Mushrooms and More

I am a mushroom lover, something deplored by both members of my own family and certain of my colleagues. The mushroom stand at the farmers’ market is one of my favorite stops, and in August, almost every type of mushroom is available for devouring—porcini, oyster, shiitake, Portobello, puffball, and my favorite, chanterelle.

I first ate chanterelles in Germany, on my honeymoon, and they were a revelation. Both sweet and nutty and utterly themselves, I ordered them at every opportunity, delighting in their burnt orange color, so different than the dark browns and pearls I was used to.

When the first chanterelles of the season appeared at the market this year, Teacherman was out of town. I thought about waiting until he came back to buy some, but couldn’t wait: I bought 6 oz for my very own self.

I barely did anything to them, just swished them through salted water to clean, sautéed them in butter, and scrambled three eggs around them. With the addition of a vinegary salad, it was, as cookbooks of 70 years ago used to say, The Perfect Supper for a Single Girl.

chanterelle scrambled eggs

When Teacherman came home a week later, I was willing to share. (Or rather, I was willing to take another opportunity to eat chanterelles). This time, though, my preparation was more elaborate.

I’d read several recipes for alternative takes on risotto, using different grains, like barley, steel-cut oats, quinoa, or buckwheat groats. I’d been wanting to try the technique using oats, and the flavor of chanterelles seemed as if it would match up well with the oats. I wanted a bit more than just oats and mushrooms, though, and I remembered another recipe I’d seen recently (I don’t remember where) for a sauté of chanterelles and corn, with tarragon. It was a short step to combine the two ideas in my mind, creating oat risotto with chanterelles, corn and tarragon.

I followed the same trajectory as in my original chanterelle outing—swishing the mushrooms clean, then sautéing them in butter with a big pinch of salt. When they were soft, though, I took them out of the pan, and added half a cup of steel-cut oats, stirring to coat them in the butter and the mushroom juices. Once the butter was absorbed, I added vegetable stock in half cup measures, letting the oats absorb the liquid fully before adding anymore. In the end, I added about 2 cups, leaving the oats on the stove for about half an hour. The oats could have taken up a bit more liquid, but I wanted them to be toothsome, rather than mushy.

About five minutes before I wanted to stop cooking the oats, I added the chanterelles and half a cup of corn kernels, cut off the cob, letting them simmer and warm through. I added a few sprigs of chopped tarragon, then turned off the heat.

It was, I think, absolutely perfect. Both oats and chanterelles have a sweet nuttiness, and, as I thought, the two flavors blended very well. The corn added another layer of sweetness, but brighter, the butter added depth, and the grassiness of the tarragon grounded the dish firmly in the savory sphere.

We served the risotto with herb-marinated grilled chicken, but I could have happily left the chicken off the plate, so satisfying was the combination of flavors and textures. It was nubbly, soothing, delicious, and made me wish I’d made double the portion I did.
chanterelles

Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

It BURNS

As part of our anniversary celebration, Teacherman and I took a trip up to Madison, to eat at l’Etoile, an AMAZING restaurant dedicated to seasonal, local food, and to go to Madison’s epically-sized farmer’s market.

We bought, among other things, four quarts of strawberries (for Teacherman’s first attempt at making a berry wine) and, something that I’ve never eaten before: garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are the long green stem that grows up out of a planted bulb of garlic. Rarely seen in grocery stores, most garlic scapes are cut off the bulb and tossed away. People who grow garlic themselves, however, have long known that the scapes can be used in food wherever you need an especially pungent kick of garlic.

I’ve read about garlic scapes, certainly, but I’d never seen a recipe that I particularly wanted to make myself. Last Wednesday, though, a recipe for white bean and garlic scape dip appeared in the New York Times. (I would link to it, but it’ll disappear after a few days, leaving my link broken). It’s virtually identical to most white bean dips–beans, olive oil, salt, garlic–but instead of using garlic cloves, it used raw garlic scapes.

I don’t know why the recipe stuck in my mind–I rarely make white bean dips, tending instead to prefer southwestern black bean dip or hummus–but when I saw the garlic scapes at the farmer’s market I was taken in by the piles and mounds of twisty, spiraling, bean-like shoots. Every farmer selling them only wanted to sell the scapes by the pound, but I couldn’t imagine finding a use for an entire pound. I talked one woman down to just selling me a handful–probably 4 or 5 shoots–and took them back to Chicago. I threw the scapes into the food processor with one drained can of white beans, a pinch of salt and a couple of glugs of olive oil. I blended the whole thing until smooth, then scooped the thick mixture into two bowls and served it for lunch with sugar snap peas for dipping.

White Bean Dip with Garlic Scapes

It was astonishingly delicious, the scapes adding a big hit of raw garlic flavor, but also a grassy freshness not present in even the most recently peeled garlic cloves.  It was also so rich with that rawness (really–it was the scapes that added the richness, not the olive oil at all) that it coated every surface in my mouth, and my nose kept smelling it from inside my head. 

We ate the dip quickly and greedily, reveling in the pungency and burn. We finished up with the rest of the sugar snap peas, the sweetness providing a welcome contrast to what had come before.

A few minutes after we finished doing the dishes, though, we noticed that the burning flavor of garlic scapes wasn’t going away. We brushed our teeth. No difference. We brushed our teeth again. No change. We went out and bought NEW toothbrushes and brushed our teeth again. Gah!

I love garlic, but I don’t really care to taste it for six hours straight, with no ability to rid myself of it. The taste filled my mouth all the way up into my sinuses and it Would Not Go Away.

I loved the garlic scape dip. I loved the taste, I loved the burn, I loved how overwhelming it was. I have no doubt that I’ll be making something with garlic scapes in it again. Even now I’m remembering the flavor of the scapes on my tongue: the heat of the dip, due only to the essential garlic oils. I’m almost longing to make the dip again immediately.

It might, however, have to wait until next spring, when I’ve forgotten how absolutely overpowering it is to walk around with my head utterly infused with garlic for hours and hours. If it wasn’t so delicious, it would be horrifying.

Published in: on June 26, 2008 at 8:37 am  Leave a Comment  

A Year and a Day

What did we eat for lunch on June 23rd last year?

This:

Reception Spread 1
Reception Spread 2
Homemade bread, compound butter, big salads of farmer’s market greens with raspberry-mustard vinaigrette, big bowls of berries, three kinds of cheese (including Gruyere, an aged goat and a tangy Brie-like cheese), a smoked salmon-pink peppercorn tart in an almond crust, and a three-layer fritatta, with a roasted red pepper layer, a spinach layer and a cheese layer.

And for dessert?
Wedding cake

Wedding Cake.

Wedding cake and lemon cheesecake

Specifically, an almond cake filled with mixed fresh berries and frosted with vanilla bean whipped cream and decorated with red currants and a lemon cheesecake topped with lemon curd and black currants.

And what did we have for lunch on June 23rd this year?
Anniversary lunch

Sea scallops wrapped in radicchio and pancetta, then grilled and served with a red lettuce salad from the farmer’s market.

The scallop recipe was beyond simple–sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper, wrap each one in a radicchio leaf, and then wrap the leaves with a slice of pancetta. My slices were inexpertly wrapped at the butchers, and thus had unraveled. I ended up just wrapping it around and around and around each little radicchio bundle and securing the ends with toothpicks.

Who am I kidding–I used about 3 toothpicks per bundle. I am not good at food-skewering.

The grill caramelized the radicchio and infused the flavor of both the pancetta and radicchio into each scallop. In spite of the fiddly eating required by all the toothpicks, it was delicious, especially from our unaccustomed seats under our lawn umbrella (which we haven’t set up, sadly, since our wedding reception). Teacherman poured an Alsatian wine to drink alongside the meal–it reminded him perfectly of the wines from our honeymoon.

Lunch was wonderful, yes, but what did we eat for dinner? Last year, we didn’t eat anything for dinner. Our reception was still going on, and due to the enticements of the lunch board, we’d eaten too much of everything.

This year, though, lunch was elegant and austere. And so, for dinner:

Anniversary dinner

Chocolate-peanut butter cookies and chocolate-peanut butter ice cream. What’s the point of being a grown-up if you can’t do this sort of thing every now and then?

(I have to admit, though, that I don’t feel remotely like a grown-up. Even though I’m nearly 30, and even though I’m married, I still have to remind myself that I’m not a kid. Thus, of course, the ideal dinner of cookies and ice cream).

If you’ll forgive my sentimentality (and if there’s one day a year when one is allowed to be sappy, one’s wedding anniversary ought to be it): Here’s hoping that we always feel this ridiculously young, and that each anniversary is as lovely–and delicious–as this one.

Published in: on June 23, 2008 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Transparency

My slip is showing. Well, my lack of creativity, anyway. I solicited all these ideas for using up my plethora of mint, and did I use any of them? One single one? Nope, not at all. I fell back on my own idea–mint ice cream.

Admittedly, I used twice as much mint as most recipes called for, and I steeped it in the cream for about 48 times as long, but still: not the most innovative thing I could have come up with.

Last Friday morning I cut almost all of the chocolate mint off of my plant (fear not: it’s been less than a week and it’s already almost entirely back), stripped the leaves off the stems, washed them lightly, spun them dry, crushed them slightly with my fingers, and put them into a 1-quart glass measuring cup. (A note about the washing–I didn’t really plan to wash the leaves, but who knew that mint plants were where flies went to die? At least 25% of my mint leaves went into the garbage because there was a dessicated housefly carcass stuck to the other side. No pithy comments on this situation, just: Eeew).

I covered the crushed leaves with 1 cup of heavy cream and 1 cup of milk, then brought the liquids just barely to a boil in the microwave. The boiling probably would have been a bit more controlled on the stove-top, but I was using all 3 of my working burners at the time, and didn’t want to wait.

I let the mint mixture steep for 1 hour at room temperature, the amount of time that almost every recipe calls for. At that point, I tasted the cream; it barely tasted like mint at all. As most home-churners know, cold dulls flavors. If an ice cream base isn’t shockingly intense, when frozen the flavor will barely register. (Sometimes, admittedly, this is what you want, but I felt that if I was going to use practically an entire mint plant, the ice cream should be noticeably minty). Instead of straining the mint out of the cream before I chilled it, I just covered the measuring cup with plastic wrap and slid the whole thing into the fridge.

It was over two days later when I finally got around to churning it up. By that point the mint leaves had given up almost all of their oils, and the cream was translucently white–the same white that you see in roses, when they’re really a green so pale that you can’t even identify it. I strained the mixture through a sieve (and then ended up squeezing the thickened cream from the mint leaves with my hands), added another cup of cream, and indeterminate amount of simple syrup (maybe 1/3 cup), and 1/4 cup cacao nibs.

I’d asked Teacherman if he wanted plain mint ice cream, or chocolate-mint ice cream, and he came down decidedly in favor of “plain.” He was attracted to the idea of its clean, bracing flavors, and I can’t say I wasn’t equally enthused. I did want to involve chocolate in SOME way, though, to play off of the chocolately background of the mint itself, and I thought the slight bitterness of the cacao nibs would be a nice contrast to the sweetness of the cream (and a reference to a childhood favorite: mint chocolate chip ice cream).

We poured it into the freezer bowl and churned away. The finished product was thinner than other ice creams we’ve made in the past. With air whipped in, the ice cream was even more translucent and delicately, unidentifiably green, but the flavor could knock out a full-grown man. The mint was assertive without being aggressive, and never crossed the line into the medicinal, toothpaste-i-ness of so many desserts made with fresh lime leaves. The almost unadulterated cream tamed and rounded the flavors of the mint, but never overwhelmed it, as an egg-custard base might have.

We got several substantial servings from just the one batch, and have been enjoying it, unadulterated by chocolate sauce or toppings–all week long, having our summer fun while the warm weather lasts.

Published in: on September 25, 2007 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Massivity of Mint

What, exactly, does one do with a terrifyingly overgrown pot of mint?  This isn’t a lead-in to a clever recipe, I really want to know. 

I have an enormous, overflowing terracotta pot of mint out in the backyard, sending creeping tendrils of ginger-mint and chocolate mint out to colonize the neighboring pots of parsley and chervil, and I can’t think of a blessed thing to do with it before the snow flies. 

Correction: I can think of two unfortunately small things to do with it.  I can make mint (or chocolate-mint) ice cream, but that will take a cup or two of leaves at most, which would be less than 1/16th of my bounty.  I could make mint liqueur (or at least, I could try: all of the recipes seem to include copious amounts of glycerine and other strange additives, which a friend of mine with brewing expertise says are necessary, even though he can’t tell me why).  Why can’t I infuse vodka with mint if I can infuse it with rose geraniums or lemon verbena?  I do not know.  I’ll probably try it even with those warnings ringing in my ears.

But still: that will use up another cup or two of leaves.  What do I do with the rest of it?  One can’t exactly use chocolate mint in a savory application (and I’m none too fond of mint in savory dishes anyway), but the ginger could work in such a capacity; I just don’t have any ideas for it.

What should I do, make the world’s weirdest mojito?  Just go garnish-crasy?  Suggestions?  Suggestions? 

Published in: on September 18, 2007 at 6:27 pm  Comments (2)