I traveled over 1520 miles to find these precious gems and it was worth every mile. My sister called on Wednesday and said she had been out walking on my Dad’s farm and found some morels. I was in the car the next day heading to Iowa. I picked up my other sister in central Iowa and we made it to the farm on Friday morning at about 7 AM. Debbie was a little hesitant at first about the whole ordeal because even though she had found about 50 mushrooms, whose to say she could find any more? What if I drove all that way and came up empty handed? That had happened so many times that I knew it was a real possibility but I wanted some pictures of those amazing morsels of goodness for my blog and I decided it was worth the try. And, as you can see from the picture, I was not disappointed! We found about 30 or so in about an hour of searching the creek banks. When I say creek banks - really only about 2 feet wide and only had water in it in the spring. Here are some of my sister’s best ideas for where to find morel mushrooms: 1. They seem to grow right where gooseberry bushes are (which are easily identifiable) 2. They seem to grown in a line with where the wind can carry the spores. In other words, if you find one, walk 50 yards in the direction of the most common prevailing winds. If you do not know the prevailing winds, you can also use the same logic if you happen to find three mushrooms spread out over an area and can make a line of them. Follow the line farther and you may find more mushrooms, like we did. Some say dead and fallen trees are a good place to look. This was not true in our case. There were lots of rotted oak and walnut trees, but no mushrooms around them. Debbie also told us that some say they are on the “north side of a south slope”. We spent a good chunk of our hunting time thinking on that one and could never come up with such a thing. It gave us some good laughs as we looked at a slope and tried to decide what was the north side and which was the slope. Most of the mushrooms we found on a slope were on the east creek bank but we found just as many on the flat ground in little thickets of trees that are between the corn fields.
Since mushrooms reproduce through spores, looking for them where the wind would carry the spores is really the crux of mushroom hunting. It is also what makes it so hard to find them - who knows where the wind blows and where those little spores are going to land and take root? Debbie fried us up a bunch of mushrooms before we left and here is her “almost world famous morels” recipe. She tried to send some to her son Mike who was stationed in the military and Mike told her the entire box was leaking and smelled awful. Doesn’t that sound a little like the mana from heaven that the Israelites in the bible tried save? God provides our daily bread (and morels).
Debbie’s Fried Morels
1 to 20 morels
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the morels in 4 cups water and 3 tablespoons salt for ½ hour to 2 hours (to remove any hidden bugs). Pat dry with a towel, cut each morel in half. Dip in egg and roll in flour, salt and pepper mixture. Saute in butter for 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
Several years ago my daughter told me about an amazing restaurant experience where she was served Crystallized Ginger as the grand finale. It sounded intriguing enough that I ran out and found some, but I was not impressed with it and it sat in my cupboard forever. Later I came across a recipe from Cooks Illustrated on how to make your own. I tried it and was hooked. So are the culinary students in my class who love the little crystals and the sharp, sweet flavor.
But, that flavor really depends upon the ginger you start with. If it is fresh, the flavor will be mellow and smooth. Ginger that is woody and a little older will have a stronger more pronounced bite to it. My students from Vietnam say they never peel ginger. The papery thin layer is usually not on purchased Crystallized Ginger, but I have done it both ways. I hate to waste ginger by peeling but it does look a little more like crystals when peeled. It usually comes down to how much fresh ginger I have. Today I found a huge bag of it at an Asian Market. It was a great find and I am feeling like I don’t have to hoard my ginger. I adapted this recipe for the microwave which does a great job of super-saturating the sugar and water.
As the ginger cools in the super saturated mixture, it absorbs sugar.
I toss the ginger with additional sugar to give it the look I want.
Both the liquid left behind and the sugar that is used to coat the ginger have a wonderful flavor, so save it for baking.
Crystallized Ginger can be used in cakes, cookies, or muffins. I am saving my ginger crystals to top scones for company this weekend.
1 pound fresh ginger root
1 cup water
1 cup sugar, plus more for tossing with ginger
Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices. Place into a 2-quart microwave-safe dish with the water and 1 cup of sugar. Microwave on High for 4 to 5 minutes or until ginger is tender and sugar is dissolved, stirring twice. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow ginger to absorb sugar.
I love tea parties, and these tiny delectable bites remind me to slow down enough to have a few tea parties. When the girls were little we would dress in old fashioned dresses, fill some fine tea cups, and have a party.
The flavor of these little gems is dependent upon the ingredients that are used. I find fresh yams with a dark flesh, microwave them for about 7 minutes per pound, scoop out the pulp, and smash them in the food processor for a few seconds for the best flavor. I also bring out some great flavor with whole nutmeg that I grate with a zester and homemade vanilla (see my vanilla blog for that recipe).
Tiny Yam Muffins
½ cup butter, softened
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 cup milk
1 ¼ cups mashed yams or sweet potatoes
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¾ cup chopped, toasted pecans
I just put the cooked sweet potatoes in the food processor and process until smooth. I add all the other ingredients (except the pecans) and process for just 20 seconds or until combined, being careful to not process too long. Fold in the pecans. Spoon into tiny muffin pans and bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 22 minutes. Remove muffins from the tins and allow to cool before putting in freezer bags. Freeze any muffins that won’t be consumed in a day or two.
Here, Carson is enjoying his Tiny Yam Muffins, a fist full at a time. Definitely more “manly” than a tea party.
If you find yourself in the woods this spring, look for the red colored ramps which can be used in this recipe. When we backpack in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, we always look for ramps and put them in whatever soup, stew, or main dish is on the menu. They can be sauteed or cut up and added raw, which is much easier over a campfire. The entire “Ramp” plant can be used in this recipe, or substituted for leeks in just about any recipe. If using ramps, use just a small amount at first as the flavor is much stronger and more pungent. Try fresh Thyme and either leeks or a touch of ramps to your next soup to add a wonderful smooth flavor. Soup over a campfire is great just about any time of year because even the summer evenings are cool in the mountains. If I am not cooking over a campfire, my second favorite way to cook a soup is in the microwave.
Making soups in the microwave is almost hands-off cooking once all the ingredients are in the pot. It is a matter of starting the microwave and letting the soup simmer until all the vegetables are tender. Most potato soups remove the peel from the potatoes but I think the peelings in this soup adds a really nice texture and color when red potatoes are used. Yukon gold or other potatoes can be used and while the red color will be missing, the potatoes themselves lend a velvety golden goodness to the soup. At the last minute add just a little milk so the soup has the consistency you want. I like mine with just enough body to hold its shape on my spoon. An extra cup of skim milk was just the right amount. If the soup cools too much, just place it back in the microwave for a minute or two. Infusing the soup with thyme gives it a subtle flavor. The stem of the fresh thyme can be removed, but scrape down the stem to keep the tiny bits of leaves in the soup for added color and flavor.
Thyme Infused Potato Leek Soup
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced (about a pound)
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup butter
4 cups water
¼ cup dry white wine
3 sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon chicken or vegetable base
6 potatoes, cubed
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup skim milk (optional)
Combine leeks, garlic, and butter in a 2-quart microwave safe dish. Cover with lid or plastic wrap. Microwave on high 10 to 12 minutes, or until leeks are tender and start to turn color. Add remaining ingredients except milk. Microwave on high 15 to 16 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Remove thyme stems, leaving the leaves in the soup. Puree ½ of soup in blender, food processor or with an emersion blender. Stir in enough milk to make desired consistency.
Granola takes minutes to make in the microwave. It is as quick as any
breakfast and I love to put all kinds of yummy things in it…..like walnuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), flax seeds, and coconut – not to mention dried fruit.
For this particular recipe, I left out the dried fruit because I found my new BFF (new better favorite and friendlier). I just discovered a combination that I can’t resist.
Here, it is the creamy goodness of yogurt and pomegranates spooned over granola. I noticed other people top yogurt with granola, but at my table we top granola with yogurt and fruit. It is not all semantics, there really is a reason for our madness. Farm families for generations have found how to ramp up the energy value of breakfast to make it through the morning chores (now more often the morning workout).
The Secret is lots of whole grain goodness.
Granola With Pomegranate
4 cups rolled oats (not instant)
2 tablespoons flax seeds
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup chopped pepitas
½ cup shaved coconut
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine oats, flax seeds, walnuts, pepitas, coconut, cinnamon, and salt in a 2-quart microwave safe container. Microwave on high about 4 to 5 minutes, until heated and starting to toast. Combine remaining ingredients in a 2-cup measure. Microwave on high 2 to 2 ½ minutes or until sugar starts to dissolve, stirring twice. Pour syrup mixture over warm oat mixture and stir well. Microwave on high 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring twice. Allow to cool, stirring a few times to prevent granola from sticking to the bowl. To serve, top with yogurt and pomegranate.
Louisiana food is an unusual experience for many, but especially for this Iowa farm girl. Who could imagine that there was a place where I could have two gardens a year? The rose trellis at the end of the covered porch was covered with hundreds of an antique variety of red climbing rose, and that was just one of the surprises in my yard during my first growing season. When spring brought out buds I found all sorts of fascinating trees in our yard, including pears and pecans. The combination always brings me back to wonderful Louisiana memories and flavors. Simple and elegant. Flavorful and inviting. Special and comforting. That what these cinnamon flavored whole wheat waffles have always been to my family.
Whole Wheat Waffles With Pecans and Pears
¼ cup butter
¾ cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 egg whites
1 pear, peeled and diced
½ cup toasted pecans
Melt butter in microwave on High for ½ to 1 minute or until melted. Stir in flour, sugar, salt, buttermilk, cinnamon, vanilla and egg yolks. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into batter. Pour ¾ cup of batter into preheated waffle iron, add about 1 tablespoon each of pears and pecans. Cook until golden brown. Serve with additional pear slices and pecans if desired.
Louisiana holds great memories for me. I was young, just married, totally in love (now married 30 years and counting) and hosting my own TV cooking show. Crawfish were always a popular topic, and I had more than a few stories to tell. I am not sure if everyone was laughing with me or at me, but it was a really fun time and I was too young to care which. Dave and I ate some of the best food on the planet in our neighbor’s homes. Seasoning food to perfection was an art my neighbors had grown up on. Two elderly sisters opened their home for reservations. We arrived at 7 pm and were directed to one of the three small tables set up in the living room. While this may sound a little unorthodox, they served some of the most exquisitely seasoned seafood ever. Here is my favorite crawfish etouffee recipe adapted from “taste tests” of my Louisiana neighbor’s best . I always prepare it in the microwave because it comes out perfectly. Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients. It goes together faster than fast (as in 15 minutes once I had all the ingredients out). In Louisiana some of the best ettouffee is just butter and seasonings meant to go over the rice. Omit the flour if you want and instead of a sauce, you will have a seasoned butter mixture to spoon over the rice. Both ways its amazingly simple and pure Louisiana.
- Crawfish Ettouffee
- ¼ cup butter
1 cups chopped onions
½ cup chopped celery
1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 6 ozs peeled crawfish
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon flour
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp chicken base from a jar
½ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoons chopped green onions
- Cooked Rice
· In a 2-qt glass dish, Microwave (high) 2 tablespoons of the butter.
· Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and Microwave (high) 4 to 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
· Add the crawfish, garlic, and bay leaves and Microwave (high) 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add remaining butter and stir until mostly melted.
· Dissolve the flour in the water. Add to the shrimp mixture. Stir in chicken base and Worcestershire sauce.
· Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and cayenne. Microwave (high) 3 to 4 minutes, stirring once until mixture is thickened.
· Stir in the parsley and green onions.
· Serve warm along with Rice.
When I came home from Africa, I said that I was never going to go back to the way I was. I was going to dance like no one was watching, sing like no one could hear, love like I had never been hurt, work like I didn’t need the money, and cook all the kinds of foods they eat in Africa - whole grains, fresh produce and very little Americanized salty, high fat and low nutrient foods. I found the Malawi people were so joyous and loving even in the midst of horrible suffering from AIDS and famine. I learned from my Malawi friends, who had suffered so much, to love and live and be in Christ more fully, a little bit more living in the joy of the presence of God.
I taught AIDS Prevention, Health Awareness, and Nutrition Essentials to women in a rural village in Malawi. There were no amenities like running water, electricity or anything like that, but the village was filled with love. After my teaching, the women asked me what I do in the US. I told them I had a TV cooking show. They wanted me to cook for them, so we agreed that they would teach me to cook their foods the first day and I would cook the second day. They made me some wonderful local food and then told me they wanted me to make a cake for them. That was a tall order: There was no white flour, butter, sugar or vanilla in the village. I traveled a few hours by van to the nearest town with a little market to buy these things. I used pineapples grown in the village and eggs laid by the scrawny chickens that scratched for food. The only cooking method in the village was a wood fire in an open pit in the center of the village. I asked the native women to build a fire for me that was the same temperature as how they cooked their corn flour flatbreads the day before. There were only a couple of cooking pots in the village so they ran to bring one to me. I put a little butter and brown sugar in the bottom of the pan and let the heat from the fire melt the butter. I cut up a pineapple and placed slices in the butter mixture and topped it all with a batter. I did not have any recipes with me or any internet access so I just had to dream up a recipe. Once it was all in the pan, we put a lid on the pan and the ladies place a few hot coals on the lid so it would bake like a dutch oven. The pineapple pannekuchen turned out amazing. We all ate with our fingers right out of the pan. It was slightly sweet and full of pineapple custard goodness. The picture above shows our cooking “show”. This is my favorite cooking class of all time.
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 fresh pineapple rings
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Melt butter in a 12-inch round baking dish, stir in brown sugar. Arrange pineapple rings in brown sugar mixture. Combine milk, vanilla, eggs, flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl just until well mixed. Pour over pineapple. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until puffed around the edges and lightly browned.
I cannot imagine what the women on the plains felt like in a little cabin 100 years ago, but I promise it is a really different experience for me. Last week the high was 30 below and I stayed close to the cabin. It was cozy and fun and I had lots of time to play around with one of my favorite ingredients – sourdough. I had days to work out the kinks in my sourdough and perfect it. I found that it works best when it has lots of time to sit out on the counter and the more often I used it, the more vibrant it became. I am sure the plains women knew everything there was to know about their starter because it was a really precious commodity. There was no way to get more from a neighbor when a blizzard was raging and the miles between farmsteads probably made running over the neighbors to get a “bit” of starter an all-day process. What those pioneer women did have was plenty of time to allow the sourdough to ferment and proof. Here is a simple recipe that yields spectacular results on most days and, when your sourdough has been neglected and is sick, adequate loaves that shortened the hungering time that invariably was a part of the pioneer experience.
Combine the following and let stand covered for 8 to 12 hours or overnight:
2/3 cup starter
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups white flour
Add these ingredients to the starter mixture to make final dough:
1 1/2 cups water
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups white flour
1 tablespoon lemon or orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons salt
Combine the starter, water and flour until a wet dough is formed. Let stand overnight. Add remaining ingredients and knead by hand or mixer for 5 to 10 minutes or in the food processor for 90 seconds or until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a covered bowl and allow to rise for for 2 1/2 hours at about 80 degrees. Deflate dough by gently pushing down center and pulling sides of dough in. Turn over and cover. Let it sit in a warm place (80 degrees) for 1/2 hour. Turn out on a floured area and fold over 2 to 3 times. Shape and place in bread pans. Cover. Let rise in a warm place (80 degrees) for 1 1/2 hours. If area is a little cooler, let rise up to twice as long. Bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, Decrease heat to 425 degrees and bake for 20 minutes longer or until thermometer inserted in the loaf center reads 190 degrees. Let cool on a rack before slicing.
Makes l large loaf or two small loaves