Tag Archives: Mushrooms

My Favorite Breakfast

biscuits-gravy

Weekends are when I have time for a leisurely morning at home. I like to putter through my apartment sipping espresso, doing random tidying and half listening to my morning playlist of Tame Impala and Parisian bistro music. At some point I realize I truly am hungry and enter the kitchen in earnest looking for something delicious yet soothing.

I truly do miss having poached eggs at times, except for the unfortunate side effect of, you know, death, should I ingest an egg.  However, I still crave that creamy, soft comfort food kind of dish that appeals on a lazy morning. And the answer to that craving now for me is biscuits and gravy.

My first experience with biscuits and gravy was a truck stop at the base of the Grapevine on I-5.  I was with my mom and we were heading to LA to visit grandma.  In our family, a road trip meant that we had to pack the car and depart usually before 5:30 am. I have no idea why this insanity was inflicted upon us poor kids and my poor mom, but there you are, up at at ’em, bleary eyed well before the break of dawn, and completely ravenous by the time the Grapevine rose up ahead of us at the end of the San Joaquin Valley.

At the truck stop, an actual trucker in a John Deer hat (or something like it) was chowing down on a massive plate of a fried ham steak, eggs, and something I didn’t recognize but needed to know more about, and it turned out to be biscuits and gravy.  I have been hooked ever since.

Mom’s sausage gravy is a winner, with an entire pound of good breakfast sausage skinned of their casings and browned in a skillet, flour added to the scant amount of fat left in the pan after draining, and whole or skim milk stirred in vigorously.  This was all taking place while buttermilk biscuits were rising in the oven.  My job was to make mom her coffee, a pour over in a Melita cone, and to set the table and to fend off the cat from eating the slices of cantaloupe set out on a small bowl on each placemat.

These days, I have perfected an egg-free biscuit recipe, and during this time of year when morels are popping up all over the place, I have made morel gravy instead of sausage gravy.  Add a glass of prosecco and some espresso topped with bourbon whipped cream, a couple of biscuits and gravy are the perfect prelude to an epic post-breakfast nap, preferably with a James Bond movie on TV.

Whether you have access to morels or another mushroom, or prefer sausage, I hope you try this comforting breakfast dish, with or without a John Deere hat.

Recipe:  Sour Cream Biscuits with Sausage Gravy (with Morel Gravy option)

 

 

Mushroom Foraging Experiment

Last week I went foraging for mushrooms with a friend, this was the first time I had gone on a foray in many years (pre-ankle surgeries) and, although it was hardly a true foray, it was a lot of fun. My friend had spotted a Chicken of the Woods growing in a very urban area, right off of a parking lot growing on a beautiful tree.

Chicken of the Woods. Image courtesy of Jonathan Clitheroe and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Chicken of the Woods. Image courtesy of Jonathan Clitheroe and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

This mushroom, the Laetiporus sulphureus, is common in North America, although in the Bay Area it is presumed to be Laetiporus gilbertsonii. It is edible and is described as having a meaty texture and flavor similar to chicken. I was excited to harvest one and give it a try.

Although mushroom foragers have varying opinions on the Chicken of the Woods, local foragers I have met said that this variety harvested off a eucalyptus or pine tree will make one sick, while others consume them regularly without any ill effect. I decided to proceed with caution.   It is important to note that this mushroom is considered a safe and delicious mushroom, it will not make you die from eating it, as can happen with many other wild fungii and an inexperienced forager.  I would never dare to eat a foraged mushroom without the advice and supervision of a confirmed expert.  Some people have a sensitivity to Chicken of the Woods and the ill effects are more gastrointestinal in nature and can cause inconvenient effects if one is sensitive.

When I picked it, it exuded a lot of water, which meant it was a very young specimen and therefore prized. It is a beautiful butter yellow color color, rubbery and firm feeling with a pleasant mushroomy scent.

Chicken of the woods, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

Chicken of the woods, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

It continued to exude the water and by the time I got home the paper bag in which it was stored was rather soggy. I gave it a good wash and had a great moment of excitement when a rather large pill bug decided to leave its mushroom home and explore my cutting board! This is one of the things mushroom foragers are used to, the insect life living within the specimens. As a more amateur forager this causes me great, shall we say, upheaval!

The visiting guest was removed without incident and a tot of Kentucky bourbon helped calm things down. I thinly sliced the mushroom, carefully examining it to ensure there were no more “residents” lurking within, and set about a large pot of water to the simmer.

Per my friend who happily consumes the Chicken of the Woods regularly, she advised that cooking them thoroughly will help ensure no stomach issues, so she recommended simmering for 15-20 minutes in water, draining, and then using in a recipe as one would for any mushroom dish.  My plan was to dice them after they were simmered, saute in butter and wine with some herbs and combine with other wild, but cultivated, mushrooms as part of a mushroom hand pie.

The sliced mushroom pieces developed a beautiful salmon hue, and were quite firm, like a hard shell winter squash.   After simmering for 20 minutes the color of the mushroom deepened a little bit and they had a lovely meaty aroma.

Chicken of the woods, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

I drained them well and chilled all but two slices, which were my samples. I diced them into small pieces, sauteed them in butter with some minced white onion for about 8 minutes, then added a splash of Sauvignon Blanc, salt and pepper, a pinch of thyme, and some chopped parsley.  They smelled divine, and I had a small spoonful.

Some of the ill effects for sensitive people described by mushroom experts are tingling and itchiness of the mouth and tongue, and stomach issues which I shall not describe here.  I have a lot of strange food intolerances and was worried I might immediately experience some oral issues with the Chicken of the Woods but did not.  The next day, however, my system was most unhappy and I decided that, sadly, the Chicken of the Woods is not a mushroom for me.

It was a fun experiment, however, and despite the outcome I shall continue in my mushroom foraging but stick to the more “big” choice consumables:  Morel, porcini, chanterelles, and candy caps.

Caution should be exercised when foraging and consuming wild mushrooms.  Many toxic mushrooms may resemble edible mushrooms and no one should attempt to eat a wild mushroom unless it has been carefully identified by an expert, and, even then, it may not be safe.  It is worth stressing that each single specimen must be carefully identified as well as checked for general good condition. Eating a toxic mushroom can be fatal. Don’t take chances.

Resources:

Mycological Society of San Francisco

The Forest Visits My Kitchen

I came home today to find this in my fridge. What could it be?

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Voila! What a haul!

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A full pound of black morels from an undisclosed forest in California.

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My dear friends Anna and Robert went foraging this weekend for morel and found three pounds – I am one lucky friend to be gifted with so many. They have the magic morel eye.

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I wrote about our divine morel dinner last year at Dinners at Anna’s and their haul that year was spectacular – seven pounds I think.

Imagine, walking through the forest and seeing this beauty, perfectly hidden in the duff, but only if you have that eye to recognize what lies delicately underfoot. I cannot wait to have a functioning ankle to join Anna on a foray someday. Someday soon.

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Fresh from the forest they were very dirty and probably had “occupants”. I donned my beautiful, hand-sewn 70’s mushroom fabric apron and found my deepest and tallest bowl. I filled it with cool water and a good sprinkle of salt and started halving them and plopping them in the saline bath.

I ignored the pale tiny squirming worms that appeared on the cloth I was cutting them on. Ignore!!!

An incredible aroma filled my head: rich, woodsy, loamy and that unmistakeable morel fragrance. What beauties.

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Some were short and squat, others were slim and tall, others were just massive.

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They have a texture unlike any mushroom I have played with, full of nooks and crannies, firm and almost bouncy but fragile enough to crack in your hands if pressed too hard. A true, edible morel is hollow inside from tip to stem.  A false morel looks very different.

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Not looking at the worm trails, not!

After their soak I pulled them out to heap and fill my largest colander. This is why one must wash wild mushrooms well.

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Water so dirty it looked like soup, with about a 1/2 cup of debris

The forest slowly washes away. I lose count on how many changes of water I used but eventually there was a barely imperceptible bit of grit left in the bottom of the bowl. It was time for the morels to drain and relax a bit while I had a glass of wine (and feed the constantly squeaking cat who threatened to trip me as I moved about the kitchen).

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I also took a little time to explore Hank Shaw’s amazing and nationally recognized blog for morel recipes, such as his favorite morel sauce for venison.  My pantry is well stocked and I just happened to have some veal demiglace and some good port, so I pulled those out.

I have enough morel to make a batch of this sauce several times over, so I decided to make one batch and then sauté the rest just in butter.

I  used an entire stick of butter in my skillet and when it was melted and a little browned I piled in the morels.  What a fragrance, my entire apartment was filled, it was heady and intoxicating.

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After they cooked for about 10 minutes, their liquid evaporated and concentrated into the butter.  I heaped them into a freezer container and let them cool.  The sun had set, I had started drinking the port and I needed to get off my feet.  Farewell little morels, I will play with you soon!  They will rest in the freezer until I am ready.  What riches…

I hope there is no need to tell you that you should never eat wild mushrooms unless you are an expert, or happen to be friends with experts.  Even experts make mistakes which is why my friends limit their foraging to species that are unmistakable – again to an expert.  Eating the wrong mushroom can result in the death of your liver and kidneys and no meal is worth that risk.   If you have any question at all about a mushroom, don’t even touch it, and leave it to the experts such as those at Far West Fungi.  

Stuffed Full of Squash

I was not going to share this article with you because of what happened but then thought that perhaps I should.  Most food blogs only show you the most perfect,  “delicious and amazing” recipes coming out of xxx’s kitchen, complete with the perfect food porn photography and drool-inducing descriptions.

Life isn’t always that way though, I think a real person has successes and failures in the kitchen but we the audience never seem to ever hear about the flops or failures or the “meh” of it all.  So, in the spirit of keeping it real, here is my recent flop.  Well, sort of flop.

I have had a pumpkin from my CSA box from the Fall and it  became part of my Christmas decorations.

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I have decided that I would roast it stuffed full of tasty things, inspired by my friend Laura’s recipe from Hey What’s For Dinner Mom?.

Laura’s recipe is meatless and uses quinoa but I had some fancy pants sausages and was out of quinoa, so I checked in with my friends at the recipe swap. The recipe they suggested is by Dorie Greenspan and uses bread which is perfect because I have some artisan sourdough slab about to go stale so I adapted both recipes into my dinner.

Mis en place

Stuffed Pumpkin

1 sugar pie pumpkin, seeded
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1/2 loaf Della Trattoria Meyer lemon and rosemary bread, torn into smallish chunks
2 chicken and spinach sausages
2 Tbl pork fat
1 large leek
1/4 pound mushrooms
A bunch of dino kale
1/4 c white wine
1/3 c heavy cream (I used sour cream thinned with milk)
4 slices leftover bacon
1/2 grated Peccorino Romano
Sage leaves
1/3 bunch of parsley
6 cloves of Garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper

I cut out the stem end of the pumpkin using a sharp knife like you would to make a jack o’lantern, and then cut off the strings on the cap with the chef’s knife and set the lid aside.

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Now for evisceration.  I scooped out seeds and pulp with an ice cream scoop but you can use a sturdy metal spoon.  Save those seeds if you like roasted pumpkin seeds. I was not in the mood so into the compost bin they went.  Usually this step is gooey and messy, but my pumpkin wasn’t all that gooey inside.  I should have paid more attention to this fact, but onwards I went.

I put the hollowed pumpkin on a baking sheet lined with foil and seasoned the cavity with salt and pepper and olive oil.  I poured in the oil and then threw in the salt and pepper and smeared it all around with my hands; they are Nature’s best spatula!

Olive oil, salt & pepper the inside well

Then I started assembling the stuffing ingredients. I used my Wovo salad bowl but any large bowl will do; toss in the leftover bacon and the sausages chopped into small pieces.

Leftover chopped bacon

It is hard to believe I had leftover bacon but it happens!

Aidell's chicken spinach & feta sausage, chopped

I chopped up the parsley rather roughly and added that to the bowl too along with the smashed garlic cloves and the grated cheese and a few dried porcini.

Picnik collage

On the stove heat I heated up a large frying pan and melted the pork fat (or use olive oil or bacon fat or butter, it’s up to you).  The leek was halved lengthwise, then into cut into slices about an 1/8″ thick, put in a colander and washed them well.  I like washing the leeks after they are cut because it’s easier to get the mud out if they are dirty. Lately our leeks have been really dirty. Heh.

Picnik collage

With just some of the water shaken off, I tipped the leeks into the hot frying pan and added a few pinches of salt. A swift stir with the spatula then I grabbed a clean cutting mat and sliced up the mushrooms and add them to the leeks.  Lastly, I grabbed the sheaf of kale leaves and chopped off the stems into smallish pieces and added them to the frying pan.

They all cooked together until everything was very tender.  Meanwhile, I had a glass of wine and then attacked the kale leaves. Whack-whack-whack I went with my largest chef knife to chop them roughly.  Once the other veggies were tender, I added the kale and put on the lid for a minute or two until the kale has wilted a bit.  Wine in hand I tossed and sauted the kale and vegetables until the kale was completely tender.  I let the mixture cool a little bit.  So far everything looked and tasted great, good levels of salt, the veggies were all fork-ready.  My stomach growled.

Picnik collage
(L-R: kale stems, leeks, mushrooms sauteing; a rough chop; the kale will fill the pan up but it cooks down to nothing)

Meanwhile it was time for the heart of the stuffing, the bread. I purchased this loaf of bread on a Saturday it was now Tuesday so it was just this side of being stale, perfect for a stuffing.

You could just chop it but I like the rough texture of hand-torn bread so I sliced the bread, then took a seat and over the bowl I ripped up the bread into small pieces, about 1/2″.

Della Trattoria bread ready to be shredded

The stuffing was almost done, I just needed the cream and wine and a few herbs, salt and pepper. A quick toss with my hands I was ready to stuff my pumpkin. Since this stuffing does not have egg or raw meat I was able to taste a few pieces to make sure the seasoning was right on. I wanted it to be a little heavy on the salt to offset the pumpkin which is essentially bland and would be mixed into the filling.

The stuffing for my pumpkin. Yum.

I really packed it in and it all just barely fit!

Stuffed and ready for the oven #2

Don’t forget to put its hat on!

Don't forget to put its hat on!

Isn’t that beautiful?!  Into the oven it went, at 350 for 90 minutes. I checked it then and the pumpkin was still not fork-tender so I let it go for another 30 minutes. At last a fork just slid easily through the side of the pumpkin and it smelled so aromatic with the herbs and garlic I could barely contain myself.

Ready to serve!

I pulled out the stuffing first, and sneaked a bite. Hmmm. It was delicious but not all moist and steamy like I expected.

Finished stuffing

I scooped out the pumpkin and despite it being fork tender the flesh was rigid and oddly firm. I scraped all of it out into a bowl and tasted it – it was fine but dry and more starchy and did not have the squashy pumpkin texture it should have.  Hmmm, when did I get that pumpkin again?  I realized I couldn’t remember.

Pumpkin and stuffing

Huhmmm. I sat a bit and thought and thought. And then I remembered. This pumpkin was not from November, it was from October or perhaps earlier and in my overheated apartment it probably had completely dried out and converted its sugars into starches. Whoops!

I tried steaming the flesh a bit in a steamer on the stove but realized that it really needed to be used in a soup or something. This explained why the stuffing seemed so dry. The pumpkin, which normally would have exuded lots of juices while cooking, was essentially dessicated and therefore the stuffing had the consistency of being baked in a dish and did not get hydrated from its squashy container. If I had intended to bake the stuffing in a casserole I would have added a lot more liquid and covered it while baking to emulate the interior of poultry or other moist cavity.

Craptastic.

My dinner was completely salvageable though. I added about a cup of leftover chicken broth I had and another good slosh of wine to the stuffing and put it in a small casserole dish and covered it foil to bake for 30 minutes. Taking it out of the oven, I peeked under the foil and stood back as a cloud of steam erupted. I realized this was the stuffing I had expected. The mushrooms and garlic were soft and tender, the bread had that pleasant squish of being amalgamated with wine and cream and broth and the generous flecks of greens and chunks of bacon and sausage were like firm nuggets within each bite. It was delicious despite the absence of the pumpkin!

I saved the pumpkin for my next batch of soup. Lesson learned. I hope you try stuffing a pumpkin or other squash but please do make sure it is not Paleolithic in age!!

Morel Magic at “Dinner at Anna’s”

My friend Anna invited me to an amazing dinner featuring fresh morels, please check out my sister site, “Dinner at Anna’s”, for more shroomy pictures and video!

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Can you believe how big it is? And so so tasty…..