Mystery House

The Minnesota Table: Morels!

I so loved The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook that I was delighted to receive a review copy of the latest offering from Voyageur Press, The Minnesota Table.

Image courtesy of Quayside Publishing Group

It’s a lovely book, one which proves that “Minnesota food” doesn’t have to mean endless recipes for hotdish and bars.  The authors, Shelley N.C. Holl and B.J. Carpenter, have done a splendid job of demonstrating that locally grown food can be prepared in ways that respect the beauty of the ingredients while still managing to be accessible.

These are obviously women who love what they do, and love what the Minnesota landscape has to offer.  (And that’s the least cranky buffalo I’ve ever seen.)

Photograph courtesy of Quayside Publishing Group

Spring was the perfect time for this book to arrive on my desk, since the authors have taken a seasonal approach to the subject, beginning with the foods that appear in Minnesota in April and May:  asparagus, lettuces, lamb, rhubarb, and  — oh lordy — morel mushrooms.

A trip to the Mill City Farmers Market on opening day netted me some.  This was, in theory, easier than searching the forests myself.  In reality, I had to stand in line behind a woman while she carefully selected two pounds of expensive morels from the relatively small box the vendor had.  I was nervous, bouncing on my heels,
positive that she’d snatch all of them before I had a chance to get my mitts into the box.  But the Morel Goddess was with me, and the Two Pounds of Morels Woman at last took her stash of pure gold and left while there were still a few mushrooms remaining.  With morels, sweet asparagus from Loon Organics, and some crusty sourdough bread, I was ready to cook up a truly special dinner.

The best way to bring out the unique and delicious character of morels is to not mess with them too much.  Ms. Carpenter, who developed the recipes for this book, obviously knows that, because in her recipe she left them ungussied-up and simply sauteéd with butter.

You have to wash them first, and this is the only tricky part.  Because of all the folds and crevices, bugs love to hide in morels.  These had ants.  Remember, morels are picked in the forest, people.  They aren’t cultivated in bug-free greenhouses.  So  I researched morel-washing methods online, and found two schools of thought:  careful rinsing, or soaking in salt water.  After attempting to rinse them without breaking off too many important and delicious mushroom bits, I figured out why a brief salt water soak works.  It causes the ants to head for the hills, nicely removing themselves from the morels without your having to do it.  Yes, that makes the morels a bit wetter, but I figured it would be easier to cook out a little extra water than to stand there picking out ants.

After drying the morels, I melted a goodly amount of butter.  Sauteed until the liquid was gone and the mushrooms browned a bit.  Added s & p.

And dished them up with buttered toast and asparagus.

Anyone who’d ask for more than that is just downright greedy.

It was a scrumptious dinner, a perfect tribute to spring in Minnesota, and a good test of an excellent new cookbook.  There are many more recipes worth trying in The Minnesota Table — Crock Pickles, Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie, Apple Cake with Hard Sauce, and a quick recipe for Cassoulet.  (I really have to try the Lake Superior Smoked Whitefish on Hardtack.)  There’s also a great deal to learn.

Remember, this book had two authors.  Ms. Carpenter was in charge of the recipes, and Ms. Holl did a ton of research about food production in the state and wrote some very compelling stories about it.  There’s a great deal to learn here about how Honeycrisp apples were developed, how grass fed beef is raised, how endangered heritage seeds are saved, how to create a modern root cellar or freeze berries, where to find amazing ice cream on the U of M campus, and even a story about the Rutabaga Capitol of the World (which is, if you, like I, didn’t know, Askov, Minnesota).

Truly, I love this book.  The more I dig through it, the more I find that I didn’t know.  If you are at all interested in locally-grown foods, this book is worth having on your shelf, whether or not “local” for you means Minnesota.  Just don’t get in front of me in the morel line.


Two New Designs



All photos courtesy of Knitcircus

They’re both in the Summer issue of Knitcircus!  Which just went live on Saturday!  And Café is even a free download!  You’ll check it out, won’t you?  I do hope that you will.


The scarf is now in the hands of its new owner, and I am thinking that I really need to make one for myself.  In black.  For some reason, I don’t seem to have a black scarf, at least not a knitted one.

A Knitted Gift, Not Yet Blocked

The design is Knitspot’s La Novia, in the very soft and smooshy Misti Cotton.  I love that pale pink; I wish I could wear it and I hope the recipient likes it as much as I do.  This is a nice, quick pattern to knit, although I do recommend very pointy needles to make the P2tog TBL easier.  I’m going to block this and give it away this weekend!


You might recall that a couple of months ago, Knitcircus editor Jaala and I baked bread together — her mom’s fabulous recipe for challah — in a not-in-the-same-kitchen-online kinda way.  Well, we had so much fun that we decided more baking was called for.  This time, it’s my family’s recipe for cornbread.

I positively adore cornbread.  Can’t get enough of it, and I’ve served it in many different ways.  The other night, it was this:

Smothered in a tomato sauce with all sorts of veggies, and topped with cheese, cilantro and hot sauce.  Unreasonably healthy, yet so good that even the most devoted carnivore I know (the M.E.) loves it. If you want the recipe, it’s in New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant.

And the cornbread?  Here goes.

One True Cornbread
1 c. flour
2 c. cornmeal
2 eggs
3 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 c. milk
1 tsp. salt

Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt together.  Beat eggs, add oil and milk.  Stir into dry ingredients, stirring just enough to mix thoroughly.  Pour into well-greased iron skillet and bake at 425 until golden brown.  (This usually takes about 25 minutes.)

A couple of notes:  The “1 c. milk” actually never happens.  I don’t know why the recipe says a cup, because it’s way more than that.  I just start pouring and stirring, and keep pouring until it looks right.

I use a 12″ iron skillet most of the time, but you can also bake this in a cornstick or muffin pan, or whatever shape you like.  It’s fabulous with chili, and it’s an easy bread to throw together right before dinner.

Everybody Say…


That’s Malabrigo Rasta.

And that is a wonderful pile of Peaches & Cream cotton, straight from the factory in North Carolina, courtesy of a very sweet friend who went there and got it for me.  I can’t wait to play with it.

Bourbon Pork Chops

This was one of those recipes that worked, even though it didn’t work.  If you know what I mean.  Great sauce, cooking method that didn’t quite cut it.  I was surprised by that, because this is the first time I’ve tried a recipe from the folks at Cook’s Illustrated that wasn’t completely foolproof.  Ah well.  We all make boo-boos, yes?

All that hoohah about brief cooking times and resting and such really didn’t cook the chops properly.  Dubious, we did it anyway for the sake of trying the recipe, and because we had already marinated the chops and they would have burned if we’d broiled them at that point, because of the sugar in the marinade.

The result:  Delicious sauce, undercooked chops and a lot of carrying on.  This could be done so much more easily.  Next time, no marinating.  We’ll grill or broil the chops, and cook the sauce separately.  I think it will be better that way.  I’m going to post this now and run, lest the wrath of Christopher Kimball descend upon me….

It’s Done!

I just love starting Monday with an FO, particularly one that I’ve been itching to finish.  After having to rip back and reknit the sleeves post-blocking because I didn’t like the length, my Circumnavigated Cardigan is done.  Not done as in sitting in my finishing basket.  Done done.  Ends woven in, buttons sewn on.  Done as in I can wear it this week.

I know I’ve said it ‘leventy-squillion times, but I love this pattern.  It’s genius.  No seams, and it’s made precisely to your measurements, so it fits no matter what size you are.  If you haven’t knit this one, you definitely should.

It’s possible to modify this pattern in many different ways, but for this first one I followed it exactly so that I could see how it worked.  I may make one without pockets next time, or with a different style of cuff, and I’ll probably put in some waist shaping.  Who knows?  The only thing I know for sure is that I’m going to make another one as soon as I can.  (This statement is probably making the M.E. very worried, since he has asked for a pullover.  Fear not, my Sweetie, your sweater is next!)

Sewing on the buttons really made my day yesterday.  It was that final sprint to the end, which always feels great, plus I adore these buttons.

I found them at an antique show.  (There’s a closeup in this post.)  Just as I was saying to the M.E., I need buttons for my sweater and I have no idea what I want, I turned around and saw these.  I immediately snatched them up and bought them, and it turned out to be one of those all-too-rare times when the buttons actually turned out to work perfectly when they encountered the sweater.

Happy sigh.  All is well at the Mystery House, and I have a new sweater.


I just love buttons.

Winter Just Isn’t Winter…

…Without ambrosia.

When the oranges are good and plentiful, I could bury myself in a bowl of this stuff.  I’ve had it, without fail, every winter of my life since I commenced chewing and I can’t imagine getting through the season without it.

This is so simple that even my noncooking friends, the ones who complain the most vociferously about how hard cooking is and how much easier it is to microwave things from packages, can make it:

Cut up oranges and put them in a bowl.  Sprinkle with a little sugar.  Sprinkle with shredded coconut.  Make another layer just like that.  Keep making layers until you run out of oranges and coconut.  Smash it down with a small plate and put it in the fridge overnight.

It’s miraculous, I tell you.  However much you made, it won’t be enough.