Mushrooms (A Lovesong)

Martin Osis leading a mushroom forayMy mind is still reeling from the Labour Day weekend, when Lisa and I attended the Great Alberta Foray in the Bow and Kananaskis valleys. The foray was run by the Alberta Mycological Society.

One month ago, I didn’t know what mushrooms were. Of course I had cooked and eaten them, but I didn’t understand, for instance, their anatomy (why do they have gills?) or their role in my front lawn (why do they grow in rings?).

Here are some mushroom basics I learned that weekend.

1. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi.

I was sure of one fact before attending the foray: mushrooms are fungi. (Mycologists, however, pronounce the word with a soft “g”, which precludes any … Continue reading.

Dried Tomatoes

A tray of partly-dried tomatoesTwo years ago, I had no place in my heart for tomatoes. With the stiff, pale burger-garnishes in mind, I wondered how anyone could get excited about them.

Then a few potted tomato plants in the backyard taught me how much heat they need to mature. Once they started to fruit, the woman next door was in awe, as not thirty feet away she had tried to grow tomatoes to no avail. We decided it was the exposed, south-facing cement wall behind my plants, storing heat during the day to pass to the tomatoes at night, that let them flourish. After harvest, I built a special room in my heart for tomatoes, the demanding plants that grow best in greenhouses … Continue reading.

Air-Dried Sausages

Hanging sausages to dry in a cellarI just finished my first batch of dry-cured sausage. It is essentially fresh ground pork, stuffed into casings with nitrate and seasonings, then left to dry. The temperature and humidity have to be just right for the sausage to dry properly. I experimented with climate-control when making pancetta this past spring. In that case the meat had already been cured in my fridge, and the drying was just to change the texture. The pancetta was also cooked before eating. This is a whole other ball game, as these sausages aren’t cured in the fridge beforehand, and aren’t cooked before eating.

Dry-curing is an interesting process. With most charcuterie preparations, there are easily-described visual indicators to guide you along. For instance, … Continue reading.

Foraging Fruit in and around Edmonton

A few of the many wild edibles that are in season in and around Edmonton in early fall:

Highbush Cranberries

Highbush cranberries are traditionally picked after the first frost, when they are said to be sweetest. I don’t know if the freezing temperature itself does something to sweeten the fruit, or if it’s simply that waiting until the first frost gives the fruit the longest possible time to ripen and sweeten.

Cool, cloudy summers like the one we’ve just had yield berries with more acid and less sugar. Even so, the berries will still be good, so go pick a handful to save for Thanksgiving dinner.

Highbush cranberries in the Edmonton river valley

Chokecherries

Cornucopic clusters of chokecherries hang along the trails of the river valley this … Continue reading.

Dried Chili Peppers

Dried chili peppersWe didn’t eat spicy food when I was growing up.  Not at all.

I didn’t learn to appreciate spicy food until I was in my early twenties, and it was at an Italian restaurant, of all places.  I patronized Mercato in Calgary throughout high school, then later I had the opportunity to work in their kitchen.  They make food from all over Italy, but the owners are Calabrian, and there’s always a few pastas on the menu made by infusing olive oil with garlic and hot chili flakes.  I remember the first time that I realized how effective a little heat can be.  It wakes up your mouth, and it elongates the sensation of the dish, as your mouth is … Continue reading.

Lacto-Fermented Pickles

Naturally fermented dill picklesI come from a land of “refrigerator pickles”: cucumbers steeped in syrupy vinegar and spices, and stored in the fridge through the fall. There is another type of pickle called a lacto-fermented pickle.  The idea of producing an acidic pickle with only brine was a revelation.

There are two ways to apply the salt and control the salt concentration: either dry salt can be added directly to the ingredient, or the ingredient can be submerged in a brine.

Direct Salting.  This method is more common when the ingredient to be fermented has been sliced or chopped finely.  Sauerkraut is the most familiar example in the west.  For this method we typically add about 2% of the weight of the ingredient … Continue reading.

Chicken Salad Sandwiches

It’s amazing how a dish that is considered boring, almost proverbially boring, can be so good when it’s made properly.

Yes, chicken salad is boring when you buy it in a tub.  But when you have the cold leftovers of a properly roasted bird, and thick, homemade mayonnaise, nothing beats the clean flavours of a chicken salad sandwich.

Sure, the chicken skin is no longer crisp, but it’s still tender and salty. Besides, the crispiness comes from the celery.

And the round creaminess of the mayo is spiked with raw onion, and black pepper, and vinegar, and herbs.

It’s good when the leftovers are as coveted as the original dish.

Leftover chicken

Making the chicken salad

The finished chicken salad on toast, with tomatoes and lettuce

Duck Liver Pâté

This week I made a duck liver pâté and served it with sour cherries.  Both the livers and the cherries came from Greens, Eggs, and Ham.

The recipe was adapted from that for pâté grand mère in Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. Duck livers can generally stand in for chicken livers.

1: Season the pork and liver (separately), with salt, pepper, bay, and thyme. Leave the mixtures overnight in the fridge.

The pork and duck liver, seasoned and left to marinate

2: The next day, chill the meat grinder and mixer parts. Ice water is particularly effective. You can also preheat your oven to 300°F.

Chilling the grinder parts in ice-water

3: After removing the bay leaf and thyme, sear the livers quickly over high heat. This is done strictly to enhance flavour and colour. Remove the … Continue reading.

Potato Dumplings in Broth

This post is about simple potatoes dumplings, served in an interesting potato broth.

Conversations about potato dishes usually focus on texture (the ideal French fry has a crisp exterior and fluffy interior, the ideal mashed potatoes are smooth but not gummy…) I love this broth because it makes you think about how potatoes taste. Potato skins are used to infuse a vegetable broth with potato flavour, without any of the thick starchiness we associate with potato soups.

Let’s start with the dumplings. The key to pillow-like potato dumplings is to have very little moisture in the potatoes. This way the milled potatoes will require less flour to form a dough, and there will be accordingly less gluten in the finished … Continue reading.

Rumpot

The first layer of the rumpotRumtopf, literally “rum pot”, is a traditional German fruit preserve. As each type of fruit comes into season, it is macerated with sugar, placed in the pot, then covered with rum. Traditional rumtopfen are earthenware pots with heavy lids, but any wide-mouthed, non-reactive vessel can be used.

I use about one part sugar to two parts fruit, by weight, for each addition.

Once the last layer of fruit is added, the mixture steeps for a few months, and is traditionally eaten around Christmas.

The mixture goes through some profound transformations during aging. It loses the striking vibrancy seen above and turns a uniform burgundy. The liquor loses its clarity and becomes murky, with an exceptionally rich mouthfeel, verging on … Continue reading.

The personal website of Edmonton chef Allan Suddaby