Tag Archives: flavor

The Morel of the Story

April 5, 2017 by
Photography by Doug Meigs
Illustration by Mady Besch

Morel-mania usually begins around mid-to-late April. Inconsistent Midwestern weather prevents forecasting the exact start of morel mushroom season year-to-year.

Morel (aka morchella) mushrooms begin to flush en masse when spring rains alternate with patches of sunshine atop warming ground temperatures.

Morels are distinctive and easy to identify, with their porous and sponge-like brownish heads atop tan/white stems. Their caps might also be described as honeycombed and cone-shaped; they come in grey (smaller) and yellow (larger) varieties.

Foodies covet the delicious morsels of fungal delight. Morels are known for a unique nutty flavor. Popular recipes include: battered and deep-fried, scrambled with eggs, used as garnish, or dried for later consumption.

As a general rule, the morel season coincides with the blooming of lilacs. Morels also return to the same place every year—if their mycelium underground remains healthy. That means avid mushroom hunters often keep their favorite spots a secret.

If you see one morel, stop. Slow down and scan the ground. They grow in clusters. Morels hide in the deep woods, near the bases of old-growth trees, overturned trunks, and decomposing vegetation. They pop from grassy areas, near the banks of rivers, and on hillsides.

Along with monitoring lilac bushes, paying attention to the weather forecast helps foragers to prepare for morel season. Be ready for periods of sudden downpours of rain combined with warm daytime temperatures (70 degrees or more) and nights that linger above 40 degrees for at least four days in a row.

If you anticipate a sunny day following a torrential spring downpour, get ready. Put on your rain jacket, and rush to your favorite mushrooming spot as soon as the rains lift.

Grab some good mud boots (or old sneakers), and make sure you have a mesh bag that allows the mushrooms’ spores to escape and spread. Local outdoors shops sell mesh bags for morels. Onion or potato sacks from the grocery store also work well.

If you’ve never been mushroom hunting, it’s time to start begging friends to show you how. Or, do a little research and go explore any publicly accessible backwoods along local rivers.

There are several popular local destinations for morel hunters. But any densely vegetated public land (with plenty of overturned trees) along the Missouri River or Platte River could yield a plentiful haul of morels. That is, if the area hasn’t been picked over already.

The website morels.com hosts a useful and interesting Nebraska forum. Other useful resources can be found at thegreatmorel.com, morelhunters.com, and the “Nebraska Morels” Facebook group.

Beware of gun-toting hunters in the woods. Morel season corresponds with the spring turkey hunting season. Also, avoid trespassing. Common courtesy (and the law) necessitates seeking permission to hunt for mushrooms on private property.

Remember that wild mushrooms can be deadly. Only pick and cook mushrooms you can identify with complete confidence. Search online for “false morels” and make sure you can tell the difference. False morels are poisonous.

In 2016, the website of Nebraska Game and Parks maintained weekly morel reports from April 13 through May 11. The Game and Parks website also provides tips for locating morels, and even suggests a few popular mushroom hunting grounds.

Proactive scouting is a good strategy—if only to monitor the human traffic in the woods. The morel season around Omaha usually only lasts from two to four weeks, depending on weather conditions. Sometimes the peak of the season takes place in May.

Evidence of over-picked stems and decaying mushrooms indicate that the morel season is well progressed.

Remember: if you share a mushroom hunting spot with a “friend,” there is a very good chance they will tell someone else. Then, all those other folks might just go pick all the morels while you’re stuck at work, in school, or caught in some other less fulfilling endeavor.

Heed the moral of this morel story. When the lilacs bloom, somebody is probably picking over your favorite morel grounds. So, if you’ve got a good spot, consider keeping it a secret.

Visit outdoornebraska.gov/morel for more information.

Morel Mushroom Hunting Sites

Suggested by Nebraska Game and Parks:

Public areas near rivers:

  • Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
  • Indian Cave State Park
  • Louisville State Recreation Area
  • Platte River State Park
  • Schramm Park State Recreation Area
  • Two Rivers State Recreation Area

Old-growth forests and creeks at:

  • Branched Oak State Recreation Area
  • Burchard Wildlife Management Area
  • Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area
  • Pawnee Lake State Recreation Area
  • Twin Lakes Wildlife Management Area
  • Yellow Banks Wildlife Management Area

 

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Très Johnson

February 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Très Johnson is pouring water in a slow, circular motion around a paper filter resting just inside a glass jar. Inside the filter, coffee grounds are mixing with the water, tiny bubbles forming on the surface of the gritty liquid. The glass chamber below collects the drippings of fresh, dark coffee.

At 1010 S. Main St. in Council Bluffs, (drips) coffee shop serves only pour-over coffee.

Johnson had wanted to open a coffee shop almost since he managed one back in 1995. Unfortunately, “the cost of the machinery prohibits just jumping in,” he says.

He and his girlfriend, Amber Jacobsen, took a trip to San Francisco about a year and a half ago. There, they visited Blue Bottle Coffee, which does pour-over coffee—Johnson’s first taste of it.

“It was the best cup of coffee I’d had,” Johnson says. “And I realized it took a smaller amount of equipment to be able to make it. You just had to boil water, have the filter and the stand. And I actually use glass Ball jars instead of a stand.”

Re-inspired by this method, Johnson opened (drips) on July 1, 2013.

This particular brew is Nightingale Blend, roasted by Beansmith Coffee in Omaha, and prepared in a personal pour-over, which has four drips. He also uses a Chemex frequently, with a single drip.

“I do have some French presses and an AeroPress,” Johnson says. “But I’ve found that the pour-over just tastes better. The people that insist on French press have tried the pour-over, and now they don’t insist on the French press anymore.”

A coffee shop is the perfect place to be on a day like this—cold and rainy. Amber is doing a puzzle. Two locals are enjoying their pour-overs and accusing Amber of cheating by looking at the photo on the puzzle box.

(drips) is located in a mixed-use space occupied by artists, including low-income artist housing. The coffee shop definitely has an artsy feel, probably because Johnson is both a painter and a DJ.

One half of the wall space displays Johnson’s art. The other half is space for rotating guest shows.

For Valentine’s Day, (drips) will display the work of approximately 20 local artists in a show called “Lovesong,” named for The Cure song. A Brian Tait show will open mid-February.

The Cure is already present in lyrics painted onto Johnson’s pieces. He often uses stencils to inscribe lyrics from bands like Depeche Mode and Joy Division—words that “people from the ’80s, if they know the song, they connect with.”

He describes his style as “heavily influenced by street art, and then some post-World War II art thrown in.”

“When I’m tired of painting and waiting for paint to dry, I produce music,” he says with a laugh.

He DJs a set every Sunday night for an online radio station, lowercasesounds.com. “Then that’s what I listen to generally throughout the week when I’m painting,” he says. “I listen to it over and over again, because I usually listen to newer music or music that I just picked up. I listen and paint.”

Johnson describes his sound as “deep house and ambient.” He DJs Silicon Prairie News events, like Big Omaha, and he has recently released EPs on the label Deep Site Space.

“There’s always been a combination of the music in the art,” Johson says. “They’re both something that I let myself go into. I don’t really sweat it. I just let it all flow.”

Culprit Cafe sticks to the basics.

January 29, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Espresso and bread might not sound like much of a restaurant menu, but for Culprit Cafe owner Luke Mabie, those are the only two things he needed.

When designing the menu for his new restaurant, now open at 16th and Farnam streets, Mabie turned to the basic elements of a traditional bakery and cafe.

“My palate is always looking for more with less,” says Mabie. “We wanted to bring everything back to its original element.”

While simplicity reigns supreme at Culprit, that doesn’t mean customers get just a cup of coffee and a slice of bread. Rather, Mabie aims to focus on perfecting the simplest elements of Culprit’s variety of drinks, sandwiches, and baked goods.

Culprit was inspired by Mabie’s love of classic bakeries, as well as his experiences in New York City honing his craft as a pastry chef.

“Too many people focus on having that one recipe where it’s just like, ‘Oh yes, I have this thing, nobody else has this,’” says Mabie. “You come to realize that there’s never going to be a recipe that is so special or stands out so much that everybody’s going to be jealous of it. Because it’s all about the experience as a whole.”

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Owner and pastry chef Luke Mabie is all about more taste with a simple menu.

 

You aren’t going to find novelty drinks and secret menus at Culprit Cafe—what you see is what you get, and Mabie makes sure to keep Culprit’s offerings simple yet satisfying.

Take, for example, their cappuccino. Culprit sells their cappuccinos in one size only. As Mabie explains, a cappuccino is meant to consist of one-third espresso, one-third foam, and one-third milk. If you make cappuccinos bigger, the espresso can be overpowering, so Culprit keeps their cappuccinos at their original 6 oz. size.

This thoughtfulness shows up everywhere on Culprit’s drink menu. All syrups are made in-house, so that “the customer has a closer relationship to what we do,” says Mabie. On a recent visit, the vanilla latte and drip coffee were surprisingly smooth and not too bitter, perfect for both the coffee addict and the casual sipper.

While Mabie enjoys coffee and knew he wanted it to be a fundamental part of his business, he actually had no experience with it before opening Culprit. So he took the same approach that he does to baking and focused on the craft. Mabie traveled around the Midwest, tasting different coffee roasters, eager to educate himself on coffee as much as he could, before settling on Broadway Cafe and Roasting Co. in Kansas City, Mo.

Broadway account manager Brian Phillips worked with Mabie, and was impressed by his dedication to educating himself on coffee.

The open-face veggie sandwich pairs well with a salad of candied walnuts, feta, and balsamic reduction dressing.

The open-face veggie sandwich pairs well with a salad of candied walnuts, feta, and balsamic reduction dressing.

“When I got the phone call from Luke, I could tell that he was really passionate about coffee, but didn’t have the technical vocabulary,” says Phillips. “But I knew right away, when he was talking about his work, with the way that he makes bread, there was a lot of crossover.”

A quick glance at Culprit’s bakery display emphasizes the work Mabie puts into his classic baked goods. Pies and cakes at Culprit aren’t just served as slices from an hours-old display but rather as individual portions. The apple brown butter cake with a honey cinnamon buttercream frosting was basic yet satisfying, just like the rest of Culprit’s menu. Containing the perfect ratio of cake to frosting, the cake wasn’t loaded with the sugars and sweeteners found in many foods nowadays.

The bread at Culprit is just as much of a labor of love. Mabie bakes his at 3 p.m. every day, so that it’s fresh for customers who come right off of work.

The bread is more than just an accent on Culprit’s sandwiches and salads. It’s the foundation for which Mabie provides lunch fare with a variety of flavor profiles and textures, to please everyone from meat lovers to vegetarians. Once again, it’s back to the basics for Mabie.

 

Jeannie Ohira and Joseph Pittack

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Summer is in full swing in the metro, bringing the kind of heat that make us all want to scream for some good old-fashioned ice cream. Jeannie Ohira and Joseph Pittack, the brother-sister duo and proud owners of Ted and Wally’s Premium Homemade Ice Cream at 12th and Howard streets, can accommodate those cravings with their all-natural ice cream available in some tantalizing and daring flavors.

Both Omaha natives, Ohira and Pittack began their ice cream careers by working at Ted and Wally’s under previous owners Dave Kirschenman and Julie Gilbert. In 2001, Kirschenman and Gilbert decided to sell the shop and Ohira and Pittack were up for the adventure.

“I called Joe, who had moved to Lincoln to go to school to become an English teacher, and said ‘Hey, do you want to come back, try to get a loan, and run this?’” Ohira says.20130506_bs_3374_Web

Her brother was onboard, and the two quickly rolled up their sleeves, staying faithful to the founding philosophy of quality and community but making some modifications along the way. The partnership proved to be not only ambitious but successful, too. Under Ohira and Pittack’s ownership, the shop switched to using all-natural ingredients purchased fresh from local merchants. In order to accomplish this, they created their own recipe for the ice cream base to replace the previous one purchased from Hiland Dairy. The result was a more costly and labor-intensive process but one that has earned awards for Ted and Wally’s, as well as loyal customers both locally and out-of-state.

“It’s a product we make in-house, made from scratch, and nobody else has our recipe,” Pittack says. “Ted and Wally’s in the Old Market has been doing it since 1986, so it’s an Omaha tradition. We have generations of people that come in here now.”

Ted and Wally’s unique flavors are what garner the most attention. Sure, the shop offers traditional flavors, such as chocolate and vanilla, but Ohira and Pittack tend to showcase more creative selections they’ve invented themselves. Sometimes, shop employees and the public chime in with flavors they’d like to see.20130506_bs_3379_Web

To date, Ohira and Pittack have created more than 1,000 ice cream flavors, not including variations. Some public favorites include Monica’s Unicorn Farts, a cotton candy-marshmallow-cake mix with Lucky Charms and sprinkles. Suggested by a Ted and Wally’s employee, the flavor was a big hit, as was Mr. Cigar, a cigar-flavored ice cream celebrating the birthday of Mr. Cigar at S.G. Roi Tobacconist. Another customer favorite is Quit Yer Job and Eat Chocolate, a concoction of chocolate mousse ice cream with chocolate chips, brownies, and Oreos. But those flavors, albeit tasty, are tame compared to some of the other creations Ohira and Pittack have come up with.

Some of the more unusual flavors have been bacon, fish, and prime rib. Sriracha ice cream has been on the chalked menu board, as well as jalapeño. Recently, Ohira created a new flavor featuring grilled octopus, which, she admits, “is probably not going to be a big seller.”20130506_bs_3462_Web

As for what inspires these nontraditional flavors, everything is game. Sometimes, a friend’s story will spark an idea; other times, it’s a book. Ohira says she must’ve created at least 100 new flavors after reading Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. But most of all, Ohira and Pittack credit their culturally diverse family—as well as their own preferences for variety and newness—with being big inspirations for Ted and Wally’s unique selection.

“I get bored doing the regular stuff and like to try different things,” Ohira says. “I remember people used to say that we have weird flavors. One of those was cotton candy, which isn’t that far out there. But now it’s way more fun and people are a lot more receptive.”

Ted and Wally’s Premium Homemade Ice Cream
1120 Jackson St.
402-341-5827
tedandwallys.com

Ed LeFebvre

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ed Lefebvre, owner of Cupcake Island at 120th and Pacific streets, made his very first cake at age 11. “I made it for a neighbor lady’s 80th birthday,” he recalls. “I really liked her, so I volunteered to do it.”

A baking course at Metro Tech in 1973 was followed by 25 years at Baker’s grocery store, most of which were spent specializing in cakes and decorating. “This is all I’ve ever done my entire life,” LeFebvre said. “Cake decorating in particular is my passion.” He bakes all of Cupcake Island’s wedding cakes personally, just as he did for friends and friends of friends in his home kitchen for 20 years before opening the shop six years ago. “I want it the way I want it,” he confesses, “but I really do need to hand this off.”05 December 2012- Cupcake Island is photographed fro Omaha Magazine.

It’s a timely consideration, given that his plan is to retire in the next three years and travel with his wife, Lois. Their children Katie, Brian, and David are grown with their own careers, so LeFebvre says he hopes one of his staff takes up the business’ torch.

Still, three years is three years, and the ideas aren’t stopping anytime soon. “I eat, breathe, everything, Cupcake Island,” LeFebvre says. He added that while he intends to keep up with the trends and expectations created by shows like The Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, he’s always going to focus on quality. “I take pride in doing that for my people,” he says, referring to his customers.

His signature flavor is Ed’s raspberry. The chocolate cupcake has raspberry filling, chocolate frosting, a raspberry on top, and chocolate curls. But his personal favorite? Plain white. “It’s just a really moist, flavorful cake,” he says without a hint of apology for the simple preference. “I’m not a big ‘filling’ person.”05 December 2012- Cupcake Island is photographed fro Omaha Magazine.

To keep things fresh in the new year, LeFebvre wants to put an emphasis on the cupcake’s big brother. “I already have more cakes on the books for 2013 than I’ve ever done in a year,” he says.

Any other visions for the future?

After citing new recipes like snickerdoodle, tiramisu, and turtle, LeFebvre leans forward, eyebrow raised. “I’m telling you this,” he says. “The next thing is food trucks. And I’m not saying anything, but Omaha could use a cupcake truck.”

And what does wife and bookkeeper Lois think about that? “I think he already has enough to do,” she says with a laugh.

Cupcake Island
1314 S. 119th St.
402-334-6800
cupcakeisland.com