Author Archives: hoosierdude40@gmail.com

Grilled Pizza with Morels

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Mushroom season has ended, you’ve found a zillion and the thought of eating another fried morel makes your stomach turn…yet there’s still a bowl soaking in the fridge that needs eating. So what does one do in such a difficult situation? Why, make grilled pizza!

If you’ve never grilled pizza its about time you start. They’re delicious, fun to make, and look stunning on a plate. All purpose flour will yield a chewy crust, bread flour a crispy one. Keep the toppings and the sauce light, lest you’ll have a soggy pizza.

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Grilled Pizza with Morels

For the Dough:

  • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour or bread flour
  • 1 cup water, 110°-120°F
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 envelope of active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil

For the Sauce:

  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground caraway seed

Toppings

  • 1/4 lb seasoned ground venison
  • 3/4 cup each of shredded mozzarella, provolone
  • 1/2 lb of fresh morels
  • 1 tbs butter
  • copious amounts of olive oil for brushing
  • 2 tbs fresh oregano
  1. To make the dough: Combine sugar with hot water and add the packet of yeast. Allow to proof for several minutes, then add the salt, olive oil and garlic powder. Slowly add 2 cups of flour until a rough dough begins to form. Tun the dough out onto a smooth surface, floured with the remaining 1/2 cup. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 4 or 5 minutes. Place the ball in an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise for an hour.
  2. Whilst the dough is rising, make the sauce. Saute the onion in the olive oil till translucent, about 5 minutes. Add everything but the caraway seed and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered till the sauce reduces by half, about 20 minutes. Stir in the caraway seed.
  3. Brown the meat and saute the morels over medium heat in the tbs of butter.
  4. When the dough is ready, turn it out on to an oiled cookie sheet and divide into fours. Cover with a wet towel.
  5. Prep your coals for indirect high heat. Once the heat’s ready, form the dough portions into rough pizza shapes, about 1/4 inch thick and brush each side liberally with olive oil. Apply to your grate as well using a paper towel.
  6. Carefully place two portions of dough directly over the coals. Grill until one side is brown and crispy, about 1-2 minutes. Watch very closely.P1020124
  7. Remove from the grill and top the grilled side with a thin layer of sauce, a sprinkle of cheese, and a handful of venison and ‘shrooms. Place the pizzas back on the grill over indirect heat, shut the lid and cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Once the cheese has melted, move them over direct heat and grill until the other side has crisped, about one minute.
  8. Repeat with the remaining dough portions.
  9. Allow to rest a couple minutes before slicing. Garnish with fresh oregano and sweet peppers. Serves 4.P1020129

A Season’s End

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Morel season has all but ended here in southern Indiana, and it has been a dandy. There may be a few yellow stragglers yet to make their debut, but most have found their way into a refrigerator or have gone to spore. It started slowly, but timely rains and proper temperatures saved the season.

Every fellow ‘shroomer I spoke with found plenty. Even my 3 year old son found a few. My family’s enjoyed the glut to the point of over indulgence, and I’ve had enough to give away to family and friends. With a pound fetching nearly 50 bucks, people are often surprised when I explain I don’t sell them. I did when I was younger, scrambling up steep hillsides in search of black sponge, my eyes filled with dollar signs, the sacred morel nothing more than a commodity.

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As I’ve gotten older the notion of selling them feels dishonest. Making a quick buck off Mother Nature seems unsavory, especially with something as unique and treasured as the morel. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I can’t in good conscience profit when I know older folks who love them but can no longer get out to the woods-and they’re just too delicious to sell.

I found six pounds of blacks, 4 pounds of yellows. Not a bad haul. Even after all the gorging and charity, I’ve got fifty-something big yellows soaking in the fridge as I write this. I’ll probably freeze the lot of them, maybe experiment with some new recipes.

Morels freeze well. If you’re a Mushroom Scrooge with a big mess and you don’t want to give any away, don’t fret: you don’t have to eat yourself sick. Flour ’em, fry till about half-cooked, then freeze them individually on a cookie sheet before freezer wrapping. They will be amazing when you remember they’re there next November.

 

Morel Preparations…

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There is nothing, I mean nothing, that I have gleaned from nature that tastes as amazing on its own as the morel. They have a savory, earthy saltiness to them that is unlike anything I have ever tasted. They’ve a flavor so rich that spices serve only as a distraction. When prepared simply with little more than salt and pepper the taste is spectacular.

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When I bring a mess home, and after all the high-fives and the pictures are taken, I set about prepping them for the soak. I use a bag only once. Slice the bag down the middle in order to remove the ‘shrooms, rather than pulling them out one by one or, god-forbid, dumping them out on the table. Morels should be handled as little as possible. Every time they’re jostled a few will crumble, a head or two will disintegrate.

After they’re safely out of the bag, slice them once long-ways and place them in a bowl with adequate head room. Fill the bowl with cold water, running the stream of water down the side of the bowl rather than directly on the mushrooms. Soak them in the fridge for at least a day, changing the water at least once. This purges the mushrooms of various bugs and keeps the meat hydrated.

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Simple preparations are best. I usually dust them in flour and fry over medium-high heat in a flavorless oil such as canola. Keep the cavities clear of excessive flour or you’ll end up with a gaumy, greasy mess. They pair beautifully with venison steak when sauteed in butter, and larger specimens are excellent when rubbed with oil and grilled.

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The Morel Woods

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Morchella. Morels. Sponge. Dryland fish? Whatever you want to call them, nothing beckons more folks to the woods than the morel mushroom.

This season has been particularly late. Usually I begin finding black morels about the third week in April, but this year has been an exception. Perhaps it was the brutally cold winter or the lack of early spring rain…no one could tell you for certain. And there in lies the draw of the morel. Its the woods’ greatest mystery, one of Mother Nature’s finest enigmas, an ephemeral delicacy that is as delicious as it is beautiful.

Heck, even modern science knows very little about morels. There are 19 confirmed species but that P1020016number is ever changing. Mycologist speculate there are as many as 60 distinct species, but hunters usually lump them into “three and a half” categories: yellow, gray, black, and “half-frees” (other wise known as “peckerheads” amongst familiar company). I’ve heard it said that the better you are at identifying trees, the better you’ll be at finding mushrooms. Ash, apple, and especially elm trees seem to hold a symbiotic relationship with morels. I once found twenty-something large yellows growing in my yard around an apple tree!

My mushroom patches give up mostly blacks. They are the first to pop, along with smaller grays and half frees. They tend to prefer hillsides in mature wooded areas, and average around 2 to 3 inches. Their gray and yellow cousins sometimes grow in similar spots, but are most often found in more open areas, like field edges and creek bottoms. Yellows also grow much, much larger. Mushrooms in the 8 to 12 inch range are fairly common.

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I’ve found a couple of pounds so far this year. I usually don some camo, grab a shotgun and a turkey call and head out to the mushroom/turkey woods. After reaffirming my lack of turkey hunting prowess, I usually set down the gun, break out the sack and start looking.  I like to hunch my back slightly, unfocus my eyes a bit and look 5 to 10 feet ahead. I look for the mushroom shape rather than the pattern or the color.

Black morels are notoriously hard to spot. When I can, I prefer to hunt early in the morning or on cloudy, rainy days. They don’t blend as well with the shapes, colors and shadows of the woods. With some luck and a little help from Mother Nature, it might prove to be a great year for the mystical morel. Happy hunting.

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Pan Fried Panfish

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This is perhaps the most basic fish recipe, one every fisherman should have in his or her arsenal. When it comes to fried fish, I prefer breading over batter in most cases. Smaller fillets from fish like bluegill and crappie are overwhelmed by the heaviness of batter, and lets face it: there are some awful batter recipes out there. When I bite into a freshly fried fish fillet (how ’bout that alliteration) I want a bit of crisp, a little spice, but mostly I want to taste flaky, white fish. So here ’tis.

Pan Fried Panfish

  • 1 1/2-2 lbs of fish fillets (breading will coat approximately this much fish, but your mileage may vary)
  • 3 cups yellow corn meal
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 eggs+1 tbs milk
  • Peanut oil for frying
  1. Preheat a cast iron skillet or some other heavy bottomed frying vessel over medium heat. Monitor the temperature with a deep thermometer. 375° F is perfect.
  2. While the oil is heating, sift the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Lightly beat the milk and eggs in a separate bowl.
  3. When the oil is up to temperature, dip the fillets in the egg bath, then dredge in the cornmeal mixture. Fry until golden brown, turning once or twice. Smaller fillets may only take a minute or two per side, larger ones 3 or 4 minutes.
  4. Drain on a paper towel lined plate and serve with lemon wedges, tangy cheap ketchup and cold beer. Some prefer coleslaw or hushpuppies on the side. I like my fried fish with a side of more fried fish. Serves 4 to 5 hungry people.

 

 

Spring Spillway Crappie

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Ahhhh…..spillway fishing is the kind of thing dreams are made of when the wind chill is in the negatives and there’s a foot of snow on the ground. Its the kind of thing that finishes the sentence, “I can’t wait till it warms up so we can do some….” It’s fast, furious and fleeting–fishing’s spring fling.

Finally, the time was nigh. April rains had lifted the reservoir above its banks, sending a cascade of warm surface water down the overflow. When conditions are right, there’s an air of danger about fishing a spillway. The currents are such that one false step could mean at best a cold, wet day; at worst a fight for your life. Attempting to swim against a raging current with water-logged waders is an exercise in futility.

A warm front had settled in, making for prime conditions. I rolled out of bed before dawn, threw my gear in the truck,and a donut and bad cup of gas station coffee later I was pitching jigs into a swirling eddy. The first hour of light was perfect. Fish were stacked up shallow in the eddies, readily taking white curly tail jigs on a 1/16 oz head. A small clip bobber set a couple feet deep was the ticket. A crappie will always rise but seldom drop to hit a lure.

Once the sun rose the crappie went deeper. I began to cast upstream, allowing the jig to come back to me, keeping a tight line while bouncing it off the bottom. The bite slowed, but remained steady. I kept 25, an even mix of black and white crappie, none under 10 inches, none over a foot. A damn near perfect day.

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P1020024(1)I returned a few days later to find the water level had dropped significantly; and with it the action. I managed a few respectable crappie, some bluegill, and a fat flathead that proved to be a handful on light tackle. It inhaled my Zoom grub so deeply I had to cut my line. Spillways can be a grab bag of fish: you’ll find an eclectic mix of lake and riverine species.  Hopefully Mother Nature will bless us with another deluge with some warm weather. In the mean time, I see some pan-fried crappie in my future. If only I had some morels to go with them….

 

A Word on Butchering…

Lots of people in the United States hunt and fish. A survey from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011 found there were nearly 14 million hunters nation wide and yet another 33 million anglers. It would be curious to know how many of those millions cleaned, butchered or cooked what they caught or killed. I would bet my last dollar that the percentage would be quite low. I know die-hard bass fishermen who are on the water a hundred days a year, that could catch fish on a pop tab and a Snoopy pole, but couldn’t begin to show you how to clean a fish. I’ve met guys who kill four deer a year and gladly pony up a hundred dollar bill every time they drag one to the processor.

The reasons for this vary. Most lack the knowledge and the thought of learning the skill is intimidating. Some may think they don’t have the time, or maybe laziness is to blame. Processing wild game for the table is time consuming and arduous, especially with larger animals like deer. Others may not have the intestinal fortitude (you can learn a lot about a person by how they handle field dressing a deer for the first time).

With a little practice and a willingness to learn, turning a day afield into an honest meal isn’t complicated. Some knowledge of your animal’s anatomy and some sharp knives is all that’s required.