Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ingredient 20 – Morel Mushrooms

This week I had a really hard time deciding what ingredient to feature.  I had many good options after visiting the DuPont Circle Farmer's Market on Sunday.  The DuPont market is really fantastic; there are numerous vendors and an abundance of wonderful products.  After some debate and several purchases, I decided on morel mushrooms.

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Morel mushrooms are cone-shaped and have a sponge-like or honeycomb cap.  They range in color and size.  Darker morels have a smokier, nuttier, and earthier flavor.  Wild morel mushrooms are available between April and June, but cultivated morels can be purchased year-round.  It is best to consume morels as soon as possible after purchase.  However, If not using immediately, place the mushrooms in a paper bag and store in a cool location for up to 48 hours.  Never store morels in plastic, they need to breathe.

Morels should be cooked, not eaten raw.  They can be cooked in butter and enjoyed alone or added to dishes such as soup, quiche, pasta or risotto.  However, it is best to include them in simple dishes so their flavor is not lost.    

Morel and Asparagus Sandwiches with Poached Egg
Adapted from Martha StewartServes 2-4
2/3 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch asparagus
4oz small morel mushrooms
1/2 cup chicken stock
3 tbp heavy cream
4 tsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tbp fresh lemon juice
4 eggs
4 slices rustic bread

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Begin by cleaning and slicing the morels.  There are differing schools of thought on how to clean these mushrooms.  However, many authors call for limited use of water during cleaning.  I quickly rinsed my morels in cool water and laid them to dry on a paper towel.  Gently wiping the mushrooms with a damp paper towel was another commonly cited method.  Once dry, I sliced the mushrooms in halves or quarters, depending on the size.

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While the morels are drying, rinse and trim the asparagus, rinse and chop the parsley, and place the ricotta in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.

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Place the butter and oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Once the butter has melted, add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute before adding the morels and chicken stock.  When the stock has come to a simmer, cover and cook for 2 minutes.  After 2 minutes, uncover and add the cream and cook and additional 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the lemon juice, parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cover and remove from heat.

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To poach the eggs, bring 3 to 4 cups water to a gentle simmer in a shallow saucepan or skillet.  (To produce a somewhat neat looking egg you will need a mold to hold the egg as it cooks.  I use a metal cookie cutter.)  Place the mold in the pan and pour the egg inside the cutter.  Cook the egg for approximately 3 minutes.  Keep an eye on your water, don't let it boil.  Repeat until all eggs are cooked.

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While the egg is cooking, toast the bread and spread the ricotta mixture on top.  Place asparagus spears and morel sauce on top.  Once cooked, remove the egg from the water with a slotted spoon and place on top of the asparagus.  Martha Stewart recommends placing the eggs on a paper towel lined plate to dry before plating. I tried this technique but found it to be a royal pain in the butt.  I would gently dab away any excess water with a paper towel when transferring the egg from the pan.  Once plated, dig in and enjoy. 
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Overall, I enjoyed this dish.  The ricotta, egg yolks, and asparagus complemented each other nicely and the morel sauce had a nice earthy flavor.  As for the morels themselves, I wasn’t wowed.  I would be curious to try morels simply cooked in butter. 

I am a bit frustrated that my poached eggs look nothing like the ones I get in restaurants.  I think I need some special tools if I am ever going to produce a picture perfect poached egg.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ingredient 19 - Brandy

This weekend I made sangria for Dave's graduation party.  Not gonna lie, I love sangria because it is refreshing and not too sweet.  Until recently, I had no idea that that traditional red wine sangria included brandy.  I thought sangria was made with just wine, juice, and fruit.  

Before making sangria, my knowledge of brandy was pretty much non-existent.  If someone mentioned brandy, my first impulse was to sing the chorus of Brandy by Looking Glass, not exactly informative.  However, brandy or brandywine, is a distilled wine or fruit mash that contains 35 to 60% alcohol by volume.  It is produced in most countries that also produce wine.  Cognac is brandy from the Cognac region of France that has been double distilled in pot stills.  Brandy is often consumed as an after dinner drink, and is the alcohol ignited when preparing flamed desserts, such as cherries jubilee.

Sangria for a Crowd
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse  
2 (750-ml) bottles red wine – My local wine shop suggested Merlot.
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup orange flavored liqueur
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 orange
1 lemon
1 lime
2 apples
2 (750-ml) bottle sparkling water

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Begin by preparing the fruit.  Peel, core, and slice the apples.  An apple slicer makes coring easy but you may need to use a knife to clean up the pieces.

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Next, thinly slice the citrus, discarding the ends and removing any lemon seeds.  Place the sliced fruit, orange juice, sugar, and liquors in a large glass jug or punch bowl   Pour the red wine in the container and mix gently with a large spoon.  Refrigerate the mixture for 2 to 3 hours.

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When ready to serve, remove the sangria from the fridge and pour in the sparkling water, again stirring gently with a large spoon.  Serve the sangria over ice.

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This sangria was easy to make and delicious.  It was a hit at the party and I will be making it again.  I wasn't sure if the sparkling water would make the sangria too bubbly but I didn't even notice its presence.  I am looking forward to trying my hand at white sangria over the summer.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ingredient 18 – Blue Crab

I am slightly annoyed to admit that this is the second week in a row my blog plans have been ruined by ingredient unavailability.  I was going to make a salad with pea shoots, but when I arrived at the farmers’ market on Tuesday the vendor informed me that some lady bought the entire bag of shoots.  After hearing this news, my brain went into overdrive / panic mode.  I bought some baby greens and some blue crab meat, figuring I could create a salad with the two.

Fun fact, blue crab is the official crustacean of Maryland.  While this news was hardly surprising, I was surprised to learn that female blue crabs only mate once in their lifetime.    Also of note, male and female crabs can de distinguished by the shape of the abdomen, known as the apron.  Male aprons are long and slender like the Washington Monument.  The female apron is round and wide like the dome of the United States Capitol.  Cooking breaks down the pigments responsible for the shell’s blue hue.  Thus, if you order blue crab at a restaurant, the crab that makes it’s way to your plate will appear reddish orange in color.

Blue Crab Salad
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
Serves 2 to 3 as a meal
16 oz lump blue crabmeat
4 tbp mayonnaise
1 tsp lemon juice
4 tsp tarragon leaves
2 plum tomatoes
2 avocados
3 to 4 cups mixed baby greens
2 tsp chives
Black pepper

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Begin by washing the lettuce and washing and chopping the tarragon and chives.  Place the herbs in a large bowl with the lemon juice, mayonnaise and salt and pepper.  Combine the contents of the bowl with a fork.

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Next, prepare the avocados and tomato.  Pit and slice the avocado.  If you do not own an avocado tool, buy one.  They make neatly slicing avocados a breeze.   Seed and chop the tomatoes.  Place the chopped avocado and tomatoes in the bowl with the herbs and mayo and gently combine with a fork.

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Last but not least, place the crab meat in the bowl and gently mix with the fork.  Place 1/2 to 1/3 the mixture atop a plate of the baby greens and enjoy.

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I am sad to report that this salad was not the hit I was expecting.  I really love salads with crab and I thought this one was just ok.  Dave gave it a thumbs down.  He said the crab mixture was too goopy and lacked flavor.  Upon reflection, I think he is right.  If you make this salad, reduce the avocado and mayo by half.  Maybe increase the lemon juice too.  Overall grade: C.      

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I Tried Kombucha

Kombucha, pronounced kom-BOO-cha, is a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast.  It originated in Manchuria and later spread to Russia.  The tea first received attention in the United States during the 1990s and has gained popularity with the health conscious crowd in the last few years.  Fans of the drink believe its consumption results in numerous health benefits, improved digestion and immunity are the most commonly cited.  However, these claims have yet to be fully vetted by the scientific community.  The Mayo Clinic suggests caution with homemade brews.  Illness may result from non-sterile brewing conditions or production in ceramic pots; acids in the tea may leach lead from the ceramic glaze.

In the last month I have tried two kinds of kombucha, GT’s Organic Raw Kombucha and Barefootbucha.  I purchased both at Whole Foods.  The GT’s original flavor was nasty.  I had to choke it down.  It tasted like stinky gym sock soda.  The Barefootbucha ginger flavor was a different story.  It reminded me of ginger beer, a less sweet version of ginger ale.

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I like kombucha because it is a healthy alternative to soda.  A serving has roughly 30 calories and, to my knowledge, no artificial sweeteners.  I am looking forward to to trying another Barefootbucha flavor and would be open to trying another brand.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ingredient 17 – Pacific Cod

This week I made Pacific Cod.  I was going to make Rockfish but there were no filets available at Whole Foods.  I considered making a whole Rockfish, but I didn’t want to pay $35 for the smallest whole fish.  Cod, Red Snapper, Halibut, and Sea Bass are all substitutes for Rockfish.

Pacific Cod, Gadus macrocephalus, also know as Gray Cod or Alaskan Cod, is considered a sustainable seafood choice.  Abundant in the waters near Alaska, this cod can be found as far south as Southern California.  
I marinated my cod in sparkling wine and fresh herbs, per a recipe I found on the Food and Wine website.  The recipe called for 4 and 1/2 pounds of filets and served 12, needless to say I made a few adjustments.

Pacific Cod with Sparkling Wine and Herbs
Serves 2 to 3
1 lb Pacific Cod or Rockfish
1/2 cup sparkling white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small shallot
1 and 1/2 tbp chives
1 and 1/2 tbp parsley
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp lemon zest

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Begin by chopping the shallot, parsley, and chives and removing the thyme leaves from the sprigs.  Place the herbs in a small bowl with the olive oil, wine and lemon zest.  Stir ingredients to combine.  

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Place fish in shallow baking dish and cover with 2/3 of the herb and wine mixture.  I had to cut my fish into a few pieces to make it manageable.  Let the fish marinate for 20 minutes.

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Once finished marinating, heat a grill pan or skillet, medium-high heat.  Place a touch of butter or olive oil in the pan.  Season the fish with salt and pepper and place in the pan to sear for 4 minutes.  Turn the fish and sear for an additional 2 minutes.  Once cooked, plate the fish and drizzle with remaining marinade.

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Be sure to enjoy your fish with a nice glass of sparkling wine, don’t let those bubbles go to waste.

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I enjoyed this simple fish preparation.  It is a great option for a warm summer night.  Make sure to use this recipe with very fresh fish.  The marinade is light and is designed to let the freshness of the fish stand out.  Overall grade: B.