them quite a bit. Plus they need a little more structure to hold up with the dense, wet pumpkin in there. But too much and they’ll turn out bready – you don’t want that!

Oh, I forgot! This is about 2/3 cup of chopped up crystallized ginger. I mixed it in with the dry ingredients – the flour helps keep the pieces from sticking to each other and ensures that they’re evenly distributed through the dough.

By this point, your oven should be turned on to preheat. Ideally you’d have started it before you started creaming the butter, but if you’re like me that part is easily forgotten. While the oven’s heating up, grab some sheet pans and either grease them thoroughly or line with parchment paper. Scoop tablespoon-sized blobs of dough on to your sheet pans, leaving about 2″ between them. I used a #70 scoop, which I highly recommend – this is a sticky dough and a scoop/disher will give you nicely-portioned dough and keep your hands pretty clean. Not that you aren’t sneaking tastes of the dough should you happen to get it on your fingers. No, of course you aren’t – raw eggs and all that. Pffft.

Blobs of tasty, tasty cookie dough, all ready for the oven.

In my oven, these little puppies needed 11 minutes at 350° to attain perfect doneness. I let them sit in the pan for 10 minutes or so and then transferred them to a cooling rack with a metal spatula. They’re pretty fragile immediately after baking, so use caution when moving them. Meanwhile, keep scooping and baking until you can’t stand it anymore, and then scoop the rest of the dough onto a lined baking sheet and freeze it. Once the dough blobs are frozen solid, transfer them to a ziploc bag and save them for your next cookie emergency.

Yep, they smell pretty incredible.

Once the cookies are cool and you’ve taste tested them (gotta make sure they’re edible, right?), mix up the frosting for the sandwich filling. I forgot to take pictures – sorry! But you can do it without pictures – it’s super simple! Beat softened butter, cream cheese, brown sugar, vanilla, and a little salt until it’s all combined and fluffy, then add in powdered sugar until it’s stiff. Add a tablespoon or so of milk (or half and half, because that’s what I had in the fridge) to loosen it up, then add the rest of the powdered sugar. Adjust the consistency with more milk or more powdered sugar – you want something that’s easy to spread but stiff enough that it’ll stand up to the cookies. At this point, turn half your cookies upside down and transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a plain tip (or use a ziploc bag, from which you’ll trim a corner for piping). Poot a generous amount of frosting onto each of your upturned cookies, and if you have extra at the end either distribute it wherever it’ll fit or put it on any extra cookies (since you may have ended up with an odd number due to snacking, like I did). Or, you know, just give it to the kids on spoons and let them think you’re the best parent ever. (Substitute partner/friend/parent/neighbor as needed there)

I have mad piping skillz, yo!

Once you’re out of frosting, take all the naked cookies and match them up with frosted cookies, then shove them in your mouth. Heavenly, no? The noise that came out of my mouth when I bit into one was pretty much obscene.

Oh yes. Yes yes yes.

TL;DR 

Pumpkin Sandwich Cookies with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes ~5 dozen. Can (and maybe should) be halved

  • 1 lb butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree (or one 15 oz can)
  • 4 cups all purpose flour (substitute whole wheat flour for half or more if you like)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated, if at all possible)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup crystallized ginger, chopped (substitute toasted pecans, if you like!) – optional 

 

Preheat oven to 350°

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then add eggs one at a time, beating until fully incorporated before adding the next. Add vanilla and pumpkin, beating until combined. Meanwhile, mix all dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then stir in crystallized ginger or nuts, if using. Scoop by the tablespoon onto greased or parchment-lined baking sheet pans and bake for 9-11 minutes, until set and very lightly browned around edges. Allow to cool on the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely.

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 TB brown sugar (use dark brown sugar if you have it – the flavor really comes through!)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • 2-4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-2 TB milk

 

Beat butter, cream cheese, sugar, salt, and vanilla until fluffy. Add 2c of powdered sugar and beat until incorporated. Beat in milk until frosting is fairly loose, then beat in powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until you’ve got a satisfactory texture. Adjust as needed with more milk or sugar – you want this stiff but not too stiff to pipe. Transfer to piping bag or ziploc bag and apply to flat side of cookies. Top with naked cookies. Eat.