As the air turns crisp, we seem to long for comfort foods. Heavier, warmly-spiced fare that's often associated with the holidays. One of my favorites is traditional gingerbread. My first memory of it was when I was very small and visiting Colonial Williamsburg for Christmas with my family. One of the shops (Raleigh Tavern because I looked it up to see if it still existed) offered thick, chewy but crumbly cookies. They are served slightly "dusty" with flour. At any rate, I was less than 5 years old and remember little else of the trip. I believe the experience spurred my love for all things molasses: gingerbread, molasses cookies and gingersnaps.
My dilemma is that gingerbread isn't terribly good for you, like any dessert. So, I've been playing around with a version that I can make in a hurry, quick-bread style. Much faster than a rolled and cut cookie, the resulting recipe is healthy enough that I leave it out in my cake dome for the kids to enjoy at their discretion.
Take note: My version does contain a bit of dairy but you could eliminate it by substituting almond or coconut milk.
1 1/3 cup of skim milk (you can sub almond or coconut for a dairy-free recipe)
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup agave
1 large carrot, shredded
2 T apple cider vinegar
4 T melted coconut oil
4 T ground flaxmeal (this will work with your liquids to replace eggs)
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 t allspice
1/4 t salt
3 t cinnamon
2 t powdered ginger
1/2 cup brown sugar
-Preheat oven to 400 F and spray a bundt pan with non-stick spray (I use organic coconut spray).
-Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.
-Pour into bundt pan and allow to "hang out" for 5 minutes to insure the flax meal is doing it's job.
-Bake on middle rack for 25 minutes. Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes in the pan before loosening the cake gently with a knife and inverting onto a plate.
PRO TIP: Serve warm with a small amount of fresh whipped cream to turn a slice from snack to dessert.
'Shrooming may have a different connotation for some of my "vintage" readers. We're not getting THAT wild today, but I am going to share a little of my newest obsession with you: gathering wild mushrooms. You need to know this about me: I obsessively love mushrooms. I once enjoyed a 6-course meal at Martini House, a landmark Napa Valley restaurant, that was entirely made of mushrooms. Yep, even dessert. 'Twas a tiny demitasse of frothy mushroom "cocoa" with an equally petite, sweet mushroom cookie atop. Such an interesting and delicious meal that it remains on my top 10 list.
Every Spring, as a foodie, I've looked for morel mushrooms with limited success but otherwise, I haven't historically foraged. I've begun to educate myself about the edible fungi in my area and find that I keep an eye to the ground wherever I go. Check out what I've discovered. I'm hopeful it inspires you to give mushroom hunting a try.
Because a case of mistaken identity could be very harmful, I'm sharing three unique sorts that are fool-proof for new foragers. Each is so unusual, that even their "look-alikes" don't really look much like them. They are Morels, Chicken of the Woods and Puffballs. A word of caution: if you aren't absolutely sure that you've identified any mushroom correctly, you should NOT eat it. Better safe than sorry.
Morel mushrooms are typically found in the springtime and have a distinctive honeycomb appearance (left). One of the most sough-after mushrooms in the world, they are prized by gourmet cooks, mushroom enthusiasts and chefs.
They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors anywhere from blonde to dark grey. What they all have in common are their honey comb-like exteriors and a hollow, whitish interior. Morels are so popular because they are incredibly delish. They have a meaty texture and a nutty, earthy flavor profile. They are hard to find, pretty expensive and well, they are exotic and sexy-looking on a plate.
Again, spring is your best bet and you'll want to look in fields, orchards and pastures or in an area that sustained fire damage the fall before. When you find them, cut the mushroom with an inch or less of stem (which you can also eat). Don't squish them as you gather. I like to use a basket so there's plenty of air circulation. After harvesting them, they keep about a week in the 'fridge. Like all wild mushrooms, morels must be cooked to be enjoyed. I like them best fried in a bit of salted butter.
Chicken of the Woods (right) is found globally and often called a "sulphur shelf." It is commonly thought to taste like chicken and is typically found in summer and fall. A large mushroom with bright orange coloring, it tends to lighten in color near the edges and overall gets lighter with age. An important characteristic to note when identifying this beauty is that it has NO GILLS and only pores. You are looking for young and succulent mushrooms. Avoid the largest and palest as they become woody and aren't good. C.O.W. mushrooms can be found on dead and living trees alike. This is a great culinary fungi. It can be diced and added to soup, baked, fried or used as a substitute for chicken. I enjoy these sautéed in wine and fresh thyme.
Puffballs! These jumbo bad-boys are everywhere right now and are generally a fall find. The one pictured is actually a bit smaller that the usual and was found a few days ago in the woods near my house. This is likely the most easily identified mushroom around. It looks like a volleyball sitting on the ground. White and round, you simply pick it up to harvest it. To know definitively that you have a puff, slice it open. There should be no gills. You'll see what looks like white marshmallow inside. Slice it and prepare it as you would any button mushroom. Sautéed and served with grilled beef is a win. I made this one with bucatini (hollow spaghetti), butter, mozzarella, garlic, salt and pepper. It was excellent. These beauties also freezes well, which is fortunate because of their size. Slice it up and stick it in a freezer bag to enjoy later. It should be noted that puffballs past their prime begin to turn yellowish and powdery on the inside. If you cut yours open and discover this, pitch it. It won't be good.
If you happen to live in Indy and walk the Moon trail north of Broad Ripple, there are tons of them (like more than 20) and they are gargantuan. As you head north, approaching the Blind School, look down toward your left and you'll see them a few yards off the trail. I was wearing sandals when I noticed them or I would've grabbed them all. If you harvest them, I'd better see a picture. Bon Appétit!
First things first, last month I wrote about Persimmons. I heard from a reader, Rob Pickett about his family and their tradition dating back to the early 1900's. He sent me his Great-Grandmother's recipe and gave me permission to share. Rob's family "cuts their pudding into squares and serves it warm, in a small dish, with cold sweet cream poured over."
Persimmon pudding really is a lovely nod to our Hoosier heritage.
Thanks to Rob and his wife for sharing this cool family heirloom!
Another fall favorite here in Indiana celebrates the apple harvests that are typically abundant. Like many celebrated dishes, most families have their own favorite recipes that speak to memories and preferences. I thought I’d share mine today.
So I have an apple tree in my yard that I planted about 10 years ago. Normally I keep information about all of my plantings in a gardening journal. I can't recall if I bought the tree on clearance and it was without ID or if I just thought at the time that I'd remember. I use these apples for pie, apple butter, apple sauce and chutney. They work just fine and are tart and sweet. Use what you have or even a variety, it just adds interest and complexity to what you are cooking.
9 Inch Double Crust Pie Pastry
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 ¼ c. Crisco (yikes! I know, I know, but it REALLY makes an excellent crust)
½ tsp. salt
4 T. ice water
2 t. white or apple cider vinegar
½ t. vanilla extract
Using a pastry cutter or fork, blend flour, shortening and salt. In a second bowl, beat egg then add ice water, vinegar and vanilla. Add the liquids to flour mixture and stir to combine. Divide dough into two equal portions and roll out on a floured surface.
Apple Pie Filling
½ cup butter
3 T. all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
¼ c. water
8 firm, apples- cored, peeled and sliced (Granny Smith is a popular choice)
1 t cinnamon
½ t. cardamom
Preheat oven to 425.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat & stir in flour to form a roux. Stir constantly for a minute or two, until the roux (paste) becomes golden. Add water, white and brown sugar and spices. Reduce heat to low and simmer.
Line a pie pan with one of your two crusts and fill with sliced apples. Try to mound the apples a bit higher in the center. Pour the simmering mixture carefully over apples and top with second crust.
Crimp the edges of your pie to seal the crusts, then use a sharp knife to cut a few pretty slits in the crust so steam can escape.
Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for 40 minutes.
Let the pie rest at least ½ an hour before serving so that the filling “sets up”. Slice into eight servings and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
-This pie is a perfect candidate for a lattice crust if you are so inclined.
-A fantastic addition is a ¼ cup of grated Norwegian cheese called #Gjetost (pronounced “YAY-toast” and sold at many groceries under the name @SkiQueen) sprinkled on the top crust during the last 15minutes of baking.
Gjetost is a unique cheese made from caramelized goat's milk. It looks and tastes like a caramel candy. It is so popular in Norway that it is even sold in tubes (like toothpaste) to eat on-the-go. A unique selection for any cheese board, serve it with sliced apples
or as an appetizer, broiled on little pieces of brown bread.
Photo credit to @Ski Queen
Elizabeth Morse cooks professionally, is an Advanced Master Gardener and lover of all things local.