Sunday, May 29, 2022

Chanterelle no kneed, dutch oven bread, made with dried foraged wild mushrooms

Making bread never really interested me much. It seemed like it tied you at home in the kitchen, waiting for yeast to fart just so you could periodically punch it back down. My weekends are very precious and loosing hours that could better be spent outside in the woods, swimming, hanging out or even doing chores has never appealed to me, even though homemade bread is crazy delicious. 

So needless to say, I was intrigued when I started hearing about dutch oven breads, which had as little as 15 minutes of prep time, can rise in the refrigerator for hours or days, so you can get to them when you get to them, and who only need about 40 mins in the oven. 

Mushrooms infuse the bread 3 ways:
powdered mushrooms in the flour,  mushroom
reconstitution liquid and mushrooms baked on top

This manner of bread-making produces a small, dense, oval loaf with a crispy crust that becomes more like a sourdough if you leave it for a longer period in the fridge. 

These loaves are often baked simply, perhaps with some poppy seeds, or olive oil and fresh herbs, but I speculated there was no reason not to infuse the bread with other ingredients and flavors, and so I did. Having just come back from another foraging trip, our larder is rich with chanterelles, especially Cantharellus texensis. 

A pepper-tasting Texas red chanterelle

Unlike the fruity classic golden chanterelle, C. cibarius, the Texas chanterelle is mostly peppery in taste, with the fruitiness fading into the background, and I felt like that flavor would work well in a savory, crusty loaf. 





Plus, chanterelles and their closely related cousins, are often famously ground into powders and used as seasonings. Since they are very thin-fleshed, they dehydrate and grind easily, but their strong flavors mean even a small amount go a long way in terms of taste. So I decided to basically make an infused flour with ground cinnabar chanterelles. 

The darker color and speckled texture looks like whole wheat, 
but actually the color comes from specs of ground-up mushrooms 


The flavor of this bread is excellent, very, very umami and a bit peppery, with a hint of fruit-like sweetness on the very tail end of the palette. Traditional yellow chanterelles would probably make a sweeter loaf.


No-kneed bread, infused with wild chanterelle mushrooms

Prep time 15 minutes, bake time 45 minutes

3 cups of white, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups of dried chanterelle mushrooms, plus an additional 1/4 cup of mushrooms 
1 1/2 cups of tap-warm water
1 1/2  tsp. kosher or sea salt, cut the amount in half if using table salt
1 packet of instant/active dry yeast, or two rounded teaspoons if not in packets
1 small handful of cornmeal, optional
Additional dried mushrooms of any kind, optional

Special equipment needed: food processor or mortar and pestle, dutch oven

  • Begin by adding the 1/4 cup of chanterelles to the warm water. If you have any other mushrooms you would like to reconstituted for other dishes, add them as well. You are making a mushroom liquor to enhance the flavors.
  • Process and pulse the 1 1/2 cups of chanterelles in the food processor until ground mostly into powder, but some very small bits are fine. You could probably also use a mortar and pestle. You will end up with only about a 1/4 cup of powder
  • Once your 1/4 cup of chanterelle mushrooms have reconstituted, remove them from the liquid, squeezing them gently out into the water, and set aside. If you won't be baking your bread right away, put these in an air-tight container in the fridge.
  • Microwave the water very briefly, 30-45 seconds, until it just feels warm to the touch. Think of warming milk for a baby. You want it just hotter than body temp, around 100-105 degrees. 
  • In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt, and mushroom powder. 
  • Mix the yeast into the water and whisk until fully blended in. 
  • Gently mix the water/yeast mixture into the flour mixture, stirring as little as possible. Scrape the sides of the bowl into the main ball of dough. Use your hands, but lightly, to form a rough ball. 
  • Cover the bowl with a kitchen bowel and set aside for at least 90 minutes. If you are preparing the dough ahead of time, you can cover the bowl with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. 
  • 60 minutes before you want to bake your bread, put the dutch oven into your oven and preheat to 450. 
  • After 90 minutes, or longer in the fridge, your dough should have doubled in size. Cut a large piece of parchment paper and LIGHTLY sprinkle either flour and/or cornmeal over.
  • Plop your dough in the center of the floured parchment and dab your hands with flour. Gently shape into a rough loaf, letting some of the flour rub off your hands onto the dough. 
  • Arrange your reconstituted chanterelles on the top of your loaf. You can do lines, a random design or I did a simple cross.
  • Remove the dutch oven from your oven (using potholders). Pick up your loaf using the corners of your parchment, and place inside the dutch oven. Cover. 
  • Return to oven and bake for 35 minutes. 
  • After 35 minutes, remove from the oven and remove the lid of the dutch oven. Then return to the oven to brown for up to 10 minutes. I left it in for 7. 
  • Enjoy!



This bread is very umami, and lends itself to use with salty foods. It's amazing with strong-flavored cheeses in a grilled cheese, or with any deli meats for a sophisticated sandwich. Surprisingly we also found it to be decadent when paired with marscapone and jam for breakfast. I imagine it would also be a fantastic accompaniment to soup, though we ate it all before I could consider making a soup to go along!


Beginner foraging: old man of the woods mushroom identification


Identification difficulty: Beginner

Meet the old MEN of the woods, "Strobilomyces strobilaceus" (though most books will use the term Strobilomyces floccopus) and Strobilomyces confusus. 

Old MEN, you ask? Yes, in the Americas the common name "old man of the woods" is often used interchangably for two different species of Strobilomyces that look rather similar. And there is still a different "old man of the woods" in Europe and Asia.

Confused yet? The naming gets worse.

The Latin name Strobilomyces strobilaceus applies only the European species. DNA studies have shown that the American mushrooms--previously believed to be identical--are genetically different, but a Latin name hasn't been chosen yet. 

From a foraging and edibility standpoint, none of this matters. All species share the same identification features, but if you're curious about species naming, check out the taxonomic confusion section at the end of this post. 

Old man of the woods identification

  • A cap and stalk mushroom 
  • Pores under the cap instead of gills.
  • Mushroom cap is light gray with dark gray to black textural elements. Textures can resemble large gray/black "flaps" that hang down (S. strobilaceus), or small gray/black pyramids that stick up (S. confusus). 
  • Pore surface is pale gray to charcoal gray to black. 
  • Pores aren't round, instead they are angular polygons, often elongated.
  • Stem is also dark gray or black and textural, with dark scales along most of the length.
  • Entire mushroom bruises pink or red when bruised or cut. This color slowly fades to gray or black. 
  • Found in the woods, growing terrestrially (on the ground) or on logs so well-decayed they are basically soil.

That's really all there is to know about identification, this really is an easy group of mushrooms to ID.


Potential look-a-likes 

The pineapple bolete (edibility unknown)

Realistically, you are unlikely to confuse the old man of the woods with any other mushroom, nevertheless, I think it's worth mentioning the similarities and differences of the pineapple bolete: Boletellus ananas. 

B. ananas looks somewhat like the old man's albino brother, though they are really more like cousins than siblings, with the pineapple bolete being in the genus Boletellus and the old man being in Strobilomyces. They are both in the family Boletaceae. 

The pineapple bolete isn't widespread in America, being mostly limited to the deep south and gulf-coast region. It has white or off-white flappy scales rather than gray, brown or black. As this mushroom matures, the cap between the scales will go from white to pale pink to bubblegum to eventually pinkish red.

The pore surface is yellow, rather than gray, and the mushroom bruises blue, rather than red. 

I don't know edibility of B. ananas for sure, most books describe it as inedible or poisonous, yet other reports say it's eaten in Mexico.

Eating old man of the woods 

Are you looking for an edible wild mushroom that's easy-to-identify, widespread AND tastes delicious?

Well, as Meatloaf once said, two outa three ain't bad. 

The old man/men of the woods are definitely easy to ID, and they are very widespread (though rarely found in abundance), but they are most certainly not delicious. 

The stems of these mushrooms are too firm and should be discarded. The cap surface, which can and should be peeled off like a skin, is cottony and unpleasant. The pores are likewise cottony and unpleasant, but if you scrape those off there really isn't much of anything left.

Dehydrating and reconstituting these mushrooms improves the texture quite a bit, but unfortunately old men mushrooms just don't taste good. 

I would describe the flavor as tinny or metalic, with a mild salty bitterness that reminds me of the paste they gave us in kindergarten. 

Don't look at me like that, we all tried it. 

At best, old men mushrooms can be used in small amounts to flesh out recipes that call for large numbers of mushrooms, like soups, stews, sauces, gravies, etc. When mixed in with a lot of other flavors of fungi, they can add an interesting note of complexity. But don't overdo it.


Taxonomic confusion 

Old man of the woods mushrooms are members of the smallish genus Strobilomyces, within the family Boletaceae. On that pretty much everyone can agree, but not on much else. 

Back in "ye olden times", aka before the mid 1990s and DNA sequencing, mushroom species where determined by observable data:  color, size, shape, sporeprint, spore shape (under a microscope), etc. 

At this time it was believed that "old man of the woods" was actually three species of Strobilomyces: S. floccopus, S. strobilaceus, and S. confusus. These "species" were based on looks, and were believed to be the same in Europe, Asia and the Americas. 

Recent DNA studies have shown that all European and Asian "species" are actually genetically the same (regardless of what they look like) but that the American species are different from the old-world ones. The "rule" of taxonomy is that the oldest name takes precedence, so now the name Strobilomyces strobilaceus applies to all European and Asian "old man of the woods" mushrooms.  

When it comes to American old men mushrooms, they are tentatively also S. strobilaceus, until the following can be determined: how many American old men are there, actually; which of the Latin names was used to describe each of the American species and which was used first. 

Source


Special credit to my loving husband for some of these pictures. To quote him directly, "You better credit your loving husband for some of those pictures."


Saturday, May 7, 2022

Garlic lovers creamy wild garlic parmesan chicken. Foraging recipe.



I love garlic. Most people do, it's one of the most universally utilized spices in all global cuisines. Did you know that humanity is actually specially ADAPTED to love garlic? Most animals are repulsed by the smell and taste of Alliums (the genus that contains both garlic and onions); the pungency is actually a defense mechanism of the plant. And it's a good defense! Against anything except humans that is. Even in people, the smell illicits the same physical reaction as pain: it makes us cry. 

Garlic cultivation dates from at least 4,000 BC, coming out of Far East Asia, however it was almost certainly gathered/foraged much, much earlier, at least 2,000 and perhaps 4,000 years before that.

But why? Why would we eat a plant that illicits a pain response when we smell it?

Well, the entire plant is edible, relying on the smell/taste for defense, rather than poisons, thorns, etc. It's also one of the earliest spring greens to appear, and probably was initially sampled for this reason--little else was available. When our ancient ancestors found that the green part of the plants were non-poisonous, they probably would have sampled more, including the bulb. The bulbs of Alliums would have proven to be an essential resource for early hunter/gathers, as many are full of calories in the form of carbohydrates and sugars. 

Post-flowering garlic bulbils have all
the garlic flavor but don't
need to be peeled
Furthermore, after flowering, garlics and onions grow above-ground clusters of bulbils/bulbettes, which are also filled with essential carbs and sugars. Like nuts, berries and other fruit, these bubils are a source of calories and nutrients that are easy to harvest. In a hunter/gatherer society, calorie deficiencies are death. If you burn more calories to GATHER food than you gain, you will die. 

Which brings us to this recipe.

Right now wild garlic is producing the post-flower bulbils, which are perfect for the lazy garlic lover. 

Why dig when you can pick? Why chop when you can prepare whole? And, my favorite, why peel freaking garlic bulbs which I hate and takes so much time and frustration, when you can pick garlic bulbils. 

Garlic bulbils are the bomb because they have fantastic garlic flavor and don't have to be peeled! 


You're gonna need a lot more garlic



Lazy garlic-lovers creamy garlic parmesan chicken

Serves 4-8, total time about 40 minutes. 

2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs (or breasts)

2 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups garlic bulbils, flowers and stalks, unpeeled, clusters broken up

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

3 pats of butter

3 tbs. flour or almond flour

Salt & pepper

Olive oil

Parsley, optional

  1. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, flat-bottom pan. I used my favorite 5 quart sauté pan. 
  2. Lightly dredge the chicken in flour or almond flour, and add to the hot oil. Fry both sides until browned, about 5 min per side. I used the browning time to break up and lightly chop the garlic. Remove the chicken from the pan, and set aside on paper towels. 
  3. Add the garlic and 1 pat of butter to the pan, with more oil if needed. Sauté, stirring constantly, and scraping up the bits of chicken in the pan, until garlic is fragrant, translucent and browned. Because these garlic are inside their skins, you can let them get brown or even a little blackened and they will taste like garlic you roasted in the oven -- fantastic!
  4. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low. Pour in the chicken stock and heavy cream and stir completely. Add in the parmesan cheese and stir once more. 
  5. Return the chicken to the pan, and settle as far into the broth/cheese mix as you can. 
  6. Cover and cook over medium or medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, then flip the chicken and cook for another 8 minutes or so. Test for doneness. Stir in parsley, if using, and cook for one minute more. Remove and serve immediately. The sauce is also great on roasted veggies and potatoes.


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Keto teriyaki steak rolls with curly "docksparagus" and garlic scapes


The long flower stalks of curly dock
can be cooked like asparagus
Curly dock, Rumex crispus, is one of the most versatile and abundant wild plants around. The broad, vitamin-rich leaves are the most-known part of the plant, and can be used like spinach or kale. 

As a biannual plant, curly dock produces only energy-gathering leaves over its first growing season. During the second season, the plant will shoot up a central stalk that will flower and eventually go to seed. 

These stalks are a very tasty and unique vegetable, similar in texture to asparagus, but with a sour/tart flavor, more pronounced than the leaves, but less than lemon or rhubarb. Due to the look and the texture, foragers sometimes call this part of the plant "docksparagus".


For dinner last weekend used  made teriyaki-marinated, steak-wrapped wild veggie bundles, topped with a teriyaki glaze, inspired by negimaki. I used docksparagus, wild garlic scapes, and some bell peppers for color and texture. The rolls were very easy and quick to put together, not counting marinade time, with a pretty early clean up as well. 

You can even do the bulk of the work (preparing the marinade) in advance, and store in the fridge.

They came out delicious, while still being healthy: low calorie, keto / low carb, full of nutrients, and dairy-free. 



Using the bulbils of wild garlic is super easy:
no peeling 
required!

I opted to use wild garlic bulbils (i've been calling them bulbettes al this time) heads instead of store-bought garlic here. I love using this garlic stage, it's so easy. The skins on the garlic bulbils are so incredibly thin you don't have to peel them for cooked applications, just mince everything -- bulbils, skins, flowers, stalks, flower stalks -- together and use in place of commercial garlic.  




Teriyaki steak rolls with wild plants 

Makes around 12 rolls 

2lbs sirloin, flank, top or bottom round, sliced to 1/8 thick

24 long, thin docksparagus stalks, remove tough or dried-out leaves

1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, or 2 half peppers for variety 

Around 36 wild garlic scapes&

For the marinade / glaze

Beef stock 3/4 cup

Soy sauce 1/2 cup

Rice wine vinegar 1/2 cup

Garlic chili oil 1/4 cup, more or less for your spice level

Olive oil 1/4 cup

Sesame oil 2 tbs

Whole bulb garlic or equivalent wild garlic, minced 

2tbs fresh grated ginger

1 tsp white pepper 

1 tsp. corn starch or other thickener

  1. Mix all marinade ingredients together in a large bowl or 9x12 baking pan. 
  2. Add in the sliced beef and marinade at least one hour, or overnight. Marinade in the fridge if marinating longer than a couple of hours.
  3. If you've marinaded in the fridge, remove and allow the beef to come to room temperature before cooking
  4. Preheat the oven to 375.
  5. Cut the docksparagus and garlic scapes into spears around 4inches long. Slice the bell peppers into long strips. 
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the sliced beef from the marinade and lay out on the parchment. Do not discard the marinade
    Next time I would only use garlic scapes inside the rolls, 
    no garlic heads with bulbils

  7. Place a mix of veggies on each strip of beef. I used 2 bell pepper slices, 3-4 docksparagus spears and 3-4 garlic scape pieces.*
  8. Roll the beef around the veggies and fasten with a toothpick. Repeat for all beef slices. Drizzle with marinade. 

  9. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, then flip each roll and roast for another 10 minutes. 
  10. While the rolls are roasting, bring remaining marinade to a rolling boil over high heat. Boil for at least 2 minutes. 
    For real though, remove the toothpicks before serving. 
    Don't make the same mistakes I did

  11. Mix 1 tsp. Corn starch in a small amount of water. Add to the boiling marinade and reduce heat to medium. Allow to thicken, stirring, and remove from heat. 
  12. Remove the rolls from the oven, plate, REMOVE THE TOOTHPICKS and cover with the teriyaki glaze. Serve hot.

*Special note about the wild garlic. Right now north Texas wild garlic is in a variety of stages: garlic scape (one enclosed bulb at the top of the stalk), flowering and bulbils, the post-flowering mini-bulbettes at the top of the stalk. The bulbils are excellent in the marinade or in any other minced application, however, they are too thick to cook all the way through if you use them (as I did) inside the rolls. Next time I will definitely keep to the scapes inside the rolls and the bulbils only in the marinade, as they were just a bit undercooked inside the rolls.

Obligatory note on curly dock. Rumex crispus contains substantial amounts of oxalic acid. While there are many commercially grown plants that contain oxalic acid, curly dock may have a larger content. Oxalic acid should be only eaten by healthy people in moderation. (If I do a meal prep with curly dock, I will generally only eat the meals every other day, rather than every day.) People with kidney or liver issues -- especially a tendency for kidney stones -- should avoid oxalic acid, as should breast-feeding women, it can have a laxative effect that can be passed to the baby through the milk. 


Sunday, April 24, 2022

Foraging: Identification of edible, young spring pokeweed / poke sallet


Identification difficulty: Novice

This post is a long time coming, I really should have made this post a long time ago. You see, it's bothered me for a while that pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, is such a popular edible wild plant, such a well-known plant, such a historically significant plant, and yet there is so very little info out there helping identify it when it's young and harvestable. 

There is a ton of info to help identify the mature plant, which is very easy to ID. But as I wrote once before, you can't EAT pokeweed when it's mature -- it becomes fatally poisonous. 

But in the early spring, they young shoots and leaves can be harvested, and, if properly prepared, are safe to eat -- even delicious. Like the best baby spinach you've ever imagined. 

It's such a popular food of the American South that it's been a part of our nation's cultural heritage, even becoming the theme of a hit song, Poke Salet Annie, in the late 1960s. 

If you've been curious about how to safely identify pokeweed when it's young, you've come to the right post!


Common places to look for pokeweed

Pokeweed is a transitional understory plant. Transitional meaning it thrives in the transitional period where as field and meadow become forest. It gets crowded out fairly easily by trees, so you will rarely find it in deep forest, instead look for small forest clearings (usually where a massive old tree has fallen, leaving an open space), on the edges of meadows or farmland and along man-made or animal trails. In nature, "washes" -- places where spring rainwater frequently comes down the sides of hills, clearing out small trees, frequently grow pokeweed.

This pokeweed is too mature to eat.
But it is growing in a classic spot: on
the edge between a field and woodlands
Pokeweed seed reproduction is very complicated. The seeds can't germinate UNLESS they've been swallowed and digested by a bird--exposed to that specific mix of chemicals inside an avian GI tract--and deposited in the highly acidic bird feces. 

However, if pokeweed roots get broken up, any piece of root about 2-3" long can grow a new plant. For this reason, human activity can spread pokeweed around like crazy. During excavation, construction and earth-moving, people may inadvertently break up a pokeweed plant, creating dozens more at the edges of construction, where the root-bearing dirt has been deposited. 

Consequently, look for pokeweed for along the edges of suburban developments built within the past 5 years, or along any area kept clear of trees by human activity: farms, parks/playgrounds, the edges sporting fields and along trails are all good places to look. 

The most pokeweed I personally ever saw was when my parents had their new Connecticut home build in 1990, when I was 10. The land had been farmland until the early 1900s, at which point it had been allowed to grow feral, reverting to forest, with tree ages not that much older than 50 years at most. There were also several clearings. In one of those clearings, where my parents build their house, there must have been at least one pokeweed plant, because when they dug the foundation, they disturbed those roots. For several years after, we had literally HUNDREDS of pokeweed plants surrounding the clearing of our home, until eventually small saplings started to grow into small trees, forcing the pokeweed out. 


Young spring pokeweed identification 

Many North Americans already know mature pokeweed by sight. It's hard to miss, as the plant can grow 6 feet tall and equally wide, in arching red boughs, bearing large, deep green leaves and 4-6 inch clusters of deep purple-black fruit on red stems.  

The problem is, by the time pokeweed is easy to spot and identify, it's well past the point where it can be safely eaten. This post will help you identify young pokeweed in the spring, when its safe to consume (after proper preparation): 

Super young pokeweed growth. Note the stalks of last year's plants in the background

Dried up old fruit is the 
best way to pre-find pokeweed

Finding young pokeweed

When it first pokes out of the ground, pokeweed will mostly be visible by the leaves, which at this stage will be bright green, almost neon, wrinkled, ruffled at the edges, and with very prominent underside veins. 

Pokeweed is perennial: once established, it will regrow from the roots year after year. For that reason, you can find pokeweed before it grows by finding last year's plants. 

The stalks of pokeweed plants are long, hollow tubes that are beige in color, but often feature grey or black streaking and spotting. There will always be some dried up clusters of pokeweed fruit dangling from one branch or another. 

Side note: because old pokeweed stalks are hollow, breaking up the tubes makes an excellent tinder/fire starter, as long as they are very dry. 



The stalk is the most important way to identify pokeweed. 
Note in the slightly older plants on the right, the skin should be peeled away from the plant base
before preparing it for consumption


Stalk color and growth pattern

Pokeweed is safest
when the skin is
super thin, like this
The stalk is the most important identification feature for young pokeweed. The leaves and overall plant shape resemble many other wild plants (some poisonous) but the stalk is very unique -- once you know what to look for. 

The stalk of young pokeweed is translucent neon green tube around a white core, covered with a super thin, translucent skin that peels away pretty easily from breaks. 

The white core of the stalk is actually made up of parallel, horizontal chambers, which you can see easily by breaking into the stalk with a vertical cut. However, the younger the plant, the closer and tighter together the chambers will be, making them harder to see. 

The skin should be green, yellowish or faintly red. If the red coloring is more than just a hint, or faint streaks, then your pokeweed is too mature and should not be eaten. 

There is no hair on the stem, in fact if feels super smooth -- like plastic.

As the plant grows, the skin becomes thicker, and easier to peel away as a whole unit, without tearing. The group of pictures above shows two plants, the core on the left is at the perfect stage of size and growth. The middle and right are at just the last stages, and require a little extra prep work.  Notice on the left how the skin holds together and doesn't tear when pealed away from the central stalk. On plants of this age, I would peel the skin away from the base of the plant, and not cook it. The skin carries more of the dangerous chemicals than the green interior.