cold seafood platter peach fritters matsutake tempura porcini elk sausage tortellini in beef porcini brodo


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archive for mushrooms

with intention

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

Recipe: matsutake tempura

I’m delighted to finally flip my calendar to September! Even though it typically gets hotter over Labor Day weekend before the mountains give it up to the autumn chill (and this year was no exception), I welcome September with open arms. Here in the high country, we run late getting around to spring and summer, but are rather punctual when it comes to autumn, and even early on winter – thank goodness! That’s definitely why I feel my summers are crammed full of activities, because true summer is short in the mountains and it’s when everything seems to happen.


neva is more cuddly when she gets lots of exercise

a field of pearly everlasting as the sun drops



A few weeks ago I took a mountain biking class in Boulder, because I wanted to reduce my chances of crashing into things. Something the instructors said over and over was, “…with intention – as in life, as with everything.” They wanted our actions on the bike to be intentional – to ride the bike instead of letting the bike take us for a ride. But I really liked the non-bike part of that, too: WITH INTENTION. It really does apply to everything. Take mushrooms for example.

I’m not the type of person who feels a compulsion to put every single mushroom I find in my mouth. You may laugh, but so many new people on mycological forums seem hellbent on not doing their homework and getting themselves into the hospital or even the grave. I’m selective about the mushrooms I forage and I’m careful about the ones I drop in my bag. Jeremy and I have established a rule that unless you are 100% certain of the mushroom you are inspecting, it does not go into the bag (and potentially into someone’s gut). Just about every variety I forage has an imposter that could make you sick or kill you. I first learned to hunt porcini with an incredibly knowledgeable and careful forager. From there, I have happily stumbled across chanterelles and morels and oyster mushrooms on my many hours spent hiking the mountain forests. But for the first time ever, I set out to find a mushroom I had never seen before, did my homework, went straight to a place that seemed like the ideal environment, and found that mushroom. We found a lot of them. Right place. Right time. Right on. With intention.


hello, you shy beautiful mushroom

behold the matsutake



The name matsutake means pine mushroom (matsu = pine, take = mushroom) and yeah, the name is Japanese. This underground wonder smells strongly of spicy cinnamon (red hots candies, to be specific), with a helping of pine resin and funk, and is highly coveted in Japan. Theirs is a brown matsutake which grows in Asia. Ours is a white matsutake, also called American matsutake. They are delicious cousins. Matsutake differ from all of the other mushrooms I forage because they grow underground, only popping above the forest floor when they are relatively mature. But looking for subtle mounds in the forest duff (we call them shrumps = shroom + humps) can reveal matsutake or a whole host of other mushroom species, some toxic. You have to look at the identifying characteristics and give it a good whiff. Erin and I pulled an itty bitty mushroom that looked just like a matsutake, but had no odor. NOT a matsutake and hence, does not go into the bag. Rules.

it’s a party!

a girl gets her matsutake

as they get bigger, the veil breaks, revealing the gills



There’s a lot that happens in my brain the moment I find a new edible mushroom. There is pure joy over the “proof of existence” and that huge adrenaline rush at having found it. Then I start to wonder if there are more or if this was a sort of fluke single occurrence. You always want to find more, not simply because cooking a lonely single mushroom is a bit of a sad thing, but to see the different stages and forms that this specific mushroom takes as well as the varying environments it can inhabit. If there are a lot of them, you learn which ones are more desirable (clean and worm-free are desirable to me) and which ones to leave alone to do their mushroom jobs. And then there is the question of how to cook the mushrooms. Most of the others are no-brainers: mushroom meet butter and skillet. But the matsutake is not like most other mushrooms. The last thing you want to do is mask the delicate cinnamony-piney flavor. So I went with the other no-brainer for mushrooms: tempura. Japanese cooking technique with a Japanese mushroom? Sounds about right.

matsutake, ice water, flour, mirin, soy sauce, hondashi granules, baking soda, egg, sugar

wipe the tops clean with a damp cloth

gently peel the outer layer of the stipe

slice



**Jump for more butter**

i’m just getting started

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

Recipe: porcini elk sausage tortellini in beef porcini brodo

After the eclipse, Jeremy and I gathered Neva and her snacks and drove out to Crested Butte once more before the semester gets underway this week. It’s nice to travel lonely mountain roads again. Most of the summer vacationers are done exploring Colorado’s mountainous western half, leaving it to locals and retirees and full-time nomads. The town of Crested Butte has quieted down, too, such that there is parking along Elk Avenue (the main drag) and nary a hiker on the trails. But there is plenty going on with or without visitors. Lower elevation wildflowers are looking tired and haggard now – the result of showing off for so many weeks, but the high country still holds stunning pockets of wildflowers in late August thanks to regular summer rains. And our summer storms continue to flirt with the sun and create dramatic skies and stunning rainbows. Crested Butte is Rainbowtown.


jeremy and neva above copper lake

the array of wildflowers at 11,700 feet

full double rainbow next to crested butte mountain

a rainbow and sunset lit virga from our deck (where we were grilling dinner)



Handfuls of yellow and red aspen leaves litter the starts of our hikes as if some carefree party goer dropped their celebratory confetti on their tipsy walk home. I’m not posting any photos just yet (although I did shoot some) because I don’t want you summer lovers to start freaking out… But winter is totally coming! Despite the warm sunny days, our mountain evenings have grown nice and cool with morning frost on the neighbors’ rooftops and cars. I sleep with the window open at night and wake in the morning, pulling the covers up around my face and wrapping an arm around Neva as she snuggles cozily between me and Jeremy instead of petitioning for breakfast. I feel as if the ragged pace of summer is coming to an end.

And yet the mushrooms keep happening and I can’t help but look for them. I think Colorado is experiencing an epic king (porcini) season – a very long, widespread, and good flush. Other varieties are doing well, too. I mistakenly expected the chanterelles to go big this month, but I think my previous two seasons were anomalies (the first was very early and the second was really crappy except for one amazing location). They have been all around, but I’m starting to see them come up in earnest now.


hello, my pretties

still on the small side, but looking good

porcini going strong



Summer is my season to slack off from cooking, but all of these mushrooms make me want to get back into the kitchen to try some new recipes. Considering the quantity of porcini I’ve collected, I have loaded up on frozen sautéed slices and dried slices, and still had fresh ones to address. The worst thing you could do as a forager is pluck choice wild mushrooms and allow them to languish in the refrigerator. I fell asleep at night rolling recipe ideas over in my brain that infiltrated my dreams. That’s nothing new, I always dream about food. I had fresh porcini, dried porcini, and elk Italian sausage (a gift from two of my favorite neighbors in Crested Butte, one of whom hunts!) – that screamed pasta to me. Tortellini. Porcini elk Italian sausage tortellini in beef porcini brodo (broth) to be precise. I mean, if you’re going to incorporate some hard-to-come-by ingredients, why not make a pasta you’ve never made before? I’ll tell you now, so you don’t have to wonder, it was a complete hit and I served it to my mom for her home-cooked birthday dinner.

When you cook food from scratch, there is an enormous amount of flexibility in the ingredients and flavors you can incorporate. You also have the option of taking shortcuts if you simply don’t have the time or ability to make every component yourself. I say it is all good. The first step is to make the beef stock. It takes a little effort to prep and roast the ingredients, and a lot of time to cook the stock – about 6 hours at barely a simmer. If you cook your own beef stock, start the day before. I was tempted to speed up the process by chucking everything into my pressure cooker, but I wanted to try and make a clear stock this time for aesthetics. Boiling, which is what the pressure cooker does at higher pressure, turns it cloudy. Maybe in the future I’ll go the pressure cooker way, and it is also completely okay to simply purchase beef stock, just get a good quality one.


olive oil, beef chuck, beef marrow bones, carrot, celery tops, onion, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf

prepped

toss the carrots, onions, and beef with olive oil

roast the bones, meat, carrots, and onions



**Jump for more butter**

all mushrooms all the time

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Recipe: porcini tacos

It’s getting to be ridiculous – all of these mushrooms popping up in the mountains! What I mean is that this summer’s mushroom flush is simultaneously wonderful and crazy. As a resident of the mountains, a good mushroom flush means we’ve been getting a nice helping of summer rains. Summer rains keep the wildfires at bay and instead of hearing “crunch crunch crackle” when you walk through the woods, it’s a softer sound underfoot indicative of the previous day’s afternoon showers. We are seeing so many varieties of mushrooms popping up that it’s hard not to marvel at the diversity of life. Diversity in a natural setting makes for a healthier whole. Diversity is important and holds greater value than our short-sighted human brains can possibly imagine. I don’t want just ONE kind of mushroom growing in my mountains. I don’t want ONE kind of corn to be grown on our farms. I don’t want ONE kind of dog to be raised in our society. And I definitely don’t think one race or gender or sexuality or religion should reign supreme in my country. As my favorite guy commented, “…a monoculture in any setting is weak, boring, sad, and lonely.” Diversity matters.


my favorite guy finding some chanterelles

a beautifully squat and solid porcini

a party of amanitas (bezerkers) which are gorgeous and poisonous



So far, it’s been a banner year for porcini and chanterelles and the season isn’t even close to being done! Last year was so dry and depressing that I was happy to observe any kind of mushroom popping out of the ground this summer. Sure, I am always snapping trophy shots of those mushrooms we covet (those choice edibles), but they are ALL beautiful and fascinating to me. I know a dozen edible mushrooms and a handful of poisonous or deadly mushrooms and then a few more species that fall somewhere in between (sort of tasty, not so tasty, taste terrible, can make you sick), but it’s quite amazing to happen upon a small patch of forest floor that is erupting in mushrooms, no matter the type. It’s good to see life flourish and thrive. Everybody plays a part, whether they (or we) know it or not.

not bad for a morning’s effort

teensy delicate fairy inkcaps growing out of the moss on a boulder

our ruddy rocky mountain porcini are boletus rubriceps

i named this one arturo

neva inspects a perfect little bouchon



Summer is the season I recommend most of our friends come to visit us, because it’s the “nicest” weather and easiest passage in the mountains. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I should modify “summer” with “summer, except when the mushrooms flush”. I know most people think mushroom season means you go for a leisurely hike, find some perfect mushrooms, skip back home, and cook up a gourmet feast to eat. I think that’s the dilettante’s way of mushroom foraging. No, we are a little more serious than that. We watch rain history, check old patches, recon on and off trail – and that’s all BEFORE the flush. Once the mushrooms go, it’s a bit of frenzy to cover a lot of terrain, collect responsibly, field dress (clean and cut out any wormy bits and worms), process the mushrooms at home (true cleaning and dealing with all the worms you didn’t get in the field), preserve (dry or cook/freeze), and in my case – test and shoot recipes. It feels like my life for the past three weeks has been all mushrooms, all the time. But it’s worth it when I pull a bag of chanterelles out of the freezer in February.

But today’s recipe is best made with fresh mushrooms. I’m using fresh porcini here. You can use any mushroom you fancy. We’re going to beer-batter thick slices of porcini, deep fry them, and serve the slices in a taco. You could use milk instead of beer, but I really prefer beer in the batter – it makes for a tastier fry. Ready?


beer (or use milk, but really… beer), flour, salt, baking powder, and a mushroom

slicing the mushroom and removing the yellow pores from the cap (a little wormy and can be bitter)

whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder together



**Jump for more butter**