Maitake Madness

Our dearest friends Christy and Grant, who were largely responsible for this blog coming to be, are inveterate growers of mushrooms. They have fine crops of quite a few fairly exotic and more-often-found as wild varieties growing on their northern Minnesota spread. All that said, they still like to forage, and yesterday, they happened on a real treat and a rarity in their neck of the woods, a 10 pound Maitake mushroom.

Take note – that’s a 16″ ruler!

If the Japanese name for these beauties doesn’t strike a chord, you may know it as Hen of the Woods, Rams Head, Sheeps Head, or the Signorina mushroom. They’re widely prized for eating by numerous cultures. Maitake and its close cousin, Chicken of the Woods, are two of my all time favorite fungi; they have a bright, savory taste profile that even folks who “don’t like mushrooms” will likely dig. Grifola frondosa is the formal name for Maitakes, which are native to the northeastern US and Japan. They grow in clusters at the base of trees, and are particularly fond of oaks. As with all fungi, you should forage only what you can 100% positively identify. Note that Maitakes, like many fungus, becomes just too tough to eat when they get long in the tooth.

Chris asked for some recipe ideas, which we’ll definitely do, but first, a few words on preserving. If you’re lucky enough to come upon a big stash of wild mushrooms like this, you absolutely must preserve some to enjoy in the dark months down the road. Freezing or drying are both viable options.

For either freezing or drying, thoroughly but gently wash each head until the rinse water runs clear.

Separate the heads into smaller, cauliflower-like stalks, and rinse the remaining stalks thoroughly again.

To freeze, allow the stalks to air dry. Arrange stalks on a cookie sheet with room for air flow around each. Place in your freezer overnight.

Frozen stalks can be vacuum sealed, or tossed into ziplock bags that you then suck the air out of. Frozen mushrooms will keep for 4 to 6 months frozen.

To dry Maitakes, place them in a dehydrator, or separated on a cookie sheet in an oven on warm, with the oven door opened slightly. Dry until the stalks are light, shriveled and snap easily without bending, even at their thickest points. Drying has the added advantage of making a big batch of mushrooms much easier to store. Well dried mushrooms will store for up to 12 months.

OK, ’nuff on preserving, let’s cook; here are three recipes that will work wonderfully with Maitake, or dang near any other wild mushrooms you like, solo or blended.

Mushroom Pho

1 Quart cold Water
1 Quart Vegetable Stock
1 Pound Maitake Mushrooms
8-10 Ounce package Rice Noodles
1 Sweet Onion
1-2 Serrano Chiles
3-4 cloves Garlic
2 Tablespoons Mirin, (Rice Vinegar OK for sub)
2 Tablespoons Black Peppercorns
1 Tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
3″ to 4″ fresh Lemongrass (1-2 tablespoons)
2″ piece fresh Ginger root
10-12 sprigs fresh Cilantro
Soy Sauce to taste

For Garnishing,
Fresh bean sprouts
Fresh Cilantro
Fresh Mint
Fresh Basil leaves
Fresh Limes

Combine water and stock in a stock pot over medium high heat.

Rough chop onion and mushrooms. Fine dice chiles and lemongrass. Mince garlic, cilantro, and ginger.

Sauté onions and garlic with a little vegetable oil until they start to caramelize, then toss them into the stock pot.

Deglaze the sauté pan with rice vinegar. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce, allow to heat through. Add chiles, lemongrass, and ginger and sauté until the chiles start to soften. Add another tablespoon of oil and toss in the mushrooms. Sauté for about 5 minutes until heated through, then set mushrooms aside and toss the rest into the stock pot.

Combine peppercorns in a piece of muslin or a reusable tea bag. Toss them into the pot. Add the chopped cilantro and give everything a good stir. Add soy sauce if you need more; if it’s a bit strong for your taste, squeeze in half a lime instead.

Reduce heat to low and let simmer for two to four hours. Remove the peppercorns.

Boil the rice noodles in a separate pot per directions on the bag.

Thinly slice radishes, quarter the limes, rough chop cilantro, mint, and Basil.

Give every bowl a healthy dose of broth, mushrooms, and noodles. Everybody gets to add sprouts, radish, cilantro, mint, and basil as they see fit.

Serve with icy cold Singha Malt Liquor.



Savory mushrooms are incredibly delicious combined with wild rice and a delicate soufflé; the combination is sublimely flavorful and surprisingly hearty.

4 oz. Wild Rice
1/2 Cup Maitake Mushrooms
1 1/2 Cups Half & Half
1 Cup Extra Sharp White Cheddar Cheese
4 Egg Whites
3 EggYolks
3 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Grains of Paradise

Prepare rice according to directions.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter, then add flour, salt and pepper. Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until you get a nice color to it.

Add the half & half, stirring constantly, until sauce starts to bubble. Add the cheese steadily in 1/4 cup batches, allowing each to melt completely before you add more. Once all the cheese is incorporated, remove from east and set aside.

In a chilled glass or stainless steel bowl, whisk egg whites until they hold a stuff peak. Set aside in the fridge.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until they’re thick and lemon colored.

Gradually add the yolks to the cheese sauce, stirring constantly so egg yolks don’t curdle.

Add the rice to the blend and incorporate thoroughly. Cool the blend in hand fridge for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Lightly butter and dust with flour a 2 quart soufflé dish or individual ramekins.

Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the rice mixture. Gently pour the mix into the soufflé dish.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the soufflé has risen and is golden brown.

Serve piping hot with a fresh green salad and a nice Chardonnay.



Finally, here’s a fantastic mushroom pâté that’ll blow your socks off, as well as your guests’.

1 Pound Maitake Mushrooms
8 Ounces Chèvre
1/2 Cup fine diced fresh Shallot
1/2 Cup dry White Wine
3 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
2-3 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh Parsley leaves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh Lemon Thyme (1 teaspoon dried, any variety, is fine)
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black Pepper

Trim stems, wipe clean, and coarsely chop the Maitakes.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté, stirring steadily, until they start to go translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté and stir until the Maitakes are wilted and starting to brown. Add the wine, thyme, salt, and pepper, and continue to sauté and stir until the wine is nearly all absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley and sauté for another minute.

Transfer everything to a food processor. Add the chèvre and process until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Transfer to a glass ramekin or bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 to 4 hours to allow pâté to set.

Cut a fresh baguette into round about 1/2″ thick. Rub the rounds lightly with a clove of garlic and toast them on both sides.

Serve pâté with toast rounds and a nice, cold hard cider.

Tomato Time

We’re up in northern Minnesota for a gathering of the Luthier Community, and the heirloom tomatoes at Grant and Christie’s, some 25 varieties, are coming ripe every day. I’ve been in hog heaven cooking for the gang, let me tell you.

Here’s a post over on Big wild Food for you to play with.

E & M

Corn, by any other name

Far and away, the questions I hear most often when it comes to cooking with milled corn products are these;

‘What’s the difference between corn meal and corn flour’,
‘Can I make the same recipe with either,’
‘What’s the difference between corn meal and grits, or polenta,’
‘What’s the difference between white and yellow corn meal or flour,’
‘What’s the difference between corn flour and Masa?’

The answer to the first is, the degree of milling – meal is coarser than flour, and to further confuse things, there is quite a bit of variety of meals out there. Steel ground yellow cornmeal, probably the most common variant found in the U.S., has the husk and germ of the corn kernel almost completely removed. As such, it’s kind of the equivalent of bleached, enriched wheat flour; a lot of the stuff that is good for you, along with a chunk of the taste, has been removed. Stone-ground cornmeal retains some of the hull and germ, and as such also has better flavor and nutritional properties. It is more perishable, but will store longer if refrigerated. White cornmeal, made from white corn, and also can be found in steel ground or stone ground variants.

The answer to the second is, technically, I guess you could, but you wouldn’t get the same results, and you probably wouldn’t like one of the variants. Recipes designed for meal want a different texture than those made with flour; think cornbread versus a biscuit, and you get the gist.

The answer to the third is, maybe nothing, but if there is a difference, it’s a pretty fine point of variance in the coarseness of milling. Google the difference between grits and polenta and you’ll see a firestorm of opinion akin to asking ‘What is real chili?’ I have the solution for you; avoid the controversy and go find a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits, also know as Polenta. Works great for both; debate over…

The answer to the fourth is, it depends on who you ask. Some will tell you that the only difference between the two is the the color; that may or may not be true, as there is more than one variety used for making the things we eat. In any case, the bottom line is that they are absolutely interchangeable in recipes.

And finally, for question five, corn flour and masa harina are quite different preparations of corn. Masa harina is corn flour that is ground from dried hominy. White, yellow, or blue corn is used for making hominy, also known as posole or pozole. The corn is boiled in a solution containing powdered lime, then washed, dried, and ground to form masa harina. Masa is the only thing to use for making corn tortillas and tamales, far as I’m concerned. Untreated corn flour is basically fine-ground cornmeal. I use it in recipes where I want corn flavor without the gritty texture of corn meal. Corn flour contains no gluten, so makes a good substitute for wheat flours in pan and short bread and cake recipes, though the proportions may need a bit of tweaking to get just right. If you sub corn flour for wheat flour in a rising bread or cake recipe, you need to add vital wheat gluten, since corn has none.

While we’re describing the various things corn is made into, let’s not forget cornstarch. Cornstarch is obtained from the white heart of the corn kernel. It’s a tasteless, fine powder that is very useful as a thickener; it boasts twice the thickening power of wheat or corn flour. It’s best to stir cornstarch into water first before it is added to other foods, so that it can be incorporated without getting lumpy; use enough water to make a loose slurry as opposed to a paste when you mix it. One thing to note if you’re on the other side of the pond; cornstarch is referred to as corn flour in England.

There is a broad assumption that white corn meal is preferred in the South and yellow is preferred in Texas and the rest of the U.S. While that statement certainly was true in the past, it’s not so valid as it used to be. The population base that made that a fact has aged and died, frankly, and the following waves are more likely to experiment, mix, and match.

All your meals, flours, and masa should always be relatively fresh. Stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container, you can expect around 6 months of use from them.

As mentioned above, there are several varieties of corn used for making the stuff we eat and cook with. Here’s a brief primer that will help you get a better grasp on things. This is a fairly rudimentary outline. For many decades, corn in America, like beer and cheese, was reduced to a few basic varieties; that trend has changed radically in the 21st Century. Heirloom varieties have exploded in the last 15 years; this has tumbled out to the folks growing their own, as well as to small cottage industries. As such, varieties have expanded and reemerged in unprecedented numbers. This is most definitely a good thing.

Dent (Zea mays indenata)
Dent or Field corn may be either white or yellow, and is predominantly used for processed foods, industrial products, and as livestock feed often used as livestock feed. No-name, really cheap corn meal or flour may be made from this variety. Dent kernels become notably indented at maturity, hence the name for the variety.

Flint (Zea mays indurata)
Flint or Indian corn is used for similar purposes as dent corn, as well as for decoration come fall. This variety is distinguished by a hard outer shell and kernels with a wide range of colors. When you see blue, red, or white flours, meals, chips and tortillas, you’re looking at flint corn. The variety is named for it’s hard or ‘flinty’ exterior.

Sweet (Zea saccharata or Zea rugosa)
Sweet corn is the variety we eat as corn on the cob. It is also canned and frozen. Seldom used for feed or flour, this variety is named for its higher sugar content, (around 10%, versus maybe 4% for Field corn). THE thing to remember is that roughly half the available sugars in sweet corn degrade notably within 24 hours of picking; if ever there was a thing you wanted to get locally from a good CSA, sweet corn is it.

Flour (Zea mays amylacea)
Flour corn has a soft, starchy kernel that lends itself well to grinding, so it is the primary variety used by companies in the U.S. to make meal and flour. Flour corn is primarily white, although it can be grown in other colors, including yellow, red, and blue. One of the oldest varieties, flour corn was grown by Native Americans before the rest of us showed up here.

Popcorn (Zea mays everta)
Popcorn is a variant of flint corn, with a soft starchy center surrounded by a very hard exterior shell. When heated, the natural moisture inside the kernel quickly turns to steam and builds up enough pressure for the kernel to explode, exposing the white starchy mass we like to graze on. All types of corn will pop to some degree, but they won’t necessarily have enough starch to turn inside out, or an outside layer that will create enough pressure to explode. One of the oldest forms of corn, evidence of popcorn over 5,500 hundred years old has been found in New Mexico.

OK, so enough learnin’, lets talk about what you should have in your pantry if you want to build corn recipes. The bottom line is that corn flours and meals are cheap and readily available, so you should aim for stocking the same stuff I do. Remember that quality counts; opt for fresh and local whenever you can and you’ll never go wrong. I stock white corn flour, masa, and white and yellow corn meal, and grits/polenta.

Alright, now we’re ready to cook. Here’re my go-to recipes for corn bread, tortillas, grits, and polenta.

Urb’s Corn Bread
1 1/2 Cups Yellow Corn Meal
1/2 Cup Corn Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Cup Whole Milk (or, in order of rising decadence, Half & Half or Buttermilk)
1 Egg
4 Tablespoons Lard (Unsalted Butter is fine)
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

Optional Additions:
Add 1/2 Cup extra sharp Cheddar or Pepper Jack cheese.
Add 1 – 3 seeded, cored and diced Jalapeño chiles.
1 ear of corn on the cob, cut down to kernels

Preheat oven to 400° F

Pour cornmeal into a bowl and add the milk; mix well and allow to sit for 15 minutes. This is a biggy in terms of making moist cornbread.

Mix remaining dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Melt the fat, then combine all ingredients and mix by hand to a nice, even batter consistency.

Place the pan(s) you’ll do the bread in into the oven, with a small dot of fat in each pan, (Or a tablespoon full if using a single pan).

When the fat is melted and sizzling, remove the pan, pour in the batter and return to the oven.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve Hot with, as Julia Child would say, ‘lots and lots of butter!’

Corn Tortillas
2 Cups Masa Harina
1.25 to 1.50 Cups hot Water

In a mixing bowl, combine the Masa and water by hand and blend until you get a nice, consistent dough that does not stick to your hands. You don’t want the dough too dry, either; shoot for a dough that holds together, isn’t sticky, but feels moist to the hand.

Roll the dough into 12 equal balls and allow to sit for about 10 minutes.

Whether you use a pin or a press, cut a gallon plastic storage bag into two equal sheets and place a ball of dough between them, then press or roll to roughly 6″ around.

In your pan or comal over medium high heat, cook the tortillas until you see that nice brown blistering form on each side. Each side will get 30 to 60 seconds of cooking time.

Stack your finished wrapped tortillas on a warmed plate under a clean towel to keep them warm.

1/2 Cup Bob’s Red Mill Grits
1/2 Cup whole Milk, (Half & Half, Whole Cream, and Buttermilk all work even better)
1 3/4 Cups Water
3/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Pepper

1/4 Cup grated Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
2 Slices crisp cooked, thick cut bacon, chopped

In a saucepan over medium high heat, combine milk, water, salt, and pepper and bring to a rolling boil.

Shake grits into the center of the pan, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.

As soon as all the grits are incorporated, reduce heat to low and cover. You want your grits to cook at a low simmer, so keep an eye on that and adjust heat as needed.

You’re going to cook your grits for 20 minutes, but set a timer for 5 minutes and stir the grits, (So, you’re going to stir every 5 minutes for a total of 20 minutes).

After 20 minutes, taste your grits; if they’re not tender enough, cook for another 10 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes.

If you’re adding cheese and bacon, you can toss it in for the last 5 minutes of cooking, or offer it at the table with butter.

Leftover Grits?

Spread grits about an inch thick in a glass baking pan or oven proof skillet and refrigerate until firm to the touch.

Cut grits into roughly 4″ squares, season lightly with salt and pepper, then dust both sides with Wondra flour.

Fry in 2 ounces of butter and 1 ounce light vegetable oil, turning once, until golden brown. Served with red eye gravy, this is the bees knees.

Red Eye Gravy (Serves 2)
1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 smoked ham steak, (About 1/2 Pound)
1 1/2 Cups brewed Coffee
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper
1-2 shots Tabasco Sauce

In a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, heat oil until shimmering.

Fry ham steak until nicely browned, remove to a warm oven.

Deglaze skillet with the coffee, stirring to incorporate all the juices and little bits of ham stuck to the pan. Season with salt and pepper

Bring liquid up to a high simmer and cook until gravy reduced by 1/3 and nicely coats a spoon.

Serve with grit cake, game and a over medium egg for a true little slice of breakfast heaven.

Basic Polenta
6 Cups Water
2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Corn Polenta
3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper
1/2 Cup hard Cheese for topping, (Parmesan, Romano, Asiago)
1/2 teaspoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a large, deep sauce pan over high heat, bring water and sea salt to a boil.

Add polenta gradually, stirring constantly to blend.

Reduce heat to a low simmer; you’ll cook polenta for about 30 minutes, so set a timer to stir and check the progress of the dish every 5 minutes. Make sure to stir gently but thoroughly, all the way to the bottom to check for sticking and burning.

When the polenta is very thick, stir in the butter and then season with salt and pepper.

Oil a glass baking pan; spoon the polenta into the pan, even out with a spatula, and allow to set for 15 minutes, until very firm to the touch.

Cut polenta into thick slices and serve hot.

Top with freshly grated cheese.


Stuff Them Peppers!

I love peppers, and I love chiles. Notice I separate chiles and peppers? Lots of us do, even though that’s technically incorrect; sweet peppers are the same genus and species, (Capsicum Annuum), as the hot peppers referred to as chiles.

When it comes to cooking, I most often use chiles for heat and the fruity, earthy flavors they provide. Sweet peppers to me are for salads and stir-fries, soups and breakfasts, (I love them with eggs), and especially for stuffing. Sweet peppers certainly do have flavor, even if it’s a relatively minor note compared to the knockout punch of a hot chile.

Just as hot chiles have expanded in variety over the last couple of decades, so have the sweets. If you’re my age or older, then you probably remember back when you might find green bell peppers in the grocery and nothing else like it, (and their flavor was, uh, shall we say, lacking… ) Now you can find sweet bells in green, red, orange, purple, yellow, and even brown and white, as well as some great non-bell sweet types. My favorite options lately are the bags of small, sweet peppers we’re seeing quite often in stores. They’re perfect for salads, salsas, roasting and even stuffing.

Sweet peppers are not only tasty, they’re good for you. In addition to containing notable amounts of Vitamins C and E, they pack abundant carotenoids, including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin, (Trust me, those are all good things).

Here’s a little primer on what’s out there these days, both for shopping and growing.

Green Bells.
These are the peppers so many of us grew up with. They too have grown up, and there’s a bunch of varieties out there to grow and enjoy. From the store, they have a slightly bitter, grassy flavor that goes great in salads, or as part of an aromatic base for sauces, stews and soups.

Purple & Chocolate Bells.
The least sweet of the bells other than green. They’re great raw in salads and probably are best left to raw uses, as that pretty purple hue turns to mud real quick when they’re cooked. They also tend to be wildly expensive, so if you love them, grow them.

Yellow & White Bells.
Mildest flavor of the bells. You may see whites as either a Bell variant, or referred to as a Hungarian Stuffing Pepper, (note that the white bells are often silly expensive…). Lightly sweet, with a nice hint of the grassy notes greens are prized for. These are great as part of an aromatic base, and for stuffing and roasting.

Orange Bells.
A bit less sweet and slightly more tangy than a red, orange bells are great raw in salads or roasted and stuffed.

Red Bells.
Far and away the most popular sweet peppers. Reds are genuinely sweet and fruity in flavor, and are fabulous in salads, with rice, or roasted.

Mild Hatch or Anaheims.
If a New Mexican chile lover reads that heading, I’m gonna get roasted…. Fact is, these long green and red chiles do come in mild form, but again, you need to take care when cooking with them, because hot ones can sneak in there. They’re wonderful for roasting, stuffing, salsa, and especially green sauces.

Red Pimento:
Sweet, yes, but some of these can be as much heat as sweet, so ask and try before you buy! Pimentos have an intense flavor base that holds up beautifully to roasting and preserving, (pickled peppers). They also are fabulous in aromatic bases, given their depth of flavor.

Sweet cherries.
While called sweet, these little round guys can also pack a bit of fire in them, so if you’re not a lover of such, taste before you cook! They have a dense sweetness that is perfect for roasting, salsa, and other Mexican sauces.

Sweet Cubanelles.
These long, slender chiles look a bit like a Serrano or an Anaheim, but are a notable lighter pale green color, (If you’re growing them, they will turn red if allowed to mature on the plant.) Cubanelles have a light, grassy sweetness that is great for roasting and stuffing.

Sweet Banana.

Same warning as the other non-bell varieties; there are hot bananas as well, so be careful, and test before you eat. They have a nice veggie flavor with a hint of heat, which makes them great for stuffing.

Notice how many of those guys up there I noted were great for stuffing? All the glory a sweet pepper has to offer comes out when you stuff ’em with wonderful things. Doing so and then slow roasting deepens the sweetness and intensifies minor flavor notes. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that this only works at home; you can slow roast on coals with aluminum foil, a Dutch oven, or a cast iron skillet. The sky is the limit on what you stuff with, but here’s a couple of my favorites to get the creative juices flowing.

1 Pound ground protein, (Beef, Chicken, Pork, Ground Turkey, Tofu, Cheese, or any combination thereof)
1/2 Cup Wild Rice
1 Cup Water
6 Sweet Peppers, (Bells, more if you’re using Cubanelles, Anaheims, etc)
2 large Tomatoes
1/2 Sweet Onion
1-2 cloves Garlic
1 Tablespoon extra virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Oregano, (Hungarian is my favorite, it’s sweeter and milder than Mexican)
1/2 teaspoon smoked sweet Paprika
Splash of wine for deglazing, (Anything you’re drinking is fine, and if your drinking bourbon, etc, that’s fine too, if you’re willing to spare some…)
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper

Place rice and water in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Cut protein into bite sized chunks.
Lightly salt a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat, and cook the protein until evenly browned.

Set the protein aside and leave the pan as is.

Field strip the peppers and keep the tops if you’re using bells. Arrange the peppers hollow side up on foil, or in a baking dish or Dutch oven. You may need to even out the bottoms a bit if you’re using a pan; thats just fine, but don’t cut through the peppers.

Dice tomatoes and onion, and mince the garlic.
Toss the olive oil into the pan you cooked the protein in. Once it’s heated through, toss in the onion and sauté until they’re starting to get translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute or so, until the raw garlic smell is gone.

Time to deglaze. Splash whatever booze you’re drinking into the pan, (and it’s high proof and you’re cooking over flame, step back so you don’t burn your face off). Get a fork and work all the little bits of this and that loose in the pan; that’s some serious flavor you want in whatever you’re making. Any time you sauté an ingredient and then add that to a dish, deglaze, otherwise, you’re leaving good stuff out.

Add the tomatoes, rice, and protein to your pan and mix well.
Add oregano, paprika, salt and pepper; taste and adjust seasoning.

Remove the pan from heat and spoon the mixture evenly into your peppers, then pop the tops back on the peppers.

Roast in, ideally, 325° F heat for about 45 to 60 minutes, until the peppers are fork tender. If you’re doing this on a campfire, put the pan or foil bundle over low coals and let them work. If you’re on a grill, spread the coals or adjust flame and place your roasting pan on the side of your grate.

Serve with crusty bread, a green salad, and maybe a nice Wollersheim Prairie Sunburst Red. This winery is in Wisconsin and grows all their own stuff. Yes, Wisconsin, and they rock!

If you prefer a stuffed pepper with a little more pop, try our recipe for classic Oaxacan Chiles Rellenos. Trust me, it’ll knock your socks off in a good way!

Indigo Grafted Tomatoes

Ah, spring, the time when all garden fancier’s thoughts turn to planting. Here in the Great Northwet, the snows are receding, rains are nourishing the soil, and it’s time. Our planting beds, resting under straw all winter, are begging to be turned and filled.

If you’re a lover of great tomatoes, then fact is, you simply must be a grower of great tomatoes. Whether you occupy acres or square feet, there’s always room for your favorites and if, as for many of us space is an issue, tomatoes that bear well in a compact space are best yet. Which brings us back to the love of those little globes of wonder. Enter the Indigo grafted tomato.

First and foremost, one wonders, why grafted? The simple answer is, because it works. Grafting is neither new nor done as a novelty; it’s sound practice with a long history of success. The technique, as applied to these Indigo tomatoes, involves mating the root stock of one variety with the leafy stem of another.

My hands down favorite college horticulture course focused on grafting. That was back in the late ’70s and I hate to admit it, but even though our back yard apple tree is a grafted wonder offering four distinct varieties, I’d not thought much of the technique in terms of tomato plants until these Indigos came along. My Professor at the University of Washington, fondly referred to as Master Nishitani, explained that the Japanese had been successfully experimenting with grafting herbaceous edibles since the early 1900s. Still, grafted veggies been slow to catch on in this country, due predominantly to the supposed greater advantages offered by green revolution dependence on chemistry and standard hybridization techniques. Thankfully, a general return to sound environmental practices has lead naturally back to grafting as well

What grafting provides, in a sustainable and eco-sensitive manner, is the marriage of hearty rootstock to a bearing variety chosen for flavor and high yield. The rootstock variety offers a larger, more vigorous root system bred with greater resistance to fungi, bacteria and parasites; truly a godsend, given many tomato varieties susceptibility to such ills. Customized rootstock furthermore yields plants that can and will thrive in a myriad of environmental conditions, a gift any gardener can appreciate.

Indeed, and so it is with these wonderful little Indigos. Monica and I were blessed with several plants from our dear friends at Log House Plants. We picked them up and admired healthy, happy starts, but apparently nothing out of the ordinary, yet… It was after planting and those tenuous weeks of waiting for things to happen that we first noticed a difference; not just blossoms, but lots and lots of blossoms! As fruit began to form, these compact plants, topping out at about 2 1/2′ here in our little USDA Zone 7b garden, were absolutely loaded. I place purposeful emphasis on the word compact; regardless of the space you dedicate to tomatoes in your garden, these Indigos will provide enviable bounty and variety.

And such fruit! The Indigo varieties are named for that hue, naturally occurring in tomatoes, fully expressed in these little guys. Right away the colors just floored us; perfect little globes of deep purple-black, yellow-gold and seriously rich reds. Any honest lover of tomatoes will admit that color and shape have darn near as much to do with desirability as taste. These things were like candy as they matured, the colors becoming deeper and glossier as the days progressed. Photographing them wasn’t a chore, it was a treat.

Our favorite thus far is the Indigo Rose, a stunning blend that starts out purple-almost-black with brilliant green highlights, and matures into a deep purple-red with stunning crimson flesh. This first true purple tomato also contains anthocyanins, a potent antioxidant found in blueberries, raspberries and cranberries.

The real treat, of course, is the taste. These Indigo varieties are simply amazing. Plucked off the vine and popped into your mouth on a cool, quiet morning, this is the kind of rich, complex taste that forms lasting memories. cooking, preserving and eating these beauties is a joy, and therein lies the only other impetus you should require for growing your own Indigos. Variety is indeed the spice of life; these hardy, high-yield varieties offer the perfect home grown, home cooked solution.

Do yourselves a favor, and look these little guys up by name. Chances are a nursery near you will have them, and if not, you can find an online source to hook you up. If you have any problem finding them let us know and we’ll get you squared away.

So, type in the search terms ‘tomato’ and ‘green tomato’ up there on the little search box to the right; you’ll find lovely recipes featuring these wonderful Indigos, including a tomato and onion tart, chutney, relish, and some ideas on preserving your bounty as well.

Happy planting, harvesting, and cooking!

Indoor Herbs

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Basil, Sage, Rosemary and Thyyyyyyyyyme,
And Oregano, too!

When it comes to great home cooking, herbs are the key to separating the ho-hum for the UH HUH! And when it comes to great herbs, fresh beats dried hands down.

Having what you love as indispensable herbs available year round means growing your own, especially when a sort-of-but-not-really little plastic thingy of herbs from the store runs $5…
Fortunately, it’s not hard to grow your own, doesn’t take much room, and is well worth the time and money needed.

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You do not need to make this a fancy or expensive venture, but you can get as elaborate as you like. Let your imagination be your guide on a cold weekend and have some fun: All you really need is a decent sized pot, some potting soil, and a few seeds or starts. You should also have a nice sunny spot, of course; herbs dig direct sun and warmth, just like us.

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You may want to go to a decent nursery to find a decent selection, and your chances are better for finding starters there, which have obvious speed of enjoyment benefits over seed.

Choose a variety of herbs that you like to use most. The five choices I opened with are our faves, but get what floats your boat; nowadays, you’ll not just find thyme, for instance, but varieties like lemon, lime, or lavender. Same goes for Basil, Oregano, Sage, Marjoram and a bunch more great herbs.

Buy a large, deep plant pot, 12″ to 18″ around and a good 8″ to 12″ deep. Keep in mind the growing habits of your choices when you select pot size; sage grows tall, basil and oregano fairly bushy, while thyme is a creeper. Make sure its got drainage holes in the bottom and buy a nice deep saucer to handle runoff.

Get a bag of decent quality potting soil big enough to fill your pot and have some left over.

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Scrounge some gravel, river rock, or pot shards to line the bottom of your pot; they’ll aid in drainage by making sure the holes don’t get clogged with soil.

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When you get everything home, fill the pot up with soil, stopping about 3″ inches from the top.

Moisten the soil lightly but thoroughly and mix it well by hand.

If you bought starters, make your holes about 1 1/2 times the size of the soil the plants came with. Gently pull the plant from its container and carefully loosen the soil around its roots. Don’t tear the roots, just give them some breathing room. Plant your starter, pack about 1″ of your potting soil over the dirt and roots and press everything down gently but firmly. Give each plant a couple of inches room from each other. Water thoroughly when you’re finished planting but don’t drown the little guys.

If you’re planting seeds, follow the directions for starting them, as to depth, water, germination time, etc.

Set your pot on its drainage saucer and pick your best growing spot; again, most herbs like full sun, and in the cold months, they’ll take as much of the weaker weak winter sun as they can get.

Don’t overwater; when your little buddies look parched, (droopy dull leaves are a sign), give them a nice drink. You do not want the soil saturated, nor should there ever be standing water in your drip tray. You can certainly give them a little plant food if you like. We find that herbs dig Superthrive, which is a great, well established growth supplement.

Speaking of growth, keep an eye on that and trim as needed for meals and to keep things fair in the jungle. When you want some herbs for cooking, cut top leaves first. If you trim to a junction rather than just in the middle of a stem, you’ll encourage better health and regrowth.

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Once it gets warm again, you can set plants outside or leave them in as you see fit. Personally, the closer the ingredients to the pot, the happier I am.


Tomato & Caramelized Onion Tart

We’ve been graced with some amazing tomatoes through our friend Alice at Log House Plants; these are Might ‘Mato grafted varieties and they are simply stunning in taste, appearance and yield. Trust me when I say get you some!

We’refeaturing several recipes that take advantage of these lovely things; here’s a savory, sweet to-die-for tart, if we do say so ourselves!

For the Tart:
2 cups Flour
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Sugar
12 Tbs. Unsalted Butter, well chilled & cut into 1/2″ cubes
6 to 8 Tbs. Ice Water

Combine flour, salt and sugar thoroughly.

With your fingertips, blend the butter into the flour mix until its has the even consistency of coarse corn meal.

Add water a tablespoon at a time and mix gently with your hands. Continue until the dough is thoroughly blended and moist but not sticky; STOP messing with it as soon as it gets to that stage.

Flatten the dough out into a disk about 6″ round, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, (And up to overnight).

Roll the dough out to roughly 16″ round and about 1/8″ thick.

Carefully transfer the dough to a parchment-lined 12″ tart pan. Double back the rim to about 3/4″ high and trim away any excess, (Roll the excess back out, sprinkle with a little sea salt, garlic, pepper and hard cheese for a lovely little amuse bouché)

Stick the pan back into the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Remove the crust from fridge, fill with marbles or dry beans and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, remove marbles/beans and get ready to fill ‘er up.

For the Caramelized Onions:
Slice a medium sweet onion into 1/4″ rounds.

In a large sauté pan, add 2 tablespoons each of extra virgin olive oil and butter over medium heat. Toss in onions, add salt and pepper to taste, reduce heat to medium low and Caramelized onions until golden brown and soft. Turn heat to high, briefly allow pan to heat through. Add two Tablespoons of Sherry, flame and allow the alcohol to burn off. Set onions aside in a non reactive bowl.

For the Tomatoes:
Add 1 fresh Tablespoon of butter and olive oil to sauté pan over medium low heat.

Slice about 24 small cherry or varietal tomatoes in half.

Mince two cloves of garlic.

Toss garlic and into pan and allow to caramelize slightly. Add tomatoes, blend with garlic for about 2 minutes. As soon as you see the tomatoes showing signs of getting soft, remove from heat, drain excess oil and set aside.

Set oven to 375 F.

Layer onions evenly over tart, then add an even layer of tomatoes.

Set oven racks at lower and upper third positions.

Bake tart for 15 minutes on lower rack, then spin 180 degrees and bake another 15 minutes on top rack.

Remove from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Garnish with creme freche or Crema and fresh cilantro.

Be sure to pop over to this post for some truly wonderful Green Tomato Chuntney!

Lovely Variation:
Replace the lightly sautéed garlic with oven roasted garlic; gives a sweeter, deeper and more complex garlic note to the dish.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Peel away the outer layers from a whole bulb of garlic bulb skin, (leave individual cloves skins intact). Do as many as you like this way – 1 large clove is enough for this tart.

Slice about 1/4″ off the top of the cloves.

Set garlic head up in a garlic roaster, (you can use a muffin tin if you don’t have a roaster; just cover each head with aluminum foil before roasting). Drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil over the top, then rub it in to the whole head by hand.

Bake at 400°F for 30-35 minutes, or until the cloves tops are caramel colored and feel soft to the touch.

Remove from oven and set to cool on a wire rack. When they’re cool enough to handle, you can grab a clove and squish the roasted garlic right out. Do that into a with as many as you like for your tart.

Spread the roasted garlic onto the tart crust prior to layering on the onions.

E & M

Pesto über alles

Pesto – Say it and you get a love it or hate it reaction not dissimilar to oysters. The naysayers assumptions are that pesto is overbearing and hard to make, neither of which is true. Fact is, pesto is much more than you think it is and ridiculously simple to make. Let’s dig in.

OK, so classic pesto, the basil driven version, is in fact a delight and super simple to make. The potential variety is as broad as the options for the basil you grow. From Genovese to Holy, blue to Thai, the variety is broad indeed – African Blue, Purple, Red Rubin, Spicy Globe, Lemon, Lime, and Cinnamon all are readily available and truly speak to their names in taste and appearance. If you make identical batches changing just the variety of basil, each one will be completely distinct, and that’s just messing with the basil.

Toast the pine nuts, or don’t. Switch pine nuts for sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, Spanish peanuts, cashews, or brazil nuts and again, each and every one is completely unique.

Change garlic for sweet onion, red onion, shallot, or chive – Same deal.

Switch Romano to Parmiagano Regianno, Asiago, or Mizithra and again, totally new worlds.

So, here’s the basic:

Classic Pesto
1 Cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1-2 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor or blender and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Now, with the processor or blender running, add a thin, steady stream of oil to the mix and continue until you reach the consistency you like – ‘Pesto’ is paste, so you can go from runny to stiff, as you see fit. Finally, add salt and pepper sparingly, to taste.

If you’re eating it now, chuck everything into a mixing bowl, add the cheese and combine thoroughly by hand.

If you want to freeze your stuff to use later, which you sure can do, then leave the cheese out, put the pesto into an air tight container, drizzle a bit more oil onto the top and you’re good to go for at least a couple months. Just thaw, add the cheese and you’re there. Consider putting pesto into ice cube trays for the freeze; just pop out however many you need and off you go.

What to do if, regardless of variety, basil just don’t float yer boat? No worries; again, ‘pesto’ is just a paste, and you can make it with a bunch of alternatives – Here’s a few to getcha started.

Use parsley instead of basil, (Preferably home grown!) and walnuts instead of pine nuts, (Cheaper if nothing else) and you’ve got yet another new world to explore.

This is one of our personal faves; sub Cilantro for basil, pistachios for the pine nuts, and Queso Fresco for the Pecorino. Try it, you’ll like it.

Wanna try the Greek version? Sub Myzithra for the cheese and walnuts for pine.

Got the idea? I knew ya would – Here’s a raft of others for you to explore. All the procedures are the same as for the basic recipe.

Sub spinach for the basil, with any nut and cheese combo you like.

For a Great Northwet variation, try this.
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
1 1/2 cups fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup Hazelnuts
1/2 cup Parmiagano Regianno
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2-3 Cloves Garlic
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Finally, here’s a great Thyme variant.
2/3 cups parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime thyme
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 to 1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper to taste

There’s enough to get y’all started; beyond that, you’re on your own, but share the good ones, OK?

Plastered Planters

This just absolutely cracked me up! Sister Ann writing for her local paper. You’ll find links to Annie’s blog and Alice’s Log House Plants right here. On the Log House website, you’ll find a list of nurseries that carry Alice’s stuff.


Lovejoy for Kitsap Sun April 27, 2013

Plant Now For Spirited Summer Drinks

Last month, garden writer Amy Stewart presented gardeners with yet another intriguing book. Author of Wicked Plants (about toxic and psychotropic plants) and The Earth Moved (about worms), Stewart delights in offering new slants on age old topics.

Stewart’s latest effort is The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks. Inspired by such liquid delights as Margaritas and Mint Juleps, she offers stories, garden tips, and 50 recipes for would-be mixologists.

Stewart’s research fascinated Alice Doyle, co-owner of Log House Plants in Cottage Grove, Oregon. Among the Northwest’s premier wholesale plant growers, Log House Plants is famous for pioneering numerous horticulture trends, from informative plant labels to grafted vegetables. Thus, it’s not surprising that Doyle and Stewart teamed up to create a series of Drunken Botanist plant collections.

For example, if you are fond of using simple syrups in mixed drinks, you will want to grow the Mixologist collection. This assortment includes Orange Mint, Lavender Grosso, and Thai Basil, all excellent culinary forms that belong in the kitchen as well as the drinks cupboard. It also contains Agastache Golden Jubilee, a fragrant and flavorful perennial that is extremely attractive to bees and hummingbirds. Experimental cooks will also find plenty of uses for the perfumed foliage of Attar of Rose scented geraniums, and Angelica, a tasty and sweet scented biennial long candied for cake decorations.

Those who prefer whiskey cocktails could plant the Southern Belle Whiskey Garden. This includes the inevitable mint, though in superior form (Mint Kentucky Colonel), as well as German Chamomile, English Thyme, and French Tarragon.

If you like zippier drinks, yours is the Heart of Agave Tequila Garden, featuring savory Grower’s Friend Sage, Jalapeno Peguis Peppers, Golden Midget Watermelons, Margarita Mint, and Arp, a very hardy rosemary.

There’s also an Old Tom Gin Garden, with special forms of borage, basil, and thyme, along with Lemon Cucumbers. This set also includes my favorite Mexican Sour Gherkins, a wiry little scrambler Rachel Ray called the most important new vegetable in decades. These tiny, tart little cucumber relatives are delicious in salads and when pickled, are popular in drinks where you might use pickled onions. They look and taste a bit like watermelon, and are sometimes called watermelon cukes.

But wait, there’s more! The Old Havana Rum Garden celebrates Columbus’ discovery of sugarcane, a tropical grass that is a key ingredient in rum. This combo lets you partner rum with amazingly tangy golden alpine strawberries, lemon grass, lemon verbena, or Cuban Mohito Mint, all of which will earn their way into many a meal.

The Farmers Market Vodka Garden collection pairs cute little Red Currant Tomatoes with Fireball and Cherry Pick Peppers, all excellent varieties. This set also includes Slow Bolting Cilantro, which carries on long after ordinary cilantro has gone to seed, and Redventure Celery, a lovely creature with pinky-red stems that are delightfully crisp.

Even if you don’t imbibe, you can use these ingenious kits to make refreshing shrubs, combining various vinegars, fresh herbs, fruit or vegetables with sparkling water. These classic drinks were enormously popular in pioneer and Victorian times and are enjoying a renaissance in trendy bars today. Instead of a Shirley Temple, try apple cider vinegar, muddled raspberries, lemon balm and tonic. Or mix spicy, non-alcoholic ginger beer with crushed mint, a little jalapeno pepper, and chopped cucumber.

The possibilities are endless and make for splendidly different picnics and potlucks. If your local nursery doesn’t carry Log House Plant collections, check their website for the nearest retailer.

Log House Plants