Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chicken Mushroom Recipe - Green Grape "Chicken" Salad

We were lucky to find a wonderfully tender white chicken mushroom (Laetiporus cincinnatus) while out driving after a day at the beach. Once it was cleaned, I promptly made Gillian's favorite chicken mushroom recipe, pot pie with a biscuit top, and then chopped up some of the larger fronds and core into chunks to make "chicken" salad. Many years ago I worked at an upscale deli that made several types of chicken salad for fancy sandwiches, like curry chicken salad, and my favorite, a chicken salad with green grapes and walnuts. This is not an original recipe, but we made it our own by using the mushroom and making it vegetarian. Robert loved it the next day with a shot of hot sauce on home-baked bread, while I preferred it served in a lettuce leaf cup. This recipe could easily be used with the orange/yellow variety of chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) as well.

White chicken, Laetiporus cincinnatus

Green Grape "Chicken" Salad          makes about 4 c.

2 1/2 c. diced chicken mushroom, use the core and the thicker ends of the fronds
1/2 c. chopped celery
1 c. halved green grapes
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper

1. Simmer the chicken mushroom in water or vegetable broth for 15 minutes, drain and cool. (You can save the water to use in making gravy or a soup, it will become really flavorful.)
2. In a large bowl, Mix together the mayonnaise, sour cream, and lemon juice.
3. Mix in the cooked chicken mushroom, celery, grapes and walnuts, tossing to coat evenly. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper. Let the chicken salad sit in the refrigerator for an hour or so before making sandwiches, to allow the flavors to meld. Serve on a roll, in a wrap, or in a lettuce leaf.

Robert holding a yellow chicken, Laetiporus sulphureus

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cattail Recipe--Cattail Flower Bread

Late spring is when we head back out into wet areas that are filled with cattails, and at this time of year the flower spikes are just getting ready to emerge from a protective leaf sheath. In a week or two, the male portion of the flower will be filled with pollen that can be collected, but now we are after the immature flower, specifically the upper, male portion. The bottom half of the flower spike is the female portion, and once pollinated, it will mature into the familiar "hot dog on a stick" you see in swamps and wet areas.

Pinch the green fluff off the core

We cut the flower spike off the stem, and bring them home to peel off the covering, shaking off the tiny beetles that often live inside. There isn't much "meat" on the lower, female flower, so that gets discarded. The upper, male portion can be boiled, buttered, and salted and eaten like corn on the cob, leaving behind a white core. We also like to pinch off the tender green fluff from the core and use it in recipes, lending a corn-like flavor. The green fluff can be frozen successfully by packing it tightly in a container, or vacuum packing it into pouches and used all year.

This bread has a similar texture as conventional cornbread, and we make it in a cast iron skillet for a nice crispy outer crust. Serve it with some sour cream dolloped on top, or on the side of some chili.

Cattail Bread          makes one 9" cast iron pan, or 9" cake pan

1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. cattail flower fluff, removed from core
2 Tbsp. cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. diced jalapenos or sweet red pepper
3 Tbsp. chopped scallions or ramps greens
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 c. buttermilk

1. Heat oven to 400ยบ F, butter a cast iron skillet or baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cattail fluff, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper, diced peppers, chopped scallions, and shredded cheese. Mix together.
3. In a second bowl, whisk the eggs with the melted butter and buttermilk.
4. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until combined.
5. Pour into prepared skillet or pan, and bake 18-25 minutes, until lightly browned and the top springs back when pressed. Cool and cut.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Spicebush Recipe- Spicebush Ice Cream Sandwiches on Acorn Cookies

Even thought spicebush berries and acorns are wild foods collected in autumn, hot summer days are when we want ice cream sandwiches. Dipping into our preserved stores, we pulled spicebush berries and finely ground acorn flour from the freezer and put together a summertime treat. I had originally made a similar sauce for bread pudding using the spicebush berries, and thought it would make a nice custard-based ice cream. Thinking about how to serve the ice cream, I attempted to make ice cream cones from acorn flour, but ended up with thin cookies that worked better as sandwich cookies.

The flavor of the ice cream is similar to Indian kulfi, exotically spiced and warming with hints of cardamom and black pepper, all from our local, native spicebush berry, Lindera benzoin. We collected acorns from white oaks three years ago when they were abundant, cold leached them in water for a few weeks before drying and grinding them into flour. Hopefully this year will be a good mast year for the local white and red oaks, and we can collect many bucketfuls of acorn to shell over the winter months!

Spicebush berry ice cream

Spicebush Ice Cream Sandwiches on Acorn Cookies          
makes about 9-10 sandwiches

For the sandwich cookies:
Acorn Cookies              makes about 18- 2" cookies

1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c. ground acorn flour
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp. water
5 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1 Tbsp. vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 300°F, and cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, acorn flour, powdered sugar, and salt together until blended.
3. In another bowl, beat the egg whites and water together until frothy, and whisk in the cooled, melted butter and vanilla.
4. Using a large wire whisk, blend the dry ingredients into the eggs and whisk until combined.
5. Scoop about 1 Tbsp. of the batter onto the parchment covered cookie sheet, and use a small spatula to spread it out into a 2-3 inch round, about 1/8" thick. This will not spread very much in the oven, so leave about 1" between each cookie round on the cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 8 minutes, until firm, remove from the oven and prick the tops of the flat cookies with a fork gently to make some decorative holes. Cool cookies, they will be slightly soft and flexible.

For the ice cream:
Spicebush Berry Ice Cream           makes about 1 gallon

2 c. whole milk or almond milk
2 c. heavy cream
About 40 spicebush berries
1 c. granulated sugar, divided
1/4 tsp. salt
5 large egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Have the bowl of the ice cream maker frozen and ready to use.
2. In a blender, blend the spicebush berries and whole milk or almond milk until the berries are ground into small specks.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, ground berries, cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil.
4. As the milk mixture is heating, combine the yolks and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a bowl. Whisk until the yolks are light yellow and thick.
5. Once the milk/cream mixture has just stated to boil, whisk about 1/3 of it into the yolk mixture. Add another 1/3 of the hot milk to the yolks, then add it all back into the saucepan. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the mixture over low heat for 3-5 minutes, until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Do not let the custard come to a boil or the yolks will be overcooked.
6. Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer to catch any lumps and stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and chill.
7. Follow the manufacturer's directions for your ice cream machine, and churn the custard until thickened, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a freezer container and chill until firm.
8. Once the ice cream is firm, scoop 2-3 Tbsp. onto an acorn cookie, and top with another acorn cookie. Re-chill until firm.

Acorn flour

Friday, June 12, 2015

Milkweed Recipe Roundup

Although it is too late to gather and eat the shoots of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the flower buds are at a great size to eat, and the pods will be maturing soon. Although many books say to boil milkweed three times for 10 minutes in clean water, it just isn't necessary, and was likely based on someone trying to boil the bitterness out of misidentified dogbane shoots. Milkweed should not be bitter at all, and tastes a bit like green beans. Once boiled a single time for about 5-7 minutes, add milkweed to recipes.


 Milkweed is a food source for Monarch butterflies, as well as many others, but in our experiences, we have only seen the caterpillars eat the leaves, so don't feel guilty about collecting the flower clusters or pods to eat. We even raised a few caterpillars to butterflies, offering them every part of the milkweed, but they only ever ate the leaves. In our area of southeastern Connecticut, there are thousands of acres of fallow fields and wildlife management areas all filled with milkweed, chicory, sumacs, and berries, so I don't think a family of three can overharvest a few meals of milkweed flower buds or pods.

And Mushroom Season Begins . . .

While spring has finally sprung and we are up to our chins in fresh, seasonal, wild greens, spring is a terrible time for mushrooms. Beyond a lucky morel, some dried polypores, and an odd Ascomycete, Connecticut just doesn't have much to offer in the way of fungi in spring. It's not even about the edible mushrooms, just about any gilled little brown mushroom becomes a welcome sight after a long winter and a foray table filled with black bumps on sticks and Stereums.

Walt from CVMS says, "Happy New Year!" when he celebrates the new mushroom season with the sighting of the first Amanita on the foray tables. With the club on Facebook, we can now communicate our finds during the week as well. This past week, we found a stately yellow Amanita muscaria var. guessowii and a baby while hiking out to a favorite nettle collecting spot. Even better were the Boletes found while scouting new hiking/foraging location. Boletes in June? Yes! The red-pored one with a reddish-brown top and immediate blue staining is in the Boletus subvelutipes group, not edible. But the others, with bulbous bases, no staining, stuffed ores, beautifully sexy white reticulation on the apex of the stipe, and the gorgeous fresh-baked-bun-from-the-oven cap color, just screamed perfect porcini, Boletus edulis. Those babies cooked up buttery and crispy, nutty and delicious with a sprinkle of sea salt. And mushroom season begins. . .

Friday, May 29, 2015

Invasive Bamboo Identified

I like to keep a current list of the invasive plants of Connecticut on hand, and on the copy I printed out, I highlight the edible ones. Just doing our part to reduce the invasive plants by eating them! We eat garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed, Rugosa roses, autumn olives, wineberry, sheep sorrel, dandelions, black locust blossoms, and now we found a few local sources for yellow groove bamboo.

Older stalks and some of the still-sheathed stalks from this year

Observe the yellow groove on the stalk

Yellow groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) is a grass that is often sold as an ornamental, promoted as good for privacy hedges. While not on the invasive list, it is a plant that is monitored by the CT Invasive Plants Council, and homeowners who plant it are subject to rules about letting it escape property boundaries and fines for not containing their bamboo groves. Yellow groove bamboo is very aggressive and spreads easily through underground rhizomes, and we have seen it growing up through the pavement. Yellow grove bamboo is a cold hearty variety, living through the winters here in Connecticut just fine. I see it listed as invasive in neighboring New York, as well as into the southern states where it grows in temperate to sub-tropical climates. As another invasive plant, we would never recommend planting yellow groove bamboo on your own property, or spreading it in any wild areas due to its destructive nature.

Bamboo shoots are mostly water, and are a low-calorie, high-fiber vegetable popular in Asia. They are eaten raw, boiled, pickled, canned, roasted and grilled. Not all species of bamboo are edible, some are rather bitter and others may contain a cyanogenic glycoside, (taxiphyllin), which can change to hydrogen cyanide in your gut. This toxin breaks down in water, so just to be safe, we boil our bamboo shoots.

 In Connecticut, the stalks grow up to 20-30 feet tall, and many of the leaves will drop in our cold winters.  Each stalk has cross walls, and the stalk is hollow, making it light. The leaf branches alternate on the stalk, and on the side of the stalk where a leaf stem emerges, there is a distinct yellow groove in the segment of stalk between the cross walls. Robert and Gillian like to collect sections of the stalks to make drinking cups and vases for flowers, and to carry small things around. The dry, mature stalks can be used as building materials for trellises in gardens, or for plant stakes.

The shoots are easily separated from the protective sheath

New shoots start emerging in May, and we can harvest them for about 3 weeks by chopping the top 1-2 feet off of the rapidly growing stalks, or finding the newly emerging shoots between the mature stalks. The shoots have a sheath covering them when they first emerge, and it is striped yellow, green, and a bit of purple. This leafy sheath should be removed, and we slice the shoot lengthwise first before sliding a thumb under the chambered shoot and the sheath; it should come apart quite easily. We then boil the split shoots for about 15-20 minutes in water with added rice or rice bran, which is the traditional Japanese way to prepare takenoko. Tossed with some soy sauce and ginger, or lemon juice and olive oil, they make a fantastic cold salad, or delicious cooked vegetable.

Cut and cleaned shoots, ready to boil and eat

Gillian using the saw to cut some bamboo lengths for playing

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Black Locust Recipe - Black Locust Crepe (Palacsinta)

What's a palacsinta? It is the Hungarian version of crepes! These are Robert's favorite mid-day snack, quick to put together and cook, and the recipe is easy to modify to accommodate just about and version of sweet or savory ingredients. Here, we added black locust flowers into the batter and drizzled the top with a chocolate sauce and a dusting of powdered sugar. They could be filled with jelly or nuts and rolled up too.

Robert carefully collecting the black locust flowers. This tree had more thorns than we are used to!
Robert roughly chopped the flowers to prevent then from sticking out of the batter and burning. The batter is very thin, as it needs to coat the bottom of the skillet. Allowing the batter to rest for 20 minutes hydrates the flour and makes a much better finished palacsinta.

Black Locust Palacsinta          makes about 10

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. ground flax seeds (flax seed meal)
1 Tbsp. sugar
pinch of salt
1 12 oz. can of seltzer
1 1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. chopped black locust flowers
1 Tbsp. cattail or pine pollen (optional)

1. Combine the flour, flax meal, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
2. Whisk in the seltzer and water, mixing until there are no lumps. Cover and let the batter rest for 5-10 minutes.
3. Stir in the chopped black locust flowers and optional pollen.
4. Heat a non-stick skillet or crepe pan to medium, and add some oil to the pan, swirling to coat the bottom evenly.
5. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan, again swirling the pan to spread the batter evenly over the bottom of the skillet, the batter should be very easy to spread out this way.
6. Cook about 2-3 minutes until the bottom is lightly browned and the top has set, then flip the palacsinta with a spatula, cooking the other side for 1-2 minutes.
7. Slide the palacsinta out of the pan and fill with jelly, ice cream, or fruit, or top with powdered sugar and eat while still warm.