Along the Grapevine


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Puffball Mushroom Strata

DSC03614.JPGHaving discovered four good sized (think soccer balls) puffballs in our garden recently, I felt compelled to do something new with them. My first thought was to make a lasagna, which I did, but since good lasagna recipes already exist, like this one, I decided to write about something else that didn’t rely on the goodness of tomato and cheese to make it interesting. I also wanted to use mostly ingredients from my garden which at this time of year is relatively easy to do. So although it is lasagna related, I didn’t feel right calling a lasagna, and since it is made of layers, I’ll call it a strata.

With so many to work with, I cooked all of them the same way and froze those I didn’t need for this dish or my actual lasagna for later use.

If you find puffballs which are ready to eat, not overripe or infested with bugs, pick them, clean them and either cook or dehydrate immediately. They do not store well. For more information on identification etc., refer to this page.

The first step is to wash them and peel them. The thick outer coating is easy to remove just by pulling it off.

Then slice them in about 1/2 inch thick slices.

I prefer to roast them in the oven at 350 degrees as by frying them they tend to absorb too much oil. Just brush them with oil on both sides and roast for about 10 to 15 minutes until they are a golden colour. Once cooled they can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for at least a couple of months.

To make a strata, I hope you will read this as a guide but not feel you have to follow it to the letter if you want to use other flavours. I used a squash puree mixed with butter as I would tomato sauce in a lasagna.  I wanted to add a light miso, couldn’t find any and added some tamarind instead which did not make for a very pretty colour. Next time I’ll try miso or nothing at all.DSC03615.JPG

For greens, I mixed two packed cups of fresh chopped greens. You could go conventional and use spinach, but I used a mixture of mint, parsley, lambsquarters, mallow and dandelion greens. These I mixed with 500 ml. of cottage cheese,  one beaten egg and some salt and pepper.

The other layer was made of caramelized 4 large onions and 4 Tbsp of sumac powder. A quick and easy way to caramelize onions I learned recently is to cook the onions in a large frying pan or wok with no oil at first, stirring them as they brown and turn translucent. This takes about five minutes. Then add a splash of oil and the sumac and seasonings and continue to cook, about another five minutes, until they are good and brown.

To assemble this dish, I spread half the squash mixture on the bottom, then a layer of mushrooms, a layer of greens, a layer of onions, another layer of each of the latter three and then topped it with the other half of the squash.

Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. DSC03617.JPG

I was pleased with the results and found the flavour of the mushrooms stood out better in this than in my cheese and tomato combination. The generous amount of onions and sumac went perfectly with the greens. I highly recommend using mint too. When I make it again the only change I would make is to omit the tamarind which is really just a question of colour.

 

 


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Mushroom Puffs

I came across this recipe from About Food for something resembling popovers made with mushrooms. It looked like the perfect base for a recipe using some of my dehydrated mushrooms and dried puffball mushroom flour. You can use any dehydrated mushrooms, and if you don’t have mushroom flour, simply omit that and increase the use of flour to 3/4 cup, as in the original recipe.DSC02888

Using the puffball flour meant I had to change the method a bit, but nothing too complicated, and the use of the flour, mushrooms and the stock made by soaking the dried mushrooms intensified the flavour.

Mushroom Puffs

1/2 cup finely chopped dried mushrooms (I used maitake)

1 3/4 cups boiling water

1/2 cup puffball mushroom flour

4 oz butter

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup flour

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for ten minutes in a saucepan. Add the mushroom flour and simmer, stirring it with a whisk to incorporate the flour. Remove from the heat and add the butter, which will help cool the mixture. When it is cool enough not to cook the eggs, add the rest of the ingredients. The mixture will be the consistency of a crepe batter, and you will have about 4 cups.

Grease your pan/s liberally with oil. Place them in a preheated 400 degree F. oven until the oil starts to smoke. Pour in the batter leaving about 1/2 inch at the top.

I used a muffin tin for 6 muffins and 1 loaf pan. The ones in the muffin pan took 15 minutes to cook, the loaf 25 minutes. The batter will puff up and brown when it’s done.

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They don’t stay puffed for long, but unlike popovers or Yorkshire pudding, there are no big air pockets. They can be eaten hot or cold, on their own, buttered or to accompany a main dish, omelette or salad.

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They keep well, and are delicious with just a little butter and sumac powder – for example.

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Linked to Angie at Fiesta Friday, Steffi at Ginger and Bread and Andrea at Cooking with a Wallflower who are making this week’s Fiesta Friday possible.

 

 


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A Mushroom Dish from Russia

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A local forager had collected an impressive amount of maitake mushrooms (grifola frondosa), and I jumped at the chance to take some off her hands. In this part of the world, apart from in Asian supermarkets, they are more commonly known as hen-of-the-woods, probably because of their clusters of spoon shaped caps resembling fluffed-up chicken feathers.

Native to Japan and North America they are found in wooded areas growing at the base of trees, oaks, elms and sometimes maples. They feed off the rotting roots of the trees, and when found are often abundant. They have long been recognized in Asia for their medicinal properties, and here they are increasingly popular as a rich source of minerals, vitamins, fibres and amino acid. I had never cooked with them before, but the wonderful woodsy aroma that filled my car on the way home indicated I was in for a treat.

I cooked a few immediately in a pasta dish just to try them out. Robust in flavour and firm in texture, they were unlike any other mushrooms I knew of.

I decided to dehydrate the bulk of them, as mushrooms always seem to benefit from the drying process in concentrating their flavour. These required about 8 hours, depending on how thick you cut them, at 135 F or until they are brittle.

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I set aside a few to make a recipe I have been wanting to make for a long time – a dish I used to have in Russia called julienne. I know that usually refers to a method of cutting vegetables, but the Russians adopted many French terms in the old days, making their own original dishes, and this is one of them. It consists of mushrooms cooked in a rich creamy sauce, and served piping hot in little clay pots or sometimes in a pastry shell.

I have no recipe for this, but worked with my memory of how it tasted. I made it a little less rich by using yogurt instead of sour cream, and to prevent it from being too runny, I first strained the yogurt through a couple of layers of cheesecloth for a couple of hours to remove the excess whey. The result was a little more tart than the julienne I remember in Moscow, and not quite as smooth and creamy, but I actually liked it just as well, especially considering I made more than just a little ‘pot’ of it and didn’t want to over-indulge. The cheddar cheese is also a Canadian touch which, in my opinion, works brilliantly.

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Julienne Mushrooms

Ingredients

oil for frying

5 Tbsp finely chopped onion

2 cups julienned mushrooms

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup white wine

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup cream (35% fat)

2 cups yogurt, strained

3 Tbsp finely grated hard cheese, such as cheddar
Method

Fry the onion and mushrooms until the onions are soft and transluscent. Add the seasonings and white wine and heat through to let the alcohol evaporate. Stir in the cornstarch, then the cream and the strained yogurt. Place in oven proof ramekins or a single dish, sprinkle with the grated cheese, and broil until lightly browned and bubbly.


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It is delicious served hot as an appetizer or a side dish. I also tried it cold as a spread with cucumbers.

You can use any kind of good quality, fresh mushroom for this dish, but if you come across these meaty maitakes, I hope you’ll give them a try.


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Puffball Mushroom Flour

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I considered myself lucky this year when I found a healthy puffball behind my tool shed, and referred to it in a recent post on how to identify and use it in cooking. Now these puffballs are mushrooming all over, and by the number of posts from other blogs on the subject, it’s a good year not just in my garden. I recently found four more good sized balls, one of which I left to help ensure some spores remain for next year.

There is no point finding these gifts if you don’t know what to do with them. Their shelf life when fresh is short. Frying lightly and freezing is one option, and I have dehydrated some as well. But when faced with the quantity I had, I wanted to be able to store them in as efficient way as possible, meaning something that required little work and little space.

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I started to search to see if anyone else had dehydrated them, and if so what they do with them. Forager Chef, one of my favourite foraging blogs gave me the answers I was looking for. He dehydrated them, ground them into a flour, and made a very appetizing looking gravy.

So I set about peeling and slicing my puffballs into thin slices resembling sliced bread. He suggests drying them in an oven with the light on which I tried. I also did some in my dehydrator at a low temperature – about 107 F or 42 C. The dehydrator took only about 12 hours – the oven three times longer. However you do it, the slices should still be white when dry and crisp. If the heat is too high they will brown and will affect the colour of the flour.

A really powerful food processor is all you need to turn them into flour in just a few moments, but lacking that I used a not so powerful processor followed by a few seconds in a coffee grinder for a finer powder. This last step can be done on an as-need basis.

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I can think of several ways this flour can be used but so far have just tried Forager Chef’s mushroom gravy recipe. I adapted it for a small quantity since unlike him I am not cooking for large numbers.

I started by heating 1/2 cup mushroom flour and 1/4 cup of water. You need a good deep pan for this, as initially the flour will puff when stirred. Heat and stir until most of the water is absorbed and it resembles a roux. In another pan, mix 3 Tbsp of fat (i used a mixture of butter and olive oil) with 3 Tbsp of flour. Stir over a low heat, and gradually add 2 cups of stock. I used a vegetable stock which had good colour having prepared it with onion skins among other herbs and vegetables, but any meat, fowl or vegetable stock can be used. When the stock has thickened sufficiently, stir in the mushroom mixture and bring to just below boiling. Season with salt and white pepper.

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This gravy was smooth and flavourful. I served it over some roasted vegetables from the garden.

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Puffball Mushroom Flour on Punk Domestics

Because it is vegetarian, and could easily be vegan by omitting the butter, it is a very useful recipe to have, but good enough that there’s no need to be a vegetarian to enjoy.


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Puffballs – what to do with them

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There are few, or maybe even no mushrooms which are easier to identify than puffball mushrooms. It is the perfect species for the non-expert like myself. However, foraging for mushrooms always requires caution, and this is no exception. So here are a few tips on how to identify puffballs with impunity.

There are several types of puffballs, but I am describing here the calvatea gigantea so as not to create confusion and because that’s what I find around here and have experience with.

Where they grow: In meadows, fields and deciduous forests.

What they look like: Completely spherical and white when immature. They have no stems or gills, but are connected to the ground by narrow string-like roots. They are soft and like a spongy bread in texture.

When to pick them: Once mature, they are no longer edible. When too small, you could confuse them with other mushrooms. They should be grapefruit size or larger, but still be completely white inside and out.

What to watch for: Any yellowing, development of spores or a mushroom cap developing. Do not eat any of these.

Look-alikes: poisonous earthballs which are hard and have a blackish interior.

If you are lucky enough to have any of these fine specimens accessible to you, there are several ways you can prepare them. Sauteed, cooked in stews, soups or casseroles, and even added to breads or grain dishes. They have a delicious but mild earthy flavour. Be forewarned however that, if frying, they will absorb a lot of oil and become soggy, so it is best to fry quickly with just a little oil brushed on them.

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I decided to fry some lightly. I sliced them, brushed them on both sides with a mixture of olive oil, salt, garlic and sumac, then browned them in a pan quickly on a high heat.

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These are delicious on their own, as a side dish or added to a sandwich. However, I used them for a brunch dish as a crepe filling. I added them to fried onions, herbs and seasonings and enough plain yogurt (or sour cream) to make a sauce. If needed, add a little thickener such as cornstarch.

Fill the prepared crepes (any kind), fold, cover with grated cheese and broil until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.

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Puffballs - what to do with them on Punk Domestics

Linked to Fiesta Friday #84


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Foraging for Mushrooms

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A mixture of slippery jack and boletus mushrooms

My attitude to foraging for mushrooms has long been similar to many people’s attitude to foraging: too difficult, too risky, and not worth the trouble. I love mushrooms, and from experience I know that wild mushrooms are much more interesting than the varieties we can get in the stores, but somehow I just keep hoping someone I can trust will provide me with these delicacies. The only mushroom I have actually picked on my own was a puffball, and that hardly counts.

When people tell me they don’t forage because they figure they would likely make a fatal error, I patiently explain that if you just stick to the few, maybe two or three things that you know, there is really not a danger. It is not difficult to find a crabapple, a dandelion leaf, a wild raspberry, or some other familiar wild plant. Stick to that, make sure the area it grows in is unpolluted, and have a little fun with it. Once you get started on a small scale, your knowledge will likely grow, because that’s what happens when we try new things. I realise now the same thing can be said for mushrooms. Just as I started with puffballs, I am now ready for my second edible mushroom.

Of course, I don’t take mushrooms lightly, or for that matter any wild food. I never considered forging ahead (or foraging) on my own with no more than a picture or book as reference. As it happened, I was invited by a friend to visit her property with an actual mushroom expert with many years’ experience – someone with whom I felt quite safe. My intention was just to watch and learn, take a few photos and have a pleasant walk in the shade of the pine forest.

We spotted a number of mushrooms, but only a few varieties that we were allowed to pick. At this time of year, and in this area, the mushrooms ready for harvesting are mostly either slippery jacks (suillus luteus) or their close relative, boletus. The former I had never even heard of, although I’m pretty sure I have eaten them in the past. Boletus (also called ceps or porcini) were just a little more familiar, but not something I would have recognized on my own. We picked carefully, that is to say we checked for any previous predators (some kind of worm which is not visible but leaves a few minuscule holes).

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The slippery jacks were easy to identify for a novice like me. The tops are indeed sticky to the touch, the bottoms of the young ones a creamy yellow, and with a porousness which becomes more apparent as they grow bigger. We picked mostly pretty small ones because they were the least affected by whatever affects mushrooms. Not a big deal, we just wanted the nicest, cleanest and creamiest looking ones.

The boletus are similar but darker, barely sticky at all and are more porous on the bottom. It seems there are many varieties of this kind, and most are bigger than the ones we found. While I could spot the slippery jacks on my own in the future, I still lack confidence to identify these without confirmation from someone who knows. None of my pictures of these turned out well, but since they were only a few among my harvest, I will just leave you with the images of the slippery jacks. For more pictures, check out this post here.

I was pretty chuffed with my basket of mushrooms, and decided to take the plunge and cook them. Irina, our guide and expert, kindly looked over my stash to make sure I hadn’t accidentally slipped anything noxious in, and instructed me on how to prepare them.

I followed her tips which were:

  • Do not wash them in water. They absorb water and become mushy.
  • Cut off the bottom part with any dirt, wipe the stem and base of the cap with a paper towel, and peel off the sticky surface of the slippery jack.
  • Slice them and fry all together in a little butter for a few minutes.
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My interest in mushroom gathering and confidence in my ability to learn this skill have been bolstered by this first foray into the realm. The dish, simple as it was, was so tasty, with a flavour and texture I haven’t experienced in a long time (when I used to be able to buy these at markets in far flung places I once lived). If I go no further with this, I will at least be more determined than ever to find sources where I can buy fresh, or even dried, wild mushrooms. There is nothing like them

Foraging for Mushrooms on Punk Domestics