Given the uncertain weather—rain, threats of rain, sullen clouds, a hazy glimpse of brightness behind the clouds, then more rain—the first of the Boulder County Farmers’ Market’s Wednesday afternoon events drew a respectable crowd. The market, which goes from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and will run every Wednesday through October 7, has a different vibe from the regular Saturday one, which tends to draw a horde of hardcore cooks, picklers, jam makers, vegetable gardeners and other food-crazed souls. On Wednesday, the food court becomes a beer garden, a place to meet friends, listen to live music, snack or eat dinner, and while away a warm evening. This week the beer was provided by Sanitas Brewing Company and wine by Augustina’s Winery; the band was Intuitive Compass, who style themselves “purveyors of original vaudevillian folk.”
Along 13th Street, some of the usual farmers and meat suppliers had set up their tents, along with a few newcomers who hadn’t sold in Boulder before because they attend the Longmont market on Saturdays.
Hazel Dell Mushrooms has been at the market for years, but this year, they’ve upped their game, arranging their mushrooms for maximum eye appeal and hiring a chef, Curtis Rindels, to provide demos and samples on Saturdays.
It’s no accident that Rindels’ samples have had people crowding the stand. He trained at what was then Boulder’s Cooking School of the Rockies, did a month-long stage in a Michelin-starred restaurant in France, worked as a sous chef at the Flagstaff House for two and a half years and, after a six-month stint at Frasca, cooked for two years at The Kitchen. “That was my favorite experience,” he said in an interview. “Seeing all the products coming from the farms and how to utilize them, keeping it simple—to see how good things can be just by keeping it as close as possible to the original produce we’re receiving.”
But he’s becoming more and more interested in farming and isn’t sure he wants to stay with restaurant work: “I see myself drifting a little bit to the land rather than the plate,” Rindels says. He’s also taking art classes at Boulder Pottery Lab. During this transitional phase, he’s enjoying his work with Hazel Dell. “The owner supplies me with mushrooms and lets me do whatever I feel like,” he says. “Every week so far the mushrooms have been fresh and really tasty.”
Hazel Dell sells shiitakes, regular oyster mushrooms and big succulent king oysters, cinnamon caps and round, shaggy lion’s mane mushrooms. Rindels likes mixing them together for a simple saute, which I described a couple of weeks ago. Last Saturday, he took things a step further. He sauteed shiitakes in butter, seasoned with salt, deglazed with red wine and added bleu cheese, which melted just a touch, and then toasted pecans.
We can’t wait to see what comes next. Rindels is talking pickled mushrooms and mushroom pate; he’s also wanting to experiment with different styles and cuisines: We’ll share those recipes when we get them.
Tips on cooking with mushrooms: Food science writer Harold McGee exploded the idea that mushrooms shouldn’t be washed because they absorb water by weighing some after they’d been soaked and discovering they weighed pretty much the same as before. (I’m guessing he wasn’t working with lion’s mane, however—they turn into little white sponges at just the touch of water.) You don’t need to worry about dirt on Hazel Dell mushrooms anyway, because they’re grown on sterile peat.
For a saute: Dry the mushrooms before cooking, always start on a high heat, don’t overcrowd the pan—cook in a couple of batches if necessary—and add salt and pepper halfway through, not right at the beginning. Cook until the moisture evaporates before deglazing.
A bag of dried mushrooms is great to have on hand in the kitchen. Porcinis or, as the French call them, cepes, are best if you can afford them, but any dried mushroom adds a wallop of flavor. Just wash a few dried mushrooms (you really don’t need many), pour boiling water over them and let them sit. When they’ve softened, strain, saving the liquid. Cook the reconstituted mushrooms along with your fresh ones. Use the musky, deeply flavored water in any dish requiring liquid and where you want a deep mushroomy flavor — soup, risotto, stew, pasta dishes, sauces. Dried mushrooms keep forever. I’ve had a giant bag of porcinis someone once brought me from Italy in the freezer for a year now.
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The invaluable Niki Stegnit (really, no one who loves food and cooking should be without her book, The Flavor Thesaurus) says that mushrooms like to be paired with (among other things): apricots, asparagus, bacon, beef, bleu cheese, eggs, chicken, dill, parsley, mint, onions, pork, thyme, rosemary and tomatoes.