when I say…

What do you think of when I say mushroom?  Do you think of fresh chanterelles sautéed in garlic herb butter, served warm over toasted brioche?  Maybe you think of Carl, the mushroom man who purveys his gorgeous shitakes at our local farmers markets.  Or, perhaps you aren’t a mushroom lover at all, and you think of having to pick mushrooms out of many dishes.  However, when I say mushroom, I think of one of the greatest culinary influences I have ever known, and am overwhelmed with memories.  Let me explain.

I was fresh out of college and spending my second season in Wyoming working on a dude ranch.  My best friend and other girls my age were cleaning cabins, while the boys were pretending to be cowboys.  I, however, was having the time of my life in my first professional kitchen.  I will pause here and say that this is another blog for another time, but let’s summarize by saying my experience in the Moose Head kitchen taught me as much as any fine culinary school education ever would have.  My mentor, kitchen boss, and friend, was a chef named Steve.  In the off season Steve travelled the culinary extremes of the world, and he loved to share what he had learned.  One day Steve asked if I would like to go out to harvest wild morel mushrooms.  I am the adventurous type (so I’ve been told), and I immediately thought it sounded like fun and literally dug right in.  I can still picture picking that first morel, covered in spongy holes and smelling as musty as the Aspen forest floor growing by the Snake River.  I can remember the thrill of preparing them in a decadent sauce to be served with lamb, just to us first, just in case the nearly identical and toxic twin had been chosen instead.  From harvesting to preparing them it is a special memory, and one I will never forget.

Recently I was reminded of this experience day after day as I grew my own Oyster mushrooms.  I was sent a mushroom farm, the cute kind in a box that you grow in your home, perched in a windowsill for the family to enjoy.  I was thrilled!  I was a little skeptical that it could produce the same gorgeous oyster mushrooms as pictured in just 10 days, but it really did.  Whole Foods sells this kit, made by Back to the Roots, and it was so much fun I wish I had bought them for everyone for Christmas gifts.  Simply sautéed for a salad or omelette, this type of horticulture is made for all!  It would make a fabulous Valentine’s Day gift for the foodie in your life, hint hint!

mushroom farm with elf

our cute little elf hanging out on the mushroom farm at my kitchen window…


So here I am now, a mere twenty years later in my Southern kitchen instead of Western kitchens, growing mushrooms in a windowsill, and I couldn’t be happier with the paths my life has taken.  There are days when I close my eyes and imagine I am still out West, more than anyone can imagine.  But when I open my eyes, really open my eyes to all the greatness around me, all is good.  Sometimes the little things, the little memories, can simply mean so much.

Enjoy the best of food and life, and sweet memories.


Listed below are some links to Whole Foods recipes I thought sounded enticing to try using mushrooms….

Pasta with Mushrooms, Spinach and Mt. Tam Cheese

Mushroom, Chard and Caramelized Onion Tacos

Quinoa with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms and Pear

melting points…

all cheeese!

We all have melting points, children and adults alike.  What is your trigger?  I have to say one of my melting points is not being able to find something that I know isn’t lost, just misplaced.  It can really make me come undone!

The melting point I am talking about today is so much more fun, the kind you actually want.  It’s all about cheese, the melting point of cheese and a fun demonstration last week called “Cheese Meets Heat” at Whole Foods.  Each quarter Whole Foods will host this and I hope you will put off your shopping until one evening to take advantage of yummy samples and creative recipes.  Last week the samples were:

Berliner and Gruyere Mac and Cheese a great “grown up mac”, but don’t be fooled, my daughter devoured it!

French Onion Crostini with Balsamic Cipollini Onions and Melted Gruyerebest described as a deconstructed French Onion Soup appetizer.  Better yet, you can purchase the fancy sounding balsamic cipploini onions already prepared in their olive bar, just make (or buy if you must) the crostini’s and melt some Gruyere cheese on top and serve.  Throw some flour on your shirt and you’ll look like you’ve been slaving all day!

Fried Halloumi with Olive Oil and Black Pepperwho doesn’ t love warm, easy to eat cheese?

Alpine Extra Cheese on Potatoes with Cornichonsa surprising and interesting flavor combination!

Yummy, right?  If you’re hungry now and wishing you could have it for dinner, then please see below for the recipe for mac & cheese and a recipe for the fried halloumi, courtesy of their awesome in house cheese monger in action!

cheese monger

Berliner and Gruyere Mac and Cheese

Kosher salt Vegetable oil 1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi 1 quart milk 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 12 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (4 cups) 8 ounces Berliner der Kase, grated (2 cups)

6 ounces fresh chevre 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cook macaroni according to package directions.  Drain well.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyère, Berliner, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. Dot the top with goat cheese, poking some down in the noodles. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

berliner cheese

Fried Halloumi

8      ounces (225 – 250g) halloumi

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil for frying, plus 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil for dressing the fried cheese

a few generous grinds of black pepper

big pinch of red pepper flakes

  1. Drain the halloumi and cut it into cubes; slice the slab in half horizontally, then cut the cheese into batons and slice them into cubes. Pat the cubes very dry with paper towels.
  2. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the cubes of halloumi and cook for a few minutes without stirring, until the bottoms are well-browned.
  3. Turn the halloumi cubes with a spatula, and brown them on the other sides. They don’t need to be perfectly browned on all sides, but they should be a nice golden brown color for best flavor.
  4. Transfer the fried halloumi cubes to a bowl along with any oil in the pan. Grind black pepper over the cheese, add the red pepper flakes and the remaining 1-2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir well, and serve warm or at room temperature.


Enjoy the best of all the cheesy things life can bring you!   Julia