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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!
Raw Olives, oh joy!

Raw Olives, oh joy!

The anticipation sets my little tastebugs atwitter. September is olive harvest month and I just got 40 (yes, 40) pounds of fresh green olives delivered to my doorstep. Saaaa-weeet! Bitter, actually, but we’ll fix that. Stay tuned for this three-part post:

  1. Blather on about the greatness of home-cured olives and order freshies (you are here)
  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!

Stay tuned. Olive curing happens tonight.

Savory Pumpkin Sauce for your Fettucini Genies Delight

Savory Pumpkin Sauce for your Fettucini Genie's Delight

I went spelunking in my freezer yesterday and found all kinds of interesting dried, shriveled tidbits I’d squirreled away years ago. Among the finds? Five homemade pesto ravioli from my gluteny past life, several forgotten end slices of gluten free bread, three bags of New Mexico green chiles (hooray!) and one bag of peas (anyone who knows me realizes the significance of this. Bagged peas do not last more than 24 hours in my presence. Breakfast, mid-morning snack, late-morning snack… peas to me are what cereal is to adolescent boys.)

Anywhoo, among these identifiable treatsies, there were a few plastic containers of _____. That is to say, *****. And by that I mean, ??????

How to find out their true identity? Defrost them, of course! One of these delightful little surprises turned out to be about a 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree I’d saved from Joe Pumpkin two Octobers ago. Unlike the rest of the puree, this bit didn’t make it into the pumpkin pie and sat lonely and alone in the back of my freezer… until now!

Fettucini with a Savory Pumpkin Sauce

  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 c. pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 heaping T tomato paste
  • 1 T chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 T butter (replace with olive oil for vegan version)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • copious quantities of freshly ground pepper
  • parmesan cheese (omit for vegan version)

Coarsely chop your garlic and shallots and fry in a pan with the 2 T olive oil until garlic begins to turn a light golden brown and the shallots look glossy. Cut the mushrooms into strips and add them to the saute with the 2 T butter. Saute for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the finely chopped rosemary and fry for another minute or two. Add the white wine and let simmer for 5ish minutes. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk with a fork until the paste is dissolved. Add the veggie broth and do the same with the tomato paste. Add cracked pepper, but no salt yet! Let simmer on medium low for 20ish minutes. Salt to taste. Serve on top of fettucini… all covered with cheese…

If beer’s your bag, baby, lament its absence from the celiac life no more. Gluten-free beer is on the rise! Last year I went to the fine city of Milli-walk-ay (known to most normal people as Milwaukee) and popped into the Sprecher Brewery. MUCH to my surprise, they had a gluten-free beer on tap (I was planning on tapping into my inner 8-year-old and drinking myself silly on their cream soda – HELLO!) I had no idea such things even existed. But apparently, they have two types of African brews, Mbege and Shakporo, that are made with sorghum and millet. I can’t tell you which one I tasted, but it was mild and sweet. Interesting for sure.

Sprecher has two Gluten-Free Beers, Mbege and Shakporo

Sprecher has two Gluten-Free Beers, Mbege and Shakporo

Anyone else tried a gluten-free beer they like and recommend? Holler.

We have not had enough tomatoes and corn this summer. It’s a crime. Note to self: must remedy situation.

Naturally Gluten-Free: Sweet Summer Bean Salad

Naturally Gluten-Free: Sweet Summer Bean Salad

Sweet Summer Bean Salad

  • 5 ears of corn, grilled with husks on
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 cup dried white beans (canellini, navy or lima) or 2 1/2 c. canned white beans
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 7 cloves of garlic (woo!)
  • 1/4 c. hot giardiniera
  • 3 T. capers
  • 1 shallot
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T dijon mustard
  • 1/8 t. salt
  • 1/8 t. oregano
  • freshly ground pepper

If you’re using dried beans, cook the beans with 1/4 t. salt and five cloves of peeled-but-still-whole garlic until soft, either using a pressure cooker (far superior, in my impatient opinion) or the slow cook method. Set aside.

Soak the corn cobs with the husks on in water for 30 minutes. Place on a hot grill and cover, turning about every 10 minutes until the husks start to char and a peek in at the corn reveals the kernels have turned from a pale butter yellow to a more saturated buttercup yellow. Remove from grill, husk, and set aside to let cool.

Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-3/4″ cubes. Cut the shallot in half and thinly slice. Hold the corn cob on end against a cutting board and slice off the kernels close to the cob. Mince the 2 remaining cloves of garlic. Cut the avocado into 1/2″ cubes. Put shallots, tomatoes, corn, avocado, capers, and garlic into a large salad bowl. In a small bowl or jar, put the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon, salt, oregano and pepper and mix until smooth. Pour over the veggies. Eat hot or cold. Serves 4 as a main dish or 6-8 as a side.

It’s gluten-free muffin madness! Gluten-free muffins are so great. Aside from the endless variety, I can personally guarantee that no one will miss the wheat. True story!

Gluten-free Muffin Madness: Cardamom-Spiced Banana Nut Muffins

Gluten-free Muffin Madness: Cardamom-Spiced Banana Nut Muffins

Cardamom-Spiced Banana Nut Muffins

  • 2 1/3 c. gf flour
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 3 overripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. milk of some sort
  • 3/8 c. oil
  • 2 T melted butter
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 3/4 t. xanthan gum
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground cardamom (seeds from 8-9 cardamom pods)
  • 1 4 oz. bar of Ghirardelli semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 c. chopped walnuts

Directions: Mash the bananas in a large mixing bowl with a fork. Add the eggs and mix. Mix in the milk, oil and melted butter. Add the sugar and beat. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients except for the chocolate and walnuts. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients and beat until combined. Add the walnuts and chopped chocolate bar. Line a muffin tin with 12 muffin wrappers and fill to the top. Bake in a 350 ° oven for 18-20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Makes 12 large muffins.

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.

Good old Chicago. You leave for a week and the season changes on you. I feel like we barely got a taste of the usual broiling hot sopping summer that it usually supplies and then suddenly, oops! The unmistakable crispness of fall is in the air. Ah well. Who needs molasses-muggy summers anyway?

Squash. Squash is the point, people. The time has come.

Naturally Gluten-Free: Butternut Squash in a Miso Ginger Broth

Naturally Gluten-Free: Butternut Squash in a Miso Ginger Broth

Butternut Squash in a Miso Ginger Broth

  • 8 c. water
  • 1 small butternut squash (~6″ long)
  • 1/4 c. grated frozen ginger
  • 2 shallots
  • 1/2 c. miso paste
  • 1 package silken tofu
  • 1 leftover leek

Be a prep chef: Peel and seed the butternut squash. Dice into 1/4″ cubes. Slice your shallots as close to paper thin as you can. Open the package of silken tofu, slide a knife around the edges of the plastic bin and invert on a cutting board. Cut into 1/4″ cubes. I had the green part of a leek leftover in my fridge, so I used it in the recipe. It’s perfectly fine to use a whole leek, but find a small one. You don’t want it to be overly leeky. Remove the two or three outermost layers of the leek and discard. Remove each layer and carefully wash each one until you are into the tender, lime green leaves. Thinly slice (we’re talkin’ as close to paper thin as you can, again) the outer layers from the white part (if you have it – I didn’t) to the middle of the dark green part. Thinly slice the lime green core as well, reserving some for garnish. You are done with the prep.

Now the easy part: Put the water on to boil. When close, add the shallots and the squash. Biol until the squash is tender. Add the remaining ingredients except the miso, tofu, and lime green leek discs for garnish. Turn down to simmer. With a ladle, remove 2 c. of the soup and place in a large pyrex measuring cup or a bowl. Add the miso and mash with the back of a spoon until it’s totally dissolved. Return broth to pot. Divide your tofu among 4 large soup bowls. Pour the soup on top, garnish with the uncooked lime green leekies and enjoy a fall meal!

Chocolate popcorn, you’re the one,
You make snack-time lots of fun,
Chocolate popcorn, I’m awfully fond of youuuuuuuuuu!

Awwwww, jeah! Score one for the naturally gluten-free terrible treatsies. This time, the glorious invention is chocolate popcorn. Ghirardelli chocolate popcorn, to be precise. It munches, it crunches, it’s good for your lunches. Run to the kitchen and make it NOW. You know you want to.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Popcorn - whats not to love?

Ghirardelli Chocolate Popcorn - what's not to love?

Ghirardelli Chocolate Popcorn

Basic Corn:

  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 heaping T Ghirardelli Sweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 T veggie oil

For fahncy corn:

  • 1/8 t. cinnamon
  • dash of cayenne

If you’re making the fahncy popcorn, measure the cocoa powder, cinnamon and cayenne out into a small bowl and mix. Put the oil and popcorn kernels in a covered pot on high heat. When you hear the first pops, take oven mitts and jiggle the pot on the stove to prevent burning. Wait until the intense popping dies down to about a pop every two or three seconds. Turn off the heat. Lift the lid and sprinkle the cocoa powder (or mixture) over the popcorn. Put the lid back on, hold and shake to distribute the chocolatey goodness. Crunch, crunch.