April 30, 2008

Help! I need morel support!

I found four rather large (black?) morels in my backyard today, growing along the back retaining wall. However, they seem to be a bit dried out.


My questions: Are these still okay to eat...or have they gone past their "expiration" date? Is there a too-far-gone-to-pick point when it comes to morels?


April 29, 2008

Fresh Morel Ravioli

I took a morels class at Kitchen Conservatory last night with Brian Hale, executive chef at Monarch in St. Louis. My partner Gwen & I were in charge of making a ravioli...a first for me, which was much easier than I'd ever thought it would be.

Chef Hale brought in fresh pasta dough, which we rolled using a pasta machine. You roll it out at 6 different settings, so that the dough gets thinner and thinner each time. I was expecting the dough to be fragile, but it wasn't. It was sticky, though.

photo from Dick Blick

At first, we tried using a pasta press to form the ravioli...but it didn't work out too well for us. The main problem was that the dough stuck to the form (yeah, we didn't think to flour it) and the raviolis were destroyed.

photo from Recipetips.com

Instead, we went free-style by placing teaspoons of filling on a piece of dough (we used pieces of dough big enough to make 8 raviolis at a time), covering it with another piece of dough, gently pressing out the air, then cutting into squares with a pastry cutter. (Note: Recipetips.com has good instructions and pictures on the different ways to assemble stuffed pasta.)

photo from Jupiter Images

The cutter sealed the raviolis and created a nice edge. I was a bit worried that some of them had too much air inside and might break open during cooking. That didn't happen, though! All of the raviolis stayed together!

Our platter of beautiful, wrinkly ravioli!

Fresh Morel Raviolicourtesy of Brian Hale

8 ounces fresh morels
4 ounces yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
8 ounces veal (or chicken) stock
2.5 ounces Boursin cheese
salt & pepper
1 ounce canola oil
  • Be sure to clean your morels throughly by soaking them in cold, salted water and then in unsalted water. This will remove all the bugs and slugs and such. Dry the mushrooms well, then diced slice them.
  • Saute mushrooms & onions in the oil. Season with salt & pepper. Deglaze the pan with wine.
  • Add stock and thyme, then reduce by 3/4 and take off the heat. Cool slightly.
  • Add cheese and mix well. Make sure the mixture is cool before adding to ravioli; chill in fridge if needed.
  • Run a knife through the mixture to chop any large pieces before assembling ravioli.

Be sure to flour your counter, sheet pan, board scraper, and whatever else you are using to assembly the ravioli. They are sticky little things. Once all the ravioli is assembled, keep them on a floured sheet pan covered with a damp towel so that they don't dry out.

I boiled ours 8 at a time (you don't want to over-crowd the pot) in salted water for about 3 minutes each. Scoop out each ravioli with a slotted spoon, shaking off all the extra water, and transfer to a serving plate. Repeat until all the ravioli are cooked.


Chef Hale made a sauce of fresh English peas & carrots with white wine and butter. However, the ravioli are very flavorful by themselves--thanks to the morels & cheese--that they would be even better with just browned butter or a lighter sauce.

The other groups in the class made small savory morel cheesecakes (to be eaten with crostini as an appetizer) and different morel sauces for beef, chicken, & fish (halibut cheeks!).

Overall, I was very happy that I got to make the ravioli. Now, I am excited to try other ravioli recipes at home!

In honor of morel season, I am submitting this recipe to Anh of Food Lover's Journey who's hosting this week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging.

April 27, 2008

Cheesecake Pops


This month's Daring Bakers challenge was chosen by Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms & Deborah of Taste and Tell.

Even though I was excited about this recipe and talked up making it for several weeks, I waited until the last minute to get it done...making the cheesecake Thursday night and putting together the pops Friday evening. Thankfully, my friend Margaret was here Friday to help me finish them up.

We dipped the frozen cheesecake balls in melted bittersweet chocolate then rolled them in crushed graham crackers, chopped walnuts, toasted coconut, lavender, and candy dots.

They are very yummy...and fun to make! Oh, and fairly easy, too! You basically just make a crustless cheesecake, chill it, then roll it into balls, stab 'em with a lollipop stick, freeze, dip, & decorate. These would be great for a birthday party or shower.

Cheesecake Pops
Makes 30–40 Pops


5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure va
nilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

  • Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.
  • In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.
  • Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.
  • Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.
  • When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.
  • When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety. (Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.)
  • Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.
  • Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.


April 26, 2008

Minding Our Morels

THANK YOU to Alanna for mentioning my Spring 'Shrooms post in her BlogHer column today.

I'm taking a morels class at Kitchen Conservatory on Monday evening. Now, if I can talk Jerad into finding me some more shrooms, I'll have more mushrooms recipes to write about!

April 25, 2008

Fig & Ginger Glazed Ribs

Today was a good day. It was my day off, but I got up early for a job interview (keeping my fingers crossed). Then, I had biscuits & gravy for breakfast (a rare indulgence). I cleaned. I cooked. More precisely...I worked up a sweat in the kitchen making ribs (my house got HOT), warm marinated potatoes, corn on the cob, and a special treat for dessert (check back on Sunday for details!).

It started storming in the early evening. I had the windows open, and the cool breeze fluttered the curtains. Cat hair balls tumbled out from under the sofas. I sat in front of the windows with a glass of wine, just listening to the rain and thunder and wind. Oliver (my cat) sat in the sill and enjoyed the mist in his face. Life was good.

Margaret came over for dinner. And, oh my god...the ribs! "I am a fucking genius," I thought. I'm not ashamed; these were damned good ribs! Margaret agreed; she said they were "possibly the best ribs I've ever had."


It was my first attempt at making ribs. I took the "low & slow" approach....season baby back ribs with salt & pepper, set in a roasting pan with a rack, cover tightly with foil, & bake at 250 for 4 hours. At about 3 1/2 hours, I took the foil off and brushed the ribs with a glaze made from McQuade's Celtic Chutney.


I won a jar of McQuade's Fig & Ginger Chutney on Blake Makes after suggesting that I'd use it to glaze ribs. They sent me the jar. I made ribs.


The chutney is really chunky, so I blended it in the food processor with a splash of orange juice, some garlic, salt & pepper. I brushed it on the ribs, then set the pan (uncovered) back in the oven for about 20 minutes. I glazed the ribs again, sprinkled them with a touch more salt & pepper (the chutney is pretty sweet), then baked them again for another 30 minutes or so...until the glaze was sticky.


Everything was perfect.

Friday Favorites IV

Photobucket Show Some Honey Bee Love: Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream "blends creamy vanilla with a touch of golden honey. [They've] given this sweet flavor an even sweeter purpose: funding research to protect disappearing honey bee populations. Honey bees play a key role in creating ingredients (almonds, strawberries) used in nearly 40% of [their] flavors. Learn about the honey bee's plight and how you can make a difference HERE".

Photobucket Eat Breakfast, Not Cardboard: As with snacks, it seems I'm always looking for a healthier cereal that doesn't taste like cardboard or styrofoam packing peanuts (and thus, one that I don't have to coat in sugar). I've liked Kashi cereals in the past (Their Heart to Heart Honey Toasted Oats is pretty good) and recently decided to try the Cinnamon Harvest Organic Promise cereal. Oh, man, are those good! They have a nice cinnamony flavor and crunchy texture. I've been eating them right from the box. No cardboard here!

Photobucket On a Whim: I was in Target, making my way to the checkout lanes when these caught my eye in the much-picked-over summer stuff aisle near the front of the store. They are part of Whim by Cynthia Rowley, Target's new line of outdoor games and inflatable pools that are all given Rowley's irreverent touch. They are perfect for my bento lunches! The pink one is a "Divided Lunch Set" that features "1 fork, 1 knife, 1 divided base with lid" (it is divided into three sections, like an old-school lunch tray). The blue one is a "Personal Salad Set" that includes "1 fork, 1 dressing container, 1 bowl with lid." They are good sizes, too, that will hold plenty of food. At only $2.99 each, I couldn't pass them up! And, they are microwave & dishwasher safe!

Photobucket Groovy Bread Boards: I just think these are...well...groovy.

Photobucket I'll Have Eggs on My Pizza, Not On My Face: I came across this picture on Cooking with Amy and have been slightly obsessed with it every since...mainly due to Amy's description: "When the egg yolks break and ooze over the tomatoey crust, life is good." I'm trying to get my friend Jesse, who is opening The Stable (a new microbrewery/pizza place in St. Louis) to put something similar on the new menu. Until then, I'll have to figure out how to do this myself.

Photobucket Thursdays are the New Saturdays: I braved the Shop & Save again yesterday afternoon. I was trying to be patient, but the old ladies who stop their carts in the middle of the aisle and the young mothers who are wearing their pajamas & slippers were getting on my nerves. I was also a bit ticked that they were out of some things I needed, so I'd have to go to Schnuck's anyway. But then, after my groceries had been rung up, the checker said: "With $10 off, your total comes to..." "Why did I get $10 off," I asked. "Because it's Thursday," he explained, "When you buy $50 or more on Thursdays, you automatically get $10 off." "Rock on," I say!

Photobucket A Peach of a Book: I browsed through the book How to Pick a Peach at work on Wednesday. "Equal parts cookbook, agricultural history, chemistry lesson and produce buying guide, this densely packed book is a food-lover's delight. California food writer Russ Parsons begins with a fascinating tale of agribusiness trumping our taste buds en route to supplying year-round on-demand produce, and how farmer's markets are bringing back both appreciation of, and access to, local and seasonal foods. He then takes readers on a delectable season-by-season produce tour, from springtime Artichokes Stuffed with Ham and Pine Nuts to midwinter Candied Citrus Peel, and provides readers with the lowdown on where each fruit or vegetable is grown and how to choose, store and prepare it. Along the way, he detours into low-stress jam making, the chemistry of tomato flavor, a portrait of two peach-growing stars of the Santa Monica farmer's market and why cucumbers make some people burp." I plan to buy it soon!

April 22, 2008

Spring 'Shrooms

Morel mushrooms are big around here. People go crazy for them. I'm talking fanatic-crazy.

Morel season is upon us, so the shroom crazies are out in full force. My friend Jerad isn't that crazy, but he did search his dad's hunting property for morels on Monday. While he found a few little morels, he mostly found what he calls "peckerheads."


These mushrooms are actually called Morchella semilibera or the half-free morel. According to MushroomExpert.com:

Half-free morels are easily separated from other morels by cutting them in half, lengthwise. The cap of the half-free morel is attached to the stem half way (more or less; "one-third to two-thirds" might be more accurate), so that a substantial portion hangs free like a skirt. Other true morels have caps that are (again, more or less) completely attached to the stem--while false morels in the genus Verpa have caps that hang completely free, like a thimble placed on a pencil eraser.

Half-free morels are edible and good, but they are often bypassed by morel hunters because they are less substantial than other morels. The caps, at maturity, are comparatively small, and the stems have a watery, fragile consistency. I have found, however, that collecting half-free morels is well worth your culinary time; when dried and turned into powder with a rolling pin, they make a wonderful morel "spice" that can be added to sauce.

Jerad shared his bag-o-shrooms with me tonight. First, we soaked the shrooms to get all the dirt & creepy-crawlies out.

Is that a moth down there?

Then, we dried them very carefully and thoroughly.


We made a simple beer batter by mixing all-purpose flour with beer.


We just eye-balled the amount, wanting a thinner batter. We seasoned it with salt, pepper, garlic powder, & dried thyme.


Our first batch was a bit batter-heavy.



On the next batches, we shook all the excess batter off before frying.



We sprinkled a bit more salt & pepper on the shrooms as soon as they came out of the oil.


And that was dinner!


Happy 'Shroom Hunting!


The Art of Simple Food: Swiss Chard Gratin

Last Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of my cooking/blogging project. Since then, I've not only learned so much about cooking and baking, but I've also learned a lot about cooking culture.

I used to be slightly obsessed with Food Network chefs, religiously watching their shows, buying their cookbooks, and going so far as to make a point to eat at their restaurants while visiting other cities. I dined at Gale Gand's Tru (to this day the best--and most expensive--meal I've ever eaten) & Rick Bayless's Topolobampo in Chicago and Morimoto in Philadelphia. I have signed menus from Bayless and Morimoto. I once canceled one of my classes to see Tyler Florence do a cooking demonstration & book signing in St. Louis.

I don't have cable, so I can't watch Food Network anymore. Even so, I was getting tired of people like Sandra Lee (semi-homemade sucks ass!) and Rachel Ray (enough already!).

Instead, I've learned the difference between celebrity chefs, famous chefs, and great chefs. Through reading food books like Julia Childs's My Life in France, Bill Buford's Heat, & Gael Greene's Insatiable, I've been exposed to chefs like James Beard, Marco Pierre White, Daniel Boulud, Lidia Bastianich, Thomas Keller, and Alice Waters. After immersing myself into the world of food blogs, I've discovered Mark Bittman, David Lebovitz, and Dorie Greenspan.

Last Saturday, I met Diana Kennedy, who did a cooking class at Kitchen Conservatory. Kennedy is considered the authority on Mexican cuisine, having lived in Mexico since 1957 and writing cookbooks since 1972.

I've also learned about the Slow Food movement, eating organically & locally, and sustainable foods. While I've always been a herbivore, I can now appreciate eating seasonal produce. I understand the beauty of a fresh leafy green.

In fact, I had dinner at Riddle's Penultimate Cafe & Wine Bar on Saturday and ordered the veggie plate...mainly just to get the fresh spinach they offered (the first spinach of the year!).

Anyway, to kick off the spring season--and all the foods that come with it--I picked up a bunch of red chard last week.

According to Food Network, "swiss chard is one of the healthiest of the super-nutritious 'dark, leafy greens'".

I've only cooked swiss chard once before, year ago...a quick chop & saute with garlic and olive oil.

This time, however, I made chard gratin from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters...

Chard Gratin
4 servings

Wash and stem:
1 1/2 bunches of chard
Save half the stems and slice them thin. Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil and cooked the sliced stems for 2 minutes. Add the chard leaves and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and cool. Gently squeeze out the excess liquid from the stems and leaves and coarsely chop them.

Toss together:
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons melted butter
Toast on a baking sheet in a 350 oven, stirring now and then, until lightly brown, about 10 minutes.

Melt over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan:
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
Cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chard and:
Cook for 3 minutes. Sprinkle with:
2 teaspoons flour
Stir well and add:
1/2 cup milk
A little freshly grated nutmeg
Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more milk if the mixture gets too thick. The chard should be moist but not floating in liquid. Taste and add salt if needed.

Butter a small baking dish. Spread the chard mixture evenly in the dish and dot with:
2 teaspoons butter

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the gratin is golden and bubbling, 20-30 minutes.

Substitute 1 1/2 pounds spinach for the chard. Wilt the spinach in a pan with a little butter and water. Cool and squeeze out the excess liquid, as above.

In celebration of the new spring veggies--and of Earth Day--I'm submitting this recipe to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging event, which is hosted this week by Margot at Coffee and Vanilla.

April 18, 2008

Broccoli Pesto Pasta, Take Two...and an Earthquake

Mother Nature hasn't been too nice to us in the Midwest. We've had cooler spring temperatures, tons of rain, and early this morning...AN EARTHQUAKE! Something woke me up around 4:30 am, but I wasn't quite sure what it was. I thought the ceiling fan had gone all wonky. I even, for some reason, got out of bed and went downstairs. I just knew something was not right. But, I soon went back to bed, having not found anything awry.

When I woke up later, I had a text message from Ben: "Dude!!! Did you feel the earthquake???" I must have felt it and then woken up to see the fan wobbling just after the tremor. I turned on the news and they were explaining that the epicenter of the 5.2 magnitude earthquake was near West Salem, Illinois...nearly 166 miles from where I live!

Apparently, there was an aftershock around 10:15 this morning as well, but I was in the car at the time and didn't notice it.

I am ready for spring, but the weather hasn't been cooperating much. It was warm and sunny yesterday, but very windy. Today was colder, gray, and rainy. It was the perfect day to stay inside, doing a bit of cleaning here and there, but mostly just lazing on the couch with the laptop.

For dinner, I decided to (finally) retry the broccoli pesto pasta I made last month. This time, I left the ricotta out and didn't add as much sauce to the pasta. The result was a much better version!

The sauce is made with steamed broccoli, parsley, garlic, walnuts, parmesan, and olive oil.




Falafel Bento

It's time for another round of Taste & Create! This month, I was paired with the event's creator... Nicole of For the Love of Food. As always, there were so many yummy sounding recipes on her site. I considered tandoori chicken, chili lime honey chicken, tropical rice, & Buffalo chicken pizza (which I still plan to make sometime), paella, & vegetable soup with pistou, but then I saw her falafel recipe. I've been wanting to make falafel for a while, and I figured they'd be the perfect thing to take for lunch in one of my new bento boxes!

I altered Nicole's version slightly, using canned garbanzo beans instead of pinto beans, omitting the cilantro (it tastes metallic to me), and not coating them in bread crumbs before frying.

1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 big bunch of flat leaf parsley (about 2 handfuls)
1 small onion
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons cumin (powder)
2 teaspoons coriander (powder)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano [I actually used fresh]
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup bread crumbs

Olive oil for frying

Place everything but the bread crumbs in a food processor and puree until the dough forms a ball.


Add the bread crumbs a little bit at a time and pulse until combined. Once it gets a bit harder, Once the mixture is thick enough--not too dry that it crumbles and not too wet that it falls apart--form into patties.

The patties should be slightly moist. Fry in olive oil until golden brown on each side.


I thought the patties seemed a bit too moist in the middle, so I put them in a hot even for a few minutes. Overall, they puffed up nicely and were really flavorful. I will definitely make these again!


I packed the falafel with hummus, cucumber & yogurt sauce, couscous with tomatoes, carrots & sugar snap peas, and pita.