Chicken of the Woods

We had a great dinner the other night with an unexpected ingredient – Chicken of the Woods mushrooms!

We’ve had some rainy days lately, which means mushrooms popping up all over the place. We went on a hike through some moist woods after a night of rain and there were mushrooms everywhere. It was a really nice hike with some great fungus spotting. As we hiked through the woods, we happened upon a big patch of Chicken of the Woods mushrooms. I have never eaten this type of mushroom but there are tons of recipes on the internet for them. Some consider these mushrooms a delicacy, so needless to say – I was excited to try them!

These mushrooms are vibrant and beautifully colored. They surprised us as we rounded a bend and saw the bright orange and yellow colors that stood out against the brown of the rotting log that we found them growing on. We only collected the smaller ones from the log. The smaller ones are more tender so we left the larger ones  still growing on the log. We also didn’t want to collect them all, you’ve got to leave some behind. When gathering edibles,  you always want to leave enough in the woods to reproduce so you can find them growing again.

The ingredients we had this week made for a great end of summer dinner. Dan grilled us New York strip steaks on the charcoal grill and I sautéed some veggies and made a fresh salad. Here’s how we put it all together:

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Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms:

8 oz. Chicken of the woods mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

3 tbsp. butter

1/4 cup brandy

1/4 cup chicken stock

1 tbsp finely chopped white onion

2 tbsp. heavy cream

pinch chopped parsley

Saute the mushrooms in 1 1/2 tbsp. of butter for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Stirring occasionally and carefully – I just flipped them over in the pan.

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Take the pan away from the heat and pour in the brandy. Allow it to bubble and place it back on the heat when the bubbling subsides.

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Cook the mushrooms for 5 minutes more and add in the onions and the chicken stock. Cook the mushrooms for 10 minutes more and add in the cream and parsley. Cook the mushrooms for a final three minutes, mixing in the cream.

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Sauteed Zucchini and Yellow Squash:

2 tbsp butter

1/2 small white onion, sliced thin

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 tbsp olive oil

1 zucchini, sliced in to rounds

1 yellow squash, sliced into rounds

shaved parmesan cheese

Smash the garlic using a pinch of kosher salt and the side of your knife blade so that all of the oil is being released and it turns into sort of a paste.

Saute the onion in the butter over medium heat for 3 minutes, until the onion is translucent and add the smashed garlic.

Add in the zucchini and squash and saute for about 8 minutes, just until the squash starts to turn soft. I don’t cook the squash for a very long time because I really like it to still have crunch to it. Remove the squash from the pan so it doesn’t keep cooking and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

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Heirloom Tomato Salad:

1/3 lb. mixed heirloom tomatoes, cut into chunks

1 medium-sized cucumber, skinned, cleaned of seeds and sliced

a few very thin slices of sweet onion

1/2 cup chopped pea shoots

1/2 cup arugula

good quality extra virgin olive oil good quality balsamic vinegar – I used the latest ones from my Global Gardens olive oil club.

salt and pepper to taste

Mix the ingredients in a bowl and serve with shaved Parmesan cheese on top.

 

Grilled NY Strip Steak:

2 new york strip steaks

Clarified Butter

Kosher salt and black pepper

Pat the steaks dry and sprinkle them with the salt and pepper on each side.

Rub the steaks with clarified butter to coat them.

Grill the steaks over a hot grill – we like to cook steak so it’s medium rare. It will take about 12 minutes for a 1 1/2 inch thick steak.

Make sure your grill is really hot so you get nice seared grill marks on your steaks. Place them on the grill over the hot coals and leave them alone for 5-6 minutes – don’t move them around the grill! Flip them over and cook for 5-6 minutes more. Remove the steaks from the grill and wrap in aluminum foil. Let them rest for about 5 minutes before slicing so the juices can redistribute throughout the meat.

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This meal was a great experience. Eating food that I have gathered myself gives me great appreciation for food that I eat. One of my favorite things is trying new foods and new recipes. It makes it really special when you know that you have found something great that you may or may not find again easily.

If you try gathering your own edibles, be sure to identify everything correctly! It is an interesting experience finding things that you didn’t know were around… or that you didn’t even know you could eat! Just be sure to leave some of the plants or other edibles where you found them so they can reproduce in that area. You always want to be able to find them again some day.

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Strawberry Festival Saturday!

I haven’t posted on here for quite some time! I have less than a month to go until my wedding day and planning has been keeping me pretty busy. I have had so many culinary adventures in the last month. I’ll be posting about some of my new kitchen equipment soon, so please check back.

Today was the strawberry festival at the Lancaster Central Market. My friend Janeen and I put on our fancy hats and headed down for so homegrown goodness.

I knew it was going to be a good morning when we saw this dreamy guitar player outside getting ready to strum some of his lovely tunes:

The very talented Leo Disanto provided the soundtrack for our strawberry breakfast.  Check him out, buy a record, you won’t be sorry 🙂

The Friends of Central Market had strawberry shortcake outside, made with Lancaster County strawberries, whipped cream and homemade shortcake. It was fresh and delicious!

We paired the berry breakfast with some iced coffee drinks from my favorite coffee stop: Mean Cup. I love this barista… oh sorry, I don’t think he likes to be called a barista… the infamous Vogan Gabor!!!

He remembers my coffee drink every time I go there: iced soy Chai charger. It makes me feel like a VIP. I don’t even have to place my order, he just gets it ready for me before I get through the whole coffee line. It makes me feel like “yea, I’m awesome” when I get my coffee drink and everyone else looks and wonders “who’s that cool girl?”

I love you Mean Cup… Don’t ever go anywhere because my market experience just won’t be the same with you.

There were strawberries for sale at most of the stands but they were selling out pretty quickly. I am going to head back down on Tuesday to see if I could get a few more cartons of the little ruby-red gems. I am going to try to make some home-made strawberry jam this year!

Enjoy strawberry season! It will be here and gone before you know it!

Crab Cakes

Today I came home from work to quite a surprise…

Dan had planned dinner!

And not just some easy-to-make-half-store-bought dinner… He decided to try making crab cakes. He went to market and was inspired by the seafood counter I think. I am much appreciative and I have to say it was down right delicious!

Here he is, working hard:

He started with picked crab claw meat and started to follow a recipe but then added a little of this and that as he went. I do know the secret ingredient was Ritz crackers but I wasn’t totally paying attention after that. The crab cakes went in the refrigerator for a little while so they could set.

I made the tartar sauce using my homemade pickles, a little bit of raw onion, lemon zest, fresh dill and parsley, and mayonnaise. I mixed it right in the mayo jar and it worked out great.

Dan cooked the crab cakes under the broiler and they came out nice and golden brown.

He placed them on top of mustard greens, baby pea shoots and avocado slices. He also mixed up a vinaigrette using the olive oil and mango balsamic vinegar that I got from Global Gardens.

What a great dinner! Thank you Dan!

Winter Citrus

Check out this orange guide from Kitchen Daily. It shows photos and descriptions of orange varieties and when they are in season. Winter is such a great time for a lot of citrus fruits.

My favorite is the clementine. I can eat clementines morning, noon, and night. Easy to peel, sweet, juicy… they are the perfect snack. I buy them by the crate when they are in season.

I recently tried an orange that I have never eaten before: satsuma. I got a box of satsuma oranges at Wegmans right after new years. These are the oranges that are used in Abita’s Satsuma Harvest Wit beer. An excellent summer beer! I got to have a few when I went to New Orleans this summer. I would recommend trying it with a summery salad.

Satsuma oranges are pretty interesting. They are surprisingly heavy for their size. They are so juicy! The small oranges are easy to peel, great to eat just as they are, but they are nice for juicing because they have so much packed inside. They looked interesting to me in the store because the growers leave a piece of stem and leaves attached to the fruit when they pick it. I would get these again if I could find them at the market or in a grocery store but I haven’t seen them available anywhere else.

Here’s a few photos of awesome oranges:

 

Leftovers! Couscous

I asked Dan to take chicken out of the freezer during the day so it could defrost by the time I got home from work. I wanted to make barbecue chicken on the grill but that required a bunch of pieces of bone-in chicken thighs and legs. Dan only took out two small boneless skinless chicken thighs. Oops, I probably should have been more specific about the chicken…

So what was I going to make for dinner now?

I had about 1 1/2 cups of cooked couscous left over from my summer fish in a pouch.

I also had some nice big peppers from market. They are in season right now and they are really cheap! I decided to make stuffed peppers with chicken and couscous filling.

Here how to do it:

Couscous Stuffed Peppers

1 1/2 – 2 cups cooked couscous (I used my lemon parsley left over couscous but you could use any kind you have)

1 medium yellow squash

1/2 small red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup chicken stock

4 plum tomatoes, chopped

2 boneless skinless chicken thighs

handful of basil leaves, chopped

4 large peppers (any color)

Cut the tops off the peppers, remove the seeds and place them in a 9×9 inch baking dish.

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper on both sides. Coat a deep saute pan with olive oil and saute the chicken thighs until a nice golden crust forms – don’t remove all of the excess fat from the thighs, you want a little bit to render in the pan to give it a deeper flavor.

Saute the onion and garlic with the chicken for about two minutes. Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock to the pan – the chicken stock will help you deglaze the pan – so scrape up all those good little brown bits, they have lots of flavor in them!

Add the tomatoes into the pan, season with salt and pepper and cover. Bring the mixture up to a bubble and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Pull out the chicken thighs and shred them.

Small dice your yellow squash and mix it into the left over couscous. Make sure you break up the couscous because sometimes is gets clumped together in the refrigerator.

Mix the chicken, basil, and the tomato mixture into the couscous. divide the mixture and spoon it into each of the peppers. You may have to push down and mound it in the peppers. Use it all! It’s ok if the peppers are overflowing.

Pour the other 1/2 cup chicken stock into the bottom of the baking dish. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the tops of the mounds of couscous. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

The couscous filling won’t look that much different once it is baked, but the peppers will be soft and juicy. The chicken stock that we added to the bottom of the dish before baking keeps everything nice and moist.

This is a great all in one dinner, no sides needed… and you used your leftovers!

A rainy day experiment at central market

I went down to central market really late yesterday. I don’t really like going later in the day because a lot of the items I want are sold out. However, sometimes going late pays off and you get a bunch of good deals. Some of the vendors will throw a few extra veggies in your market bag because they want to get rid of things before they pack up and head home. You often get half price bread if there is a lot left and it is nearing 2pm. You can talk to the stand holders a little bit longer because they are not as busy. I guess it is pretty nice and relaxing to show up late sometimes.

Yesterday was dreary and rainy so there was still a lot left at market by the time I arrived. Hurricane Irene was moving up the coast and I think many of the regular market goers stayed in. I did notice a surprising amount of hustle and bustle in the market area even though it was pouring outside. Millersville University has been bringing their new freshman class into the city the weekend before school begins for the past two years. There were MU tour groups entering and leaving market getting a glimpse of downtown Lancaster. I enjoy seeing them out in the city. I actually really wish they brought me in to town when I first arrived at Millersville. It took me a while before I discovered the greatness of downtown Lancaster. Venturing out of campus wasn’t really encouraged or advertised when I attended school as an undergrad. I’m happy they are making more of an effort to introduce new people to downtown. It is a great place to visit and spend your time. I like it so much I decided to call it home.

I was really pleased with my shopping trip. I didn’t buy a ton of stuff but I went home feeling like I got a great amount of veggies for a great price. I feel like that every week when I buy lemons and limes that are 3 for $1.00 and then I see then in the grocery store at crazy prices, like lemons for $.89 each!

I decided to have a sandwich for lunch from Delgiorno’s Italian Specialties.

I chose the “Laundry List” sandwich. I also picked up an iced Chai from Mean Cup and was lucky enough to find a table to sit at and eat.

As I sat and enjoyed my lunch, I wondered how much all of my veggies would cost at the grocery store. Was I really saving money by shopping at market? I certainly know that the veggies are higher quality. Even if I wasn’t saving that much money, I knew that I was getting better, mostly organic, homegrown stuff. I would probably pay more for it anyway. I decided to figure out the math and see if I was really saving money.

Here’s what I got:

From Sweet Annie Produce: small red onions, cucumber, parsley, and a little piece of thyme (all homegrown, organic) – Total $5.00

From Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative: Bok Choy, yellow wax beans, green heirloom beans, purple pepper (all homegrown, organic) – Total $7.50

From Meck’s Produce stand: red, yellow, and green peppers, cucumbers, yellow squash, jalapenos (all homegrown), cilantro, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, sweet onion (not homegrown) – Total $11.20

My grand total from market was $23.70!

I went to Giant to price the veggies. The total for all of these veggies if I purchased them at the local grocery: $30.97!

So it was a comparable difference. I definitely think I am getting a way better bargain at market. This was kind of a light shopping trip for me this week. I usually purchase a lot more things like eggs, bread, and tomatoes. I will probably do another comparison with some of those items next time.

I would also like to add that I did notice that Giant was carrying some local produce. As you walked in the door, they were advertising tomatoes, zucchini, and green peppers that were all from Lancaster county – nice to see!

 

Cool Cucumber Soup

I have been really hungry for soup lately but it has been so darn hot outside that I don’t really want to make something hot to eat. I came up with this cold soup that is actually inspired by a soup that I made up last year when I had a ton of extra corn. I’ll share both recipes with you and you can try them both!

Cool Cucumber Soup:

4-5 ears of corn

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature

4 oz. creme fraiche (it usually comes in 8oz. containers)

handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

2 medium sized cucumbers

Before we start, I would like to share a handy tip: Place the corn on a baking tray or a large round dish on top of an inverted bowl. You will catch all of the kernels and they wont go flying all over the counter top. I usually cover the inverted bowl with a damp paper towel, just in case I hit it with the knife. You don’t need the bowl if your tray or dish has low sides. *not the best picture, but you get the idea.

Bring the 3 cups of stock to a boil. Remove the kernels from the corn and place them into the boiling stock. Turn the heat down to medium so your soup is at a simmer and add the garlic, butter, salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp of each). Let the soup simmer for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and seed the cucumbers. To remove the seeds, cut the cucumber down the middle and run a spoon down the center of the cucumber, it will dig out all of the seeds.

Cut one cucumber into small cubes and set aside.

Take the other cucumber, cut it into chunks and put it in the food processor (you could also use a blender but you might have to work in batches). Add the cilantro to the food processor with the cucumber.

Ladle out about half of the corn kernels and liquid from the soup pot into the food processor. Pulse the mixture until no cucumber chunks remain. Pour the cucumber-corn mix back into the soup pot with the rest of the corn and stock. Add the small cubes of cucumber, heavy cream and creme fraiche.

Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Place it in the refrigerator to cool down. This is a great dish to make ahead of time. You could eat it warm or at room temperature, but it is really refreshing cold, especially on a hot day.

and the soup that inspired it…

Creamy Corn Soup

4-5 medium sized ears of corn, kernels removed.

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded

3 cups chicken stock

handful of fresh cilantro

8 0z. creme fraiche

2 tbsp. butter

salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and saute the garlic, jalapeno and corn kernels over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Sprinkle with salt and watch as you are sauteing, you are not trying to caramelize the onions, just saute until they are soft. Add the stock and bring the soup to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.

Blend the soup with a hand blender until smooth. You’ll have to ladle the soup into a blender and work in batches if you do not have a hand blender.

Mix in the creme fraiche, cilantro, and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you want to add a little smoky surprise or a little extra kick- you can add 1 tsp of smoked sweet paprika. For a thinner soup, add more chicken stock. I usually eat this one hot, but it is probably good cold as well.

Beautiful Beans

Look at these beautiful beans that available at market right now!

I have been using them in so many dishes lately. I thrown them in to pastas, soups, and salads. I just steam them by dropping them in boiling water for about a minute. Their color intensifies and it takes a little bit of the rawness out of them. After steaming, I drain them and drop them in ice water to halt the cooking process. This way they stay nice and crunchy. I really don’t like over cooked veggies that are mushy.

Here’s one of my favorite salads. It’s so easy to throw together, it only takes about ten minutes to make. It’s perfect to bring to parties in the summer months. You can mix and match the beans to go along with whatever is in season. It’s even great with a variety of canned beans if it is the middle of winter.

Easy Bean Salad:

1/3 lb green beans

1/3 lb yellow wax beans

1/3 lb dragon tongue beans (the ones with the purple stripes above)

1 can black beans

1 can chick peas

1 can dark red kidney beans

1 can cannellini beans

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 small red onion, chopped small

1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup garlic vinaigrette  or white wine vinegar

handful of  basil leaves, chopped

handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped

salt and pepper (to taste)

All you have to do is mix it all together in a big bowl and serve. It is even better the next day! You might want to make some extra for yourself…

The search for the perfect bun…

I have been searching for the perfect burger bun for years. I remember the day that I found it. It was about two years ago at my favorite restaurant in Lancaster – John J. Jeffries. They began featuring a grass-fed burger on their menu for summer and I had to try it. It was perfectly cooked (medium rare) and had home-made ketchup and caramelized onions on top. The bun was perfect – a brioche bun that was light, airy, and toasted just enough to make the edges a little crunchy. You could bit right through it and your burger didn’t slide out the other side. It was the bun I was searching for! I asked the waiter about the bun and he informed me that they get them from LeBus Bakery in Philadelphia. I never made it to LeBus when I was visiting Philadelphia and I never found the buns anywhere in Lancaster. Until…

I was in line at the smoothie stand at market on Tuesday waiting for my mango-strawberry-coconut-OJ smoothie to cool me down in the 100 degree heat. I looked up and saw them…a whole dozen…sitting on top of the bread display next to the cooler full of juice…with a little sign that read “brioche buns, Le Bus bakery”… I could not believe it! The Lancaster Juice Company also gets Le Bus bakery products to sell at their stand, I knew this, but I did not know they ever got the brioche buns!

Oh happy day! They were mine, and they freeze well… so I bought the whole dozen.

Soft inside, golden and shiny on the outside. All those summers of trying to create a burger good enough to submit into the Build a Better Burger contest… I finally have the bun. I hope I can create a burger worthy enough.

I’ve started my burger testing yesterday with a simple idea that I hope is a winning combination.

Burger #1 (I still need to think of a good name):

toasted brioche bun

medium-rare grilled grass fed burger

1 thick slice of pink heirloom tomato

a few fresh basil leaves

sliced fresh mozzarella

sliced avocado

thinly sliced red onion

I also added some green meanie dressing, because I can’t resist putting condiments on grilled food. It was good and it made it a little more moist. The tomato was nice and juicy but the dressing made it great.

Washington Boro Tomato Festival

One of my favorite things about summer is tomatoes. You really can’t get anything better than a late summer tomato. They always have amazing color and flavor that just can’t be matched any other time of year. My favorite place to get tomatoes is the tomato barn in Washington Boro, Pa.

I went for a ride the other day to pick up their famous Jet Stars. They claim to be “the sweetest tomatoes on earth” and I believe them. They are sweet, juicy and that bright red that reminds me of the fourth of July. I love seeing the tomatoes and other veggies all lined up together in the barn. I couldn’t help taking some pictures.

I always end up buying the “seconds” tomatoes. They aren’t perfectly round and they have some lines across the bottoms that I guess make them less desirable. I kind of like the messed-up look to them and for some reason I think they taste better. They look like a lot of heirloom varieties that grow in all funky sorts of shapes. They are also cheaper… you get a big flat box for $5!

I am going to use most of them to make sauce and salsa… I think they have character.

I noticed that the Tomato Festival was this Saturday! So of course I had to go, it’s one of my favorite events of the summer. There is something about eating a tomato sandwich on a grassy hill across from the Susquehanna river that makes it taste like no other tomato sandwich that you could ever make at home.

 

Jet star tomatoes, squishy white bread, lettuce, onions, mayo = the tomato festival sandwich.

I don’t know how I love these so much. I don’t normally eat squishy white bread or mayo… it must be the magic of the river or something.