SFC: The Deep Pickle, Part 1

           With my recent forays in Cubano and Pickled Hot Dogs, I thought it only prudent to finally get into making some pickles myself! Well, that and the giant load of cucumbers my sister dropped on me with the recent co-op bag.

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            It was also a good way to use up these leftover Garlic Scapes I had from the previous adventure; I swear these things are just MADE for pickling. Such a strong, intense and delicious flavor, but you can’t really keep it through cooking; not to mention their interesting little texture.

            Start with actual vegetables; sliced the cucumber to a sorta-thin, sorta-thick pickle slices with a knife. If you have one, a mandolin or other set blade-in-board is great for getting something super-thin, or just keeping consistency. As you’ll see later, I also thought it’d be fun to cut a few spears just for the heck of it, see how they turned out. The scapes just got a few simple cuts; about 1-2” long.

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            Once these are prepped and ready, sitting in whatever container or jar one has or prefers (the best of these should probably be done in a jar or other highly sealed device, with a whole list of sanitary procedures and whatever; but for the simple at-home pickle, whatever will work), we can get to the actual pickle.

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            Now, there are recipes all over the net for thousands of different pickles, and personally, I almost never go off any of them. And I’m not gonna try and give you any “special recipe” to go along with all the other “special recipes” out there. For those who want to make some nice, simple pickles from whatever you have at home, all that you need to know about is the Components. Ultimately, the final balance of ANY pickling liquid will be determined by what one is trying to pickle and what sort of flavor one wants out of it.

            First and most important is Vinegar: this provides the all-important tangy, sharp qualities that make a pickle a pickle and not a brine or anything else. Generally speaking, one is using very simple, subtly flavored vinegars for it; either White Wine, Rice, or Apple Cider vinegar. IF one wants to use things like Red Wine, Sherry, Balsamic, etc, then they’re usually best added as a small part, either in tandem with others or as the base if one goes for a highly diluted pickle. That’s the second thing about the vinegar aspect; one can go from using JUST vinegar for their liquid or dilute with water, for those times they want such a sharp flavor (delicate ingredients). I myself used Rice and some White vinegar (the only ones I had in the pantry!) with about an equal proportion of Water to bulk up (another use for it, when you don’t have enough).

            Seasoning, salt and pepper, doesn’t play any more important role than in other dishes; unless one is in the rare scenario where they WANT a salty cucumber pickle or something, only use in simple pinches. Only thing to note is it’s better using the black pepperCORNS than just grinding it.

            If anything, Sugar is a bigger key; though we’re most used to the simple, bone-dry pickles of both popular and mass-produced variety, the sweetness in sugar can help round out and enrichen the flavors and mouthfeel of any pickled item. I always make sure to get some in mine, just that extra aspect on the palette is more pleasing to me vs the “just acid and spices” of a sugarless mix. And once again, the amount is gonna be determined by preferred style, as well as what one’s balance of vinegar and flavors are. I will say it’s really nice getting a lot when doing fruit pickles; sort of like a little treat to add to desserts.

            The last, and just as important, component to flavor is, of course, the actual Spices, Herbs, and Aromatics used. These can be, well, basically anything you want; can use as few as only 1-2 things to flavor or as many as 40 (warning, do not attempt 40 unless a seasoned pickle and flavor specialist!). Important to note, this is where one cranks out their WHOLE spices; avoid the grinds and powders as much as you can, using only in those situations where you HAVE to have that one flavor and don’t have anything except (I myself always get a bit of mustard into mine, but didn’t have any of the seeds this time…). One can then put these in as-is, or toast those spices beforehand; always a good bet if one’s spice mix looks like you’re trying to make your own Garam Masala.

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            Now, where the spices can, and should, simply be in the pickle mix for the entire cooking process (will get to that later), herbs are a different matter. Highly delicate, I probably wouldn’t even suggest using leaves; save those for food, and grab the flavorful but other-wise impractical stems for infusion. I myself had a whole bunch of parsley and basil stems leftover from previous use. Best put it in once one’s done with the boiling, either letting them steep briefly on their own (what I did) or having the stems stay in with the vegetables being pickled.

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            I myself used a very basic but old favorite; a few bay leaves, some black peppercorns, and mustard (again, wanted seeds, but had to use something different). Was going to also get some red pepper flakes, also a good pickle standby, but forgot; I would have normally also put in some Garlic Slices, but since I was doing the scapes anyway I figured no need.. And, since I was doing more of a bread-butter-like fella, one last, often not-well-known component; Turmeric. It adds an interesting little rich component to this classic style.

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            Well, everything is mixed together (save herbs and the veggies) and boiled until all seasoning particles are dissolved, and long enough for flavors to infuse if need be. At this point it is VERY important to be tasting, adjusting, making sure one gets the flavor they want; though be careful, that hot vinegar can be quite pungent, so keep away from the nose!

            Once we get things where we want, we get to consider the first of the Two important non-mix considerations: Temperature. We could add this pickle right now, after the boil, while it’s still hot, or we could let it cool down completely (even put in the fridge to get cold), and everything in between. This is usually determined by two things: what you’re pickling, and when you need it.

            If you need the pickle fast and/or you have something a little tougher, crunchy, big… usually certain veggies… basically could use a little “cooking” action to soften its structure, then go for Hot. This can make a pickle that’s ready in a day or two at the most; one could even make an “instant pickle” of sorts by having the veggies in the mix while it’s boiling.

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            On the other extreme, if you want to “properly” pickle for a longer time (don’t ask me what happens molecularly, I don’t really know, and don’t feel like researching, haha) and/or have more delicate items, ESPECIALLY if doing this with Fruit, then go room temp or cold. This ties in to the other factor, Time; generally speaking, those pickles that become ready in only a day are good, though a little rougher than if they were allowed to sit for at least a week.

            In a side note, I’m not sure what the call is for whole/big items; they need LONG times, though I’m not sure if they should get started with heat or not. I’d say start off with cooler pickles if you want to try whole cucumber pickles or whatever; if anything, it helps preserve color.

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            Letting mine cool down, I took the herbs out and poured it over my filled container of prepared cucumbers. Not only should this come to the top, we need to now make sure that the veggies STAY UNDER the pickle; in a jar, this is simply done by filling to the top, the seal is good enough that that’s all we need. For everything else, there are tiny plates and bowls! Great for covering most of what we need.

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            After letting it sit for a day, or a week (mine), or whenever, we now have a pickle ready to be eaten as-is or piled onto whatever sandwich, hot dog, soup, or whatever you want; or fried! So tasty fried.

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            I’d normally finish with some awkwardly-reached-for paragraph styled in the hope that it makes me look at least semi-professional, but I am so not done with this pickle thing! Stay tuned for part 2 of my Pickle post when I tackle Sauerkraut! (… it’s gonna be a while…)

A La Plancha

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https://www.facebook.com/alaplanchatc  

https://twitter.com/aLaPlanchaMPLS  

Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

            Spanish cuisine isn’t something our Trucks have hit on too much; general Latin certainly, and an obvious influence of Mexican flavors and wrappings through the street-food regular tacos. True, traditional Spanish cuisine, on the other hand, is still rarely ever touched on this sense, despite the obviously popular Tapas trend in various restaurants.

            A La Plancha hopes to fix that; starting out in Catering, Plancha has opened this year as our first Tapa-based Food Truck. Big and red, with a Mexican Wrestler (or “Luchador”) Poster festooned on just about every side, along with a whole line of “tapas.”

            Though the actual options are highly seasonal, there ARE many solid standbys to be seen. They hold two large sandwiches, a Cecina (seared beef and pimento) and Cubano, the latter also coming in Slider form at times. A set Gazpacho is often seen, along with Guacamole and tortillas of course. Various other tapas can and often include Croquettes, some form/s of Salad, Potatoes Brava (fried/sautéed with paprika), Empanadas, and some sort of “Tortilla,” which is actually very much like a very fluffy, thick omelette or frittata (traditionally with potatoes).  All of these being very traditional or close to traditional style and options, giving customers a comfortable way to ease into the new Truck cuisine.

            Hard to figure out where to start with all of this, but I think my first trip went well enough.

 

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Food: 8

             A Cubano marked my first meal at this Truck of Tiny Tapas (alliterations galore, yay!), yielding and interesting exploration to this pressed pickle, pork, and swiss delight.

             Placing between a Ciabatta (or ciabatta-like) bun, no toasting is done on the inside, I mean it’s a cubano, there shouldn’t be; instead pressing  to crisp the outside, bringing a nice, complete texture out of the bread (as opposed to the underbaked doughy flavors of certain other Trucks). However, they have yet to achieve anything near to the full squished, almost Panini-like press of many successful, traditional cubanos (I might actually suggest they think about getting a few machines, or change the bread to better press). Which is probably why the Swiss has only the lightest of melt on it, lacking much of that “goo” factor we look for in any griddled sandwich with cheese. As for the pork aspect; the Ham tastes nice, as does the actual Pulled Pork, but the latter is noticeably lacking in moisture and any “wow” elements.

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             The star of the show comes in the Pickles, which are of course housemade (and kept in various jars throughout the kitchen). Completely PILED onto the top bun, their tangy, sharp vinegar bouncing off the acidic and intense seeded mustard on the bottom, cutting through and lifting the meat and cheese in their crunchy texture and rich flavors. Ultimately, though it’s not too impressive compared to the “true” cubanos, as an actual sandwich it all comes together very tasty.

             This was served with a side of tortilla chips; fried themselves from Masa tortillas (I can tell). If one has the craving for this particular Truck lunch, and/or has a few extra bucks, and/or is smart, you’ll get a side of their Guacamole. I haven’t actually tried it myself, but the one behind the register (the owner?) gave me a peak at what it looked like.

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            Mmmmmm, that is some sexy, chunky guacamole. I’m not one for all the mixings of tomatoes and onions, but even that looks good to me; keeping it minimal, fresh and rich. That would be a good guac I’m sure.

            And finally, they were kind enough to be handing out little sample containers of their Gazpacho to various people who enquired about it. Tomato based, they blend theirs with Honeydew and Peppadew; the tomato brought in richness and acid, the melon gave that fun little pureed-fleshy texture, and the pepper some zing and an extra note, not to mention the other little spices and such they added. A really tasty cold soup.

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Holdability: 8

             Highly dependent on what one gets. First off, I’d say the sandwiches are actually pretty darn easy to hold in one hand (with the basket under the other); sorta like Brava’s Lamb. Soup seems pretty simple, not sure what kinda container they use for the bigger guys, but could probably just drink it down like a smoothie. Most other items are sure to be similar two-handed, though things like Potatoes Bravas and various other seasonal possibilities may lead to things which need to sit down or stand still to consume comfortably.

Price: 8.5

              Bigger, sandwich entrée-like items hang around the $8-9.50 range, with cheaper eats like quac and gazpacho at $3-ish. I’m unsure of the various other seasonal items, though I don’t think it’d be too much of a stretch to envision other items around the $3 with things like empanadas or tortillas between the two extremes. Dependant on when one gets there, can possibly load up with a bunch of fun little fellas.

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Speed: 8.5

             Once again, depends on the item; soup and guac are instantaneous of course, I assume fried items like croquettes are a little faster than average, and sandwiches and others come in at average waiting periods.

The TOE: 8

             Not too much I think I can say at this point; they’re definitely on their way, they have a fun little truck with a new idea in our mobile scene. When going in those times which they have a fuller tapas menu, I think one can enter into quite the interesting experience, especially during special events and Food Truck Days. And it doesn’t hurt they have a big, colorful Luchador decorating the sides.

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                           Tally: 41/50

                       

Final Thoughts

            Certainly an interesting truck compared to others. Definitely a great stop for multi-truck snackings or if one wants to grab multiple items for cheap. Though it’s not too bad a place for the larger, sandwich-based lunches.

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            If you’re a stickler for a very traditional quality Cubano, this probably isn’t the one for you; though it’s still a good sandwich item in general, especially for pickle and mustard lovers. For those who love getting the Guac and Tortilla sides and various Trucks, I think this is the place for you; get your rear out of Hola’s line and grab this nice, chunky dip of goodness.

            And of course where is a suggestion here without the various small items? Definitely go for the Croquettes once they start frying, not to mention the Tortillas. Empanadas I’m unsure of, not having tried them yet… if the price is low enough, certainly give them a shot, though if you’re craving a meal of them and Midnord is out I wouldn’t put my money and risk on a place that only makes one.

            Don’t forget the Gazpacho when the day is hot; who needs soda when one can get a good cup of cold soup?