New and Mysterious

When I brought the new local oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms home from the Co-op, I just stared at them. Dramatically lit on my cutting board, minutes passed before I could bring myself to let a knife near them. I’m not used to this form of beauty!

mushroom-tart

I’ve adjusted to (but still stop to wonder at – what else is life for?) the splash of color from opening up a beet, or noonday light glancing through salad greens, or the fresh perfume and ode to summer wafting up from a just-sliced perfectly-in-season tomato. But in March, with the season change stirring, when we’ve just gotten the earliest spring gift of our snowdrop bulbs peeking into the world, the thought of fresh and new to the senses is awfully delicious.

Yet with delicate, very fresh mushrooms like these, the beauty isn’t in color but in texture and in wonder. Their growing formation is fascinating, at least to me. (They’re packed in blue-labelled plastic boxes, like grape tomatoes, still in their growing formation from Mushroom Mills in Columbus Junction.) Their delicate gills are such a contrast to the beets and carrots and potatoes I’m still eating from my garden, stored all winter long.

dough

If you pick these oyster or lion’s manes up and sit spellbound like me, well, I have a quick trick for you. Ditch whatever recipe you’d conjured. Get out the sauté pan and a thick pat of butter and salt – and that’s all you need. Cut off their stems and slice the mushrooms a third of an inch thick, get the butter hot in the pan over medium heat, brown both sides of each slice until dark golden, and sprinkle them with salt. Aaaand eat. The gills turn crispy, the mushroom still juicy: Best snack or casual appetizer ever. Gosh they are delicious.

Mushroom Mills, Columbus Junction, Iowa

(Okay, disclaimer: What, fried in butter, isn’t delicious? However, people go to great  lengths – and big dollars – for a buttery taste of morel around here. Well, to my palate, this satisfies the same desire. I think these are just as good… but that’s hearsay! Don’t tell anyone I said that.)

beanweights

If you can make it past wondering at their beauty with enough time to make an actual recipe with them, this mushroom tart from my favorite cookbook is delightful. Ideal for a special meal – lunch, brunch, dinner, or simply a celebration of these new fungi friends – it’s light with a perk from lemon and earthy at the same time.

Mushroom Tart

from Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson 

partially baked and cooled 9-inch flaky pastry (baked until pastry just turns opaque) tart shell  - your recipe of choice, not a sweetened dough, or pre-made frozen dough
1 lb. mix of fresh mushrooms (the more flavorful the mushrooms, the more interesting the end result) – do not wash but wipe caps with a damp cloth if needed
3 T. unsalted butter
packed 1 c. shallots, halved and thinly sliced
¼ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper, freshly ground
lemon juice from ½ a medium lemon
2 T. water
1 c. crème fraîche or heavy cream (I used cream, though I’m sure the former would be delicious)
3 large egg yolks
¼ t. freshly grated nutmeg
1 T. fresh thyme, coarsely chopped

Have pre-baked tart shell ready.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Prepare the mushrooms by removing stems if spongy. Slice depending on shape and size and how you’d like them to look in the finished tart.

In a heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sauté for a few minutes, until they start to color. Increase heat to high, add mushrooms, salt, and pepper, and sauté until the mushrooms are soft, about 5-10 minutes.

When the mushrooms are soft, push them to one side of the saucepan. Add lemon juice and water to deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits from the pan. Remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together cream and egg yolks until smooth. Mix in mushrooms and gently pour the mixture into the tart shell (or put mushrooms into shell and pour cream and egg mixture over). If the sides of the pre-baked tart shell have slumped unevenly and putting all the filling in would cause it to overflow, egg mixture that doesn’t fit in the shell could be carefully poured in, 5 minutes into baking.

Bake until the custard is barely firm in the center, about 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. The tart will continue to set as it cools.

Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with thyme and freshly grated nutmeg.

Sparkling Winter Salad – Delicious for Everyone (Vegan & GF Guests Included)

We’re into the wonderful, grounding part of the year that’s all about tradition.

New Pi Eats Sparkling Winter Salad

We all know what’s going to be served on Thanksgiving. The mashed potatoes, the pies, the bird… but once in a while a new pop of color’s nice on the table. That’s where this comes in – but watch out, it might steal the show.

It certainly will gain you accolades with bird-eschewing guests. Vegan nephew? Check. Gluten free aunt? Sub cooked quinoa for farro and you’re golden. Grazing guests? Keep it in the fridge and they’ll be satisfied – and healthier for it.

New Pi Eats pomegranate method

But what about the cook? Sure, pomegranates are great for you, but isn’t harvesting the seeds (officially called “arils”) from their vessel a bother? You can certainly pick up the pre-seeded ones. I’m into the whole fruit – seeing it in my fruit bowl sets the right tone for the season. Instead of ruining your white shirt, fetch a bowl of water. Cut the pomegranate in half lengthwise, then cut slits in each half and fan it out, if you like. Submerge it in the bowl of water and either set to giving it some firm whacks with a sturdy kitchen spoon, or just pull the arils out under the water. Strain and appreciate a few gorgeous moments in the kitchen.

Sparkling Winter Salad
Farro with Roasted Sweet Potato, Kale, and Pomegranate Seeds

Recipe thanks to Food52

Serves 3 – 4 as a main course, or 6 as a side dish

1 c. farro (gluten free: sub cooked quinoa)
extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, halved and cut into ¼-inch wedges
salt
1 large sweet potato (or winter squash), peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 2 ¼ c.)
½ t. ground cumin
½ t. ground coriander
1/3 c. walnuts
3 c. packed, roughly chopped kale (stems removed before chopping)
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 t. fresh lemon juice (Meyer if available), to taste
freshly ground black pepper
½ c. pomegranate seeds
purely optional (for non-vegan): small block of feta, cubed, to garnish

Boil farro with 4 c. water. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 20 min. Stir in 1 t. salt and simmer until tender (about 10 min. longer).

Drain and transfer to a bowl to cool.

Heat oven to 400°F.

Toss onion with oil to lightly coat. Spread on baking sheet and sprinkle with generous pinch of salt. On a separate pan, toss sweet potato with oil; sprinkle with cumin, coriander, and a pinch of salt.

Roast until tender and onions browning, stirring once (onions will be done first).

Toast walnuts in an oven-safe dish until darkened in color and fragrant, about 5 to 8 min., watching carefully. Cool, then roughly chop.

Sauté kale and garlic in 1 to 2 T. olive oil in a large skillet, stirring, until kale wilts but is still bright green.

Mix or layer everything, drizzling with about 1 T. olive oil and lemon juice, seasoning to taste.

New Pi Eats Sparkling Winter Salad 2

Poppin’ Party Bars

These are so much fun.

New Pi Eats Poppin' Party Bars

Like pistachios? Great. Popcorn? Perfect. Toasted almonds and cranberries and sea salt? I’m there. These bars will take just about anything you throw at them – and make it look spectacular.

We experimented with all different toppings and I don’t think there was a bad one in the batch: we tried everything from dried pineapple (unsugared – so different from the sugared kind!) and toasted coconut flakes to yogurt covered pretzels (and raspberry yogurt covered pretzels. Those are our mauve friends, below).

New Pi Eats any kind of topping bars

And I LOVED the popcorn on them – great crunch and really fun. These would make a great new take on Halloween popcorn ball treats this year.

Watch your mailbox or inbox for the November/December Catalyst winging its way to you with an article about my new favorite popcorn and one of our great local producers – Tiny But Mighty. It’s the most flavorful popcorn I’ve had, its hulls disappear and don’t get stuck in your teeth (a boon for those reluctant flossers out there!), and it’s darn cute to boot.

Poppin’ Party Bars

Fun & rich: These are as good as the toppings you choose, so go wild. Cut into small squares – they’re dangerous!

Makes about 26 small bars

In advance: Can be made 5 days ahead, stored airtight at room temp.

Adapted from Epicurious.com

Toffee cookie base:

1 c. (2 sticks) butter, room temp, plus for greasing
½ c. (packed) light brown sugar
¼ c. sugar
½ t. sea salt
1 ½ t. vanilla
1 ½ c. flour

Topping:

6 oz. semisweet or dark chocolate, finely chopped (try Guittard chocolate chips from the bulk section)
approx. 1 ½ cups toppings: pistachios, dried cranberries & unsugared pineapple, lightly toasted coconut & slivered almonds, yogurt covered pretzels, crushed candy, popcorn (really good!)
flaky or coarsely ground sea salt

Toffee cookie base:
Heat oven to 375°F.

Line a 13x9x2″ baking dish with foil, allowing 2″ overhang (or use a silicon pan); grease with butter.

Beat butter at medium speed until smooth, about 3 min.

Add sugars and salt; beat until light, about 3 min.

Beat in vanilla; slowly incorporate flour fully (will be sticky).

Spread in lined dish in a thin layer.

Bake until bubbling, puffing, and golden (may look separated – don’t worry), about 22 min. Cool. Can be made 2 days in advance of topping.

Topping:
Heat oven to 375°F.

Scatter chocolate evenly over cookie base; bake until melted (several min.). Immediately spread evenly.

Top as desired while still warm, lightly pressing into chocolate.

Sprinkle with salt.

Cool 15 minutes. Lift from dish with foil overhang. Cool until set, about 2 hrs. (or refrigerate).

Remove foil and slide onto cutting board. Cut into bars.

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