Tuesday, December 9, 2014

SONOMA COUNTY MUSHROOM MADNESS




SOMA, Sonoma County Mushroom Association, holds mushroom forays with mycologist who can identity all the mushrooms found. Last time we went mushroom hunting at Salt Point State Park at the Sonoma coast.  We were on the look out for Porcini's, but ended up finding candy caps, shaggy manes, and hedgehogs as well. I was thrilled to find candy cap mushrooms in the wild for the first time. Candy caps smell like maple syrup, which intensifies as the mushrooms are dried. This time, I want to dry my candy cap mushrooms, crush them, and then add them to my holiday hot chocolate. 














SAUTÉED MUSHROOMS

I brought home the shaggy manes for dinner. My go to method for cooking mushrooms is to sauté them with butter, shallots, and garlic.  I generally add the ingredients by feel and taste. The shaggy manes were paired with wild rice and kale sautéed in garlic and olive oil. 

  • 4 shaggy mane mushrooms (or substitute another mushroom)
  • 1 small shallot 
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic
  • 2-4 tablespoons of butter, more as needed

Chop up the shallots and garlic. Heat a cast iron skillet. Once hot, melt one tablespoon of butter, and add the shallots and garlic. Mix over medium heat until the shallots are translucent, and the garlic soft. Melt another tablespoon of butter before adding the mushrooms. Heat over medium heat, mixing occasionally so the ingredients do not become overly crispy. Continue to add butter to the skillet as needed to keep the skillet greased. sauté the mushrooms until they are soft and pliable. The shaggy manes will open up and become slightly translucent when done. 




WARNING: Wild mushrooms are an amazing resource, but when foraged incorrectly can be lethal. Do not forage without the supervision of a mycologist. 




The next forage with SOMA is December 20th. After a forage there is a potluck supplied by the members, full of decadent homemade food often full of mushrooms.  SOMA provides information on mushrooms regarding identification, cooking, dyes and paper, growing, foraging, and health. Membership is around twenty dollars. 




Thursday, November 27, 2014

EAT YOUR HEART OUT

Wild rice and foraged mushroom stuffing, cranberry chutney, bbq turkey, spiced sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, brussels sprouts with bacon and onions, squash soup, carrot and potato gratin, beans, garlic and brie mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, cumin roasted carrots, kale and brussels sprout salad, baked brie, pomegranate seeds with mint, toasted almonds, an Amador County Barbera, Deerfield Ranch 2005 Meritage Blend, Spiced cupcakes, tres leches cake, apple crumble, flan with homemade dulce de leche, and chocolate cubes. We served twenty people, and a day later, I am already out of left overs. 

Over the past 5 years, I have gone from the potato peeling girl to the one organizing the menu, sending out invitations, and making sure the Turkey makes an appearance by 4pm. I love the creativity Thanksgiving inspires in menu planning and recipe development. Every year I choose one to two new recipes to add to the table, however the kale and brussels sprouts salad always makes a return appearance. My favorite new recipe was homemade dulce de leche simmered down from whole milk with vanilla beans. However, I will share this recipe later in the holiday season, as I have a couple ideas to spice it up with. I have half a mind to mass produce the stuff and send it out as holiday gifts. So if you want some extra holiday dulce de leche, just keep pestering me until I finally whip it up again.


Despite the vast array of recipes scattered across our table, it’s the people leaning against the white linen table cloth that add the real spice to Thanksgiving. Each year our community expands, and someone new is introduced into the family. This year we experienced the return of Emily Ward and her mother. My sister and I lived next to Emily for a good part of our childhood, but she wasn’t called Emily back then. No, we called her the Altoid for that one stray front tooth that grew in a little too early. Our little Altoid, the third Barton sister, is all grown up now, attending University, and just returned from New Zealand, but one thing hasn’t changed a bit; Emily still knows how to bring the party. 

After we gorged ourselves, understanding the real meaning of gluttony, Emily turned up the music, and the living room was roaring with song and dance. We had people getting low, the Macarena, a couple people who could actually dance, and a three year old being tossed from person to person. Every face glowed. In this moment, on the dance floor, we were all connected, and love flowed evenly between us, true holiday magic. 



 HOLIDAY BAKED BRIE

Servings: 10 people
Time: 20-25 minutes

  • 1 cup kahlua coffee liquor
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans
  • 1 round of Brie
  • Water crackers
  • Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Bake the round of Brie in a glass pie pan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. 

In a small pot, combine the brown sugar and kahlua. On medium heat, stir until all the brown sugar is dissolved. Then on low heat, reduce the liqueur while stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. After the sauce has thickened, add the nuts, stir. 

Pour the sauce and nuts on top of the baked brie. The sauce will drip down around the sides. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. Line the edge of the pie pan, around the Brie, with water crackers. 



 The evolution of my involvement with Thanksgiving has mirrored my switch from the biotech industry to the wine industry, and marked the beginning of my food blogging. One of the first recipes I blogged was this kale and brussels sprout salad, which I originally obtained from Saveur magazine in 2011. The copy of the recipe below is now my family’s version. This recipe has been passed around, with each new person adding a small twist. It is our favorite hearty holiday salad, and satisfies almost all dietary requirements. Gluten-free, and easily vegan, if the cheese is removed.

KALE AND BRUSSELS SPROUT SALAD

Servings: 12 people
Time: 30 minutes

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp finely minced shallot
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely minced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 2 large bunches of Tuscan Kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total)
  • 12 oz.  brussels sprouts, finely grated 
  • 1/3 cup almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds. 

For the dressing, combine lemon juice, mustard, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir and set aside. Finely grate or chop all of the ingredients for the dressing to homogenize flavor. 

Thinly slice the kale, but leave the stems behind. Grate the brussels sprouts. Toss the kale and brussels sprouts together, in a large bowl. 

Chop, and toast the almonds on medium heat until browned, but not burnt. Mix in the dressing, cheese, and almonds. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. 


WINE

Two wines stood out the most to me, an Amador County Barbera, and Deerfield’s 2005 Meritage.

The Amador County Barbera was a wonderful surprise. Unfortunately, I do not remember the winery from which it originated, but I will update this information once it is rediscovered.  True to a Barbera it was a lighter red wine. However, it lacked a lot of the red fruit characteristics I am used to in Sonoma Valley Barberas. This Barbera was all earth. It reminded me of an Oregon Pinot Noir, without the extra smoke on the nose. I have never tasted so much earth in such a light wine. It paired wonderfully with the heavy Thanksgiving food, and has given me a reason to take a trip to Amador County. 

2005 Meritage, Napa Valley, Trio Vineyard by Deerfield Ranch Winery is a red blend. The winemaker, Robert Rex, has an amazing blending ability, and this wine demonstrates that. The blend contains 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, and 2% Malbec.  The Cabernet Franc and Malbec are evident in the middle of the wine with a burst of red fruit. The earthiness of a Napa Cabernet is present at the back of the palate. This 400 case wine was barrel aged for 40 months in 80% French and 20% American oak. 

I chose this Deerfield wine, because the complexity of its palate holds up well to the vast array of hearty foods on the kitchen table, and because of the pop of red fruit in the middle of the palate. When drinking a heavier red with a rich meal I tend to pick wines with red fruit characteristics.  




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"IT'S GOOD PEOPLE": HOW TO BRINE OLIVES

The diversity of Sonoma does not just lie in it’s soil, but in the richness of it’s people. 

Sonoma is a mix of generations, and cultures. There are true locals who have lived off the land for generations, foreigners who have called this place home for decades, families and their rebellious teenagers, young wine industry professionals, and retired couples escaping the city life. When I went to University, my family came to Sonoma to reconnect with the land after long careers in San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, and New York. I followed them here through the promise of the wine industry, California’s new gold rush. 


At the far end of our block, lives a Greek couple, Aglelia and John,  who started one of Sonoma’s farm stands while their family was still young, almost 40 years ago. Now the farm stand has been sold, and their children long grown. They still hold the lands they farmed, but have decreased production significantly. They brought us through their current garden full of merlot grapes, pomegranates, squash, herbs, olive trees, roses, root veggies, and almost anything that can grow in Sonoma soil (not a very restrictive parameter). 

John brought us to his outdoor kitchen, beaming. He had built an outdoor wood burning oven so he could cook a whole lamb for his family. They used to gather here, against the rickety wooden table, drink their homemade merlot, and converse over the freshly cooked (and killed, I may add) lamb. You could see the memories set fire to his eyes. In celebration of life and the land, he brought us to his small cellar, and gave us a bottle of the merlot he had just made this harvest. “Drink today. There are no preservatives.”


As we turned the corner past the vast array of table grapes, the sheep came to sight. No doubt the sons and daughters of meals past. Their pasture lined with large eucalyptus trees emphasizing the vastness of their land. While our eyes devoured the pasture, Aglelia kept repeating, “It’s good people.” She didn’t have to say much more for us to know what she was talking about. 

The diversity of Sonoma is a blessing, but the drastic differences of the converging lifestyles creates challenges. Aglelia and John have been working the land here longer than the majority of the people on our block, 40 years. Most of our neighbors are like my family, fleeing the city life, and thus not accustom to the gritty nature of life off the land. 

Our neighborhood is very close, and well loved, but at times the differences can be drastic. Aglelia and John rely on their land and animals. Coyotes or other predators have been known to attack livestock. In rural Sonoma, it is customary to shoot predators who threaten a person's livestock. This is not a sentiment shared by the new city folk (myself included, but I have come to understand). The problem arose when a new neighbor adopted an out of control dog who continually aggravated their sheep. As stories go, there have been many version to this one, but, from what I understand, the dog continually threatened their livelihood. Even after the matter was addressed, the dog was not able to be controlled, which lead to Aglelia shooting the animal, not something she wanted to do. Like us, she loves this neighborhood and it’s people. Every morning her and John walk the 3 mile loop around the block, with their newest granddaughter. 

When I first heard this story I was astonished, outraged, but the longer I live in Sonoma, the more I understand it’s people and their ways. There are two very drastic lifestyles forced together, neither understanding each other. There is no way around the tragedy of this event, but it did begin to integrate the community together. The barriers between the two cultures are slowly breaking down. Reaching out, Aglelia and John gave the family who lost their dog several of their sheep. 

In fact this trading of animals has been very common on our block. Another neighbor, before they moved away, gave my family two alpacas. I may not always enjoy cleaning up after them, but playing with our alpacas and the water hose during the hot summer months is not something I would have ever imagined enjoying on a regular basis. 


HOW TO BRINE OLIVES

The original reason we were at Aglelia and John’s house was to learn Aglelia’s Greek family tradition of brining olives. She did not have a recipe she could hand me, but instead a wealth of stories that all demonstrated by touch and feel how to create the perfect olives. I created a general outline from her stories. (The olive branch pictured contains olives infected with worms, and were unable to be used in this process)


  1. Poke holes onto three different sides of your olives with a fork. Don’t worry about removing the pit.
  2. Place olives in a jar or bowl of water, half olives, half water. 
  3. Change the water daily for a week. At the end of the week, the olives should reduce in bitterness. Taste the olives everyday. This process is done through the senses and takes practice.
  4. Boil water. Add an egg to the water. Keep adding salt until the egg floats, thats when you know the water has enough salt. 
  5. Replace the water in your bowl or jar of olives with this new salted water. Soak the olives in this salted water to completely reduce bitterness. The time the olives sit in the salted water is completely up to taste. Could be one day or a week. This is where the art of the olive comes in. Replace with new salted water as needed. 
  6. Once the olives are no longer bitter, remove them from the salted water. If too salty for personal preference, re-soak in plain water for up to one day. 
  7. To preserve the pre-soaked olives, begin with placing them in a jar, about 3/4 full with the olives. Fill the holes between the olives with 1/3 vinegar and 2/3 olive oil. Sometimes Aglelia would add some of the salted water as well, depending on taste. Add the vinegar and then seal the top of the olives with olive oil, completely covering the olives.
  8. Add desired spices or herbs based on taste. For example, lemon juice, peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic, or anything else that strikes your fancy. 
  9. Cover the jar and age in a dark cool place for at least 2 to 3 days. Aglelia gave me olives she had been aging for 2 years and they were utterly amazing. 
  10. Practice and repeat to develop your own feel for the olives, playing with taste. 


OLIVES AND MERLOT

Food and wine are art forms, and thus can be used to invoke emotion. Until now I have used complementary flavors to create exceptional meals encouraging the reader to live in the moment. Food and wine have been an integral part of human culture, used to celebrate, sustain, indulge, or even forget. I plan to play with the idea of food invoking emotion through food and wine pairings and presentation. However, in this post I am using the idea of drinking Merlot with my brined olives as a way to celebrate Aglelia and John who produce Merlot from their land. It is the concept that is being used to invoke emotion and celebrate our neighborhood, more than the flavors. Although, a specific local Merlot could be picked based on the flavors used during the brining of the olives.