Chinese Quince

chinese quince-1

Last week one of the gardeners I work with gave me these two beauties. They are about 6″ long, are a greenish yellow and are heavy for their size. They are also quite hard. I had no idea what they were when he first showed them to me.

Chinese quince, or Pseudocydonia sinensis, is a beautiful smallish tree that has bark which looks a bit like army camouflage. The flowers are a delicate pink and are quite fragrant. The fruit ripens in late fall and also has a lovely scent.

Quince used to be much more common in the US because it’s high amount of pectin made it useful for making jams and preserves. I think the product most people know is quince paste, which is usually sold in fancy cheese stores.

I’ve been trolling the internet to find a good quince jelly recipe. I’ll let you know what I come up with.

Making Vanilla Extract

vanilla extract-2

I’m not sure exactly how making vanilla extract came on my radar. It probably came from buying some at the store and experiencing sticker shock. I do a lot of baking, so I go through it pretty quickly.

I poked around the internet for recipes and mostly found ones on sites that sold vanilla beans. I suspected that the amount of beans they called for was pretty high because they had a product to sell. I am able to buy vanilla beans at my wonderful import shop Sahadi’s.

I decided to begin with a small (200ml) bottle of Tito’s vodka and 3 vanilla beans, cut in half lengthwise and again widthwise. I started that on 8/4 and put it in a dark cupboard to steep. After a month and a half I realized that I had been too cheap with the vanilla beans and bought 3 more. I cut them up the same as before.

It’s now 2 months later and the scent of the vanilla extract is heavenly. You can get into which type of vanilla beans you want to try. For now, here’s a basic recipe.

1 small bottle (200ml) of vodka

6 vanilla beans cut lengthwise and widthwise.

Drop the beans in the vodka and let sit in a dark cupboard for 2 months. Re-bottle into small cute bottles and share with your friends. Or horde it yourself and share your baked goods.

vanilla extract-1

Making Miso

A few days ago I took a Miso-making workshop with Cheryl Passwater at the Horticultural Society of NY.

Making miso is not for people who need immediate gratification. The recipe basically goes like this: Cook some dried beans, mix with a few other ingredients, wait a year and then serve. That one-year waiting period makes it seriously daunting to ad lib a recipe!

A few things about miso. Miso is filled with probiotics, which makes it a very healthy food. Darker miso has more probiotics than white miso. Miso is fermented through fungal growth so it’s not a good option for people with fugal health problems like candida. The probiotics take over 6 months to develop, so even though your miso might taste right after 6 months, it won’t be as healthful as it could be until it’s first birthday. Heating miso kills off the probiotics, so salad dressings, and dips are healthier than miso soup.

I signed up for this workshop knowing very little about miso. For instance, I thought it was always made with soybeans. Not true. You can make it with pretty much any dried bean. We made a black bean miso. I’ll get back to you in a year to tell you if I like it or not. You can use dried adzuki, chick peas, soy beans, black beans, mung beans, whatever. Again, just remember that it takes a while to ferment, so maybe start slow with the experimenting.

One ingredient that you use in miso-making is koji. Koji is rice (or soybeans) that is inoculated with a mold called Aspergillus oryzae. So, yup, you are adding moldy rice. It comes dried in a bag, so it just looks like a dried grain. You can buy koji (and other miso products) from South River Miso. We used an organic brown rice koji in our workshop.

Black Bean Miso Recipe (makes 3 pint jars):

  • 1 c. dried black beans.
  • 1 c. koji
  • 4 t non-iodized salt like sea or kosher salt
  • 1T seed miso
  • 1/2 c. bean cooking liquid

Soak beans overnight and then cook until al dente (about 45 min-1 hr). Reserve cooking liquid. When the beans and liquid are cooler than 105 F, you can begin to mix your other ingredients.20140304-104200.jpg

Mash the beans so that the skin breaks. This will allow the mold to enter each bean.

20140304-104117.jpgMix salt into the cooking liquid. Add koji and mix. Then add this to the mashed beans and mix.

20140304-104213.jpgTake a sterilized jar and mist some water on the bottom and sides. Then sprinkle with salt to cover the insides. This was difficult, but try to have a thin coating of salt in the way you would flour a baking pan.

20140304-104135.jpgAdd the bean mixture, and tap to remove air pockets. Spoon in a bit at a time and tap. I used a knife around the sides to help the air escape. Sprinkle the top with a fine layer of salt.

20140304-104149.jpgCover with wax paper.

20140304-104227.jpgYou will want to weigh the wax paper down with something. For the workshop, they ordered jars that were small enough to fit into the larger jars. Don’t push down as this will make the miso mixture ooze up the sides.

20140304-104241.jpgCover with a cloth to keep dust and critters out. You don’t want to seal out air.

Now wait a year. There might be a layer at the top of the jar that doesn’t look appetizing. You can scrape that away to get to the good stuff. At this point you can decide if you want to puree your miso or keep it chunky.

I have my two jars stored in the root cellar at my in-law’s house. Good luck making miso. Let’s reconvene in a year and talk about our experiments!

Chicken of the Woods Pot Pie

Here’s a chicken pot pie in which no chickens were harmed in the making. The chicken used is a mushroom called chicken of the woods. It is a gorgeous bright orange, and when cooked has the flavor and texture of white meat chicken.

The recipe was adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s chicken pot pie. Instead of making individual pies, I put all of the ingredients into an oven-proof casserole dish and covered with the pastry. It was absolutely delicious and I would definitely make it again, although I would cut the quantity of butter down drastically.

Our first CSA pick-up of the year


So excited to get our first CSA share of the year.  Things start as a trickle, and then in a few weeks, we hardly have space to store everything. IMG_3681

The strawberries were so good, we gobbled them up.IMG_3682

I made the rhubarb into a delicious frozen yogurt torte. Recipe here. I think we’re getting more this week, so I think a pie will be in order.IMG_3684

These radishes were made into quick pickles.


  • 1 bunch red radishes (about 13 radishes)
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Heat the sugar and salt in the vinegar & water until it dissolves. While it’s cooling, slice the radishes. Add the radishes and leave in the fridge overnight. They make a really nice addition to hors d’oeuvres or a cheese plate. Don’t be alarmed by the smell when you open the jar. The pickles are delicious.


The chard was immediately sautéed with garlic and olive oil.IMG_3686


I made a potato leek soup with these gorgeous tender leeks.

And with all the crazy rain we’ve been getting, I noticed these mushrooms popping up in my garden. They are called Dead Man’s Fingers. Euw.


Passover in the Berkshires

Last week while Lindsay was on break, we went up to the Berkshires for a few days. We had a nice low-key seder complete with matzo-ball soup, brisket and macaroons. passover-3


The next morning my father-in-law and daughter made matzo brei. Matzo brei is basically a form of scrambled eggs. You take matzo crackers, run them under warm tap water for a few seconds. Then you crumble them and add to beaten eggs. The ratio is approximately 1 cracker for every 1 1/2 large eggs. We sauté onions and asparagus first and then cook the eggs. I think last year we used mushrooms instead of asparagus.


Eating the sauerkraut

I made a huge batch of sauerkraut last month. Most of it went to local friends and chicken sitters. We have a couple of jars in the fridge to slow down the fermenting process.

Neil and I were talking about getting a kielbasa to eat with it, when we happened to pass by a Russian deli/butcher. We bought 2 different types of kielbasa (regular and 1/2 smoked). That was one of those “I love NY” moments. It made the meal perfect.

Potatoes and Pine

We are a family who celebrates many different holidays. So it comes as no surprise that during Hanukkah, we do Christmasy things as well.

On the first night of Hanukkah, we made potato latkes. My recipe is based more on feel than measurements, but this is basically it.

  • 4 idaho potatoes, peeled and chopped to fit in the food processor
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of flour
  • corn oil for frying

I purée half the potatoes, adding the onion at the end, so it gets finely chopped. I grate half the potatoes. This gives me a nice mixture of soft insides and crunchy outsides. The onion adds a little sweetness. After I’ve processed the potatoes, I squeeze excess moisture out of them and then mix in the eggs and flour. You can add salt and pepper to taste.

I heat the oil until it’s ready to sizzle and then drop a serving size spoon’s worth of the potatoes into the pan. I turn them when they are golden brown.

I also have a pan in a 200 degree oven that has paper towels on it. When the latkes are done cooking, they go in the oven to drain and keep warm until we’re ready to eat them.

We had skirt steak and salad with the latkes. And the next day we had eggs over easy on top of the leftover latkes! Yum.

Lindsay has been very interested in making cake pops, so we gave her a cake pop maker for Hanukkah.

And of course, we visited the tree at Rockefeller Center!

Making Sauerkraut

In this post, I showed how to make sauerkraut. I used a plain old ball jar to let the veggies ferment. I found this technique to be problematic, because it was difficult to weigh down the veggies.

When fermenting veggies, you really need to keep them below the surface of the brine. If they aren’t below, mold grows on them. Now, this isn’t uncommon, and many people routinely scoop the “scum” off the top. That just made me squeamish. It’s really funny, because if you ask most of my friends, I have a very high “skeeve” threshold.

I wanted to get a crock that was made specifically for fermenting and pickling. In comes the Harsch Crock. This guy is expensive, but it’s the kind of thing you buy once. It comes with weights that sit on top of the veggies to keep them submerged in the brine. It also has a channel in the lid that you fill with water, which allows gases to escape the crock, but doesn’t allow air or debris in.

I looked online at all the tiny photos like this one and ordered one. I was very surprised with how huge the crock was when it arrived. Does anyone else have this problem? Tiny photos, nothing next to it to show scale…? Okay, I know it said 5 liter capacity…

So, it’s been sitting around waiting for me to want to make an enormous batch of sauerkraut or pickles. I also got a mandoline to help with slicing all the cabbage.

My Very Loose Recipe for a 5 liter crock (you can also use just cabbage, or add other veggies like radishes, garlic, bok choy):

  • 3 heads of cabbage. I show a head of red cabbage below, but decided to stick with just green cabbage. You can certainly use red, but your sauerkraut will turn out pink.
  • 4-5 large carrots
  • 4-5 turnips
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 leeks (white part)
  • appx. 9 T salt

After slicing all the veggies, you need to add salt and knead until the vegetables release the water from their cell walls. I add about 3 T of salt per large pasta bowl. I filled this bowl three times.

After you have done this, you should take handfuls of the veggies and press them firmly into the crock. I use my fist to tamp them down. Add all the water released and press the veggies under the water level. If you don’t have enough liquid, you can add 2 cups of water with 1 t. of salt dissolved in it. I save a few whole leaves of cabbage to place on top of all the chopped ones. This helps hold the loose pieces down.

Then put a plate, rock, ziploc filled with salt water, or the weight from the crock on top of the cabbage leaves to keep everything submerged. You let this sit out for a few weeks to ferment. Taste it periodically to test how fermented you like it. Too fermented gets mushy.

I made this batch about a week ago and the crock is sitting in a corner of my kitchen. I kept hearing little blerps and couldn’t figure out what the source of the noise was. It turns out it was bubbles emitting from the sauerkraut crock. Euw. As I mentioned in my previous sauerkraut post, you have to get over the fact that the food is basically rotting away. That is part of the process and it produces a delicious food that is extremely healthy.

Plum Cake

Is there anything better than summer fruit? Fresh tomatoes maybe? We have been enjoying our weekly CSA pick ups of fruit and veggies. It’s fun to be surprised each week at pick up and to cook seasonally. I think our heirloom tomato share will begin next week!!!

We went to dinner at friend’s this week and I made a plum cake. We improvised and put a peach in the center ring. It’s a simple cake and is equally delicious with coffee at breakfast. Here’s the recipe.