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It took me 18 years to get up the guts to taste tapioca pudding. I couldn’t help but associate it with crusty cafeteria food – the only place I’d ever seen it was in a clear plastic cup next to similarly packaged red and green jello cubes. (Let’s take an extra moment to collectively gag over green jello. HUAGH!) But when I did it was a revelation. Now it’s a staple – a quick and easy dessert you can whip up in an hour. Here are two variations:

Classic Tapioca Pudding

  • 1/2 cup small tapioca pearls
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups milk (soy milk works, too, but rice milk is too watery)
  • 3/8 cup sugar, maple syrup, or honey
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg

Pumpkin Spice Tapioca Pudding

  • 3/4 cup small tapioca pearls
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups milk (soy milk works, too)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground ginger
  • 1/8 t. allspice

Directions for both versions: Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Soak tapioca in water for 30-40 minutes. In mixing bowl, combine all other ingredients and mix well. Drain tapioca and place in a 1-quart covered baking dish. Pour liquid ingredients on top. Cover and bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and stir, making sure to break up any lumps of tapioca-ness. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Matcha powder (image courtesy of FCartegnie thru Wikimedia Commons)

I was at the coffee shop last week and someone in front of me ordered a Green Tea Latte with no syrup. I was feeling sick of the black sludge I throw down daily, so I decided to give it a try. Hummennah-hummenah! Now that’s a-tasty, people! I ordered it without the syrup, fyi, and it was plenty sweet. Sounds like their base is matcha powder with a mildly sweet honeydew syrup. Interesting. Anywhoo, no need for the extra sugar they normally throw in. Deeelish.

I’ve mentioned before that there are several wacky bean companies I order from online. Here is a recipe that utilizes Native Seeds SEARCH’s runner cannellini beans; large, white beans that are reminiscent of dried limas but about twice as big. If you don’t have these on hand, large limas or another white bean will work just fine.

Balsamic White Bean Dip

White Bean Dip

  • 2 c. cooked white beans
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 T lemon
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder or 1/2 a small garlic clove, minced
  • salt & pepper to taste

Combine the above ingredients in a food processor and mix until smooth. Alternatively, for a chunkier dip, you can mash the beans with a fork or potato masher in a bowl, then add the remaining ingredients and mix until combined. Serve with a rustic gluten-free bread, some fresh vegetables, cheese, and homemade olives for a fabulous lunch.

I love this line from the executive chef at New York’s Ilili:

It’s a poor man’s dinner, eaten with eggs, or with tomatoes and scallions…

He’s referring to a dish he makes called Lebanese Potatoes with Cilantro Sauce, which may or may not appeal to you given the centrality of cilantro to the dish. Being a reformed cilantro-hater, I’m psyched to try it. And we just got potatoes from the stupormarket on Saturday. Woo.

The Philosopher's Kitchen by Francine Segan

The Philosopher's Kitchen by Francine Segan

I just came across the coolest cookbook. It’s called The Philosopher’s Kitchen by Francine Segan. Apparently, the author has spent time studying ancient texts to glean recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome which she then adapts for the modern kitchen. And, if we believe that eating 2 lbs of meat per person per day is a relatively modern occurrence (which we do), it should come as no surprise that there are many delicious vegetarian recipes in the book. And, BONUS! Most are also gluten-free. Recipes such as

Minted Garlic Spread
Red Lentils in Garlic-Roasted Artichoke Cups
Lemony Celery and Leek Soup
Acorn Squash with Pine Nuts and Honey

… Interesting, no?

Here’s more from her site

King Arthur Flour's Chewy (Gluten-Free) Almond Cookies

King Arthur Flour's Chewy (Gluten-Free) Almond Cookies

Oh, yum. King Arthur Flour just posted some (unintentionally? Aw, who the heck cares!?) gluten-free recipes on their blog. This one for chewy almond cookies is the clear standout for me. Watch out almond paste, Ima gonna getcha.

I’ve got the BEST iPhone app for all you recipeheads out there. It’s the Epicurious recipe & shopping list app and it’s FAH-REEEEEEEEEE!!!! Yep, you heard me right. Freebie, baby. What’s so ducky about it, you ask? Say you open your fridge and there’s one sad turnip, one lonely jellybean, and one can of Old Style. Your wallet was just stolen so there’s no way you’re ordering pizza. Oh, yeah. You’re in the mood for Indian. You just open your little EpiApp, click the turnip, jellybean, and beer icons under “Search by Ingredient” and then the Indian icon under “search by cuisine.” And voilà. Your recipe awaits. I’d tell you the results but that wouldn’t be any fun. You’ll have to download it to see for yourself.

In the meantime, I searched for lemon and leafy greens last night (my fridge is way more well-stocked than that poor sot above, pooh-pooh) and came up with this little gem called “Herb jam with olives and lemon.” Somehow, despite the pathically unappetizing name (herb jam? weird.), I was intrigued. And thank groodness. What resulted (with mad substitutions) was soh-fine. Regard:

  • 1 bunch swiss chard, coarsely chopped (a sweet green)
  • 1/2 c. cilantro, chopped (a stinky green)
  • 4 oz. arugula (a bitter green)
  • 4 cloves garlic, whole
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. chopped olivasecca (or black olives of choice)
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1/4-1/2 t. chipotle chili flakes (can sub. red pepper flakes)
  • 1/8 t. freshly ground cumin
  • salt to taste

Place the greens into a steamer with the whole garlic cloves on top. Steam garlic & greens (chard, cilantro, and arugula) for 15 minutes in a covered steamer. Remove the garlic from the pot and set aside. Remove the greens and place on a cutting board. Chop finely.

Put the olive oil in a large frying pan. With the back of a fork, mash the steamed garlic and fry for a minute or two. Add the dry spices and fry for a minute to release their aroma. Add the minced greens and olives and saute on high, stirring occasionally to further concentrate the flavor as the excess moisture cooks off. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and salt to taste. Makes ~2 cups. Serve on gf flatbread, or over rice with fried tofu (omit the sesame seeds for this application) on top.

It’s been more than 10 days, but forgive me. I vacate. (Did I just turn vacation into a verb? Yes, I did. I kind of like it…) By now my little olivinas are brining happily and approaching deliciosity. But I have not revealed how they got from tasteless snoozefest to their current state of yum. So let me divulge.

Ingredients for Brining Homemade Olives

Ingredients for Brining Homemade Olives

Once the olives are cured of their bitter madness, it’s time to add back some flav-ah-flave. It starts with a basic brine that can be spruced up to your heart’s content with lemon, garlic, fresh herbs, dried herblinas, food coloring (what? ew – totally kidding), hot hot peppahs, gin, vodka, you name it. If you’re unhappy with what you come up with, the beauty of brine is that you can always change the flavor. Either add more of the same to bump up the flavor, add new spices to change the flavor, or if you’re totally disgusted by your first creation, dump the existing brine and start over. Brining is more of an art than a science, so if you feel moved to add 5 cloves of garlic rather than 3, by all means, knock yourself out.

Once brined, the olives need to be stored in the refrigerator. They will be ready to eat in about two weeks. Typically, the longer they sit in the brine the better they taste, but let’s be honest; who can stand to wait longer than 2 weeks!?

Basic Olive Brining Recipe

  • 3 ¼ c. water
  • ¾ c. white vinegar
  • 5 T salt

Some of my creations in past years:

Homemade Olives A la Gioco:

  • 1x basic brine recipe
  • 2.5 lbs cured olives (will fill 1/2 gallon jar)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 T fennel seeds
  • 4 whole dried chili peppers
  • 2 star anise
  • rind of 1 orange
  • 1 T black peppercorns

Homemade Speecey-Espicy Olives

  • 1x basic brine recipe
  • 2.5 lbs cured olives (will fill 1/2 gallon jar)
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 10-20 whole dried chilis
  • 4 cloves garlic

Lemony Snicket Homemade Olives

  • 1x basic brine recipe
  • 2.5 lbs cured olives (will fill 1/2 gallon jar)
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 4 cloves garlic

Herbaceous Homemade Olives

  • 1x basic brine recipe
  • 2.5 lbs cured olives (will fill 1/2 gallon jar)
  • 5ish sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 T black peppercorns

Where to buy fresh olives:
For the past five years, I have bought my olives from Penna, a family-run business in California. While you’re at it, check our their Olivasecca – amazing dried black olives the likes of which you’ve never tasted. You can also follow them on Facebook and they’ll keep you up-to-date on when olive season starts and ends.

Other posts in this series:

  1. Blather on about the greatness of home-cured olives and order freshies
  2. T’aint no lye: Curing olives without the nasties (hint: use water!)
  3. Brining is the key to olive happiness. Oh, the places we’ll go! (you are here)

Homemade Olives: The curing process

Homemade Olives: The curing process

Olive night came and went and the olives are now happily eating up all my available counter space, curing their little brains out. Why must they cure? Olives in their raw state are seriously bitter (try one! It’s shocking), so they must be cured to remove the ick. There are three ways to do this:

1. Salt-Drying: I don’t know much about this method other than it uses a shocking amount of salt. But suffice to say, at the end of the process you get shriveled little uber-olives. Power-packed with flavor. Not for the faint of heart or the fair-weather olive friend. I love them.

2. Curing with Lye: Commercial olives are typically cured with lye. It’s the lower-maintenance method (barely) and has therefore won the hearts of olive manufacturers eager to turn out this year’s batch of olives and make a buck. Any olives you see that have not been cracked have likely been lye-cured. But everything I’ve heard about lye tells me it’s a nasty thing to work with in your home, so we’ll be curing with…

2. Curing with Water: Oleuropein*, the substance that makes olives bitter, is soluble in water (how lucky). So an easy, albeit more labor intensive way to remove the bitterness is to soak the little olivinas in water. To do this, first you must crack the olives (really well) to allow the bitterness to leech out. Then put them in a jar and cover them completely with water. At this stage there is no need to refrigerate them. Change the water every day for 10 days. Over the course of the ten days, you’ll notice the water you dump each day gets less and less stinky yellow. At the end of this process, the olives will smell faintly olive-like but will be almost tasteless.

How do you crack an olive?

I’ve experimented with several ways; faced with 20-30 pounds of olives, I alternate between two to avoid sore hands or amputated limbs (you think I jest…) The first method involves placing one olive at a time on a cutting board and either leaning on it with the flat side of a cleaver (any wide, stiff knife will work. A second, smaller cutting board will work as well). This works better if you’re tall or like to cook in platforms or stilettos. The second method is similar; you rest the flat side of the knife on the olive, but instead of leaning on the knife, you give it a swift whack with the heel of your hand. Sometimes the knives get slippery from the olive goo (careful, it stains) and you get scared that you’ll slip and chop off a limb. When that happens, you might consider switching to smashing the olives with that second, smaller cutting board I mentioned instead of the slimy knives.

*This is priceless – Wikinerdia’s explanation for what oleuropein is: “tyrosol esters of elenolic acid that are further hydroxylated and glycosylated.” In case you were wondering.

Where to buy fresh olives:
For the past five years, I have bought my olives from Penna, a family-run business in California. While you’re at it, check our their Olivasecca – amazing dried black olives the likes of which you’ve never tasted. You can also follow them on Facebook and they’ll keep you up-to-date on when olive season starts and ends.

Other posts in this series:

  1. Blather on about the greatness of home-cured olives and order freshies
  2. T’aint no lye: Curing olives without the nasties (hint: use water!) (you are here)
  3. Brining is the key to olive happiness. Oh, the places we’ll go!

French fries are BAD NEWS, bears. Oh, I used to think I could eat them, but where there are french fries, there are chicken wings, fried calamari, fried zucchini or mozzarella sticks polluting the fry oil. I dare you to find one restaurant that doesn’t fry anything wheaty in their fry oil (Actually, I can save you the trouble. It’s called Cafe Mediterra on 600-something S. Dearborn Street in Chi-town-is-my-town. Can you belieeeefff?! I quizzed the cooks, read the entire menu, and the only thing they fry are fries and falafels. So naturally I got both and they’re GOOD! The fries remind me of McDonald’s fries circa 1980. I don’t know how I feel about that. Wasn’t that at the height of their beef-fat frying days?)

The good news is that homemade french fries are infinitely better than any ‘straunt ones. When I was a kid, we’d make them all the time. The Greeks seem to be experts at it – most of the restaurants in Greece still serve real “patates tiganites” on their menus (as opposed to pre-processed disgusto bake-n-serv fries) and my yiayia made the best dern fries with nothing more than an inch of oil in a small soup pot (and potatoes, duh). Somehow those fries came out all super crispy and fab. So I am on a mission to find out what the heck kind of potatoes she used because recently my attempts at fries have been, well, soggy. So stay tuned! I’ve eliminated one type: baking potatoes. Sag-sog-tastic. Wohn wohn. If anyone has any suggestions, just holler. French fries must be had.

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