Fresh Fridays: Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

So, recently while at work in our kitchen one of our friends who’s been around the restaurant industry for a long time stopped by the back door with some exciting news!  He was recently out in the woods on a rare day off performing one of his favorite pastimes…mushroom foraging.  He had brought his good luck to the restaurant to show off.  The back of his Jeep was filled with about 50 pounds of various sized Hen Of The Woods mushrooms.   Being curious we bit hook, line and sinker.  Joe had worked with these mushrooms briefly in the past it had been a while.   When we told our friend this he happily gave us a few juicy tidbits of information (as any proud mushroom forager would) about this particular fungus.

The tidbit of info that really caught our attention might seem insignificant to some but to us, when we heard that the Hen of the Woods is also know as Maitake in Japanese, we were officially SOLD.  The reason this meant so much to us, has to do with the fact that we both have been lifelong fans of the Japanese cooking show/contest/battle know in the US as Iron Chef (the original show, not the Food Network version).  Any good fan of the show will tell you that Maitake mushrooms are a prized delicacy and are used often in the lavish dishes created in Kitchen Stadium.

So we then began to do a little research on this mushroom that is foraged in the forests of the Northeast US as well as most of Northeast Japan.  It is a heavy yielder with specimens commonly reaching 10 or 20 pounds (the one we purchased was just around 6 pounds).  They are commonly found at the base of hardwood trees, and tend to grow in the same spot perennially.  They are a good eating mushroom, with characteristics similar to a white button mushroom, with a denser texture, and a pleasant woodsy flavor.

We bought our prized specimen on Sunday evening, had Monday off, and Tuesday began to test different cooking and cleaning methods, as well as to research some recipes.  So far we have found that the best way to clean these large mushrooms is to cut away the hard parts of the main trunk on the underside as well as any dirty or sandy areas you might find. Next, work your way up peeling off the main leaves.  These will break apart and segment easily and you will then be left with a piece of mushroom that looks like an ear or a funny looking half of a an oyster shell, with a bit of the white trunk attached underneath.  This trunk is a bit tough and can easily be torn away.  Go through the rest of the mushroom and clean it into pieces that are of an appropriate size to what you will be cooking. If you can’t eat them right away then break them into pieces that will fit into a freezer bag and freeze them. The density of this type of mushroom makes it especially adaptable to freezing and thawing.

We had great success preparing the Hen of the Woods (or Maitake) mushrooms in a simple risotto.  Start by breaking 2 or 3 oz of mushroom into approximately 1/2″ square pieces and sauté them in a little cooking oil over medium heat.  When the mushroom pieces start to “talk” to you it is time to season them with a good pinch of kosher salt and then reduce heat to medium/low. Let the mushrooms cook for a good 10 minutes as this will help tenderize these dense fellows.  Once the mushrooms are getting tender add a small pat of butter, wait for it to melt and start to become absorbed by the mushrooms then add about a cup and a half worth of your 9/10ths of the way cooked risotto (The process of making a perfect risotto is another chapter entirely which we will cover at a later time). Add a few ladles of your favorite homemade stock (ours happens to be a garlic/ginger based vegetable stock) and another good pinch of kosher salt.  Let this all simmer on low heat till 90% of the liquid has been absorbed, stirring occasionally.  Next add a few pats more butter, wait till it is all melted in and finish by adding a good handful of grated hard cheese such as Parmesan or Asiago and stir until all the cheese is melted and mixed in.   Now for the most important step – Turn off the heat and walk away for 10 minutes (or at least a solid 5).  Great risotto needs to set and kind of gel together to ensure that perfect creamy, melty (our new word 🙂 ), macaroni and cheese-for-adults type texture.

This is the first recipe we have tried with our Hen of the Woods and so far we’re loving them! So a big thank you is in order to my local mushroom forager.  For those folks who are interested in trying some Hen of the Woods, now is their season so hit up your independent groceries, farmers markets, and local restaurants that support these organizations and you should have no problem finding some.

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Meat the Press Mondays [9/15/08]

For this week’s Meat the Press Mondays we are exploring compound butters as a way to improve a finished steak or a good white fleshed fish.  Compound butters are one of our favorite simple things to do in the kitchen lately.  It is essentially a technique used to flavor butter, which is then used to impart flavor to food in the cooking or finishing process.  The combination of flavors that you can give to compound butter are virtually endless.  Any food that tastes better with butter on or in it (i.e. everything) can benefit from compound butter.

There are a few simple steps used to make good compound butter.  The first and most important is to begin with soft, room temperature butter, preferably unsalted and not melted at all.  Place butter in a large mixing bowl and add any flavoring ingredients, seasonings, spices, etc.  Keep in mind that, except for in small amounts, such as a squeeze or two of citrus juice, liquids will not incorporate well with butter.  Using your hands and some disposable rubber gloves mix the butter and seasonings to thoroughly combine.  Next, with a rubber spatula, place the softened butter on a large piece of parchment paper.  Spread the butter lengthwise along the parchment paper from end to end keeping in mind the finished product is going to be a cylinder approximately the size of a paper towel tube.  Roll the parchment paper as you would paper towels and gather up the ends twisting in opposite directions, this will force the butter into an even cylindrical shape.  Place in the refrigerator until solid.  Your newly flavored butter is ready to use, cut off as much as you like and use with just about anything.

Here are a few recipes for some of our favorite compound butters:

1 lb unsalted butter
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 tsp minced garlic
1tsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Note: This is great used to top a finished steak.  Let the butter sit atop the steak while it is resting and the butter will become meltingly soft and maintain its creamy semi solid texture.

1 lb unsalted butter
zest from 1 orange, and 1 lemon
1tsp chopped parsley
1tsp chopped thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Note: This is a compound butter best used when roasting white fleshed fish,  when the fish is a few minutes away from being done add a few slices of this butter and let melt down the fish and mix with the pan juices us this as the sauce for serving the fish.

These flavorful butters are great on bread, proteins, veggies, in sauces, and as last minute flavor additions to almost any dish, savory or sweet.  Use your imagination, experiment and enjoy!

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Photo by joshbousel


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Fresh Fridays: Delicious Summer Tomato Salad

The following salad is especially nice during the summer tomato months.  Early summer it can be made with some of the smaller, earlier maturing types of tomatoes, even cherry or grape tomatoes if you prefer.  Mid summer we like to use the classic beefsteak variety when they are in their full glory.  At end of summer we like to use some of the more slow maturing heirloom types, such as Brandywine, Purple Cherokee, or Striped German.

As with any recipe you should always use whichever types you like best, just don’t be afraid to experiment, and remember when it comes to tomatoes, always try to buy local, seasonally, and to ensure maximum flavor – never refrigerate them.  The bottom line is to make sure you buy quality ingredients especially the tomatoes because since it is a simple salad, the ingredients need to shine.

Ingredients

One big ol’ local summer time tomato (or the equivalent amount of smaller ones)
1tsp balsamic vinegar
1tsp extra virgin olive oil
Squeeze of lemon juice
Pinch fresh minced garlic
Pinch chopped parsley
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch fresh ground black pepper
Pinch dried oregano
Pinch sugar
1tsp toasted pine nuts
1tsp crumbled Gorgonzola
Small handful local baby field greens
Preparation

1. Slice tomato into 5-7 large slices
2. Combine all but last three ingredients, and toss to coat, let rest at room temp 10 min
3. Place tomato slices in an overlapped line on a long plate, reserving marinating liquid
4. In small bowl combine field greens, most of the pine nuts, and Gorgonzola, and dress with some of the reserved marinating liquid
5. Place dressed salad on center of plated tomato slices
6. Garnish with reserved pine nuts and Gorgonzola, and drizzle with little marinating liquid
7. Eat!

You can download a PDF version of this Delicious Summer Tomato Salad recipe.

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Photo by AskNetGuy


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World Wide Wine Tour: Argentina – Red Wines

Over the past couple weeks we have focused on meat related topics such as how to build a perfect fire, different cuts of steak for that fire and a great homemade sauce for those steaks.  Now we present what we consider to be the best compliment to a great steak – a fine glass of wine.

We will be breaking this concept out into several posts including information on both red and white wines.  We are still debating on how we will share this information and we think that it might be fun to present it to you as a world tour.  Sound good?  Ok, glad you agree!

Let’s start this world tour highlighting what we know best and think everyone should try – types of red from Argentina.  Argentinean wine has continued to become more and more popular especially over the past few years.  This makes it the perfect country to start with on this tour!

Malbec – Currently the most famous Argentine grape.  The Malbec grape was originally grown in France but has developed its best characteristics in Argentina.  Loaded with spicy, smokey, robust flavors, Malbec can be an extremely bold wine.  But in some of the more fruit forward bottles this boldness is subdued by the jammy cherry and berry flavors which are more evident than the spicier ones.

Popular Brands
Santa Isabel
Luigi Bocsa Finca La Linda
Terra Rosa Old Vine
Almos Seleccion
Broquel
Luigi Bosca Single Vineyards DOC
Punto Final Reserva
Bodega Colome
Catena Alta

Cabernet SauvignonCabernet is one of the most commonly grown red grapes, and for good reason – it displays terrific smoothness, sweetness, and concentration of a wide range of flavors.  The Cabernet grape also has a tremendous capacity for aging.  Common flavors present in Cabernets include cherry, plum, berry, spice, vanilla, tobacco, mocha, chocolate, and coffee.

Popular Brands
Nieto Senetiner
Navarro Correas
Terrazas Reserva
Luigi Bosca Gala 2

Bonarda -The most widely planted Argentine grape, the origins of which are Italian.  Known for a distinct ruby red to purple color.  This wine has tremendous sweetness and smoothness, and can often include flavors of raspberries, flowers, licorice, vanilla, anise, white pepper, dark chocolate, smoked wood, and tobacco.   The natural sweetness of this grape can also lend itself to a dessert or fortified Bonarda.

Popular Brands
Alamos
La Posta
Nieto Senetiner Limited Edition

Pinot Noir -Recently Pinot Noir has had a great increase in popularity, and for good reason, these wines display an incredible amount of flavor while being at the same time very smooth in a way that would not be common for such bold flavors.  Piinot Noir can gain different flavor profiles from the time it is aged in wood barrels.  Typically, the less oak aged types have more upfront flavors of red fruits, vanilla, and caramel while the longer oaked varietals will display more upfront flavors of wood, earth, flowers, and spice.

Popular Brands
Trapiche Oak Cask
Luigi Bosca Pinot Noir

Tempranillo -This grape is originally from Spain and due to the similar growing and climate conditions, this grape grows well in Argentine soil.  Tempranillo can offer intense character and deep flavors of cherries, black raspberries, cardamom and allspice.

Popular Brands
Mapema

Photo by IanL

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Meat the Press Mondays [9/8/08]

During last week’s Meat the Press Mondays we introduced you to several different cuts of steak.  Now, we would like to start breaking down each type of steak and providing you with some more information about them.  Today we have chosen the skirt steak.  The most common mistake when eating skirt steak is not cutting it properly.  This literally makes or breaks the experience you will have.  So, for today’s episode we explain the proper method of cutting into a skirt steak.  Enjoy!


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Fresh Fridays: Thai Pork with Vegetables and Noodles

This week the spotlight for Fresh Fridays is on a Thai dish that I created earlier in the week.  I love Thai food and kept meaning to try making it and I finally had the opportunity.  This recipe is for Thai pork with vegetables and noodles in a red curry sauce.  I chose to make it using Thai Kitchen Red Curry Sauce instead of making the sauce from scratch.  I did this due to time constraints and also to make the recipe easy for anyone else to make.

This recipe was designed to be tweaked to your liking.  You can substitute the pork for chicken, use a different type of Thai sauce, add or remove any vegetables or seasonings that you don’t like.

Ingredients

1lb pork chopped into 1/2 in. pieces

1 medium shallot

1 can of sliced whole potatoes

1 red bell pepper chopped into 1/2 pieces

1/4 cup of scallions chopped

1 can baby corn

3-4 medium cloves of garlic

Sm. package of shitake mushrooms sliced

1/8-1/4 cup of salted peanuts finely chopped

1 box of thin rice noodles

1-2 jars of Thai Kitchen Red Curry Sauce

Peanut Oil

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)

Pinch of salt and black pepper (to taste)

Preparation

After chopping the vegetables and cutting the pork or chicken (on separate cutting boards of course!), take the box of thin rice noodles and place them into a large glass bowl.  Cover the noodles with very hot tap water and set aside for 15-20 minutes so that the noodles are al dente.

Place the wok over medium-medium high heat.  [It is preferable that you use a large wok but a deep pan would work as well if a wok is not available]  Pour a few tablespoons of peanut oil into the wok enough to coat the bottom.  Allow the oil to heat for 1-2 minutes and then add in the garlic.  Allow the garlic to cook for about 1 minute and add in the pork.

As the pork cooks, season it with a pinch of salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes.  When the pork is approximately 1/2 cooked, add in all of the vegetables except for the mushrooms.  Pour a few more tablespoons of peanut oil over the vegetables as well as another pinch of salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes.

Allow the vegetables and pork to cook together for approximately 5 minutes.  Add in the jar(s) of red curry sauce and chopped peanuts.  Continue cooking over medium heat continually stirring until the chopped red bell pepper has begun to soften.  Drain the thin rice noodles and add to wok.  Add the sliced shitake mushrooms.  Mix all ingredients together and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Note: If you prefer more sauce to pour over the plate then use 2 jars of the sauce.  However, if you reduce any portion sizes, then you should just use a single jar.

Serve with some of the scallions and peanuts, if you have extra, on top for garnish.

Enjoy!

You can download a PDF version of this Thai pork with vegetables and noodles recipe.

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Photo by Ken@Yokohama


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Taking Your Next Meal to a New Peak

When Joe first met Jon Cadoux, founder of Peak Organic Brewing Company, we were really in the market for a good set of organic beers.  Our steakhouse is located in downtown Northampton, Massachusetts, a very green, earth friendly town, where many people choose to eat locally and sustainably.  A mission of ours has always been to appeal to those green standards of living and eating by offering as many sustainable options as possible within the realm of a steakhouse.  We had heard of Peak Organic before but never tried it, and honestly we were a little put off by the several other types of organic brews we had tried previously, which were simply just not menu worthy.  So when Joe took his first sip of Peak Organic Amber Ale, after listening to Jon lovingly describe his philosophy on how his beers were best drank in moderation with some good food and good friends, Joe could honestly not have agreed more.

Peak Organic Brewing Company is the only producer of organic beer in the country which is not a line extension of another brand.  Peak uses barley and hops that are grown without toxic and persistent pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  Jon’s goal by doing this is very simple: to produce delicious beer.

Peak Organic currently produces four flavors: Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Nut Brown Ale, and Maple Oat Ale.  They also have a couple new exciting flavors on the way which they are keeping a close guarded secret as they finish putting the final touches on them.

Naturally these great beers are well suited to all types of food.  We first present Peak’s description of each beer and then we will provide our opinion as well as the single dish from our menu that best compliments them.  Also, we have included the 2 beer dinner menus where we have partnered with Peak Organic.

Peak Organic Pale Ale

Peak’s Description: A complex hybrid between a West-Coast Pale Ale and a British-Style Pale Ale.

  • Cascade hops impart citrusy, hoppy notes in the nose.
  • The use of organic Caramel Malts give this a smooth, almost sweet finish.
  • 41 IBU’s (International Bittering Units) pushes this brew to near IPA (India Pale Ale) status.

Our Opinion: Classic Pale ale flavors, clean, refreshing, and not too heavy, without the typical lingering aftertaste of many common pale ales.

Menu Pairing: Pechuguitas al Champignon – Grilled chicken breast, served with lightly fried potato balls tossed with garlic, parsley,butter, salt and pepper, all topped with a decadent mushroom and onion creme sauce finished with Argentine Reggianito cheese.

Peak Organic Amber Ale

Peak’s Description: A lively ale that starts sweet and has a subtle toasted character.

  • We use an abundance of organic Crystal Malt to give this ale a bright, “ruby” flavor up front.
  • The use of organic Munich Malt imparts a toasty finish.

Our Opinion: Great, strong, ruby flavors typical of an amber, medium bodied, with the strength to pair with rich foods without overpowering them.

Menu Pairing: Salmon a la Naranja – Pan seared filet of salmon, served with spiced sweet potato puree, sauteed swiss chard and finished with a sweet and tangy orange ginger glaze.

Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale

Peak’s Description: This beer is designed to start extremely smooth, then to finish with a crisp, distinctive “nutty” finish.

  • We use an organic Chocolate Malt and an organic Munich Malt that give this beer its unique finish.
  • The rare organic New Zealand Hallartau hop provides this dynamic brown ale with a crisp flavor.

Our Opinion: A great all around steak beer, this one is our personal favorite.  It has the backbone to pair well with even the heartiest of meals, while not being too heavy on the stomach.

Menu Pairing: Bife El Gaucho – A Caminito signature steak, an extra large boneless ribeye, cooked to temperature on the wood -fired grill, served simply as any steak should be, with parmesan chive mashed potato, sauteed broccoli, and finished with a rich veal demi glace.

Peak Organic Maple Oat Ale

Peak’s Description: A copper-colored ale with a soft, dynamic mouth feel from the organic oats and a subtle hint of sweetness in the finish from the organic maple syrup.

  • Brewed with Maine-grown organic oats from granola company GrandyOats.
  • Brewed with Vermont-produced organic maple syrup from Butternut Mountain Farms in Morrisville, Vermont.

Our Opinion: A great dessert beer, the maple is present without being overpowering and is nicely complimented by the natural strengths commonly found in oat ales.  Those people who would pass this beer over for fear that it might be too sweet should seriously reconsider.

Menu Pairing: Flan con Dulce de Leche – Perhaps the most classic Spanish dessert with an Argentine twist, baked custard served chilled with its natural caramel juices, topped with house-made dulce de leche (Argentine milk caramel), cinnamon whipped creme and seasonal berries.

Caminito Steakhouse June 2008 Beer Dinner Menu
Caminito Steakhouse August 2008 Beer Dinner Menu

For more information on Peak Organic, you can download their information sheet.
For more information on organic brewing, you can find out more information here.


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