Gravlax, Continued…

I know you have all been waiting with bated breath for the conclusion of the Gravlax project. Yes, all three of you who read my blog – I do so appreciate it!

To continue…Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning I basted the salmon fillet with the juices that exuded from it, making sure all of the dill got moistened each time. These juices were nice and syrupy – a combination of the brandy, the melted brown sugar and salt, and some moisture from the fillet itself. Sunday at noon I pulled the finished product from the refrigerator. The salmon fillet had significantly firmed up, which was a very good sign.  I scraped the dill off, using a butterknife in order to not cut into the fillet using anything sharp. No rinsing was necessary, although you will see recipes that do call for it. And then it was on to thinly slicing the fillet. And tasting of course!

It tasted fantastic! It was definitely not the lox I am used to being served. Where lox is typically just salt cured, gravlax has the added benefit of spices. The brown sugar gave this gravlax a deeper flavor, as opposed to just a sweetness. You could taste the brandy, the dill, and the salt. I loved the texture as well. Firmer than lox with a nice chew, but not chew-y. It all just melded so well. Once we did it up in our traditional brunch manner it got even better!

An onion bagel, cream cheese, capers, red onion and a squeeze of lemon to accompany fresh, homemade gravlax. What a way to feast for Sunday brunch! One tip – place your capers on top of the cream cheese and squish them down slightly. No more escaping capers! Want a more traditional way to serve? Place slices on a dark, firm pumpernickel bread, top with a mustard dill sauce and a sprig of fresh dill.

If lox, salmon, smoked salmon, or gravlax is something you enjoy I challenge you to try this. It is easier (and tastier!) than I ever would have thought.




Salt Preserving Challenge

Where has the time gone?! I cannot (okay, yes I can) believe how long it has been since I have put any words down here. The last 6 months have been a crazy whirlwind. We moved from Hawaii to Oregon, I put my business on hiatus, we dealt with some terrible winter weather (for Portland anyway…), and the last three weeks have been filled with unpacking boxes, trying to find a place for everything, and a lot of “where did I put (insert item here)?”  Things are starting to come together and I have been missing my quiet, organized kitchen time. This year Food In Jars came up with the the Food In Jars Mastery Challenge, a challenge where those participating would “focus on a different pickling or preserving skill, with the intention that we end this calendar year with a greater level of expertise and comfort with a wide range of food preservation techniques than when we started.” As comfortable as I am with canning and experimenting in that department, I felt I could definitely use the push of a monthly challenge, both to inspire me to try new techniques and to challenge me in areas I am already familiar with. January’s challenge was marmalade – a challenge I could not participate in due to the move and having no kitchen. But one I would have thoroughly enjoyed because I have quite an extensive marmalade repertoire due to tips and tricks from Food in Jars and all of the amazing citrus available to me when I was in Hawaii! So, moving on to February and a challenge of Salt Preserving. I was determined to make something this month, but it had to meet some criteria:

  • It had to be something to ease me into the new working environment of a new house.
  • It had to be something simple and useable, not something I would have to search out an elaborate recipe to use it in.
  • It had to be small batch.
  • It had to be something to expand my skills.

That narrowed it down to citrus/herb salt, vegetable soup base, or Gravlax. I opted for Gravlax because it fit all of the above – something quick, I had very few ingredients to buy, we would consume it in a short time, and it was something I had never made.

My main go-to when I am approaching something new is America’s Test Kitchen. I love how they research and test everything and explain why they take the approach that they do. A few years ago I saw their DIY Cookbook on a friend’s coffee table and I knew I had to have it. And today I used it to craft my first ever Gravlax.

Five simple ingredients

As you can see, five ingredients are all it takes. Drizzle the brandy all over the salmon fillet. Mix the salt and sugar together in a bowl and then pack it onto the top and sides of the salmon.

I happened to have a local Apple Brandy on hand
Packed with salt and sugar

Pie plate, canned beans for weight




Organic fresh dill, one of my faves


Top the fillet off with a thick layer of roughly chopped fresh dill. Loosely cover with plastic wrap, top with smaller baking dish and weights (canned goods work well), and place in the refrigerator.

Now I will baste it once daily with the exuded juices and swimming dill for the next three days, keep my fingers crossed, and look forward to enjoying this for brunch on Sunday!  I will post an update once it is finished.

Cheers to happy kitchen time!

GRAVLAX – DIY Cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen

  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 1 (1 pound) skin on salmon fillet
  • 3 T. brandy
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill (do not use dried)

Step 1: Combine sugar and salt in small bowl. Place salmon, skin side down, in 13×9 glass baking dish. Drizzle with brandy, making sure to cover entire surface. Rub salmon evenly with sugar mixture, pressing firmly on mixture to adhere. Cover with dill, pressing firmly to adhere.

Step 2: Cover salmon loosely with plastic wrap, top with square baking dish or pie plate, and weight with several large heavy cans. Refrigerate until salmon feels firm, about 3 days, basting salmon with liquid released into baking dish once a day.

Step 3: Scrape dill off salmon. Remove fillet from dish and pat dry with paper towels before slicing. Gravlax can be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated for up to one week; it should be left whole and sliced just before serving.

Off on an Adventure!

The production end of Mauka Girl Creations will be on hiatus until July while my best friend and I go do some traveling!  I am planning to blog here as often as possible to talk of our adventures and (if you know us at all!) the food and drinks we will be discovering.  We are currently in the Honolulu Airport awaiting our flight to Los Angeles where we will embark on a 10 hour flight to Paris, before hopping over to Edinburgh for a 10 day adventure. Then we go to Provence, and end our travels in Paris.  So stay tuned – it could be fun!

Fools and Fanatics and Wiser People

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”
Bertrand Russell

I came across this quote today after having a pretty rough day yesterday.  This applies to so much in our current lives – politics and dietary choices seem to be the most prevalent at the moment.  Be forewarned, this is not a food post today, more of a journaling one.  I learn a lot by my time spent in the kitchen creating.  I truly believe in the restorative powers of slowing down, making food, creating, and knowing where your ingredients come from.  Listening to America’s Test Kitchen podcasts and watching Michael Pollan’s Cooking series on Netflix are two activities I highly recommend while in your kitchen!

The wiser people are ignored since they typically think and take their time – cooking, reading, or deciding, by researching,  what non-elixir options are right for them.  Eat whatever you want.  If you believe a certain food has adverse effects on your system, don’t eat that food. But do not turn to me like a turn of the century snake oil salesman and tell me that it is bad for everyone and your way will cure all ills.  Did you ever think that maybe your constant stressing over what and what not to eat, constantly modifying your order when you go out, and worrying about why everyone around you is not following your lead could be having just as many adverse effects on your system?

Focus instead on the Super 6- six factors that can most likely add years to our lives, and life to our years. Feet, forks, fingers, sleep, stress, and love.  Engage in physical activity, eat a balanced diet, do not use your fingers for smoking, get good quality sleep, mitigate stress in your life, and have a good social circle of family and friends.  This came to me via David Katz, MD through this article –

I try my hardest every day to be active and eat well.  And I do not give myself enough credit and love.  As wise as I feel I am, I still get sucked into thinking I need to be at a certain weight or size, although logically I know that my body makeup is very different from the person next to me and it is impossible for me to ever look that way!  But I am trying. I do not smoke, that one is easy!  I feel I get good quality sleep (I also firmly believe in the restorative power of naps!).  The last two are the toughest.  I want to surround myself with good people where I currently live so I put myself out there, and in return I get…nothing.  Which is where the breakdown of yesterday came from.  Things are better today.  I know I will be okay and when push comes to shove there is that love all around me.  But possibly some changes need to be made.

We are all going to make mistakes and feel embarrassed about that time we did fall for the “cure all”.  As long as we accept and learn from those mistakes and embarrassments, all will be well with our worlds.  And in the meantime, just remember that “you don’t need a phony elixir to lead a healthy long life.” – Christopher Kimball


Accidental Kosher Dill Relish & 2 Recipes

Although I am a couple of days late, this post is in honor of National Can-It-Forward Day, which occurred this past Saturday, August 1st.


I do love a good kosher dill.  What makes a pickle “kosher” you ask?  Well, according to wikipedia, a “kosher” dill pickle is not necessarily kosher in the sense that it has been prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary law, it is a pickle made in the traditional manner of Jewish New York City pickle makers, with generous addition of garlic and dill to a natural salt brine.  I also notice that other spices are typically added, such as bay leaf, mustard seeds, and hot pepper.  I have done a bit of experimenting and have found a lovely flavor combination that all starts with the Dill Pickle recipe in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and using the kosher-style variation.

The flavor of these pickles was everything I had hoped for, although the texture was a bit on the mushy side, but not so much that they could not be salvaged in some way.  I strained the finished product and placed the brine in a saucepan to heat.  While it was heating, I took the pickles (not the spices), and transferred them to the food processor.  A few pulses later I had a lovely, chunky, relish consistency which then got added to the hot brine.  A few minutes was all it took to heat the mixture through, then I filled the jars and processed as normal.  This relish is a great addition to my repertoire, making it particularly enjoyable for those who prefer a relish that is not sweet.

I have since made another batch of kosher dills, this time using Ball Pickle Crisp.  No longer do I want to run the risk of having mushy pickles!

Kosher Dills
Kosher Dills – another week before I can try, but they look delicious!
Yield: About 7 pints
  • 8 pounds 4-6 inch cucumbers, washed, 1/16 inch of blossom end removed, cut lengthwise into halves or wedges
  • 3/4 cup sugar, preferably organic
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt or kosher salt
  • 1 quart white distilled vinegar
  • 1 quart water
  • 3 T. pickling spice (I prefer to make my own (recipe to follow)
  • 1 head green dill per jar or 1/2 tsp. dill seed per jar
  • 1 bay leaf (per jar)
  • 1 clove fresh garlic (per jar)
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (per jar)
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed (per jar)

Combine sugar, salt, vinegar, and water in a large saucepot, tie pickling spice into a spice bag using a piece of cheesecloth and bakers twine.  Add the bag to the brine, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, pack cucumbers into hot, prepared pint jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.  Add 1 head dill or 1/2 tsp dill seed, 1 bay leaf, 1 clove of garlic, 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp mustard seed to each jar.  Ladle hot liquid into jars, remove air bubbles, add more brine as needed to reach 1/2″ headspace.  Add 1/8 tsp Pickle Crisp to each jar.  Adjust 2 piece lids, process jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.

I usually allow 4-6 weeks for these pickles to sit to develop the best flavor.

A delicious array of spices to make your own Pickling Spice
A delicious array of spices to make your own Pickling Spice
  • 3 Tablespoons Black Peppercorns
  • 3 Tablespoons Whole Allspice
  • 3 Tablespoons Coriander Seed
  • 3 Tablespoons Mustard Seed
  • 3 Tablespoons Juniper Berries
  • 1 Tablespoon Whole Cloves
  • 1 Tablespoon Dill Seed
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick, broken into pieces (I found that a mortar and pestle did this job wonderfully!)

Pour all spices into a jar, seal, shake to combine.  Use any time a recipe calls for a mixed pickling spice.

A couple of tips:

  • For these pickles, use a pickling cucumber.  They have less water that a traditional cucumber.  Here in Hawaii the closest thing I have found is a Thai cucumber, which works beautifully.
  • Only use kosher or pickling salt.  Table salt has added iodine, which will cause your pickles to discolor and give them an “off” taste.

For The Love of Beets

I love beets.  I love their flavor.  I love their texture.  They are my favorite vegetable.  A magic word combination on a restaurant menu is “beets and goat cheese”.  Yum!  And I LOVE pickled beets.  Just simply pickled and vinegar-y, with a touch of sweetness.  At any salad bar, I would make a bee-line for the pickled beets to top my salad.  Imagine my disappointment when every pickled beet recipe I came across and every wonderful friend who ever gifted me a jar just was not up to snuff.  So yes, I am also a beet snob.  They were too sweet and full of too many spices.  So I never bothered making them.

Enter “Food In Jars” by Marisa McClellan.  I can not thank her enough for including this pickled beet recipe!  It is everything I have always looked for in a pickled beet – vinegar-y with a touch of sweetness and a hint of ginger.  So I must share it with you!  This recipe has no modifications, which is unusual for me.  I often make changes to either make the recipe my own, incorporate unusual ingredients, or make them safe for canning.  None of these were necessary here!


Gingery Pickled Beets                                                                           Makes approximately (3) 1-pint Jars
  • 2 Pounds Beets, Any Color
  • 2 Cups Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Cups Water
  • 2 T. Pickling or Kosher Salt
  • 1 Cup Sugar (Preferably Organic)
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • (1) 2-inch Piece of Fresh Ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

Scrub the beets, removing the greens and long roots.  Place the beets in a pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium, and simmer until the beets are just tender, about 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your beets.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  when the beets are cool enough to handle, rub the skins off with your fingers.  (Wear plastic gloves to avoid stained hands.)  Cut the beets into wedges and set aside.

Prepare a boiling water bath and 4 regular mouth 1 pint jars.  (Going off recipe for a minute – if you do not know this process, refer to Marisa’s post at her blog for details).  One change I would recommend – let them sit in the pot of boiling water for 10 minutes before filling with anything in order to thoroughly sterilize them.

In a pot, combine the vinegar, water, salt, sugar, cinnamon stick, and ginger slices.  Bring to a boil.  Turn heat to low until ready to use.

Jars filled with beets, ready for the addition of the brine.
Jars filled with beets, ready for the addition of the brine.

Pack your beet wedges into sterilized jars.  slowly pour the hot brine over the beets in each jar, making sure to tuck 2-3 ginger slices into each jar, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Use a wooden chopstick and gently poke it around the edge of the jar interior to dislodge any bubbles.  Check the headspace again and add more brine if necessary.

Wipe the rims with a damp paper towel, apply the lids, tighten the rings finger tight, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, if between sea level and 1,000 feet in altitude.  For avery additional 2,000 feet of altitude, add 5 minutes to the processing time.  (e.g: If you live at 5,000 feet, your processing time would be 20 minutes).  And if you live in the tropics, process everything for 20 minutes!

– from “Food In Jars”, by Marisa McClellan

I find that these beets are delicious within a couple of days, but TRY to let them cure for a week before enjoying.  Confession time – after taking the first picture of the full jar of beets, I promptly ate the ENTIRE jar.

All gone!
All gone!

Storing Vanilla Beans

This weekend I stayed home, recovered from the after effects of the flu bug that bit me the weekend prior, and made 14 batches of preserves to take to the Farmer’s Market this week.  It was busy, but fulfilling.

I also learned how to store vanilla beans.  I buy my vanilla beans in bulk and, knowing the time and effort it takes to produce vanilla beans, the last thing I want is for them to get any mold on them or dry out.


After a quick internet search (isn’t it amazing how so much information is right at our fingertips?), I discovered the key is to store them in an airtight container, away from as much light as possible.  And airtight means something more substantial than a Ziplok!

I divided the beans into small bundles – you don’t want to have to open and reseal every time you just need one or two – and busted out the trusty vacuum sealer.

IMG_1431 IMG_1428

After sealing them into bundles of 12, their height fit perfectly into a quart Ball jar.  Bonus that it is one of the Heritage Collection green jars to keep out light!  IMG_1430

I labeled the jar with my oh-so-fun Brother P-Touch labeler, and now my vanilla beans will be viable for a year or more!


Vanilla beans can be quite affordable by buying in bulk – I purchased mine on Amazon.  They add such wonderful depth to dishes, and having a reliable storage method makes the purchase totally worth it!