New Pickles

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I can't believe that today is the first of December. But perhaps it is appropriate to finish the farming season with a pickling post. This post has been marinating since the few last warm days in October, when we went to Alstede Farms here in Chester, New Jersey, with no purpose whatsoever other than pick a few of our own vegetables and see and pet the farm animals (my husband an I are both about five years old mentally when it comes to such things).



At the farm, past the animals, past the pumpkins, past the corn, all of which attracted most of the visitors, we stumbled upon a cucumber patch devoid of anyone entirely.


I was delighted because I've loved these tiny, prickly, crunchy crescent knobs of goodness ever since I actually was five at my grandmother's house in the summer where she had a vegetable garden. We used to pick fresh, small cucumbers from her garden as soon as we would arrive there for the summer. I would eat a few right away, fresh, split in half sprinkled with salt (my favorite snack, still). But there were too many to eat fresh, and I watched my grandmother and my mom use the rest to make new pickles, ready in just a few days.


At the farm, the first time around, my husband and I picked just a few, enough for one or two jars, for an experiment. The next time we came back, we filled our box with cucumbers, with some corn and string beans thrown on top for decency.


With this recipe I attempted to recreate the taste of a freshly pickled cucumber, taken from a just opened jar of my grandmother's pickles. I've combined what I learned from a few cookbooks I've inherited from my grandmother along with consulting with my mom in how she remembered they made these pickles.


The pickles taste just like I remember them.


Nothing can ever beat freshly picked vegetables. Kirby cucumbers should be small, freshly picked. The best kind is to pick your own if you can, and pickle them the same or next day. The next best thing is a farmer's market, but likely there won't be cucumbers small enough, unless you make a request in advance. Avoid store-bought because they've been sitting there a while, and often they're covered with stuff which can react with and possibly spoil your brine.


These pickles are ready in just a few days. We managed to wait about three. I'd say these were just about perfect by day four. These should be consumed within a few weeks of pickling. Since the brine is salt-based and the pickles are not fermented, the recipe is not meant for long-term pickling.


New Pickles
Makes 6 one-quart jars

You will need:

Canning pot
Large pot for the brine
Six one-quart jars, with lids and bands
Tongs or jar grabber
Weighing scale

Brine (4% - 4.5% salt):
240 - 270 grams (8.5 to 9.5 oz by weight) kosher salt*
6 liters (6.3 quarts) water

Spices for each jar:
2 garlic cloves
1/4 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/4 tsp whole mustard seeds
1/4 tsp pepper corns
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dill seeds
2 whole cloves
8 sprigs of fresh dill
1-2 dried hot chili peppers (optional)

7-9 lbs small kirby cucumbers (about 2-2.5 inches long)


1. Wash the cucumbers, remove the flowers, then place in a large pot and cover with water. Let soak for about one hour.

2. Sterilize jars and lids. Bring a canner (giant pot) filled with water to a simmer. Ladle some of the water carefully into each jar (to prevent the glass from cracking). Then, submerge the jars, a few at a time, together with the lids, and boil for about 10 minutes. Remove from the canner and let the jars cool slightly. Discard the water.

3. For the brine, bring the 6 liters of water to a boil, stir in the salt, until it is completely dissolved. Avoid using an aluminum pot, as the metal will react with the salt; teflon-lined or stainless steel is best. Turn the heat down to a simmer.

4. Pack each sterilized jar with overlapping layers of spices and cucumbers. Cucumbers should be very tightly packed, leaving about half an inch for the brine at the top. Depending on the size of the cucumbers, you should be able to pack about 1 1/2 lb cucumbers per jar. Pour in the hot brine; the brine should cover the contents of each jar; seal the jars. Overturn the jars once to get rid of any air bubbles. Cool completely. Store in the fridge. Pickles will be ready after 3-4 days. Consume within 1 month. Keep refrigerated at all times.

* use salt that has NO ADDITIVES, including no iodine; it should not be sea salt. Ingredients should read salt, nothing else. Anything else will cloud or spoil your brine. Also be careful to WEIGH your salt, and do NOT use volumetric measurements. This is especially important if you use granulated salt as opposed to flaky salt, the former of which is much denser. The percentage of salt in your brine will vary greatly if you only rely on volumetric measurements.


Clam Chowder (Dairy-Free)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

At the clam festival last month we got to sample a variety of different clam chowders. The New England clam chowder is thick, rich, with a heavy dose of cream. The Manhattan clam chowder is tomato-based, with a thinner broth, and no cream. There are also several hybrids, using some variation of one or the other, or using both tomato and cream. My preference is the New England clam chowder, since it seems the flavors blend better together. Once I started researching recipes for New England clam chowder, they varied from a quarter to the majority of the liquid in the chowder consisting of heavy cream. Using that much cream, even if I was a milk fiend, seemed a bit much. It also happens that around these parts we're lactose intolerant. My husband really wanted to try making some, but the thought of that much cream almost completely turned him off from it. So I started thinking about how I could recreate the same richness and creaminess of a New England clam chowder and avoid using dairy.


As I began looking through different recipes and learning more about it, I found a curious website. It is a collection, amassed by UMass, of New England clam chowder recipes as they evolved through the years, from the more modern recipes to more interesting ones going back to the seventeen hundreds.


If you peruse the recipes you can actually observe the evolution of the clam chowder, from a simple clam broth with some milk splashed in at the end cooked over hot coals, to what it has become today. Some of the more common threads involve bacon, clams and dairy. The earlier recipes used lard for the fat to cook the vegetables, with some of the later recipes using bacon fat for the same purpose.


This recipe has no pork grease or dairy. But it tastes just as good as the real thing. Maybe even better. For the thick base, I decided to use a vichyssoise-style soup (a potato and leek puree soup). For this version of the clam chowder, I cooked the potatoes and leeks in the clam juice and then pureed them, giving the chowder a thick, creamy, filling consistency, without using the dairy. The end result is a thick, creamy broth, with almost no fat - since the clams are naturally fat-free. The chowder is nonetheless extremely filling, and you will not miss the dairy.


This chowder needs no additional thickener as the starch from the potatoes is a natural one. Although the recipe has no dairy, if you prefer it a little creamier, you can easily stir in 1/2 cup of milk or some plain yogurt at the end. The thick texture of the chowder makes this a good meal year round, not just when clams are in season. Serve it with some oyster crackers and hot sauce. Enjoy!

Clam Chowder
(Serves 4)

You will need:
2 tbsp canola oil
2 leek whites, cleaned
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
3-4 medium white potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups clam juice, divided
1 cup water
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped canned clams, strained of juice (about 3 of 6.5 oz cans)
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
Hot sauce, such as Tabasco (optional)


1. Dice one of the leeks. Heat canola oil in a stock pot. Add the diced leek and the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the diced potatoes, 1 cup clam juice and 1 cup water. Stir in the wine. Cover, and bring just to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
2. Strain the solids from the pot, reserving the liquids. Process the solids in a food processor, in batches if necessary, into a puree. Return the pureed vegetables, together with the reserved liquids into the pot. Add the second cup of clam juice. Stir to combine.
3. Bring the pot back to a simmer. Add the celery and the bay leaf. Chop the other leek, add the leek to the pot. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes, until celery is tender. Stir in the chopped clams, bring back to a simmer and cook 4-5 minutes more. Stir in the parsley. Serve, with hot sauce and oyster crackers (optional).


Jersey Summer

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Summer came and went. Ours seemed like a big blur of frenzy intermixed with occasional glimpses of tranquility.


Though we haven't chosen Jersey on purpose - as in, oh let's live here of all places - rather we've kind of stumbled into it (our living situation was altogether rather random, going from NYC to Norway and then here), I'd say we've transplanted quite well (better perhaps than we did at 60º north).


Following the when in Rome philosophy, this summer, rather than going to a beach off somewhere in exotic places, we thought, well, we have a beach. Or a shore. So to the Shore we went. Although I expected beach towns, shacks, and some great waves, one thing that didn't occur to me was the food. As in, buckets and buckets worth of delicious, fresh seafood.



Take for instance, clam fest, taking place every year in Highlands NJ, about which we found out by a complete accident while stopping for a snack in the area. It took place over an entire weekend in August. Needless to say, we of course went to it, and became so overwhelemed that we somehow forgot the shore that was more South, or the Sandy Hook that was right there, and came back for it the second day. Yes, just for the clams.


I've had clams before, but not like this. If you remember the movie Forrest Gump, there was scene where Bubba was explaining how he would like to go into the shrimping business after the army, and was listing all the things you could do with shrimp (here is the scene), the clam thing is similar. You can barbecue 'em, boil 'em, broil 'em, bake 'em, sautee 'em.


There's clam bake, clam chowder, clam soup, clam stew, fried clams, steamed clams, clams on the half-shell, grilled clams, clam cakes, stuffed clams, clam sandwich. That's about it.


Soft-shell clams or "steamers" are clams primarily used for steaming, and then eatien by dipping them in clam broth to wash off any remaining grit and then dipping them in melted butter.  Their shell is made of calcium carbonate, which is very thin and brittle for a mollusk, and can be crushed with your fingers, hence the name soft-shell.


These clams have a distinctive "long neck," a blackish protrusion, which is connected to the actual clam. The neck is covered with a black, inedible membrane. To eat the steamers, you remove the top half-shell, then peel off the the skin from the long neck. The neck is convenient to grab and pull the clam out of the bottom half shell, and then dip it in the broth and butter.


You can use the shell to catch any running juices and then drink those up as well.


The other common type is the hard clam, also known as littleneck clam, topneck or quahog (names vary depending on their sizes). These have a hard shell, and can be eaten raw on the half-shell.


These can be used for steaming as well, especially for pasta-dishes. The hard clams are also great grilled.


The larger quahogs, having tougher meat, are usually reserved for dishes like the clam chowder.  But if you're feeling clammed out, there are always other options. We are definitely going back next year for the clam festival, and also a lobster fest that apparently takes place every year on Bradley Beach.


Profits from the clam fest went in part to helping rebuild the shore which was significantly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. But if you ask folks, I'd say we've bounced back pretty strong.


See you next summer, Jersey shore.



Sauteed Maitake (Hen-of-the-Woods) Mushrooms

Sunday, August 11, 2013


From the various farmers' markets I've been to, it seems most, if not all, have at least one stand with a mushroom guy (or gal). The stand is usually less crowded than the others, and there are only a few mushrooms on display, majority of the stock remaining hidden from the harsh daylight. While there is the inevitably ordinary stock of crimini, portobello, and various oyster mushrooms in small baskets, there are usually a few weird ones as well. The sellers I've talked to seem extremely knowledgeable about their fare, somewhat nerdy, and usually ready to strike up a long conversation about mushroom farming, how to cook them, and everything else.


And so, having sampled pickled olives and a few pickles-on-a-stick from a neighboring stand, we bravely approached the lone mushroom guy who was insidiously wearing "life is crap" t-shirt amidst seemingly happy families and chattering children in this smallish but friendly town market on a sunny Saturday. My husband pointed to a large ball of a fungus, frilly with small brown petal-like "fingers" and asked: what is it? Hoping perhaps for a little story, or at the very least, some information about the mushroom. Maitake, the mushroom man answered, tall, his unshaven face shadowed by the visor of his baseball cap, completely disinterested in mushrooms or potential customers.

What does it taste like?

Why don't you try it.


Man of a few words, the life-is-crap mushroom man tore off a few of the petals and tossed them in our general direction. Though I'm not usually a fan of raw mushrooms - they seem too styrofoam-like raw - this one tasted good. Really good. It was moist, woody, almost smoky with a slightly tingly after-taste, as if you've just swallowed a sip of dry champagne. What do you do with it? My husband asked.

Eat it. Cook it. Sauté it. Want it?

Though the man himself did hardly, the globular mushroom spoke quite a bit for itself, so we picked up the half-a-pound head.


This mushroom, called grifola frondosa, maitake, or colloquially hen-of-the-woods, can be found around New England growing at the base of trees (or cultivated by mushroom enthusiasts such as the one described). Reading about it, I was intrigued to find out that it is used in traditional medicine to boost the immune system, a claim which also has been backed by cancer research.

As an added benefit, the mushroom is very rich in taste, especially if you're tired of blandness of the button mushrooms. Because the mushroom is so flavorful, I decided to briefly sauté it with a little bit of shallot, white wine, and parsley, which complement its flavors.


To prepare it for the sauté, I broke off the little florets (similarly to perhaps how you would chop up a broccoli head, discarding the tougher base). I sautéed it for less time than I do ordinary mushrooms, since I wanted it tender while preserving most of its freshness.

This would pair wonderfully with a meat-based or a vegetarian meal. For a meatless dinner, try tossing the sautéed mushrooms with some whole-wheat pasta and extra-virgin olive oil.

Sauteed Maitake Mushrooms
Serves 2

You will need:
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped shallot or red onion
4 oz maitake mushrooms (about 1/2 head)
A splash of dry white wine (about 1/8 cup)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

1. Rinse the mushrooms; chop off the end of the stem that holds the mushroom together. Either break off or chop the fingers into 1 to 2 inch pieces (similar as you would a head of broccoli). Use the base stem elsewhere or discard.

2. Heat oil in a sauté pan on medium heat. Add the shallot or onion and sauté until translucent and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and glistening, about 3 minutes. Add the wine, hear it sizzle, and cook until it is almost evaporated, about 1 minute. Sauté about 1 to 2 minutes more; add the salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and toss with the parsley. Serve.


Shrimp and Noodle Salad

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's been hot. We've had an almost unbearable heatwave last week. And once again cold dishes and salads are my friends.


Truth is, I don't remember much of the last month and a half of summer. Save for a few stolen moments.


For they do feel like stolen. Even the weekends, when it's supposed to be my time, the little that's left of that, aren't mine. They belong to my work, mostly, but not to my husband. Or me.


So when I do get a break, we don't waste any time. Sometimes, we just grab some picnic food and rush outside. This salad lends itself well to picnics.


I found this almost anemone-looking pasta at Whole Foods, along with some pink shrimp from Key West. And the two ingredients became an inspiration for this shrimp and pasta salad.


I've mentioned before that when I'm busy I tend to fall into default recipes. Ones that I know will work, for I do not have the time or patience for failed experiments. However, the combination of ingredients for this recipe could hardly fail - some crunchy vegetables, shrimp, pasta, lemon juice and cholesterol-free mayonnaise.


On Saturdays we've discovered a neighbor town that has a farmer's market on that day. Ours has it during daytime on Thursdays which unfortunately I can't make to on time. But I do love our Jersey Fresh produce, and so we've been spending a few hours on Saturdays getting all sorts of interesting things (including really tasty pickles from the pickle stand).


A couple of weeks ago we got some garlic scapes - flowering shoots of young garlic, which I've used in this salad. They have all of the flavor but not the punch (or aftertaste) of the garlic root. Since these are seasonal, feel free to substitute with chives.



Shrimp and Noodle Salad
(Serves about 6)

You will need:
2 1/2 cups uncooked pasta (such as rotini)
2/3 lb raw medium-sized shrimp (30/40 to a pound), peeled and deveined
1 red bell pepper, cored and finely chopped
2 tsp garlic scapes, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp bulb onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp capers
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp low-fat or canola-based mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring two medium pots of water to a boil. Add a sprinkle of salt and pasta to one pot, and cook until just past al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool completely.
2. Add the shrimp to the second pot of boiling water; wait until water boils again, then boil for about 3-5 minutes, until fully cooked and the shrimp turns bright pink. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool completely. Pat dry with a paper towel.
2. Place the pasta in a large mixing bowl. Add bell pepper, garlic scapes, bulb onion, parsley and capers to the mixing bowl. In a measuring cup, mix lemon juice, mayonnaise and salt and pepper. Add to the pasta and mix well. Add the shrimp and toss to combine. Serve or refrigerate until needed.


Easy Sweet Potato Fries

Sunday, June 2, 2013


This is an easy recipe for some crispened sweet potato "fries" cooked in a pan with some oil. Although these can easily be made in the oven, I like the control of cooking them in the pan. Because the sweet potatoes are less starchy than regular potatoes, they are prone to being limp. I find that frying them in the pan and flipping them frequently helps crispen them better.


We used fresh, organic sweet potatoes from a food co-op. If you can get your hands on some fresh sweet potatoes, they really don't need much seasoning as they are quite flavorful. I seasoned them with some salt and pepper and a little bit of sweet paprika. We like the combination of the sweetness of these potatoes with a bit of salt, but if you prefer, you can omit salt altogether here.


These go well as a side for the ribs we wrote about in the previous post. Enjoy.

Easy Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 2-4

You will need:
2 medium sweet potatoes
4 tbsp canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
A dash of paprika


1. Wash and peel the sweet potatoes. Chop into fry shapes. Heat the oil in a sauté pan large enough to fit the fries in a single layer. Add the sweet potatoes to the pan. Toss with a spatula to allow the fries to get coated with oil. Sprinkle with salt.
2. Cook the sweet potatoes, uncovered, on medium heat, flipping every 4 minutes or so with a spatula until they are nicely browned and fully cooked on the inside, about 20 minutes total. Toss with pepper and paprika. Remove from pan onto a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil. Serve immediately.


Oven-Baked Barbecue Ribs

Monday, May 27, 2013


This time of year people usually pull out their grills and start cooking outdoors. Except that this Saturday, the start of the Memorial Day weekend, which has come to signify the "unofficial start of summer," it was roughly 45ºF. And raining. So rather than grilling it seemed preferable to stay indoors and turn the oven on. Even just to stay warm.


But despite the weather, during this unofficial start of summer one still craves one of the summer's main entitlements: barbecue. While we still had our fill of spiced meat charred by grill flames at my mom's yesterday, despite winds that threatened to put out the flame, for this recipe I borrowed another one of her methods. It is reserved for colder days, when it is too cold to grill, but the desire for spiced meats is just as strong; so in the oven the spiced meats go.


For this recipe, we use a dry rub which Tony likes to make (you will find the recipe below, appropriately named Tony's Barbecue Rub). If you don't feel like making your own rub or don't have all of the spices on hand, you can pick up a barbecue rub at the store and use the same cooking method. I find that, at least for our oven, cooking the ribs at 400ºF for 40 minutes always makes them come out just right. They are no longer pink yet still moist and juicy. This works for individually sliced spare ribs, spaced about 1 inch apart (timing would differ for a rack cooked whole). You can cook them with just the rub for the entire time and have them with barbecue sauce served at the table. Alternatively you can apply the barbecue sauce while they cook - after applying the rub, stick the ribs in the oven for 30 minutes, then use a brush to apply the sauce to the top of the ribs and cook them for 10 minutes more.


For sides, you can try red cabbage coleslaw, the recipe for which can be found here. We also made sweet potato fries made in the pan with just a little bit of oil. Recipe for those is coming next. In the meantime, enjoy the ribs and happy (almost) summer.

Tony's Barbecue Rub
(Makes approx. 3/4 cup)

You will need:

4 tbsp ground paprika
2 tbsp ground coriander seed
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp minced dried onion
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 dried bay leaves, crushed and ground


Combine all of the ingredients in a measuring cup; mix thoroughly. Reserve about 1/3 cup of the rub for the ribs. Reserve the rest for later in a small jar or a spice container.

Oven-Baked Barbecue Ribs
(Serves 4-6)

You will need:
2 to 2 1/2 lb spare ribs (about 10-12 ribs, individually sliced)
1/3 cup Tony's Barbecue Rub (see above for recipe)
Barbecue sauce of your choice, for basting or dipping


1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Rub the barbecue rub all over the ribs (use a little more rub if needed). Place the ribs onto a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet spaced about 1 inch apart. You will need 1/2 to 1 inch rim to prevent the fat from dribbling down.
2. Bake at 400ºF for 40 minutes, when the ribs are sizzling and no longer pink in the middle. Remove from oven. Check the ribs to make sure they are no longer pink; if they are, return to oven and bake for a few more minutes. Take care not to over-bake. Let rest for a few minutes before serving. Serve and enjoy with your favorite barbecue sauce.

Alternatively, you can baste the ribs while they are baking: after they've baked for 30 minutes, baste the ribs with barbecue sauce, then return to oven and bake for 10 minutes more.


Red Sangria with Brandy-Soaked Fruit

Sunday, May 5, 2013

So I'm going to pretend that a whole month didn't just pass since my last post. Because if anyone were to ask me where that time went, I wouldn't know. Can I offer you a drink?


I was hoping things might slow down work-wise a bit for the summer (though unsure why - I guess when I was in school, summer was a time of lazy afternoons, picnics, tall grasses, and singing cicadas) but it seems they are only picking up and I feel I'm caught in a perpetual whirlwind of always running out of time. In any event, hot summer evenings are much better spent sitting on a porch or a terrace, sipping sangria.


And I would love to get back into making tasty things, arranging them, photographing them, writing about them on a more regular basis. But as things been lately, when I look at the clock, it's Sunday night, and then I say, well, I'll do it later. And before I know, a month passes. So that's where I've been. With that said, how about that drink recipe?


About a year ago, we've had a white sangria around these parts. So let's try a red one. For this one, I've soaked the fruit in brandy prior to adding the wine for better extraction and more fruity flavor. This method also works if you are pressed for time to serve it. I find that with all the sweetness from the fruit and agave syrup, dry red wine works best. Enjoy!


Red Sangria with Brandy-Soaked Fruit
(Serves 12-16)

You will need:
1 cup brandy
1/4 cup agave syrup
1 sweet apple (such as fuji), cored, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 granny smith apple, cored, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 pear, cored, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 orange, sliced into wedges
1/2 lemon, sliced into thin rounds
1 lime, sliced into thin rounds
2 bottles of dry red wine
A splash of orange juice (about 1-2 oz)


Place sliced fruit in a punch bowl or a glass pitcher. In a measuring cup, combine brandy and agave syrup, stir until syrup is fully dissolved, and pour over the fruit. Stir to combine and let sit for about 15 minutes to half an hour. Add in the wine and the orange juice, stir well. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours or over night. Ladle or pour into glasses with a little of the fruit; serve chilled.


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