There’s a steel barn located on an old country road in Gonzales, just 90 minutes outside of Austin. But you won’t find cows seeking shelter from the winds that blow harder and colder these days. Instead, the unmistakably earthy odor of fungus smacks you in the face as soon as you step inside. You’re now at Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms, and it smells like the inside of a plastic produce bag full of creminis. Greg McLain, son of Kitchen Pride founder Darrell McLain, was kind enough to show me around last month.
The first mushroom farm clue was the massive pile outside the barn. Growing mushrooms starts with making compost from straw. Greg showed me the intricate compost system in different stages of decomposition– it takes about four weeks to complete. The steaming piles towered over my height of 5 foot 4 inches, and the smell was distinct. It was reminiscent of the caves of my cheesemonger days, with a nostril burning ammonia aroma mixed with chicken coop elements. The compost is later pasteurized in a steam room to refine it.
The result is the perfect substrate for growing mushrooms. Each room in the barn contains raised beds, stacked six high, full of the stuff.… Read the rest
What are your sherry emotions? It always makes me think of: a. My grandma’s drink of choice b. When I lived in Madrid and was unknowingly in a sherry bar. I took a sip of my supposed white wine and almost spit it out. Sherry straight up tastes like chamomile-flavored urine if you’re expecting something else. Apparently that’s why one variety is called manzanilla, the same word as chamomile tea minus the urine part. Now I’ve come around to some varieties of fino sherry in my old age.
But cooking with sherry is the best! It pairs miraculously with mushrooms, trumping boring old white wine every time. One Sunday afternoon, the state of Texas foiled my mushroom cooking plans by forbidding the sale of liquor on the Sabbath. I picked up a bottle of sherry at HEB, and the clerk immediately ripped it out of my hands. Sherry’s alcohol content places it in the “liquor” category, but I’m not about to chug a bottle on a Sunday afternoon. He directed me to the offensive cooking sherry, which I wanted to immediately throw back in his face. I know, it’s not his fault the State of Texas has Orwellian blue laws.… Read the rest
Mushrooms have a special place in my heart– they’re like no other vegetable. Can you really call this fungus a vegetable though? I’m not quite sure. But I do know they add a magical meatiness to dishes even though they’re comprised mostly of water. And even though we can cultivate satisfying portabellas and creminis, their untamed breatheren like chanterelles, morels, and porcini pop up seemingly overnight with no explanation. You have to be at the right place at the right time to find them.
Most Americans don’t share my mushroom enthusiasm. We live in a mycophobic culture suspicious of mushrooms’ association with death. They produce poisonous or hallucinogenic compounds– some even glow in the dark. They appear under cover of darkness, thriving in rot. Or maybe it’s just because we first experienced mushrooms on a pizza topped with the rubbery canned version. I hope you’ll stick around to hear about my mushroom adventures this month…… Read the rest
Get ready for some divergences from your regular blog programming. I’ve already alluded to some changes– it won’t be anything radical, mind you. I’m just sick of the typical story/recipe/photo format for every single post. So, I’m breaking free!
Instead, each month or so will have an over-arching focus. I’ll visit locales related to the theme, investigate books, and yes, even include recipes once in awhile. This new format is keeping me inspired in a blog-eat-blog world. The topics will be largely seasonal but it won’t be dogma, and I’ve given myself permission to break format from time to time.
I hope you’ll stick around to see what’s in store…… Read the rest
This post is part of the Festa di Salumi from Punk Domestics.
As a pasta taskmaster, I’m gonna go out on a limb here. According to legendary Italian cookbook writer Marcella Hazan, All’amatriciana and bucatini are “as indivisible as Romeo and Juliet. But other couplings of the sauce…can be nearly as successful.” I utterly disagree! Those hollow rope-like bucatini tubes are the only noodles that stand-up to this extraordinary sauce.
Not that making this dish is any trouble– most of the cooking is hands-off. Rendered pork fat amplifies the bright tomatoes and red pepper flakes to create a vibrant synergy. It feels crude adding a dollop of butter to the bubbling tomatoes rich with pork fat and olive oil, but just do it. It adds creaminess and pleasantly coats your mouth.
Use home cured guanciale if you can. Pancetta is an acceptable substitute but lacks the nutty depth of dried pig jowl. For the love of god, DON’T USE BACON. The smokiness muddies the delicate harmony. The sauce is done after it has simmered for over an hour and pools of oil collect on the surface. Slather the cooked noodles in the sauce, and garnish with crispy guanciale and grated cheese.… Read the rest