Tag Archives: garlic

Now That’s A Spicy Pickle

September 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Author Patrick McGee

Avid gardeners in the Midwest are familiar with this pickle of a problem.

Kitchen countertops are cluttered with cucumbers; family and neighbors have had their fill of cucumber salad; and the refrigerator cannot possibly hold any more garden-fresh produce. It’s a good problem to have, but a fleeting one. It’s time to pickle your leftover cucumbers.

Pickling your crop of cucumbers will preserve them. Anyone can go to the grocery store and buy a jar of dill pickles, so make yours different. Make them spicy.

The key is to add spice to the brine, which consists of water, vinegar, salt, and seasonings. For example, garlic, peppercorns, and dill can all spice up an otherwise plain salt water.

So can hot peppers. This is the perfect opportunity to use those Carolina reapers your friends and family don’t want to eat. Ghost peppers, scorpion peppers, habaneros, or even plain old jalapeños are solid options. The infusion of the peppers into the pickle brine can make them hotter than hell, depending on how much you use.

Don’t forget to wash your hands before touching your eyes—or worse. Your tongue isn’t the only body part that can feel the spicy heat. Some people wear gloves. Use soap and lots of water to wash hot peppers from your hands. Be warned. Even a thorough washing with suds and water may not wash away all the heat.

The cucumbers are best pickled when young. Slicing off the flower end prevents cucumbers from becoming rubbery. Overdeveloped cucumbers are often woody, wide, and turning golden yellow. They do not make ideal pickles. The seeds are hard and pithy. Ideal cucumbers are crisp, break with a snap, and do not have prevalent seeds.

A few quart-sized mason jars with canning lids are ideal for storing your pickles and are visually pleasing. They also make handy drinking glasses when your pickles are no more.

When your pickles are made, you can leave them in the refrigerator or can them. I prefer to can them so I can pull out a spicy batch on some unsuspecting guests who claim they can eat fire. Make sure there is plenty to drink because it will be needed.


Scale up according to batch size. Four cups of vinegar is usually suitable for 12 pint jars containing 3-4 cucumbers sliced length-wise with ends trimmed to fit the jar. Smaller cucumbers can be canned whole.


  • ½ to 1 cup vinegar (depending on overall acidity)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • Salt to taste (usually about 1 tablespoon)
  • Grape or oak leaves (optional, for crispness)
  • Cucumbers
  • Canning jars and lids
  • Sliced hot peppers


  1. Boil the water, vinegar, and salt to make a brine. The acidity is especially important when processing with a water-bath canner (which makes storage outside of the refrigerator possible).
  2. Steep peppercorns in brine.
  3. Sterilize canning jars and lids by submerging them in boiling water.
  4. Pack canning jars with a few leaves (if using), then carefully place cucumbers, garlic, and hot peppers into jars in a visually appealing way.
  5. Pour in hot brine.
  6. Finish processing by either canning or allowing to cool and storing in the refrigerator.
  7. The pickles are ready to eat within a few days, but they do improve with time.

This article appears in the September/October 2017 edition of OmahaHome.

Hunting Fall Oyster Mushrooms

October 7, 2016 by
Photography by Doug Meigs

Fall is the season when local woodland wanderers stock cellars with oyster mushrooms. These fungi are no secret to Nebraska mushroom hunters. The white-to-tan fan-shaped, or oyster-shell shaped, mushrooms sprout from the sides of trees and logs. Given the right conditions, they will even pop through snowmelt. A single find is often bountiful; a good haul of oyster mushrooms can exceed 20 pounds. They can be dried, pickled, or canned. They pair well with nearly every dish. Oyster mushrooms make an extra-special stuffing for your Thanksgiving guests.

Chris Wright is a mycologist with special interest in oyster mushrooms. Wright has a Ph.D. in plant, soil, and microbial sciences and is the executive director of Midwest American Mycological Information. He researches how oyster mushrooms break down biopollutants.

Patrick McGee approaches a tree laden with oyster mushrooms.

Patrick McGee approaches a tree laden with oyster mushrooms.

Wright also regularly finds and eats wild oyster mushrooms. He points out three species of these mushrooms in the Midwest region: Pleurotus ostreatus (the predominant species), Pleurotus populinus (characterized by a white to pink fan), and Pleurotus pulmonarius (the so-called lung-shaped oyster). They are not difficult to identify. Wright says decurrent gills (those running down the stalk) are a distinguishing characteristic of oyster mushrooms. The fungi also have a white to lilac spore print on paper. Wright says it is difficult to mistake something poisonous for oyster mushrooms; however, there is one poisonous look-alike that mushroom hunters should be aware of—Pleurocyubella porrigens.

When asked where to find oyster mushrooms, Wright says, “Look in the woods or on your supermarket shelf.” He also says oyster mushrooms are saprotrophic—they recycle nutrients locked up in woody matter, i.e., “They are a wood rot fungus.”

Oyster mushrooms can be found on ash, aspen, cottonwood, and poplar trees. They will push through the bark of trees after a cold rain. They can sometimes be found in public parks and in neighborhoods, especially on freshly cut trees. Sustainable harvesting requires removal of only the fruiting body and allowing some mushrooms to remain for reproduction.

Wild or domestic, they’ve become a popular commodity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from 2015 to 2016, the nation’s oyster mushroom production measured roughly 3,749 tons. In 2016, the total value of oyster mushroom sales surpassed $36 million. Whether you buy them or find them, Wright says they all smell “mushroomy.”

“It is a mild smell. Not a strong odor,” he says. “They will pick up the flavor of what’s cooking—garlic, etc.”

He says they have a relatively soft texture and are a nice complement to stir fry or steak. Wright thinks that wild oyster mushrooms differ from commercial mushrooms.

Wild oyster mushrooms grow in a great variety of hues, like a fall bouquet. They smell like rainfall—a trait that cannot be substituted. They are biochemically unique and may play a role in cleaning our planet. Native to the Great Plains, they are delicious and easy to find during this time of year.

Visit midwestmycology.org/Mushrooms/Species%20listed/Pleurotus%20species.html for more information. 

Disclaimer: Some varieties of wild mushrooms are poisonous, even deadly. If you choose to harvest or eat wild mushrooms, do so at your own risk.



Steak Salad with 
Blue Cheese Dressing

January 8, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

‘Tis the season to make healthy choices, but healthy doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on flavor. Roasted potatoes, tangy orange juice, and thin slices of medium-rare steak come together to make this a salad that tastes as good as you’ll feel about eating it.

Steak Salad


  • 1 lb new potatoes
  • 1½ Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb of steak
  • 10 oz green beans
  • 7 oz grape tomatoes
  • 3½ cups baby arugula


  1. Preheat oven to 475°F.
  2. Quarter potatoes and place in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Roast, uncovered, about 20 minutes.
  3. Cook steaks on hot grill or grill pan until cooked as desired. Allow 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let stand before slicing.
  4. Boil, steam, or microwave beans until just tender. Drain.
  5. Slice steak thinly. In a large bowl, layer arugula, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, and steak. Drizzle with dressing and serve.

Blue cheese dressing

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 2 oz blue cheese


  1. Make blue cheese dressing by whisking together all ingredients.


Nutrition Facts
Calories: 515
Fat: 31g
Saturated fat: 9g
Carbohydrates: 21g
Fiber: 6g

Protein: 35g