Some mushrooms hunters call the ever-growing desire for morels "morel madness" or "morel fever."  I think it would be more accurate to title what I experienced as "morel envy."  It all started with a delivery of fiddle head ferns, ramps, and hop shoots at the restaurant...along with eight pounds of morels from a supplier in southeast Pennsylvania.
Eight pounds of morels...sadly not for me.
I've found morels before, but that was a few years ago.  This year, inspired (or extremely jealous) by the bounty I saw at work, I decided to make a more concentrated effort.  Matt, my brother-in-law, suggested I try a recently opened area of game lands that contains an old, overgrown apple orchard.
First Morel of 2015

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the game lands I found the trees in the orchard had been torn up and put through a chipper by the game commission, then the stumps burned.  Poking about, I didn't see any sign of mushrooms or any sort of growth at all.  There were some hedgerows full of ferns and nettles on the perimeter, but they were mushroom-less.

I tried different areas of the game lands for two days last week, then tried a new area this week.  On a hilly, shaded area above a creek, I finally had some luck. I found four mushrooms that day...five if you count the one a deer mashed into the ground.

Still, I was happy to have those four, and they were delicious sauteed over a grass-fed rib eye.  Carla and I were both amazed by the intensely earthly, savory, and slightly smokey taste of the morels.

The next day I returned to the same area and began to work my way farther up the hill into the deeper shrub.  This was where I found my largest morel, along with another ten smaller mushrooms.
Although comparatively a small haul, Carla and I felt rich with mushrooms when we got home and wanted to celebrate.  We decided to enjoy the morels with brown butter and fresh pasta.  I started a batch of pasta dough, then left it to rest while I plucked all the burrs off my clothes and dog.
Fried up in brown butter, the morels filled the house with a woodsy aroma.  The mushrooms were delicious with the pasta, while the infused butter spread the morel flavor across the noodles.  Again, as the night before, Carla and I were amazed by the taste of these mushrooms.  Even compared to the times we've purchased morels, these were by far the best.

Part of the exceptional nature may have been from the fact that we had earned them by crawling along the damp leaves and prickly briars.  On the other hand, I think a big part of the morels' flavor was due to how quickly we went from harvesting them to eating them that evening.

Much like freshly-cut asparagus or a tomato still warm from the sun, these morels were at their peak and full of wild woodland flavor and enjoyed before any of their flavor could fade.

Fettuccine with Wild Morels favorite American craft beer is being discontinued.  If you follow craft beer news, you might be familiar with this:

Stone's Ruination IPA, How We're Killing Craft Beer."
Discontinued Stone Ruination IPA
a twelve year old veteran, is being discontinued by the hop-centric San Diego brewery.  In the wake of the news, one article about craft beer particularly caught my eye...particularly because of the title, "

The point of the blog post was this: when was the last time you, the craft beer enthusiast, bought a brewery's flagship beer?  When did you choose a pack of Dogfish Raison d'Etre or Bell's Kallamazoo Stout over a new, seasonal release?  How do you economically encourage breweries to continue to produce their "big classics?"  Pointing the question back at myself, I felt upset.  I love Stone's Ruination, have brought it on trips, and even homebrewed a Ruination clone.

But to be fair, my beer purchases do often go for the rare, the seasonal, or eclectic over the classics.  Just last month I bought a single $12.99 bottle of Rogue's Sriracha Stout just for the experience of tasting it, when I could have bough a four pack of the always exceptional Founder's Breakfast Stout.

Continuing that thought, when I visit the bar offshoots of breweries like Troegs or Dogfish, I fall in love with the fact that you can come and sample their random one-offs and brewery exclusives.  Trying the mouth-mashed chicha corn beer at Dogfish in August '14 was a highlight of my beer-enthusiast life!  Why settle for delicious-but-readily-available beers of Weyerbacher, when I can drive to the brewery for their tap room only beers?

But this post isn't meant to be a grievous gripe-fest.  I love Stone Ruination IPA and I am sad to see it disappear from the U.S. craft beer marketplace.  But that's what craft beer is, a marketplace.  Stone Ruination IPA had over a decade of success behind it.  But when the market shifts, small companies need to adapt. 

So here I am, with four final bottles of Stone Ruination IPA.

I'm using each one to toast to the future.

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Cooking a big hunk of pork belly slow and low was one of the dishes I was most excited to create one I got my immersion circulator.  By cooking the pork belly for 12-24 hours at 145 F, the meat and fat become incredibly tender and succulent.  Since the temperature is kept low, the pork belly doesn't render out too much fat, keeping the meat moist and rich.
The dish itself is very simple so I wanted to use a high quality hunk of pork belly.  North Woods Ranch's Berkshire pigs produced these lovely red, white and pink striped beauties.  To season the meat, I rubbed them in red miso from South River Miso, then vacuum-sealed the bellies.  Total cooking time for these 2"x2" sections was 18 hours.  Afterwards, I drained off the miso and cooking juices from the bags into a sauce pan to reduce, then seared the pork belly in a hot skillet.

For serving I went with a riff on a Morimoto dish I had a few years ago: braised pork belly over porridge-like rice congee.  The creamy, bland rice is the perfect foil for the intense flavor of the pork belly, sauteed oyster mushrooms, and the reduced cooking juices of the pork.  Plus the slightly-sticky rice makes sure you can scoop up every drop of the intensely flavored juices.

Unlike my experiment with the chicken roulade, this dish really showed off the potential of using a sous vide and immersion circulator.  The pork's meat and fat were fork tender, and the juices that did come out during cooking in the water bath were intensely flavored; there was no evaporation to lose flavor and no broth or braising water to dilute the intensity.
Ruffled Grouse
At first I thought someone threw a rock at my window.  The sound of shattering glass was the last thing I expected at 10 in the morning...well I wouldn't have been expecting it any hour of the day, honestly.  Turning towards the sound, I saw my kitchen window was completely shattered.  A textbook size gap was missing from the center, with a spidery web of cracks spiking out from the center.  Soon larger sections of glass began dropping off, spreading the hole.

Looking out the window, I didn't see a rock, but a large ruffled grouse laying still on the ground.  Walking outside, I noticed the grouse had only broken the outer pane of the double-walled window.  I picked up the grouse, which was now dead, and carried it up to an old wooden carport on the side of our rental property.

Holding the grouse, I couldn't help but think of how beautiful it looked.  It really did have a mane of feathers around its neck.  Online I saw how impressive they looked when the feathers were completely puffed out and "ruffled" in display.

The grouse's spine was shattered right between the shoulders from the impact.  I knew I would cook and eat the bird; not only is it a famous game bird for eating, there seemed to be something wrong about just throwing it to the crows.

Cleaning the grouse, no blood came out.  When I finished plucking the bird, I eviscerated it and found most of the blood had been lost to internal hemorrhaging, along with both sides of the rib cage being broken.
Dressed, the grouse was just over two pounds
Classically, grouse is known for being a strong tasting and smelling bird.  I didn't encounter any smell, but perhaps the stronger smell is restricted to the more famously documented Red, or Scottish, grouse species.
I let the bird rest in a mild brine overnight to season the dense meat and let the muscles pass out of rigor mortis.  The next evening, I brought out the grouse to cook for dinner.  Sticking with the classic preparation, I rubbed the grouse with butter, thyme, salt and juniper berries, then roasted it under a few slices of bacon.
When the grouse was cooked, I made a sauce of the pan drippings, bacon, sherry, and thickened the sauce with the grouse's mashed liver and a flour roux.  Aside from the leg meat, there wasn't much of a "gamey" flavor to the grouse.  Even the gaminess of the legs was milder than I expected.  It's hard to describe the taste of the meat, which was milder than expected, but very flavorful.  It wasn't gamey, liverish, or beefy, but just had a wonderful savory flavor, like the taste of poultry to the second power.

While a peculiar turn of events, this certainly made for an interesting day.

In Thomas Keller's sous vide cookery tell-all, Under Pressure, is a recipe for saucisson l'ail, which is a traditional French garlic sausage.  Saucisson l'Ail is similar to the Italian salami cotto, where a pork forcemeat is cooked, rather than hung to dry and age.  I love garlicky sausages, so this was a recipe I was eager to try out.
Unfortunately it did not turn out well.  But it did teach me some nuances of cooking with an immersion circulator.  Keller's recipe calls for blanching the garlic several times in boiling water to mellow it.  I assumed this was to produce a more delicate taste.  In classical French grand cuisine, garlic should not be a dominate flavor, which is why the supremely garlicky escargots de bourgogne are regulated to bistro or common fare.  Thinking this was Keller's goal, I skipped the blanching step.

What I did not realize is that the low (145 F) temperature of the water bath would leave the garlic with a nearly raw, slightly harsh flavor.  To double the problem, I added an interior garnish of brandy-soaked figs to the center of the sausage.  Just like garlic, the temperature was too low to cook out the raw alcohol flavor.  While the results were edible, the dish was extremely unbalanced, with a biting heat from the garlic followed by the hot, boozy taste of the brandied figs.

So, not something to repeat, but some important lessons learned!