The Morel of the Story …

First, I want to warn you that there is no recipe herein, only a cautionary tale. As I’ve said before, part of my charter is to share the fruits of my experiments, both the successes and failures, so that you don’t have to endure the heartaches I have. That said …

Morelly questionable

Earlier this week I undertook to make something with morel mushrooms for the first time (pronounced “more-ELL,” contrary to what my post title pun would suggest). Actually, my original intent was to capitalize on the short-lived fiddlehead fern season and make something with fiddleheads again, and since I just recently bought this new cooking reference, The Flavor Bible, I looked up fiddleheads to see what accompaniments America’s greatest chefs recommend for them. You guessed it, morel mushrooms. And I thought “Yay, I’ve always wanted to cook insanely expensive mushrooms in an experimental recipe that is bound to epically fail!” Just kidding. Actually what I thought was, “Yay, I’ve always wanted to cook insanely expensive mushrooms that have the consistency of tripe and are notoriously difficult to rid of grit, rendering their resulting dish inedible.” OH, I’m still kidding. What I really thought was “Yay, mushrooms that look like brains are just like what Mom used to make!”

Okay, enough. What I really thought was “I think I’ll go with chanterelles, unless Whole Foods doesn’t have chanterelles, in which case I’ll get the most interesting mushroom they have that seems in good shape.” But I was never expecting Whole Foods to have morels. No one here ever has morels. Nevertheless, there they were. So I decided to go for it. Everyone raves about them and all. And I’m an adventurous cook if anything. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh SO MANY things went wrong. You know, in retrospect, I probably should have taken it as an omen when, earlier that day as we were driving past a golf course near our house which we’ve driven by HUNDREDS of times, a golf ball came flying out of nowhere and bounced off the hood of my car while we were driving about 50 mph. Certainly you could say we were lucky that it didn’t hit and break our windshield and kill one or both of us, so don’t get me wrong – I’m definitely grateful. But I can’t shake the feeling that the statistical unlikelihood of such an event is actually hard proof of my UNluckiness. Certainly it carried the portent of imminent mushroom disaster.

But I digress. Morels.

Braaaaiiiiinnnnnsssss ...

They’ll warn you that morels are gritty and should be carefully cleaned to rid them of grit and creepers. At the same time, they’ll tell you not to have them in water too long because it will rob them of their flavor. I can verify that the former is definitely true. I can’t comment on the latter because I don’t know what my morels tasted like before I rinsed and soaked them, but I do know that the resulting flavor of the still grit-inclusive morels I had was not remarkable in any way, and certainly did not offset the unpleasant tripe-like consistency either.

I won’t bore you by relating my subsequent misadventures with the vegan gnocchi I served them with – that’s another story for another day. I will leave you instead with a solemn word of caution that if you undertake to prepare morel mushrooms, do take the cleaning of them very seriously. For your information, here are the steps I followed, which were clearly insufficient:

  • Shook vigorously in a paper bag to dislodge any easily dislodge-able debris
  • Tapped each mushroom several times on a hard cutting-board surface to shake out any remaining bits
  • Plunged and swirled mushrooms in bowl of cold water, discarded water & repeated 5 times
  • Sliced each mushroom in half and rinsed out insides
  • Inspected for remaining schmutz – didn’t see anything

So anyway. In my research I found a few sources who recommended soaking them for a long period of time in water or even in salt water (in case of unwanted crawlie guests), though I found far more sources claiming that they should only be briefly submerged to avoid the afore-mentioned flavor weakening. I thought my approach was a safe compromise but apparently not. The morel of the story is I’m not sure that morels are worth it.

I’d welcome your thoughts and experiences of morels – anyone?

Sauteed Fiddlehead Ferns (Vegan)

Feed me Seymour

Wild fiddlehead ferns

Remember those fiddlehead ferns I mentioned with my Chik’n Marsala recipe? These are they. Let me tell you a little something about fiddlehead ferns. They’re  magnificent and delicious, and, also, they totally look like aliens. Apparently they’re only available for about three weeks of the year, and mostly in New England, so if you’ve never seen or heard of them, it’s not surprising. I’d never seen or heard of them myself until I saw them through the window of the doorway at Whole Foods one day, and thought “That plant in the window, it’s simply amazing! Oh, while I’m here, I might as well take a hundred dollars worth of roses.”/nerdy Little Shop of Horrors reference

But seriously folks. There are some things people should know about fiddleheads before cooking them, and apparently some of them can cause GI illness if not prepared correctly, though generally speaking they’re safe and delicious. You just need to cook them thoroughly. And not eat them raw.

As far as what they taste like, they’re not very far from asparagus or broccolini, with a super green freshness, slight nuttiness and hint of bitter aftertaste.

By the way, this recipe is not my invention. I found it at Earthly Delights. But I scoured pages and pages of recipes to find ideas for the perfect simple treatment, and it wasn’t easy to find, so I wanted to make it easy for you.

Sauteed Fiddlehead Ferns

  • 1 lb fresh fiddlehead ferns, tightly closed
  • 2 quarts boiling water
  • 1 tsp freshly ground sea salt
  • Ice water
  • 4 tbsp vegan butter or margarine (or you could use regular butter for a vegetarian version)
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Clean and trim the fiddleheads, snipping off the tough stems or any brown unsightly parts. Rinse in cold water – you may need to go through a few rounds of cold water until it’s clear. Meanwhile, boil two quarts of salted water and have a bowl of ice water on hand.

When the water is boiling, add the fiddleheads. Return to a boil and cook for only about two or three minutes, timing it carefully. Strain the boiling water and dunk the ferns immediately in ice water. Drain the fiddleheads and pat them dry.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. As it begins to bubble, add the blanched fiddleheads. Sauté for about two minutes, then add the lemon juice and stir thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Serve immediately.

Chik’n Marsala (Vegetarian)

Chik'n Marsala, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Fiddlehead Ferns

Two presentations of Chik'n Marsala, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Fiddlehead Ferns. Recommended wine pairing: Pinot Noir or Chardonnay

I guess I was feeling nostalgic for home on my dad’s birthday (4/08), because I was trying to decide on something new to cook for dinner and thought, “Hey, I should make vegetarian chicken marsala!” See, my dad used to make it all the time while I was growing up. But I don’t think it had occurred to me until just that moment how much I’ve always missed it.

So, I did some research on different recipes and came up with a general plan, then ran my ideas by my dad. He had some suggestions, and this recipe is the culmination of  it all. J and I really enjoyed it, but I will probably tweak the sauce a bit in the future, so stay tuned for updates. And by all means, if you try it yourself, please let me know what you think.

Oh yes, and one more thing. Apologies to my vegan compadres, but I used Quorn vegetarian chik’n filets in this one, which are made with egg products. Unfortunately Quorn is the only brand I am aware of that offers an actual unseasoned filet. (All the vegan varieties are either pre-seasoned or breaded. Sob.) And since its veganhood was already compromised, and since we just happened to randomly have butter in the house (long story), I went ahead and made it with butter too, though you could certainly skip the butter if you prefer. And if you find any unseasoned vegan chik’n filets out there in the world, please let me know.

Chik’n Marsala

  • 4 Quorn chik’n breasts
  • Enough flour to lightly coat the chik’n
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Fresh ground sea salt and black pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced (My dad had suggested using shiitakes to stand in for the meat flavor of the chicken, which I agree would have been a good choice, but the shiitakes at the market were looking pretty sad, so I went with criminis this time. Either will suffice.)
  • 1/2 c. marsala wine
  • 1/2 c. vegetable stock (I used a mushroom-based stock.)
  • 2 tbsp butter (Optional, though I recommend it for a smoother, more balanced sauce. More on this below.*)
  • 1- 2 tbsp lemon juice

Mix up a bit of flour, salt and pepper in a bowl big enough to pseudo-bread the chik’n filets. Dip the filets in the flour to lightly coat them. Keep the flour nearby in case you need it to thicken up the sauce at the end.

In a large skillet on medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Place the filets in the pan and fry about 5 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown. Remove from the skillet and place on a platter in your oven or microwave to keep them warm.

In the same pan on medium heat, add the mushrooms (heat a bit more oil first, if necessary). Toss in oil and saute for a minute or two, then cover until they juice, stirring occasionally per my standard mushroom protocol, about 3 – 5 minutes. Remove cover and continue to cook until the juice is reabsorbed. Season with salt and pepper to taste, being mindful that the soup stock may have additional salt.

Add shallot and garlic and saute just a bit longer, until the shallot is slightly softened. Add the marsala and lemon juice and cook for about a minute to reduce. Add soup stock and simmer for a couple minutes more to further reduce.

This is when you should add the butter, if you so choose. Personally I had been on the fence about the butter up until this point, but the sauce was not as thick as I wanted it to be, so I went ahead and used it. The addition of the butter made the sauce much richer and smoother, and also had the effect of bringing the flavors of the wine and mushrooms into better balance. It would have been fine without it, but for those of you who don’t mind butter, I’d recommend it.

If, after all this, the sauce is not quite as thick as you’d like, stir in a bit of flour (I used about a teaspoon) to reach desired consistency (I know, using flour is cheating, but whatever. Life is too short to wait around for every single sauce to reduce). Return the chik’n filets to the pan and simmer gently to reheat. Voila, dinner ees serfed.

Note that I decided to serve this dish with garlic mashed potatoes (recipe coming soon) and fiddlehead ferns. But any combination of starch and green vegetable would be excellent companions. Try rice and broccoli. Try pilaf and asparagus. Try orzo and green beans. Or any combination thereof. Or try something else entirely, you are certainly not limited to starch and greens. Whatever floats your boat, my friends, I’m sure will be divine.

Creamy Asparagus Soup (Vegan)


This is the dawning of the age of asparagus.

Here’s how this soup happened. We were at the farmer’s market, and J was like “Ooooh, asparagus. Should we buy some?” And I was like, “Um, really? Uh, suuuure … I’ll use it to make asparagus soup.” And J said, “Great. What else do we need for asparagus soup?” And I said “OH, nothing.”

Which I knew probably wasn’t true, because I had no idea how to make asparagus soup. But for some reason I had a totally irrational moment where I thought that if J knew I had no idea how to make asparagus soup then he would try to stop me from making it. Which he never would have done. I have no idea what got into me. It was like I was momentarily possessed by the spirit of my 5-year-old self. And then I found myself in the situation where I had to figure out how to make it. So I spent a sizable chunk of time reading asparagus soup recipes and eventually concluded that I was pretty much on my own. Basically they just all seemed really boring and not what I wanted. Worse still, they all called for making a soy milk roux, and you know how I feel about making roux with soy milk (soy milk + flour + oil = liquid chalk). So, I made up my own. It’s kind of a hashing together of a few recipes with variations based on my personal preferences. Here it is. J and I both loved it.

Creamy Asparagus Soup

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped (including leaves)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 medium-sized potato, thinly sliced
  • 2 c vegetable stock (for this one I used a parsley-based stock)
  • 2 c water
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh dill, minced
  • 1 – 2 tsp white pepper, to taste (possibly more if you love white pepper as much as I do)
  • Tofutti sour cream to taste

First, prepare the asparagus by breaking off the rough ends. You can do this by holding the very end in your fingertips and bending the rest of the stalk until it snaps. The rough portion should break naturally at the place where it’s supposed to, usually around an inch or so from the end. (Thanks to J for this tip!)

After breaking off all the ends, slice off the tips of each stalk (usually about an inch or so) and reserve for later. Take the remaining stalks and slice them in approximately 1 inch pieces.

In a large Dutch oven or stockpot on medium heat, heat the 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the celery, potato, asparagus stalks (not tips) and salt. Toss in oil and saute for ~5 – 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring regularly. Add stock and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, semi-cover and cook for around 5 – 10 minutes, until a knife easily penetrates vegetables (timing depends on size of your veggies and how tender they were after sauteing).

In the meantime, steam the tips for about 5 – 8 minutes, or until tender.

After the soup is done simmering, puree it in a food processor or blender until smooth. Return the pureed soup to the pot on very low heat and add the steamed asparagus tips. Cook a little bit longer (~2 minutes) but be very careful not to overcook or let the soup boil.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a dollop or two of sour cream and sprinkling of dill. Serve immediately.