Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hunting Morels

A walk in the woods is nice and can also be fruitful. If you know what you are looking for, the forest can be full of wonderful living produce. Dandelion greens, garlic mustard, and mushrooms are wild, edible, and tasty. I had been looking longingly at the mushrooms in the supermarket but forcing myself to walk away because I was going mushroom hunting. I have been told that wild mushrooms are much more delicious than any mushroom you can buy in a supermarket.

Slow Food DC recently teamed up with M.A.W (Mycological Association of Washington) to plan a Morel Foray in Wheaton, Maryland. We were a group of 30 with 4 identifiers from M.A.W. As a first time mushroom hunter, I did not want to pick anything unless it was identified by a professional. Mushrooms can be tasty but also deadly and I did not want to take any risks.

The first mushroom I spotted was black and growing off a tree.
It did not look tasty and an identifier was not around so I let it go. Next I spotted some mushrooms growing on a fallen tree. After my bounty was identified as Oyster, they were cut down and bagged. I got close to three pounds of Oyster mushrooms for the price of looking. Nice, but no Morel.

Morel mushrooms have a short season and are difficult to identify. They blend in so well to the forest floor which makes them easy to miss. I was searching by a large Tulip Poplar when the first Morel appeared to me. I yelled “Bingo!” as is the custom in order to get the identifiers attention. Then I noticed another Morel near by, I was so excited! A woman came over and said she had just been looking by that very tree and did not see them. Then another person in our group spotted another Morel behind me.

I only found two morels that morning but others in our group were much luckier. One man found 43 Morels! Where there is one there are more unless someone else has come along before you and cleared them out. I couldn’t help but worry about all the yummy Morels that may have been accidentally crushed under foot that morning. Walking in the woods with 30 people split into 4 groups, I didn’t really expect to find much.

It was amazing to be walking in the woods, billy goating over fallen trees, searching the floor for the elusive Morel and then look up and not see anyone around. There was a moment where I was alone in the woods and slightly worried that I had lost my husband and the rest of the group.

It felt like an overwhelming Easter egg hunt. Searching for Morels seeing nothing, wondering if I had already searched this patch of leaves which looks exactly like that patch of leaves. It was a bit dizzying keeping my head down searching for the elusive fungi. I can get vertigo just turning around in my kitchen or wearing a patterned shirt. Maybe I was too wired on coffee to relax as I also felt a bit rushed and excited to find some Morels.

We brought home our booty and enjoyed out Oyster mushrooms in a frittata with onion, spinach, and chevre. The Oyster mushrooms tasted richer, meatier, and freshier than one I had enjoyed before. Honestly, I didn’t like mushrooms until I was 21 and backpacking through Europe. At the time I was pretty poor and would eat anything no questions asked. Maybe I just had to get over the shit factor.

Unfortunately, we did not get to enjoy the rest of the mushrooms as they were not properly stored. They were in the fridge left in the brown paper foraging bags. The Morels were totally desiccated when I took them out four days later. I tried to reconstitute them in water then pan fry them but it didn’t taste like much. The Oysters had a furry white mold growing on them that I did not notice before and did not want to take a chance.

I learned a valuable lesson and have a whole lot more I need to learn about mushroom hunting. Next time, eat immediately and store with air and moisture. Now, all I want to do is hunt Morels. The season is short and the clock is ticking. I hope to get out into the woods a few more times and hope to bag a bigger lot.

Oyster and Morel mushrooms on a bed of garlic mustard.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cheese Demonstration!

Yesterday, I hosted the first of what I hope to be many cheese demonstrations. As an active member in Slow Food DC, the event was open to 15 Slow Food DC members. My kitchen was just big enough to accommodate 15 people plus my husband and me. We started the event with a milk tasting. I get my raw cow's milk from a farm in Catlett and I pick up my raw goat's milk in Nokesville. Many people were surprised by the sweetness of the goat's milk. The cow and the goat's milk were both very fresh as the animals had been milked only two days before the event.

We talked cheese and everyone was really great at asking questions. It is always fun to interact with new people and I love talking cheese. We then moved into making 30 minute mozzarella. I used a gallon of raw cow's milk to make the cheese and added citric acid and rennet. The milk is so good and fresh that I forms a curd easily. I pulled and stretched the 110 degree curd by hand which is hot hot work. A few attendees tried their hand at pulling the curd. I couldn't seem to decide if I wanted to make a ball, small balls, or a braid. It may not have been the prettiest mozzarella but it was tasty. I did not add any salt but will in the future.

Then we tasted some cheese! We sampled some of my chevre which was made 5 days prior to the event. The next cheese was a commercially available chevre from a producer in Maryland. Many were surprised by how mild and creamy my cheese was especially when compared to the goatier commercial chevre. It all comes down to the freshness as chevre will become goatier as it ages. Then we sampled Gervais, a fresh French cow's milk cheese that is enriched with cream. This cheese had a wonderful butter yellow color which comes from the beta carotene in the grass fed cow's milk. Next we tasted Bondon which is very similar to Gervais but without the added cream. We moved into our flavored cheeses with Porcini Bondon and Rosemary Feta. I had been unhappy with my last two batches of Rosemary Feta but everyone at the event really loved this cheese just the way it was. The last cheese we tasted was Gjetost which I made from boiling goat's whey for about 12 hours and added cow's cream around hour 6. This cheese surprised a lot of people with its sweet savory flavor combinations.

It was so valuable for me to get feedback on my cheeses from a room full of strangers. Sometimes I think my husband and friends are just saying they like my cheese because they like me. At the end of the event, people wanted cheese and I had some to give them. I collected some donations and people were very generous. The event was fun and mutually beneficial. I hope to host another one in June and all proceeds will go toward opening my cheese making facility.

This is the recommend reading list from the cheese event. These books really helped me learn about cheese and how to make cheese. I must also mention culture magazine which you can follow on Facebook and Cheese Enthusiast, another great publication.

The Atlas of American Cheese by Jeffrey P. Roberts ISBN 978-1-933392-34-9 This book lists cheese producers by state and includes information on touring cheesemakers.

Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll ISBN 978-1-58017-464-0 This book has many wonderful recipes including the 30 minute mozzarella recipe. I also get most of my cheesemaking supplies from her website

Making Artisan Cheese by Tim Smith ISBN 978-1-59253-197-4 This book has 50 great recipes.

The Cheese Chronicles by Liz Thorpe ISBN 978-0-06-145116-4 This book is such a fun read and you learn a lot about American cheesemakers.

Cheese & Wine by Janet Fletcher ISBN 978-0-8118-5743-7 This book in beautiful and informative.

Cheese by Max McCalaman & David Gibbons ISBN 1-4000-5034-0 Another cheese porn book full of pretty pictures and great information.

The Cheese Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst ISBN 978-0-06-053704-3 This is a cheese dictionary and covers a variety of cheese related terms.

Fundamentals of Cheese Science which is an Aspen Publication and 4 co-authors which is why I am not listing them all ISBN 0-8342-1260-9 This is my hardcore cheese textbook.

If you would like to host a Cheese Demonstration! at my place or yours, send an email to or post a message below. The demo runs about 2 hours with an additional hour and a half for set up and includes making mozzarella, milk tasting, cheese tasting, and a cheese discussion with Q&A. The total cost for the event is $100 for a group of up to 15 people and covers the cost of all cheese making ingredients, equipment, and time. Travel may be additional depending on location.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Little Moir’s Food Shack

Ever look at a menu and wish you had five stomachs? The menu at Little Moir’s Food Shack makes you want to pig out. So instead of ordering everything on the menu, we came back for a second visit. But that only left a few items from their vast menu which I actually got to taste. This is a place I look forward to returning to and wish there was one in Virginia.

On our first visit we enjoyed a frosty mug of Monk in the Trunk Organic Amber Ale while we waited for a table. The place was packed and usually is so be prepared to wait and you will be reward with yum. This beer is made locally in Jupiter and was light and crisp with notes of citrus. Once we were seated, we started with an order of Toasted Coconut Shrimp with Spicy Fruit and a Sweet Chili Ketchup dipping sauce. These were some fat tasty shrimp and I got so excited I forgot to take a picture until it was too late.

The Spicy Fruit was a mix of pineapple, honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon with a bit of a kick. I never would have thought to spicy up fruit like this and don’t enjoy super spicy hotness but this was nice and didn’t burn. Some other starters that caught my eye but didn’t hit my belly were the Homemade Potato Chips Tossed in Lemon, Garlic, Black Pepper, Olive Oil, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Red Onions, Capers, and Shaved Parmesan Cheese. Then there was the Fried Tuna and Basil Roll with Wasabi Dipping Sauce and the Warm Bruschetta with Sweet Balsamic Marinated Tomatoes, Hearts of Palm, Red Onion, Artichokes, Green Olives, and Feta Cheese and I wish I had tried the Grilled Sea Scallop Tostada with Roasted Corn and Poblano Pepper Salsa, Melted Manchego Cheese, Avocado, and Smoked Jalapeno Pepper Aioli. I love how the names of the menu items include all the ingredients.

For dinner I had the Sweet Potato Crusted Hogfish which was served on a bed of greens, green beans, and a garlic lime dressing. This was a special and I no longer remember all of the ingredients on my plate but I do remember it being delicious. The fish guide on describes this fish as “Very Mild, very white, slightly sweet and buttery.” I was unfamiliar with this fish but heard a server recommend it to another dinner.

Their menu changes daily and they often run out of featured fish. I see this as good thing because it means they get their fish daily and in small quantities. I was told by my friend’s sister that it wasn’t fish season which made the prices more expensive but the fish didn’t seem any harder to come by. They have so many tempting items on their menu that if they run out of something you can rest assured that there will be something else on the menu that won’t disappoint.

On our second visit they had just run out of Tripletail and some in our party were very dismayed but they did have Wahoo which made my friend very happy. They offer so many different types of fish that it was almost overwhelming because I had never heard of most of them. You could pick your fish and get it grilled or blackened and served over coconut rice with a side of Cucumber Pineapple slaw and Spicy Fruit salad. You could also pick your fish and have it battered and fired in the style of fish and chips or get your fish crusted a variety of ways and served on greens. Their menu was so vast and tempting that I only looked at the long list of specials from which to order my dinner.

I had adjusted to the their bountiful menu by my second visit and ordered the Wahoo grilled over coconut rice. As I had never tasted this fish which my friend had talked up I really wanted to focus on its flavor. I know this is a cliche but it tasted just like chicken. It is described as "mild flavor, low fat content, steak-like and white. Recommended undercooked" on their website. It was basically flavorless and I regret not getting it crusted.

I did familiarize myself with their take out menu while we waited for our seat but sometimes when I look at a menu with too many words I shut down and can’t read. Which is why it’s a good thing that I brought the menu home with me, I only wish I had snagged the list of specials. Some highlights from the menu which I did not get to eat include No Name Pasta with Chicken, Mushrooms, Artichokes, and Asparagus in a Toasted Macadamia Nut Roasted Pepper Pesto with Coconut Cream Topped with Shaved Parmesan Cheese as well as the Far West Paella with Mussels, Fish, Shrimp, Calamari, Bacon, Chicken, Sweet Peppers, Okra, and Pineapple with Tandoori Seasoning and Coconut Rice.

On our first visit I managed to leave enough room for dessert and was impressed by their offerings. I enjoyed a cup of coffee and was happy to get more refills there then I did at Denny’s the day before. My friend wanted to order something very specific which she had enjoyed there before but there was some confusion. Was it the Chocolate Whosiwhatzit?!? or the Dark Chocolate Nut Mash. After our patient and busy server described the items it was clear that she wanted the Nut Mash. This was similar to a mousse or an unmeltable ice cream. I opted for the Sweet Potato Cake which made we stop after the first bite and force everyone else to try some. It was wonderful, similar to a carrot cake but a touch drier, sweeter, spicier, and just a thin layer of cream cheese frosting. It had just the right amount of cake to frosting for me as I hate thick layers of sugary frosting.

Aside from the food being great, the ambience was nice too. As it was called The Food Shack, I had expected it to be a little hut on the beach but I was totally wrong. It was located in a strip mall. They had a hostess stand outside to take names and a few benches outside on which to sit and wait for your table. You could go in and order drinks to enjoy outside as you waited for the gatekeeper to call your name. Inside, there was a surfboard table at the end of the bar which is their most popular table. The bar itself had a tiki hut feel to it and on the other side of the bar was the kitchen.

I love an open kitchen and many restaurants will charge top dollar for the privilege of dining in the kitchen and watching the magic. At Little Moir’s Food Shack you can sit at the bar and enjoy the show free of charge. I did not get this opportunity but had plenty to look at as I faced the wall. Covering almost every inch of wall space were pictures and paintings of sea life and tropical scenes. The place had recently been remolded and the floors were brand new. The bathroom was clean and single serving which I like.

As this place is so busy, they know how to use the space creatively without exceeding maximum capacity. They will turn their tables sideways to accommodate parties and what I would take as a two top comfortably sat our party of three and we each had our own side of the table. On our second visit we were a party of 8 with 3 kids and we were all comfortable, happy, and well taken care of. The kids all ordered the mac and cheese from the kids menu and loved it. I tried a bite and was impressed by its creaminess.

Little Moir’s Food Shack is a place that really knows what it is doing and how to please their customers in surprising ways. You don’t have to worry about not getting enough fruits or veggies when you order here. You can please any type of palette and be impressed by their flavor combinations. If you are ever in, around, or driving through Jupiter, Florida be sure to stop here, just come hungry.