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Locavore Cooking with Southern Efficiency and Northern Charm

Archive for September 2012

Myopic about Mushrooms

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It looked like a Bolete (porcini), it smelled like a Bolete, but I’m not expert enough to be certain so I won’t eat it. There’s too much potential for error given the 100-some Boletes out there. Black trumpets, however, I can confidently identify. NOTE to readers: I can’t identify this mushroom. CONSULT AN EXPERT BEFORE CONSUMING. Thought I found Chanterelles too, but they were smaller than ones from Pacific Northwest. I’ve lost my confidence.

I’ve decided wild mushroom foraging will be the new foodie thing I throw myself into here in Maine. Many species seem to thrive in the damp, pine needle-carpeted forests here, and I’m eager to learn more about them. I’ve got black trumpets down. They’re easy to identify as long as you keep looking down, as “Mushroom Maineiac” David Spahr advises. Here, they spring up next to green moss and bright pine seedings.

We just settled on truffled eggs with the few black trumpets I found. My Dad is a master in the kitchen! He swears by the more affordable white truffle oil from Micucci’s in Portland.

Now, I’m in hot pursuit on a hike. I understand how hunters and fisherman feel. Even if you have to throw your catch back, there’s still the thrill of that “aha!” moment of discovery. I had that in the woods yesterday, chancing upon what I thought were small Chanterelles and a big Bolete that sure looks like a Porcini. We consulted friends and David Spahr’s book. I had been inspired by a display at this weekend’s MOFGA Common Ground Fair. In some ways, the more I read, the more pictures I viewed, the more doubt crept in. It just isn’t worth the risk unless you’re sure. I’ll think about joining the Maine Mycological Association and going out in the company of experts soon. The nearby Long Branch School in Bowdoinham organizes monthly forays. Trouble is, you get the most bang for your wild mushroom buck if you go out on a secret mission, and lose yourself in the woods alone.

The harvest I’m abandoning due to lack of certainty. One is at least definitely a Chanterelle but the uncertainty about the lot has made me lose interest. Also found coral mushrooms we could eat, but they aren’t culinary gems and can have a laxative effect on some folks.

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Black Trumpet Mushrooms in Maine and Oregon

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There’s nothing like a good Willamette Valley pinot to bring out the earthy flavor of mushrooms. These foraged black trumpets stand out in this slighty creamy, gorgonzola pasta.

Maine and Oregon have so much in common from a culinary perspective: an abundance of fresh seafood, blueberries, lots of freely ranging chickens, cattle and pigs. And mushrooms just begging to be foraged from wooded trails. Unfortunately, my foraging in Oregon was limited to easily identifiable golden Chanterelles. I hope to get more adventurous here in Maine and got a good start today with our first black trumpet harvest.

Two days of casual harvest on a hike near my parents’ place on a lake in Central Maine.

There’s nothing like the serendipity of chancing upon delicious mushrooms while on a hike. It makes the hike more of a hunt. It’s a simple thrill. We saw at least a dozen other mushroom varieties on the hike, but felt too amateur to pick others than the striking black trumpets. Consulting images on the web, I now suspect we saw Lobsters, Yellow-Foot Chanterelles, and Reishis growing on trunks. I’ll have to tag along with someone more senior soon.

Black trumpets are a simple thrill to discover on the damp forest floor.

If you get your hands on some black trumpets (in Oregon my source was The Mushroomery), you must make this pasta dish (assuming you aren’t dairy or gluten-intolerant. My sister did enjoy it with gluten-free pasta).

Black Trumpet Mushroom and Gorgonzola Pasta (recipe courtesy of Tree and Elaine)

1 oz. dried or fresh mushrooms,
butter
minced shallots
1 cup heavy cream (use 1/2 and 1/2 cream; just as good)
1 oz. Gorgonzola dolce
1 lb. penne pasta (used wild mushroom linguine)
1 c. fresh parmesan
minced parsley, (tarragon-opt.)

Before using, soak mushrooms for 30 min. in warm water, drain and rinse
well to get rid of any remains.

Melt butter and add shallots. Saute 7 minutes,
Then add mushrooms, cream and stir in the Gorgonzola.
Simmer 10 minutes.
Cook the penne with salt till al dente and pour it in skillet with the sauce,
stirring well.
Fold in the parsley and the Parmigiano.

Written by baltimoregon

September 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Final Salad Days of Summer

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Tri-colored beets (golden, candy-striped Chioggia and plain red) salad I topped with goat cheese and maple syrup-candied chopped almonds.

I’ve been falling in love with salads again as I frantically try to cook up the summer’s bounty before the chill sets in here in Maine. In  Oregon and here, September is prime salad-making time. You’ve got just about every fresh, locally-grown vegetable at your disposal.

I’ve brought salads to several events of late, so I’m in a groove. And rather than bring the same old dressed lettuce, I’ve sought out variety, recipes that really test our sense of the word “salad.” I love how deliciously broad a category it is.

Take, for example, otsu: the tangy, gingery cold soba noodles tossed with toasted tofu, cucumber, scallions, toasted sesame seeds and shredded carrot kraut (last ingredient my addition). I gladly stumbled upon the recipe in popular food blogger Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking book, a thank-you gift I received for judging a hazelnut cooking competition. Swanson’s technique of roasting the drained tofu cubes in a dry non-stick pan (or well-seasoned cast iron skillet) was a revelation to me. Finally crispy cubes of tofu that didn’t require additional oil. I might use this technique to prepare tofu for a stir-fry or simmer sauce, to give in a more satisfying texture. Be careful not to overcook the soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) here…those thin suckers cook up quickly.

Other salads I made this week included a visually-grabbing tri-colored beet salad with cut blanched green beans and yellow tomato. Tonight, I was inspired by the Samin Nosrat‘s grilled pepper and corn salad. It came out more like a liquid-y salsa, but a nice acidic complement to greasy ribs we picnicked on from a surprisingly authentic BBQ place in nearby Bath (great domain name, Beale Street!). The liquid leftover from the salad would make nice Bloody Mary’s. Nosrat’s recipe calls for pre-pickling the onions in red wine vinegar and pressing garlic with salt into paste for dressing–techniques I recognize from my beloved Tamar Adler. Which isn’t surprising, I suppose, since both women worked at Chez Panisse. Must have learned the techniques from Alice Waters.

Written by baltimoregon

September 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm

The P’s of Perfect Pizza: Pre-Preferment (Poolish), Peel, and Parchment

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Just say no to pre-made dough! You can make much cheaper, better tasting, more satisfying dough at home.

All spring and summer, I’ve meant to blog about my new zeal for homemade pizza. We’ve enjoyed pizza with roasted asparagus (thanks Deena!), pizza with garlic scapes and clams (now in Maine I’ll only use fresh ones), pizza topped with feta, Parmesan and Pecorino, fresh mozzarella and chêvre, pizza crust made from Willamette Valley-grown hard red wheat and even some rye (Alice Waters and others recommend this addition).

The key to good homemade pizza is a good dough. And I have finally found the go-to dough of my dreams in Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson’s fool-proof recipe from their ever-reliable (Portland and Seattle favorite) The Grand Central Baking Book. I’m much more improvisational cook than methodical baker, but Davis and Jackson have me seriously considering playing for the other team. The key to good pizza, as revealed by this book, is a pre-ferment, otherwise known as a poolish or overnight starter. This quick night-before step yields an incredibly chewy yet crisp crust with bubbling air pockets like a good artisan bread. You simply mix flour, water and yeast together and let it sit for about 12 hours. It’s then riddled with holes, with the stringy consistency of melted cheese when stirred (photo is on my other camera card). Then you mix it with the other ingredients (bless you, KitchenAid dough hook!) into dough. No proofing or activating yeast with sugar or honey. Davis and Jackson are also call for a generous amount of salt. That’s key to a flavorful dough. And make sure your flour isn’t rancid. The pre-ferment softens the glutens in a tough hard whole wheat flour, so you don’t need to add white flour. I can’t locate the cookbook in my moving boxes at present, but its pan pizza recipe (which also stresses the pre-ferment) is at least online.

Grilled pizza for the first time, with just-made tomato sauce, fresh pesto, some wilted arugula, goat cheese, garlic, mozzarella, and Capriano, a hard aged goat cheese from York Hill here in Maine. I won’t burn the crust on the bottom next time.

A pizza peel is also almost essential (thank you, dear Intaba!). Once you have one you won’t look back. You, too, really can flick your pizza into the oven or on the grill with confidence. A pizza stone (thank you, dear Hannah!) or at least some unglazed ceramic tiles heated on the rack at at least 450 degrees 30 minutes before baking makes a world of difference. And because The Grand Central Dough is so wet (wet doughs seem to produce superior pizza), it’s hard to handle by hand (so my partner can’t show off his pizza-tossing skills), Davis and Jackson brilliantly recommend stretching it out on parchment paper. The paper chars on the edges but remains moist and intact under the dough, slipping away from the baked pizza.

Only trouble is I discovered tonight, my ChefPapel “culinary parchment” is only “oven safe” up to 425 degrees. Suggestions? Are there more heat-resistant parchments out there? This particularly was a problem when I tried to grill pizza for the first-time tonight, with temperatures that can approach 600 degrees. Any good grilled pizza techniques to recommend? I consulted this one, but my wet dough kind of stuck to and charred on the grates. Otherwise, I’m planning to go back to the stone, indoors, which will be a convenient place to stay warm in Maine this winter. Or maybe heat the stone right on the grill, in these waning days of warmth?

Written by baltimoregon

September 3, 2012 at 10:54 pm

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