The Quest for the Morel Mushroom

I get asked quite frequently what my obsession with Morel Mushrooms in the Spring.  People often scratch their heads in their futile attempt to understand why I pursuit them, or why I even eat them.  Until I make them one on a cast iron skillet, then they fully understand.  I have made people who hate mushrooms, like the taste of a fresh morel.  At  $49.99 a pound, I would speculate that 99 percent of the population has never even tried one.  They are very expensive because they only grow one time a year and some would say very difficult to find in the wilderness.  They are to some degree, but after years in the woods I find it to be relatively easy.  I have a few friends, that go with me.  Actually I only have two, my wife who I force to go because she loves eating them and my one of my long time friends who I grew up with, Trevor Storlie.  I am not sure if Trevor has the obsession as I do, but he definitely finds competition and the two of us have made it a sport over the years.  We even have a Morel ring that King gets to wear if he out picks thy other.  Then thy other has to get to his knee and kiss thy ring.  I guess it is sort of corny, but having your buddy get to his knee to kiss “precious” we find some humor too.  Trevor and I always find the shrooms and he is fishing guide so it searching a species out is sort of like honing your skills and eyes for what you are borned to do.

Trevor Storlie...a mushrom hunting son of a bitch

I apologize for the blur of this photo.  It was taken by cell phone and without permission.  Trevor rarely likes to be photographed in the wild, mainly because his wife thinks he has clients fishing…but he has scallywag himself off into the woods with me.  In his hand is what is called blonde morels.  Please look below at mine, which is surely larger than Trevor’s.

Notice my mushroom is larger than Trevor's
Morel's in the forest

Here are some up in Trout Lake, Washington in April.  These are brown morels that are some of the first to come up this year.  Notice how they camouflage themselves and usually come up in the color of their surroundings.  Not much is known on what causes them to grow, what we do know is what they like above 52 degree ground temperatures, white pines, and fires or logging areas that are a year old.

These are the first two Morel's Stephanie ever laid eyes on.

I took my wife, Stephanie up hunting mushrooms in Mitchell, Oregon.  She was only my girlfriend back then so I could talk her into everything because she was trying to impress me.  When she was following me around in the woods wondering what all the hoopla was about.  She was not all that impressed but like I said she was trying to win me over so she followed me around like a little puppy.  These were the first ones she ever saw in the wild.  That night I whipped about 20 up for dinner and after her first bite she said “We have to go out and get a lot more of these for rizzle”.  That was about 6 years ago, and I still take her on the weekends to camp and look for mushrooms.  Though she doesnt try to impress me anymore she still loves eating them.

A giant

This one was taken with about 28 others right by Trevor’s house.  He still does not believe that I picked them there because we always have to drive about an hour or more.

The Lucky Bucket

There is a lot to learn about hunting morel’s.  First, you need some rain, then some sun and about 70 degree weather to start the shrooms popping. You need the right elevation, to high can be too cold.  Remember the ground temperature is very important, to low they will not grow.  Too high and they have already came and gone.  The ground also needs rain so if it doesn’t rain for two weeks and the temps are right, no water to get them to pop.  So you have to pay attention to mother nature.  You also need a lucky bucket, I stole this one from Trevor, who stole it from his wife.  Notice above it is full of Mushrooms, hence the lucky.  Most of all is that you need have patience and endurance.  Most people quit before they learn, they have been told all this stuff but do not find any mushrooms.  Some times it takes time, then you whack them!

How many do you see?

Then you must have trained eyes.  What makes Trevor and I so successful is that we both have excellent eyesight.  We can spot them from 20 feet away.  What I have learned over the years is not to look straight down, look out about 10 feet because you are able to spot them easier.  I think the few times we went this year, we were able to both about 5 pounds apiece without trying that hard.  The last time we competed with each other I am sure we each had over 150 apiece.  It seemed every where we tried we found a pile of them.

After you pick them, you need to soak them in salt water

When you do find them, take out your scissors or knife and cut them, never pull them out of the ground!!  Make sure air gets to the morels too, never seal them in a bag.  I wash them down, to get the dirt off them, then soak them with salt in the water.  I usually put in a couple of tablespoons of salt for an hour, then drain, the resoak adding salt. This gets all the bugs out of them.

Dry the morels out on a dry towel and let air dry

After washing them, its important to let them air dry for an hour or so.  After that, you can put them in the fridge on wet towel, but do not cover them.  I usually put the towel on a cookie tray for easy transport.  You can do this for 3-4 days.  After that, you are running a risk of losing them and need dehydrate them.  This is a safe and easy method.  It takes about 10 hours, but produces a great end product that you can keep dried in a tight mason jar.  I have also froze them and that works but gives the rehydrated morel a poor texture.  I try to eat as many as I can while fresh, there is nothing like a fresh morel.

Madelyn even loves Morel hunting and dad's can of ice cold beer on her teeth

I am telling you folks, if you need an excuse to get out into the wilderness to harvest your own food, this one is it.  Think of it like easter egg hunting, but instead you’re getting expensive mushrooms.  It does take time to educate yourself, but in my humble opinion, walking around in the forest with the animals, fresh air, and beautiful surroundings definitely beats sitting at home on the couch.

Here is what they look like dried up and in a mason jar.  This is over 500 bucks worth.

Dried and ready for action
This is how we roll...The Morel Express

Actually that was the Clam Express because the photo was taken on a clamming trip.  I will blog about that later, but you get the point. After years of sleeping in a tent and having a bad back, Steph and I bought a trailer….and WE LOVE IT.

I was not going to get into any recipes just yet.  I first had to explain the art of finding them.  I will leave you folks with a little taste of this….blue cheese pesto stuffed morels and bone in pork chops on a cast iron grill.

Stuffed Morel's and Pork Chops on the Cast Iron

The Big Green Egg is a BAD ASS piece of Equipment

I recently added to my bbq arsenal the Big Green Egg after I read an article about it.  I have a few friends that have them and swear by them.  One family being the Huevos Ranchero people…The Hesters.  So my buddy Dave and I set off on a quest to learn about them at a dealer.  An hour later, Dave and I were both owners of the Japanese old technology, reinvented as the Big Green Egg.  So what do you cook on the first trial run, the maiden voyage??  I had to roll with the chicken y’all.  I have made them several different ways from the Traeger, to the water smoker and have reached my potential…so I thought.

The Big Green Egg-Large edition

I went with the large edition, had them put the high heat-resistant acrylic on the sides instead of the wood.  When you buy one of these bad boys, you will quickly learn that everything is sold separately.  The “nest” is below and has wheels on it, I do not understand why anyone would want one with out it, because you can hardly move the damn thing.  I almost broke my back wheeling it to my back yard.  The Green Egg is one heavy son of a #$@! at 250 lbs.  Make sure to pay the 25 bucks to have them put it together! Thank me later.  But here he is, a member of the bbq family in my back yard.

BRINE THE CHICKENI have said it before and I will say it again! BRINE THAT BIRD. If you learnanything from this blog, learn this. BRINE BRINE BRINE. I did this the night before and let it go for 18 hours. I throw a block of ice on top and it keeps it cold.Lets do this drill again.1 bird=1 gallon of water. I have two birds, so two gallons so double the brine ingredients.1 cup of sugar1 cup of salt1 cup of soy sauceseasoning of your choice, I usually add 1/2 cup of Montreal seasoning but it is not needed to accomplish what you need. Remember I use 1/2 of the gallon of water to bring to boil, and melt all the ingredients into the water then add remaining water. Once you have completed this brining task, then you take the birds out and let them dry. Once you have done that, season the birds with what you enjoy, in this experiment I heard about using a product called Butt Rub, it was good and had good color. Season the Birds and let sit another 10-15 minutes

At this point, you should go get your Green Egg started.  It’s very easy to use, you add the special charcoal, this is the non treated wood stuff.  You can buy it from Green Egg or Cash and Carry.  Add enough to get above the air holes, add the fire block they recommend and start it with the lid open.  You never use regular charcoal, or lighter fluid.  Once the flame is going you want to put your damper on, open it up and below there is another damper you want to open.  You can control your heat with these two devices.  I brought it up to 600 degrees then lowered to 400 degrees.  I added wood chips from Alder that I soaked for an hour, but I am not sure I would do this again for chicken.  I also made the mistake of putting olive oil on it, with the high heat you really do not need that.  It is not bad it just gave the bird a darker color.

See the damper at the bottom and the damper at the top? That is how you do it

Then you regulate the heat, once you got it you got it.  It doesn’t fluctuate a whole lot. I cooked these birds for about 70 minutes.  Notice the electric bbq temperature gauge on the right?  That is a must.  The last thing you want to do on any bbq smoker is keep opening to look at it.  That is a rookie mistake, so stick your thermometer into the chicken, inside the dark meat next to the leg, close it.  Put the alarm on at 170 and go make the side dishes.

Speaking of side dishes, I decided to go with a blue cheese wedge, with tomatoes and fresh cooked bacon.

Blue Cheese WedgesNow, you can make the salad dressing by hand using the best blue cheese in the world, Oregon Rogue Cremery blue cheese.  The stuff is like heroin though and very expensive unless you order it straight from them in a wheel fashion such as I do.  You can also use store-bought, but if your going to do this buy the good stuff like Lighthouse Blue Cheese salad dressing that is in the produce section.  Fry up some good bacon (no cheap stuff) and chopped it up along with a fresh tomatoes and wedge your salad.  It is easy, and very good.  Look at the lumps of Blue gold in that dressing!         Meanwhile, I put the Rosemary, butter rolls in the cast iron skillet that has been rising for three hours in the oven at 400 degrees.  My alarm goes off on the chicken…I cannot wait to open the Egg up. Chicken coming out of the Big Green Egg

 

Fresh Rolls with Rosemary and sea salt cooked in an iron skillet in the oven

Look how the skin is tearing from the bird, desperately holding on from keeping these birds from exploding out of their skin.  It brought a tear to my eye.

Chicken coming out of the Big Green Egg

 

The chicken is as moist as it gets with ton of flavor.  This by far is the moistest chicken I have ever made.  Unbelievable, and great texture!  I think there is a lot of things you could do here.  My brain is working on them, you are going to have to come back to get the low down.

Look at the color, this chicken is JUICY

Nice smoke ring color on the outside, and perfectly cooked.  I am impressed with the Egg.  I put the corn on grill and closed it for 10 minutes while I cut chicken and plated.  The one thing I truly like about the Egg is that you close all the dampers and it will kill the burn within minutes so you can re-use the charcoal.

Happy fathers day Dad

Here it goes, the photo show the bird a little dark, but you get the point.  I had my folks over and they gave it a thumbs up rating.  I had a breast today for a late breakfast snack and it was still juicy.  I have to say, I am all over this!!!  Until next time my friends.  I think I will make a pizza on it tonight!

Cooking with a Dutch Oven

The Dutch Oven has been apart of our cooking history before the beginning of the United States.  It is cast iron and heavy and fairly simple to use.  I think it is a great piece of equipment in the field while hunting or camping.  On this trip, we joined our old great friends from Newberg to go clamming.  I recently bought a Dutch Oven recipe book that had a photo of Cornish game hens on the front of it.  Well guess what folks? I read the cover from start to end and their was no recipe for the photo on the front.  Who would do that?  So I began my quest to perfect this dish while camping.  Dutch Ovens are fairly inexpensive, I think I paid 40.00 dollars for mine.  You just need to keep it oiled and cleaned and they are not difficult to clean.  Here is my Dutch Oven story.

The first thing you always do when cooking any type of bird is BRINE!  I cannot say this enough, on how important it is.  If it is a bird and with meat on the bones I brine everything.  You will be amazed in the difference it makes with Thanksgiving to fried chicken.  It makes the biggest difference in keeping the meat moist.  It’s fairly simple to do.

Gallon water, 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of soy sauce, and seasoning as you like (not necessary) I usually put in a 1/4 cup of Montreal seasoning.  Boil, add ingredients, cook until it melts.  I usually do all of this in four cups of water just to speed the process up then add more cool water.  Add your meat and let sit over night in a cold place.  For this recipe I only brine the Cornish game hens for 5-6 hours.  Wash off brine, and dry.

The stuffing I do not make myself, I uses stove top corn bread style, then I chopped up fresh onions and andouille sausage for a little kick and stuffed the birds.  The andouille sausage will give it a little kick, and the dish will transition from sweet to hot flavors in your mouth.  It’s not to hot, just a hint of spicy.  Then I salt and pepper the birds rubbing them down with olive oil.  If you are going to use a Dutch oven you are going to need a shovel and gloves to handle the oven and the coals.  I laid down about 6-8 hot coals in the bed of the fire and put the oven on top.  I added a little olive oil and butter and browned my birds.

Browning the cornish game hens

Once they have good color to them, I take them out and add one onion sliced at the bottom of the oven to keep the meat from burning on the bottom.  I then add one can of chicken stock, one cup of white wine (don’t use the cheap stuff folks, get a good bottle that you would drink and pour a glass for yourself and your spouse).  Add1 1/4 cup of sherry.  I cut three sweet peppers length wise and toss them in.  One red, yellow and an orange!

Cornish Gamers getting ready for the game

Okay, now you have everything ready to go, set the dutch oven on top of the coals, put the lid on and add some coals to the top.  Look at your watch and note the time.  This is what it should look like cooking.

Dont get it to close to the fire, you want to depend on the heat of the coals.

This is what hungry campers look like before cooking

Hungry campers can get unruly when they smell this cooking

Now after about an hour of cooking, its okay to take a peak at it to make sure it’s coming along.  However, do not peak to often and do not let your friends open the oven either, because they will every five minutes and this will take away all your heat and pro long the time needed to cook.  Here is what it looks like when you check.  Please notice the shovel to use to put more coals on as needed, the lifting apparatus I purchased and MY GLOVES!!

The Hunting Chef checking his birds

Okay now at this point it would be very beneficial to have a temperature gauge.  However, I am camping, so I am old school y’all.  If you can pull a leg easily away from the body, like its beginning to tear (don’t rip the leg off, actually I do then I eat my buddies leg then say “Yep its done”) then its done.  Take off the heat source let cool for a five minutes then plate them by using tongs and a fork so they do not fall apart.  Throw some of the peppers and onions on top. Your gonna have a sweet taste along finished with a smooth soft spicy finish and the hens will be moist to boot.  That is how it is done son, I hope you try it.

The finished product, nice and brown and ready to plate

The Perfect Steak

The quest for the perfect steak.  I have cooked steak in just about every scenerio out there.  My oldest daughter Megan refuses to order steaks at the finest steakhouses in the world (I say this because she ordered one on our trip to Europe once) and is always disappointed in the outcome because she believes her daddy makes the best steaks in the world.  If I accomplish nothing in my life, I always have that to fall back on.  That being said, sometimes just a simple steak needs a little love, a little spike in it to make it different.  This is one of those recipes I can honestly say, was a homerun.  It is not a steak I would make regularly but definetly one that had a different flare to it that was off the charts in flavor.  It all starts with a perfect cut, 2 inch ribye.

2" cut with marbeling, prime cut Ribeye

That there is one beautiful cut piece of meat, great marbeling, great color.  I now season that bad boy with a little sea salt, and some quality pepper.  Apply this liberally and on both sides.  Do not be affraid to really use the salt, because it will burn off with the heat of the coals later.  Set aside and let it soak in the flavor and come up in temperature.  While the steak is breathing.  Get out some your favorite goat cheese. Usually 4 0z. is plenty for two nice ribeyes, possibly three if you dont smother them.  Mix the goat cheese, with a tablespoon of olive oil, chopped parsley, chopped tyme.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.  Now you need to make the Mustard lemon honey vinegarette. 1/4 cup of clover honey, tablespoon of dijon mustard, one lemon squezzed in, tablespoon of grain mustard, mix.

Herbed Goat cheese on left,  mustard, honey lemon vinegarette on right

Cut two lemons in half like so.

Meyer lemons cut in half

Then, you want to take your 8 month old daughter and let her lick one of the lemons to see what face she makes.

Lemon licker

While all the hoopla is going on, you should have started the charcoal and when they are nice and hot, get your steak ready by adding olive oil to keep it from sticking to the grill.  Grab your lemons and head out to the que.

A beautiful sight

Put the lemons down and the ribeye on direct heat.  When cooking a ribeye over the grill, dont be affraid of a little flame.  Sears the meat, brings good color.  That being said do not get ridiculous and burn the thing either.  Just keep an eye on it and dont be drinking beer and telling hunting stories with your buddies.  Mistakes are always made around the bbq when drinking and bull shit are involved.  Usually about 4-5 minutes on each side. The steak should be about 135 degrees before taking it off the grill.  This is important folks, gently put some aluminum foil over it and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Before you do this however, put the goat cheese mixture on top.

Perfectly grilled at Med. Rare

Okay, then after you remove the steak and plate it, then drizzle the vinegarette over the steak and serve with grilled lemon.  You can squeeze the lemon juice from the grilled lemon if you like or take a little bite.  I apologize for the photo of the finished product. I cut it family style to give you a look of the inside of the meat.  Bon apetite my fellow steak lovers.

This is off the hook y'all