Sunday, September 26, 2010

Steal This Cookbook

As one might guess from Lexi's anecdote about going mushroom hunting with her mom in recent weeks, both of us come from families with rich culinary traditions. Food for us is as much an experience as it is simple nourishment, beginning with the hunt for and selection of ingredients and ending with the last bite of a gastronomic gala. (Somebody else gets to do the dishes.) Family recipes come from a variety of sources: word of mouth, personal invention, international travels, and, of course, cookbooks.

A couple of weekends ago I made a visit to the family vacation house, where I found one of my grandmother's old cookbook treasures: the ninth printing of the 1950 edition of Gourmet Magazine's Gourmet Cookbook. (See picture.)

Many of the recipes are standard classics: a Caesar salad recipe that's the genuine article, all the mother sauces (with many of their daughters), basic consomme recipes, and so on. But there was one section in particular which moved me enough to abscond with the cookbook and bring it home with me on indefinite loan. From page 447:
The glossy black bear and the great brown bear enjoy vegetables, berries, fruit, and honey, as well as more carnal entrees, and bear flesh is rich, sweet, and delicious. It must be hung and marinated. After this treatment, bear may be cooked like beef steer, except that the neck and hindquarters are too muscular for good eating.
This is something of a novel food idea for me, since I come from a family of farmers, not hunters. I married into a family of hunters, but they don't seem to have gone after bear (they focused mostly on deer, elk, mountain goat, and the like). The next four recipes in the book are for Bear Huntsman Style, Bear Steak Alexandre I, Bear Leg in Red Wine, and Bear Stew in Burgundy. I've eaten a few game animals in my day, but never had the chance to sample bear.

But now, if someone shows up at a get-together with a haunch of bear meat, I'll know how to prepare it. Smokey better watch out.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dinner for a Rainy Autumn Eve

Mashed Potatoes and Pan Gravy

One of the great things about living in the Pacific Northwest is the abundance of wild foodstuffs you can forage for yourself. I've heard that the Coastal Salish Native Americans had the most sophisticated art forms in North America, due largely to the fact that food is so easy to find here that the tribes had lots of free time to pursue art, storytelling and other non-subsistence activities. Having grown up in the woods and seas of the Coastal NW, I love the abundance of berries, game, edible roots and fungus.

I went mushroom hunting yesterday with my mother, whose depression-era sensibilities make her a natural for finding free food. Chanterelle mushrooms grow wild here but with rapidly expanding housing developments, choice patches are getting few and far between. Mushroom lovers guard their stashes vehemently and I think she had me swear myself to secrecy at least 5 times during the drive to the patch she'd found on a thickly wooded and steep hillside.

After an hour of struggling through spongy loam and slippery rotten logs, we had a respectable haul of about 3 lbs of fresh Chanterelles. We divvied up the stash and I brought them home. It was a grey and drizzly day so a warm autumn meal sounded perfect. What better to go with freshly picked wild forest mushrooms than pork and seasonal vegetable like leeks? I included a standard mashed potato recipe using Yukon Gold potatoes and some fresh chives. It was a fit meal for a cold day.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin

There are no photos of the tenderloin cooking because pork tenderloin looks like... well... horse dick. It just didn't translate.

1 Pork Tenderloin
Juice of 1 Lemon
2 Tbsp Flour
2 tsp Whole Coriander Seed
1 tsp Caraway
2 Tbl Thyme
Salt & Pepper
2 Tbl Olive Oil

Marinate the pork in lemon juice for 1/2 hour. Heat oven to 350 degrees and remove the tenderloin from the marinade.

Crush the spices together in a mortar to help release the flavors.

Mix the flour, spices, salt and pepper in a large plastic bag. Toss the tenderloin in the bag and shake to coat with the spiced flour mixture. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a dutch oven or other oven-proof pot. Brown the tenderloin on all sides and place the whole pot into the oven to finish, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and loosely tent with foil for 10 minutes to rest, then slice into medallions.
If making gravy and/or mushrooms, keep the pan and drippings hot.

Sautéed Chanterelles

Chanterelles and a lot of other wild mushrooms are delicate and tasty. The best preparation for them is to stay simple and let the flavor of the mushrooms come through.

1 lb Fresh Chanterelles
2 Tbl Butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
Salt & Pepper

The mushrooms should be cooked in 2 separate batches to ensure even cooking. If you're continuing from the Pork Tenderloin recipe, use the same pan that the pork was cooked in - don't wash it. The mushrooms will pick up some of that delicious fatty richness from the pan drippings.

Add 1/2 of the butter and garlic to the pan. Throw in half of the mushrooms, salt and pepper
Cook over medium heat until the mushrooms just begin to soften. Remove the mushrooms to a dish, reserving as much liquid in the pan as possible.

Repeat with the second half of the ingredients.

Braised Leeks with Lemon

Recipe modified from

2 large or 4 small fresh leeks
2 Tbsp butter
1 Cup vegetable stock
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt & Pepper
(Instead of veggie stock, I used homemade chicken stock with meat, which is what you see in the photo)

Wash the leeks well, they tend to have sand in them, and trim off the ends. If using large leeks, quarter them lengthwise. Melt the butter and lemon zest in a large pan and add the leeks and cook for 5 minutes. Add the stock and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until soft. Salt and Pepper to Taste. Squeeze a bit of additional lemon juice over the top if you like it tarty!

Pan Gravy

This gravy is made in a pan that's already full of drippings, salt and tasty, tasty fat. It was posted to go with the Roasted Pork Tenderloin and Sauteed Chanterelles dinner but it can be made from any roasting pan. Add an additional 1/2 cup of liquids if there's not enough in the pan already when you begin.

1 Tbl butter
1 Tbl flour
1/4 Cup Mushroom stock (in addition to pan liquid)
1/4 Cup beer or sherry or marsala
1 Tbl mustard
2 Tbl lemon juice
Salt & Pepper

Make the gravy in the pork/mushroom pan (or other roasting pan).
Add the butter and the flour to the liquid in the pan, and whisk well to remove any lumps.
Bring to a simmer and add the liquids and mustard. Cook until thickened.
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Serve from the pan or transfer to a gravy boat.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Intro to Feasty Goodness

So we're geeks. Not the nouveau, geek-chic kind of geek that frequents trendy bars and software companies these days - you know, the well-adjusted, normal kids in high school who found out that it's cool to be nerdy and started watching the Venture Brothers to prove it. No, we're the real deal. Few friends, Monty Python quoters by age 12, socially inept and have the psychological brusing from the Popular Kids to prove it. We're not successful... or disciplined... or even particularly edgy.

But we are foodies. And clever. And always on the lookout for the next great meal, fabulous flavor, beautiful dish. In a sense, I suppose we're the Ron Jeremys of the food porn world. Strange, inexplicably favored by our friends, narcoleptic (well, one of us is), inappropriate, and we can cook on command (10! 9! 8!...). Did I mention that we like to reference things?

One of the greatest outcomes of the recent food porn revolution is that a pair of social maladepts like ourselves can come out of the proverbial closet and talk about food that we think is great. And why we think it's great. And why you should think it's great. And explain/debate the qualities of its greatness ad nauseum. And people will read it! And they will find it good.

Gwen is a Medieval History major who found that there's no money in it, so got a degree in art instead (!?). Lexi is a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks with aspirations to be a culinary professional. Both are smart, aimless and too rapidly approaching middle age with little to show for it but a fabulous community of friends and a taste for great eats.

Of course, being a geek who likes food isn't just about food. It's about geekdom in general - movies, quotes, references and all the dumb nerdy stuff that we love. So we hope you like our blog and we welcome comments or suggestions - to be taken under advisement - from our readers.

Feast On!