Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gimme Some Morel or I'll Kick You in the Asparagus!

Hethyr:  My family is originally from central Illinois and some of my earliest memories are of my dad going morel mushroom hunting in the spring.  I’m not sure why I remember it so well… maybe it was his sheer excitement over finding some strange looking little mushrooms.  To me, as a child, they looked liked little brains – I thought they were awesome and I remember that they were the only mushrooms I'd ever really eat as a kid.  After coming home from a day of morel hunting with my uncle and some other guys, Dad could barely wait for Mom to batter and fry them up.

My mom recently told me a story about how my dad found one single morel on their property when they still lived in Illinois.  They searched and searched, but could sadly find no others.  Mom still battered and fried the lonely morel for Dad’s gastronomic pleasure.  It cracks me up to think of one single mushroom on a plate and tortures me to think of how that one little Morchella would have just been a teaser and made me yearn for more.  Poor Dad!

Here's a beautiful morel haiku by John (not my husband)...

Brown wrinkly features
camouflaged in the forest.
SHIT!  I stepped on one!

For many years as Jon (my husband) and I moved around the country, I missed morels each spring but found out within the last few years that they do, in fact, grow in Colorado.  I have yet to actually find any, as the timing is later than I was used to in Illinois.  A couple of years ago, I think one of my friends found some in late June/early July.  That was a late year for almost everything on the Front Range, though.  I’ll be searching again this year and with any luck, will be able to enjoy some freshies, but in the meantime I’ve found some dried morels that have at least partially satisfied my craving. 

Great book, great recipes!
I had been saving one-half ounce of the dried morels for a specific recipe and now that asparagus is here along with spring, I got to put them to use the other night.  A few years ago (before I knew morels grew in Colorado and before I was able to find dried morels), I read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and it contained a recipe for Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding.  Although it involved a bit of preparation, I longed for the day when I could actually try that recipe.  My dream finally came true the other night!  But, as is the story of my life, I didn’t have all of the ingredients that were called for in the recipe so the following is my take on it.  Although I still wish I'd had fresh morels to use, I truly think my recipe turned out better than the original would have.  Not that the original sounded at all bad – if that had been the case, I never would have wanted to try it in the first place!

And as a last little note, I can’t resist telling about my brother-in-law’s comment on Facebook the other day.  Actually, I’ll just post his quote in regards to my little niece, who is one-and-a-half…  “Delle was just handed an asparagus stalk... her natural reaction was to brush her teeth with it.”  Ha ha ha ha ha!  I love it.

Hethyr’s Morel and Asparagus Bread Pudding
Serves 4 to 6
"This is so good!  May I have some morel, please?"
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 ounce dried morels
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup sliced cipollini onions (you could also use spring onion or shallots)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 loaf whole wheat or whole grain bread, cubed and toasted (I used homemade bread but you could easily use store-bought)
  • 4 large (preferably farm-fresh) eggs
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded or crumbled goat cheese with crushed red pepper (if you can’t find it, use plain goat cheese and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes)

1.  In a small dish, pour boiling water over dried morels, cover and let reconstitute for 20 to 30 minutes.  Drain, reserving liquid, and chop mushrooms coarsely.  Set aside. 

2.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Combine mushroom liquid, heavy cream, milk, onions, thyme, salt and pepper in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat.

The elusive, reclusive morel in all of
its reconstituted glory
3.  In a large bowl, pour liquid over breadcrumbs and let sit for about 10-15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed (it’s okay if not all of it gets soaked up).

4.  In a separate large bowl, whisk together eggs, salt and pepper. 

5.  Steam asparagus for 1-2 minutes or until bright green.  Shock by dunking in ice cold water to stop the cooking process.  Set aside.

6.  In a medium skillet, heat butter over medium heat.  SautĂ© the chopped morels in butter for 2 minutes.

7.  Combine eggs with breadcrumb mixture, mushrooms, asparagus and 2/3 of the goat cheese.  Pour into a greased 12- x 8-inch glass baking dish and top with remaining cheese.  Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until puffy and golden brown.

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Gnawing 'shroom pudding
Tastes like a bowl full of love
Need a cold shower.

Yep, there is no doubt that this dish inspires poetry.  In fact, I believe this was one of the best meals that Hethyr has ever made.  Some of the credit obviously goes to the morels, but the whole combination of flavors is unbelievable.  Actually my mouth is watering profusely just thinking about it.  I think I need to go eat some more right now...

Done.  It was just as good as leftovers as it was fresh.  I'm not really sure that I've ever had morels before this meal, but I think I just officially joined the bandwagon of mushroom-crazy people who search for them in the woods like tiny buried treasures.  I think I could get pretty into it.  After all, there's nothing unpleasant about hiking in the woods, especially around here.  I just need to train myself to look for little brain-things on the ground as I walk instead of spacing out like I normally do.

Will this be the spot where I someday
fertilize a field of morels?
I love the secrecy of the whole morel-hunting game.  Searching online, there are an endless number of posts that brag about the wondrous fields of 'shrooms that were discovered but never the location of the bounty.  A couple of our closest friends wouldn't even tell us where to go last summer after they had just returned from the mountains with bags of morels and stories of hundreds more.  I finally guilted them into at least providing the trail name where they started their hike.  I wonder what would happen if I found and posted the GPS coordinates of every quality morel field I could find out about.  Would I be snuffed out by some crazy syndicate of the mushroom mafia?  Would I be buried in a shallow grave in a grove of aspens on a mountainside so that I might provide fertilizer for future generations of morels?  Who knows?  I guess I'd better play it safe and refrain from the publicity stunt.  But to anyone reading this, please feel free to send me those coordinates anyway.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tantrums and Testicles

Hethyr:  I don’t know about you, but some of my best recipe creations happen when I have a bunch of mismatched ingredients on hand (i.e. desperation).  When we’re really hungry and don’t have two things that go together,  I a) throw a tantrum, tell Jon to fend for himself and don’t end up eating anything or b) get creative and hope for a tasty end-product.  The following recipe was the result of the latter.  As you’ll see by the name, it’s quite an interesting combination.  A piece of warm pita bread, topped with fish taco ingredients, pizza-style.  VoilĂ !  Fish Taco Pit-z-as.  Cute, eh? 

As you may know by now if you’ve become a regular reader (yes, I'm talking to both of you), most of our household produce comes from our Grant Family Farms CSA.  But, alas, we are into the second of three months of the year in which we don’t receive weekly (summer) or monthly (winter) boxes of delicious, organic fruits and vegetables.  Boo hoo!  =’(  I can’t wait until June when our CSA will start back up.  Until then, we’ll subsist on stored apples, beets and potatoes and the few items that I will begrudgingly pick up from the store.  Don’t get me wrong - Whole Foods isn’t bad – we are just very used to our locally grown, seasonal produce so it’s an adjustment during those few CSA-less months every year. 

A sight we never see in Colorado
Unfortunately, avocado trees never really thrive in Colorado so we don’t get to eat the fruit nearly as often as we’d like, but avocados are one of the very few produce items that I will occasionally go out of my way to buy at the store.  When I do break down and buy them, they are usually made into large quantities of guacamole, which is then almost instantaneously devoured.  We’ve never actually had any leftover, but according to my mom (who lives in Florida and seems to always have locally grown avocados the size of my head on hand), it freezes well.  I will try it one of these days if there is EVER any leftover.  As with each and every person who has a recipe for guacamole, I think mine is the best, but you can be the judge...

To pit an avocado, cut it in half lengthwise, grab each half in one hand, twist in opposite directions and pull apart.  The pit will remain embedded in one of the halves.  VERY CAREFULLY, whack the pit with a knife, then twist – the pit should come right out.

Interesting (and pretty hilarious) facts:  The word avocado comes from the Spanish word aguacate, which is derived from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl meaning "testicle" - an obvious reference to the shape of the fruit.  It was also known as the "fertility fruit" and had the reputation of being an aphrodisiac.

As with most of my recipes, you can easily adapt this one to use what you've got on hand.  Use refried beans in place of the guacamole, cabbage or lettuce instead of spinach, salmon or another protein entirely (chicken, beef, shredded pork) in place of the mild white fish, any kind of cheese, etc.  You get the idea - have fun with it!

Fusion Cuisine a la Hethyr
Fish Taco Pit-z-as
Makes 2 servings
  • 2 pita rounds
  • Guacamole, to taste (see my recipe below or use your favorite)
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 to 2 cups white fish, seasoned with Magic Dust spice rub or spice blend of your choice, cooked and flaked
  • 1/4 cup goat cheese with crushed red pepper, crumbled
  • Hot sauce

Wrap pita bread in foil and heat in a 400°F oven for 5-7 minutes.  Slather pita rounds with guacamole, top with spinach, flaked fish, goat cheese and hot sauce.  Dig in.  You’ll probably need a fork and knife.

Wholly guacamole!
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 ripe avocados, halved and pitted
  • 1/2 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 small tomato
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

Sprinkle minced garlic with salt and smash with the edge of a chef’s knife until a paste forms.  Scoop avocado meat into a bowl or onto a cutting board, add garlic paste and lime juice and smash with a fork until desired consistency (I like to leave mine somewhat chunky).  Gently fold in tomatoes and cilantro.  Adjust salt if necessary.
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Jon:  Now that you've learned a bit about the origin of "avacado,"  allow me to continue the lesson.  The word cantaloupe comes from the the Italian word cantalupo meaning "large breast."  Actually, that's a total lie.  But I'm not going to let Hethyr outdo me with her testicle-talk.

Hethyr is correct that her guacamole is the best in the world... or at least the best that any white girl has ever made.  And these fish tacos pit-z-as were ridiculously good.  It is a crazy Greek-Mexican-seafood combination that works in a truly multicultural way.  These tacos are what sushi rolls would be if they were flattened and turned into sandwiches.  And like sushi, you can stuff yourself and feel alright about it because it digests well.  It's also worth mentioning that the quality of your pita bread goes a long way to determining the quality of this meal.  We buy our pita bread from Jake and Telly's, an awesome Greek restaurant on the west side of town.  It's soft and fluffy and white, just like good pita should be.

Buon appetito!  Or if you prefer... Buon cantalupo!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Grown-Up After-School Snack

Hethyr:  Sorry it's been a while since we've posted, but one's coming within the next couple of days.  Until then here's a teaser to tide you over.  Cheers to wine, cheese and blogging!  =)
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Jon:  Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!  Our snack is better than yours is!
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Sunday, April 3, 2011

You Don't Win Friends with Salad... Or Do You?

Hethyr:  For the last week, I’ve been in Florida visiting my family.  The weather for the first few days was amazing – in the 80s and sunny with a slight breeze.  We boated, beached and bummed.  It was great! 

Relaxing on the beach in Florida

My future brother-in-law, Mark, was recently working in the Gulf and caught some yellowfin tuna during a fishing trip on a rare day off.  He graciously let us cook some for dinner one night while we were in town. The method used to catch the fish was trolling which, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, is “an environmentally responsible fishing method. Fishermen can quickly release unwanted catch from their hooks since lines are reeled in soon after a fish takes the bait.”  

My mom and I hit up a farmers’ market for some local goods to accompany the tuna.  I was surprised to see a lot of produce from other states/countries as the markets I’m used to in CO consist of almost all local goods.  But we sought out the local FL produce and ended up with a bounty… Ruskin tomatoes, escarole, arugula, basil, tangerines, strawberries, sweet corn, artisan bread... my mouth is watering just thinking about it!  We decided to have corn-on-the-cob and escarole-arugula-basil salad with tangerine-balsamic vinaigrette as our side dishes.  

My mom picked up some Gulf shrimp and made a delicious Cajun-style shrimp dish with crusty bread for dipping while my sister Krystl and I cooked the marinated tuna to each person’s liking.  Everything was incredible!

Cajun Shrimp, Marinated Tuna, Corn-on-the-Cob,
Escarole, Arugula & Basil with Tangerine-Balsamic Vinaigrette

After trying the vinaigrette, my mom asked if I had other dressing recipes that I would share.  Since we are overloaded with salad greens in the springtime with our CSA, I, in fact, have many, many dressing recipes that I am more than happy to share!  For years, I have made my own salad dressings because they’re much less expensive to make than the small bottles available at grocery stores, I know exactly what ingredients are being used and because the combinations and flavors are endless.  You can create a dressing to complement any meal you’re having.

Here are a few of my very favorites…

w051206SaladDressingNF_1147849327.jpgAsian Sesame Vinaigrette
Makes a little over 1 cup
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a mason jar with an airtight, spill-proof lid. Shake vigorously before drizzling over salad.  Alternatively, you can whisk together first six ingredients in a medium bowl, then slowly stream in olive oil and sesame oil.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.  You may need to bring to room temperature just prior to use to allow the oils to re-liquefy.

Tangerine-Balsamic Vinaigrette
Makes a little over 1 1/4 cups
  • 6 tablespoons tangerine juice (use 1 large or 2 small tangerines)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cups olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a mason jar with an airtight, spill-proof lid.  Shake vigorously before drizzling over salad.  Alternatively, you can whisk together tangerine juice, vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl, then slowly stream in olive oil.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  You may need to bring to room temperature just prior to use to allow the oil to re-liquefy.

Greek Salad DressingGreek Vinaigrette
Makes approximately 1 cup
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a mason jar with an airtight, spill-proof lid.  Shake vigorously before drizzling over salad.  Alternatively, you can whisk together red wine vinegar through salt and pepper, then slowly stream in olive oil.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.  You may need to bring to room temperature just prior to use to allow the oil to re-liquefy.

Peach or Apricot-Ginger Vinaigrette
Makes approximately 1 cup
  • 2 tablespoons peach or apricot preserves
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

In a medium bowl, whisk together preserves through salt and pepper, then slowly stream in olive oil.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  You may need to bring to room temperature just prior to use to allow the oil to re-liquefy.

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Post-beach Jon
Jon:  The Florida trip was definitely a great time.  As you can see from the picture above, I'm sporting a glowing white Colorado winter skin tone.  About two hours after this picture was taken, the glowing white had transitioned into a nice strawberry red.  And speaking of strawberries, those were perfectly in season and were probably the best thing I tasted all week.  I also had a strawberry-mango smoothie at the farmers' market which was absolutely delicious.  The only fruit we've been eating for the last six months in Colorado is apples so I was thrilled to eat something else.

It was incredibly satisfying to eat a salad, too, even though the server at Rusty BelliesHethyr made the tangerine-balsamic vinaigrette.  I instead had to subsist on quesadillas, popcorn, cereal and apples until she returned to cook for me again.

Store bought:  8 ounces (1 cup) for $4.29!
Aside from the fact that Hethyr's salad dressings are delicious, they probably cost about 10 cents to make. And in case you haven't noticed, salad dressing costs an arm and a leg at the store.  It's quite a racket.  In fact, maybe Hethyr should get in the salad dressing biz and jack the price up a thousand percent. We could use our salad dressing profits to buy a second home in Florida so we could eat strawberries and lettuce in the winter. Hmmm....