Archive for November, 2010

Fascinating Funghi!

My friend, Daniel, was kind enough to send me his photo of the shiitake mushrooms while still in situ, which was the missing piece in my last post.  He was also kind enough to include a whole trove of information about the mushrooms he has encountered in the Hudson Valley.  He writes:

These are some Oysters found wild growing on some basswood/linden branches that fell.

These are Boletus Edulis (Ceps, Porcini) found in 2008.  (We subsequently ate them on pizzas).
Here is a spore print from the Boletus Edulis.  This is one of the ways you identify a mushroom.
These are called Fly Agaric.  They are poisonous and supposedly hallucinogenic if you survive. [Amanita muscaria var. formosa]
These are called “Destroying Angels.” Aminita virosa.  These are extremely poisonous.

How to Preserve Your Mushroom Harvest, otherwise known as the Daniel Newsome Method:

One of the ways to preserve mushrooms is to saute them up in oil or butter for several minutes.  The point is to get them hot enough to kill off any cirtters that may be in there.  Then just bag them up and freeze them.  When you want to use them, just saute them some more to what ever level you want.  I think I may have added some garlic in the initial saute of that shiitake batch, since I can’t imagine ever using them and not wanting some garlic in them.


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Holy Shiitake!

The shiitake mushroom(Lentinula edodes) has been cultivated in Asia for over 1,000 years.  The “shii” refers to the shii tree, an evergreen species native to southern Japan which is related to the oak. During the Ming Dynasty, the mushroom became popular for its medicinal uses, purported to act as a remedy for ailments as diverse as upper respiratory disease and poor circulation of the qi.  Today, Lentinan, a compound isolated from the shiitake, is used in some cancer treatments.  I just think they are delicious and I normally get mine dried from the supermarket.

However, one fine day in June of 2009 we found ourselves visiting our friends, Jennifer and Daniel, upstate New York.  As is often the case, Daniel had a project which makes visiting them a lot like going to some kind of fun, anachronistic camp  – one where you might make Prince Ruperts Drops or work out on the Atlatl course.  A few days earlier, a storm had come through the area felling a number of trees, some of them oak trees.  And freshly fallen fresh oak trees are just the thing you need to start cultivating shiitakes, so we set to work.

After cutting the fallen trees into almost a dozen logs measuring 4 feet in length, we drilled 1-2 inch holes all around the log using a 5/6 drill bit.  Once the logs were prepared, Daniel produced a bag of small wooden dowels that had been inoculated with shiitake spores, finally answering my question about what happens to those leftover bits from every IKEA project in the world.

The dowels had been ordered from the Oyster Creek Mushroom Company, and their site gives a good overview of how to cultivate.  The task was to fill each drilled hole with a dowel, using a hammer to make sure the end of the dowel was flush with the surface of the log.  We then took a can of hot wax and painted over each dowel to seal it inside the log.

Once all of the logs had been plugged full of shiitake spores, we had to find the right place to put them, not too dry and partly shady.  As luck would have it, they have the perfect place in their yard, over a ravine and under some trees not too far from the house for careful monitoring.

According to most sources, cultivation of shiitakes in this manner should take between 5 and 12 months.  So we waited, patiently checking on the logs every time we were upstate.  Five months passed, then eight, then a whole year. Nothing. Not one single mushroom! We had basically given up on the whole process until this past October with its heavy rainfall.  Almost overnight, the logs were teaming with mushrooms like some kind of Japanese miracle!  This happened a week or so before our last visit,  and the bounty had to be harvested before I could take any pictures of the mushrooms actually on the logs, but below is a photo of the first harvest, a full 16 months after preparing our logs.  My guess is that we started too late in the season – most cycles begin in the springtime – and that the logs needed a cold season to start growing.  But I’m no expert.  All I know is that I love a fresh batch of homegrown shiitake mushrooms.

Since we weren’t using them all right away, Daniel sautéed them in butter to preserve them for later.  We used ours on pizza the very next weekend.

Shiitake Mushroom Angel Hair Pasta



  • 6 ounces angel hair pasta
  • 6 ounces fresh sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


  1. Saute garlic and onion in olive oil over medium heat; add mushrooms as the aroma develops. Add chicken stock and wine, and cook until mixture is reduced to 1/2 volume. Blend in cream, and reduce to desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Meanwhile cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
  3. Drain pasta, and toss with sauce until coated. Serve on small warmed plates, topped with grated Parmesan cheese and parsley.

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Not a box.

Earlier this week, we received a giant box in the mail and inside was a tiny cello, not much larger than a viola.  The box took up most of our living room, but before breaking it down, the girls decided to make a spaceship out of it.  Complete with control panels, walkie-talkies and helmets.  It trumped all other toys this weekend and almost prevented attendance at a birthday party.  It reminded me of one of my favorite children’s books, “Not a Box”, by Antoinette Portis. Nothing like the combination of a weekend and a giant box!


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Delicata Delish – the answer to your squash problem.

Not that you have a squash problem.

Also known as the Sweet-Potato or Bohemian squash, the Delicata squash is considered a novelty squash.  This makes sense as it does blend in well with the other novelty gourds in my seasonal gourd basket (see McSweeney’s for more on this).  However, I have finally found a recipe that will help you take this vegetable – which is technically a fruit – seriously.  After little success in finding  squash recipes that were not soup, I actually found this one while searching for new ways to use quinoa.  As it turns out, squash and quinoa go together like chocolate and peanut butter.  The source is and it is really simple to make:  you basically roast the squash with butter in the oven and then make a basic quinoa pilaf stuffing with shallots, garlic and pine nuts.  It’s the kind of easy pilaf that could easily be embellished with herbs or other vegetables (get creative!) and you could easily substitute whatever squash you’re getting in your CSA share.  The extra pilaf makes for a good lunch the next day, too.

We are in the last few weeks of our CSA deliveries and, in fact, we did not get any squash at all today (sigh).  We did get some good stuff though:

  • Broccoli – we have no problem going through this every week
  • Lacinato Kale – my favorite of the braising greens (recipe very soon)
  • A manageable amount of salad greens
  • 2 onions
  • 1 quart of tomatoes
  • A gorgeous head of red cabbage calling out for it’s friend, the spätzle.
  • A bag of beets
  • A bag of apples

And… a bag of sweet potatoes.  These are our current challenge.  What do you do with sweet potatoes?

Delicata Delish


  • 1 large delicata squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Arrange the squash halves cut side up in a baking dish. Fill dish with about 1/4 inch water. Place 1 tablespoon butter on each half, and season halves with salt and pepper. Cover dish, and bake squash 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until very tender.
  3. Place quinoa in a pot with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.
  4. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in shallots and garlic, and cook until tender. Stir in pine nuts, and cook until golden. Gently mix into the pot with the cooked quinoa.
  5. Cut the squash halves in half, and fill each quarter with the quinoa mixture. Serve each stuffed squash quarter on a bed of the remaining quinoa mixture.

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Pumpkin Seeds and Pan de Muerto

Happy Halloween!  We are now sharing an apartment with the gigantic bag of candy procured by our little Princess Leia and furry beast last night, doling it out little by little and taking our cut along the way.   This was the first year we took the girls to a proper trick-or-treating neighborhood in the suburbs and the spoils were tremendous.  While I swear by city living, I do love a suburban Halloween.  We started the festivities on Friday night with a pumpkin carving party and viewing of  “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”, while roasting the seeds.  My friend, Cindy, had shared her seeds with me earlier that day which she had seasoned with garlic salt.  Delicious.  I also tried a batched flavored with curry powder, which was a nice variation.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds:

Remove seeds from pumpkin, wash off the guts.  Place seeds on a foil lined baking sheet and sprinke with olive oil and salt (or garlic salt, or curry powder).  Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes.

El Dia de los Muertos

Now that Halloween is over, we are moving on to  El Dia de los Muertos.  Over the years, I have learned about this holiday from our longtime babysitter who hails from Puebla, Mexico, and is my source for all things Mexican – especially food.  I look forward to sharing some of her recipes on this very blog.   Every year, she makes an alter in her house that looks a lot like this one:

Along with family photos, she sets out little statues, flowers, glasses of water and bottles of Mexican soda and Corona, and pan de muerto to use in a ceremony to remember her relatives that have passed on.  It is really a beautiful tradition, one I would love to see in Mexico some day.  In the meantime, we content ourselves with reading  The Day of the Dead, by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter and making our own, somewhat funny looking (see above) Pan de Muerto, which is a sweet bread flavored with Anise and decorated with colored sugar.  This year, I used this recipe from Global Gourmet:

Pan de Muerto, “Bread of the Dead”

In celebration of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, this bread is often shaped into skulls or round loaves with strips of dough rolled out and attached to resemble bones.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 to 5-1/2 cups flour
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon whole anise seed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs

In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling.

Meanwhile, measure out 1-1/2 cups flour and set the rest aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 1-1/2 cups flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and sugar. Beat in the warm liquid until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead on lightly floured board for ten minutes until smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape into loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with “bones” placed ornamentaly around the top. Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.

Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and paint on glaze.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange zest

Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush.

If desired, sprinkle on colored sugar while glaze is still damp.

Day of the Dead lasts through November 2nd, so there is still time to make your funny skeleton bread. If you are interested in setting up your own Ofrenda, check out this post from Apartment Therapy. Enjoy!

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