Not Remotely Vegan Mushroom Leek Omelet (Vegetarian)

Let’s face it. There are times in life when you have no choice but to eat a delicious omelet. Unless you’re strictly vegan, in which case there may be times when you have no desire to eat a delicious omelet but would certainly still enjoy a nice tofu scramble. If that’s the case, I promise you I will post a vegan alternative to the aforementioned omelet one of these days. Promise. Pro. Mise.

In the meantime, however, all I have is this totally non-vegan omelet, with nothing to say for myself except that I love this omelet.

Actually, I do have one more thing to say for myself, which is that we went on a lovely trip to the Russian River for the 4th of July holiday this past weekend, and stayed with our friends Ben and Harley and Harley’s awesome parents at their river house. And the house was full of animal products all weekend. And everyone had brought more eggs than anyone knew what to do with. And we had a house full of hungry friends each morning. And we had me, always wanting to cook something that will make everybody happy. And me, always one to throw rules to the wind for festive reasons. And me, additionally harboring twice as many mushrooms as I knew what to do with. And so I invented this omelet. I was forced to really, I had no choice. I couldn’t let all those eggs and mushrooms and potential omelets go to waste, could I?

But why am I being an omelet apologist? You don’t have time for that. You have a fantastic omelet to devour, and now I’m just standing in your way. So onward. The omelet. Let the fruits of our Independence Day revelry live on.

Mushroom Leek Omelet

The filling

  • 1 leek, thoroughly cleaned, sliced
  • 8 oz baby bella (cremini) or chanterelle mushrooms, sliced in 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (Note: If you’re not opposed, replacing the oil with butter makes it extra delicious. I know, I’m miserable at being vegan.)
  • 1 c. fresh corn from the cob (canned or frozen also works)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 c. shredded gruyére (optional)
The omelet
  • 4 cage-free organic eggs
  • A bit of water or (if you must) milk
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

For the filling. Heat a medium sized pan on medium to medium high. When hot, add oil. Once the oil is hot, add the leeks, stirring to cover thoroughly with oil. (If you’re using butter, let the butter melt completely before adding leek.) Saute a while, stirring often, until leek begins to soften, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and stir to coat with oil. Continue to cook for another minute, stirring regularly. Cover, and leave the mixture a while for the mushrooms to juice, about 2 or 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally. When the mushrooms have juiced, remove cover. Add corn and cook another 2 or 3 minutes, being mindful that the leeks and mushrooms don’t overcook. Add salt to taste. Remove from heat to a bowl.

For the omelet. Crack the eggs into a medium sized mixing bowl, being careful to remove any bits of shell that may get involved. Add a bit of water (or milk, if that’s what you’re using); approximately 1/8 to 1/4 cup. Whisk briskly until mixture is fairly uniform, being careful not to over whisk. (Whisking eggs too long introduces bubbles and can make them intolerably fluffy. Just my humble opinion.)

Heat a large skillet on medium high, add oil. When oil is hot, pour in one half of the egg mixture slowly (my brilliant friend Ben ladles it in with a 1/4 c. measuring cup, letting the egg solidify as he adds the mixture). This part of the omelet takes omelet talent. Let the egg cook through on bottom, occasionally tipping the pan to let any liquid reach the edge of the pan.

When the egg mixture seems mostly cooked through, spoon about half of the mushroom filling in the middle of the omelet. (Note: Eyeball it to make sure the amount of filling makes sense. Too much filling is a common source of fallen omelets.)

Allow the omelet to cook just a bit longer, and if you’re using the cheese, now would be the time to sprinkle it in. Flip one side of the omelet over to cover the other. If you are omelet-inept, using a combination of a spatula and spoon may be advisable. Beyond that, all I can tell you is that omelets take practice and finesse. But if your omelet falls, don’t despair. It tastes the same, no matter what shape it’s in.

When you have folded over the omelet, cook on each side until slightly browned.

Voila. So there’s my favorite omelet.

Make your own soup stock (Vegan)

So many recipes call for soup stock and the store-bought kind is boring and sodium-tastic. Make your own! It’s easy and it will make all of your recipes vastly more delicious. The trick is just to try new things, remember what works, write it down, and pair it wisely with the other ingredients in the dish you are cooking. More on that in a moment. First, how to make a stock:

  • Put a lot of water in a large pot
  • Bring the water to a boil
  • Throw in a lot of vegetables, scraps of vegetables, and/or their parts. For instance, corn cobs & onion skins are great in stocks, in case you didn’t know. So you don’t need to do a lot of cutting or peeling or prepping. Just chop things roughly, enough so that they fit in the pot and have exposed parts through which to leak their juices
  • Simmer everything for about an hour or so
  • Add salt and pepper while simmering, to taste

When the stock is done, allow to cool and then pour through a strainer to separate the vegetable parts from the stock. This will probably require doing it in batches. Discard the vegetables and refrigerate or freeze the stock until it’s ready for use.

What kind of vegetables can go in a stock? Pretty much anything you want, though some veggies are more reliable than others. Some general guidelines:

#1 – Follow the rules of compost: No citrus. No fats. Nothing diseased or spoiled.

Whenever possible, use onion, celery, carrots, thyme and garlic. As much or as little of any of these, but some combination thereof. For the garlic, just smash the clove, no need to peel or press it. I take a blunt object and crack it a couple of times. I usually throw in 4 large cloves per 5 qt stockpot.

Other strong contributors to stock excellence include: potatoes (any variety), brussel sprouts, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, beets, parsley, corn, parsnips, mushrooms, zucchini, and … ??? Totally up to you and what you’re willing to experiment with.

Now. As for the pairing of stock with recipe. Basically I just taste it and imagine what it would complement. It’s not hard. It may seem weird, and some of you who are sensory-challenged may be fearful, but trust me. You really can tell by the taste of a stock what its purpose in life is. And most of the time, stock is so mild, all it can do is enhance, not detract. Just be mindful of the ingredients you’re dealing with, and I am confident you’ll be happy with your results.

Fresh Flower Ravioli (Vegetarian)

So. I adapted this from a recipe I found in an aphrodisiac cookbook that I bought at the Haight Street Goodwill in San Francisco. Man, does that sound smarmy!!! Honestly, I wasn’t trying to be creepy by buying a (used – ewww!) aphrodisiac cookbook, it just so happened to be focused on a number of my favorite ingredients: mushrooms, avocado, asparagus, artichokes, chili pepper, etc. Are all these foods aphrodisiacs? Color me skeptical. Meanwhile, if you’re wondering why I was at the Haight Street Goodwill, it’s because I had fled to San Francisco to visit my bestie while J was gone in an attempt to take my mind off his absence. And I just so happened to be in the Haight. And I love thrift stores. And if you’re wondering why I made this so-called aphrodisiac recipe while J was gone, it was because I wanted to see if it was any good before spending the time to make it for both of us. Not for aphrodisiac purposes, mind you, just for dinner. Come on people, my parents might be reading this! Anyway, don’t judge me. Eat some flower ravioli and give peace a chance.

Fresh Flower Ravioli

  • 24 wanton wraps (Note: Wanton wraps are not vegan.)
  • 8 c. vegetable broth
  • 8 oz edible flowers, chopped, stems removed (They sell these in the herb section at most organic markets and also often at farmer’s markets.)
  • 2 tbsp basil sliced width-wise (This is called a chiffonade, in case you’re interested.)
  • Water in a small prep bowl (You will use this to seal the ravioli with your fingertips.)
  • 1 tbsp melted butter or a bit of olive oil (if desired)
  • Additional herbs if desired
  • Grated Parmesan to taste

Have the bowl of water nearby. Take a wanton wrap and arrange a small amount of the herbs & blossoms in the center (about a teaspoon or a pinch or two). Fold the wrap over to form a triangle pouch around the flowers. Dip your fingers in water and press the wrap edges firmly together. Run your finger along the edges to seal them. Fold the outer corners inwards if necessary to create a good seal (it will look a bit like a wanton – hey, that’s why they call them wanton wraps). Repeat this until you have about 24 triangles (creates two servings).

Meanwhile, boil the vegetable broth in a large pot. When the broth is boiling, drop in 12 triangles and boil for about three minutes. Lift out quickly with a slotted spoon. Repeat with the remaining triangles. When the triangles are done, you may brush them with melted butter or olive oil using a basting brush, if desired. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper to taste. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

Morels Reloaded: This Time It’s Personal (Vegan)

Damnit morels, you shall bend to my will! This was my thought when I rounded the corner at the grocery store the other day and spied my old nemeses lying nonchalantly among the shitakes and bellas. In spite of my terrible first experience with morels, or maybe because of it, I was suddenly possessed with an overwhelming desire to conquer them for once and for all. Or at least prove to myself that they suck no matter what I do to them. So I picked out a very small number of the good’uns (after all, I was only cooking for myself, plus this was an experiment, plus they’re super freaking expensive) and made up my mind that in spite of the advice of all the morel connoisseurs, I was going to soak the hell out of these puppies and then torture them to death in the frying pan, because the intolerable grittiness and chewy consistency are what did me in so thoroughly the  last time. Although morel lovers might tell you it’s unnecessary to soak them or that it will compromise their flavor, I’m here to tell you this: The morels I made after soaking them for several hours in salt water vs. the morels I made last month following the advice of the experts to “preserve the flavor” were like night and day. The morel* of the story is, don’t underestimate how much gritty, tripe-like mushrooms can ruin a dish.

This batch, however, made me understand why people are so cuckoo for morels. They are just super rich, meaty, earthy, forest-y, and … je ne sais quoi. I did so very little to them aside from the soaking and the stovetop abuse, yet nevertheless they were delish. So, yeah, I stand corrected, they don’t suck. Though I do still think they’re super creepy-looking. Regardless. You should try them. And in case you were concerned, a word about them being expensive: Yes, you might find them as high as $40/lb. But they are super light and you don’t need very much. 1/4 lb is often all you need for 2 – 3 servings. Which isn’t cheap, but it’s doable.

Here’s whatcha do:

Find a place that sells morels. The only places I’ve ever seen them here are Whole Foods and the farmer’s market. Pick morels that are spongy and light to medium brown, not super dry and not super moist. If you rub your finger the length of them, they shouldn’t crumble – that’s a sign they’re old. Once purchased, take them home and if you must store them, put them in a paper bag or a basket covered with a moist paper towel and refrigerate. Don’t keep them too long – their shelf life isn’t more than a week and you don’t know how long it took them to get to you in the first place. I’d say eat them within 3 days or less of buying them.

When you’re ready to prepare them, shake them up in their container to dislodge any loose debris. Rinse them thoroughly. Cut them in half (lengthwise). Fill a bowl with cold water and place them in it to soak. The folds of the mushroom are what you want to cleanse, so be sure they are brainy side down in the water.

I soaked mine for about 6 hours, replacing the water 5 times, stirring salt into the water for 2 of the 5 soaks and agitating them in the water at least once per soak. When I was finally ready to prepare them, I agitated them for a minute or two, then rinsed them thoroughly in running water before moving them to a towel and patting them dry.

Perhaps this is where I should mention that I’m obsessed with mushrooms and don’t mind putting this much work into them at all. Some of you may think this is ridiculous, and who am I to say you’re wrong. But I love mushrooms. So back to the recipe.

Simple Morels

  • 1/4 lb morels, thoroughly soaked (see above), halved, stems removed
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 small leek, thoroughly cleaned and sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 – 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste

Heat a small nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the morels and a bit of salt. Cook them for a couple of minutes, then add the leek & garlic and a bit more salt, if desired. Cook the whole mixture for a total of about 5 – 8 minutes, until the morels have shrunken noticeably and are very soft. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley while still hot.

Serve as a tapa by themselves. Nom nom nom … In the meantime, I will work on coming up with something a bit more substantial to serve as a main course or something.

*Pronounced More- ELL (contrary to what my pun might suggest)

End Times Piña Colada and the See You In Hell Passion Fruit Mojito (Vegan)

That’s right, tonight we’re going to party like it’s May 20, 2011. Eat, drink and be merry, and then tomorrow we will party like it’s May 21st, 2011, and nothing unusual has happened because Harold Camping is a sociopathic ass who convinces people to ruin their lives and give him all their money in order to remind us all that we should thank our lucky stars we are not as vulnerable or gullible as his followers.

But seriously. I am astonished and amused at the idea of a doddering California radio personality captivating a global audience of thousands and convincing them that he alone among all humans for the past 2000 years has some profound insight into an ancient text (without even being educated on the languages in which it was written) that has eluded the most brilliant theological scholars for centuries and is able to accurately identify a date which even the Bible asserts can never be known by man or even angels. It’s the stuff that Dan Brown novels are made of. However, I do not find it funny at all that large numbers of people are quitting their jobs, abandoning their children, donating their life savings, and even committing suicide over these proclamations. I mean, really, Harold, could you possibly be any more evil without committing an indictable crime?

Let the record show that I am not religious. Nevertheless, I have plenty of religious friends who also know this Judgment Day business is bullshit. Christians and Jews and Buddhists and atheists and hedonists and pragmatists and jazz flautists alike can all at least agree on this point: Harold Camping is a jackass and we pity the shattered lives of his followers. The end.

With that said, we certainly shouldn’t miss an opportunity to celebrate Not The End Of The World, something that I hope we all do a little bit every day. Life is glorious and short and fragile and heartbreaking and amazing, and the best thing we can do for ourselves, our loved ones, and whatever higher power we might believe in or not is to appreciate what we’ve been given and not let it pass us by.

And for those of you who would like to sip a fruity cocktail while you wait for 6:00 pm to tick past tomorrow without any terrible earthquakes or crazy cultists ascending to heaven, I give you my following Rapture recipes …

End Times Piña Colada and the See You in Hell Passion Fruit Mojito

End Times Piña Colada*

  • 2 oz vegan rum
  • 8 oz pineapple coconut juice (available in the juice section of most Mexican markets)
  • 1/2 c. crushed ice

Place all ingredients in blender and blend for ~10 – 20 seconds. Pour into a tall glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry or umbrella or piece of pineapple or any combination of the above. Hint: When I make these, I usually quadruple the ingredients in the blender to make 4 drinks at once.

*Mind you, this is not a classic Piña Colada. Classic Piña Coladas are not vegan.

See You in Hell Passion Fruit Mojito

  • 3 oz vegan rum
  • 2 oz passion fruit juice
  • 1 lime, halved
  • Mint leaves from 8 sprigs or so
  • Ginger ale

Combine passion fruit juice, mint, and a splash of ginger ale in a tall glass. Lightly muddle the mint until it becomes slightly fragrant. Squeeze both lime halves in the glass and drop them in. Add rum and ice and stir. Fill the remainder of the glass with ginger ale and garnish with mint or lime or both.

For those of you on the East coast, I wish I would have thought of these sooner, because now you only have one more hour to party like it’s May 20, 2011. However, we will all have the rest of our lives to do so, and I don’t think we really need a fake Rapture to give us a reason to enjoy some delicious fruity cocktails.

Steamed Artichokes with Balsamic Mayo Dip (Vegan)

Yes, balsamic vegan mayo. Vegan mayo is one of a few wonderful dairy substitute products that make it possible for me to serve rich and creamy things without having to resort to extreme measures, like whipping my own tofu. I love vegan mayo, and I love the fact that it allows me to enjoy a balsamic mayonnaise dip with my artichoke that I would probably not enjoy as much if it were real mayo. Because let’s face it; no matter how much you love mayo, when confronted with it face to face, it looks kind of … oogy. The truth is that people enjoy mayonnaise the most when they don’t have to look at it.

With the balsamic mayo dip for artichokes, however, you do have to look at it, so it’s a good thing this one is vegan and not so sketchy-looking. In my case, I use Vegenaise brand fake mayo, however there are other varieties available, the most common being Nayonaise. Regardless of which brand you prefer, however, either will do the trick. Also, you always have the option of using real mayonnaise, and I’m sure it would be delicious. Though you may want to avert your eyes. 😉

One more thing before I begin – you will need a steamer for this. If you don’t have one, I urge you to buy one soon – they make it so much easier to cook so many things. Oh, the vegetables you’ll steam!

Oh, and I lied, there is actually one more last thing. This is not my original recipe, just a veggie version of another recipe I found. I’ve added a bit more direction and some vegan modifications.

Sssssssteam heat!

Essential kitchen accoutrement

Steamed Artichokes with Balsamic Mayo Dip

  • 2 artichokes
  • 2 lemon slices
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/4 c. vegan mayo or mayo
  • 1 – 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (to taste)

For this recipe, it’s best to work with artichokes whose leaves have popped a bit; the really tightly closed ones are harder to clean and trim.

Rinse the artichokes under cool running water thoroughly, being careful to clean out any debris that may have gotten lodged down into the leaves. Cut off the rough end of the stem, being sure to leave about 1 – 3 inches of stem (the stems are super tasty!). Depending on which type of artichoke you have, you may wish to trim the tips off the leaves. This is mostly cosmetic, as you won’t be eating the tips, but for some of the spinier varieties, it may be worthwhile to minimize your own pricked fingers. To trim the leaves, just grab one, position your scissors and snip the tip. Simple as that.

Once your artichokes are ready to go, grab a large pot and steamer. Fill the pot with just enough water to touch the bottom of the steamer and add the lemon slices, bay leaves and crushed garlic to the water (under the steamer). They will lend a very subtle flavor to the choke. Place the steamer in the pot and position the artichokes in the steamer. Cover. Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Pay attention to the water level while it simmers and make sure it doesn’t get down too low. I usually keep a tea-kettle of water cooking on the stovetop, ready to pour in a bit of water every 5 – 10 minutes or so.

The artichokes will need to steam for 25 – 45 minutes, depending on age, size, how well you keep the water level consistent, etc. When a fork easily pierces through the stem, they’re done. If in doubt, pull off a leaf and taste it. In my opinion, it’s better to have an overcooked artichoke than an undercooked artichoke.

Balsamic Mayo

Whips up in a jiff. Spoon the mayo into a small bowl (eg, a prep bowl or ramekin). Add the balsamic and whip with a fork. You may need to adjust the mayo/balsamic ratio to taste.

Serve alongside our prepared artichokes as a dipping sauce. Mmmmmmmm!

How To Eat an Artichoke

There are 3 tiers or artichoke goodness:

  • The leaves
  • The choke
  • The stem

The leaves and stem I think are self-explanatory, or at least, require minimal explanation. Pull the leaves, dip the bottom if you like, put the leaf in your mouth and drag your teeth across the bottom. Discard. When you get to the stem, just chow down. Yum! But before the stem comes the choke …

As for the choke. There are all those little spiny things. Don’t eat those. You can either scrape the spinies away with your spoon, or slice them off entirely with a knife. I have no strong opinion, except that scraping them is kind of fun. J sure loves it, to be sure. But it takes a bit of a knack, and if you’re impatient, you may want to just cut them out. Once the spinies are gone, feel free to bite right into the heart; it’s the best part of the choke, I think. If that isn’t a metaphor for the ages.

90 Second Tomato Quesadilla (Vegetarian)

vine tomatoes, mmmmmmHi. This a not a shining moment for me, but because you are my very favorite blog readers, I am going to share it with you. As some of you may know, J is gone on tour for the month of May. As some of you may also know, although I am tremendously proud of him and happy that he is such a talented musician he gets to do cool things like tour Europe with Matmos, I am kind of a mess without him. My state of disrepair is not his fault, mind you – it’s mine, just so we’re clear. And he feels really bad about me being sad, so I try not to be too much of a drama queen. But alas, that goes so much against my nature. What can I say, I’m expressive.

Those of you who have seen it before will recognize the telltale signs of my month-long discombobulation. The syndrome is characterized by a number of things I am somewhat embarrassed of, but for which I shan’t apologize, because, well, it ain’t easy being green. The first and most obvious is my instantaneous insomnia (markedly worse than usual). The second is my profound lack of motivation to do anything productive (eg, go jogging, go to the post office, dust, read a book, etc). The third, and most relevant to you, my beloved blog audience, is that I have absolutely no desire to cook anything at all. For starters, J is my taster and second opinion – I feel blind without him. Then there’s the fact that it can be very difficult to cook for only one person – how do you not have way too many leftovers? Then there’s also the fact that one of my big motivators in cooking is the thought, “I want to make something delicious for J because he’s so rad!” So anyway. All of that. Which is why I haven’t developed anything new lately. Except for the 90 Second Tomato Quesadilla, of course.

Which brings me to the not-shining moment I referenced before. Since J’s been gone, I have been eating lots of junk food, including lots of cheese, and even seafood (vegans, please don’t be angry with me!). But some good has come of it. Allow me to introduce the 90 Second Tomato Quesadilla, which has been my dinner staple for more evenings than I’d like to admit. And yes, you really can make it in 90 seconds or less. It’s not hard at all. In fact, it’s so easy, it’s probably kind of silly for me to try to float it by as a “recipe.” Also, I’m sure most, if not all of you, know how to make a quesadilla. But do you know how to make it in 90 seconds or less? Um … anyway, I’m just hoping someone can benefit from my tribulations.

90 Second Tomato Quesadilla

(Makes one-is-the-loneliest-number quesadilla. I recommend doubling the ingredients and making at least two per person. Not just for metaphorical reasons, but because you’ll probably want more than one if you’re using the small tortillas, as recommended.* And naturally, if you’re serving more than one person, multiply accordingly.)

  • 1 half small vine-ripened or heirloom tomato, sliced and the slices halved (Do you have to use vine-ripened or heirloom? Well, it’s up to you, obviously, but I think they are more flavorful than other tomatoes.)
  • 1/4 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese (Did you know it was spelled with only one “r”? Or that its inventor is disputed? Color me surprised, I always thought it was named for a different Monterrey.)
  • 1 small tortilla (~5 or 6 inch diameter) – I like Whole Foods Red Chile tortillas
  • 1/4 sliced avocado, sprig or two of chopped cilantro and salsa to taste, if desired

If you do this all in an incredibly efficient fashion, I promise you it won’t take longer than 90 seconds; in fact, it will probably only take about a minute. However, if you’re slicing avocado or chopping cilantro, I would anticipate that could potentially add up to a minute or so. And if you’re serving multiple people, then the 90 second thing kind of breaks down. Truly, this is a quesadilla designed for solitude.

Shred about 1/4 c. of Monterey Jack cheese with a grater. Place the tortilla on a microwave safe plate and sprinkle the cheese in a circle in the middle, leaving about 1/2 inch border between the cheese and the edge of the tortilla. Pop it in the microwave for 35 seconds.

Meanwhile, rinse your tomato and cut a few slices. Halve them, and they’re ready to place in your quesadilla. This would also be the time to slice your avo or chop your cilantro (if you hadn’t done so in advance).

When the tortilla with cheese is done in the microwave, place the pieces of tomato in the middle. This is also when you would place the avo and cilantro, if desired.

Fold up like a mini-burrito, and serve immediately. (Don’t dally; they’re not very good cold.)

*If you’re using larger tortillas, adjust the ingredients accordingly.

Wild Mushrooms en Papillote (Vegan or Vegetarian)

They're not your father's Freedom Fries

Photo property of Williams-Sonoma

You might have noticed a recurring theme. I’m way batty for mushrooms.

This time I decided to break away from my normal preferred mushroom cooking method and try something different. It’s a slight adaptation of a gem from my home skillet Billy S and certainly an easy way to cook mushrooms if for some reason you find it impractical to saute them on the stove top. The only thing is that I’m not sure if there’s any real advantage to preparing your mushrooms en papillote, other than to sound French, impress Martha Stewart or delight your guests with mushrooms from a paper bag. Some say that this method is healthier because it cuts down on the amount of oil you cook with, but a) you’re replacing it with butter or margarine; and b) cooking mushrooms stove top doesn’t really call for all that much oil. So I don’t know what that’s about. One thing I can say is that cooking your mushrooms this way will result in slightly softer, less browned mushrooms, so if you’re trying to control texture and presentation, that could be a reason to choose the papillote method.

Three important departures from the Billy Sonoma version that I’ve included here: 1) Omitted the parsley because I was serving them in an arugula salad and didn’t need the extra bitterness; 2) After steaming them in the parchment for about 10 minutes, I opened up the bag to dry them out a bit, because they had produced quite a bit of moisture, as we all know our fungus friends are wont to do; 3) Added red pepper flakes, because you know I love the spicy, yo.

One last thing. If you’re wondering where you can get your hands on some parchment, you can find it in most grocery stores in the aisle with aluminum foil and wax paper.

Wild Mushrooms en Papillote

  • 1 tbsp vegan butter or unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp vegan butter or unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 lb mushrooms, brushed clean – I used shiitake, trumpet and almond mushroom (random farmer’s market find), but you could use any combination of mushrooms you like
  • 1/2 tsp ground sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat an oven to 375°F.

Cut parchment paper into an 18-by-11-inch rectangle. Fold the rectangle in half crosswise. Open the parchment and coat with the 1 tbsp butter. Place the rectangle, buttered side up, on a baking sheet.

Cut the mushrooms into bite-size pieces and place in a bowl. Add the salt, pepper, butter pieces, lemon juice and toss well. Spread the mushrooms over one half of the prepared parchment paper. Fold the other half of the parchment rectangle over the mushrooms and fold the vertical edges over twice, working your way along the edge of the paper to end with a twist on both ends. Place the package on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake until the parchment packet is puffed and the mushrooms are cooked through, about 10 – 12 minutes. At that point, do a progress check – have they thoroughly juiced? If so, go ahead and carefully open up the parchment and return them to the oven for another 1 – 3 minutes to dry out any lingering liquids. Transfer the parchment packet to a platter and serve immediately. (Or, if you’re making a salad, add them to the salad and serve immediately. More on the salad coming soon.)

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.