Thursday, February 26, 2009

Holy Steer!

Lately FOTL has been sneaking out of his squalid, too-small digs to do a little hobnobbing. The other night I had an opportunity to try some artisan beef from small producers who treat their animals humanely and lay off excessive grain feeding.

First things first: As we learned during the evening's panel discussion, it's steer, not cow. Eat an old cow and you may not want steak ever again. Also, it's not just about the marbling. Many factors go into a good cut of beef. Try to get aged beef, either wet-aged or dry-aged. My notes from the evening suggest that the dry-aged had a stronger, more adventurous flavor, at least on this particular night.

The tasting was an eye-opener. Just as wine varies by grape and terroir, beef varies by breed and feeding grounds. These steers munched native grasses for the most part (some were "finished" with moderate amounts of grain), yet the difference in taste and texture was considerable. One had very tender, cut-with-a-butter-knife flesh, while another was much chewier; one was reserved, almost classic in taste, while another was gamier, with a long finish and an earthy, almost fungal flavor.

Thanks to Jason Wilson, owner-chef of Crush, for his skilled presentation and remarkable intermezzos to go with the steak—and to the indomitable Traca Savagodo, aka Seattle Tall Poppy, for her gracious hosting and Gladwellian connectivity talents. In total, we tried three different cuts (sirloin, New York, rib-eye) from four different varieties, all of it delicious.

So, what did I do the very next day? Yep. Rushed right out and bought some more beef to conduct my own taste test. I was surprised—amazed, really—by the prices. Organic and grass-fed beef have recently come way down in price, at least where I shop, and are now priced competitively with the factory-farmed beef at the supermarket. I talked to the butcher about this and she said there was a concerted effort underway to challenge Big Ag. That's good news.

I bought two New York strips. One was an organic grass-fed cut from Eel River Organic Beef in Northern California ($7.99 per pound). The other was an organic cut from Country Natural Beef ($10.99 per pound). The grass-fed meat was a paler red (not a bad thing, as we learned the other night, since those deep red steaks you see in the conventional supermarket are sometimes sporting a chemically-enhanced coloring) and it didn't show as much marbling; it also cooked quicker than the other cut for some reason, and so the taste test was somewhat foiled, as was my usual kick-off-the-cowboy approach to doneness, much to Martha's delight.

Now, there is a foraging angle to all this. Every year around this time I start to get the shack nasties something terrible in anticipation of spring. One of my favorite rites of the season is the morel hunt, but for now all I can do is stare at the dried specimens in my big mason jars from previous seasons—and then grab delirious handfuls to rehydrate for Steak and Morel Sauce!

Steak with Morel Sauce

I've written about morel sauces before, here and here. Really, there's no end to what you can do with morels and steak. After making the sauce a couple times you'll realize all it takes is a little improvisational brio to whip together an elegant and very tasty sauce every time, no matter what ingredients you have lying around. On this occasion I used dried morels reconstituted in water, a splash of red wine not exceeding half a cup, beef stock, and just a touch of cream.

2 steaks
2 oz dried morels (about 2 dozen)
1 shallot, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup beef stock
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 oz heavy cream
salt and pepper

1. Rehydrate morels in hot water, just enough to cover. (Crush a few into bits before adding water.) Salt and pepper steaks and allow to come to room temperature.

2. Pre-heat over to 250 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet over medium-high eat and cook steaks, a few minutes per side according to taste. Remove to oven to keep warm.

3. Add shallots to skillet—and another tablespoon of butter if necessary. Saute a minute or two, then de-glaze with red wine. Add mushrooms and their liquid and reduce.

4. When liquid is mostly evaporated add beef stock, thyme, and a few tablespoons of heavy cream. Sauce should remain dark. Reduce and pour over steaks.

A final side-note on the artisan beef tasting: One of the most important things I've learned while circling the sun is you just have to ask. Turns out one of the ranchers in attendance (she calls herself a "grass farmer") lives on a lower stretch of one of my favorite salmon rivers. I asked her if she would accept a bottle of whiskey or a bag of mushrooms if I knocked on her farmhouse door one fall day with flyrod in hand. She said yes. That's terroir I can't wait to visit.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pork Loin with Huckleberry Sauce

In the dead of winter, while hibernating bears are dreaming about sweet, tangy huckleberries, we humans can employ our opposable thumbs and larger cranial capacity to walk down the basement steps, open the freezer door, pull out a frozen tub of huckleberry sauce, and turn a simple pork loin into something a whole lot more special. We can even multi-task, roasting the loin and warming the sauce while watching the Academy Awards on TV. That is, if we used that extra brain-power to think ahead and make a large batch of the sauce in summer.

Huckleberry sauce is a good thing to keep around. I have containers of it in various sizes in my freezer. A small 4-ouncer is easily enough to feed two, and once defrosted it can be spiced up however you want. Click here for the huckleberry sauce recipe (you can substitute store-bought blueberries if necessary).

You'll find versions of this pork loin recipe online, but there are a couple extra steps that I follow to make it extra delicious. For one thing, I like to add a tablespoon or more of orange zest to my standard huckleberry sauce. Also, I use the usual woodsy herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme) as well as oregano, parsley, and basil. The fresh basil, in particular, works with the orange zest to brighten the huckleberry sauce with a slightly more tropical zing. If you don't have all these fresh herbs on hand, make do with what you've got (but the more the better, in my opinion). Finally, a quick de-glaze of the skillet with red wine will extract every last bit of the herbal flavor.

1 lb pork loin
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp fresh sage, chopped
1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp ground pepper
2 tsp salt
red wine
orange for zest and garnish
huckleberry sauce

1. Combine fresh chopped herbs with salt and pepper on a plate.

2. Slather pork loin with 1 tbsp oil and roll in herb mixture until fully coated. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

3. Pre-heat oven to 400 degree. Heat remaining oil in skillet and brown pork loin. Turn meat carefully. Move pork loin to roasting pan and de-glaze skillet with a splash of red wine; pour over meat. Put in oven for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on taste.

4. Remove from oven and allow to rest 10 minutes. Slice and arrange over bed of grain (rice pilaf in this case). Drizzle generously with huckleberry sauce and garnish with sliced oranges.

A Pinot Noir will drink nicely with the herb-pork-huckleberry trifecta. Now do your best Yogi Bear impression. "Hey Boo Boo!" Accept Oscar. Serves 2.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Truant Ice Fishing

Who cares about the cold—or school, for that matter—when you can go ice fishing? Hopefully Ms. Moon isn't reading this or she might not allow Riley to make up his weekly 2nd grade spelling test. Last Friday morning, while his classmates were puzzling over the etymological differences between principal and principle, he was exercising his own devotion to life's First Principles by dropping a baited hook through a hole in the ice.

Yes, I'm a bad parent.

We kicked off our mid-winter break a couple days early to visit my folks in Colorado. Family friend Bill showed up on Friday with his gas-powered auger, which augured well for the fishing.

Bill is a riverkeeper by profession. Riverkeepers are good folks to know. They tell dirty jokes and know where all the fish are. For the local developers and other greedhead despoilers, they're a royal pain in the ass. Bill has a pretty good idea of who is polluting what, and he makes them pay.

We've had some good fishing together, Bill and I. One time he took me into a scenic stretch of national forest with a pitch-perfect meander of purling creek. A spring flood had turned the creek into a monster a few weeks earlier that wiped out two barrier dams downstream, allowing stocked, non-native fish to escape upstream onto public land. Our mission that day: catch and dispatch as many stocker rainbows up to 18 inches as we could fit in Bill's ginormous creel. Big dry flies and constant action. On our way out we spooked a herd of elk. Just a magic day in the mountains.

Bill has been talking up the local ice fishing in this part of Colorado for a while now. I haven't done a lot of ice fishing. In fact, never. We got all the gear together: the auger, shovels, special light-weight ice rods, and mealworms to dangle tantalizingly from our lures—plus firewood and burgers. Bill took a turn with the auger, then I drilled out a few holes. We baited our hooks, took seats on rounds of firewood, and waited, looking down into those dark green holes.

I'm starting to get used to the fact that my eight-year-old son catches more and bigger fish than me. While I nabbed and released a few small brookies, Riley hauled in slab-sided rainbows of 15 and 16 inches, fish that looked as though two and half feet of ice and a general lack of oxygen weren't having any sort of deleterious effect on their over-wintering plans.

Most of the fish were released unharmed, but in addition to the burgers we grilled up one pan-sized trout en plein air and the 15-incher got strung on a willow switch for lunch the following day. Speaking of our lunch, Bourbon and Pecan-Encrusted Trout, Riley not only got to play hookey last week, but he had his first taste of good ol' American sourmash. Bad parent.

Here's some vid action of the day, and the recipe below.

Bourbon & Pecan-Encrusted Trout

1 lb trout fillets
6 oz pecans, chopped
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup bourbon
1/2 cup coffee
6 tbsp brown sugar

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Spread chopped pecans on baking tin and roast for 10 minutes, shaking pan every couple minutes.

2. Combine butter, bourbon, coffee, and brown sugar in sauce pan and bring to boil, stirring. Reduce heat to simmer and whisk for 10 minutes until syrupy.

3. Lay trout fillets skin-side down on greased baking pan. Brush on sauce, then cover with pecans. Drizzle more sauce over pecan-encrusted fish to taste.

4. Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake a few minutes longer, careful not to overcook and dry out fillets. Serve with wild rice and a good Chardonnay, or just continue working on that open bottle of bourbon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Gnostic Nuances of Oxtail Gnocchi

Lately I've been drawing inspiration from my fellow bloggers, from Chicken Cacciatore to Stewed Pork Loin with Porcini. Now add Oxtail Gnocchi to the list. With snow on the ground the other day and my mind in a wintry mood, Matt Wright's post on the comforts of braised and slow-cooked oxtails had me pining for the sort of rich ragu that fills a home with its warmth and aroma.

This might be the one recipe that food writers are allowed to call unctuous. I made a few changes to Matt's toothsome version to see what would happen, flouring the oxtails, substituting white wine for red in the tradition of an old-style Bolognese sauce, and adding pulverized, rehydrated porcini to the mix. I've been on a porcini roll lately, so why stop now? This has been the snowiest winter in Seattle I can remember. The deep, earthy flavors of porcini are just what is needed in such bone-chilling times.

For best results make this at least a day in advance before serving. Overnight refrigeration intensifies and marries the flavors.

Oxtail Ragu with Porcini

2 lbs oxtails
2-3 oz dried porcini, pulverized
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bottle white wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
several sprigs fresh thyme
2-3 dried bay leaves
olive oil
basil for garnish

1. Using a food processor, pulverize a handful of dried porcini (2-3 oz) into dust. Cover with warm water, about 2 cups. Let sit for 30 minutes.

2. Season oxtails with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. With a large pan over medium-high heat, brown in olive oil and then set aside.

3. Pre-heat oven to 320 degrees. Reduce burner heat to moderate and add more oil if necessary before sauteing onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. When soft and translucent, deglaze with wine. Stir in tomato paste.

4. Arrange oxtails in a dutch oven or other heavy, lidded cooking vessel. Tuck sprigs of thyme and bay leaves between and around meat. Add contents of saute pan and rehydrated mushrooms with their liquid. The oxtails should be immersed to halfway mark; if not, add water or stock. Cover and put in oven for four hours, turning occasionally.

5. Maintain braising level by adding water or stock. Meat is done when it's fall-off-the-bone. Carefully remove meat and let cool. Also remove thyme stems and bay leaves. Next separate meat and discard bones and any large pieces of gristle. Use immersion blender to blend and thicken sauce. Return meat to pot and bring to simmer on stovetop for a half-hour or so until reaching desired consistency.

Beginner's Luck Gnocchi

Now people, let me tell you that this ragu was actually the easy part. The next step, a day later, was what I dreaded: Gnocchi. True, I had never made gnocchi before, but I had read enough horror stories to know what I was up against. "My half-dozen attempts have all failed," mewled one agonized cook online. "I want those hours of my life BACK!" I knew anything could go wrong. The gnocchi could turn out like dense little balls of blech. Or they could go to pieces as soon as they hit the boiling water.

My own experiences eating gnocchi—never mind cooking it (them?)—had been mixed as well. Even at decent restaurants, more often than not the little potato and flour dumplings did not approach the pillowy soft ideal. In fact, my best gnocchi memory isn't from an acclaimed Italian ristorante at all—it's from a gastropub in Seattle called Quinn's where the gnocchi were so feather-light and velvety smooth that I momentarily considered dispatching my dining partner with a steak knife so I could horde the rest.

After hours of web study, I opted to go with 101 Cookbook's How to Make Gnocchi Like an Italian Grandmother Recipe. And while this recipe uses the controversial ingredient of egg, which some sniff at, suggesting the binding power makes gnocchi denser than desired, let me tell you that the result of my efforts, incredibly, was the hands-down second best gnocchi I've ever eaten, and not far from Quinn's.

A couple points about this recipe. I used organic Yukon Gold potatoes. Some have wondered why you peel the potatoes after boiling; while mine is not to reason why, I found the peeling easier at this stage than before boiling. The taters undressed without the slightest hint of coyness, dropping their gowns sometimes in a single peel. Also, the fork method of deconstructing the halves works perfectly well, and the difference between mashing (don't) and simply grating without any lumps (do) will become obvious even to the newbie.

When it came time to mix in the egg and flour, I used slightly less beaten egg than called for in the recipe and slightly more flour. Also, I built a volcano out of the potato and poured the egg and flour into the crater. Keeping the chopping block well-sprinkled with flour from this point on is essential.

Finally, at the moment of truth, my heart skipped a beat when white flakes of dough rose up from the pot. Drat, the fatal error of gnocchi that can't stand up to the boil. I was ready to toss my efforts. But then the flakes subsided and moments later perfect little pillows started floating to the top, none the worse for wear. I'm not sure from whence those errant flakes came, and I'm not going to worry about it. The gnocchi were light and scrumptious. I drizzled some olive oil on a plate, carefully arranged a dozen gnocchi, and ladled the oxtail ragu over the whole enterprise. The ragu juices mixed with the olive oil to form an appetizing orangish gravy on the bottom, and like Matt, I garnished the dish with chopped basil.

The rest of the gnocchi sat fully formed on the counter for the rest of the afternoon and into evening, and when they too came out of the boil later that night for Marty's dinner they were even lighter and fluffier. Such are the mysteries of gnocchi.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Truffles Postponed

Woke up to this sight the other day. Snow in Seattle. Again. So much for the truffle hunt I had planned with P. We were both eager to get back to our patch and scratch around because recent weeks had been mild, increasing the likelihood of finding quality truffles, but now there was a few inches of the white stuff in the foothills where we planned to hunt.

Instead I might as well elaborate on my last post about truffle hunting. While I haven't received any negative comments or hate mail, I should address my hunting techniques. In Europe truffle hunters traditionally used pigs to root out the fungi and now mostly dogs (because the pigs try to eat their finds!). By contrast, I've been using a four-tined garden cultivator and looking for areas where rodent activity suggests the presence of truffles. This practice is generally frowned upon because extensive raking can harm the forest ecosystem by destroying fungal mycelia, tearing tree roots, an so on. This is especially a problem in areas where large-scale commercial truffling occurs. Additionally, preliminary studies with matsutake mushrooms, another fungus that hides beneath the duff, have shown that deep raking can damage the resource itself.

In the Pacific Northwest, where the truffle trade continues to limp along, raking is a sensitive issue for another reason as well: truffles are frequently raked out of the ground without regard for ripeness. Pigs or dogs only sniff out the ripe ones while rakes indiscriminately uncover truffles in all stages of development—which are then sent to market by unscrupulous hunters and sold by ignorant merchants. Truffle boosters in this region believe that the so-so reputation of Northwest truffles in comparison to European varieties derives largely from these suspect hunting methods.

But alas, I do not own a dog (or a pig for that matter) and so my experiments in learning how to hunt truffles have been conducted entirely with garden tools. In some quarters this admission might raise a few eyebrows.

So let me be clear: My truffle inquiries are small-scale experiments for my own personal use and education. I carefully rake a very small area and make sure, in the golfer's parlance, to replace my divots. Just the same, my truffle partners and I have agreed that we will try to limit our impact by using smaller hand-tools. I would cease these experiments altogether if I thought I was doing any harm to the forest community. And rest assured, none of my truffles will ever find its way to market.

Happy Valentine's Day all!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dept. of Horn Tooting

Here at FOTL Headquarters, we're happy to announce our inclusion in the March issue of Bon Appétit (Expert Advice Q&A column, page 28). Many thanks to contributing editor Eric Steinman for making it happen (and Emily!).

If you're a Bon Appétit reader and just found your way here, thanks for dropping by and please take a look around. You'll find info on:

And plenty more. Use the menu of labels at right to find specific topics.

I also post recipes and cover topics related to tools and food storage.

There are lots of reasons to forage. For one thing, the taste of wild foods can't be duplicated in domesticity—and for another, they're good for you. But mostly I like to forage because it's fun, and I'll use any excuse to be outside interacting with nature, whether combing woods and beaches, bushwhacking through mountains, or free-diving in Puget Sound. Finding a gourmet meal is a pretty good excuse, too.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spicy Black Bean Clams

Kids are like thoroughbred horses: ready to explode with nervous energy at the merest provocation, they need to be run hard and put away wet. Most parents find this out right quick. If you want peace in the valley, at least after dinner time, then you kick up dust during the day. I take my kids and their friends foraging all the time. They love to seek out hidden mother lodes of mushrooms, scramble around wooded creeks in search of tender spring greens, and dig holes in the sand in pursuit of clams. Besides being a strategy for a conflict-free bedtime, it's also what you might call a learning experience.

They'll even eat some of what we catch.

Seeing as I'm a solo parent this weekend while Marty concocts her deathless verse at some top-secret island hideaway, I needed projects to occupy the half-pints. The clam beach beckoned. Though we arrived only a half hour after low tide, it was a high low (8 feet) and already most of the beach was underwater. Oysters were out of the question. The great thing about Manila clams, however, is that they're often available high in the intertidal zone. And while these ones were smaller than the clams we usually find at lower tides, barely legal in fact at less than two inches, it occurred to me that this was the size littleneck I most frequently see in Asian restaurants.

The reason for the small clams is readily apparent if you make a black bean sauce. The minced garlic and ginger, along with the mashed bits of fermented black beans, balance perfectly with a sweet, tender clam that isn't chewy in the least, and the shell holds just the right amount of sauce slurping.

For my black bean sauce I used a variety of fermented black beans (actually soybeans) that comes in a jar (very convenient), but hardcore partisans will tell you to use the dried kind usually packaged in shrink-wrap plastic (stronger flavor). Either way, you'll need to visit an Asian market to find them. An alternative is pre-prepared black bean sauce found in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets.

Stir-Fried Clams in Spicy Black Bean Sauce

2 dozen littleneck clams, washed and scrubbed (or 3 dozen if using small Manilas like these)
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
2 tbsp garlic, chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced and divided between green top and whitish bulb
1 red chili pepper, cut into thin strips
2 tbsp fermented black beans
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp aji-mirin (or 1 tsp sugar)
1/2 tsp chili paste

1. Combine in to bowl the stock, wine, soy, aji-mirin, and chili paste.

2. Heat wok or deep frying pan on high until near smoking, then add both oils. Stir-fry ginger, garlic, scallion bulb, and chili pepper for 30 seconds.

3. Add clams and continue stirring until they begin to open. Pour in stock, add black beans, stir and cover. When clams are all open, remove to serving bowls and ladle over juices. Garnish with remaining green onion.

This makes enough for an appetizer serving for two or a dinner for one. Serve with rice and a slightly sweet Washington Riesling such as a 2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica. Chop up a little extra garlic, ginger, and scallion and you can make a quick beef or chicken stir-fry side dish using the same oils and sauces. I like to scrape all my rice into the bowl to sop up the sauce once the clams are dispatched.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hump Day Night

For a forager—even in the Pac Northwest, where this time of year we can still get clams, oysters, truffles, squid, and so on—the winter remains mostly a time of cooking, of spending hours in the kitchen. And some nights in the kitchen just go entirely awry. After reading Hank Shaw's post about Pheasant Cacciatore in Huntler Angler Gardener Cook on Wednesday afternoon, I was moved to make use of some of the groceries hanging around in my fridge ready to grow fur: past-sell-date chicken thighs, an old yellow pepper, an even older hot pepper that had made the transformation from green to orange entirely on the premises. Plus all those packages of frozen porcini buttons and the dried stuff too.

And then there were the two bottles of wine, one red, one white, both open. Hey, it was Hump Night. Marty came home in a great mood, exclaiming that all her students understood what a thesis statement was. Cheers! On the jambox played the best radio show in America, "The Road House." We sort of lost track of the recipe. I started with Ms. Hazan, dredging the chicken in flour, chopping onion, carrot, and celery, then got annoyed (my usual Marcella complaints: why such restraint on the garlic front? why give in to the tomato police?) and switched over to Hank. Somewhere around the bay leaves and rosemary the whole process slipped away. Why not use all the mushrooms? And dangnabbit, let's throw in another 28 oz can o' diced tomatoes—we like tomatoes.

Erma Franklin's version of "Piece of My Heart" had me dancing on the marmoleum while Marty checked in with Papa Silano. "Dad, " she said, checking her watch to make sure the time-change wasn't beyond the pale, "did you cover the cacciatore?" After all, Marcella says under no circumstances to ever cover a red sauce. I remember distinctly the first time I made a red for dinner guests. I was just out of college, barely able to chop an onion, totally clueless about garlic. The sauce simmered, getting drier and drier, until it was just a bunch of clumped tomato innards. Isn't that what you were supposed to do, reduce it? The idea of periodically adding water to keep the sauce soupy and allow the tomatoes to properly break down and marry with the other ingredients was completely unintuitive.

We compromised and left the lid slaunchwise across the top.

The night went on and so did the sauce. Our kids, exhausted and cranky but steadfastly refusing to go to bed, started competing with each other to see who could make the most valentines, then bestow them upon us with great flourishes while the other screamed and tried to tear the white lace and pink paper confection to pieces. At one point Martha and I just started laughing as they endeavored to express their love in increasingly hostile tournaments. Tears and tantrums. Olives and good bread. Balsamic. Olive oil. The Staple Singers on the radio. Chianti. Pinot Grigio. Basement torn up by the Water-Rite guys. Paint peeling everywhere.

I started this by saying the night had gone awry. Not true. It was glorious, the food a marvel. The kids polished off creamsicles in bed, too tired to stand. That's what the "hunter's dinner" is all about. Mix the bounty of your harvest with whatever is lying around. Let it ride. I fell asleep on the couch, too beat to even hit play on the Dylan documentary, and crawled into bed 'round midnight.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Deep Winter Porcini

After reading Sally's post at Mixed Greens about foraging the tender young beginnings of stinging nettles on Orcas Island in advance of February, I took a quick gander in a local Seattle park to see where we were at. Sure enough, the first sprouts are up, with maybe an inch of clearance and a couple leaves saying hi. Not quite as burly as those early island specimens, but above ground nonetheless.

This put me in a springtime mood, which led in turn to thoughts of spring kings, the spring porcini mushrooms we get on the east slopes of the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas. They've been called spring kings for the longest time because they resemble the king bolete (Boletus edulis) yet lacked—until recently—an official scientific name. That's all changed with their new classification, which you can read about here. I've still got some of these tasty suckers in my freezer, buttons foraged last year. It occurs to me that my experiments with frozen spring porcini were one of 2008's great successes. Now I can feel free to cook recipes that call for fresh porcini any time of year. The spring variety, Boletus rex-veris, lends itself in particular to freezing because it's largely hypogeous—that is, it grows mostly underground, sheltered from the elements—while summer and fall boletes are epigeous, growing mainly on the ground. Spring kings can be dug up while still in the button phase and quite small and hard, making them a better candidate for the freezer.

That said, rex-veris is not edulis; it's a milder variety of porcini, which is why I like to goose it with some dried porcini for backup. Drying helps to concentrate the earthy essence of porcini, and though the reconstituted mushrooms won't have the same firm texture of fresh, they'll make up for it with an abundance of flavor. In the depths of winter a two-barreled shot of frozen and dried is about as good as it gets.

Stewed Pork Loin with Porcini

I found this recipe replicated online at several sites, so I won't bother to source it. Besides, there were a couple eccentric directives that I skipped or altered. Also, I added the dried mushrooms to give it a double-whammy of porcini action, in this case a handful of Leccinums. You can substitute store-bought mushrooms in the likely case that you don't have a freezer full of spring porcini, but try to find some dried porcini at your local quality market to get that rich, nutty porcino flavor. Oh, and despite the fact that you'll use three pans, a blender, and play hide the pork loin a couple times, this is actually an easy recipe. Really.

1 1/2 lb pork loin
1 lb fresh porcini mushrooms, sliced
1-2 oz dried porcini mushrooms, crumbled and rehydrated with enough warm water to cover
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
6 tbsp olive oil
2 cups white wine
2/3 cup chicken broth
pinch oregano
pinch marjoram
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
flour for dredging

1. Wash and pat dry pork loin, then salt and dredge in flour. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in pan and brown loin on all sides. Remove to plate.

2. In deep pan or Dutch Oven saute half the fresh mushrooms, garlic, and bay leaves in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over moderate heat. Remove the bay leaves when the mushrooms begin to brown. Deglaze with a cup of wine, then add another cup of wine plus the partial cup of stock. Stir in the re-hydrated mushrooms with their liquid and a pinch of oregano, return meat to pot, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, turning loin a few times.

3. Remove meat from pot and with an immersion blender blend the contents (or, alternatively, use a food processor). Meanwhile in a separate pan, saute remaining sliced mushrooms in a tablespoon of olive oil until slightly browned. Return the mushrooms and meat to the pot with the blended sauce and cook uncovered until sauce reaches desired consistency and pork is fork-tender.

Slice pork and serve with a generous ladle of sauce over baked (or grilled) polenta squares. Garnish with a little chopped parsley. Devour with an Oregon Pinot Noir and dream about the spring porcini mycelia that are starting to stir.

Change Is Good

Dear Kind Readers, in keeping with the theme of the day, I've made a few minor housekeeping changes here at FOTL.

RIP Finspot

For reasons that will become apparent, it's time to retire the old handle, at least in part. In some quarters, particularly fly-fishing boards that I frequent (and boat-burning bonfire parties), I will always be Finspot. I've used the alias for more than a decade, so I don't expect it to go away (email is still finspotcook AT gmail DOT com), but for professional reasons it's time to emerge from the shadows. Which leads to the next change...

The Book!

You'll see a link to it in the upper right corner. Yep, FOTL is going to be a book. We're mighty thrilled. I'll have more to say on the subject as we get closer to the pub date (September '09), but suffice it to say the book will be quite different from the blog. More on that later.

Now back to our regularly programmed content.