Summer Squash Patties

Given that I’ve been buried alive in summer squash, I’ve become very adept at finding the best recipes to utilize it. Other than breads and cakes, squash patties are one of my favorite ways to cook them up. You can find all sorts of variations including substitutions for the plain breadcrumbs with panko or herbed breadcrumbs. I tend to use plain simply because I can toss leftover bread into the Cuisinart and then freeze plain breadcrumbs to have on hand. Like potato patties – use them for brunch or dinner – with ketchup or applesauce – versatility is the word here.

Although the basic recipe doesn’t call for it, I take the pan I’ll be frying the patties in and first sauté the onion, peppers and anything else (think shredded carrot, bits of broccoli) I might want to toss in. I also melt that 2 tablespoons of butter that brings just the right amount of richness to the mix. Scrape it into the pattie mix; re-oil the pan and away you go. This recipe is very adaptable. My neighbor likes to make it using half potato and half summer squash. She tells her hubby that they’re potato pancakes and avoids any funny looks she’d get if she admitted they were squash.

Summer squash patties

Ingredients

2 ½ cups grated Summer squash

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup bread crumbs (a dash of salt and pepper if you use plain breadcrumbs as I do)

 1/4 cup minced onion – raw or sautéed, your call

Optional 1/4 cup minced pepper

*for mock crab cakes add 1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning

Directions

In a large bowl, combine grated Summer squash and breadcrumbs. Toss with a fork to break up any clumps. Add eggs, salt and pepper and mix again. Then stir in your sautéed onion, peppers and melted butter  and mix well. Shape into patties – most times I just grab my large ice cream scoop, scoop a tightly packed bit of mix (use the side of the bowl to help pack into your scoop) and then flatten it in the pan with the spatula, tapping around the sides to give it a more solid edge. Fry patties until golden brown on both sides.

You can tell from the bits that I use butter, not oil, in the pan.

I’ve gotten cavalier with this recipe and just eyeball squash to breadcrumbs and sautéed veggies. Too many veggies will be tasty, but the patties will break when flipping them over. You can simply sauté the mixture as if you are making hash browns if you want to add more sautéed veggies than the recipe calls for.

Above is the last batch I’d dropped off to our Senior Center – Sunburst yellow squash, Zapollo Italian white pattypan, a few Horns Of Plenty and these strange looking Italian Tromboncino Zuchetta.  The Tromboncino remain tender when harvested up to 3 feet long (they will grow more than six – Territorial seed Tromboncino Info ).

Now that I have a season of growing this Italian Trombocino Zuchetta under my belt, I understand why one gardener had written that he was getting an old swing set and covering it with fencing wire to use as a trellis for his squash. I’m still so very enamored of it. It’s pretty, takes off and is the very definition of prolific – very resistant to squash vine borer for folks who have that problem. It has many aliases, depending on the seller – Climbing Zucchini Tromboncino, Trombocino, Zucchetta, Zucchino or Zucca Rampicante, Italian Trombone Squash, Cucurbita moschata ‘Tromba d’Albenga’. Some seed sold has a more pronounced bulbous end with thinner neck – not my preference. As only the bulbous end has any seed, the bigger neck variety is a more versatile vegetable.  Seeing the Cooks Garden photo, I’ve decided finding the right summer squash soup is next up: Cooks Garden Tromboncino.

This post is participating in the global  Sundays in My City at Unknown Mami – some of the folks go out and about and do things other than garden or cook  and take fantastic photos (ok, I do go out and about as well but haven’t been dragging the camera along enough).

Californians – Murphys Dis de los Muertos is November 3 & 4 – if you can’t book a place in town, Angels Camp is just 9 miles/10 minutes down the highway.

Apologies to those who got this in email with no pictures – I was a tad to quick on the “publish” key.

Summer Squash Spice Bread

The garden’s cornucopia of fresh veggies and herbs has begun – and that makes me one happy camper. I’ve begun searching my favorite recipe sites to ensure I have a diversity of flavors to apply to the bounty.

The Sunburst squash is absolutely delicious simply harvested small, cut into wedges and served with a creamy spicy dressing. However, all the jokes about people leaving summer squash on their neighbors’ doorstep exist for a reason.  With the right conditions, summer squash is prolific. My Sunburst and Zapollo (Italian white pattypan) are doing me proud.

So, how does a gardener go about making Zucchini bread?

One:

Two:

Three:

Four:

Five: 

Six: Sieve through recipes, books, magazines;  wander the web. Today’s winner –  Zucchini Spice Bread from MarthaStewart.com

Seven: Bake

I made minor adjustments to her recipe.  First, I used smaller pans instead of making one large loaf. In my corn muffin post (also adapted from Martha) I passed along the tip to open the dishwasher, place the pans on the open door and spray there (next wash and the inside of that door is cleaned off); then tip the pans over to let any excess oil drain off while mixing the recipe (tip originally from NordicWare’s site).

Lining the pans with parchment (long side only see photo) is something I’ve been doing with the tea breads. Place the parchment in the oiled pan then lift and turn it over so the batter side has some as well.

Spiced Summer Squash Bread (slight adaptations from Zucchini Spice Bread from MarthaStewart.com)

Oven 350 degrees

1 large pattypan summer squash (to yield 1 3/4 cups when grated)
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup walnuts broken into large pieces

Ready your pans (3 mini loaves or one regular loaf pan).

The major change I made was that Martha’s folks didn’t drain their zucchini. I grated my squash in moments with my small food processor. You could use any grater with larger holes (no micro-planers – you’d end up with slush). Sprinkle the ¾ tsp salt called for in the recipe into the squash and place it in a double layer of cheesecloth, wring it a bit and leave it in a colander while mixing the rest. Skip this step if you let your squash grow really big as it will be a bit drier – you can tell if you grab some of the grated squash and squeeze – if water come out, then drain it.

Whisk together sugars, oil,butter, vanilla, and eggs.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and salt together.

Wring the squash again thoroughly as the salt will have drawn more of the liquid out. I’ll note here, my final loaf was VERY moist although I’d squeezed out at least a cup of liquid from the squash and not added any extra liquid to the recipe. Wondered if her folks also did the squeeze thing but forgot to mention it.

Place the squash in with the flour mixture and use a fork to break up the squash clump and incorporate it throughout the flour mix.

Stir in the egg mixture then the walnuts – just to combine well (never ever over mix tea breads or muffins).

Pour into the prepared pans; lightly sprinkle the tops with sugar if you like.

 Bake 25 to 30 minutes for small pans, 45 to 55 minutes for a regular size loaf.

Cool 10 minutes; invert onto a wire rack, then roll over to top side up (with a towel or mitt, it’ll still be pretty warm). Don’t you love how all the recipes say cool completely? Really, does anyone? My personal recommendation is to dive into it while it’s warm – don’t burn yourself, but go at it. This is truly a wonderful loaf with just the right amount of spice.

This post is participating in UnknownMami’s Sundays in My City; the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop, hosted by a bunch of folks including April at The 21st Century Housewife and Alea of Premeditated Leftovers and My Meatless Mondays .

No Knead Artisan Bread

I’m a starch junkie. There is no way Atkins would ever be the diet for me. My Achilles’ heel in the food area is bread, scones, pastas and rice.

I’d heard a lot about Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and decided to give it a go. It’s Sunday, the ovens on, I’m baking and  also making up another batch of this wonderful bread.

 As I write this, Amazon shows 949 customer reviews with a 4.5 rating out of five. The author’s concept builds on the basic no knead bread making recipe (they’ve been around forever and pop in and out of favor; earlier I’d blogged failures and listed a dense whole wheat no knead bread from a used cookbook I have with a 1981 copyright – it would’ve made better dog biscuits – the kind they clean their teeth with). Mark Bittman (former NY Times food writer and cookbook author) highlighted Jim Lahey’s My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method - and drove renewed popularity for the no knead method with foodies (their basic bread is baked in a heavy dutch oven as no knead bread is wetter and a pan helps give it shape, the dutch oven also yields a nice crust). Better no knead recipes require mixing one day – then not baking until the next day or later – the longer rise/rest takes care of what kneading and all that physical exercise and mess would. It’s always a sticky batter (when covering, use plastic, not a towel unless you plan to wash and soak the sticky doughy towel pronto).

No knead has an attraction – but, for those equipped with a Kitchenaid mixer, it’s not such a big deal (mix everything in the bowl of the mixer – let the machine knead -  you’re set except for rise and shape that you do with no knead as well). The bigger attraction for me with the “5 minute” approach is mixing up enough for four to five loaves (or more smaller loaves) all at once and keeping the dough in the refrigerator to dole out and bake one loaf at a time. I don’t know about others, but I manage to get flour everywhere when I am mixing up bread recipes. The time saved cleaning up after my messy self is a huge plus. I’m sure everyone also experiences times when due to work, or simply a day of too much fun, they’re too weary to put effort into cooking or baking. If you’re a morning person, you shape your loaf and leave it in the refrigerator to rest during the day. If you’re an evening person, you shape your loaf and let it sit 40 minutes before baking.

The above photos show the dough after it’s initial long rise and ready for refrigeration.  As I write this, I cannot access the website for Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day. I’m hoping they didn’t take it down as it’s a wealth of information with many recipe variations, each of which has a slew of comments that further elaborate the method. The master recipe (detailed at Mother Earth news) takes only 4 ingredients – water, salt, yeast and flour (Plain Flour, or American All-purpose). The authors also created YouTube videos walking through their process.

The bakery in town charges about $6 per loaf of wonderful, flavorful breads. What I notice about most home baked breads is they have a much stronger yeast flavor than my bakery supplied versions where a walnut bread has the predominant flavor of walnut instead of “yeast first”.  I understand fresh yeast can help this (as opposed to dry, it has a very short shelf life but can be frozen). Not being in a metropolitan area, fresh yeast isn’t readily available (I keep thinking I’ll drag a cooler along when I visit the bay area, fill it with ice and find fresh yeast- but haven’t gone that route yet). A longer rise means you can use less yeast and adding sourdough starter also means you can add less yeast. Once comfortable, you can play with the amount of sourdough or yeast depending on your tastes.

I show sourdough starters at the bottom of this post. The alcoholic “hooch” that separates and floats to the top is bursting with rich sour flavor. Some recommend pouring it off (egads no!). Not sure who started that (it does look gross, I’m the first to admit). The look might not sit well with “median American tastes” some strive for. Stir it back into your starter – feed that and then let it bubble and rise if you want a flavorful starter. You will not end up with “alcohol” in your finished loaf. Also, starter can be very simple – gold miners carried it about with them. My fridge is cold -I may not get around to feeding my starter for 4 months. It’s lived. Just keep chlorinated water away from it, do feed it on occasion and it should be quite happy. I see some who make it a very effortful process requiring attention and detail – not me. You can start from scratch (potatoes and more) or pick up a commercial packet. It increases in flavor and depth the longer you have it. I’ll have to do a full post on starters one of these days.

The authors added two cookbooks to the one linked above. One of those is for whole grain. They recommend you get Vital Wheat Gluten to help the loaves rise. It was a few cents short of $8 at my local grocery for the Bob’s Red Mill packet. Sorry to say, I really disliked their Whole Grain Master Recipe that takes ¼ cup of it. I fed the entire batch of loaves to the birds. Too yeasty tasting for me. Some are concerned that commercial bakery use of vital wheat gluten is why we have so many folks with gluten allergies today (do I need to say, I’m not a doctor and this is just something I see bandied about?).  Also, know anyone I can gift the vital wheat gluten packet to? I’m thinking of just making a separate whole wheat batch  with that gluten to feed the birds every time I make a batch for me. 

My recipe started with the regular all purpose flour master recipe. For a light flavored loaf and to have enough gluten for the bread to rise, I keep more all purpose than whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour absorbs more water, that’s adjusted as well. And, I’ve got a nice sizable bit of sourdough.

My version without the gluten comes out a bit flatter after its rest (all of the 5 minute recipes spread while resting after you shape – how much depends on room temp plus time you let rest), but is absolutely delectable. For sandwiches, just cut it horizontally like focaccia.  You can buy pans, like a Kaiser bread or braided ring mold if you’re making no knead breads and want them to have a certain “look” easily. I bake a small deep dish pizza version in my 8 inch round cake pans. After looking at various bread molds, I’m thinking of trying some of my fancy bundt type pans as well.  

 

Adjusted Basic Recipe (Sourdough with Whole Wheat)

Makes 4 One pound Loaves
3 1/4 cups lukewarm water (don’t be afraid to add a tablespoon or two more water if your dough isn’t really sticky)
1 tbsp granulated yeast (1 packet)
1 1⁄2 tbsp coarse kosher or sea salt
2 cups of activated sourdough starter (I stir here a bit, then add the flours)
4  cups+ unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
Cornmeal for pizza peel (or upside down cookie sheet)

Follow the instructions I’ve linked from Mother Earth News. I generally let mine get to the sitting the first day in the fridge, then add about 1/3Cup flour to each bowl (thus the + in the flour notation above). Let it rest another day in fridge and you’ll have yummy, light bread.

I was ready to run out and buy the plastic pail or dough stirring hook recommended on their website, but decided it’s easier to just mix the dough in one bowl, then dump into two large bowls (the colored bowl is a Pyrex 10 cup / 2.5 liter; the clear just a tad bigger ) for the rise and refrigeration (otherwise a big ol bucket will demand a lot of refrigerator space on a pretty spacious top shelf). I just used plastic wrap with a few pinholes so it could breathe as instructed. Noticed they use wooden spoons in all the videos, also decided to skip the special stirrer. I have a pizza peal but never use it – I rely on parchment paper (I slide my loaf to the back of a cookie sheet, then slide it from there onto my pizza stone that’s warm in the pre-heated oven).

If you’re a fan of crusty bakery breads – do give this a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. And, if their site comes up and you’re a mom, check out Zoe’s  softer crust loaf baked in a loaf pan to make sandwiches for school lunches. Not all the kiddies enjoy a crunchy crust on bread.

This post is participating in Sundays in My city.

Sing a song of sixpence; of birds and pies

Kinda a “here’s looking at you kid” glance (perfect shot for a bit of anthropomorphic captioning). While not what I would consider “frame-able” quality (egads that light), I’m happy to finally capture a few shots of the local chubby Western bluebird – a rather skittish gent who takes off at the slightest whisper of sound.

The sweet tooth has been demanding attention lately. Antidote? Easy as 1 2 3.

One: Crème fraîche.

Easily make your own Crème fraîche from buttermilk and heavy cream. To 1 cup heavy cream add one tablespoon buttermilk and allow to sit out for 24 hours. I like to cover the bowl with a damp piece of muslin for the overnight; then wrap it tightly with plastic. If you don’t use plastic – expect a very thick skin on top.

Once it’s as thick as you like, place it in the refrigerator – it will continue to thicken a tad. Some folks make it with yogurt, although buttermilk will deliver a more authentic crème fraîche flavor. I’ve seen recommendations that ultra pasteurized heavy cream takes longer to make. Ultra pasteurized is all that’s available in my local market without a special health food store excursion.

Mine do seem to stay thin for quite a while before gelling (but I do keep the house pretty cool overnight, which is when I usually make it). You can leave it out for an additional 8 to 24 hours if needed. The nifty bacteria in the buttermilk are what keeps it from going bad. Some recipes have you warm the cream first – this isn’t necessary unless you’re in a rush. You can also whip it if, once done, you’d like it a tad lighter.

Two: Place a pie crust in your baking dish. Mix a pack of frozen peaches (16 oz) with 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of flour, and an optional dash of cinnamon. Place in crust, fold back pie crust edges and sprinkle a little white sugar over the top. I generally let the peaches defrost about half way. The resulting tart has a very fresh peach flavor with still firm peaches in its filling.

Three: Bake about 45 minutes (start checking at 40) at 375 degrees.

This post is participating in Sunday’s in my city. C’mon by and see what others around the globe are doing.

Wiki: Song of Sixpence

Yeasty Aromas with Warmth from the Oven = Heaven

Love baking when there’s a chill in the air. Living on my blustery hillside, I must admit I’m a creature affected by the weather. With the preponderance of frigid sleeting storms, my heart and soul yearns to bake in those moments that I’m not working.

 I do need to keep an eye on the power, as my oven ceases its task the moment electricity falters. Our rural telephone poles that traverse the mountain are highly susceptible to the ravages of munching animals, drenching or freezing rain and gusting wind.

Browsing cookbooks and favorite magazines by a blazing fire yielded a wonderful lengthy list of things I’d love to bake and blog about with the highlight for those that could be yanked from the oven and dropped into a hot Dutch oven on gas burners should the need arise.

Neighbors in an oh so scenic rural environment is a tad different concept than in the city. My neighbor Terry traverses the winding single lane dirt road past my house up the hillside another 2 1/2 miles to her own. She goes to and fro to work or errands every day and, as only a handful of homes this high on the hill, we’ve chatted and become good friends. With cabin fever lurking, she and I decided to have a girls’ night of gossip, wine and snacks as a welcome break in our stormy week. This provided the extra incentive to get out that flour, cross my fingers on the electricity and get to baking.

With wine and cheese on the menu, I wanted to try out a new bread. I chose Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Rolls, a most fortuitous selection as this is now one of my favorite bread recipes. For sandwiches or slicing small rounds for cheese, bake the recipe exactly as presented. For serving plain with butter or toasted with jams, I’d add a bit more sugar or even maple syrup or honey to the recipe. You get the predominant flavors of yeast and cornmeal in this perfectly textured bread. I like to put a pan on the lower shelf of my oven with boiling water to create a nice warm space for my dough to rise. If you do this, use a plastic mixing or storage bowl; ceramic or glass will transfer the heat to the bottom of your bowl creating a spot a tad too warm for simple rising. Although Martha gets 20 rolls from this recipe, I shaped them large for guest size sandwich rolls and a couple as, what they call in New England, hoagie shaped to slice like baguette rounds with the cheese. Homemade crackers are visible in these photos and I’ll blog about them shortly. I’d planned on a nice brie round, but it hadn’t been wrapped well and isn’t supposed to be a blue cheese – I’ll leave it at that. Pepper Jack certainly wasn’t as fancy, but it did make a yummy munchable, especially as we teamed it with small squares of cod baked in parchment to also adorn the bread rounds.

Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Rolls

1 1/4 cups milk
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, plus more for sprinkling
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, 100 degrees to 110 degrees
2 tablespoons dark-brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Olive oil, for bowl and plastic wrap or a damp clean dish towel

Place milk and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Gradually whisk in cornmeal. Cook the mixture, stirring, until cornmeal is thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool. (I did this in the microwave – high for one minute, stir, then high for another, stir and let cool). In the detached bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together yeast, water, and brown sugar. Set aside until mixture is foamy, about 10 minutes. Attach the bowl to a mixer fitted with the dough-hook attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add cooled cornmeal mixture and 2 beaten eggs. Slowly add enough flour to form a soft dough. Knead on medium-low speed until dough springs back when pressed with a finger, about 5 minutes. (You can mix and knead by hand – knead at least 10 minutes – until smooth and elastic). Brush a large mixing bowl with olive oil. Place dough in bowl; cover bowl with oiled plastic wrap. Set aside until doubled in size, about 3 hours.

Sprinkle two 13-by-18-inch baking sheets with cornmeal (I didn’t do this as I didn’t wasn’t a gritty texture on the rolls). Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Divide dough into 3-ounce portions. Roll each portion of dough into a ball. Place balls of dough 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Cover with oiled plastic wrap or the damp clean dish towel. Set in a warm place to rise until dough does not spring back when pressed with a finger, about 30 minutes. (The puddles you see are from brushing them with the egg wash). Heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top of each roll with the remaining beaten egg (I added a tablespoon of water to my beaten egg – habit) and, if you like, sprinkle with cornmeal. (Optional: using a sharp knife, cut two parallel slits in the top of each roll). Bake rolls until they are golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

 The rolls freeze and reheat beautifully. Take the frozen roll and very lightly mist with water from a spray bottle, put on the rack of a toaster oven at 350° for nine or 10 minutes. They emerge warm and as wonderful as fresh out of the oven. Here’s my pepper jack lunch cheese sandwich that is so much more than if it were simply on plain old bread. The agate plates are from our local, Angel’s Camp, Stories in Stone.

 I have been babbling bit about the weather, but has gone from 80s to freezing with deep snow and back again a few times. Our local vintners have also been posting their pictures of the last few weeks (Irish Vineyards FB post, Love this – as someone said the road closed sign is a tad redundant, Jeff of Twisted Oak).

 This post is participating in the parties linked below.

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

I remember from a trip to Ireland that my friend’s mother lamented she could never make Irish soda bread in the US that could rival the Irish soda bread you could make in Ireland. She informed us that this was due to a difference of flour. One of the tasks we had to do was go shopping and bring bags of flour back from Ireland. So you see, I have some background with being particular over Irish Soda Bread.

You all know that I love my little town of Murphy’s. But there is one thing that makes my skin crawl and my eyes flash with fury. In March, our local market carries a manufactured yeasted hot cross bun without icing that is labeled and sold as Irish soda bread. This sweet yeasted bread bears not a speck of resemblance to Irish soda bread. I understand that it lets the manufacturer extend their hot cross bun production, but I’m not amused. True Irish soda bread is based on flour, baking soda, a dash of salt and preferably buttermilk. To this you may choose to add a tablespoon of sugar, currents, raisins or dried fruits.  You could modernize it with spices and fruits and play with your flours. But, once you take out soda as the leavening or add yeast – it simply is not a soda bread. There is a distinctive taste to the soda within the bread that does not appeal to all and the lack of any fats mean that it will dry to a brick and be a lovely doorstop the day after you’ve baked it (in Ireland, my sister likened eating soda bread to be as pleasurable as eating sawdust). I have a taste for and like the real thing. Do have to remember not to serve it to the locals here as I’m sure, given their expectation,  I’d be greeted with a loud GAACK from folks expecting a sweet yeast bread.

Now that I’ve set reasonable expectations, let’s proceed to the bread. An Irish soda bread is made like a biscuit. If you knead or work it too much it will toughen – light touch is required. I base my recipe on one by Marion Cunningham that’s in Baking with Julia (I understand this was companion to a series, though I never saw the tv show, great book with one top recipe from each of many renowned bakers).

Traditional Irish Soda Bread recipe:

4 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups buttermilk
 

Maggie’s version Irish Soda Bread:

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup raisins
2 cups buttermilk
Oven 375

Grease in 8 inch pie plate or baking sheet. Stir the dry ingredients together with a fork. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I like to press my baking soda through a tea strainer to ensure it has no lumps. Add the buttermilk and completely blend. Add the raisins. Turn onto a lightly floured board and work for a scant 1 minute. Do not overwork this dough. Add into a six-inch disk an X across the top. Place into your pan or on your cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 50 min. until light golden brown. Transfer to a rack and cool. This bread is delicious with some rich creamy butter and a cup of tea.

Mushroom Heaven

If you’re like me, come the Christmas holiday season you’re charging around like a mad woman trying to find perfect gifts for those ‘people who have everything’ on your Christmas list. A few years ago, I was in such a state when I saw something called a mushroom kit offered by one of my Internet gardening sites. Sent it off to a friend who loves to cook and positively loves mushrooms. Later feedback was delightfully positive relating the joys of having the shiitake mushrooms constantly available and the fantastic dishes created from them. I decided I simply had to get one this year for myself and a few other friends.

First, let me share the creamy garlic pasta recipe I created to use some of my initial crop. Hosting the Decidedly Healthy or Horridly Decadent recipe blog hop I’m constantly tempted with a wealth of tasty recipes. I was inspired by Miriam of Meatless Meals for Meat Eaters and her simple creamy pasta sauce with mushrooms as my crop began to fill in. Then I saw Alex at a Moderate Life’s Alfredo Saucewhere she added cream cheese (Miriam also does cream cheese – a great addition), chicken (or veggie) broth and yogurt (or sour cream) to her sauce. I’m sure the broth brings layers of flavors. I fully intend to try both delicious recipes as published. However this weekend I played with my own sauce recipe to add a bit more garlic and some chipotle chili powder to the mushroom pasta creation. If you’re not a fan of a bit of tingling in your mouth from chile, I suggest you start the sauce with half the amount of the chipotle chili powder as noted. I used low fat milk and, as the sauce is based on roux, it remained exceedingly creamy.

Creamy Mushroom Garlic Sauce with Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
eight cloves garlic (half a head)
2 cups sliced sheet type shiitake mushrooms
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups milk
3 to 4 tablespoons cream cheese
Dash salt
Dash pepper
pasta cooked four servings
fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Sauté the garlic in oil just to warm then add the mushrooms. Sauté until the mushrooms are cooked. Remove garlic and mushrooms to a bowl. Place the butter in the same pan and allow to melt; then stir in the chipotle chili powder and let warm for few moments to bloom the flavor, finally stir in the flour. We’re making a standard roux sauce (although you do not need to brown the butter/flour mixture) -stir the butter flour mixture to warm throughout. Stir in the milk 1/4 cup at a time (this is easiest to do with a whisk in order to have a lump free sauce). Continue stirring as it warms. Completely blend in the cream cheese then add the salt and pepper. Continue stirring until it begins to thicken; then add the mushrooms and garlic. Change utensils using either a silicone spatula or a large spoon – you want stir a little bit more to incorporate and let the flavors blend, but you don’t want to break up your mushrooms. Serve over pasta, sprinkling the parmesan cheese over the top of each serving.

    

With the mushroom kits, I realized they’re supplied at Fungi.com. Turns out I quite paid a bit more getting them from my gardening site. Fungi.com offers quite a variety and I’m’ determined to decide whether or not to get myself pearl oyster, espresso oyster or blue oyster as my next kit today (leaning towards espresso). Living in a tourist town as I do, I find a pack the size of a single layer fresh berries container of shiitake at my local store costs about $4.50. Given that, these kits are quite cost competitive in addition to the added bonus of having fresh mushrooms at hand. They come complete with a simple picture instruction leaflet to walk you through the process.

    

The box arrives complete with mushroom kit, instruction leaflet and plastic bags. With shiitake, first you refrigerate your kit for a few days. Then you take it out and soak it overnight in the bag provided. I flubbed a bit on the step as my head was with my flower bulbs and I refrigerated it for weeks. I may have gotten less of a crop because of this (always read the instructions…). After draining your mushroom patch, you move it to a perforated bag that acts as a humidity tent and mist regularly until mushrooms appear. I pick up glass plates at the $.99 store to set my kits on. They instruct to mist it three times a day although I find that, unless you’re in a very dry home or environment, morning and evening suffice to keep the moist appearance on the bag as they instruct.    

I let some of mine grow quite large. I understand that Portabella are Crimini that are allowed to grow quite large. You can choose how large and meaty you want your mushrooms to be. Once the flush of mushrooms has stopped producing, you let your kit totally dry out for a few weeks and then begin again. They say you get multiple flushes from a kit. Finally, once spent you can break your kit up over a suitable medium outside and you may encourage a naturally growing area. The best place to start is at fungi.com where you can choose to get kits for growing your mushrooms in coffee grounds, plugs to drill into logs or even an environmental plus of chainsaw lubricant that contains mushroom spores so that the mushrooms can break down the stumps. My friends in the Bay Area are able to grow their kits outside. The website notes temperature requirements for each kit so that you can choose whether to find a corner in your home or outside.  I’m off to order my next one and I encourage you to consider grabbing one yourself.

I participate in the linky parties noted at the bottom of this post.

Warm ‘n Hearty Spanish-style Black Bean Soup

This weekend they’re forecasting yet another record-breaking cold storm with snow, perhaps breaking a 30 year record with snow in the Bay Area. Stocked up on the water, the batteries, the dry wood – dry being the operative word – and food. When I’m looking at a storm that could take out my power for days, I like to plan dishes that can be cooked or reheated in one simple pot. If you have to go to the garage to get your jugs of icy water to wash dishes because there’s no electricity for your well , you get very selective about how many dishes to employ throughout the day. During the last power outage I was so happy I’d made my wonderful pot of lentil soup as an easy go to, spicy meal.  For this possible outage due to storm, I decided to indulge in a nice large pot of my garlic laden Spanish-style black bean soup.

The chipotle chili powder in this recipe really brings a nice flavor and depth – with just a tad of heat – to this dish. It’s worth searching out. I looked over a few recipes in developing this one; it’s only very loosely based on one of the back of a Sunny Select bag of beans.

Spanish-style black bean soup

16oz bag Black Beans
7 cups water
5 large stalks of celery chopped
5 large carrots sliced
8+ large cloves of garlic chopped (I use about half a head)
1 medium onion chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/2 lemon

Sort and rinse your black beans using either a quick soak or overnight soak method. For quick soak cover with water boil, for 2 min. and let stand in a tightly covered pot for more than an hour. Discard the soaking water. For overnight soak, sort and rinse the beans, cover with water in a large pot, let stand overnight, drain soaking water. Put the oil into your soup pot; add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the chopped celery and sliced carrots, sautéing a few minutes longer. Add the dry mustard, chili powder, and chipotle chili, stir while on the heat to bloom the flavors for a minute or so. Add the water and prepared black beans. Simmer for one hour; test that the beans are very tender. If not cook until the beans are tender. Remove from heat and squeeze in the juice from the lemon. Purée (stick blender, food processor or blender) leaving it a little bit chunky. I like my soups very thick, you may want to thin with warm water at this point. Salt to taste. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt. This soup reheats well.

The picture linky parties I participate in are linked at the bottom of this post.