Briny bay pickled beans

I’ve been canning off and on for a few years now. Not super seriously, to be honest. I have a pressure canner that I inherited from my mother, but I’m terrified of using it. So I’ve just done a few boiling water canning projects: a marmalade that I thickened too much, a few jams that I never really used, a mustard that turned out completely inedible.

Then I made a batch of hot pickled asparagus the other month.

Holy. Shit.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, pickles are the hipster stereotype of home preserving. It’s the food counterpart to homebrewing (which, for the record, is my mister’s thang). But you know why they’re so popular? Because they’re delicious, and hard to fuck up.

One thing that kills me about canning in general is the fear of botulism preventing me from experimenting. But with pickling, as long as you keep your brine at the correct acidity and use the recommended vegetables and processing times? You can play around a bit with your seasonings without paralyzing anyone’s face. I mean, isn’t that everyone’s goal?

So, these Old Bay infused green bean pickles. They’re spicy-sour, and because they only need to be processed for five minutes, they stay very crisp. I may have eaten an entire jar for lunch one day. When my mister whined that he had tried to find the jar in the fridge for his lunch but they were all gone, I reminded him that six of the jars are destined for my Homemade Trade club and not to eat them. But, I added: I’ll put up another batch while green beans are still in season… if he helped me trim them all up.

He agreed with no hesitation.

briny bay pickled beans

Briny Bay Pickled Beans
Adapted from Pickled Dilled Beans by National Center for Home Food Preservation

Makes 8 pint jars

4 pounds fresh green beans
2 1/4 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
2 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
4 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon pickling salt
8 cloves garlic
16 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

8 pint jars, rings, and unused canning lids
boiling water canner with rack
jar lifting tongs
jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
clean dish towels

Important Note: If you’ve never canned before, you will probably want to study up on some basics before you get started. And use common sense when eating home-canned goods — leaking, compromised seals, weird growths, bad smells? Play it safe and throw that shit out.

Wash your green beans and lay out to dry on a dish towel. Trim ends off beans so you’re left with uniform 4-inch lengths. Peel and rinse garlic cloves.

Fill your canner so the water is at least two inches above the jars, and bring to a boil. (You might want to do this earlier depending on how long it takes your canner to come to a boil — I get mine started while I am prepping my beans.)

Wash your jars, lids, rings, and tools by washing in warm soapy water. Then sanitize by boiling in water. Alternatively, use the sanitize setting on your dishwasher, if desired.
In a large saucepan, bring water, vinegar, and pickling salt to a boil.

Remove jars from boiling water.

Add a garlic clove and 2 teaspoons Old Bay to each jar, then tightly pack with as many upright green beans as will fit. Ladle hot brine into each jar — a jar funnel makes this much easier, but if you don’t have one, just be careful. Leave 1/2″ headroom in each jar.

Wipe each rim with a clean, damp cloth. Center an unused, sterilized lid on each jar. Screw the rings over each lid until “fingertip tight” — that is, screwed on until you just start to get resistance.

Use your jar tongs to carefully place each packed jar in the canner. Bring back to a boil, then process for 5 minutes (up to 15 depending on altitude — see chart).

Remove jars from canner with tongs without tilting. Place on a folded dish towel, away from drafts and not touching each other. Let sit undisturbed for at least 12 hours.

Check each jar for a good seal (press on the middle or the lid — it shouldn’t move or make noise). Any that didn’t seal can be refrigerated immediately and still used.

Store sealed jars in pantry for up to 1 year. Then, refrigerate once opened for up to one month.

Old Bay cheese crackers at Let’s Give Peas a Chance

Today I wrote a guest post for my friend Ann Marie, another Baltimore-based vegetarian food blogger, at her blog Let’s Give Peas a Chance. As a fellow Baltimorean, I knew Ann Marie would appreciate a snack highlighting everyone’s favorite Chesapeake-region seasoning. Hop on over today to find my recipe for Old Bay Cheese Crackers and say hello to Ann Marie!

Old Bay cheese crackers

Happy New Year! Make this Baltimore pull-apart bread to bring to brunch tomorrow.

Do you have a brunch to go to tomorrow? I hope so. New Year’s Day is the perfect day for brunch.

And this is the perfect thing to bring to a brunch.

Baltimore pull-apart bread

Especially if there are Old Bay bloody marys involved. Make the dough right now and let it rise in the fridge overnight. When you wake up tomorrow, you’ll have to get it out on the counter to rise for an hour, but then you can spend most of that time waking up the rest of the way until you actually have to do anything with it.

So, a lot of the pull-apart bread recipes out there are sweet rather than savory. It makes sense. This is basically a different shape for monkey bread, after all. But Deb over at Smitten Kitchen made a savory version inspired by Welsh rarebit and I knew I had to do something. I knew I had to give it the Baltimore treatment.

So obviously there’s a mess of Old Bay added to it.

Old Bay cheddar cheese

Aside from the immediately obvious, I used one of my favorite local Baltimore brews in the dough — Heavy Seas. Loose Cannon, which is an IPA, worked beautifully in it — though I intended to make it with the Peg Leg, an imperial stout, which was out of stock when I stopped by the liquor store. I think it would also be delightful with Black Cannon, the seasonal black IPA which just became available. Go get some! Even if just to drink it. Man, it’s so good. I’m not even a huge IPA person.

If you can’t get Heavy Seas in your region, just go for something that you like to drink, preferably something a bit dark. Or, you know, take a road trip to get some beer.

Baltimore pull-apart bread

Baltimore Pull-Apart Bread
Adapted from Cheddar, Beer and Mustard Pull-Apart Bread by Smitten Kitchen

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup Heavy Seas beer
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour + 1/3 cup flour, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant (active dry) yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature

3 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon mustard (I used Dijon)
1 heaping tablespoon Old Bay (I used low sodium)
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 heaping cups)

First off, dough time. In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the 4 tablespoons of butter with 1/4 cup beer until butter is just barely melted. Remove from heat and add remaining beer, then set aside to cool. If you have one, pop a thermometer in there — you want the mixture to be between 110 and 116 degrees. If you don’t, you want it to be warm to the touch, not hot.

Drink the rest of the beer. You deserve it.

While the butter/beer cools, prep your dry ingredients. In the bowl of the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, stir together 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, sugar, yeast, and salt until combined. With the mixer on low, pour in the warm butter/beer mixture and let stir until dry ingredients are just moistened. Add eggs, one at a time, and stir until just combined. Add the remaining all purpose flour and again stir until just combined.

Replace the paddle with the dough hook and turn the mixer on low. Let knead for 3-4 minutes, until dough is not quite as lumpy. It will still be wet and sticky.

Oil a medium bowl and transfer dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour, until doubled in size. If you want to get this part over with before you’re battling a hangover, this is where you’d let the dough rest in the fridge overnight — wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. The next day, let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour while you prepare the filling.

Speaking of filling: using the large holes on a box grater or your food processor, grate your cheddar cheese. Put in a storage container, dump the Old Bay on top, close it up, and shakeshakeshake. Pop it in the fridge while you’re waiting.

In your same small saucepan from before (no need to wash it out if you’re doing this all at once), melt your 3 tablespoons of butter over low heat. Once melted, stir in mustard and set aside.

Now it’s time to put it all together. First, spray or butter a 9″x5″ loaf pan and set aside.

Turn risen dough onto a floured work area, then roll out into a 20″x12″ rectangle. It may try to stick here and there, so pull it up every once in a while and add more flour as needed. Brush butter/mustard over the entire surface of the dough, all the way to the very edges. Really glop it on there. Then cut the dough into 5 4″x12″ strips — a pizza cutter is very handy for this.

Evenly sprinkle one buttered dough strip with a generously heaping 1/4 cup of Old Bay coated cheddar. Gently pick up the next dough strip and place it on top of the cheese. Repeat with all of your strips, ending with more cheese on top.

With a serrated knife, very gently and slowly, as gently and slowly as you can possibly manage, cut your dough stack into 6 to 7 segments, 2″x4″ each. The dough may or may not have stretched a tad bit with all that lifting and such, but it’s fine either way. Really.

Prop your loaf pan up on one short end to make this next part a little easier. Lift each segment, using a spatula if that helps, and plop it in the “bottom” of the pan, that is, on the short end. A 4″ wide cut end should be facing out towards you. Stack the rest of the dough pieces on top in the same way until your loaf pan is filled. If it’s a little under-filled, just shake it a bit to distribute the pieces. If you have more than it seems will fit, just squeeze everything together to jam the last bits in there. Once again, cover pan with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 30 to 45 minutes.

When appropriate, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Pop the risen loaf in there and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until puffy and brown and the bits of cheese peeking out are bubbly and crisp.

Let cool in the pan for five minutes, then turn out to a cutting board. For the best pull-apart experience, enjoy warm and fresh. If it has cooled down and refuses to peel apart, use a serrated knife to cut thin slices. Or just continue to tear bits and pieces off like a pack of wolves, I won’t tell.

Twelve days of food gifts: Old Bay vodka

twelve days of food gifts 2012: apple cider caramels | basil vodka | lemon sugar | lime sugar | Old Bay vodka | orange sugar | peppercorn vodka | rosemary salt | salted maple caramels | vanilla extract | vanilla sugar | zesty salt’n'pep

So somehow I’ve managed to post three food gifts in a row as part of my Twelve Days of Food Gifts series. If I get through all twelve, that will be your Christmas miracle right there.

But to recap, I’m making awesome homemade edible gifts for my friends and family this year. Then I’m posting the recipes, along with links to specialty packing supplies, and fun printable labels.

And I think I’ve mentioned my love of Old Bay before, right?

Old Bay vodkaThis is a fun infused vodka that I wasn’t really able to find any guidance on the internet about — it doesn’t seem like it’s been done. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, or if it did technically “work” whether it would be something anyone would willingly put in their mouth.

Who’m I kidding, my friends will drink anything.

Just kidding! Kind of. But it ended up being something I would totally drink. It’s a fun vodka that is not your typical fruity/sweet infusion, but doesn’t go all the way to the other side by being ALL HOT PEPPERS ALL THE TIME. It’s got a bit of a kick to it, but not in a way that burns your lips. A bit of a celery-seedy aftertaste rounds it out.

This would be great for taking shots, as the vodka burn is reduced a little bit by infusing. It also makes a great bloody mary, obviously. But it would be fun to experiment with this in any savory cocktails that you’re into.

Old Bay Vodka

Makes 4 bottles

1 cup vodka (not too cheap, not too nice)
1 heaping teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

Mix vodka and Old Bay in a clean glass jar. Seal and put in a cool, dark place. Let it infuse, shaking the jar several times per day, for 3 to 5 days.

Wash and dry your bottles so they are ready to go when needed.

When Old Bay flavor is to taste, strain through a coffee filter to remove the sediment. You may have to change out the filter a few times — since Old Bay is ground, it gunks up the filter pretty quickly.

Decant into bottles. I found that my regular kitchen funnel did not fit in the neck of these bottles, but a tiny flask funnel worked fine.

For Gifting:
woozy 1.7 oz round glass bottle w/ cap
full-sheet inkjet adhesive
printable (single 2″x2″ label)
printable (12 2″x2″ labels per 8.5″x11″ adhesive sheet)
clear contact paper (optional)

Print labels onto the full-sheet adhesive paper. Make sure you are printing them at 100% — your PDF software may try to automatically resize them. Trim away white edges (a paper cutter really comes in handy for this part). Remove backing, center over a filled bottle, and press firmly in the middle of the label. Then smooth both edges to the sides.

If you’d like to protect the label from potential moisture-related accidents, cover the labels with clear contact paper before cutting them out. I don’t love my friends that much, but you might.

My love letter to Old Bay (eggs in the Bay)

So, I really love Old Bay.

Old Bay Seasoning, invented by a German immigrant to Maryland in the 1940s, is a blend of  (allegedly) eighteen herbs and spices. Buuuut, the only ones listed are: salt, celery seed, spices (including red and black pepper), and paprika. Speculation about the others include bay leaf, mustard, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger. The actual blend is anybody’s guess. The thing is, technically, it’s a crab and shrimp seasoning, which wouldn’t give me a whole lot of reason to use it, seeing as how I don’t eat meat. But… it tastes good on anything. And anyone who lives in or is from Maryland is likely to have one of those distinctive yellow cans in their cabinet.

All that said, I rarely meet people who are not from the Chesapeake Bay region express the same fervor of Marylanders (and specifically, me) for this delicious spice blend. It can’t be for lack of availability: Old Bay was purchased by McCormick in 1990 and they have nationwide distribution, so you can get it anywhere in the United States. But people I’ve met elsewhere generally don’t have it, or if they do, they don’t really use it. My mister’s mother has had the same can in her cabinet for “probably like twenty years,” which is just mind-blowing to me.

Sometimes I feel like an Old Bayvangelist — I tend to talk about it when I travel. I even brought a can to Amsterdam with me. I was there for four or five months, and I knew I’d need it. Although he was skeptical, the exchange student from Utah I met there admitted that the french fries I made him try, dusted generously with Old Bay and sprinkled with malt vinegar, were indeed very tasty.

That’s the thing, though: most of my Old Bay is consumed by being dumped on top of fries. Don’t get me wrong, this is delicious and I will never tire of it. But recently I’ve been thinking that there have to be some healthier ways to consume massive amounts of sodium.

I kept drifting back to a favorite dish of mine from Smitten Kitchen of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s kind of a perfect dish: quick, easy, cheap, tasty, fairly nutritious, and good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The SK version, shakshuka, has an Israeli bent to it, though it’s roots are apparently Libyan. There’s also an Italian version called eggs in purgatory. And of course it bears similarities to huevos rancheros. Versions of this dish just seem to pop up in a bunch of different cultures; this is my contribution to the collection, tweaked to express my heritage. As a Marylander who really, really, loves Old Bay.

So, if you have a can languishing in your cabinet somewhere, here’s a recipe to use it in. If you’ve never thought to buy it or perhaps have never even heard of it, here’s a reason to purchase a can.

eggs in the Bay

Eggs in the Bay
Adapted from Shakshuka by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 2-4

1 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning (low sodium if you have it)
1/2 cup water
4 eggs
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Dump your can of tomatoes (including liquid) into a bowl, or one of those giant measuring cups if you have one. Then squish ‘em up with your hands! Try not to squirt too much tomato juice on your light colored shirt, unlike me. Set aside.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering. Add jalapeno and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened — about 5 minutes. Add Old Bay seasoning and garlic and cook until garlic is soft, stirring frequently — about 2 more minutes.

Pour your tomatoes and the water into your skillet and stir to combine. Lower to medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened — about 18-20 minutes. Give it a taste and add a touch more Old Bay if desired.

Carefully crack each egg into the sauce, evenly distributing them over the surface of the skillet. If you’re not a great egg cracker, you may want to crack them into a small bowl one at a time and pour them in to avoid any errant shell pieces. Cover skillet and cook about 5 minutes, until whites are set and yolks are just set. They’ll continue to cook a little bit once you serve it up, so err on the side of caution. Cut the heat and spoon up some of the tomato sauce to baste the whites with, then sprinkle the surface evenly with cheddar and parsley.

Serve up in bowls with a hearty roll on the side, or on top of a piece of toast. If you’re serving a salad or some other side, one egg per person is sufficient. If it’s the main meal, you’ll probably want two each. If you want to make this for more people, use a large skillet and a 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, and double everything else except for the water.