Fiddlehead Ferns: Natures Imitation of a French Horn

Fiddlehead Ferns are tasty and fun. . . They have a pretty unique look that reminds me of a French Horn. They’re round and rolled up like a flat spiral. These little beauties taste similar to green beans with just a touch of butter. And right now they are coming into season!!!

They do great sautéed (you can blanch and refresh them first for color and quick service). They’re also great by themselves and do nicely mixed with other veggies. A small mound on a plate makes a great presentation by alone. A little drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil with a pinch of sea salt and fresh ground black pepper really makes them sing.

With spring entertaining season here, treat yourself and your guests to something special and adorn you plates with these little green beauties. They are a true sign that you are serving something special!

How to Cook with Morel Mushrooms

Lamb-morels I just encountered my fist box of morel mushrooms last week. . . They came from Oregon, which is where a lot where our supply comes from. While it’s fun to forage for them yourself, it’s always a culinary delight if you just find a good supply and make some tasty, creative recipes with them.

Remember that morels are indeed wild mushrooms. That means they’re quite often home to harmless bugs and insects. The best thing to do is either soak them in water for a couple of hours and they will come out and float to the top. Or even better, just slice them in half length-wise and remove the bugs yourself. If you’re going to scavenge for these mushrooms, be careful and educate yourself. A fairly close imposter exists that’s toxic!

Cooking these beautiful mushrooms is a simple and delicious feat. One of my favorite recipes is Morel Mushroom Chips. Just dust them in a little flour, pan fry them and sprinkle them with a little sea salt. They’re heavenly! Morels are also ideal for stuffing and roasting. Mix some cheese, diced rendered sausage or bacon, and some herbs and bread crumbs together and stuff them. Then drizzle a little olive oil on them, season with salt and pepper and roast them at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. This goes incredibly well with steak, lamb or just about any protein. Even an omelet stuffed with sautéed morels and cheese is an inspirational dish. You may also want to try my recipe for succulent Rack of Lamb with Sauteed Morel Mushrooms (pictured above).

This type of mushroom is around for only about five to six weeks so get them while they last. Happy Moreling!

Steelhead Fishing Day Menu

gumboMy buddies and I went steelhead fishing for the first time two weekends ago. I was quite concerned, because winter had not really broken on the Pere Marquette River, where we made our angling retreat. So I threw on some good waders and base layers and prayed for good weather.

Of course, menu planning was key to maintaining our body heat in the cool temps. Warm soups and broths were essential. We took hot chicken broth to drink and had a wonderful gumbo for lunch. But we started the day by having a traditional Mexican breakfast soup called Ahagodos. It’s just delicious. You start out with a good, rich chicken broth that has finely diced, seeded chipotle peppers added to it to give it a little spice and a touch of smoky flavor. Then you add some small, diced carrot, onions, celery and peas along with a little rice (not too much or it will thicken the soup over time). Then you finish it by adding a large diced avocado and a poached egg.

I was really happy with how well I was able to poach and shock the eggs and put them in small thermos. I then added them to the hot soup on the river to warm them up, and the yolk stayed soft enough to incorporate into the broth and add some richness. This whole approach worked great as we essentially warmed ourselves from the inside out. And it was worth the effort. The fish were just beautiful!

Here are a few more recipes to try featuring broth as an essential ingredient:

How to Make Easy Homemade Jerky

banner-johnnyA number of years ago, I started a protein intensive diet to lose weight. I started with the Atkins Diet, but it didn’t sit well with me. It had too high a concentration of saturated fat and not enough vegetables.

Then I studied the South Beach Diet and I became more of a believer. The South Beach Diet emphasize proteins, as well as a balance of fruits and vegetables. I don’t stick to any diet to strictly, but in general I prefer fruits and vegetables, which work best for my body.

With this type of approach I started becoming a fan of jerky as a snack. It seems like over the last several years, jerky has become so much more popular, and healthier version have become available. This is especially evident when you travel and see all the signs for jerky stores. I think the jerky you find in stores or make from home is a lot better for you than what you find in gas stations, so I decided to start making my own version.

Most recipes call for the use of a dehydrator. I didn’t have one and didn’t want to invest. After studying some articles and recipes, I decided to use my convection oven, setting it to 135 degrees. This way I get the fan from the convection drying and I still stay on the bottom edge of the food safety zone. A lot of jerky is dried at 90 degrees, but my food safety background wasn’t comfortable using that heat without the safety net of nitrites. But I wanted to avoid nitrites (nitrites are used to eliminate Botulism), and I also like my jerky on the thick side.

I cut my top round strips about 3/8 of an inch thick and used a dry rub marinade overnight. For convenience, I used Montreal Steak Seasoning. I took the strips and skewered them, then hung the skewers from my oven rack, which was set on the highest position (closest to the top of the broiler). Ten hours later, I had some great jerky. How fun! Now we have some great, high protein snacks on hand and I don’t have to pay $18-plus per pound!

Experiments in Slider Bun-Making

Grillled Vegetable SlidersThis past weekend I decided to develop my slider bun recipe. I wanted to make a slider bun that’s similar to a Hawaiian Roll. I love the soft and sweet texture of these buns. . . I found out some interesting things.

First, Hawaiian bread really came from Portugal. Yep, an immigrant from Portugal that came to work in the sugar fields brought their sweet bread delicacies with them. It didn’t take long to modify them with some tropical citrus and honey, and voilà, you have Hawaiian Rolls.

After studying a bunch of recipes, I was introduced to diastatic malt powder. Diastatic malt powder increases the rise of the bread by providing more food for the yeast and also adds a browner color to the crust. Of course diastatic malt powder sounds like it came out of a lab. It’s really a gruel made by boiling malted barley (think beer), milk and wheat flour and then dehydrating the liquid. Well, that’s pretty much the same thing as malted milk, which I think sounds a lot more user-friendly.

So I bought some from King Arthur Flour and started baking. The recipe I used called for some lemon extract and some lime extract to add to the tropical flavor. I didn’t really like the texture, but the flavor was great. I’ll work on the texture this week and let you know the results next week! In the meantime, try out these recipes featuring Hawaiian or Slider Buns:

How to Make the Most of Asparagus This Spring

caramelized onion and leek tartAsparagus season is upon us! Markets and grocery stores are stocking up and prices are dropping. It’s a sure sign of spring. A little olive oil, salt and pepper and the little green spindles cook up perfectly on the grill.

Remember you need to trim off the bottom couple of inches of asparagus because it’s rather fibrous. If they’re thicker (3/8 inch or more), go ahead and peel the bottom three inches. If they’re really thick, then peel them right up to the blossom.

Now I know everyone always says that thin tender asparagus are best, but truthfully the peeled portion of a thick asparagus that’s been properly blanched and shocked in ice water is as tender and delicious as any. If you want to get exotic for a “fancy” meal, drizzle a small amount of truffle oil on just before serving and you’lll be amazed at what a good flavor match that can be. Hollandaise or a light lemon sauce is also an outstanding match. And don’t be shy to make a good soup with asparagus. Asparagus and mushrooms in a soup also make a tasty combo — that duo goes great in risotto too.

Fun fact: Most of the chemicals in asparagus that cause that interesting aroma when you take a potty break comes from the blossom. If it offends you, then stick to the stalks. But there’s never a better time to enjoy the complex and luscious garden flavor of asparagus than in the spring time. Not to mention, it is half the price! Try these recipes the next time you have the veggie in your fridge — each feature asparagus in the ingredient list:

Spring Party Food Theme: It’s All About Meatballs

hummusMeatball mania should be a collective spring party theme. . . In fact, it would be perfect for tonight with the NCAA finals!

Last week I did a TV segment on game time foods for the NCAA tournament, demonstrating how to make a stuffed meatball stewed in Bolognese sauce. I have to admit that stuffing meatballs does add about 15 minutes in time and effort, but it’s not really required. If you have some properly seasoned meat (or veggies), an egg binder and some breadcrumbs, you can whip up meatballs and bake them up in about 30 minutes.

You can throw them in broth like an Italian Wedding Soup, and they also make awesome sandwich meat all by themselves. Placing them on top of pasta is of course the traditional way to go. Or just serve them with toothpicks and plate them as finger food. Your can always stew them in pasta sauces, gravys or other sauces of your preference. In doing so, they get really tender and moist, and can last a good week in the fridge.

Kids tend to love meatballs as well. An aggressively seasoned turkey meatball in a nice sauce or gravy will pass for a beef meatball with the kids every time. And you can get creative. . . Try seafood using fresh breadcrumbs in the mixture. Meatballs are tasty and they are fun, fun, fun to make! Try these recipes next time you want to make meatballs:

Why You Need a Slicer in Your Kitchen Toolkit

Sweet Potatoe ChipsA couple of years ago, I asked for an electric slicer for my birthday. I thought it would be awesome to be able to buy whole pieces of dry, aged meats or cheeses and slice them just how I wanted and perfectly flat. Well, my wonderful wife accommodated me, and after using the machine on some meats a few times, the slicer ultimately found its way to my equipment storage area and rarely saw the light of day.

But recently I’ve started to develop some vegetable terrines and have really found a new love for my perfect slicing machine. I’ve sliced everything from eggplant to portobello mushrooms (the long way!). Have you ever wanted to make some plantain chips? Good luck without a slicer to get them even and thin. Chips of all types turn out perfectly too, like my recipe for Ultra Thin and Crispy Sweet Potato Chips.

Mandolins slicers are okay, but perfect they are not and dangerous they absolutely aren’t. Don’t get me wrong, a slicer, like a sharp knife, can be dangerous. But mandolins take the cake for creating cuts. I even showed my wife how to cut corks in half lengthwise for a project she was doing. Soft cork was a breeze for the slicer.

You really don’t need a heavy duty slicer for your kitchen to do the job. Just do a little Internet searching and you can find an inexpensive one that’s reliable. Soon you’ll be able to slice eggplant so perfect you will be able to roll it with cool stuffing and make rollatinis. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities!

Pork Schnitzel

Prep Time: 45 minutes

INGREDIENTS

4 large pork chops, 3/4 inch thick and bone in
2 large eggs
1 cup flour, for dredging
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup oil, for frying
salt and freshly ground black pepper

PREPARATION METHOD

1. Season pork chops aggressively with salt and fresh ground black pepper.
2. Set up breading station with flour in first large bowl. Place eggs in a medium bowl next to flour and whip with a fork for 30 seconds. Place bread crumbs in a large, flat bowl big enough to fit one chop.
3. Alternating hands, dip each chop in flour and shake of any excess. (This is important.) Dip in egg to completely cover and lift to drain slightly. Then place in bread crumbs and toss a sufficient amount of bread crumbs on top of chop to completely cover. Then firmly press down on chop to set the coating. Turn the chop over and repeat. Gently shake off excess crumbs and place on a plate while finishing the rest of the chops.
4. Preheat oil in a large frying pan on medium high heat. Place chops in oil and fry until nicely browned on both sides. Remove chops onto a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Move chops to a baking pan with a baking rack or grate on top of the pan. Spray the grate with non-stick spray. Place the chops on top of the grate and place in a 320 degree oven for 30 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Sweet Potato Muffin Poppers

Serving Size : 12 Preparation Time: 0:30

INGREDIENTS
3 large eggs
1/3 cup sour cream
3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sweet potato, cooked and mashed
1 cup brown sugar firmly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Whisk in the sour cream, oil, and sweet potato mash. Then whisk in the sugar and the vanilla. Whisk until light and slightly foamy.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the fllour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Do not over work or it will make the muffins tough.
4. Spray mini muffin trays with non stick spray and fill with batter. Place in a hot oven for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove muffins from tin and let cool.