Monday, November 23, 2015


I have been collecting wild mushrooms for a very long time: first in the mountains east of Salt Lake City where a friend who knew what he was doing introduced me to wild mushrooms. Then in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills in Northern California.

I always enjoyed finding something edible in the wilds: asparagus, berries of all sorts, walnuts and of course, mushrooms. I never gotten sick from eating the wrong mushroom but I only eat them if I have virtually 100% positive identification.

Over the decades I learned to recognize the edible ones without consulting one of my mushroom books. If you are new to wild mushroom collecting, the only advice any expert collector can give you: don’t unless you have a death wish. Many mushrooms are mildly poisonous but some are extremely so. And to make it worse, some of the deadly ones take close to a day to show symptoms by which time the toxins (amatoxin) absorb and they work on destroying your liver—you have a little time left to organize you funeral arrangements. But don’t yet despair: fatality is in only in 50% of people.

Start collecting with a truly knowledgeable person and at least one very good guidebook. You need to collect them while they are fairly young to pick them ahead of the almost inevitable maggots. There are mushrooms maggots leave alone but not many kinds. Collect them in paper bags, never mixing different species and with a pocket knife scrape off as much dirt as possible. Don’t ever use plastic bags, mushrooms with their high moisture contents suffocate and spoil in no time.

Identify them until you are absolutely positive what you have. It’s always a good idea to leave a small piece preserved before cooking, just in case of tummy problems crop up later; that way an expert can check your identification.

Here is a very pretty mushroom called Leucopaxillus, species is probably albissimus. It is not edible because it is tough and bitter but not poisonous. But so pretty, so tempting!

Sunday, November 15, 2015


I love to have some baba ganouj in the refrigerator occasionally.

The eggplant part is easy. After piercing it in a few places to avoid exploding it in the oven, I roast it at 400 degrees until very soft inside—this take close to an hour. Then I cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, and scrape the soft flesh off the skin, dump it into the food processor with the rest of the ingredients.

The tahini part is more of a problem if you prefer making your own. Looking at recipes for home-made tahini, many suggest grinding the toasted sesame seeds with some sesame oil in the food processor—it didn’t work. From previous experience I’d learned that fine seeds like sesame and poppy seeds just whirl around by the blade but not ground. For my first attempt I used the tahini as is without fully grinding the seeds. The resulting baba ganouj didn’t quite have the correct texture but it was perfectly good.

The only way I know of grinding fine seeds at home is using a seed grinder. I do have a poppy seed grinder that also works for sesame seeds but it is a slow, slow process.

Can anyone offer another solution?

Sunday, November 1, 2015


In my kitchen I like to prepare as much from scratch as possible, including juices. Orange and grapefruit are easy, just squeeze, and if the grapefruit is not very sweet, stir in a little sugar.

Tomato juice takes a little more effort. I like V8 juice a lot, and that’s what I aimed for in my effort to make tomato juice at home but I like it a little more spice, little more jazzy than the commercial version.

I scanned cookbooks checking tomato juice ingredient suggestions, and finally decided what seems like a good blend—at least to my taste. The base is tomato paste that I use a lot in my cooking. Anything left in a six-ounce can I scrape out, wrap in a plastic cling wrap, then place it in the freezer—when I need a little tomato paste, the frozen paste is easy to cut from. The kitchen tool is the blender.

I combine all ingredients in a blender and I have tomato juice in seconds.

Here is what I combine:

6 oz tomato paste
24 oz water
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp horseradish
tsp crushed chili
light sprinkling of smoke flavor (optional)

Thursday, October 15, 2015


One of my favorite ways with potatoes takes three cooking stages and three ingredients—it’s not quick but it’s worth the time spent.

The ingredients are potatoes, onion and paprika and a bit of oil for pan-roasting roast.

I take a pound of russets, peel and dice them into fairly large irregular chunks, size of walnuts. I cook them in salted boiling water for about nine minutes until they are partially cooked but still slightly firm. I drain the pot and set the potatoes aside.

I chop about half a cup (2 oz) of onion and sauté them gently in a teaspoon of vegetable oil until just beginning to soften, about five minutes, and add 2 teaspoons of paprika (it may be smoked paprika). Stir the paprika into the onion and let gently cook for half a minute so stirring constantly so the paprika slightly caramelizes.

I remove the onion from the pan and set aside and wipe the pan clean.

Adding a teaspoon of vegetable oil to the same pan I heat it until fairly hot and add the potatoes with half teaspoon salt to gently pan-roast for about 35 minutes, stirring often until the potatoes are browning. You may need to roast them longer until browned to your taste, and may add a little more oil as needed.

Just before serving I add the onion to the potatoes, stir well and continue heating for a few minutes. You have a wonderful side dish serving four.

Monday, October 12, 2015


As a professional book reviewer, some strange ones come my way.

I just reviewed one on salt block cooking. I never even knew such a thing exists. But it does and there are some half dozen sources sell them anywhere from $30 to $50 a block that measures 12x8x1½ inches (and many other sizes are available). These blocks come from a pink salt deposit in the Himalayan Mountains of Pakistan.

Cooking and baking with salt block is arduous and time consuming. You need to heat the block slowly on stove top then measuring its temperature by a laser thermometer. In 30 minutes it should be preheated and you can either cook on it or place it in the oven to bake on it—like you would on a pizza stone.

The authors of that cookbook claim that everything tastes better using salt block cooking—but I remain unconvinced. Why would it?

Heating the block takes too long. To prepare a fried egg in a hole will costs you 35 minutes. On the stove top it takes 4 to 5 minutes. You also need to be careful that the food is not too moist or the salt black it hot enough in which cases the food absorbs salt from the block and your product is oversalted.

If you ever used a salt block for cooking and baking please let me know what you think of it.

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