Archive for October, 2007

Wild mushrooms

ChanterellesThe temperate rainforest climate of the hills to the east and west make Oregon’s Willamette Valley wild mushroom heaven. Springtime brings morels, and autumn – oh, autumn brings everything, from Boletus edulis (cepes) to matsutake (Tricholoma magnivelare) to my very favorites, the orange-fleshed, trumpet-shaped chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius ) and their creamy, white-fleshed cousins, Cantharellus subalbidus .

When I first moved to Oregon, nearly 30 years ago, I was lucky enough to fall in with some experienced mushroom hunters and fellow gourmands, Karen and Frank Evans, who occasionally took me mushrooming – around Mother’s Day, over the Cascades to central Oregon in search of morels, and in the fall, to the slopes of Marys Peak to find chanterelles. Along the way they often discovered and fed me other fungal treats, including the splendid Oregon white truffle (Tuber gibbosum), but morels and chanterelles are the ones I learned to recognize with enough confidence to pick and eat them myself.

I no longer go to the woods to forage for mushrooms; a cranky sciatic nerve makes it hard for me to spend a day trekking uphill and down in what can often be an elusive quest, and the competition from other pickers means it’s harder to find what’s there.

Fortunately, some of those pickers bring their harvest to market, where I’m more than happy to pay the price for these delectable fruits of the woods, when I can afford it.

This fall, sufficient rain has made for a bountiful mushroom harvest, and on a rare foray to the Corvallis farmers’ market last weekend I was thrilled to discover vendors selling chanterelles for just $7 a pound. Score!!! I brought home a couple of pounds, cleaned them up* and sliced half of them for immediate use; the rest went into my cheap little food dehydrator, where a few hours of constant air and gentle heat dried them to thin, leathery slices that will flavor winter soups and sauces.

Drying chanterelles* Wild mushrooms need careful cleaning, and when the weather’s been wet, damp varieties such as chanterelles can benefit from a bit of air-drying, too. I use a pastry brush to dust off bits of duff, dirt and the occasional hitch-hiking insect, a sharp knife to trim away any signs of decay or insect damage, and then spread the mushrooms out on a couple of layers of newspaper on the table in my breakfast nook (which has the advantage of being fairly chilly at this time of year) . Over a few hours, with occasional turning of the ‘shrooms, the paper absorbs excess moisture from the mushrooms, rendering them easier to cook and, in my opinion, concentrating the flavor. Refrigerate in an open bag with a paper towel tucked inside to help absorb extra moisture, and use within a few days. Or dry them.

Wild mushrooms can improve any dish that would normally be made with the supermarket sort, from pizzas to soups, but I think they’re best in recipes that show off their flavors and textures. Two of my favorite things to do with wild mushrooms came to me, as is so often the case, from Internet cooking communities where people share their own recipes and preparation tips. Both are fabulous ways to enjoy these woodsy treasures.

Pan Roasted Mushrooms

(Recipe originated with Van Donegal, originally posted in the LiveJournal food_porn community, with some minor tinkering by me)

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil (while I use extra-virgin olive oil for most recipes, a lighter variety works better for this recipe, because it has a higher smoking point.)
  • Any quantity of good quality mushroom, wild or otherwise (if you can’t find chanterelles, this is a tasty way to prepare brown Crimini mushrooms)
  • One clove of garlic per pan of mushrooms, peeled and smashed or coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 stick of unsalted butter (1/4 cup) per pan of mushrooms
  • coarse Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • fresh Italian parsley (optional, but I have so much in my garden that I never skip it) chopped, 1/2 cup per pan
  • Equipment: One large, heavy bottomed skillet. Or two, if you have them – you can keep two pans going at once this way

Preparation

Clean and thickly slice the mushrooms

Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the frying pan; heat over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers but does not smoke

Add only enough mushrooms to cover the pan without touching each other. Add a liberal pinch of kosher salt and several cranks of pepper

After 60 seconds, reduce heat to medium low. Do not move the mushrooms about. Cook them for about 4 minutes then turn individually. They should be caramelized and brown when turned, and beginning to dry out a bit.

Two minutes after turning, add the garlic. One minute later, add the butter. Once it has melted, use a wooden spoon to move the mushrooms about in the pan so the butter and garlic cover them.

Add parsley, stir and remove from heat.

I often make several pans of these at a shot; simply wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, turn up the heat, and repeat the process.

You can eat these just as they are, as a hearty and delicious accompaniment to a meal, or scatter them on top of a home-made pizza crust, on pasta, or on toasted bread as an appetizer. Sometimes I just gobble them by the forkfull of buttery, garlicky mushroom goodness.

Mushroom pieMushroom Pie

I got this recipe from my on-line foodie friend, Whit, and it’s terrific: A vegetarian (and potentially vegan) pie that’s hearty and satisfying enough for meat-lovers, flavorful and filling enough that I’ve served it as the main course in an unconventional Christmas dinner, and nobody complained that the table lacked a roasted bird.

It also lends itself to improvisation. Try different dried combinations of mushroom, different dried fruits (or none at all, although they add a wonderful and unexpected flavor to the dish).

Ingredients

  • Crust for a two-crust pie. Use whatever crust you prefer; Whit makes a whole-wheat crust from scratch, but I’ve been known to cheat and use frozen, store-bought piecrust.
  • 3-4 small potatoes sliced very thin
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic chopped (at least – I’m a garlic lover, and have used as much as an entire head)
  • Two cups of coarsely chopped mushrooms, whatever varieties you have on hand. If you’re only using ‘shrooms from the store, try a combination of portabello, crimini, oyster and shiitake. I like to use both fresh and dried (reconstituted in a little stock) mushrooms. Set aside a nice-looking mushroom or two to garnish the pie.
  • 1/2 bell pepper, sliced thin (whatever color you prefer. The original recipe called for green, but I prefer red
  • 1 cup good vegetable stock. I keep vegetable trimmings and peels (from no-spray vegetables), along with onion ends and skins, in the freezer; when I have enough, I make up a batch of stock and freeze it. If you can’t be bothered, Safeway’s “O” organics line is a decent commercial version. Just for heaven’s sake don’t use bouillon cubes – they’re way too salty and contain MSG.
  • Vegetable oil, or (as I prefer) half oil and half butter
  • Salt (I often omit it) and pepper
  • fresh oregano (I use at least a teaspoon)
  • fresh chives (ditto)
  • A handfull each of dried currants, golden raisins, dried sour cherries (or other dried fruit of your choice – I’ve used chopped, dried apricots, dried cranberries and even chopped figs), and almonds

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a deep-dished pie pan with half the crust. Reserve the other half to cover.

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or saucepan, heat oil to medium hot. Sautee onions, garlic and potatoes until onions are translucent but not browning. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Add more oil and sautee the mushrooms and fresh herbs until they’re soft. Add the pepper, and as soon as they’re warmed through, return the onion, garlic and potatoes to the pan and let it cook down a bit.

Pour in the broth, and let the mixture simmer for a bit. Taste, add salt and pepper if you like, and then strain everything out of the stock (reserve the stock!)

Mix in the dried fruit and almonds, and fill the pie crust to overbrimming. Pour a bit of the stock – just enough to moisten, over the filling (save the rest to make soup!)

Cover the pie with the other crust, crimp edges and cut holes – decorative or not – to vent.

Place the pie on a baking sheet (it may bubble over during cooking) and bake at 375 for 30 minutes, or until filling begins to bubble up through the vents. If the crust starts to brown too much at the edges, wrap some foil loosely around it. Add garnish mushroom to the top and continue backing for 5-10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

Let it sit for 10 minutes or so before slicing and serving. A green salad and a glass of hearty red wine go wonderfully with this. And the leftovers (refrigerated, of course) can be reheated or eaten cold the next day.

Serves anywhere from 2-8 people, depending on how hungry they are, what else is on the menu and how much you want for leftovers.

One final but important note about wild mushrooms: Don’t be stupid. If you’ve never hunted mushrooms before, don’t go out looking for them without an expert by your side – and I don’t mean a book. Some of the tastiest wild mushrooms are barely distinguishable from some of the most poisonous ones unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, and photographs can be deceiving. People die from making those kinds of mistakes. Buy wild mushrooms from trusted harvesters, stick to varieties you know, and the first time you eat them, try just a little – even perfectly edible mushrooms can cause minor tummy upsets in people who aren’t used to them.

October 28, 2007 at 11:12 am Leave a comment

When life gives you apples …

Apples for tasting at the Albany farmers' marketIt was rainy and cold at the market yesterday, and the dwindling number of vendors huddled behind the windbreaks of their booths, bundled in caps and sweaters and blowing on their hands to warm them before they counted change.

Not many shoppers, either, but several vendors told me sales were good. At this time of year, I suppose, the casual browsers stay home, leaving the market to the hardcore among us, eager to stock up on good things before the end of the season.

Right now “good things” include, significantly, apples, and even though the growers say this year’s harvest isn’t great, I’ve been glorying in the huge array of heirloom apples being brought to market by local orchards such as Antique Apples and First Fruits Farm. Like most people who grew up on supermarket produce, I used to think of apples as the fruit you bought when there wasn’t anything better around, or if you wanted to bake a pie. Learning the vibrant flavors, aromas and textures of old-fashioned apples has changed all that, and I look forward to the apples of autumn as much as the peaches of summer.

We’ve brought home big bags of apples every market Saturday for the past few weeks, enjoying them in crisps, or just eaten out of hand. But I also made a batch of applesauce, and it disappeared so fast that this weekend I did my apple shopping with sauce specifically in mind, and lots of it – enough to freeze a few quarts for later in the season.

On conferring with the Antique Apples vendor, I came home with Esopus Spitzenbergs (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple), Golden Russets, Gravensteins, a few Jonagolds for tartness, and some tasty little Davy and Smokehouse apples. And sauce-making ensued.

There’s no mystery or trick to making applesauce: Cut up some apples, simmer them in a little water until they’re soft, moosh them up and you’ve got basic applesauce. Everything else – to sweeten or not, to spice or not, smooth or chunky – is a matter of personal preference.

Me, I like a chunky, spicy applesauce, not too sweet. I can’t be bothered with canning, so whatever isn’t destined for immediate eating gets frozen in 2 cup-to-one-quart containers. Here’s what passes for my recipe:

Ingredients

  • Several pounds of apples, some sweet and some tart, peeled, cored and sliced (for this quantity, I get out the Applemaster, which is as much fun as it is efficient. Wheeeee, long spiral ribbons of apple peel!!!)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cups of port (you can skip this, but I like the rosy color and subtle fragrance it adds to the sauce)
  • 1/4 cup or so of candied ginger, chopped coarsely
  • Cinnamon. I like a lot of cinnamon – as much as a tablespoon for a big batch. If you don’t, use less. Or none at all.
  • 1/4 cup sugar or more, depending on the apples and how sweet you like your sauce. I prefer mine on the tart-and-tangy side.
  • Secret ingredient: If you have access to them, quinces are a wonderful addition to applesauce. Their more-apple-than-apples-themselves perfume and tart flavor add a subtle brightness to the sauce. They require longer cooking than the apples; I usually cook them separately and add the cooked quince to the applesauce when it’s nearly done.

Method:

In a big, heavy-bottomed pot (I use my enameled cast iron Dutch oven), combine everything but the sugar, and add enough water to cover the bottom of the pot, if necessary. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to just simmering. Cover.

Cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending on quantity and variety of apples), stirring occasionally to make sure the fruit doesn’t scorch. This will begin breaking up the apples, too. Enjoy the fragrance of apples that fills your kitchen and wafts out into the house.
When apples are tender but not yet falling apart, taste and stir in sugar to the desired level of sweetness. If the mixture is soupy, leave the lid off to reduce the juice a bit while you finish cooking.

Remove from heat, and stir/smoosh until the sauce is as chunky or smooth as you like. I use my mom’s old iron potato masher, which she inherited from her own grandmother, to break up any big pieces of apple. If you prefer a smooth applesauce, you can let it cool and press it through a sieve or food mill, the old-fashioned way, or just run it through the food processor. Pour into freezer containers, leaving a little head space for expansion.

Mooshing applesauce with mom's potato masher

Mmmm, applesauce.

October 21, 2007 at 3:39 pm 1 comment

Autumn harvest: Pumpkin soups

I’m not that fond of pumpkin pie. I mean, I love pie, but presented with a table full of pies, I’ll reach for apple or pecan or even mincemeat else before I bother with pumpkin.

Sugar pumpkins

I think it’s partly that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth (Salt tooth? Fat tooth? Tooth for sour-or-bitter? Hell, yeah), particularly when it comes to sweetened vegetables, and I consider pumpkin to be a veg, not a dessert. I can be dogmatic that way, sometimes.

But come fall, these cute little sugar pumpkins start showing up at the market, and it would be a shame to waste their tender flesh and tasty seeds on jack-o-lanterns. So I’ve been developing a repertory of savory pumpkin dishes with just these babies in mind.

Pumpkins, even small, thin-skinned pumpkins like these, can be a handful to prep; I’ve had a basketball-sized pumpkin I was attempting to pare escape my grasp, roll off the counter and smash to the floor, and even halved, it’s hard to peel.

For most recipes, I take the easy route, cutting the gourd in half with my biggest chef’s knife, using a big metal spoon to scoop out the stringy innards and seeds*, oiling the cut edges and setting them face down on a cookie sheet. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour in a 350°F oven, until the flesh is tender enough to pierce with a fork, let it cool enough to handle, peel off the rind and you’re good to go.

* Don’t let the seeds go to waste: Dump the stringy pumpkin guts into a colander and use your bare hands to squish the seeds loose from the fibers. I like to give the seeds a 15-30 minute soak in a cup or so of water in which I’ve dissolved a handful of kosher salt – just enough to leave them slightly salty.

Drain them, toss with a little olive oil (and ground spices, if you like), then spread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven on the rack below the pumpkin. Check and stir every 10 minutes or so until they’re toasty brown – you’ll hear them starting to pop open when they’re nearly done. Cool and reserve for garnishing the soup, or to nibble while you’re cooking. The variety of pumpkin I buy has what the vendor, Cyndee, calls “naked seeds” – the hulls are so lightweight that you don’t risk a mouthful of splinters when you munch them unhulled.

That’s how both of these soups begin, and they’re really variations on a theme: Creamy, savory, rich and a little spicy. The first is my own improvisation, born from a need to use up a few heads of garlic before they started to sprout. I owe the second to my friend Kathy Walton, whose kitchen prowess makes me look like a piker. Both are fantastic, either as a hearty first course or a main dish with a hunk of crusty bread and a good glass of wine or fresh-squeezed cider.

I. Curried Pumpkin and Garlic Soup.

Ingredients:

1 small sugar/pie pumpkin, prepared as above
2 heads (yes, heads) of garlic, roasted and squeezed from their papery skins
Olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 Tbsp (or more) good curry powder
1/t tsp garam masala
4 cups low-salt chicken stock, or good vegetable stock for a vegetarian option
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I like Nancy’s brand, full-fat)
Seeds from the pumpkin, dusted with curry powder before toasting

Preparation:

  • Roast pumpkin as described above; cool and peel from the skin
  • In a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil; add onion and carrot and sautee, stirring, until onion is translucent.
  • Add pumpkin flesh, roasted garlic, curry powder, garam masala and stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or so to give the flavors time to meld.
  • Remove from heat and use a wand blender to puree to smoothness. Stir in yogurt and return to heat briefly, stirring until it’s heated through.
  • Correct seasoning if necessary. Serve garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds.

To make this dish vegetarian, simply substitute hearty vegetable broth for the chicken broth; to make it vegan, omit the yogurt.

Serves 6 as a starter, 3-4 as a main course (or 2 with plenty left over).

II. Creamy Pumpkin Soup With Bacon

Go to Kathy’s foodblog for the recipe.

My adaptations:

  • I oven-toasted the whole seeds instead of acquiring hulled pepitas and pan-toasting them, and I dusted them with a bit of ground chipotle to add spice and pick up the bacon’s smokey flavor.
  • Lacking chicken demi-glace, but having a cup of stock left over from the 32 ounce container I had on hand, I simmered the excess stock until it was reduced to a few tablespoons, and stirred that into the soup for added chicken intensity.

I suppose the vegetarians among you could substitute smoked … something or other … for the bacon, but I’ll leave that to your imaginations. I’m of the “everything’s better with bacon” persuasion, and it’s one of the things that will likely keep me from ever abandoning my carnivorous ways.

October 19, 2007 at 4:02 pm 3 comments


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