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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**

the best things in life

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Recipe: huckleberry muffins

I’m a day late posting because there was that solar eclipse event today. Jeremy and I had too much going on to afford more than a day trip, and as it turns out, making a day trip to Wyoming was going to take more than a day. So we stuck it out at home, which worked rather well for us. We got some heavy cloud build up about 30 minutes in and then it dissipated as we neared the maximum (probably because the reduced energy from the sun was no longer fueling cloud formation) and enjoyed mostly clear views of the eclipse through the end when the clouds reappeared. You can see where I had to shoot through a veil of thin clouds to get some of the earlier phases. I hope many of you were able to view the eclipse in one form or another! I had a much simpler setup than the last solar eclipse I photographed and it was super nice not to have to drive, worry about parking, or worry about the dog.


composite of the eclipse (maximum was 93% here)

jeremy adjusts the binocular projection

using the colander to project dozens of crescents



My parents returned to Virginia last week, but not before we celebrated my mom’s birthday at Flagstaff House in Boulder! I normally like to cook Mom a nice meal for her birthday, but after dining out, my parents requested a “simple” meal the next evening. Simple doesn’t mean it can’t be special. Since mushroom season has been booming and my mom LOVES mushrooms, I served cream of chanterelle soup, porcini and elk sausage tortellini in a beef and porcini brodo (recipe coming soon), and porcini pizza – all with fresh mushrooms I had foraged. I love that I can do that for her.

happy birthday, mom!

the stoke is high because dad has a 3-olive gin martini



The past week has been a blur of activity: mushrooms, bonding with my favorite people in the high country, visits from friends, learning new mountain biking skills, and that eclipse. Fall is merely a suggestion right now, but it’s getting louder each day. I hear children at recess now when the neighborhood used to be silent just last week. There’s a lot more traffic in Boulder as parents bring their freshman offspring to campus. Spots of red color occasionally dot the high meadows – leaves that are preparing for the end of the season. I know what’s coming and I’m giddy thinking about it: chanterelles, huckleberries, fall colors, crisp and cool evenings, and SKI SEASON. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here…

a half dozen moose lounging in the meadow, as they do

still finding elephant heads up in the high country

banjo and erin and a porcini – the start of a VERY good day

sometimes that splash of red in the huckleberry plants is a porcini

the dog days of summer



I’m trying to be optimistic over here. Twila told me that the huckleberries are going in Montana. My patches are running a little late, which can be good if the sun and rains continue to nurture them, or it can be very very very bad if an early winter cuts them off before they can ripen. You never know when you will have a good year or a bad year or a few bad years, which is why I don’t like to use up the previous year’s harvest until I know I have this year’s harvest in the freezer. The same applies to the mushrooms. While my fingers and toeses and noses are all crossed for a good huckleberry season, I’ve got a good recipe to use with fresh or frozen huckleberries. I actually tested two huckleberry muffin recipes four times and finally settled on this adaptation of Deb’s Perfect Blueberry Muffins. The biggest problem is getting muffins to dome nicely at my elevation, but otherwise, I quite love these muffins.

butter, huckleberries, flour, turbinado sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sour cream, lemon zest, sugar, egg

whisk the sugar into the melted butter

stir in the egg, lemon zest, and sour cream



**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**