Pickle Power

Okay you fabulous people.  I had no idea that so many others had experienced the pain of my pickle …. perplexity…. ok, that’s not a word, but it just had to be a “p” word (and the pre-K crowd goes wild….).  I have learned a great deal since posting about my frustration with standard pickles bought from an above average American grocery store.  My key conclusion: I will not likely be buying pickles again, and if I do, it will be something like Bubbie’s fermented pickles.  The price of these all natural probiotic beauties, however, makes them a candidate for a special treat rather than everyday lunch purchasing.  Other conclusions I’ve drawn: pickles are both a flavor and a process, and it is useful to figure out what you’re after if you want to satisfy your most dear pickle cravings.  I’ve realized that most of my pickle cravings are flavor rather than process or probiotic related, and so I am particularly interested in fresh and refrigerator pickles at the moment.  But WOW! did I get some great suggestions.

A quick gleaning of your wisdom (and an overwhelming craving for BBQ – which I satisfied with seitan, something we’ll discuss when I get it down) led me to put together what I can only humbly and realistically call a sweet and sour pickle salad.  The children were unimpressed, but I can’t say I’m surprised.  Frankly after giving them the equivalent of Lucky Charms pickles, I’m not sure I’ll ever get them to eat the real deal.  My husband and I enjoyed them immensely, eating them as a side dish, layering them on top of our BBQ, eating them straight out of the bowl, yes it was a bit of a fresh pickle orgy.  So, while simple, I thought I’d share with you my quick not quite pickle recipe in case you, too, are reeling from my pickle revelations.  These still have more sugar than I would like, but I guess I need a little weaning where my pickle expectations are concerned as well.

Chemical Free Simply Fabu Sweet and Sour Pickles

  • 1 large English style or 2 medium whatever you have on hand pickles (this is still me – please don’t get stuck on the type of cuke for pity’s sake)
  • 1/4 onion cut into slices (or however your crew will eat them)
  • 2 c water
  • 4T sugar
  • 1/2 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2t celery seeds
  • 3t salt
  • 1t mustard seeds

Slice cucumber however you like.  Put cukes and onions in bowl that will hold your cukes and some liquid – ideally to cover cukes.  Bring water just to a boil and add sugar – take off heat to avoid scalding sugar and stir to dissolve sugar.  Add other ingredients and stir.  Allow to cool for a few minutes.  Pour over cukes and allow to sit for at least half an hour.  Longer would be better and a chill would be nice too.  We ate ours at room temp and straight out of the bowl until all that was left was the brine.  De-lish and no HFCS or Yellow 5 in sight.  The cucumber plants that are growing like crazy are all the more lovely to me now.  Soon we shall be drowning in cukes for me to experiment with.  And thanks to your generosity I have many options to choose from.  Can’t wait.

C’mon, Really?

So one of the things Big Sis and I talk about a lot (at least to each other when everyone else has tuned out) is the various forms that sugar takes and how much of it hides in unexpected places.  Having eliminated most processed foods from our diet, the whole question of hidden sugar is not something I pay that much attention to anymore.  And it is at that moment, isn’t it, when we realize our vulnerability.

I’ve mentioned (once or twice only, I’m sure) that my daughter is a pretty picky eater.  We struggle to find foods that she enjoys that are also healthful and that I am willing to provide her with.  Recently we discovered that she truly enjoys pickles.  She is CRAZY for pickles.  Now, she will try any pickle, but (no shocker here) she is particularly fond of bread and butter pickles.  I know, I know.  They are sweeter pickles, Little Sis, duh.  Did you really think they didn’t have any sugar?  No, I just didn’t check to see how MUCH sugar.  Nor did I read the list of ingredients…. Shame on me.  Buyer be-freaking-ware all the time.  After I watched my daughter scooping handfuls of these pickles into her mouth, I became quite suspicious….  Turned the jar to read the label, and promptly put the lid back on the jar, moving it to the far end of the table.  With just 8 of these delicious little pickle chips my sweetie pie had eaten the equivalent of half a snicker’s bar worth of sugar, or in this case, high fructose corn syrup.  Swell.  The real kicker was the discovery of Yellow 5 in the ingredient list.  What’s that you say?  Yellow 5?  You mean the one on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s list of foods everyone should avoid?  Yes, that Yellow 5 (which is found in countless other processed foods, by the way).  Super Swell.

So I put on my detective cap…  Next trip to Wegman’s (where I purchased the relatively affordable and inedible in my home pickles) and discovered that in the “regular” food aisle they only carry their own bread and butter pickles.  No choice.  There are bread and butter pickles that use regular sugar in place of HFCS, and also those who use turmeric in place of Yellow 5 (all of this to keep the pickles from being bluish instead of creepy greenish).  None of these options were available to me.  Bummer.   On my next trip, I remembered to look at pickles in the “natural foods” section – the weird store within a store that Wegman’s has (that I think is really annoying and confusing, but maybe that’s just me).  In this section, Wegman’s offered it’s store brand organic bread and butter pickles which contain sugar (rather than HFCS), and were noticeably less creepy green because of the lack of Yellow 5, or any other coloring agent, in the jar.  These pickles were significantly more expensive, and the sugar count (albeit a sugar I preferred) was still shockingly high.  My children were with me for this investigation and I allowed them to bully me into buying these organic wonder pickles on the condition that we would also buy dills and they would give them a shot and that their bread and butter intake would be limited at my discretion with no complaining (yes, I had them sign a contract).

I was kind of stunned by this whole thing, which may be silly.  It reminded me of a few simple rules that I tend to get lazy about since I make most of my own food.

1) Most food manufacturers produce the food that profits them the most.  Period.  That means high fructose corn syrup and toxic dye so the pickles don’t look blue.

2) With processed foods if it doesn’t taste sweet or salty, it only has some sugars and salts; if it does taste sweet or salty, it has an enormous amount of sugars and or salts.

3) There are prices that are too high when it comes to getting a vegetable into picky daughter’s  (or anyone else’s) belly.  Yellow 5 and HFCS are on that list for me.

4) While Wegman’s has gone to great lengths to label their store brand foods as being gluten-free, vegan, food allergy problem, whatever when appropriate (and I applaud them for this, really) none of these things mean a food is good for you.  Potato chips should be the big tip-off.  What?  They’re vegan, right?  I bought them the fancy grocery store – they must be good for you….

5) More often than not, the processed food that I’m buying (with guilt and trepidation) is only a shadowy substitute for a real food that I could make in my own kitchen without an enormous amount of time or energy expended.

On that note, I am taking up the great pickle research project.  I have canned pickles before and frankly, I wasn’t thrilled with the result.  I will look for recipes for this again, but will only undertake that task if my cucumber plants go INSANE.  Instead, I believe I will opt for fresh pickles.  I’ve found a few recipes, but most of them go something like this: cucumbers, onions, salt, celery seed, white vinegar, and sugar.  Dissolve dry into wet, pour over veggies.  Let sit overnight in fridge – done.  But will they last?  Doesn’t matter over here.  What about the sugar?  See that’s the beauty of doing it at home; I can cut it and then reduce it more over time to fool the little stinker into liking them that way.  What if they’re blue?  Frankly my dear…..

Instant Mac & Cheese Without The Box

What is that you ask?

That, my friends, is an escape from the hazardous box of macaroni and cheese that has served you faithfully when you had little time to prepare a meal, or needed an older child to feed him/herself or others.  Kraft macaroni and cheese sounds like such a good idea.  Pasta, milk, cheese – what could be wrong with that?   Well for starters, the macaroni is not whole grain and it is enriched.  You know, the old take-all-the-nutrients-out-and-then-stick-them-back-in in a form that is not as readily absorbed by the body?  Second of all, it’s dehydrated cheese.  It takes a few chemicals to achieve that in a form that anyone would WANT to reconstitute!  It’s certainly not the worst ingredient list in the grocery store but Kraft Macaroni & Cheese includes chemicals like: sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, lactic acid, citric acid, enzymes and worst of all – Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 which are on the Center for Science in the Public Interests’ list of DO NOT CONSUME food additives.

My first attempt to dodge using Kraft-type mac & cheese was to buy Annie’s whole wheat shells and cheese.  Nice product.   WAY too expensive for what it is.  I only bought it on sale, and even then when you see how much it makes you can come up with lots of other ways to spend that 2$.  Next, I began baking macaroni and cheese the old fashioned way.  Everyone loves it except my son.  Really?  By the way, he also prefers what he calls  ‘factory chicken soup’ to my homemade.  Good thing he’s cute, eh?

So… being a nice Mommy at least once in a while and missing the convenience of telling him to make some mac and cheese for himself at lunchtime now and again, I decided to try and make instant mac and cheese without the box.

And what you see in the jar is a frozen portion of the sauce I made on the stove top in the same amount of time it took for the noodles to cook (including bringing the water to a boil).   The recipe was adjusted, several versions of fresh and frozen were kid tested and proclaimed to be as good as Annie’s.  Success!  I had hoped for almost as good (which is the highest praise any of my homemade soups have ever received from him), but to equal the Master – or Mistress – of Mac & Cheese?  Wow.  I think someone should fan me with a palm leaf and feed me grapes.

But first let me give you the recipe.

Instantly Healthier Mac & Cheese
adapted from Instant mac & cheese recipe on Cooks.com
Sauce:

  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 2 Tbsp. White whole wheat flour (what I used)
  • ½ – ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp dry mustard
  • ¼ – ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter
  • ¾ cup grated cheddar cheese (Little Sis’ kids preferred less cheese, and they are awfully cute as well… Just sayin’)

Set water on to boil for pasta (preferably whole grain)*.
Make the sauce:
Mix the flour and milk in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake well to mix the flour in.  Begin the butter melting in a saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the spices and milk/flour mixture making sure to give another good shake to the jar before pouring the milk in.  Heat the mixture to boiling, stirring well.  Boil, stirring the whole time for 1 minute.  Turn heat to low and add cheese.  Mix well.  Pour over cooked pasta  You can freeze some of the sauce for another quick macaroni meal that a kid can easily prepare.

*I am a dumper not a measurer of things like pasta so I’m afraid I don’t have a set amount of pasta for this recipe – but leftover sauce can be frozen, and leftover pasta can be saved so please forgive the lapse.  Plus you can find your optimal amount of sauce per bowl of pasta when unencumbered by rigid amounts.  Good justification for not having to make this recipe right this second, don’t you think?  Even though it wouldn’t take long at all.

We’ve linked this recipe to Melt in Your Mouth Mondays on Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms.