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Mushroom Excitement

Hen of the Woods (Maitake)

Hen of the Woods (Maitake)

It really hadn’t rained that much so the discovery of my son Doug’s Hen of the Woods mushrooms on Sunday came as a surprise.  I had just stopped by to drop off something, and was just about to leave when I noticed these delectables at the base of an oak tree in his yard.  Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) seems to favor oak trees and are usually found in the fall.  He’s had them in this spot nearly every year, but with the dry conditions of late, it was unexpected.  He swore they hadn’t been there the previous morning.  I borrowed a knife and a couple of plastic bags and was soon on my way home with my treasure.  I had seen sorry specimens of this same mushroom for sale in a store just the week before for $20.00/lb. but up to $50.00/lb. on the web.

Here's the last little Hen's "nest" waiting to be harvested.

Here’s the last little Hen’s “nest” waiting to be harvested.

I like to make mushroom risotto with these but already had prepared our dinner, so I decided to freeze them.  They freeze very well.  I first cleaned them with a soft brush.  Little was needed as the were so young and fresh.  There was a tiny bit of insect damage to one stem which I cut away.  I separated the “feathers,” gave them a final cleaning and sauteed them, half of them in butter and the other half in olive oil, so I’d have some for recipes using either olive oil or butter.

All cleaned off and ready for the fry pan.

All cleaned off and ready for the fry pan.

After I finished, I spread them out on cookie sheets and popped them into the freezer.  When they were frozen, I bagged them, labeled them and stored them for later use.

These have a deeply flavorful woodsy, nutty  taste; perfect for any dish calling for mushrooms.

These have a deeply flavorful woodsy, nutty taste; perfect for any dish calling for mushrooms.

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First Chanterelles of the Season!

Here's the initial haul, unadulterated and ready to be cleaned.

Here’s the initial haul, unadulterated and ready to be cleaned.

Facebook friends will know that we found Chanterelles on our morning walk around Ocean Point, here in East Boothbay.  I just happened to notice them along side the road and then we checked some of our secret spots from previous years and found enough for a lovely mushroom tart, which we had for supper (having gorged ourselves at lunch at a local restaurant with one of our neighbors…shhh!)  I can’t begin to say how satisfying it is to enjoy something foraged from the wild.

 

After cleaning, we had about $20.00 worth, if you could even find them in a store.

After cleaning, we had about $20.00 worth, if you could even find them in a store.

Here's the tart.  I used frozen puff pastry and a simple mixture of the mushrooms, Vidalia onions, Swiis and Parmesan cheese, chopped dill and a dash of vermouth.

Here’s the tart. I used frozen puff pastry and a simple mixture of the mushrooms, Vidalia onions, Swiis and Parmesan cheese, chopped dill and a dash of vermouth.

Yum!!

Yum!!

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A Surprise in the Seed Starting Tray

Fairy Helmets (Mycena), a surprise in my eggplants

Fairy Helmets (Mycena), a surprise in my eggplants

My eggplant seeds have been planted in pots which I filled with organic potting soil from Miracle Gro and I am faithfully checking them each morning to be sure they don’t need water.  They are under grow lights on a heating mat set to 77º, conditions I have had success with in past years.  This morning I checked and found tiny mushrooms in one of the trays.  These are very fragile, elegant mushrooms, I can almost see through their translucent caps which are pleated most delicately.  I looked them up and they have the perfect name of Fairy Helmets .   I’m not sure which of the several species of Fairy Helmets these are but the link shows photos that look like mine.  They are evidently common in Northeastern woodlands and occur on rotting conifers.  I pulled them up as I don’t want the spores to spread onto the adjacent trays and I’ll be sure not to over water.

On the subject of restoring all the photos, I discover that WordPress has an archive of the most frequently searched topics, so I’ll begin with those.  To my surprise the Ponderosa Lemon Marmalade post seems to have had the most searches.  I guess I’m not the only one who wondered what to do with that one huge lemon.

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Mushroom Sauce for Pasta or Polenta

Here's the dish just after the tomatoes have been added.

Here’s the dish just after the tomatoes have been added.

This simple but savory sauce is perfect for a drizzly late fall evening.  It’s hearty without using meat, so hearty that my dedicated carnivore husband didn’t notice that meat wasn’t there.  You could add some meat, I think chicken thighs would be good, but it stands on its own as a vegetarian dish.  I used our Hen of the Woods wild mushrooms, picked in October and further enriched the mushroom taste with some dried Porcini which I reconstituted in warm water (reserving the water to add to the sauce).  If you buy the mushrooms, you could use the regular button mushrooms but add in some more exotic ones like Cremini or Portobello to boost the flavor.

Begin with sauteing onions and the mushrooms in olive oil then add a generous amount of chopped garlic (I added five cloves for the two of us).  I used fresh Rosemary for my herb, snipping in the needles from a 4″ branch and added some salt and red pepper flakes, for a bit of heat.  When these ingredients are cooked, add peeled tomatoes (I used one of my pint jars of plum tomatoes, canned last summer) and the reserved mushroom soaking water, taking care not to add any of the grit that might have collected in the bottom.  Cook this down while you boil the water for the pasta.  I used wild mushroom ravioli from the market.  Barilla makes wild mushroom tortellini which is dried and I think that would also work well.  If you can’t find wild mushroom filled pasta, any pasta would do, just be sure to add the cooked pasta to the sauce and cook them together for a couple of minutes to marry the flavors.  Top with grated cheese.  I like Romano, with its more robust flavor for this.

The finished dish.

The finished dish.

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Hen of the Woods: Day One

We brought two “nests” home and my husband cleaned them up.  I sauteed the fronds, half in butter and half in olive oil, and put these on cookie sheets to freeze for later use, reserving some for dinner tonight.  We still had the stalks which I sliced thinly and sauteed in butter to use for our lunch; Hen of the Woods sandwiches.

HOW2

These two nests differ in color but both are fine to eat. Hen of the Woods costs about $30.00 a pound in the store, if you can find it.

I put just a dash of sherry in the pan to deglaze it and wiped up the juices with the slices of bread to go on the bottom.  If you look at the bread carefully, you may note little pale spheres.  This is a legacy from our dear departed Rocky (see previous post from 9/18/12).

Slice the tough stalks and saute them in butter for a sandwich

Slice the tough stalks and saute them in butter for a sandwich

The sauteed stems make a terrific sandwich.

The sauteed stems make a terrific sandwich.

When he died I had just purchased two pounds of millet from the health food store for him.  I have been throwing a cup into my bread dough when I bake a batch of bread and we find we like it.  It adds a nutty crunch and livens it up.  Rocky was right to love millet.

Spread the almost completely cooked fronds out on cookie sheets, freeze them and pack in plastic bags.  When you need them you can just scoop out a handful.

Spread the almost completely cooked fronds out on cookie sheets, freeze them and pack in plastic bags. When you need them you can just scoop out a handful.

I used the rest of the reserved Hen of the Woods for wild mushroom risotto, making a whole recipe (way too much for us).  I added an egg to the leftovers and made it into patties for a quick “starch unit” to have on hand when we’re in a hurry.  For more info on this, see my post on 4/9/12.

Hen of the Woods Risotto.

Hen of the Woods Risotto.

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Autumn’s Gift: Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

You find them at the base of trees, mainly Oaks.

You find them at the base of trees, mainly Oaks.

We received a terrific surprise today as we drove by one of our (family secret!) known sites for the Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosis).  Two fresh “nests” had appeared, seemingly overnight, no doubt due to the past few rainy days.  This choice edible mushroom occurs in the fall, usually at the base of an oak tree, at least this is true for all three spots we count on.  They return year after year, so we start checking our sites around the middle of September.  A look tells you how it got its name.  The mushroom looks like a fluffy hen, settled down on her nest.  They are not too difficult to clean.  The firm texture means they can be rinsed quickly without absorbing much water, although we have found that most of the soil and leaf debris brushes off.

Hen of the Woods is known as Maitake in Japan and is thought to have medicinal benefits, but we love the rich earthy flavor and firm texture of this mushroom.  Wild mushroom risotto for dinner tonight!

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Chanterelles and a Chanterelle Frittata

These golden Chanterelles were nestled in the leaves to the side of a path on our favorite walk

These golden Chanterelles were nestled in the leaves to the side of a path on our favorite walk

[Don’t collect wild mushrooms unless you have an expert with you or are experienced!!!]

We usually take a walk everyday when we are in Maine and today, as we were walking along a wooded path where we often pick blackberries, I spotted a few spots of buttery yellow off to the side.  At first I thought they were leaves but they were too yellow and I realized I had found some Chanterelles.  These are among the choicest of wild mushrooms we find in Maine.  Our search image re-set from blackberries to Chanterelles, we began looking as we walked and soon had enough for a breakfast frittata.

All cleaned and trimmed, ready for the saute pan.

All cleaned and trimmed, ready for the saute pan.

I cleaned them and then sautéed them in butter.  To make the frittata, I first sautéed some onions then added the already sautéed Chanterelles.  I used five eggs (two for each of us and one for the pan), whisked the eggs with a tablespoon of cold water, a teaspoon of fresh thyme and some salt and poured them over the mushroom-onion mixture.  I sprinkled grated Swiss cheese over the top and cooked it very slowly until the edges were showing signs of cooking.  I then ran the pan under the broiler until the frittata puffed and turned a light golden brown.  Because I didn’t want to mask the flavor of the Chanterelles I was sparing in my seasonings, using a mild cheese and just a bit of herb.   The rich buttery mushrooms have a woodsy, sort of fruity taste and we wanted to savor every bite.

Yum!

Yum!

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