Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Thai Food and Summertime Grilling

The phrase “grilling for dummies” is a bit harsh. “No brainer” grilling is also too unflattering. But if you’re one of the many people in this country who hesitate to cook outdoors due to a lack of experience, or even due to a lack of nerve, then your problems are now officially solved.

The Ginger People produce a wide variety of marinades and grilling sauces that can be used with fish, poultry, beef, pork, and veggies. Some of these sauces are also excellent when used with sushi, or other Asian dishes such as potstickers. While all of them contain ginger, the flavors vary from Ginger Jerk – a Jamaican style marinade – to Ginger Hickory, Ginger Lemon Grass, Ginger Lime, Ginger Peanut, Ginger Sesame, Ginger Sweet Chili, and Ginger Wasabi. Use one of these excellent quality products to marinate your shrimp, chicken, or beef, and take the guesswork out of grilling. You’ll consistently produce excellently flavored dinners that will have you waiting eagerly for the next meal.
All of these marinades and sauces are available right here on the website.

On the other hand, if you’re in the mood to whip up one of your own marinades, then you may be interested in any of a variety of delicious Thai recipes. Thai cuisine combines excellently light flavoring with the tang and zip of lime, garlic, chiles, lemon grass, and coriander.

It’s been very hot here in Southwestern Michigan. Though there’s been a steady breeze, the mercury has been hovering at close to 90 degrees. No one wants to turn on the oven or even turn on the range top. On days like this there’s something especially refreshing and enjoyable about sipping a cold glass of iced lemonade and lolling in a hammock under the shady branches of the locust trees in our front yard.

At about 6:00 you hear the first telltale sizzle of the skewered chicken as it chars slightly over the coals. Within a short time, the first wafting scent of charcoal cooking reaches your senses. It carries a hint of lime, a hint of red pepper, and the unmistakable smell of al fresco dining. Here, a dense cluster of dropmore scarlet honeysuckle climbs in a tangle over the pergola on our deck. Underneath the hanging blossoms, Tara and Spencer have arranged a selection of fresh fruits and cheeses on a crisp white linen tablecloth. Derek has mixed up his favorite dipping oil and spices and placed it next to a baguette of Italian bread. Sometime around mid-October we may get back to indoor dining, but for now we’re right where we want to be.

Earthy Delights carries a full range of marinades and grilling sauces for anyone (myself at the front of the line) who would like to prepare a gourmet meal without any of the muss or work typically associated with fine dining. In addition to the excellent quality products generated by the legendary chefs Charlie Trotter and Dean Fearing, Earthy Delights also carries a wide variety of Thai marinades and sauces produced by the Ginger People that are all the rage among the al fresco set. And, for those of you who enjoy playing in the kitchen, Earthy carries a very wide assortment of typically hard-to-find ingredients so that you can whip up practically any recipe you want to – right at home.

This includes an assortment of products such as achiote paste, rice paper spring roll wrappers, wasabi paste and powder, white miso paste, white sesame seeds, yuzu juice, tamarind, Thai rice sticks, and nori sheets. If you want it and it involves cuisine, there’s a good chance we can help you.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

More on Morels

When the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the Mayapples are peaking, and the wild ramps are just beginning to turn brown on the tips of their leaves, then the biggest culinary event of the year is just about to take place at the Cottage Kitchen. The morel mushrooms are up.

Some years are better than others. The morel harvest depends on the vagaries of nature, including uncontrollable conditions such as humidity, barometric pressure, sunshine, and warmth. This year was a big year, and we made a huge haul. My nephew, Spencer, his irresistible two-and-a-half year old son Jacob, his significant other, Tara, and friends Bethany and James joined us for a trek through the fringes of Aunt Judy and Uncle Lance’s abandoned orchards, the horse pasture, the long vacant pig lot, and the periphery of the forest. James, Bethany, Tara, and Spence had the sharpest eyes, and very quickly filled their net bags with several dozen prized specimens: very large morcella esculentas – the highly prized blonde morels that grow to perfection in Michigan.

If you’re hunting for your own morels, be careful to avoid the poisonous morel look-alike. The true morel has a “fake” stem. It’s hollow, and it’s only attached to the mushroom at the base. The poisonous look-alike has a solid stem that ascends through the center of the mushroom and attaches at the top of the cap. Be very cautious. If you want to take the guesswork out of the job, call Earthy Delights at 1-800-367-4709, or go to their website at and order as many as you like.

Some ‘shroomers may debate about whether morel hunting may be almost equal in enjoyment to morel eating. True morel aficionados, however, will agree that there’s no contest.

While there is something magical about combing through the long grass underneath a brilliant sun and billowing mounds of white clouds, looking for that telltale mottled mushroom cap, it’s tough to impossible to compete with a skillet sizzling full of cleaned and trimmed morels dunked in beaten egg, coated with seasoned cracker crumbs, and cooking to tender perfection in butter.

That’s the way I prefer my morels: fresh out of the field, so plentiful that no one has to be shy about reaching for their third helping, cooked in real butter with maybe just a touch of garlic. I dunk the cleaned mushrooms in beaten egg, then in seasoned cracker crumbs. I make sure the butter is good and hot when I add the mushrooms to the skillet, but not so hot that the butter browns and burns. This is a delicious meal when served with English muffins, tossed greens with vinegar, oil, and crumbled bacon, and an icy cold glass of white wine.

It was a perfect day from every perspective. The successful haul took some of the sting out of last night’s game of Texas Hold ‘Em, when Tara and Spence and I cleaned out Bethany and James. Little Jake spent the day up on his father’s shoulders, looking hard for mushrooms and pulling on his dad’s ears in the excitement. As perfect as the day was, the best part is yet to come. We have plenty of butter, plenty of family and friends, and several pounds of delicious morel mushrooms ready for the kitchen.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Tis The Season

Chill the champagne, get out the good dishes, and
sharpen your cooking knives. Earthy Delights' annual
Wild Harvest has started, and we're now shipping some
delectably fine quality wild ramps to customers all over
the country. This weekend we'll be luxuriating in the
unique, piquant flavor of wild ramps by using them in a
recipe for braised lamb shanks. If it were just a bit
later in the season we'd serve these shanks with a morel
mushroom risotto - but since the morels haven't shown
themselves yet, we'll settle for clamshell mushrooms.
The ramps will add an interesting "edge" to the meat,
and to the juices that settle at the bottom of the
cooking pot.

It's that exciting time of year when we're poised on the
edge of spring. In another week or so we'll begin to
detect the fragrance of hyacinths when we step outdoors,
and the daffodils are already about to snap out of their
buds and do what they do best. Perched on our cliff
overlooking Lake Michigan, these daffodils grow by the
thousands, crowding each other for their bit of space in
the brilliant sunshine, still cool from the tundra air
that sifts down from the north country. Kathryn and her
truckload of dogs will be arriving soon from their
wintering-over spot in Palm Springs; and this year she's
bringing our friend Diana with her to spend the summer.
Diana, a maestro on the grill, also specializes in
creating the most delicious possible ravioli - they're
very large, and filled with morel mushrooms sautéed in
butter and garlic with just a touch of sherry. She
serves these ravioli with warm crusty bread, tossed
greens, and grilled salmon. In the Cottage Kitchen, it's
always easy to tell when Kathryn and Diana are preparing
dinner, as the phone is ringing off the hook with
hopeful people dropping hints for dinner invitations.

In our part of the state, which is as far west as you
can get in the eastern time zone, we're blessed with a
plethora of very fine quality restaurants that use the
freshest possible ingredients to prepare their dishes.
These restaurants vary from the homespun Glenn
Restaurant, where you can get excellent Midwestern fare
at very reasonable prices (superb meatloaf!), to the
elegant and sophisticated Copper Grille in Douglas. Not
only is the "Copper" (as it's come to be known) the "in"
spot to circulate for drinks and conversation in this
part of the state - it's also a restaurant that's worked
hard to deserve an excellent reputation for gourmet
quality dining in a high-end, haute cuisine atmosphere.
For this reason we'll be featuring the Copper Grille on
our website later this month - complete with some superb
recipes utilizing Earthy's Wild Harvest ingredients.
You'll find their recipe for Alaskan salmon with morel
mushroom ragout on our website ( in about
two weeks, or you can visit them at their website at If you have any
questions, call them at 269-857-7100 and ask for Donna
Morgan or Fredjon Denny. You'll find them even more
gracious than the rolling coastal countryside where
they're located.

Spring entertainment begins this weekend with wild ramps
from Earthy Delights. It will continue nearly every
weekend until the first frost, usually sometime in
October. Whenever possible we'll use fresh produce and
local ingredients. We'll purchase our fruit from an
orchard we know about where they don't ship anything
out. Instead, they wait until their peaches and apples
and apricots are ripe on the tree, and they sell in
limited quantities to people who know the difference.

If you're interested in some basic information on
fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms, and wild ramps,
please visit our website ( for the "Wild
Harvest 101." This website column will include
descriptions of and information on purchasing, storing,
and preparing wild ramps, morel mushrooms, and
fiddlehead ferns.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Spring means ...

At Earthy Delights, early spring means a whole lot more than a
change in seasons and the welcome relief of warm sunny days to
come. Here, where we set the clock by the schedule of wild
mushrooms and delectable tidbits from the moist earth, March means
the beginning of the annual Wild Harvest. This is our biggest
event, our busiest time, and our greatest specialty.

Our newer subscribers may wonder what the fuss is all about. What
is the Wild Harvest? Every year at just about this time, I do a
"Wild Harvest 101"to explain what's going on to uninitiated
gourmands all over the country.

There are three basic ingredients involved in our Annual Wild
Harvest, and yes, they really are all wild. The first product is
the wild ramps, which usually start coming in toward the end of
March, depending on the weather. The second product is the Queen
of the Forest, a.k.a., the Morel Mushroom. Finally, the fiddlehead
ferns emerge sometime in April or May, depending on the weather.
Here's a brief discussion of these three culinary treats:

Wild Ramps:

They look a bit like a scallion, but with a flatter
leaf that's tinged with purple. They have a strong, pungent flavor
- sometimes described as an "attitude" - that falls somewhere
between an onion and garlic with just a touch of cabbage thrown
in. Also known as "wild leeks," ramps started becoming very
popular with executive chefs around ten years ago. Before then
they were popular mainly among mountain dwelling folks in the
Appalachians. In fact, ramps are so popular among the hill folks
that they're celebrated with festivals, music, cook-offs, and even
poetry readings in North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and
Tennessee. They can be used in nearly any recipe as a substitute
for onions, but are especially delicious when served the way the
hill folks like 'em. Fry them in butter and serve them with
cornbread, beans, and bacon. Some prefer ham or a good old-
fashioned beef stew. they're also excellent when served raw in
salads, or in soups and soufflés. This is an unusual, esoteric
wild vegetable that lends itself just as well to an extraordinary
gourmet dinner as it does to burgers and a shake.

Morel Mushrooms:

The morel is the reigning queen of wild
mushrooms. It's a nuisance to try to find, and inconsistently
appears in different spots from year to year. In general, most
people think that they're way more than worth all of the trouble
that goes into trying to find them. The cap is mottled like a
sponge, and in fact it is sometimes known as the "sponge
mushroom." It has an elusive, woodsy flavor with a distinctly wild
edge to it, and it must be completely cooked before serving.
Morels can also be dried and reconstituted by soaking in warm
water. They will impart their flavor to water they're soaked in.
Morels are at their best when sautéed in butter with a touch of
garlic, maybe a bit of onion, and possibly even a dash of sherry.
Some people dredge them first in flour. Some dip them in beaten
egg, then dredge them in flour. Some cringe at the thought of
going anywhere near them with flour. they're delicious in pasta,
wonderful with toast, bacon, and hot coffee for breakfast, and
excellent when used in an omelet. My very favorite? Make a blonde
roux from the rinsing water. Sauté the mushrooms with garlic and
onion, and toss the whole bunch with some good quality fettuccini.
Serve this gourmet treat with greens that have been tossed in
lemon juice and Argan oil, and a baguette of warm French bread.

Fiddlehead Ferns:

The best description I've ever heard for the
flavor of a fiddlehead is that they taste "green." It's true. They
have an intense, fresh flavor that bursts against your taste buds
with every bite. If prepared to their fullest advantage, they'll
have a slight crunch, and they pair wonderfully with red meat,
eggs, pasta, and cheese dishes. Fiddleheads really are ferns - but
they're ferns that are just emerging from the forest floor, so
that they're still coiled in the shape of a fiddlehead. They can
be steamed or sautéed and served with butter, salt, and pepper.
Like ramps, they're versatile. They can be used in salads, soups,
soufflés, and casseroles. I like them tossed with fettuccini,
shrimp, Parmesan cheese, and sautéed morel mushrooms.

By now, you probably get the point. Spring is the end of winter,
but it's also the beginning of a three- month long festival of
wild gourmet treats that are accessible to anyone who's daring
enough to try something just a tad off of the beaten path.

The rest is up to you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Comfort Food II

My favorite recipes are those that are delicious, just a little bit exotic, and very easy to prepare. While there are many recipes that require working all day in the kitchen with ingredients that you have to hire a detective to find, there are also many excellent recipes for gourmet quality foods that don’t require much at all in the way of personal sacrifice.

Earthy Delights can be very helpful in this way. If you need crème fraiche from time to time, a simple toll free call to Earthy Delights will get you some superb quality crème fraiche delivered right to your door. Have you ever tried Devon Cream? Also known as Devonshire Cream, it’s a wonderfully rich, light as a cloud way to enjoy scones still hot and fresh from the oven. You can’t really duplicate this culinary experience in your own kitchen, because Devon Cream requires some regionally indigenous ingredients. But you can duplicate it at your table, because Devon Cream is available through Earthy Delights. The scones, by the way, are a breeze to make, and you can use a free hand in creating them exactly the way you want. Add some Devon Cream and serve them hot with juice and coffee and you’ll bring the house down.

Fine cooking is often a combination of attention to details, and some innovation. At this time of year, hot vegetables and heaping servings of potatoes rule the roost. Come summer we’ll turn our attention to fresh fruits and tossed greens – but right now we want comfort food with all the trimmings. This afternoon we’ll be preparing a potato grain that’s rich with Gruyere cheese and Earthy Delights’ silky smooth crème fraiche. The table will be set with candles, there will be Mozart drifting through the dining room, and the air will be scented with the fragrance of dinner. After all, in a few short weeks we’ll be preparing for the annual Wild Harvest – wild ramps will be coming in, followed by fiddlehead ferns and the incomparable morel mushrooms. Until then, we’ll nibble our scones and savor the richness of comfort food.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Hearty Soups : Comfort Food

Believe me for sure when I tell you that right now, here in the northern Midwest, clinging to life on the edge of a frozen cliff overlooking a desperately inhospitable lake and shivering in sub-zero temperatures, no one sane is interested in anything cold to eat. No thank you. No ice cream, no soft drinks, no chilled fruit, nothing that comes out of a refrigerator. In fact, now that I think of it, refrigerators (and certainly freezers) are practically obsolete in this part of the country at this time of year.

Sub-zero temperatures bring out the soup loving kid in all of us. Yes. Hot bowls of thick, hearty soups served with crusty bread (preferably warm) and a first class cheese board with crackers. What I want right now are log fires, down comforters, sheared lamb slippers, oversized bathrobes, hot chocolate, cookies from the oven, piles of steaming pasta with creamy alfredo sauces flavored to perfection with crushed garlic and topped with a sprinkling of fresh chives. Forget cold cereal for breakfast. Sizzle some good bacon or links of sausage until they’re crispy and brown, then heap them on platters of eggs or pancakes and serve them with scalding coffee.

Here in the Cottage Kitchen I’m practically saying prayers that yes, it will really be spring again someday. Someday, God willing, there will be birds and flowers and sunshine again.

In the meantime, we have soup. Good soup, thick and made with fresh ingredients and bubbling on the stove so that the flavors swap around and mix together in a way that creates new flavors and leaves you guessing about just exactly what went in there to begin with. The best soups are spontaneous. If you have something left over from dinner or lunch, think about whether it might make a good beginning for a new soup. Herbs are wonderful, garlic is practically mandatory, and shallots and onions are magical. Cheese, cream, veggies, and all sorts of meat, fish, and poultry can go into your own soup. Soup recipes, almost without fail, should be considered a starting point for your own creations.

I’m not kidding when I say it’s cold outside. I keep kerosene heaters on hand just in case the power goes out, which it is wont to do from time to time. In the meantime, though, there is something timeless about listening to Mozart at this time of year, and I’m reassured by the fragrance of wild rice and chicken cooking with white wine. It wafts around from the kitchen, mixing with the fragrance of a log fire. Spring will come around again someday, though at the moment it seems like a distant memory. In the meantime, the soup is just about ready.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Dressing Things Up for the Holidays

In the Cottage Kitchen we’re all about informality. Our guests feel just as comfortable coming to the table in jeans and sweaters as they do dressed in cocktail gowns and suits. The point to entertaining is to enjoy one another’s company, to set a relaxed tone that encourages conversation, and to enjoy fine dining.

Regular readers will understand, though, that I have a pet peeve about poorly set tables. A well-set table doesn’t have to mean sterling silver and bone china. But it does mean that someone has put some time and attention into the way things look. Even leftovers – and this column focuses on leftovers – can be served elegantly, with flowers, candlelight, music, a log fire, and fabric napkins. A carefully prepared lunch or dinner should be an experience that tantalizes all of your senses. Color should be taken into consideration. A perfect example of color gone wrong would be to serve poached fish with white rice and cauliflower. Fragrance should be taken into account. A fine wine with a good bouquet, fresh flowers, and the aroma of dinner cooking should work together to tantalize the appetite. Touch should be considered. Forget paper napkins. Nearly everyone has some good quality linen napkins somewhere in a drawer, unused. Get them out and use them. Or go to an inexpensive discount store and purchase some inexpensive ones that are color coordinated with a tablecloth or place mats. For very little money you can purchase individual salt and pepper shakers and have them at each place setting.

Most families are going to have a kitchen full of leftovers after Christmas Dinner. When setting your table, keep in mind that there are elegant ways in which to serve leftovers. You can turn a simple tuna sandwich into a wonderful experience by serving it open face with tomato, melted cheese, red onion, and parsley. Place the sandwich on top of a large piece of red leaf lettuce. Serve it with a cluster of fresh grapes and a cheese board.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Gearing Up for the Holidays

The big day is coming. For us at the Cottage Kitchen, the Thanksgiving holiday means taking long walks together through the forest and across the meadow. The air is crisp and fresh and the leaves crackle beneath our feet – sending up puffs of dust and the irresistible scent of fall. My kids, Phil and Liza, will join us. My cousin Zeph and his significant other, Susan, will drive up from Indianapolis. My sister and her family have especially requested crème brulee for dessert, even though it lacks tradition. Spencer’s girlfriend Tara will be there, too, tossing the salad and helping to keep the wine glasses full.

For those of you who may be cooking a turkey for the first time, here are a few suggestions that may take some of the fear out of this “rite of passage.”

• When shopping for your turkey, choose one that’s larger than you need for dinner. There’s nothing better than having enough left over to send home with your guests.

• Thaw your turkey gradually over a period of several days, in the refrigerator. This will prevent the growth of bacteria that can make you and your guests ill.

• Most turkeys come with instructions. Check them ahead of time and calculate the cooking time based on the weight of your turkey, the minutes per pound, and the temperature of the oven.

• Choose the time at which you want to serve dinner, count backwards, and calculate the time at which to put the turkey in the oven. Allow a minimum of 15 minutes for the turkey to “rest” after it’s removed from the oven.

• To prepare your turkey for cooking, remove the wrapping, then remove the giblets. Rinse the turkey under cold running, both inside and out. Salt the inside of the turkey lightly.

• Fill the turkey with the stuffing of your choice. At the cottage kitchen we love sausage stuffing, but this year we’re thinking about a good cornbread stuffing instead. Never stuff your turkey ahead of time. Wait until just before you’re ready to pop it into the oven. Do not pack the stuffing. It will need room to expand.

• Brush the outside of your turkey with vegetable oil to help prevent it from drying out.

• Place the turkey in a roasting pan on a rack, so that it isn’t resting directly on the roasting pan.

• If the turkey browns on the outside before it’s done cooking, then tent it with aluminum foil.

• In addition to the great sandwiches you can make from leftover turkey, the turkey carcass itself makes an exquisite soup. Save all the bones, all the skin, all of everything. Put it in a soup pot, cover it with water, add salt and pepper, some carrots, onions, and maybe a parsnip, and let it cook slowly many hours. Strain it all and chill the broth so that the fat rises to the surface. Skim the fat off the top and what’s left is a delicious homemade turkey broth. Freeze it or heat it with noodles.

By the way, it’s worth mentioning just a word about gravy. What sane person would consider serving a Thanksgiving dinner without it? If you want to jazz your gravy up just a little, then add something interesting that will give it depth and interest and maybe even just a touch of panache. Interested in a suggestion? Try Aromont’s Red Wine Sauce from Earthy Delights. Just add a tablespoon of it to your gravy and see what happens. You may want to add another tablespoon.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Chanterelle Mushrooms

The color orange is everywhere. Roadside stands all over Michigan are displaying rows and rows of pumpkins ranging from fist-sized pikers to giant behemoths that fill a wheelbarrow. Kids have carved faces in them and placed them on half of the porches in Michigan, and acres of them dot the landscape at area cider mills. Trees are ablaze in orange and mothers everywhere are patiently mixing up batches of orange frosting to spread on cookies and cakes.

For discriminating gourmands, orange means more than frosting, pumpkins, and the spectacular colors of the October forests. This year’s crop of chanterelle mushrooms is the best in many years. These wonderfully flavorful mushrooms come in everything from a pale yellow to apricot to pumpkin orange. This is a substantial mushroom, with a texture that’s tender but not delicate. It tends to hold its shape when cooked in sauces and soups. Its flavor has been described as nutty, and faintly reminiscent of apricots. This is a versatile mushroom, so beloved by the culinary set that one of London’s finest and most famous restaurants was named after it. It lends itself equally well to sauces, stuffings, soufflés, omelets, side dishes, soups, and stews. To make my point, I’ve assembled recipes for chanterelle custard, chanterelle soufflé, and chicken breasts stuffed with chanterelle dressing. Because the flavors complement one another, the custard is at its finest when served with the arugula salad. I don’t recommend “separating” them.

Chanterelles lend themselves to very cold white wines. Though it may be (for all I know) a contradiction of everything your sommelier has ever told you, I chill my white wines in the freezer for ten or 15 minutes before serving them. Then I’m careful to pour just enough wine in each glass to keep it from warming much before it can be consumed. The bottle is stored in a wine bucket with plenty of ic

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Dinner at Jackson Hole

Okay, okay. So I’m not in the cottage this month. I’m at about 7000 feet right now, snuggled into the Grand Tetons, enjoying the crisp air and the spectacular scenery of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I arrived several days ago, and after a short period of adjustment to the altitude, I started hiking. I was joined by friends who shared my enthusiasm for poring over maps, studying topography, and researching the best spots for viewing wildlife. Though it’s early in the season, it’s dropped below freezing every night since we’ve been here, and yesterday we were caught in a semi-serious blizzard in Yellowstone. As they say around here, the difference between a serious blizzard and a semi-serious blizzard is basically whether or not you get out of it and make it home!

It is absolutely true that when it comes to cooking, a good appetite really is the best seasoning. After an 11.3 mile hike around a spectacular glacial lake, climbing 600 feet to the top of a rocky overlook, and chancing a three mile sojourn back into a high altitude canyon just on the chance that we could view a bull moose taking an afternoon nap, even the phone book would look pretty good if it had enough salt on it. For the most part, people come here to do physical things. They climb, they hike, they kayak, they fish, they shoot whitewater rapids, and they parasail. Steak dinners, three-inch thick slices of garlic bread, baked beans, corn on the cob, tossed salads, and chocolate cake are easy to find and very satisfying after a workout in the mountains.

Nevertheless, for the more discerning diner, Jackson Hole has a whole lot to offer. Nothing beats the experience of a hard day’s workout followed by a hot shower, an ice cold glass of dry white wine, and a candlelight dinner in front of the Snake River Grill’s enormous stone fireplace. The difficult part is in deciding between the cannelloni stuffed with a morel mushroom duxelle, or the spectacularly delicious elk loin, which melts in your mouth. For your side dish, choose either the fiddlehead ferns sautéed with grilled ramps in brown butter, or the sweet corn simmered with tender, sautéed chanterelle mushrooms.

Dessert is no contest. I recommend the caramelized banana cream pie in a crust of toasted coconut and almond. Executive Chef Jeff Drew leaves no stone unturned in his insistence on the very finest quality ingredients, and on perfect timing by his staff.

Even at home in the condo, we take some time with dinner. After long hikes at high altitudes, we want something hot and nourishing, but we also want something that does more than just provide us with fuel for the next day’s hike. After we pull off our hiking boots and pour a glass of wine, we haul out the recipes and start peeling, dicing, and chopping ingredients. Soup is always popular. We combine it with good Western Sourdough Bread from a local bakery, tossed greens, and a cheese board. Depending on the recipe, we can make it ahead of time. We use the best and the freshest ingredients that Jackson Hole has to offer. The Cottage Kitchen, it seems, is not really all that far away…

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Late Summertime Dinner

Well we have to face it sooner or later. Summer’s winding down, or at least it is in Michigan. The evenings have turned cool and already there are brushstrokes of brilliant crimson and orange in the maples. There’s a crispness in the air and a light scattering of dried leaves on the lawn.

As beautiful as the fall is in our part of the country, there’s something sad about the end of another summer. As summers go, this one has been great – lots of parties, good swimming, horseback riding, water skiing, and plenty of mornings when we could catch up on our sleep, do the chores, and watch the hummingbirds at their feeders while we enjoyed coffee and toast against a backdrop of whitecaps tossing on Lake Michigan.

Cousin Gretchen and her family came all the way from Los Angeles to join us this summer. While she was here we managed to learn a thing or three from her husband, Ed, who turns out to be a maestro at grilling. First of all, gourmet quality grilling doesn’t have to be a struggle. With excellent quality assistance from the right products, anyone can produce an exquisite dinner on the grill with a minimum of muss, fuss, and bother.

My son Philip, and my nephew, Spencer, team up with Ed to learn a few things about grilling. The lesson includes instructions about emptying the old ashes from the bottom of the grill, venting the coals from the top and the bottom to control temperature and cooking speed, and having a good quality scraper in order to prepare the grill surface. Ed is good at determining the “doneness” of the meat simply by pressing it with the tongs. Very soft meat is rare. The more it cooks, the more resistant it becomes to pressure. While they’re absorbed with preparing the grill, Tara and Laura join me in the kitchen to help with the salad, the hors d’oeuvres, and the wine.

Our menu tonight is simple. We’re having a baguette of French bread with an excellent Spanish olive oil. We’ve used this olive oil to marinate sliced garlic cloves, and we’ve added some salt and pepper, some oregano, and a bit of parsley. For dinner we’re having grilled beef tenderloins served with red wine sauce, a tossed green salad, and orzo with a mirapoix. For dessert, sliced pineapple spears. It couldn’t be simpler. Tara and Laura sigh over the fragrance of the fresh basil that we’re tossing in the salad. I reach for my glass of Beaujolais. Summer may be coming to an end, but the autumn is full of promise, the Michigan apples are coming into season, and the spectacular fall color is already starting.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Summertime Food - Fresh and Easy

In the summertime, mornings start slowly in the Cottage Kitchen. Waking early to the sound of a gentle rain thrumming steadily over the west gable, it’s like something out of paradise to be able to roll over and snuggle back down into the warm covers. Rainy Michigan mornings are lovely to listen to from a warm spot under the covers.

In ancient Camelot, King Arthur issued a decree that “it will never rain ‘till after midnight.” In the Cottage Kitchen this summer, it only rains before noon. We do what needs to be done in the way of shopping, cleaning, and puttering around the house before we head for the beach at about noon, carrying coolers and towels, beach chairs and umbrellas. The swimming has been great – at least it’s been great for people like myself who are from the north and who can take water temperatures below 65 degrees. We play rummy, smear ourselves with SPF 15, swim, lounge in the sun, and visit with our neighbors who stop by to share a beer and gossip. On the best days, when there’s no breeze and the lake is flat, friends will often show up with a boat and water skis. Life is very good.

On lazy summer days like these we want simple food, fresh, that’s easy to prepare. We want to enjoy Western Michigan’s bountiful produce, including peaches, plums, apricots, blueberries, nectarines, squash, leafy greens, and some of the most spectacular sweet corn available. A pox upon people who will come to Western Michigan in the summertime and open a can of fruit cocktail to serve with dinner. Fie upon anyone who would come to Western Michigan in the summertime and serve frozen or canned green peas when you can buy fresh shelled green peas at any one of a half dozen fruit and vegetable stands along the famous Blue Star Highway. Around here, using canned or frozen corn in the summertime is practically a federal offense.

The sweet corn actually deserves a column all of its own. To meet Cottage Kitchen standards, it must be locally grown, freshly picked and unshucked. We shuck it just before dinner, minutes before the kettle of water has started to boil. We boil it for just two minutes. Any longer and the kernels may grow tough and the flavor can dissipate.

And dinner? Just heat up the grill. I like to coat a fine cut of meat, chicken, or a fish filet with olive oil, then cover it with a delicious dry “rub” before sticking it over hot coals. Sometimes, for the extra flavor, I add mesquite pellets to the coals. Earthy Delights carries several different kinds of wonderfully flavored rubs, including Green Tea, Espresso, Peking, Mole, Tunisian, and Thai. There are few things in life more tantalizing than the fragrance of something spicy cooking over the coals.

For me, the end of the rainbow is a place where tangles of honeysuckle attract hummingbirds, where the ice makes a delicately musical sound in a glass of gin and tonic, where the breeze from the lake rustles the leaves in the black locust trees, and where the waves wash steadily over the shingle of golden beach at the bottom of the cliff. Someone has put a Chris Isaacson CD on the stereo, and it seems to go perfectly with the spicy scent of tenderloins on the grill. The Michigan tomatoes are starting to come in. The zucchini is ripe. The blueberries are at their finest. For dinner tonight we’re enjoying a Thai rub on grilled pork tenderloins served with creamed fresh sweet corn.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Fresh Summer Truffles from France

Just the sound of that sentence evokes hard-to-define feelings bordering on a combination of romance and mystery. These are black truffles, firm, wonderfully fragrant, and ready for the kitchens of interested home chefs throughout the country. Every season, when Earthy Delights starts shipping the annual harvest of fresh truffles, I receive notes and inquiries from curious folks wanting to know more about them. What are truffles? How are they cooked? What makes them so special?

People are curious about truffles because they carry a certain mystery, a certain aura that is absent in other mushrooms. To begin with, truffles are mushrooms. Scarce mushrooms. On top of this, they grow underground in difficult-to-predict locations, so they’re tricky to find. Tricky enough, in fact, that they’re usually tracked using either trained dogs or pigs. Pigs are becoming scarce as truffle-hunters because they’re large and awkward to transport, for one thing. They can also be irascible, and would certainly and happily consume the truffles they find if given the opportunity to do so. Dogs, on the other hand, can be trained to locate the elusive fungi, but are less than interested in dining on them.

The flavor of a truffle is a challenge to describe because it doesn’t taste like anything else. Envision a mature forest with towering trees and a fern-covered floor, with blue-green light filtering through the leafy canopy to the wildflowers below. If you could bottle that impression as if it were a flavor, then it might taste something like a truffle.

Here are a few hints about truffles:

1. Store them in a refrigerator in a paper bag. Never use plastic. Truffles need to “breathe.”
2. Don’t soak them in water unless you intend to use the water for cooking. Water will dissipate their flavor. To clean them, brush away any dirt and rinse very quickly under running water.
3. Truffles lend their flavor to other things that they’re stored with. Eggs, butter, and even whiskey can be infused with truffle flavor. Insert some pieces of truffle into a stick of butter and the butter will assume the flavor of the truffles. Place a truffle in a carton of eggs and leave it overnight. Voila! Truffled eggs. Store a truffle in a bottle of whiskey and the same thing happens.
4. Truffles are usually, but not always, served uncooked. Shave them on top of a hot pasta dish or an omelet. The best truffles I’ve ever had were at Guy Savoy’s in Paris, shaved on top of risotto. Minced truffles also lend a sensational flavor to sauces. Steamed asparagus served with a truffle sauce are one of several spectacular appetizers available at Taillevent in Paris

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Morel Mushrooms!

I have to admit a strong personal bias on the subject of morel mushrooms. I’ve prepared them myself in soups, sauces, gratinees, crostini, and casseroles. I’ve fried them, baked them, pureed them, battered them, stuffed them, and grilled them

My favorite?

When it comes to morel mushrooms, I stick to the K-I-S-S principle, which is “keep it simple, stupid!” The natural flavor of the morel mushroom is elusive, subtle, and impossible to duplicate or to improve on. I can’t think of anything more delicious than freshly picked morcella esculentas, rinsed lightly, quartered, and sautéed in butter with a bit of garlic and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Try this with toast or better yet, English mushrooms. Without any persuasion, I could make a meal of it. This is a gourmet experience that is best enjoyed outdoors, on the deck, basking in the May sunshine.

Still, there are times when we like to get “fussy” in the Cottage Kitchen. We want to polish the good silver, get out the crystal, and dine in elegance. We want to create meals with “high points” that saturate our taste buds, “low points” that neutralize our taste buds, and “mid points” that round out the meal. We serve good wines that complement the full range of taste experiences available on the table, and we start with an appetizer and drinks.

Uncle Lance has found morel mushrooms in abundance growing on daffodil hill, near Aunt Judy’s horse pasture. You can tell how many he’s found just by measuring the grin on his face, so we know we’ll have more than enough to go around. Kathryn is back for the summer from California, Aunt Pitty-Pat is recently in from Virginia, and in charge of the puff pastry, and Bob and Michael are working on dessert – charcoal grilled banana and pineapple spears drenched in homemade butterscotch sauce.

The early evening sky is gray and filled with lowering clouds, and there’s a fine mist in the air. Lake Michigan is chopping with waves as the breeze changes from the south to the north. Indoors we light a log fire, put on some rockin’ music, and we do what we do best of all when the morels are plentiful.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Wild Harvest Season

It’s that wonderfully wild time of year right now – that brief time when the morel mushrooms, the fiddlehead ferns, and the wild ramps all come into season at about the same time. This time of year is known to us folks at Earthy Delights as the “Wild Harvest,” and it’s our favorite time of year.

The Wild Harvest is an event that’s eagerly anticipated and much loved by gourmet cooks and amateur chefs throughout the country. It provides us with an opportunity, however fleeting, to savor some of the rich wildness of nature’s bounty. There’s really no way to adequately describe the woodsy richness of morel mushrooms sautéed in butter and garlic and served over toast with hot coffee and bacon. Sautéed ramps added to scrambled eggs with a sprinkling of diced ham and served over hot buttered toast are equally delicious, just as they are when added to a rich beef gravy along with a dash of sherry. Fiddleheads add elegance, substance, and a distinctly wild edge when used to flavor soups, or simply steamed and served with butter, salt and pepper.

Wild things that make their own ways in wild places deserve a special niche in our culinary repertoire. They get no help from us. No cultivation, no planting, no fertilizer or weeding. They tough it out on their own. In a wild world, where only the strong survive, these ingredients emerge with a distinctive edge – an elusive quality that puts them on the culinary map in many a gourmet kitchen. A wild ramp, for example, looks very much like a scallion, and they do in fact have similarities in the flavor department. But side-by-side, a taste comparison will leave the scallion looking very much like the routinely cultivated supermarket darling that it is. A ramp, on the other hand, is a scallion with attitude, defiance, and character.

Many of you by now have tried morel mushrooms for yourselves. They have a nutty, woodsy, flavor that leaves cultivated button mushrooms seeming lifeless and boring by comparison. The morel, also known by many as the Queen of the Forest, is delicious on its own, but can also do swimmingly well at lending its wildness to soups, sauces, and casseroles. Fiddleheads, when steamed to perfection, are still just a bit crunchy. In soufflés, casseroles, and all on their own, they make routine vegetables seem ordinary.

These wild ingredients can be very simple to cook. The morel flourishes, and is preferred by many a fine chef, when it’s just cleaned, trimmed, quartered, and fried in butter with some salt and pepper. Ramps are great when diced and tossed raw in salads. Fiddleheads need nothing more than a judicious steaming and some butter, salt and pepper.

On the other hand, these ingredients lend themselves very well to a variety of different dishes. In the spring, when evenings are still cool and appetites are on the prowl, soup is a wonderful way to experiment with wild ingredients. It’s hearty, it’s delicious, and when served with a cheese board, fresh fruit, and crusty bread, it can be truly elegant. Add a bottle of good wine and a tossed salad and you’ve got a feast on your hands.

Monday, March 15, 2004

It's Spring Time ! -- Morels, Fiddleheads & Wild Leeks (Ramps)

It’s SPRINGTIME!!!!!!!!!!    Well, alright, so we may still be in for some snow here and there, seeing as the Cottage Kitchen is located in the Upper Midwest, where things like that are apt to happen.

But realistically, the worst is way behind us. It was a cold, cold winter. Utility bills were steep, the wind was like a razor blade, and when we went outdoors to shovel away the snow, it actually hurt to breathe.

Enough whining. The ground is thawing, the last patches of snow have melted away, and the culinary world is gearing up for yet another Wild Harvest. If you’re one of the many people throughout the country who look forward to Earthy Delights’ annual gourmet event, then you’ll be happy to know that we’re already taking advance orders for morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, and wild ramps. Call their toll free number at 800-367-4709 and take advantage of this opportunity to make sure you get what you want when the prime time hits.

And just what is the prime time? Well, we’ll get to that. Right now, it’s important to provide information to the uninitiated, but potentially interested “foodies” who think they might like to dabble in some of the most elusive, mysterious, delicious, but simple to prepare wild foods on the planet. The Wild Harvest consists of three basic food groups, and here’s the low down on all of them:

Wild Ramps

Wild ramps are also known as wild onions, or wild leeks. They’re tough little buggers, and grow just fine all on their own throughout much of the nation. In Michigan, they’re already coming up by mid-March. They have an onion-y flavor with a wild, pungent edge. They’ve been so popular for so long in the Appalachian Mountains, that there are actually festivals and cook-offs dedicated to this flavorful little scamp. Lately though, gourmet chefs across the world have taken a keen interest in their maverick flavor, and have started adding them to soups, stews, and sauces. They’re great when diced and tossed with a salad – sort of like an onion with some garlic-y flavor added. A few of them diced and added to scrambled eggs will give them an excellent flavor, and are a huge improvement over the green peppers that some people seem to be unreasonably fixated on. An interesting note about ramps is that the City of Chicago was named after them. The word “Chicago” is actually a native term meaning “smelly little onion.”

Whatever you call them, ramps are delicious. They look a lot like scallions, but their flavor is much more “energetic.” The best way to use them is with imagination. Making some soup? Throw in a handful, diced. Sauté a few and add them to potatoes, risotto, or your veggie stir fry. As regular readers will know, I love them laid across a piece of good bread with some cream cheese and ham. Keep some mints handy.

Though I like to “wing it” in the kitchen, there are some of you who might like to have some more specific direction. This is an excellent recipe for Tomato Soup with Ramps. It’s not difficult, and it’s exceptionally good.

Fiddlehead Ferns

This is just a wonderful, versatile, and very healthful food to try if you haven’t already. Fiddleheads derive only from Ostrich ferns, and must be picked while they’re still very young and very fresh. The main season for fiddleheads is in April, with some overlap into both March and May, depending on Mother Nature. If they’ve opened up already, and “fronds” are showing, then they’re too old to be good.

But when they’re fresh and young, they’re exquisite. Their flavor is not at all subtle, so the best way to serve them is with a starch that isn’t strongly flavored and an entrée with some spice. They’ve been compared to a cross between asparagus and artichokes and green beans, but if a flavor could have a color, then the color associated with fiddleheads would be “green.” When cooked properly, they’re not mushy. They should have some “tooth” when you bite them. My very favorite way of cooking them is with some garlic, some butter, and some good quality morel mushrooms. Try this:Sautéed Fiddleheads with Morel Mushrooms

Morel Mushrooms

This is the Springtime Queen of the Forest. Early morels will start to come in around April, and some will linger into June, but their main month is always May. Morels are legendary for their elusive, tough-to-describe “woodsy” flavor, and the excellent way they blend with other foods. There are a few things to remember about morel mushrooms if you want to try them.

• If you’re mushroom hunting yourself, be very careful that you know what you’re doing. There’s a poisonous morel “look alike” that can cause serious trouble. Take an expert with you.
• Don’t eat morels unless they’ve been fully cooked. They can cause terrible indigestion.
• Their flavor dissipates quickly if they’re soaked for too long in water. When you clean them, make it quick. If you soak them for any reason, hang onto that delicious water. It’s great for cooking soups, stews, and gravies.

My motto, in general, is that when it comes to morel mushrooms, the simpler the better. I like to clean them, trim them, and toss them in the skillet with butter and maybe a little garlic. Salt and pepper them, of course, then serve them with buttered toast, hot coffee, and bacon.

That having been said, there are a wide variety of very elegant and even romantic ways to serve morel mushrooms that are beyond delicious. Some of them go best with a log fire, candlelight, and a very fine Tuscan wine. Try this: Roast Beef Tenderloin with Mushroom Ragout