Shrooms!

As though bags of cucumbers and bushloads of tomatoes aren’t enough to deal with the week before heading back to school, we just discovered some amazing gourmet mushrooms growing along our driveway. These aren’t the cute little morrels that John found where the ginko trees used to grow.  These babies are enormous.

Hen of the woods or black staining polypore?


The first is growing near the mailbox.  We contacted our chef buddy who contacted his mushroom buddy who believed that we have a hen of the woods.  Mushroom connoisseurs go crazy over these.  One hen-lover makes special lasagna with it—one to eat now and one to freeze for later. Hen of the woods mushrooms grow at the base of dead oak trees.  Sure enough, this one is at the base of a dead oak tree, and two more are growing on the other side of the tree.  The hen is a fall mushroom and can be found as early as late August after heavy rain.  It is not quite mid-August here but it has been unusually cool and wet…as our flooded basement can attest to.  They often re-appear in the same location year after year.  Hmm.  So maybe we now have a morrel location in the spring and a hen of the woods location for the fall?

Or do we have a black staining polypore?  The black staining polypore turns black where you touch it or cut it.  Growing under the oak tree, this mushroom is beautifully white on the underside and does not turn black when we touch it. However, once it is harvested and sitting in the mudroom, it immediately begins to turn and the cut edges are definitely black. The polypore’s season is July and August.  It has a wonderful earthy fragrance, more intense than a portobello.  While not as exquisite as the hen, it is edible and freezable, even in its blackened state.
Walking back to the ‘shroom for more photos, I spotted another mushroom along the drive.  After having researched the hen, I was pretty sure I was now spotting a chicken!  A chicken of the woods mushroom.

Chicken of the woods


Chicken of the woods has been described as tasting like…ready?  Chicken.  Or crab or lobster. Our new mushroom friend recently dipped hers in egg and flour and fried it for a heavenly meal that even her ten year old step-son liked.  

I thought we were having hamburgers for dinner tonight with a slice of tomato and home-made pickle.  Looks like the menu is changed to mushroom surprise.  It’s a surprise because I haven’t decided which one to cook first or how I want it prepared. I also have to decide what to do with what we don’t eat.  

This is feeling like Part One of a mushroom series.  And I haven’t even gotten to the intriguing topic of cucumber chips.

Stayed tuned.  And if back-to-school side-tracks me, then you’ll just have to nag. I have a feeling we will be dealing with the bounty of the land for quite awhile.

Post-dinner update: guess what? The chicken of the woods tastes like chicken!  We cooked it up using a recipe from Forager Chef and it was like eating chicken tenders.  Once we’ve waited 48 hours to not die from the chicken, John plans to saute up some of the other.  I really deserve a prize for being a supportive wife.

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The Ghosts of Vegetables Past

Giant Mutant Pumpkins.  The larger one still reigns on the front porch.  The smaller one has deflated.

Giant Mutant Pumpkins in their  glory.

Deceased mutant pumpkin.

Deceased mutant pumpkin.

This is not a refrigerator story.  It’s a tribute to the dead mutant pumpkin on our  front porch …

…and a reflection on why white blobs embalmed in red liquid creep me out.pickled turnipsThe dead mutant is one of three giant pumpkins produced in the garden this year, grown from giant pumpkin seeds.  One of them–a white pumpkin– cracked and had to be cooked immediately.  As a result, I have many little bags of white pumpkin puree in the freezer. The dead mutant is number two, not quite making it until Halloween and definitely not making it into any pies.  The fate of the  third and Greatest Mutant Pumpkin is yet to be determined.

Now, as for the white blobs embalmed in red liquid…they are pickled turnips.  This is so completely not on my list of anything I have aspired to eat.  When Pioneer Man laid out his fall garden to include rows of turnips, I rolled my eyes.  I do not eat turnips.  I have never bought turnips. But God, with His Ultimate Sense of Humor, blessed the turnips above all other plants in the garden.  We have a bumper crop of turnips.

Pioneer Man is thrilled.

I am trying to overcome my childhood aversion to turnips.

I wasn’t traumatized by turnips, per se.  It’s just that my exposure to turnips came when a well-meaning adult—probably my paternal grandmother because I don’t recall my mother ever buying turnips– would hide them in a meal with the potatoes.  Cooked turnips, mashed, can hide with the potatoes, but they don’t taste like potatoes.  It’s a nasty trick.  The innocent child-mouth anticipates the creamy buttery goodness of mashed potatoes but is assaulted instead with the zippy tang of turnip.  It’s like telling your mouth you’re eating ice cream but tasting yogurt instead.

Now, as an adult, I can appreciate the flavor of a turnip.  I have to.  Pioneer Man keeps cooking them.  And they are tasty.  They have a zing reminiscent of radish and horse-radish.  I love radish and horseradish.  Tell my mouth to prepare for that zip and I’m all with you. But my childhood memory is still crying, “gack!”

Pickled turnips present their own problems.  They are pickled with a beet.  The beet turns the brine red.  When the red brine turns the white turnip red, the pickling is complete. Yeah, see, it’s the pickled beet thing.  And I am going to blame my mother for this one.

My mother was pregnant most of my childhood and she had her food cravings like any pregnant woman.  To this day, I’m not sure if my memories of what she ate back then reflected actual food preferences or pregnancy cravings.  At any rate, I have distinct memories of pickled beets and cottage cheese.  And the beet juice running around the plate dyeing the cottage cheese a  bloody red.  Who, besides my mother, wants to eat bloody cottage cheese?

I finally discovered the pleasure of fresh beets through a food co-op.  I never realized how wonderfully sweet beets are.  Ok, ok, I know they are sugar beets, but I didn’t believe it.  There is so little correlation in my mind between sugar beet and the thing on the plate with the bloody cottage cheese.

So now my husband is offering Wife I Am pickled turnips in beet brine.

I will not  eat them from that jar,

I will not eat them near or far,

I will not eat them here or there,

I will not eat them anywhere!

With trepidation, I taste one.

And, just like Sam I Am, I discover that they are good!  They would be a tasty appetizer with the oysters and sausages at Thanksgiving!  And I can see how fresh turnips would provide a nice zip to mashed potatoes…

But I promise–traditional mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving.

Here’s how Pioneer Man pickled his turnips, based on how old buddy Sam Wahbe’s mother used to make hers:

Pickled Turnips

  • Fill 4 quart jars with peeled, sliced raw turnips
  • Add a couple of whole jalepenos to each jar…pierced with a fork
  • Add 1/4 of a raw beet to each jar
  • Fill each jar with brine.  Pioneer Man used 3.5 cups water, 1.25 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 T. sea salt.
  • Put lids on jars and let sit until the white turnips turn red, a couple of days.
  • Then enjoy and try to convince another family member to try them, too.

pickled turnip 1

Charcuterie:an alternate way to spend time–and money– on the links

Breakfast sausage with Fresh Ginger and Sage

The aroma of freshly grated ginger, minced sage and garlic has my mouth watering for the sausage that John is preparing.  The man-cave, where John works his culinary magic while watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, smells amazing.  This is serious aroma therapy.  This can waft through the house any time.  As for the apes, well, that is what a man-cave is for.  And they usually waft in after a few hours hunting from a deer stand.

“The organ donors are here!” With that pronouncement, a hunter hands me a plastic bag containing a fresh deer heart and liver.  Delighted with the gift, I immediately put it into the man-cave fridge.  The hunters used to toss out the heart and liver, but now that John is into charcuterie, the organ meat is a special treat.

John launched his interest in charcuterie with his (in)famous venison liverwurst.  Then he wowed us with his pepperoni-like jalapeno venison sausage.  Now he masters non-venison sausage.  Last week we had turkey-dried cherry sausage.  It was amazing for dinner with some roasted potatoes and sautéed brussel sprouts.

LEM sausage stuffer with the breakfast link attachment

With the success of the ginger-sage pork sausage, we are now hooked on these little breakfast links.  I’ll use them in the Thanksgiving Day stuffing.  They will be featured at the Christmas morning brunch menu.  What’s left from this batch will be gobbled up by Harper for breakfasts.

My husband can spend time on the links whenever he wants.  Sausage links, that is.  (He doesn’t play  golf–ever.) He’s gotten really quite good at making sausage and we really enjoy the quality and taste of his homemade charcuterie.  However, like anyone addicted to links, his hobby requires the necessary toys…  I mean, equipment.

Heavy duty Waring Pro meat grinder–no plastic parts on this baby.

First he needed a meat grinder.  A good one.  So he got one for Christmas.  Then he needed a smoker.   Well, those are a bit pricey, so he made his own with a few inexpensive items bought at Home Depot.  Yeah, it’s pretty red-necky but I think that’s part of the charm.  Plus, it works.  The meat grinder came with a sausage attachment, but it was annoying to use.  So…next came a sausage stuffer.  And then an attachment for doing the breakfast links.  Now he’s talking about converting a fridge into a humidifier to replicate cool Italian  caves for making  dry-cured sausages.  You see where this is going.  Oh, he’ll get his fridge, but I’m insisting that it be the old fridge and that I get a new one for the kitchen.

The right equipment helps produce good product.  That doesn’t rule out an occasional sub-par performance, from which John has learned some things:

1. There is such a thing as too much fat in sausage.

2.  Not everything tastes better smoked.  This was a hard lesson to learn.  Ten pounds of meat went into a smoked liverwurst that was so bad we didn’t even offer it to my sister’s dog.  To make the loss even worse, John stood over the smoker in the rain protecting it with an umbrella to finish it.  He not only couldn’t eat it, he got cold and wet in the process.

Charcuterie

3.  A good cookbook is invaluable.  Recipes for Breakfast Sausage with Fresh Ginger and Sage, Turkey Sausage with Dried Tart Cherries, and Summer Sausage all  came from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (W.W. Norton, 2005).  The book gives excellent instructions on the basics of sausage making and the recipes produce delicious sausages you just can’t buy, as well as sauces and relishes and such to go with them.

If you come over one day and find a new fridge in my kitchen, you’ll know John has gotten his “Italian cave.”  But it will  be a win-win-win situation–I’ll have a new fridge, John will have a new “toy” and there will be more sausage curing in the man-cave for us all to eat.

Sure beats golf.

Arrrrrrrrrrrr is for Oysters

Indian Summer has finally given way to crisp chill of oyster weather.  It’s November, the third month from September through April containing an “R,” and we are well into oyster season, but it took a monster late season hurrricane/nor’easter/winter weather event to usher in the appropriate chill.  Which raises some questions:  how do oysters fare during such an extreme weather event?  Are they safely snuggled in their oysters beds while a storm rages overhead? Or are they, too, in need of disaster relief?  Will there be Blue Points for Thanksgiving?  And if not, will it be because of a lack of oysters or because the oystermen are are still pumping out their homes?

This calls for some research.  Hmm…high winds, heavy rains, and storm surge all cause problems for oyster beds.  Pounding waves can physically damage their beds; storm surge can bring damaging sedimentation; and heavy rains or ocean surge can bring about extreme changes in salinity.  Ocean surge can dramatically increase the salinity of bay oysters; storm run-off can dilute the salinity of ocean bivalves.  This does not bode well for the Blue Points this year.  Or the incredibly tasty Cape May Salts.  The Chincoteagues were spared the violent brunt of the storm, but it remains to be seen if the huge rainfall and storm water run-off impacted them.  The Susquehanna watershed is pretty big.

I partook of my first oysters of this season last month in Cape May.  The local Cape May Salts are a good briny oyster, and I thoroughly enjoyed slurping the tender, slippery, seasalty bivalves.  A couple of weeks ago we were dining in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and enjoyed some salty Chincoteagues.  Now our mouths are primed for oysters, and we’re pining for more, especially the Blue Points that we traditionally have on Turkey Day.

Friday night, John stopped at Gibby’s to buy oysters on his way home from work.  Being way too tired to want to shuck them himself, he bought them in a plastic container.  Normally, we prefer to eat the oyster from its own shell, but pre-shucked oysters are better than no oysters at all.  I’ve even figured out how to serve them—on deviled egg plates.  Seriously, how often do I make deviled eggs?  Once a year on Easter.  But those egg plates, shaped not-unlike an oyster shell, have twelve little scoopy spots that are just perfect for serving shell-less oysters.  I plop twelve oysters into each of the two plates and serve one to John and one to me, ideally topped with my mignonette or a bit of cocktail sauce.  Ta dah.  It sure looks nicer than a little bowl of gray oyster loogies.

(Personal note to this year’s Thanksgiving oyster initiate:  you did not just hear me compare oysters to loogies.  If you can eat tough, chewy clams, you most certainly can eat delicate oysters.)

Friday night’s oysters were fine, but they weren’t salty.  Alas, the seafood store could not attest to their origin.  They did not shuck those oysters themselves; they just accepted delivery of oyster-filled containers.  For all we know they came from the Gulf of Mexico.  They would have tasted better with a good mignonette, but I was too worn out by my Hurricane Sandy induced one-day work week to chop up the ingredients.  Anyway, by Saturday night they were destined for oyster stew, a worthy culinary fate.

John’s Oyster Stew

Here’s the recipe for John’s Oyster Stew.  The one he made Saturday was perhaps the best ever, so, even if don’t rave over a raw oyster, that does not mean I won’t rave over it in a stew.

John’s Oyster Stew

  • 1 quart shucked oysters, strained with  1 cup oyster liquid saved
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2/3  of a half-pint of heavy cream (Yeah, it’s  a weird amount but that’s what he used. I think I’d dump the whole container in, but, hey, it’s not my recipe.)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • worcestershire to taste
  • tabasco to taste
  • fresh parsley for garnish
  • oyster crackers

Saute the strained oysters in large soup pot with the 4 T of butter until oyster edges curl and liquid has started to boil.  Add the milk, 1 cup oyster liquids (the “liquor”), and the cream.  Add the remaining butter.  Heat the stew until hot–the butter should melt, the soup should be steamy but must not boil.  Add salt, pepper, worcestershire, and tabasco to taste.  When steamy hot, remove from heat.  Serve garnished with fresh parsley and oyster crackers.

I like my stew to have a little zip to it.  John does not want to actually taste the worcestershire or the tabasco.  He wants the oyster flavor to shine, but the worcestershire and tabasco are still necessary to add interest and complexity to the milk based broth.

So support the oyster industry–go buy some (preferably local) oysters.  Or, if you really can’t swallow an oyster, show your solidarity by drinking a Flying Dog “Pearl Necklace” Oyster Stout.  I don’t know how they make beer with oysters, but this is a nice one.  Really.  And it doesn’t taste like oysters at all.  Here’s hoping–and praying– that the East Coast oystermen and their oysters make a speedy recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

Yeah, it’s made with oysters. And proceeds benefit Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration.