Friday, May 29, 2009

Morel and Asparagus Hunting!

Several weeks ago, I went morel hunting with my parents in the woods behind their house, who live in an undisclosed Midwestern state. You see, as a morel huntsman, I must keep my hunting grounds secret, for fear you will find it and eat all of them.

Morels are an incredibly delicious (and pricey) mushroom. They pop up in mid-spring and can be found in woods across the country and beyond. They are popular in Illinois and several nearby states. There are all sorts of tips on where you can find them with varying degrees of usefulness. I've had success looking near dead or dying elm trees. This year, a pile of dead trees was the most plentiful spot.

This was my second year hunting. It was fun, but there didn't seem to be as many as last year. There's an exhilaration to wandering around the woods searching for the evening's meal. There aren't really any poisonous mushrooms that look much like morels, but a few look close enough so please confirm any finds. Since I waited so long to post this, you'll have to wait until next year for morels. Morels are very identifiable and delicious so I highly recommend trying to hunt them yourself!

For guidance, I used the new book "Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois & Surrounding States." One of the authors, Joe McFarland, was at the Urbana Farmer's Market a few weeks ago. He signed my copy with a threat to stay off his morel patch. The book mentions several other tasty looking mushrooms, which I'll have to keep my eye out for.

In the book Omnivore's Dillema, Michael Pollan has an excellent section on morel hunting, so I recommend checking it out! You should actually read the entire book while you're at it.

I fried some morels with an experimental batter, but it didn't turn out good enough to post. I brought some home to Susan who fried them deliciously. She will follow up on that one!

My parents and I also stopped by a local farm to hunt some asparagus. Since it was in a field of asparagus, it was much easier to find than the morels. I still can't get over how asparagus looks while it grows. It just sticks out of the ground! Hilarious! Asparagus takes several years to establish itself, so we don't get the joy of growing it ourselves since we garden in a rented plot at a community park. However, as soon as we have our own spot of land we will definitely grow this awesomely delicious veggie.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

vegan mac n' cheeze done right

This recipe is near and dear to my heart. After eating the delicious vegan mac n' cheeze from Soul Vegetarian in Chicago we needed to know how it was done. However, when we learned the recipe from one of the cooks we found it to be way too oily. So oily that when we tried to keep leftovers, the ingredients would separate and there would be an inch of oil at the bottom of the pan. not so delicious anymore. I knew that there had to be a way of introducing some thickeners and adjusting the ingredients to make a delicious, and somewhat less bad for us version of this favorite. Tada! After years of making it over and over, I've developed this ultimate recipe. As long as you follow the directions exactly, you'll have the tastiest vegan mac n' cheeze ever in addition to a recipe which stores well and provides yummy lunches for the rest of the week.

The recipe makes a lot because Tom and I love having mac n' cheeze leftovers in the fridge. I've never tried scaling it down, but feel free to give it a try.


12 oz bag of Cavatappi
3 cups Soy Milk
1 cup Nutritional Yeast
1/2 cup Olive Oil (Veggie and Canola Oil work well too)
1 tbs Paprika
1 tbs Onion Powder
1 tbs Garlic Powder
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Turmeric
3 tbs Tahini
1 tbs Soy Sauce
1 tbs Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tbs Corn Starch
1 tbs Arrowroot

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

There are a lot of steps to this recipe, and they must be followed exactly. It's actually not that challenging, but it is important that ingredients are added in the right order if you want the awesome creamy consistency of mac 'n cheeze.

Step 1: Boil water and put pasta to cook.

Step 2: Pour soy milk into a blender. With lid in place, turn blender on a medium speed. Most blender lid's have a center piece which can be removed, do so now. If no center piece, carefully remove entire lid. While soy milk is rotating in a funnel shape, slowly pour oil into the center of the blender. If blender is not turned on when oil is poured in, it will not incorporate well with the milk. Once oil and milk are combined, turn off blender.

Step 3: Add nutritional yeast, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and turmeric. Pulse a few times until combined.

Step 4: Add tahini, soy sauce and apple cider vinegar. Blend.

Step 5: Blend in cornstarch and arrowroot.

Step 6: When pasta is ready pour into a 9x13 baking dish. Spread cheeze sauce over cooked pasta and stir until noodles are well coated. The sauce will still be pretty liquidy at this point, but no need to worry!

Step 7: Place pasta mixture in oven. The total baking time will be 30 minutes, however there is an important last part you must not neglect! Every 5-7 minutes while the pasta bakes, you must open the oven and stir the noodles. If you skip this part, the top of your sauce will get creamy and the bottom will remain liquidy. If you want cheezy deliciousness you must stir the pasta during the baking process.

Step 8: Remove from oven and serve!! Tom likes his salty and I like to add black pepper, so feel free to season it up to your liking. So YUM. I also like mine with ketchup and bbq sauce. Or with cut up cooked veggie dogs! Reminds me of when I was kid.

The mac 'n cheeze will keep well in an air-tight container one week in the fridge. Leftovers are the best.

Monday, May 25, 2009

garden's first bounty: delicious baby greens

Last week Tom and I harvested our first bounty of the season from our garden. We were able to remove a ton of baby greens from the garden including buttercrunch, spinach and mesclun mix. Additionally, we needed to thin out the beet seedlings which turned into a wonderful addition to our baby greens salad mix.

On Saturday the farmer's market really kicked it up a notch with loads of strawberries, green onions, greens, and asparagus. As a result, I decided to make a delicious and %100 local salad highlighting some of our purchases during this early part of the growing season.

Baby Greens Salad with Honey-Strawberry Dressing


For Salad
Around 4 cups of Baby Greens
2 Cups Strawberries sliced
6 Green Onions chopped

For Dressing
2 tbs Honey
1 cup Strawberries
1 tbs Rosemary

Blend strawberries and honey for dressing. Toss with salad ingredients. Eat up!

All ingredients were purchased at the market or harvested from our garden!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

book review: animal, vegetable, miracle by barbara kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
(AVM) is Barbara Kingsolver's non-fiction memoir which follows her family's decision to eat only locally produced food for an entire year. They commit to eating only the food they grow and raise themselves, or food produced from within the county they live. The novel is largely Kingsolver's story as she breaks the chapters into a month by month journey of food life. However, her husband and daughter supplement the book with recipes and essays which compliment Kingsolver's narrative. The novel is a comprehensive look at what goes into living a life of local food with in-depth observations on small-scale farming, cheese making, home gardens, raising animals for food, foraging, eating locally while traveling, and much much more.

I read AVM in February, the perfect time of the year to dive into this novel. As Kingsolver notes, February is "the hungry month" where there is little if any local food available. However, by the end of February and into March it's time to start planning for the next growing season by starting seedlings and ordering garden equipment. When I read AVM I knew I'd be gardening again, but it was the success and joys presented by Kingsolver which really inspired me to become better prepared for this year's growing season. She inspired me to consider the plants I chose for this year not just for their immediate rewards, but for those that will preserve well as a source of local food through the winter. The novel presents how it is possible to eat locally through the entire year, but makes it clear that it is important to prepare for the winter all through harvest-time. As a result, Tom and I will be investing in a food saver for freezing and canning equipment for preserving. Before reading this novel I did not feel fully committed to the local food diet, but Kingsolver has won me over. I highly recommend the novel for anyone interested in local eating, especially those trying to raise a family in this grossly industrial food society.

One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Kingsolver and her husband travel to Italy. Their travels across the Italian countryside were inspiring and show that eating responsibly and respectfully is absolutely possible when on vacation. I've never considered myself a huge fan of Italian food, but after reading this novel I feel inspired to travel there and learn what real Italian food culture is all about. Somehow I don't think we've quite got it down here in Illinois.

I was surprised to read Kingsolver's arguments against vegetarianism. Although I was not entirely convinced, I found her novel to include the most compelling argument against vegetarianism I have ever read. However, I must emphasize that her arguments against not eating meat do not translate to an argument for eating meat in the way the majority of meat eating happens in this country. Rather, it is an argument for respecting and understanding the process and animals which go into the production of meat for food. More importantly, she argues for bringing the production of meat into the hands of the people eating the food. Knowing where the animal was bred, raised, and how it was fed are just as important as respecting the life taken. The chapter provides a new perspective on meat eating and I would urge all vegetarians to read the book before passing judgment on my poor efforts at restating her beliefs. That being said, I could personally never pluck a chicken or slaughter a lamb and have no intention of changing my mind when it comes to the decision whether or not to eat a dead animal.

A,V,M is an inspiring story, beautifully written and wonderfully educational. Ideally, everyone would read this novel, but I recommend it most highly to all those interested in local eating, home gardening, and the slow food movement.

To learn more about the book and Kingsolver's family visit:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

hardening off the seedlings

Happy seedlings enjoy a short trip to the balcony. After about a week they'll be ready for the garden.

It's finally time to start planting all our wonderful tomato, pepper, and herb plants out in the garden! It's very exciting and I can't wait to get all the little guys and girls out in the dirt where the belong. Since February they have been nurtured, cared for and loved. Now it's time for them to grow up and venture out into the big, sunny, and nutrient filled garden plot. However, there is one last step required before the little plants are ready for the big life. The process is called "hardening off" and it will greatly improve the plants chances for successful growth outdoors.

For 7-10 days before planting your seedlings out in the garden you should start setting plants out during the day and bringing them in at night. Set the plants outside for most of the day in order to transition them into living under harsher conditions than the cozy countertop or windowsill they enjoyed indoors.

Start by placing them out in a semi-shady area for the first couple days; somewhere that gets a few hours of full sunlight, but not an entire day. After a few days, start positioning the plants where they'll get more and more sun. If there is a hard rain or a particularly windy day make sure to keep the plants indoors.

Near the end of the week they should be able to comfortably sit under full sun for the whole day. Make sure they stay well watered during this process. If after a week the plants are not showing any signs of stress, you're ready to plant them out in the garden.

Some ways in which you can start the "hardening off" process are as follows:
  • as soon as your seedlings start to present themselves begin the practice of "petting." Gently, sweep your hands across the tops of the plants, or agitate them a bit by shaking their containers. In this way you'll promote stronger stem growth.
  • a few weeks into the seedling growth process set a fan to low and allow to it blow on the seedlings a few hours a day.
  • on nice days keep windows open in the room the seedlings are living in order to promote air circulation (make sure the temperature is warm enough first!).
Unfortunately for Tom and I, our balcony never really gets full sun for more than half the day. However, even this much is enough to improve the success of our seedlings in the garden.

By this weekend these guys will be ready to go! Check out some more pics of our seedlings enjoying the balcony and getting a taste for the outdoors:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

mushroom tofu quiche

We love quiche. With tofu quiche there are endless possibilities for mix-ins, seasonings, and flavors. After playing around with a variety of recipes from different sources, I developed this final recipe as our favorite. I'm a big fan of mushrooms, but feel free to use whatever vegetables you enjoy, or change it up depending on what's in season.


1 tbs olive oil
8 oz mushrooms (I used shiitake, but portobello or any other type work great)
4 garlic cloves
1 tbs rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

1 block silken tofu
1 tbs tahini
2 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs nutritional yeast
1 1/2 tbs paprika

1 pie crust: I use the basic pie crust recipe from the Chicago Diner cook book, but any basic crust recipe will work. Just remove the sugar if using a recipe for fruit pie.

Heat olive oil over medium in a frying pan. Add mushrooms and let cook 10 minutes stirring regularly. Dice garlic and add to mushrooms allowing to cook 2 minutes more. Stir in rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Turn off heat.

In a food processor blend remaining ingredients. Add in mushroom mixture and pulse until combined.

Pour into pie crust and bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes until batter is set. Feel free to eat immediately, but the quiche will hold together better after chilling in the fridge for a few hours.