Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sat Chit Ananda

Who doesn't love morels?  To find them on a restaurant's menu is a goose, to be sure.  Even  better to see and smell them raw and dirty at the farmer's market.  But to walk through the just-woken forest ground among fresh signs of deer and the first weeks' growth of all manner of wild green things and to suddenly hear, "I FOUND one!" is a thrill so rarefied and special that consciousness of all other things momentarily disappears.  And if this exclamation just emerged from your own mouth, then you have - albeit briefly perhaps - attained what only our greatest sages and masters have known. 

Jodi and I just returned from our first Ohio morel hunt in six years and now the world is righted again.  Anyone who's ever hunted these beautiful, quixotic specimens knows that the mission necessarily becomes one of total obsession, the day's waking hours often ending in bed with images of mushrooms hidden under leaves playing like a slideshow on the backs of your closed eyelids.

We've done a lot of hunting and gathering in our travels, from all manner of wild berries to greens to other kinds of mushrooms, but there's something different about morels.  I think it's that you can be standing right over one, looking at it for 30 seconds and still not see it.  All blended in so perfectly with the rumpled dead leaves from Fall, knotted tree roots, and old hickory nut shells, they just disappear until suddenly - like those old eye puzzles that look like a senseless pattern until you relax your eyes enough that a perfect image of the statue of liberty shoots out at you - there it is!!!!  It's been there this whole time.  And you were there to salvage this morsel of deliciousness that could have so easily been wasted, left unnoticed to rot in a matter of days or hours.

Now, cooking these beauties may not quite measure up to the thrill of finding them but it ain't no slouch either.  After doing the necessary slug, ant, and bug removal - hey, these mushrooms are wild - we got in the dugout.  First up, Buttermilk Biscuits with Ramp and Morel Gravy.  Yep, nothing carries mushroom flavor better than dairy, so out goes the country sausage, in come the morels, and you've got a breakfast Thomas Keller and your Kentucky grandma could share.  Oh yeah, and in another act of Mother Nature's brilliance, she has adorned the Spring forest floor with a carpeting of ramps just in time for the morels to pop  up.  So on those cruelest of cruel days when you leave the woods skunked, a bag o' ramps is always a consolation prize. 

Next up: Central Ohio's classic Fried Morel sandwich.  Buttered bread, floured and butter-fried mushrooms, more buttered bread.  That's it.

And finally (our trip was too short, as always): Blue Cheese, Ramp, and Morel Bread Puddings with an asparagus sauce.  A new classic of ours, and already showcased in our very first blog entry.

So here's to you, my fungal friend: Thank you again for being so frustrating, so unintelligible, so glorious, and so tasty.  May we meet again. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Did someone say TUNA?

The answer to the weekly question was TUNA: versatile, healthy, savory and satisfying, but most importantly, a protein we could all agree to love. The question? What should we have for the family dinner Sunday night.

At the suggestion of tuna I began to think hmm.... bland, as tuna is one of those ingredients in which my interest depends on what phase I am in. I have gone through times when it was the best thing going like in Kauai when it is being served up raw and delicious around every corner and at times it seems boring. So when the tuna ideas began to come forward in my mind and turn this potentially unexciting dinner into a clean, savory and punchy treat, I was tickled and increasingly excited about what was to come.

The crust: I can never really name the seasonings and will have a hell of a time if we ever decide to write a cookbook....but we can guess smoked paprika, toasted cumin, cinnamon...but a nice amount of flavor packed on to the raw tuna, which is then doused with some olive oil, seared on all sides and sliced.

The salad: edamame, radish, steamed carrot, orange, avocado, cilantro and mixed lettuces (you can see how I started to love this idea--it just screamed healthy good times).

The Dressing: Toasted sesame vinaigrette with lime and honey, balsamic vinegar, tamari, minced ginger and garlic, toasted sesame oil and olive oil and a little peach jam for a touch of extra viscosity.

On the top we made a glaze of reduced soy, orange juice, cabernet and balsamic vinegars. 

It was as good as it looked. It was luscious with the avocado and bright with the orange segments, and the tuna really stole the show. We did have to make plain tuna with caramelized onions and mashed potatoes for the least adventurous family member, but we all swooned.