Founded in 1859, Oregon is a quirky yet amazing place. It’s said that the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland is in Oregon. And the world’s largest living organism also calls Oregon home.
The organism? A mushroom, or rather a cluster of mushrooms all connected to one another. Spanning just over 2 miles through Oregon’s Blue Mountains, the enormous honey fungus is believed to be somewhere between 2,000 and 8,000 years old. Yeah, that’s a fairly wide gap. All we know for sure is that this group of mushrooms have managed to spread a long way and might just be older than dirt.
Mushroom hunting is a big deal in Oregon. While I have yet to see evidence in the specialty markets of California, Oregon is rumored to be the next Truffle producer in the world, making the rare delicacy “locally” grown. With any luck, that would translate is affordable truffles. One can only dream.
As for the leprechauns, you’ll have to travel to a tiny spot in Portland for that. Established in 1948 by World War II veteran Dick Fagan, Mills End Park is home to a group of invisible leprechauns, led by a head mischief maker named Patrick O’Toole. The park is just two-square feet. It began as little more than an empty hole in the ground dug for a light post. The light was never erected. Mr. Fagan worked across the street from the spot, and took it upon himself to turn a hole in the ground into something magical. He began by spinning stories about the wee leprechauns who called the tiny plot of land home. It didn’t take long for word to spread, since Mr. Fagan was a column journalist with the Oregon Journal. From his office on the second floor, he shared his view of the busy street and the hole where a light should be. Through his writings, a park on the site was dedicated on St. Patrick’s Day in 1948. Until his death, Richard Fagan continued to write about Patrick O’Toole and adventures of leprechauns only he could see. People continue to believe in the magic of Patrick O’Toole.
Drive through the rural counties of Southern Oregon or Northern California and you are bound to see flags or signs proclaiming the State of Jefferson. It is a movement that began before World War II.
In October 1941, the Mayor of Port Orford, Oregon, Gilbert Gable, suggested that the Oregon counties of Curry, Josephine, Jackson and Klamath join with the California counties of Del Morte, Siskiyou and Modoc to form a new state, the State of Jefferson. While some viewed this as a form of succession and think Jefferson is a reference to Jefferson Davis, it’s actually a reference to Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, who sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Northwest. The idea behind the State of Jefferson was, and still is, a movement to give farming communities a voice in their state governments. On November 27, 1941, a group of young men gained national media attention when, armed with hunting rifles for a dramatic effect, they stopped traffic on US Route 99. The State of Jefferson even went so far as to inaugurate John Leon Childs as it’s first Governor on December 4, 1941. The idea of succeeding to form a new state came to an abrupt halt three days later, when the attack on Pearl Harbor united the entire country.
In more recent times, the Jefferson Movement has gained popularity throughout the farming communities of Oregon and California alike, spreading from the original 8 counties to more than 21 counties, and continues to grow. In the 2016 Presidential Election, the Republicans swept the State of Jefferson. While the idea of the State of Jefferson remains more popular in California, folks in southern and eastern Oregon have taken to the idea that it might be easier to join Idaho than to create an entire new state. Idaho is more in keeping with the mindset of ranchers and farmers frustrated with the political views of Oregon. Some folks see a revolution coming.
Drawing on the ranching and farming communities of Southern and Eastern Oregon as inspiration, and an eye on the mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest, I give you a Celebration of Oregon Ranchers Style.
Grilled Flank Steak with Red Wine Mushrooms
2 Green Onions
6 White Mushrooms
1 Package Leafy Mixed Greens
Handful Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
Grated Parmesan Cheese
Chop green onions, separating green tops from onion, and set aside. Slice cucumber, set aside. Wash and slice mushrooms, set aside.
Toss mixed leafy greens with the white parts of the green onions in a large salad bowl. Tuck cucumber slices around outer edge. Sprinkle sliced mushrooms and tomatoes on top of leafy greens.
Serve salad on chilled plates, sprinkle with remaining green onions. Pass dressing around the table, finish with croutons and grated cheese as desired.
Grilled Flank Steak with Red Wine Mushrooms
2 lbs Flank or Flat Iron Steak
Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste
2 lbs Assorted Mushrooms
2 sprigs fresh Rosemary
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup Red Wine
Remove steak from the refrigerator. Salt the meat and allow it to come to room temperature.
Note: a variety of mushrooms will add a wider variety of earthy flavors to the sauce. Crimini and Shitake are a must, Morel if you can find them. If you cannot get a variety of fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms will do. Re-hydrate your mushrooms before using by soaking them in hot (not boiling) water for about 20 minutes, changing water as needed. Re-hydrated mushrooms have a more intense, concentrated flavor than fresh, so select a blend that will not overpower the flavor of the sauce.
Clean and roughly chop mushrooms, set aside until ready to use. Peel and finely mince shallots, set aside. Strip rosemary needles from the sprig, finely chop and set aside.
When ready, dry sauté the mushrooms first. Heat a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Add the mushrooms to the dry pan, as is (no butter or oil). Stir the mushrooms occasionally, and shake the pan a bit. You should hear the mushrooms squeak when they move in the pan. Continue to cook until the mushrooms release their moisture. Add a large pinch of salt and stir to combine.
While the mushrooms are cooking, prepare the grill for high direct heat. The grill is hot enough when you put your hand about an inch over the grill and you can only hold it there for 1 second. When the grill is hot, clean the grill grates with a wire scraper and then moisten a paper towel with vegetable oil. Using tongs, wipe down the grill grates with the oil-soaked towel.
Once the grill is ready, add the butter, rosemary and shallots to the mushroom pan. Stir to combine and sauté over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes longer, stirring often. Pour in the red wine all at once. Bring to a low boil and let cook until the sauce has reduced by half. Turn off the heat.
Prepare the steak for the grill. Massage olive oil into the steak. You want the steak well coated. When the grill is hot enough, place the steak on the grill. Sear for 5 minutes without moving. Turn the steak over, give it the touch it to test for doneness.
Rare: Press the index finger and thumb of your hand together and touch the fleshy area under your thumb with the index finger of your other hand. It will now feel a bit firmer than it originally did. This is about what a rare steak feels like to the touch.
Medium-Rare: Press your middle finger and thumb together. Touch the fleshy area beneath your thumb. This what most steaks will feel like when they’re medium-rare.
Medium to Medium-Well: Press your ring finger and thumb together and the fleshy area on your palm will feel like a medium-well steak.
Well-Done: Press your pinky finger and thumb together and the fleshy area will have the firmness of a well-done steak. If your steak is well done, toss it out and start again!
Flank steak is best rare or medium rare; it becomes tough if it gets too well done. Flat Iron steak, being thinner, will require less time on the grill. Remember to under-cook the steak just a little as it will continue to cook in its own residual internal heat while resting.
When the steak is almost cooked to desired doneness, transfer it to a large plate or cutting board. Tent with foil or an inverted metal bowl to keep warm. Let rest about 10 minutes. If desired, grind black pepper over steak before tenting.
While the steak rests, finish the mushrooms. Turn the burner under the pan on high and boil down the sauce, reducing almost to the consistency of a glaze. Add any meat juices that have accumulated with the resting steak. Taste for salt and add any if needed.
For larger steaks, first cut it in half along the grain of the steak fibers. Then slice it thinly, on an angle, against the grain. Thinner steaks such as Flat Iron can be sliced thin just before serving. Pour mushroom sauce over steak and serve immediately.
4 Baking Potatoes
Olive Oil as needed
Kosher Salt as needed
4 teaspoons Chives
4 tablespoons Butter
4 tablespoons Sour Cream
Salt to taste
Fresh Black Peppers to taste
Heat oven to 400-degrees with the oven rack in the middle position.
Wash potatoes, pat dry. Rub skins with a small amount of olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of Kosher Salt. Cut a slit down the center of each potato lengthwise to allow steam to vent from the potato as it bakes.
Place potatoes directly on the rack in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour. To check for doneness, remove the largest potato from the oven and give it a squeeze. Potatoes are done when there is no resistance.
Once cooked, turn oven off. Wrap potatoes in foil and hold in the warm oven until ready to serve.
While the potatoes are baking, snip chives for a garnish.
To serve, unwrap potatoes most of the way, leaving foil on lower half. Press ends inward so potato “pops” open. Fluff meat of the potato with a fork, plate and serve with butter, sour cream and chives. If desired, season with salt and pepper tableside or just before serving.
Not only is today National Oregon Day, it’s also National Peanut Cluster Day. It’s been three months since all that Christmas Candy, so I think it’s safe to think about making some clusters once again. While this recipe can be made on the stove-top, it would require constant tending. So break out the slow cooker and take your time.
Amazing Slow Cooker Peanut Clusters
16 oz Unsalted Roasted Peanuts
16 oz Salted Cocktail Peanuts
1 (11.5 oz) bag Semisweet Chocolate Chips
1 (11.5 oz) bag Milk Chocolate Chips
2 (10 oz) bags Peanut Butter Chips
2 (12 oz) bag White Chocolate Chips
Layer all the ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker beginning with peanuts and ending with white chocolate.
Cook on low for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so to prevent chocolate from burning. Once all the chocolates have completely melted, give everything a good stir to coat the peanuts in the melted chocolates.
Line several baking sheets with waxed paper. Using a cookie scoop, scoop out mounded peanut clusters, drop onto the prepared pans.
Let clusters cool completely at room temperature, then refrigerate for about an hour to full set.
Place in tins, store in the refrigerator. Let clusters come to room temperature before serving.