Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's Morel Season!

I don't want to badmouth anybody.  I did that once before, and it didn't make me happy.  And, I want to support local farmers.  I want to speak well of them, I really do.  Farmers are and should be our only source for food.  "Food" that didn't come from a farm, in my opinion, is not really food.

My friend Shannon, for example, does not believe that dandelions are food.  Okay, I can buy that.  Dandelions are weeds, and it's a big leap to go from weed to food.  But I can name other weeds that are food: Mint, oregano, dill, chives, rhubarb, raspberries, and strawberries.  Plant any of those in your back yard, and then try to get rid of them the next year.  I grow my mint under the bushes in my back yard where nothing else can grow.  They are choking out the violets (which also aren't weeds.  They're the WI state flower!)  I have oregano popping up between the cracks in my patio.  It's a weed.  But it's delicious!  I would counter that with this: fruit roll-ups are not food.  They may be edible, but they are not food.  How do they get away with calling them "fruit?"  What kind of fruit stains your lips blue?  Oreos are not food.  I LOVE Oreos.  Loyal readers may recall my having a complete freak-out when I realized that Oreos were local.  They're delicious.  They're absolutely edible.  But I'm pretty sure they're not food.  Food should have substance.  Food should be meaningful.  "Junk Food" should not be called "Junk Food;" it should just be called Junk.

***Steps down off soap box... for now***

I had a very bad, very upsetting experience over the weekend.  It is, quite possibly, my favorite time of the year.  It's morel season.  And when I got an email from Ruegsegger Farms (I'm on the email list of pretty much every farmer I can find) letting me know that they had morels for $45 per pound (a good price in my opinion), I jumped!  I reached out to anyone I thought might not judge me for wanting to pay $45 per pound for mushrooms and put together a small order of two and a half pounds.  I emailed to have them waiting for me at the next farmer's market.

Oh!  All of the farmer's markets are currently closed.  But they do have an impromptu one going at Discovery World until the West Allis Market opens on May 5th.

I went to the market to pick up my mushrooms, and also got some asparagus, and skipped happily home (or, more specifically, back to my car) and started dishing out the mushrooms for my friends and family.

That's when the first bad thing happened.  I only had 2lbs, 4 oz.  Now, I have a pretty specific scale, but that's a whole quarter pound missing.  I had people order only a quarter pound, so that was a WHOLE order missing.  And, to be fair, $11.25.

I opened the bags, and that's when the second bad thing happened.  he first few mushrooms were moldy.  Some not so bad, some really bad.  So I sorted them out and found that half a pound of the 2 1/4 lbs I had was moldy.

This is the saddest thing in the history of ever.
So I went back and complained.  The girl working the stand looked at me like it was my problem.  She literally asked me if I couldn't just cut that part off.  No.  I'm sorry.  When I'm paying $45 per pound for mushrooms, I cannot just cut that part off.  If you want to sell them to me on the cheap, I absolutely will take the moldy ones off your hands.  But, until then, you will sell me a quality product.

I went through each one of their mushrooms, one by one, and picked out the good ones.  Their scale said I was over, but when I got home mine still said I was under by an ounce.  I weighted out a pint of water just to make sure mine was right (a pints a pound the world around... but not on their scale I guess).

I don't know anything about Ruegsegger farms.  I don't go to the markets that they're at regularly.  They were at the St. Ann's Market over the winter, and I went there when the Winter Farmer's Market was closed, but not more than that - even though it was closer to my house.  It was pretty small, and there was a lot of crafting stuff which annoys me... This is my grocery store, people.  I love a good craft fair/flea market, but not at my grocery store.  Also, the two times I was there they had a clown... which just makes me lose my appetite. 

Not knowing anything about them, I don't want to imply that they're trying to cheat anyone.  Maybe their scale just got knocked out of calibration.  They sell local products, not just from their farm, which is good.  Support the local businesses!  And because of this, they always seem to have a good selection.  They've got a good website with online ordering, and some prepared stuff too, which is nice for people who aren't crazy like me.  I think they're a little expensive.  $4.25 for eggs is more than I like to spend, but I've spent $4.00 (I prefer $3.50 if I can find it...)  $4.00 per pound for whole chickens is a little high - I'm used to $3.25-$3.50.  So, not crazy expensive.  But a little higher than what I think it should be.  And, now that I don't trust them to sell me a quality product... they're probably off my list.  Make your own decision, though.

Anywho, I got home with my good mushrooms, rationed them out, avoided the impulse to steal one mushroom from each of the other bags (What?  I'm only human!  You'd do the same if you were doling out tiny gold pieces!), and started cooking.  Regardless of what it took to get them, morel mushrooms are one of the most amazing foods in the world - compounded by the fact that they're only available for a few weeks each year.  If we could somehow get morel season and soft shell crab season to be at the same time... that would probably be really bad because I wouldn't sleep, I wouldn't leave the house, and I would probably put on 30 lbs because I would eat so much.

But I would be happy!

For those of you who don't know morels, they are a wild mushroom that can't be cultivated.  They only grow in the wild.  Which means they're dirty.  Also, as you can tell by the picture above, they're full of holes.  What you can't really tell is that they're also hollow.  And the bugs (which live in the wild) love to go all up inside their hollow-ness.  It's gross.  You need to clean them out well.  Really, really well.  I question the "don't wash mushrooms" mentality in general (they grew in dirt!), but especially for morels.

I prepare them like this:

Fill a large bowl with water, add a generous amount of salt, and stir to dissolve the salt.  For a quarter pound of mushrooms, I would probably use 4 cups of water and 2 tbsp salt.  Add the mushrooms to the water, and gently push them under the water.  Allow them to soak, gently stirring and submerging them occasionally, and trying not to freak out about the things that crawl out of them.  One of mine was completely full of ants.  I screamed and jumped up and down, and ran around the kitchen waving my arms around yelling "ANTS!  Ants, ants, ants, ants, ants!!!!"  If you know me, and would like me to re-enact that for you, I certainly can.  I don't like ants.

Then, after soaking the morels for about 10 minutes, take them out, shake off the water, cut them open the long way, and wash out anything that's still in there.  Which there often is.  I have seen recipes for stuffed morels.  I personally would never feel safe eating a morel unless I had seen the inside and knew that it was ant (or spider, or potato bug, or weird beetle thingy) free.

Morels have a mild earthy/woodsy flavor.  You don't want to overwhelm them.  The traditional use for morels is with eggs - either scrambled or in an omelet.  I did happily eat a morel, feta, and chive omelet.

Here are some more recipes for you.  If you don't have morels/can't justify paying $45 per pound for mushrooms/are freaked out by the thought of cleaning tiny bugs out of your food, you can substitute any other wild mushroom.  I would probably do a shiitake, but you could use portobello or oyster or anything else you could get your hands on. 

Steak with Wild Mushroom Brandy Cream Sauce

  • 2 8 oz steaks (or, be like Jeff and me and just make one big porterhouse and share it)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 lb morel mushrooms, cut in half and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1/4 lb mixed wild mushrooms
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 oz brandy
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Pre-heat a grill to high heat.  The mushroom recipe will take about 15 minutes total, so time your steaks based on how you prefer them cooked.  It's your opinion, but anything not medium rare is wrong.  Remember to let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting in to it!!

 Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat.  Add the shallots and saute until fragrant.  Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the morels are soft - about 5 minutes.  Add the brandy, and cook about 5 more minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, add the cream, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the cream just starts to bubble around the edges of the pan.

I served this over mashed potatoes, with grilled asparagus.

Lemon Butter Pasta with Morels, Spinach, and Lobster

This is the most luxurious recipe ever.  It is not a budget meal.  I would not recommend dried pasta, because you want that silky feel of fresh.  You can generally find fresh pasta in your grocer's cooler.  Or you could make it yourself.  If you have a stand mixer, it's not that hard.

  • 4 slices thick cut bacon
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 lb well washed morel mushrooms, cut in half
  • 1 to 2 tsp capers
  • 1 stick butter (yup)
  • 4 servings worth of cooked fresh pasta
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, washed and sliced into inch thick strips
  • 2 lemons
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 lobster tails, grilled (just throw them on the grill in their shells!)
Render fat out of bacon in a large frying pan with curved sides, over medium heat.  Once the bacon just starts to get crispy, add the leaks and continue to cook until leeks soften - about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and mushrooms, and continue to saute until mushrooms are very soft, about 10 minutes.  Add capers and saute briefly. Add juice of one lemon and butter, and allow to melt.  Add the pasta and spinach, and stir to combine.  Reduce heat to low, and cover, stirring occasionally until pasta is heated through and spinach is wilted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top with lobster tails (take them out of the shells now), and lemon wedges.

For the record, I feel okay eating like this, because I've been eating canned beets for free all winter!  Happy spring everyone!!!

1 comment:

  1. I think I'm on the totally freak out about bugs crawling out of my food bandwagon! I like mushrooms, but not that much! And at $45 a pound, I would have pissed about getting moldy mushrooms! Totally don't blame you for going back.