Quacking from Rappahannock (our blog)

Why and How I Make Ice Tea at Home

Why and How I Make Ice Tea at Home

Years ago I read that, at mid-game during a soccer match, electric plants in England (or maybe that was Wales) had to be ready for the enormous power surge required for millions of kettles plugged in all at the same time to make tea at 

It’s not too late to make sweet potato slips.

It’s not too late to make sweet potato slips.

Sweet potatoes are now a winter staple in our household, because they are tasty, nutritious, versatile in the kitchen, fairly easy to grow and store well. Despite their name they are NOT a potato (no more than a day-lily is a “lily” or a primrose 

A Way To Prepare Morels

2020 seems to be a good year for morels. Lots of people in the countryside are bringing home nice morel dinner. Chuck it to the last two mild and nicely wet (but not too wet) winters and… to having plenty of time.

5 lbs of morels

I like morels well enough sauteed in butter and olive oil. But they always seemed a little unsubstantial to me, especially when compared to shiitakes. I have come up with a way to batch prep them right away when they are fresh (when let’s say 5 lbs find their way in the house at once). The prepped mushrooms can then sit in the fridge for a few days waiting for further cooking or preservation. One of the advantage of the technique is that the mushrooms remain toothsome, almost meaty. I can’t claim credit for it (there – after all – is not much new under the sun), but I don’t remember seeing it elsewhere.

First I halve the morels length-way, trimming away any bad bits. Then I quickly dump them in a bowl of cool water and swish them around to get rid of debris lodged in the head ridges or inside. Yes, I wash morels: even clean-looking ones can be gritty. I am not soaking them just washing them. I lift them from the water and drain them in a sieve, carefully collecting the drained water. I dump the washing water and the drained water under an oak tree in the hope to encourage loosened spores to settle… who knows? Morels 10 years down the road right by my back door? A woman can hope.

Then I heat up a skillet until hot. No oil no butter. Just an empty thick-bottom steel skillet. When the skillet is hot, I dump the mushroom, they can be a little crowded but not too crowded. If I have lots of mushrooms, I’ll have 2 skillets going at once to speed up the process. The mushrooms will steam-cook. Once the water they give up is nicely colored, I pour it off (and save it) and keep cooking the mushroom, stirring them occasionally with a fish spatula until they almost stick to the pan. Then I remove that batch, and start again with a new batch.

steam cooking morels in skillet
Steam-cooking morels on high heat with no oil nor butter. Pour the broth off

Dry cooking morels
Pour the broth off and keep cooking (still no oil no butter) until they almost stick to the pan

If you only have enough for a meal, now is the time to add to the pan butter and/or olive oil, shallots or scallions, and finish cooking the morels for dinner. Garlic & salt (maybe a hint of cayenne) only in the last few minutes.

Sauteing morels with scallions

If you have a large batch of mushrooms, then you keep repeating the process until they are all done. The mushrooms will keep refrigerated for several days until you are ready to finish cook them. The broth you use for soup, gravy or freeze for later.

See how those steamed morels keep their shape?

Then it’s fast food! Morels, chimichurri & skirt steaks will take about 15 minutes from start to finish.

Morels, flank steaks & chimichurri
Morels, flank steaks & chimichurri

Morels with pasta (there is just something to mushrooms, cream sauce & pasta) won’t take much longer if you use commercial pasta. Fresh pasta will take a little time to make, but they’ll cook in 3 minutes.

Morels & homemade fettuccine
Morels with homemade fettucine

And this year, I actually feel “rich” enough with morels, that I am trying to preserve a few jars with vinegar & oil – a technique similar to the Zucchini sott’olio that I like making in summer. I saved the now flavorful vinegar in which the mushrooms have simmered – it’ll be great to sprinkle on a pan of escarole or collard. The oil in which they are steeping will be used for cooking to add another layer of favor to a dish. So while it’s initially expensive to make sott’ollio, there is no waste.

Preserved morels

Happy morel hunting.

Eat the Invasives (Garlic Mustard)

Eat the Invasives (Garlic Mustard)

Unless we’ve been diligent in the fall planting for an early spring harvest, our gardens are not always as green as we want at this time of the year. There are however plenty of “weeds” (read: unwanted plants) to eat if we make the effort 

Winter 2020 feeding Pollen Substitute

It is only February 5th and I’ve begun feeding protein/pollen substitute (Dadant AP23). I’ve never fed protein this early before, but the extremely mild winter to date has the bees reproducing in volume and they need protein. I keep bees in Rappahannock County in northern 

Butternut Squash Salad with Mint

I grow lots of butternut squash.

Butternut harvest

They are one of the few squashes that are resistant to borers, a persistent noxious bug around here (resistant… not immune).  They are large plants and need room to roam or a sturdy trellis to climb over. And while the harvest is not always as abundant as the picture above, we always (so far) have had enough for us, and generally quite a few to sell.

If fully ripened, they are a star of the stored pantry (immature ones can be eaten like a zucchini shortly after harvest). A well cured butternut will keep 6 to 9 months, at cool room temperature – in the low 60’s F (15-18 C). They and sweet potatoes can carry us through winter.

I do like them a lot in the kitchen. What would be the point of growing them after all… unless they are good on the table?  They are very versatile, a strong taste and a firm texture. They make velvety pureed soups and buttery never-stringy mash; they also hold their shape well in curries and stew. Roast them, steam them, saute them, butternuts are up to the task. Chutney, English-style piccalilli,  or pickles? Yes, butternut is there for you. 

What else can you do with them? Add them to a risotto or wheat berries; toss small cubes of roasted butternut with buckwheat pasta or with cooked barley; mash cooked butternut with ricotta and stuff ravioli. Slice thinly and top a white pizza. Use as filling for quiches. Roast slabs and layer them in a lasagna… They are endless ways to prepare butternuts.  And they are all delicious. While I prefer them in savory dishes, they just work well as pumpkin replacement in pies or cakes.

In her book “My Calabria”, Rosetta Constantino prepares winter squash to be served as a cold salad dish. It was a revelation to me: until then I never thought of eating cold winter squash and I don’t use mint much in savory dishes. It’s a dish I often make now, especially for a crowd. I have adapted her method to the oven (Rosetta fries her on the stove top). You can find Rosetta’s recipe on her website.

Butternut Squash Salad with Mint

Choose a butternut squash with a long neck to maximize the amount of usable vegetable. Fresh mint is better, but high-quality fragrant dry mint will work.

  • 1 butternut squash (about 3 pounds)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (more as needed)
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 fresh plump garlic gloves, green germ removed if any, and very (very!) thinly minced or sliced
  • 1 tablespoon finely shredded fresh mint leaves (or 1 teaspoon fragrant high quality dry mint)
  • Salt to taste

Trim off ends of squash. Cut off the neck, halve, and peel. Slice in 1/4 inch thick slices. Halve the remaining quash, remove seeds from the cavity, peel, and slice. Preheat oven to 425F.

Generously oil 2 large rimmed cookie sheets. I mean generously. Arrange the squash slices in a single layer, moving them around on the pan to coat them with oil.

Bake squash until the slice edges start to brown and blister – about 30 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheets once. If needed, move the slices on the outside to the center of the pan if they are crisping too fast.

Remove from the oven and while the butternut is still hot, layer slices of them in a glass bowl. Sprinkle each layer with salt, vinegar, garlic and mint.  When all done pour the accumulated juice and oil from the pans on top. Let marinate for a few hours. Eat at room temperature.



A Favorite Way to Preserve Zucchini

One of my favorite cookbooks is “My Calabria” by Rosetta Constantino with Janet Fletcher. A favorite cookbook is one I want to read, which draws me into the author’s world, tell stories that are relevant to the food it presents, and provides context for recipes. 

2019 Honey Harvest

Laughing Duck Gardens in Washington, Virginia. Rappahannock Arboreal Honey Facts and a Printable Honey_Fact_Sheet Jump to Batches Scroll to bottom for Batches 2019 is shaping up to be a very intense year for honey. Winter ended mild with no late frost; temperatures and rainfall for 

Strawberry Mousse Forever

Strawberry Mousse Forever

The strawberry mousse is one of of those desserts that is so simple, so utterly reliant on the goodness of strawberries that it is either spectacular… or a total let down when made with sub-par strawberries. In which latter case, no doctoring can make it taste good. So! Select local fragrant completely ripe strawberries either those you’ve grown, you pick at a pick-your-own operation, or you purchase at a true farmers’ market. If you can smell the fragrance of a few quarts of berries a couple of feet away, those are the right berries for this dessert. Otherwise, pass and make chocolate mousse instead.

You may certainly serve the mousse in a clear glass, with or without strawberry coulis or fresh berries. With or without brownies crumbs at the bottom. with or without strawberry gelatin: make a little more of the strawberry/gelatin mixture than needed and use it at the bottom (and/or the top of) the mousse. But wait! it’s so much more versatile. You can also:

  • freeze it it a loaf pan (lined with parchment for easy removal), and slice before serving for a semi-freddo type of dessert. Add a few marinated strawberries and their juice to finish the plate, and maybe a small scoop of dark chocolate ganache.
  • pour in in a graham cracker crust (especially one made with chocolate crackers), let set and pipe rosettes of freshly whipped creme fraiche or minty whipped cream just before serving.
  • once set, put in a pastry bag, and pipe small amount in chocolate shells for the cutest tartelettes.

And the best part? When you have an abundance of strawberries (such as after a visit to a PYO), you can freeze berries in pre-measured quantities, so all you have to do is thaw and puree. Or better yet, which is what I do, is puree, and freeze the puree in measured amount. So, I can actually make this dessert year around with superior strawberries. I just won’t have fresh strawberries to garnish it. But you know, in February…. I can deal with that. There is something very satisfying with strawberry mousse that tastes of last May when still in the grip of winter but the cusp of spring.

Strawberry Mousse

Recipe based on Strawberry Mousse with Kirsch recipe by Faye Levy in her book “Dessert Sensations Straight From France”.

  • 1.5 lb (675 g) strawberries
  • 1 packet gelatin powder (7 g)
  • 1/2 Cup of water (125 ml)
  • 2/3 Cup sugar (135 g)
  • 1 Cup whipping cream, very cold (250 ml)
  1. Wash, hull, and trim strawberries. Puree in blender until very smooth. Weigh and reserve 375 g for the recipe. Save the rest, if any, for another use such as coulis or strawberry gelatin to garnish of the mousse (see pix) (or adjust recipe to make more)
  2. Sprinkle gelatin on 1/4 C (65 ml) cold water and let it get soft about 5 minutes.
  3. Bring sugar and remaining water to boil in a small sauce pan. Boil 30 seconds and remove from the heat. Thoroughly whisk in the softened gelatin. Let rest a few minutes. Then whisk the gelatin in the strawberry puree, constantly whisking to ensure the gelatin is well mixed. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove any possible lumps.
  4. Set the bowl in a larger bowl of cold (not iced) water, stirring occasionally until the mixture starts to thicken but is not set – maybe 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, whip cream until firm. Fold into strawberry mixture.
  6. Chill in a large bowl (it will take longer) or individual glasses for at least 4 hours before serving.

Roasted Strawberry Ice-cream

Roasted Strawberry Ice-cream

I picked 42 lbs of strawberries at Green Truck Farms earlier this week. Granted 10 lbs went to Chef John MacPhearson and his hyper seasonal and really excellent restaurant Three Blacksmiths, and 4 lbs went to friends. That still leaves me 28 lbs. 10 lbs