Archive for mushrooms

mushroom marsala

Posted in vague recipes with tags , on December 29, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

Here is a recipe that I made for Christmas Eve dinner with Lilli and her grandfather in mind:


1 lb of mushrooms (any really, but I used creminis) 

1 small onion

several cloves of garlic

3/4 cup parmesan cheese

1/2 cup cream

1 cup dry marsala                                                                                     

1 jar of artichoke hearts in water

butter, olive oil, bacon fat if you have it



pasta of your choice: I like the little shells or orchetti since they can hold the juices.

One of the reasons that I love cooking with mushrooms is because they are so musty, earthy, even a little meaty. I love the way that the knife slices through them, I love that you don’t wash them, you brush them clean, I love that each mushroom has its own color, flavor, and texture. And when cooked long enough with any type of liquid most mushrooms seem to absorb flavors and then add a richness and depth that is all their own.

For this recipe you simply dice up the mushrooms, onions and garlic. These go in a pan to sautee with a little olive oil. I also added some bacon fat that we had on hand, mostly because I wanted to make sure that it got used and also because I thought that it would add a nice flavor to the dish. You could also add some butter to sweeten the pot. While the mushrooms and onions and garlic were cooking away, I was warming the cream with about a palm-full of rosemary. Shane told me that if you infuse your creams with herbal flavors they become more pronounced in a dish. He’s right. When all of the liquid cooks out of the mushrooms, add the cup of marsala. Cook out the marsala, then add the cream, and then stir in the parmesan. Keep the heat on medium low for this process and add the cheese slowly so it will become incorporated and won’t melt too quickly and stick to the bottom of the pan. Finally add the drained and sliced artichokes. Finish with salt and pepper to taste and a sprinkle of parsley. Serve with your choice of pasta.  You can cook the pasta until it is al dente, seriously al dente, and then add it to the sauce to finish cooking or you can serve the sauce over the pasta.


friday dinners

Posted in delicious stories, vague recipes with tags , , , , on December 28, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

I wouldn’t say that it has happened enough to make it a habit, but if I have my way this winter it just might: Friday night dinners at my place. With the end of the semester, the work load eased enough for me to find myself with time on my hands. The weather also got accomodatingly chilly, sending me searching for recipes for stews and soups and while it is nice to make a big pot of soup on Sunday and enjoy it for the rest of the week, it is even nicer to make a big pot of soup on Friday and share it with whomever can stop by.

The first Friday dinner was after Thanksgiving. We were all still a little full– some people had decided that a week of raw vegetables was the antidote to a weekend of feasting, some planned dinner parties of salads, and I decided that I would finally find a recipe for fish stew. I knew what it was that I wanted, lots of different meats of the sea,  in a tomatoe-y broth, probably some onion, a splash of wine, garlic of course, pepper, and what else….? Maybe fennel? After browsing through some recipes and finding none that had exactly all of the elements I was looking for, I decided that I would wing it with a modicum of good sense and see what I came up with. On the particular Friday I had only two obligations: visit a new mom and baby and make fish stew. Obligations, now that is the wrong word. Since I was taking the train out to visit mom and baby I decided that I would stop at the fish stand in Reading Terminal Market to make the fishy purchases and since there were some veggie vendors still open at that time of night, I was set.

Here is what I bought for a fish stew dinner for four:

1 lb of cod

1/2 lb of shrimp

1 dozen tiny mussels

1/2 dozen clams

1 bulb of fennel

1 bunch of parsley

onions and garlic and carrots were at the house

Lilli brought a loaf of delicious bread that was soft but with an excellent crust. A loaf of bread meant for tearing and dipping.

Matt brought salty, divine salami coated in herbs de provence

Joe rustled up the canned tomatoes that I needed and a jug of wine.

I made my purchases at the market and then walked home through the windy streets. There was snow promised in the forecast and they were setting up the Christmas lights in city hall.  I cut down along Arch Street enjoying the wind and the bump of my bags against my leg. There was no reason to hurry and even the cold didn’t bother me all that much.

I had not invited that many people over since Lilli was planning on hosting a feast out at her place on Saturday. The plan was supposed to be me, Joe, Lilli, Matt, and Alex but Alex got pulled away by other adventures…..

So, fish stew for four.

I finely minced the fennel, the onion, the garlic, and the carrot. That went into the pot with some olive oil to sautee. Then, I decided that I would quickly sautee the cod in a separate pan just to get a nice brown crust on the edges. Once the cod was browned, the shrimp deveined and washed, and the shellfish soaked and lightly scrubbed, everything went into the pot along with the two large cans of crushed tomatoes, some generous glugs of wine, and plenty of crushed pepper. The soup sat on the stove and glurped and bubbled while we all compared work weeks, tore off hunks of bread and ate them with the salami. The wine jug was passed around and the soup was ready within the hour. I didn’t add salt until the very end. I wasn’t sure how much of a salt the shellfish would add when they opened and I wasn’t sure how far the soup would cook down so I waited until I was about to serve the stew to salt it to my taste, which is a little saltier than most.  Poured out into bowls and topped with some chopped parsely we had ourselves some fish stew. My favorite part, other than the taste,  was seeing the shells of the clams and mussels peeking out of the red-winey broth. Like the bolognese sauce, I think that the reason I was so pleased with this stew was that it tasted exactly like I was hoping that it would.

It is always a disappointment when you spend all day cooking something and it smells right, and it looks right but when you take the first bite, there is something a little off. This fish stew was winey and earthy from the fennel and had that fresh from the sea taste of the shellfish. The cod practically disintegrated in the cooking process but the shrimp and mussels were juicy and sweet.

The soup was slurped up and remnants mopped up with pieces of bread. I think that we all had seconds and drank enough wine to get unreasonably sleepy by about nine o’clock. But since Matt and I both had to be up at dawn the next day, none of us felt too terrible for tucking in and calling it a night.

The second Friday night dinner was two weeks later. Again a snow storm had been forecasted and the temperature had dropped even further. The week before had been spent in a haze of exams and last minute preparations for the upcoming winter break. I had another soup in mind, one that I wanted to make in the slow cooker since I was going to be studying for most of the day and my exam was scheduled around the prime hour of dinner preparations. Since Emily Tredeau was in town and had a little bit of a morning to hang out, I thought that again I would make the dinner purchases at Reading Terminal Market. The plan was a sausage and arugula soup with mushrooms on toast (a recipe stolen from Smitten Kitchen).

Emily and I set off in the morning, bundled up as much as we could. The wind was cold and sharp but it was a clear day.

What was purchased:

1 lb of chicken sausage with fennel, garlic, and white wine

16 oz chicken broth

10 cremini mushrooms

1 lavender cupcake (for dessert) and 1 peanut butter and chocolate cupcake (eaten to fortify us for the walk back)

again, the onions and garlic were at home. And I had some left over fennel fronds and parsely that needed to get used up.

Purchases made and Amish cinnamon buns oogled, Emily and I headed through city hall. As a visitor to the city, Emily had wanted to take a tour of city hall. I knew that there was a long list of drugs and diseases that I needed to get home to memorize, but the temptation to spend the wonderful day out and exploring my own city won out. We ducked into the gift store and asked how long a tour was. There was a 15 minute, $4.00 tour of “The Tower.”  Surely I could spare 15 minutes of my day….

Not really knowing what we were getting ourselves in for, Emily and I made our way up to the Tower. Turns out that the Tower in question was the spire that reaches out of the center of city hall, houses the clocks, and upon William Penn in his two (three, four? I am not sure,  I didn’t pay as much attention on the tour as I should have) ton glory stands. Led by a gruff security guard to a small elevator we ascended up past the clocks to the look-out deck and down below us and for forty miles around us we could see the city of Philadelphia. It was glorious.

Adventures for the morning completed, I headed back to my apartment to begin cooking and studying.

The onions and garlic were sauteed with a little olive oil and then I browned the meat in the same pan. I deglazed the pan with a little whiskey and then the onions and sausage, the whiskey, the fennel fronds, and the chicken broth with some pepper went into the slow cooker. Again, I didn’t salt the soup since I didn’t know how much it would reduce and because the sausage was rather salty. The whole mess then got left alone until about 8 hours.

The mushrooms on toast were made with an adapted recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I finely minced the mushrooms, some garlic, and some parsley. That went into a skillet with some butter and olive oil. I cooked the mushrooms down and then added a splash of red wine. The wine was cooked off and then I added a small dollope of sour cream. When it came time for dinner I toasted some bread, added the mushrooms and then topped with some more sour cream. These tasty mushroom toasts with the soup that had become a rich meaty broth were perfect for the bitterly cold evening. I also made some mulled wine with Limoncello, cinammon, and sliced clementines. The soup was laddled over fresh arugula and topped with some pecorino cheese. The arugula added a peppery green bite to the heaviness of the soup and the cheese melted on top just like a good french onion soup. For dessert there was dark chocolate and the lavender cupcake that I purchased with Emily earlier in the day at a small bakery stand called the Flying Monkey. As we were ladling out the soup, Matt arrived with a bulb of fennel, two giant oranges, and again the delicious salami.  I sliced up the fennel and sprinkled some salt and vinegar over it and it was a fresh, sweet, crunchy addition to the other heavier items of the meal.

After dinner, we all bundled up and headed off to Toby’s Weekly Review.

For both of these dinners, the left overs were superb.

Here’s to hoping there are more Friday dinners….

Un beso,

houby (mushrooms)

Posted in delicious places, delicious stories with tags on September 29, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

Today: “Teacher! Is a mushroom a food?”

I looked down at Kareem, coolly facilitating lunchtime debate at the boys’ table. I said yes, even though there were video game mushrooms, and yes, even though some could kill you. (Matthew, the hippie kid, asserting wildly and unheard in the background: “Wild mushrooms! Wild mushrooms!”)

I don’t know how they got onto the topic. Although, from a kid perspective, mushrooms are badass. They’re gross, skin-like and damp and gilled. They smell like dirt and body crevices. (Poets love mushrooms too. For talking about sex and death. They call them “fleshy erections” and “probing thumbs” etc etc.) Mushrooms fall apart when you touch them, or explode in clouds of spores. Mushrooms can grow as big as soccer balls.

AND they are mysterious. They’re secretive, and disturbing, appearing fully-formed on the wet front lawn like a bad thing you’d done and forgotten about. Seeds come in little paper packets, but fungi spread invisibly. They fart out tiny versions of themselves into the air, spreading, disease-like, on their own whim. And as a result, people hunt them. Try hunting a tomato. Ah yes! The stealthy and temperamental wild tomato!

I’ve always respected mushrooms, probably for all these reasons.

I also love them because my grandparents, the Czech ones, used to take me on walks in the woods behind their house and bring a basket and we would search around the shady golden stretches of the forest, the places where the dense trees opened up a little, and brown and yellow leaves covered the ground between scattered pines. These were the low-lying spots mushrooms loved best, and my grandma (who wore a scarf or safari hat on her awesome Marilyn-platinum hair, and whose gloves smelled like real leather) became very quiet and intent as she stalked around the woods and peered at the ground. She was an excellent hunter of mushrooms. As a young woman at finishing school she’d studied botany, and she knew the Latin and Czech and sometimes the English names of the mushrooms, from the big marshmallowy white ones that you could cut in slices and bread and fry up for lunch to the spongey yellow duds that even slugs didn’t like.

Mushroom-picking is one of those things my Czech family did, like waiting until Christmas Eve to decorate the tree or not having a TV, which required patience and quiet, and which felt old-fashioned and warm and made me very happy as a kid, even as I eventually learned it was not advisable to mention my enjoyment of these things in public.

On my first trip alone to the Czech Republic, my aunt and uncle took me on a bike ride, and from the road we saw, in a green clearing between birches, hundreds of the big white fry-able mushrooms, as big as dessert plates. My cousins whooped and scattered to pick them. We collected them into t-shirts and backpacks, and ate them for supper. On a cold gray summer evening, my aunts cooked up piles of them in the steaming kitchen. They brought us platters of mushrooms, greasy and fried, crunchy with batter and hot and meaty on the inside.

One of the best things about that meal was sitting with a whole table of people who knew the ways of the crafty mushroom, that most delicious food that appears, mute and shapely, on its own enigmatic schedule.

In my adulthood, I’ve continued to love the idea of my mushroom-hunting Czech family.  But I hadn’t actually gone looking for mushrooms in years until Matt and I passed by my grandfather’s house on our roadtrip this summer, and my grandfather took us for a walk in his woods. My grandfather brought his wicker basket and a short, sharp knife to slice the fungi off at the root.  When we reached “the bonanza,” his and my grandmother’s old lucky hunting grounds, he stopped and peered ahead. I didn’t see anything. With solid steps, much slower than when I was a little girl and using his cane to support himself, he paced underneath the trees; Matt and I followed along, watching him instead of the ground. He lifted his cane and pointed when he spotted the first chanterelle, its fox-colored orange cap standing two inches above the forest floor.

We leapt on it.  Matt took off into the trees, leaning at a 45-degree angle to the ground, eager. My feet felt enormous and hot in my hiking boots as I tried to delicately skate across the dry leaves in a way that would not squish any mushrooms at all. Once I learned their shape, my eyes adjusted and I saw them peeking out, waiting between the tree roots’ dark knuckles and in soft pockets of leaves. It felt like a grownup Easter Egg hunt. I brought them back to in handfuls to my grandfather. “Ehhhh, this is a nice one!” he said, a few times, and his voice rose in the pleasure he reserves for an ingenious solution to a plumbing problem or the arrival of a new species of bird at his feeder.

We filled the basket with the small chanterelles, so many that my grandfather finally declared, “This is lunch!” Which really is the best mushrooming compliment you can hope for.

Back at the house, we washed them all off, and I cut off the stems. My grandfather took over cooking and sauteéd them with olive oil, salt and onions, and a little scrambled egg; I heaped the fragrant oily orange nubs onto plates with slices of rye bread.

The two men poured their Canada Light into glasses, and took their first bites: my grandfather tired and steady, Matt almost bouncing out of his chair with the energy of a new food discovery. I watched for a moment, pinched off the rye bread in my fingers, scooped up some mushrooms and took a bite.

Before Matt ever met my grandfather, I’d told him about this quirky family activity, conjured it up out of descriptions of pines and morels. But out in the forest, as he peppered my grandfather with questions about poisonous species, I realized I wouldn’t know a morel if it spored on me. The woods were part of me – I grew up walking the abandoned sugar maple avenues every summer – but that day I was as much a visitor as Matt was, and would still have been lost without my grandfather to tell me to turn left at the old orchard, right at the beaver dam.  I felt a little hollow inside, the shiny outermost nesting doll, with only the smallest doll clattering inside: too much distance between my current self and the people and places I knew I loved.

Then, as the warm chanterelles popped and slid onto my tongue, happiness appeared, fully formed, created from some tiny stray spore of love and memory that had been biding its time. It was different than I expected, but I’ve been learning to recognize its shape: at the table, the past and present sat together, drinking crappy beer and wiping their plates with rye bread. They were not as perfect or whole as I’d pictured in my imagination, but they were here, which was even better. The mushrooms in my mouth tasted like an echo of meat, an echo of smoke, and finally just themselves, the taste of remembering made real.

p.s. (Yes. A mushroom is a food. See the portabellas Waverly and I ate, doused in balsamic vinegar and paired with fresh mozarella and roasted red peppers, at the Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square last weekend. We smelled mushrooms, mushrooms, murky, sweet and fleshy all around us on the crowded carnival main street, until Wave and I zeroed in on a portabella wrap from an Italian restaurant. It was a violin-dizzy movie moment. Just delicious sex earth food juice, pouring hot down my throat with the thick soft slightly chewy mushrooms disintegrating into the smoky firm peppers…Happy hunting!)

p.p.s. The Mushroom Expert website has a feature called “what’s This Thing In My Yard?”  HA!