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Dear Reader,

It’s Morel season.

Until very recently, I had had no morels in my life. Sorry, but I was dying to say that.

A few weeks ago, I bought a small packet of morels from the local, posh deli. I sauteed them in olive oil and butter with a few, sliced button mushrooms, added a bit of lemon juice, and thought they were absolutely awful.  Tough, chewy, and woody, no taste.

Of course, I was convinced that either I had prepared them incorrectly, or, they were stale, old morels.  I couldn’t tell.

I have a very dear friend who lives far, far away.  She mentioned that she was going on a morel hunt/party with friends.  So, my interest was renewed. I begged her to please tell me all that there was to know about morels.  What is the secret of their allure?

Fresh Morels

Fresh Morels

Then, a day or two later, I saw fresh morels for sale, loose, in a tiny basket at the same, posh deli, I decided to try them again.  After all, even though they were $49.99 per pound, five morels only cost $3.50 as they are hollow. I had seen a Mark Bittman’s recent recipe video about morels and asparagus, and was inspired to try again.

Mr Bittman uses reconstituted dried morels, but as I have stumbled upon fresh ones, that is what I am using. As I only had a few, I supplemented them with fresh baby bella mushrooms.

Baby Bella Mushrooms

Baby Bella Mushrooms

Start with a good pat of butter, then I sauteed the mushrooms with some finely chopped shallots, until most of the moisture has been released and then reabsorbed.

Add a bit of water and dry white wine,  about half and half.  (Mr. Bittman uses the liquid from the dried morels). Once very hot, add the asparagus.  Steam for about two minutes, or until tender. Asparagus cooks in the blink of an eye, so, don’t blink.

Fresh Asparagus

Fresh Asparagus

Add a small amount of cream.  This can be any thickness you like, I used a small amount of heavy cream.

Then add a few, fresh Tarragon leaves.  Not too many, as Tarragon is a strongly flavoured herb.

This dish requires a fair amount of salt and pepper.

Tasting it, without the thrill of the hunt, or the pleasure of a party, just alone, in my kitchen, I was very satisfied.

I felt that I was beginning to understood the mystery of the morel.

It was a start.

A tasty start.

M x

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I found a new recipe in my inbox this morning.  It was for a Summer Squash Gratin from Heidi Swanson, on of my favourite food writers. Her blog, 101 Cookbooks is a fabulous source of down to earth, tasty, and exciting vegetarian dishes.  I love her ideas, although, I’ve yet to follow one to the letter. I tend to use her recipes as inspiration, then, adjust the recipe according to my family’s tastes and/ or according to what I have in the house. I highly recommend having a look at her website, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. I liked the look of this recipe as I love vegetable gratins, but don’t always want to eat the volume of dairy products that they normally call for. 

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As I had some yellow summer squash that I wanted to eat up, this recipe arrived on the right day. I used the squash and potatoes, as Heidi suggested, but I also included several stalks of de stringed, roughly chopped celery. I think that there are many vegetables that would work well with this method. I changed the sauce – I made it from two cups of basil with some dried marjoram, as I did not have the requisite fresh parsley and oregano in the house today (I’m cleaning out the fridge for the summer).  I also substituted a block of sheep’s feta for the gouda. It all worked very well.

It is important to slice the potatoes as thinly as possible, as they will take longer to cook than the squash. I used my trusty mandolin. 

The temperatures have been cooler this week in Arizona, so something hot, out of the oven, was a welcome change.

 

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Summer Gratin 

3 yellow summer squash, sliced about 1/6″ thick. 

6 small red potatoes, sliced as thinly as possible. I used my mandolin for the slicing today. 

4 stalks of celery, de stringed and roughly chopped. 

1 block of sheep feta cheese, about 7 ounces. 

2 cups of fresh basil.

2 cloves of garlic.

1 small salad onion (optional).

Zest from 1 small lemon.

A small pinch of dried marjoram (optional).

Red chilli pepper flakes (optional).

1 cup (or more if necessary) Extra virgin olive oil.

Panko breadcrumbs.

Salt and Pepper.

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  

Salt the sliced summer squash and put aside to drain, for about 10-15 minutes.  Slice potatoes, chop celery, and put into a large, mixing bowl. 

Make the sauce. Put the basil leaves, garlic, lemon zest, and small onion into a the bowl of a small hand mixer/blender.  Blend. Then add the olive oil, some chilli pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt.  Blend again until smooth.  Taste, and adjust the seasoning. 

Rinse the squash and dry with paper towels. 

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Break up and mix the feta cheese, and two thirds of the sauce (saving a bit for the topping), into the bowl with the potatoes and celery.  

Mix in the summer squash. Make sure everything is well coated. Taste for seasoning.  

Turn the mixture into a ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle on a few handfuls of panko breadcrumbs. I prefer to go lightly here, but, you can add as much as you like. Use the remaining sauce to moisten the breadcrumbs. 

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Bake until the potatoes are cooked and the topping has turned golden brown.
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I was very happy with the result, but, next time I would use more squash and make the slices thicker. Heidi suggests using a variety of squash, which I think would be very nice. Still, my supper delicious and really hit the spot. 

Thank you to Heidi Swanson for the inspiration.  Here is the link for the original, which looks fantastic, as well as lots of other, very good things. 

http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/summer-squash-gratin-recipe.html

Have a good weekend. 

Myrtle.

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Ostrich Fern Fiddlehead (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

 Although I haven’t done much cooking this week, it has been fun to go food shopping lately.  The other day I happened upon these fiddleheads, and couldn’t leave the market without them.  They are a classic Spring Wild Food, good for you and very tasty.  It has been years since I’ve had any. 

It is important to get your fiddleheads from a reputable seller, or, if you are gathering them yourself, make sure that you bring along an identification guide with photos.  I only say this as Ostrich Fern fiddleheads and Bracken Fern fiddleheads look very similar, but Bracken Ferns are not edible.  

I cleaned them and stored them, but just didn’t have the time to cook them with anything special, so I decided to steam them and have them as nibbles.  I also nibble steamed green beans and asparagus the same way, as they have a similar, crisp texture and fresh taste. They can be served in any dish that would be suitable for asparagus or green beans. Fiddleheads should not be eaten raw, as they do have a slightly bitter taste, which goes with a touch of cooking. Raw fiddleheads can give you an upset stomach as well. 

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They look fabulous. 

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I simply popped fiddleheads into a silicone steamer.  I only steamed them for a couple of minutes. Please, please, please, don’t over cook them.  Light steaming keeps the crunch, and loses the bitterness. 

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The second they are done, pull them away from the heat, and plunge them into ice water. This stops the cooking process, and helps to keep the colour bright. 

Once cooked, they will keep for several days, although it is best to eat them as soon as possible, as with any green vegetable. Although I love them plain, are are very good with a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a squeeze of lemon, or a dash of basalmic vinegar.

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This was my delicious snack this afternoon.

Fresh fiddleheads, fresh bread, and fresh goat’s cheese from the Barn Goddess stand at the Phoenix Farmers’ Market. 

 

The fiddlehead season is short, as once the ferns start to unfurl, they are no longer edible.  So, keep your eyes peeled the next time you are at your local market.  They won’t be around for long. 

Happy eating. 

Myrtle. 

 

P.S. Here is a useful website with information about wild foods and fiddleheads – http://www.wild-harvest.com/pages/fiddlehead.htm

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As you may have guessed, we have been to New York City this year.   

My elder daughter sang in a choir at Carnegie Hall.  

It was a proud moment for me, and a wonderful experience for her. But, more about that later. 

Little One and I stayed with a beloved Aunt who lives on the upper West Side.  We all had a fabulous time; shopping, theatre, and, of course, lots of eating.  There is a restaurant, a favourite of my Aunt’s, that we went to twice, called Etcetera Etcetera. Our family met up there after the concert at Carnegie.  It was a great evening.  The atmosphere is stylish, busy, but comfortable.

The first time I ate at Etc Etc, I ordered Risotto Con Aragosta E Rosmarino – Lobster Risotto with Fresh Rosemary.  It arrived in a large dish, but looked like a fairly small portion.  I have to confess, it looked rather plain. There was very little colour and no garnish.  But, being a devoted lover of all things risotto, I peppered, and dug in.  

I am pleased to say, Dear Reader, that the taste was divine.  The flavour of the lobster was mild, but beautiful, as was the rosemary.  It was creamy and delicious; everything a risotto should be.  And, it was more than enough.  

I was just coming to the end of my little feast, when one of my dining companions reached over, quick as a flash, and scooped up my last mouthful, from right under my nose, with a sardonic gleam in her eye. I am convinced that all of us knows at least one person who behaves like this at the dinner table. I didn’t really mind, but, she could have asked. I would have shared. 

I was full, and there is no point in crying over stolen risotto, etc etc, but cannot pretend that I wasn’t a tiny bit amused when my companion then went on to complain, very loudly, that I hadn’t told her that it was a seafood risotto. Apparently, she absolutely detests seafood. Dear Reader, she didn’t ask. I would have shared that information as well.  

Anyway, I made a reservation for ten people. We were seated at the very back of the restaurant, which worked well, as we are a noisy bunch. Our waiter was young, cute, and extremely good natured.  One would have to be to put up with certain members of the family. But, he was more than charming, affable, and accommodating. Buckets of extra ice were brought forthwith, bills were divided, extra bread, tapenade, and refills were all delivered with a smile and good humour. Bless him. He earned his wages that evening.

Little One had the same thing she had the first night, Scialatiella Con Pomodoro Fresco E Strecciatella – a fancy way of saying, Homemade Basil Spaghetti with Hand Peeled Tomatoes, Garlic, and Stracciatella Cheese. She loved it. The Stracciatella cheese is a luscious, creamy mozzarella.  She raved about it so much, that three other members of the family ordered it on the Big Night.  It’s an incredibly simple dish, and it was a hit.  

I had something different the second time around, Tagliattelle Con Polpettine D’Agnello, Rucola E Pomodoro Al Forno – Taglliatelle with Lamb Meatballs, Baby Arugula, and Oven Roasted Tomatoes. A mouthful, in more ways than one. It is deceptively simple dish, and absolutely delicious.  The lamb meatballs were tiny, packed with flavour, and a treat for me, as this is not something that I normally make at home.  

I liked this restaurant for its food, atmosphere, and accommodating service.  It is only two blocks from Broadway and the Theatre District, as well as a short walk to Port Authority, which was convenient for family who were catching the coach back to Pennsylvania.  

All and all, it was great evening. 

Happy dining, 

Myrtle.

 

 

Etc Etc

352 W 44th Street

New York, NY 10036-5419

212 399-4141

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Yesterday was one of those typically frantic days when life is a blur.  I raced from task to task, blah, blah, blah. It was over 100 degrees outside, blah blah blah. It was First Born’s final concert with her choir in the evening, so she had rehearsals and was nervous as she was asked to make a speech.  Little  One wanted to take a friend. Blah, blah, blah. At some point in the afternoon, I felt it was time to cool down and cook.  Something familiar, something comforting, but, also, something slightly new.  I reached up, and took down a big box from the top of the refrigerator.  I had been saving this pleasure for just this sort of day. 

 

Non Musical Instrument - Mandoline

Non Musical Instrument - Mandoline

 

Another new toy.  

I have always wanted one of these.  I have always imagined making Potatoes Dauphinoise, with impossibly thin slices of potatoes.  

I’ve had it for months, but I only took it out of the box yesterday.  I know that it is, technically, a non musical instrument, but, Dear Reader,  we made sweet music together. I made the base for Cottage Pie, but instead of mashed potato, which Little One doesn’t like, I was able to use impossibly thin slices of potato. It worked beautifully. I made it in advance, so that we would have something nice to tuck into after the concert. 

The concert was lovely.  An interesting juxtaposition of Requiem pieces in the first half, and songs from the Muppet Show in the second. Very emotional for all, but especially the seniors leaving school. They have worked hard all year and sang like angels.

After our evening of heavenly music, it was nice to come home to the comfort of Cottage Pie. Even Little One, who is not a great lover of potatoes, liked them sliced, impossibly thin.  I felt I had broken a barrier. 

I can also report that the Mandoline is easier on my fingers than the Molcajete. 

In fact, the only criticism I can make of my new gadget, is that is a tad wasteful.  

But, as the impossibly thin slices of potato melted in my mouth, I really didn’t care.

TGIF, 

M.

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Anna's Edible Onion Flower

Anna's Edible Onion Flower

 

I learned something new  on Sunday.  The tiny florets of the onion flower are edible. They have a mild onion flavour.  You just pluck out the florets as they open. My friends purchased this one at a Farmers’ Market in Phoenix on Saturday morning. They use the flowers in salads, but, I imagine they would taste good in many things. 

We like things that look good as well as taste good.  

Thanks Anna. 

Myrtle.

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