Soup, Scarves and SF

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

To begin this bold (not very) adventure (sort of) in blogging, I thought I’d post some of the recipes I performed over the holidays, as they are oft-requested and good standbys that I love. The first of these is one of the most instantly-gobbled things in our house, pickled red peppers.

I was standing in the store just before Christmas with about two dozen red peppers in my hands, and a woman looked at my AWESOME SHINY RED TREASURE and said “Traditional Christmas peppers?”

“Actually, yes,” I replied.

And I explained about my Russian husband, and how the foods he finds comforting in winter are not necessarily the ones Americans do, and that’s just fine because Russian comfort food is made of the tears of Marxist angels and is delicious. I pickle peppers for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Dmitri’s birthday, because it’s a bit labor intensive but so worth it. Only trouble is that we eat them all at the speed of RIGHT NOW, so rarely do I even bother with traditional canning, since they won’t last long enough to need it, and also quite frequently the hot liquid seals the jars on its own.

Pickles are definitely something I have learned to embrace. We really think of pickles in the US as being cucumber-based and that’s it, but Russians (and many other cultures) will pickle anything that looks at them sideways. This is a big part of how people used to be able to have vitamin-loaded vegetables in the winter, how we survived the snow. I often wish restaurants who pride themselves on local fresh produce in the summer would experiment with local preserved foods in the winter. It’s how we used to live.

This is such a human thing. It even looks like the Temperance tarot card, pouring water from one vessel to another. The jars are so bright and rich-looking, and while, yes, boiling vinegar is not the most awesome thing to meet your tear ducts, on any given day of the week, I would rather have pickled peppers and korjiki (Russian fried bread) than chocolate.

On to the how!

You will need:

  • 20 or so red peppers
  • 1 head of garlic
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 3 cups water
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 golden retriever

First, get a whole bunch of red peppers. I suggest bell, as the long pointed ones will only make you cry when  you see how much they reduce in volume through roasting. I usually end up with about 20 peppers, but that’s only because it’s how many glass jars I have and how many can fit in my oven at once. You’ll have a little brine left over at the amounts I’ll list, so feel free to increase everything by about 1/3 if you want lots. If you don’t increase, though, you can store the brine and have it for easy pickling for either other vegetables (shredded carrots are great with some soy sauce and garlic and szechuan pepper) or for more peppers when you end up staring sadly at an empty jar.

Cut all peppers in half and gut them, removing the pith, stem, and seeds. Place peppers face down on cookie sheets and drizzle or spray with olive oil. (I have one of those air-pump oil aerosolizers, it works great.) Roast at 350 for 1 hour. Let them cool down enough to handle and remove all the skins. Feed the skins to your golden retriever and tear the pepper meat into julienne-type slices. Put them in a bowl and set aside.

While the peppers are roasting you should prepare the brine and the mix-ins. As I’ve said, you can pickle anything, but this is my tried-and-true combo.

Peel one head of garlic. I really like garlic, so I never skimp. You will learn this as we go along. If you don’t want to be Mrs. Garlic in the Lily Family parade, reduce to taste. You can also throw in a teaspoon or two of coriander seeds as I did this Christmas–they are spicy and interesting, but don’t overdo it, anything you put into the pickling jar will bloom flavor-wise in the final product. Stir it into the bowl of roasted peppers. Other possibilities: pomegranate seeds, red onions, shallots, scallions, crystallized ginger, candied lemon peel–really, anything. Grind some fresh black pepper over the lot and mush together. (I also like more black pepper on everything than sane mortals. I will always say to taste because what I think is good is crazy.)

Preparing the brine:

Mix all the liquid ingredients above, bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve, and then shut off the heat. Let cool about 20 minutes.

Now it’s time to put it all together. Rinse jars in hot water to avoid shattering the glass, fill 2/3 of the way full with pepper mixture, then pour brine to the shoulder of the jar. Screw lids on tightly and let them sit overnight–they will very likely seal themselves. You can do this in tupperware and skip the jars if you plan to serve them immediately. But the jars are just so pretty. And I feel like Little House on the Prairie.

I try to give these guys at least 48 hours to develop. Given our hunger for peppers, we can rarely wait longer. If you are not a PEPPER MACHINE, please use standard canning techniques to make sure these keep safely. It’s just that I’ve never had to.

The best pairing for these strips of wanton redness is korjiki–fried bread. And now we get into the part where we are NOT hardcore old-school Russian countryfolk. Because yes, we could make the dough from scratch. That’s true. We could be that awesome. But we have jobs and we really like watching Dexter in the evenings and I will do almost anything to avoid the rolling pin portion of cooking. So instead of pounding dough on a granite slab while the Siberian wind and/or Yetis bay for our blood outside, we could go to the local Italian market (Micucci’s in Portland, ME in our case) and grab some raw pizza dough, roll it into slabs roughly the size of a child’s head, and fry it up in a pan with sesame oil until it turns dark golden and bubbly and crispy around the edges. IMPORTANT: this bread is so addictive you may be tempted to tear into it right away but IT WILL HURT YOU. IT IS VICIOUS. How I know that I shall not say. Let it cool and tear into chunks, loading each bit up with pickled peppers, and you can thank me later.

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Strange New Worlds

So this thing here, it is existing.

What is this thing? I shall explain.

You know how superheroes are normal people by day and put on outlandish costumes and fight crime/perform elaborate interpretive dance choreography that sometimes knocks a fool in the head by night? Well, by day, I wear the outlandish costume of a fantasy and science fiction novelist, and by night, I cook things and knit things and behave mostly like a normal person. And when, in my sequins and mask, I post to Twitter about what I’m making for dinner, I am immediately pinged by 19 people asking when I am going to write a cookbook.

The thing is that writing a cookbook requires a publisher and a photographer and a great deal of investment from other humans. Thus, there is this thing instead.

Wait, I hear you say! Is this another cooking blog? Good grief! Isn’t the market already saturated with this sort of thing? Can’t we get any recipe we want from the giant aggregator sites? Do you, Cat, even know anyone in the foodie blogging community? Aren’t you the kind of cook that is more of a WHOLE BUNCH of this and EVERYTHING IN THE FRIDGE MUST GO INTO THE FRITTATA WORMHOLE than a follow the recipe girl? And knitting? Oh my, no one has ever blogged about that before! It’s called purling, you say?

And all that is true. I do not own a restaurant, I can point to five friends of mine who are higher-end foodies than I am, I can’t take super-exciting studio-perfect photos of the food I make, and my main qualification for any of this is that I spend most of my time writing very strange novels. (That have lots of food in them.)

But you know, we spend a lot of our lives cooking and eating. It’s important. I live in Maine, one of the most amazing places in the world for seafood and fresh produce, I like to experiment and I basically can’t do anything without throwing my own twist on it. And I kept being asked to write a cookbook. I didn’t want my main blog to become a long litany of recipes, so I created another space for it. And I like alliteration, and sometimes also want to write about knitting. So this thing comes together and I think: maybe it will be fun for people to read about the culinary messing about of a person who is not an expert in this field, but enthusiastic and fearless about it. (I’ll put ketchup right on mac and cheese, I don’t even care!) Someone who doesn’t make small plates of perfectly colored and tweezed tiny things but cooks to make herself happy with her noms. Ok, sometimes small plates of perfectly tweezed tiny things. I admit to having served Thanksgiving dinner with an amuse-bouche. DON’T JUDGE ME. In the end, maybe it will just be fun for you guys to play house with me.

So essentially, I will post recipes here. I’ll try to do pictures when I can. Sometimes I’ll post a pattern or thoughts about fiber. I’ll try to write a bit about each recipe because to me, the thing that differentiates one cookbook from another is the liner notes. And every once in awhile, there will be a little story about the food in question for you to read while the kettle boils. I hope this will be a homey, warm place where we can talk together about that everyday non-superhero stuff that we all do, and how to make it more delightful and meaningful.

You noticed that word “together,” didn’t you? Yes, see, this is the first off-social network site blog I’ve ever kept, and I am very conscious of how much I’ve benefited from the active comment culture of Livejournal. No one likes to talk into a vacuum. So the more you all comment and interact, the better this place will be. It’s like wishing for a new Fantasia, yo. The more you talk, the more beautiful the country will become. This is a new house for all of us to clutter up and drink tea/vodka on the staircase. Let’s burn some toast together.

Lastly, I want to have a little segment called Double Cat Dare. This is where you tell me what to cook and I do it and report back. Whatever you ask I will screw with and adjust to my heart’s content, but if you’ve been curious about making bread, or jam, or beef wellington, or some other odd dish, dare me to take it on and I’ll do a photo-heavy post of how I managed it–or entirely failed to manage it. Because cooking is iterative, and sometimes I will fail. It’s ok. I have two big dogs. There’s no such thing as fucking up dinner. There’s only happy puppy faces.

And that’s all. Welcome to Soup, Scarves, and SF. The future is delicious.