Thursday, October 27, 2011


Mushroom picking is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest where I live, and every year for the past few years I've wanted to go mushroom picking for the matsutake pine mushroom - a beautiful mushroom grown where you would find pine trees, prized for its distinct, strong aroma. My friend Cindy has been going mushroom picking with her family since she was a child, and her dad is the secret mushroom man with decades of mushroom picking under his belt. So with a little secret knowledge punched into an iPhone, our little mushroom picking crew set off towards the mountains on a crisp Fall morning in October. While we sadly didn't find our special mushroom this time, we had a blast exploring the forest and its many mushroom varieties... and enjoyed a mushroom-themed hotpot for dinner!

Cindy's dad explaining where he used to go to pick mushrooms.

Our trip mascot, the adorable and hilarious baby Saya!

Into the woods we went. How beautiful our province is...

Mushrooms galore! These were golden in colour with a slick slime accumulated on its pretty ruffly top. All I could think of was the story of Babar the elephant, and how his parents died of eating poisonous mushrooms...

Upside down mushroom reminded me of a round pancake slug clinging to a branch.

False matsutake! We thought we found one.
Sadly, our area seemed to be picked over for the pine mushroom!

Lovely looking brown-capped mushrooms, but again we couldn't identify it so didn't want to end up a like a green-skinned poisoned elephant.

This was a disturbing/hilarious little find - a greyish... okay, "dink" mushroom!

THESE WERE CRAZY! They looked like they were a movie prop, light pink mushrooms with oozing red blood-like jelly. I looked this up when we got home and it's called the Bleeding Tooth Fungus. Interestingly enough, this mushroom isn't even toxic - scientists have even discovered this horrifying little shroom holds some antiobiotic properties.

A little bridge in the forest.

Sadly, no pine mushrooms for us on this trip! I must've seen over 20 varieties of other mushrooms. I think I'm mushroom crazy now. However, back at the cabin...

The reading of the dog book - Cindy looks up dogs, her partner Marc chops wood!

A nice roaring fire, with wood on deck...

...and dinner prep begins! Cindy is the master hot pot chef, which is a giant boiling pot of tangy broth housing a myriad of delicious ingredients. Items continue to be added to the broth, cooked in the broth and served right out of the soup.

We may not have picked our pine mushroom, but we brought plenty of our own - enoki mushroom strands and shiitake mushrooms...

Shredded shards of seasoned seaweed.
I like to eat this by itself, so thin, delicately crunchy and yummy!

Must have greens.

And finely grated-to-a-pulp daikon (Japanese radish), to be mixed with homemade ponzu sauce for the bottom of each soup bowl.

The broth bubbling along...

The broth cooking up the mushrooms, greens, udon noodles and tofu!

Baked sweet kambocha squash, to be used for gyoza filling.

Pan fried, handmade kabocha squash gyoza!

Super soup - hot pot party!

I'll have a side of gyoza, please! A beautiful end to a beautiful day with good friends.
Til next time, mushroom lovers! xo

Come on down to Brownie Town

I started blogging on the lovely design blog POPPYTALK! Here is one of my recent posts - BROWNIES! Dark chocolate spelt brownies made with olive oil and walnuts, to be exact...

So I've been trying to eat a bit healthier of late ... it could have to do with my turning 35 really soon (aiyahhhh!) and wanting to cleanse the body somewhat... My attempt at healthy eating also includes trying to develop some baked treats that raise the health bar a little higher than my usual decadent standbys of butter, eggs and cream!

I've been straddling a bit of a vegan vibe lately too, influenced by some recent readings and books. Thus, my attempt here at a dairy-free brownie-type specimen that would hopefully fill my cravings without relying on the usual suspects of white flour, white sugar and dairy!

It took every ounce of my being not to add pieces of lush Lindt dark chocolate to the mix, instead I added walnuts (high in Omega 3's!). For the sweetener, I used brown rice syrup, which is a thick, liquid sweetener that won't send you into a sugar high and low like regular white sugar can. If you can't find brown rice syrup, you can substitute 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar, no problemo!

Coconut milk is a rich alternative to conventional dairy, and heck coconut oil and coconut milk have been getting some good press lately too! I liked how this brownie turned out... rich with cocoa, moist from olive oil and coconut milk and not too sweet. It takes a while to set so I would even recommend refrigerating it to harden it up before serving. I sprinkled a teensy bit of icing sugar (also known as confectioner's sugar) on top as well, and for contrast, decorated with fresh raspberries!


(yields 12 brownies, baked in a 9 inch square pan)


1 cup of spelt flour
1 cup of Dutch process 22-24% cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups of brown rice syrup (or 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar)
1 can (400 ml) of coconut milk
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Optional: 1/2 cup of walnuts

Make them!

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9 inch square baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients until combined.
3. Add the wet ingredients, slowly mixing to gently combine.
4. Optional: fold in the walnuts!
5. Pour batter into baking pan.
6. Bake for 45-50 minutes in the middle rack of your oven, turning pan halfway through for even baking.
7. Let cool completely on wire rack, then chill to harden in refrigerator for 1 hour before slicing.

Dust with icing sugar if you so wish - this is done by holding a little wire sieve on top of the brownies, sprinkling icing sugar into the sieve and shaking it around, creating a light dust of powdery sugar. Fresh berries add a bright blast of colour too!


Friday, October 7, 2011

A Lovely Fall Cassoulet!

I went to a beautiful casserole party the other night for a sweet friend's birthday. Everyone brought warm dishes of casserole delights, delicious ingredients nestled in earthenware or glass pans. It was the perfect party to get Fall rolling along. I had a few ideas but ran out of time for my initial idea (a cold layered sushi casserole!), so I went with a lovely vegetarian dish: a white bean and leek cassoulet with oven dried cherry tomatoes, topped with olive oil-rich crunchy roasted garlic croutons. To serve, place white bean mixture into your prettiest dish, and top generously with croutons. Don't put the croutons on too early as you don't want them to get soggy. Top with a sprig of beautiful rosemary if you are feeling jaunty! This can easily be a delicious, elegant and filling vegan dish as well - simply omit the butter when making the mire poix (carrots and leeks).



3 cans of white cannelini beans
3 large carrots, diced into cubes
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced thinly in rounds
A pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
Fresh parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Vegetable broth (I used Whole Foods organic brand, in the Tetra-pak)
A few tablespoons of unsalted butter
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
A bulb of garlic
A crusty baguette

1. Oven-dry 2 cups of halved cherry or grape tomatoes on parchment paper on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Set aside.

2. Next, in oven, roast 1 bulb of garlic with extra virgin olive oil in tin foil, for 25-30 minutes at 375 degrees (or until garlic is soft). Remove from oven, remove garlic from skin and chop finely, setting it aside.

3. While you're roasting stuff in the oven: Combine the sliced leeks, cubed carrots, 1 tablespoon of butter and a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil in a cast iron pot. Cook leeks and carrots on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add 1/4 cup- 1/2 cup vegetable broth to deglaze pan.

4. Add your three cans of white cannelini beans. Simmer on low for 20 minutes, allowing beans to heat. Add half of the roasted garlic to the mixture. Use potato masher to partially mash beans into broth and mixture. Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

5. Tear apart a crusty French baguette into crouton-sized pieces. Toss with 2 tablespoons or a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, the rest of the roasted garlic and some chopped fresh parsley. Bake in oven until crispy, 15-20 minutes on 325 degrees.

6. To assemble: fold in oven dried tomatoes (reserving a few for decoration), to bean and leek mixture. Top with garlic and parsley croutons. Place a few dried tomatoes amongst the croutons, and sprinkle with some more fresh, finely chopped parsley. Decorate with two sprigs of fresh rosemary, and serve!
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