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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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School is out, the parties are over, the building work is done, packing for the holidays has started, but, it is time to encourage to learn to prepare things for themselves, especially First Born, who is now sixteen.  She is getting braver in the kitchen.  Last week’s contribution was a simple pasta bake, with Marinara sauce and Mozzarella cheese.  It was very good and none was wasted.  

It is often difficult for me to have the children around when I prepare meals.  Ideally, I like to make things first thing in the morning, when they are at school. I can do things very quickly and then have my afternoons free for activities. But, as our schedules vary from day to day at the moment, I find that our eating habits have changed.  Plus, the children want to learn some basics, and, of course, I want them to learn as well. 

But, a gentle reminder, food preparation, like any task, takes much longer with children hanging around.  

I have found that First Born tends to think that she cannot do things that I am certain she can do.  But, if I am in the room, she will look more at me than concentrating on her lemons and parsley.  So, I now leave her alone in the kitchen as much as possible, only coming in the room if necessary. I am pleased that she is able to see that she is able to do more than she realizes. 

Today’s task was Pasta Salad. 

After the initial panic, I explained the method, step by step. She was delighted that it is so easy, and I am happy to say  that she and Little One did a fabulous job.  It was very good. Very good indeed. 

The lovely thing about this salad is that you shop for specific things to make special, or it can simply be a reflection of what is in season, or even things that you want to use up from your fridge. It is easy, flexible, keeps well, and best of all, is very refreshing when it is hot outside. 

Once you decide on your pasta base, the rest can be different every time you make it.  The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. 

The children chose most of the ingredients for the salad tonight from our cupboard and refrigerator. They had wanted to add cucumber, but the last one had gone a bit mushy.  Never mind. 

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Pasta Salad for a Hot, Summer Evening

1 bag or box of relatively small pasta shapes, tonight we used Tubettinni.

Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. 

Beans, 1 can. Tonight we used cannellini, but, any bean will do. Be sure to rinse them well. 

Sweet corn, 1 can.  I prefer unsalted, but even frozen will do. (Soak frozen sweet corn in boiling water for a minute or two, then rinse, before adding to the salad. 

Onion, tonight we used 3 small, purple salad onions,  and a couple of green onions, finely chopped. 

Bell pepper, tonight we used 1 yellow, but any colour will do. 

Celery, 4 stalks, de stringed with a vegetable peeler and finely chopped. Adds crunch.

Red Cabbage, a handful, coarsely chopped. Decorative.

Fresh flat leaf parsley, 1 bunch, washed, dried, and finely chopped. 

Fresh basil leaves, 1 bunch, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped. 

Cherry tomatoes, a handful, cut into halves. 

Several lemons, depending on juiciness.  Tonight, we used three lemons, but a mild vinegar could also be used. 

Salt, pepper, and chilli flakes. 

Cook the pasta according to the packet, not forgetting to salt the water well. It makes a big difference to the flavour of the pasta to add salt to the cooking water, rather than afterwards. Drain and rinse the pasta well, cooling it down enough to handle. Once drained of its rinsing water, put the pasta into a large, mixing bowl with a generous serving spoon of olive oil, to stop it from sticking. Add the juice of one lemon and some seasoning at this point as well. 

While the pasta is cooking, assemble, wash, and begin to prepare the remaining ingredients. Be sure to rinse any canned beans and sweet corn well. 

Once the pasta is cool, add and mix all the ingredients together, carefully. I like to use the biggest bowl I have, and a very large spoon.  

When all the ingredients have been well mixed, taste the salad.  The type of pasta you use, as well as how many vegetables you’ve added will determine how much more oil and lemon juice, salt, pepper, and chilli flakes you will need.  Don’t be afraid to taste, just a little, as you go.  

This salad is best served either slightly chilled, or at room temperature. Remember, olive oil thickens significantly when it gets cold. 

 

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I went a bit mad and sprinkled a few marigold petals on mine, although the salad was colourful enough without.  

I had mine with extra basil leaves as well.  

Well done children, it was a lovely supper. 

Thank you. x 

 

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Here is one I made earlier.  A few months earlier, in fact. It is made with a base of fusilli pasta. I took two, big bunches of basil and a bunch of fresh parsley, whizzed up with pine nuts and olive oil in the food processor as a dressing, then added frozen peas, salad onions, a few cherry tomatoes, lashings of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but only a small amount of lemon. This salad had a very different nature and flavour. I sprinkled toasted pine nuts over it to serve, although it is also nice with a bit of flaked Parmesan Cheese or tiny balls of Mozzarella. As I mentioned earlier, variations are endless.

Pasta salad need never, ever be boring.

Dessert

Dessert

Mustn’t forget dessert. It is very difficult to eat too many raspberries.  

They are very good at the moment.  

Very good indeed. 

Happy Saturday, 

Myrtle.

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This was Little One’s favourite for a very long time in England. I brought it home from Sainsbury’s in Truro one day, just to give it a try. It was gobbled up in a flash. For years I couldn’t pass Sainsbury’s without calling in, to get her Special Salad. In England it is called Moroccan Cous Cous Salad. It has heat from chilli oil, but coolness from feta cheese. A great combination.  

Once we moved to America, poor Little One had to go without, until I was able to reproduce it, as closely as possible.  

This toasted cous cous is from Israel, but is the same product. I found it in the Kosher aisle. 

Here is what I’ve come up with.

Israeli Couscous

Israeli Couscous

 

Little One’s Toasted Cous Cous Salad with Chilli Oil and Feta Cheese


1 packet of Isreali Toasted Cous Cous

1 tin of Chick Peas, (Garbanzo Beans), rinsed

1-2 bunches Green Onions, washed, trimmed, and finely chopped or Purple Salad Onions. We like a lot of fresh onion. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Chilli Oil or Chilli Flakes

Fresh Lemon Juice

1 bunch Flat Leaf Parsley, washed, destemmed, and finely chopped

1 handful Mint, finely chopped

1 small block of Feta Cheese, cut into small cubes, not crumbled. Use more or less according to personal taste

Salt and Pepper 

Soak the cous cous in boiling water, cover, and let stand. It doesn’t need to be cooked. Add less water than recommended as you will want the cous cous to be a bit dry, as you will be adding lemon juice and oil later on.  

Once the water has been absorbed, and the cous cous has cooled, add the chick peas, 2 serving spoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, lemon juice to taste, onions, chopped parsley and mint, salt and pepper.

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Drizzle a tiny bit of chilli oil, but go slowly, as it is very potent. Taste for seasoning. This salad absorbs quite a bit of oil and lemon juice, so don’t be afraid, be generous. 

Lastly, add the chopped feta, mixing carefully, so as not to break up the cheese too much.  

Let it stand to allow the flavours to develop, for at least half an hour.  

It is delicious either cold or at room temperature. 

Toasted Cous Cous Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

Toasted Cous Cous Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

I have vegetarian friends who don’t eat diary, so for dinner one night, I made the salad, leaving out the chilli oil and feta cheese, substituting pomegranate seeds.  It looked, and tasted beautiful and is a great, vegan alternative. 

 

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This is another family favourite that doesn’t hang around for long. I ate mine with the golden beets that I brought home from the Farmers’ Market on Saturday. 

Delicious. Easy. Lovely for hot days, summer lunches, and picnics. 

Happy Memorial Day, 

Hug a Veteran, 

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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Dear Reader, 

It never rains, but it pours. I was reminded of this expression many times this week. 

It has been a bit mad. The kids are winding down for the end of the school year, First Born is turning 16, so primping and pampering was organized, had a few housing showings, and the pool turned bright green with the high temperatures.

Then the heavens opened, the rains came, and the ceiling came down.  Again.

We need a new roof.  

Still, with the rains, the temperature has dropped to a lovely 86 degrees, I had to put a cardigan on to ward off the chill. 

When my lovely neighbor asked if I would like to come with her to the Public Market in Downtown Phoenix, I welcomed the chance to forget my troubles for a few hours.  

It was great fun, with lots of fresh produce from local farms, beautiful food products from local producers, as well as  flowers and local crafts.  

So, here are a few things that I picked up today.

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Some fresh flowers. 

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Some fresh herbs and pickles.

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Some olives stuffed with smoked almonds, Dilly beans,

and Bread and Butter pickles with chillies. 

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Some fresh salad onions and golden beets. 

 

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Some fresh, colourful eggs from carefree hens.

And more.  Much more. 

It’s a great market, with lots of variety, and something for everyone.  

I highly recommend a visit. 

Myrtle. 

 

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P.S. Here is a great magazine that details farm fresh, local food in the Phoenix area, season by season, http://www.ediblephoenix.com 

Public Market, Saturdays 8am – noon, Wednesdays 4pm -8pm, at Central Ave. & McKinley, Phoenix. 

PhoenixPublicMarket.com

 

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It may not be summer just yet, but already it’s very hot here Arizona. Over 100 degrees everyday hot.  We are much better at coping with the heat now than we were when we first arrived. Air conditioning, dips in the pool, ice lollies in the freezer, and cool salads in the fridge, all help.  

I have been eating mayo free potato salad all my life, (being a self confessed mayo phobe), but, I really fell in love with it in Turkey. Made with lashings of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, fresh parsley, and celery root (although I prefer celery stalks), this potato salad has become something that I have made so often, I could make it in my sleep. It keeps well in the fridge, not that it hangs around for long. 

There is a lot of information available about the types of potatoes which are best for salad.  Try not to get too hung up on this, as it will taste good with any potato. It’s just that some potatoes will lose their shape faster than others. I like this salad made with smaller potatoes; red, golden, or new potatoes.  See what you can find at your market. Scrub and remove all eyes.  I often remove some skin, but not always. Skins slip off easier after the potatoes have been cooked, but it really is up to you. 

In Turkey, I had a friend who would make this salad with celery flavoured celeriac.  Celeriac is a lovely tasting vegetable, with rather a scary appearance. If you want to try it, peel it then cut the pieces slightly smaller than your pieces of potato. Personally, I prefer the crunch of celery stalks for this salad.  As I have said before, always remove those pesky strings with a vegetable peeler, then chop finely.

Destringed Celery

Destringed Celery

Potato Salad with Lemons and Parsley

10 Medium Potatoes, I am using red skins today. 

2 – 3 Large serving spoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

2 -3 Fresh Lemons, juiced. A mild vinegar could also be used, but we prefer lemon juice. 

4 Stalks of celery, destringed and finely chopped.  Use the leaves as well, if available and in good condition. 

Half a small onion, or 1 bunch of Green Onions, finely chopped.

1 bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley, washed, dried, and finely chopped. You can use less if you prefer.  We like a lot of parsley. 

Salt, Pepper, Chilli Flakes to taste.

After washing and de eyeing your spuds, cut them into uniform pieces. I prefer to keep them slightly on the larger side, as smaller pieces are easier to overcook. Cover with cold water and add some salt.  Boil gently, until just done.  Try not to overcook them, but don’t despair if it happens.  I have overcooked potatoes many times. Mushy potato salad doesn’t win any beauty awards, but it still tastes good.

Red potatoes

Red potatoes

Once the potatoes slip off a fork easily, drain them, and put them in a bowl.  Remove any bits of loose skin, if desired.  I don’t care for loose potato skins floating around in my salad. It is important to dress the potatoes whilst they are still hot, as they will soak up the liquid like little sponges, along with lots of good flavour. 

Poor over 2-3 large serving spoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the juice of at least 2 lemons, then mix well, but carefully.  Try not to break up the potatoes. Add a pinch of salt, pepper, and chilli pepper (if you are using it). 

Allow the potatoes to cool down to room temperature. All the liquid should be gone.  I always taste it at this point, and make any adjustments.

Potatoes, onions, celery, and parsley

Potatoes, onions, celery, and parsley

The next step is to add and carefully fold in the rest of your ingredients; onions, celery, and parsley.  

It is now ready to eat. We like it at room temperature, but, it is very good cooled down in the fridge. 

I like this salad with salted capers, but the kids don’t.  So, if I am in the mood, I will put them on my own plate as a garnish.

Ready to go down the hatch

Ready to go down the hatch

Hope that you like this as much as we do.

Must dash, I have children waiting to be delivered to parties, windows to clean, as well as the ever present, ever growing mountain of laundry.  

Plus, I want a dip in the pool.

Stay cool,   

Myrtle x

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