Alfresco Friday


The first picnic of the year on a cool and cloudy early spring day.


Homemade pain de mie Morel & Gruyère Tart Mead, Honey Wine

Theme Song

Color Story

Quiche is the intuitive cook’s secret weapon. It’s perfect for cooking in the moment, as you need very few ingredients that are probably in your pantry right now. The only ingredients required are all-purpose flour, unsalted butter, and eggs for the pastry crust and eggs, cream, and any flavors you want for the custard filling. I keep a disc of tart dough in my freezer for when the urge to make quiche hits me. Once you have quiche in your repertoire, let the seasons be your guide. For a spring quiche I used morels and gruyère. In summer you could use tomatoes and zucchini. In The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics, there is a recipe for “Caramelized Onion and Gorgonzola Quiche” that would be lovely in autumn.  During winter you could serve a quiche made with bitter endive and cheese or bacon flavored Quiche Lorraine. Basically, if you have a recipe for the custard, you can add any flavorings you want- experiment! No special equipment is needed to make quiche. Sure, every recipe starts out “process the ingredients in a food processor until combined.” I must tell you that I hate food processors. I know they are considered a must have in every kitchen, but I make it just fine without one. Food processors are big and bulky. Their many attachments and discs clog up my kitchen drawers. I find the bowls and tubes cumbersome to clean. Instead I use a good old fashioned pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour. It’s important to make sure both the ingredients and the pastry blender are cold, so that you don’t melt the butter. A flaky pastry crust is achieved by quickly working ice cold butter into the flour and not overworking the dough. Also, I have yet to purchase a tart pan with a removable bottom. I use my (well-buttered) 10 inch porcelain quiche dish and have no problems with the quiche sticking to the pan. Cooking in the moment is about working with what you have. Think it through and adapt. Not so long ago people had to do things by hand. A recipe for “Dried Porcini and Gruyère Tarts” from Preserved, by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton inspired this early spring picnic. If I had a smoker I would do as they suggest and hot smoke the tart for an hour- think of the flavor! I decided to use the tart dough from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics because I can’t seem to just be simple and follow one recipe for one dish. Here is how I made my version:
Morel & Gruyère Tart
Blind bake the Martha Stewart tart dough. This is done by first pressing the dough into your quiche pan, pricking it all over with a fork, and freezing it until firm (about 30 minutes). Then line the tart shell in parchment and fill with dried beans to weigh it down. Bake the tart dough at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or until the crust is firm at the edges. Take out the parchment and beans and bake the crust until it is pale golden brown, about 10 minutes. Allow it to cool completely on a wire rack before pouring in the custard filling. For the filling I re-hydrated a small handful of dried morels in hot water. As the morels were soaking I sautéed 2 shallots and 2 garlic cloves in a generous amount of butter. Then the drained morels were added to the pan with some dried thyme. After a couple of minutes I poured a bit of the morel soaking liquid (carefully drained of grit) onto the morel mixture and simmered it until all the liquid was gone. While the mixture was left to cool I whisked together the filling: ½ cup crème fraîche, 5 eggs, 1 cup grated gruyere, salt, pepper, and some freshly grated nutmeg. This filling was poured into my pre-baked tart shell and cooked in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven until the custard set (about 30 minutes). The result: flaky pastry, rich custard, earthy morels, and pungent cheese. For the picnic I brought homemade bread and a bottle of Mead, honey wine. The air smelled of earth and rain and even though it was a dreary day, I could feel spring coming ever closer.

Storyboard: Morels

Morel Story Board


The Morel

Genus Morchella, Season Spring


This elusive mushroom is found in diverse habitats:

woodlands, especially those affected by forest fire

urban ares: hiding in plain sight along sidewalks, haunting abandoned railroads.

Morels appear after a spring rain, and disappear just as suddenly- a major frustration for mushroom hunters who say luck has a lot to do with finding morels.



smoky, nutty, earthy

According to The Complete Book of Mushrooms, by Peter Jordan and Steven Wheeler, “…Morels have a rich flavor that combines well with other rich ingredients such as eggs, cream, and Madeira.”

Butter & Cream

The rich, earthy flavor of morels is best suited to cooking in butter or cream, rather than olive oil.  However, I recommend  a peppery extra virgin olive oil drizzled over  morel soup or pasta just before serving.


Cook in the Moment: Spring Recipe

Spring Soup with Dried Morels
Serve alongside slices of ham and warm, crusty buttered bread


This is a light and refreshing spring soup which depends on a high quality homemade broth for its flavor.  If the broth is the star, store bought chicken stock will result in a disappointing soup.  The ingredients mostly provide color and texture: brown morels, green peas, orange carrots.  Just as chicken soup treats a cold, this soup is a sure antidote for spring fever.  It makes for a lovely alfresco lunch or serves as an elegant first course at supper time.  Serves 4



a small handful of dried morels (however much you feel like buying)
hot water from the kettle
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, sliced into cute little discs
1/2 cup baby peas, frozen is fine just take the chill off before adding them to the soup
2 quarts homemade chicken stock **
3/4 cup ditaloni pasta **
1/2 bunch watercress, just the tender little leaves
1 lemon


Start by pouring hot water from the kettle over your morels.  Let the mushrooms relax in their bath while you prepare the soup.  Put the frozen peas in a bowl and cover them with warm water to thaw.


Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a heavy soup pot over medium heat.  Sweat the garlic and leeks in the oil for a few minutes, until they are translucent.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.


Add the carrots and chicken stock, and coax the soup to a gentle simmer just long enough to take the crunch off the carrots.


Now pour the uncooked ditaloni pasta into the soup pot and simmer the soup until the pasta is al dente.
Once the pasta is cooked, stir in the peas to warm them through.


Remove the morels from their soaking liquid and strain the liquid of grit.  Rinse the morels to remove any grit and slice them in half if you like.  Add the morels and their juices to the soup and simmer for a few minutes.


Now is a good time to taste for seasoning and ask yourself, “What does the soup need?”  Sprinkle in some salt and freshly ground pepper.


Just before serving, toss in the watercress leaves and a squeeze of lemon juice to garnish.  A dollop of crème fraîche adds tang and body to the soup, if you feel like adding it.
**I take the River Cottage Meat Book.

10 Ways Tuesdays: Morels

Now that you and the morel have been introduced, it’s time to get to know one another. Out in the world you will find many recipes for fresh morels, which I think is funny because most of us regular people do not have access to fresh morels. We do have access to dried morels, though.  I believe dried morels can be used in any recipe calling for fresh, you just have to get the dried mushroom re-hydrated and ready to rock and roll.

Follow the instructions on the package for re-hydrating dried morels. This means pouring a bit of hot water from the kettle over the mushrooms and allowing them to sit and plump up for a few minutes. Both the mushrooms and their soaking liquid can be added to a dish for flavor – just strain the liquid of any grit first. Morels are very delicate. Be gentle with them, and use them to finish a dish by raising the level of presentation with their unique texture and smoky, nutty flavor.


Ingredient of the Week: Morels

This is a tough time of year. The calendar says spring, but I’m still waiting for veggies to pop their little green heads out of the soil. March is historically Colorado’s snowiest month, there will still be frosts in April and the farmers markets won’t really get going until May. I’ve got spring fever so bad – I’m sick of “hearty winter comfort food”. My body is craving fresh salad, ripe fruit, hand-picked herbs…

Magazine covers are still featuring soups and stews and cozy fires. I don’t have a cure for spring fever (other than spring) but I do have a way to treat the symptoms. Get through by cooking creatively with what’s in the pantry right now. The ingredient of the week is dried mushrooms – specifically morels.


Morels are in season during springtime, though not exactly growing in everyone’s backyard. However, dried morels are pretty easy for anyone to find. Chances are your local spice shop or cheese shop carries them. If not, dried morels are readily available through online merchants. These dried mushrooms may seem pricey, but a little goes a long way.  Their intricately honeycombed texture combined with colors of gray and brown make a striking visual impact displayed in a glass jar on the counter.  I also find it interesting that morels are often described as having a smoky taste. Spring morels are found in areas affected by forest fires in the previous year. Coincidence or terroir?