Tuesday, May 29, 2012

east-west: morels false and real

left: two handfuls of morel mushrooms found during a hunt along the Missouri River in Burt County near Decatur, Nebraska on April 9, 2012. (photo by Mark Davis)

right: false morels, april 15, 2012, denmark

real morels are probably the very best mushroom there is.

false morels convert to rocket fuel in your stomach if not handled/prepared correctly.
i don't think that i dare to eat them, even if i do have a tray of them drying in my cupboard.
mostly because i didn't have the heart to throw them away.
(i think i may have been in the siege of leningrad in another life.)
but also because they were right there in my own forest, in such abundance.
and to throw them away seemed wasteful and somehow disrespectful.

i wrote a little bit about them over here at the time (pre-forage blog) i found them.

mushrooms are probably the most fascinating thing to forage,
but it's best done with an expert.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

east-west: trees

left: spruce tips, may 18, 2012, colorado
right: beech leaves, may 19, 2012, denmark

Asparagus and Hop Asparagus

I found both asparagus and hop asparagus last month. The asparagus were wild, growing in Palmer Park, an urban treasure of trails and open space in the middle of Colorado Springs.
There's food here, but you really need to know where to look.
My friend Suzanne has been foraging wild asparagus here since she was a little girl. We left everything we found this day to others, but it was a great lesson in knowing where to look.
You really don't need recipes for asparagus, wild or domestic. A hot grill and a little olive oil, or a pan with a little butter will do nicely. When harvesting, dig down a little way down into the ground and cut with a knife.
Look closely ...
Hop asparagus are just the new shoots of hops. There are loads of wild hops around here, but most that I've found have been along roads or the railroad tracks on the south end of the Air Force Academy. My husband has harvested some of the hops near the academy, farther away from the tracks, but I wouldn't want to harvest new shoots that may have been sprayed.
New growth hops.
We got these at the hop yard for our favorite brewery, Bristol, at Venetucci Farms. My family is part of a team of volunteer caretakers who are making sure Bristol has plenty of organically-grown, local hops for experimentation and brewing. You have to cut back the first growth of hops so that the plants don't freeze. Second growth hop vines are sturdier and more resistant. Since we cut all of the hops back, I took the shoots (and some leaves) home.
Didn't get to these fast enough!
Unfortunately, this is what my own hop yard looked like the next day, so we didn't harvest our own first growth. But we have so many shoots on our plants that we'll need to cut the smaller ones back a number of times before summer. Like asparagus, you really don't need a recipe for hop shoots. Saute them in a little butter, quickly. They are very tender, and taste like a slightly grassy asparagus. The leaves can be treated as any greens, and cooked fast in a hot pan with a little olive oil and garlic.
Fall harvest.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

dandelions as far as the eye can see

we live out in the country on 17 acres. and most of those acres are currently abloom with dandelions. after a long, dark winter, the bright sunshine yellow of those flowers is as welcome as the seldom sight of sunshine in the danish sky. i actually often joke that there's no word for "sun" in danish because it fell from use and everyone forgot it, but that's a slight exaggeration. there are a few elderly people who still remember it.

i'd never really tried eating dandelions before this year, aside from adding the odd leaf to a salad. i'll admit the bulk of the ones we pick actually go to our bunnies, as they're the bunnies' favorite food. they love the tender leaves and gobble up the golden yellow flowers like candy. bunnies are generally on a pretty healthy diet, so i decided they must be onto something and so i picked a colander full of the bright flowers and decided to give it a whirl.

the most time-consuming part is preparing the flowers. you have to cut off the stems and carefully peel away the little "eyelashes" of green that are stuck there - at least if you're going to make jelly or cordial. i like that amy left a bit of it on for her fritters and i'll definitely do that with the next batch. i think what's probably most important is to get rid of any of that bitter hollow stalk in the parts you're going to eat.

i've done my share of traveling the world and so i'm not afraid to mix flavors and cultures. the other night, i was making a stir-fry with black bean and garlic paste and i wanted a little snack to go with it. we love onion bhajis around here and tho' those are indian and i was making more of a chinese meal, i decided i'd give them a chinese twist by throwing in a bit of 5-spice powder. i had already decided to give them a nordic twist with the dandelion flowers, so what did another layer of culture matter?  i have to say it worked pretty well and i would repeat it.

chinese 5-spice dandelion & onion bhajis

3 medium onions, sliced
generous handful prepared dandelion flowers
2 eggs
120grams/4 oz. plain flour (or gram (chickpea) flour if you have it on hand - you can find it in indian markets)
1-2 teaspoons chinese 5-spice powder
oil for frying

slice the onions and separate them into rings. whisk together the eggs, flour and 5-spice powder in a bowl, then add the onions and dandelions and coat well.  if your egg and flour mixture seems too thick, you can add a another egg (our chickens lay rather small eggs, so i often use an extra one) or a little milk to thin it a bit. it should coat your onions and dandelion flowers nicely. heat up oil in a wok - i use sunflower oil, as it's lighter than olive oil and can tolerate high temperatures better than rapeseed oil. test with a little dollop of dough to see if the oil is hot enough. place spoonfuls of the mixture in the oil and fry in small batches.  serve it with chutney or chili sauce.

i've seen beautiful jellies made of dandelion flowers, but my family isn't into jelly, so the other thing i made with those dandelion flowers i slaved over was a cordial. i like to invent new cocktails and i used this as the basis for an early spring concoction involving vodka, fizzy water and a slice of lemon. it tasted just like a little ray of warm sunshine.

dandelion cordial

1 colander of prepared dandelion flowers
1.5 liters (6 cups) boiling water
1 kilo (4 cups) of sugar
juice of one lemon

place your prepared dandelion flowers in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour over the 6 cups of boiling water. cover with a plate and leave to set overnight. strain out the flowers using cheesecloth and a strainer and place the dandelion tea in a medium saucepan. add the sugar and lemon juice and slowly heat it to boiling. meanwhile, prepare your bottles - i generally run mine through a dishwasher cycle so they're clean and hot. then, for good measure, i rinse them with boiling water from the kettle. then i give them a little rinse with atamon, a preservative. pour in the hot liquid and seal immediately. i usually can fill one 750ml bottle and one smaller beer-bottle-sized bottle with a batch, but that actually varies - based on how much liquid you squeezed out of the flowers and how much evaporates. 

violet cordial and dandelion cordial
there's something about these foraged flower concoctions that is very satisfying. whether you're gathering violets or dandelions and preparing them, it simply takes time. there's no way around it - it takes the time it takes to pick and to prepare. and slowing down and just doing it, without trying to find an easier way or a shortcut is surely good for the soul.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Eating is the Best Revenge

A few years after we moved into our home in Colorado, my husband and I laid an enormous flagstone patio and pathway. It took us most of a summer to get the slope right and fit the stones in place. Rather than putting gravel between the stones, I opted to leave it natural, imagining the Woolly Thyme, wild strawberries, and Johnny Jump-ups growing between the flagstones. Those flowers have a foothold, but the gaps between really are the perfect habitat for dandelions.
Free Food
I kept after the dandelions for a few years. But I have a neighbor who loves them. When the wind blows, it drops the seeds from her dandelions right onto my patio. Fighting the dandelions is futile. Eating them is much more practical.

According to the USDA, dandelions are one of the best vegetable sources of beta-carotene, rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine and riboflavin, and protein. All of the dandelion is edible, from flower to pesky root.

Earlier this month, when the flowers were just beginning to take over the yard, my son Berg brought me a big bowlful, and asked me to fry them for him.
Trimmed for Frying
Trim the stems and the greens off the base of the flowers (those little leaves can be tough and bitter). 

Dandelion Fritters
1 cup flour 
1 tsp baking powder
Generous sprinkling of seasonings (I used thyme, red and black pepper, salt and garlic powder)
1 cup buttermilk

Whisk together the dry ingredients, then add the buttermilk. Fry petals in a hot skillet with fat of choice (I used a combination of olive oil and butter). If you press the flowers face down, they will fan out. Remove to paper towels, salt as needed, and eat while hot. 

When you tire of frying individual flowers, dump the rest in the batter and make fritters. 

Children eagerly take their vitamins if you fry them.
I wanted to try to mirror Julie's nettle pesto, but that would have meant a drive down the pass, and we were staying home this weekend. We had rain and snow on Friday, with lots of fresh new dandelion shoots when the sun came out on Saturday. 
Wash dandelions as you would any greens, in a sinkful of cold water.
Dandelion Pesto
Large bunch of dandelion greens, washed and spun dry
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup toasted pecans
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Olive Oil
Salt to taste

Whirl up the ingredients in your food processor, adding a thin stream of olive oil until you make a paste. I like to use pecans when making pesto from bitter greens such as dandelion, which can stand a little more fat. I also use pecans when making pesto from radish leaves and cilantro. We have a friend whose mother owns a pecan farm in Alabama, so we buy them in bulk from her every fall. 
Pesto Mis en Place
I put the result on a grilled pizza Saturday night. 

Pizza Dough (adapted from Alton Brown)
16 ounces flour (My favorite for baked goods is Blue Bird, milled in Cortez, Colorado. Thanks to Suzanne Burkle for introducing it to me!)
2.5 teaspoons dry yeast
1 Tablespoon salt 
12 ounces warm water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
.5 Tablespoon molasses

Whisk together the dry ingredients, and combine the wet. Add the wet to the dry, mixing and then kneading until it pulls together. Put dough into a clean bowl with a little olive oil, and turn the dough to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least six hours. Remove dough and let warm an hour or so before making pizza. If you're only making one pizza, just take out a third of the dough. I've kept this recipe in the refrigerator for five days, and the flavor only improves.

Preheat grill to 400, and make sure that grates are very clean. 

Cut dough into thirds. Work into a 12-inch round with your hands or a roller, on a floured board. Move pizza to a floured peel. Brush top of pizza with olive oil. Flip onto hot grill. Let cook 3-4 minutes. Brush uncooked top of pizza with olive oil, and flip over. Spread pizza with pesto, and top with red onions, roasted yellow peppers, and fresh mozzarella. Cover grill and let cook another 3-4 minutes, until cheese has melted.
Grilled Pizza with Dandelion Pesto
As any gardener knows, picking the yellow flowers and trimming back the leaves of the dandelion only leads to more flowers and leaves. If you're trying to rid your yard of them, this is maddening. If you're going to eat them all summer, it's comforting to know that they will never really go away.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

east-west: first flowers

left: wild strawberry in bloom. april 30, 2012. colorado
right: wild violet. april 26, 2012. denmark

Friday, May 11, 2012

east-west: dandelions

left: dandelions. may 6, 2012. colorado.
right: dandelions. april 30. denmark.

some rather creative recipes soon to follow.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

nettle goodness in the kitchen

i can't count the times i've sworn at the patches of stinging nettle around our property (and they are many) as they stung my hands or my legs. but i won't be doing it anymore. not now that i've learned how wonderful nettles are to eat! they're also really good for you - with one of the highest protein contents in the plant world and loads of medicinal uses (which i won't go into here, as i'm no expert and haven't yet tried them).

for each of the recipes below, i picked one colander full of nettle tops (not heaped, to the top is just fine). i wear gloves and snip the tender top sets of leaves with a little herb scissors. i can recommend that you do not let some temporary insanity come over you and poke your nose into your colander full of nettles and smell them. that can be rather painful and cause quite an interruption in your process.

to remove the stingy part of the nettles, get a pan of water with a pinch of salt in it on the boil and dunk your fresh nettles into the pot for 2-3 minutes (they should remain bright green). these early spring nettles have been clean and pretty bug-free, so i didn't do much rinsing before the boiling water bath. i might as the summer progresses. if you fish them out of your hot water bath with a strainer, the sand and dirt will sink to the bottom of your water anyway, so you'll be ok. after removing them from the hot water bath, transfer them back to your colander, it's ok to squeeze out the excess liquid with your bare hands now, as the sting has been taken out of your brilliant green nettles.

nettle pesto

100 grams toasted pine nuts
1 colander of blanched nettles, excess liquid squeezed out
2 cloves of garlic
grated parmesan to taste
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to the desired consistency

toast your pine nuts (taking care not to wander away while you're doing this or they will burn). place them in the food processor with the blanched nettles, garlic, salt and pepper and several tablespoons of good olive oil. blitz it up. if it's not liquid-y enough, add more olive oil until it's how you like it. serve with fresh bread, over pasta, or as a healthy alternative to sauce on a pork chop or steak. i even coated a chicken in it recently before roasting it in the oven. it's very versatile. you may even want to just stand in front of the refrigerator and furtively eat a few spoonfuls when no one is looking.

nettle pesto
nettle hummus

250 grams chickpeas (canned or soaked dry ones)
1 generous tablespoon tahini
2 cloves garlic
1 colander of blanched nettles
olive oil to the desired consistency

put it all in the food processor and blitz it together. drizzle olive oil until it's a smooth, creamy consistency. great with freshly-baked bread or as a dip for veggies.

nettle hummus
homemade pasta always seems posh and as if you went to an extraordinary amount of work, but it's much easier than it looks. even if you start by making your own ricotta. i did so, because ricotta can be hard to find in our grocery stores, so i was missing this key ingredient when i wanted to make gnocchi with my nettles.  all it takes is milk, cream and a little bit of vinegar.

homemade ricotta

1 liter of whole milk
1/2 liter of cream
2 generous tablespoons of vinegar (use white if you want the ricotta to be creamy white, use apple cider vinegar if you don't mind it a bit more yellow)

pour the milk and cream into a heavy saucepan and heat gently until it just begins to bubble*. remove from the heat, add the vinegar and stir. it will curdle immediately. pour it through a strainer that's lined with cheesecloth or a tea towel and allow it to drain well. the longer you leave it to drain, the firmer it will be. i found that for the gnocchi, i didn't want it to be too firm, as it was harder to work with that way.  save the whey (the liquid you drain off the cheese curds) and use it the next time you bake bread instead of the usual liquid. it's delicious and nutritious! i just keep the whey in a jar in the fridge 'til i'm ready to use it.

*i read a lot of recipes for homemade ricotta and made multiple batches before arriving at this one - many of them are very fussy about the precise temperature of the milk, but i've found that didn't much matter, so i don't bother to use a thermometer. i'm all for keeping it simple.

ricotta and a jar of whey
nettle gnocchi

1 batch of homemade ricotta (it yields approx 250-300 grams/1 generous cup)
1 egg
1/2 C flour (i adore italian tipo 00 flour)
generous half cup of blanched nettles, finely chopped
salt & pepper

mix well. if the consistency is too liquidy, add a bit more flour. if it's too dry, add another egg. it all depends on how much you drain your ricotta and how much liquid you squeeze out of the nettles. if you buy commercial ricotta, you'll likely need a bit more flour. it should be firm enough to work with by hand. you roll it into a thick rope and slice it into small bite-size gnocchi. turn the gnocchi in flour to coat. put them into salted boiling water, in small batches, a handful at a time. they initially sink to the bottom and then rise when they're nearly done. i serve them very simply with a bit of butter and salt, or a spoonful of the pesto. simple and delicious. we've not yet had leftovers.

there are many other uses for nettles. i have yet to try tea.  i intend to dry some and make a seasoning salt.  sabin made nettle soup when she was in kindergarten, so we'll try that, cooking outdoors at some point this summer. when the stalks are larger and a bit more tough, it's possible to cut them, let them dry a few days and give them to your horse as a treat with their hay. they love it! i'm starting to feel downright lucky my yard is positively full of them!

*  *  *

also posted on domestic sensualist

east-west: early season greens

left: early growth hops. not wild. april 14, 2012. colorado. 
right: early growth stinging nettles. wild. march 24, 2012. denmark.

left: dock. wild. april 19, 2012. colorado.
right: early growth stinging nettles. wild. march 24, 2012. denmark.

it will take us a little bit to get in synch with our diptychs, so please bear with us!

recipes will soon follow.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Raising Foragers

Children are natural foragers. Left to their own devices, they will happily pluck anything out of the ground and pop it in their mouths. Learning what is good, and what will leave you ill, takes some education.

Unlike Julie, I wasn't raised a forager.

My epiphany with found foods came at the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts, in Denver, in 1999. After a rainy weekend, the pastry chef instructor at Cook Street brought in a few of the biggest puffballs I'd ever seen. We cooked them in butter with a little salt, garlic and parsley, and they made one of the best lunches I ate at a school known for some of the best lunches in town.

Knowing that those puffballs magically appeared after two days of rain is what made that meal so good. Finding such surprises is really just a matter of paying attention, and taking time. These are the things I hope to inspire with this blog, and the things that I hope to instill in my children.

They started learning early. My husband, now retired from the Air Force, spent his last assignment at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida. We lived on the base, a peninsula jutting into St. Andrew Bay. My boys (now five and seven), spent their toddler years walking on the beach, putting things in their mouths.

Along the way, we collected raspberries, wild onions, prickly pear and scallops.

When we moved home to Colorado three years ago, my older son was thrilled to find wild strawberries in our yard. Since then, it has become our quest to forage something whenever we head outside. "Can I eat this?" is a question I hear often while hiking, or even in our own yard. 

For me, foraging means not only finding the ingredients, but testing new recipes in which to use them. Wild plums are turned into tarts, and greens are added to dinner. My husband is happy to test out whatever I come up with, trusting me not to poison him.

Whether the boys love the end product is moot.

The magic, for them, is in the find.

Wild Plum Tart

raised to forage

in my childhood, it wasn't unusual for my mother to slam on the brakes as we sped down a lonely south dakota highway because she'd spotted some wild asparagus in the fence line. tho' we had a garden full of plump, well-fertilized asparagus at home, the thrill of finding some free food could not be passed up.

we had places that we checked every year - the cemetery in salem, south dakota yielded a big handful of asparagus every year as we went to decorate the graves (her words) with my grandmother.  out in the little abandoned, falling down town of bovee, which slowly began its inevitable dissolution when the train line skipped it, there were hidden caches of rhubarb and patches of asparagus in the tall grass, where there had once been tended gardens. the added fun of poking around the old bank and looking at the big unmoveable safe that was there, as the building crumbled around it more and more with each passing year, was always a thrill.

there was another old homestead place, tucked down in the river hills. there was little evidence of the house there anymore and sometimes we had to steer clear of cattle, but it always yielded a good bunch of tender now-wild asparagus. i remember wearing shorts and flip flops and wishing i had worn long pants to keep the tall grasses from tickling my legs.

spring also brought with it the wily morel. the spring when i was in the second grade was our best morel year ever - there had been plenty of rain we found what i can only characterize as chernobyl morels - they were enormous! i can still see them, all laid out on a board beside our garage, as we gloated about them to the game warden, refusing to tell where we'd found them. it was imprinted in our child brains by my father that one must NEVER reveal one's morel hunting grounds.

picking chokecherries down by the golf club with my grandmother, who made dark, moorish jam from it, was worth the inevitable jigger bites. those few pans of morels, fried in butter and served with a juicy steak were a sure sign that spring had arrived. the slender spears of wild asparagus tasted so GREEN after the long winter. they were the very embodiment of spring. later in the summer, we spotted wild plums by the roadsides and grandma made jam of those as well. out at The River (the missouri, it was), we plucked wild onions and popped them in our mouths as the hot summer winds blew over us. we could spot them by the little purple flowers they had. looking back, i suspect they were more little wild garlics than onions, but i can almost taste them now, just thinking about them.  i hope my daughter, who has eaten bucketloads of nettle pesto this spring and still demanded more, will have fond memories of foraging from her childhood, as i do from mine.

growing up foraging means that tho' i spent a lot of years not doing so, it comes back to me naturally. denmark has entirely too few abandoned farmhouses, so i've not seen any wild asparagus. when we moved to our falling down farmhouse, we found some rhubarb struggling to poke up through the grass and i was momentarily transported to bovee. now we've moved those plants and they're in straight, fine rows, growing robustly under plenty of good horse and bunny poo. but there's something that's just not the same about cultivated versus found food. you feel satisfied about it in a different way. there's no little thrill of discovery of finding something for nothing.

i'm american, but have lived in denmark now for nigh on 15 years. i live in a crumbling old farmhouse in the middle of denmark with my danish husband and 11-year-old daughter. we have 17 acres and one end of a small lake in jutland, the middle of the bit of denmark that's attached to germany. if you've seen the new yorker or the nytimes or time magazine of late, you'll know that denmark is being billed as a veritable hotbed of foraging coming out of the new nordic cuisine movement (with rené redzepi and his #1 restaurant in the world NOMA leading the way). in our yard, stinging nettles abound, as do dandelions and violets, so those are the things we've been eating this spring. in the coming days, i'll share my recipes for nettle pesto, hummus and gnocchi, among many others. i'm intrigued by NOMA's use of hay and foraging from the seashore, so you can expect some of that from me as well.

my partner, amy, who was first a real-life friend (kind of unusual in this bloggy world), lives in colorado and we'll also be comparing and contrasting what's forage-able in our climates in the various seasons. we hope as well to have lots of guest experts and interviews, as we have loads to learn about foraging.  we hope you'll come along for the ride and share with us what you know!