16 May, 2013

Mushroom Stuffed Mushrooms

There are few meals on earth as complicated as the Passover Seder meal, and here's why.
  1. It's a meal that must be fancy enough to meet the holiday occasion, and you serve it to probably a dozen to thirty people, depending on the size of your family and how popular you are. Also, depending on how good last year's was.
  2. You can't use any leavening, and you can only use meat OR dairy.
  3. You must include the ceremonial elements- charoseth, hard boiled eggs, matzo ball soup, etc. Which means that you have a limited amount of time and energy for making the food that actually constitutes the meal.
  4. In the food that you're preparing, you must try to stick to the Passover theme, which means there should be plenty of parsley, wine, and the other assorted foods that go on a seder table.
  5. You will have to prepare the whole thing in advance, if possible, because there will be one to three hours of seder to sit through before dinner is served, and you will be at the seder table. NOT cooking.
  6. You will be drunk when it is time to serve the meal. You will have been too busy cooking all day to remember to eat much, and the seder will dictate that you drink three glasses of wine. Don't even think about wearing high heels.
So, what do you do when you have to provide a bunch of hungry, drunken, celebrating people with a spectacular meal? You make these mushrooms.

The spectacular thing about these mushrooms is they can be made hours, even days, in advance. The only thing you have to do before serving them? Set them under the broiler. And then, like magic, they become hot and juicy and gooey and crunchy. Yes, all of the above.

This means they're also great for when you're not serving them at a Passover Seder. You can make them in parts- the portobellos in the morning, the stuffing in the afternoon while the kids watch TV, and then toss the rest together come dinner time and BAM! Add a salad, and dinner is made.

Two mushrooms make an entree. One is a super impressive side dish. It's pretty spectacular.

For the we had these mushrooms, a slow-cooker recipe for gigantes, a salad, and a matzo spanikopita. You know, with matzo ball soup, charoseth, horseradish, matzo, hard boiled eggs, relish dishes, eight bottles of wine, pecan torte, chocolates, candies, macaroons...

You get the idea.

So here you are: Mushroom Stuffed Mushrooms. Bon apetit!

3+ tbs olive oil, separated
8 portobello mushroom caps- as big as your hand if you can get them (That's hand WITH fingers, not just your palm), stems reserved and chopped
1/3 c grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c chopped fresh parsley
1/3 c chopped fresh chives
1/4 c matzo meal (if it's not Passover, go ahead and use bread crumbs or crumbled crackers)
4 shallots, finely chopped
12 oz  cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
6 oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/2 c Pinot Grigio
1/2 c heavy cream
salt and white pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease a jelly roll pan with olive oil, and arrange the portobello caps gill side down. Bake for 30-35 minutes, then set aside to cool.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet until very hot, and then add the shallots. After about four minutes, add the portobello stems. Then the shiitake. Give it another few minutes, and add the creminis. Stir vaguely for about ten minutes, and then add the wine. Continue to absently shuffle the mushrooms from one side of the pan to the other while you drink another 1/4 c of wine or so, say ten minutes. Stir in heavy cream and half the herbs, and continue to stir with minimal attention until the liquid is almost entirely evaporated. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the parmesan, the rest of the fresh herbs, the matzo meal/crumbs, and 1 tbs olive oil. Set aside.

When you're ready to combine and serve the mushrooms, start with a fresh baking sheet. Place the portobellos gill side UP on the new, ungreased sheet. Divide the mushroom mixture onto the portobellos. Now divide the crumbly mixture onto the mushroomy mushrooms. 

Set the broiler on high, and broil those suckers for 3 minutes, until the tops start to turn a gorgeous brown.

Serve immediately, and resume your drunken revelry.

Bummed that I didn't post this until a month after Passover? Fear not! Today is Shavuot- and traditional foods for Shavuot include... cheese! So just double the parmesan, and there you have it. And excuse to pop open another bottle of Pinot. Enjoy!

03 March, 2013

What Do I Do With This? Dry Grains Edition

Bulgar Groats
If you've ever wandered past the produce section of a Whole Foods, you've probably noticed a million canisters of dried stuff.

Lentils, bulgar, barley, split peas... what do you do with them?

I have three words for you, food adventurers: Electric. Crock. Pot.

Here's the thing about this sort of dried good. You have to cook if for a long time in hot water if you want to make it both edible and delicious. And you know what cooks things for a long time in hot water?

Oh, crock pot, how I love you.
That's right- an electric slow cooker.

Now, I have to confess- I'm in love my slow cooker. Someday, if my husband is in a tragic accident and I'm widowed, I'll probably abandon any ideas of romantic love and simply declare my eternal affection for my Hamilton Beach 3-1.

In the meantime, I'm still just playing the slow cooker field. Someday I'll be picking up a few extra appliances- a mini slow cooker is definitely in the future. But that's not what we're talking about now.

Let's get back to the initial question, What do I do with this random bag of dried grains?

If you feel like experimenting with some of these delicious dry goods, grab your crock pot, and start with a few basic steps.

Black buluga lentils
Step one: mince and saute an onion. Add some spices- depending on what you're choosing as your compliment flavor, you'll want to choose different spices.  For pairing with mushrooms, I recommend thyme or even Worschester sauce in this flavor base. Cook it all together briefly, and then put it into the slow cooker.

Step two: pick a universally complimenting flavor. When you're experimenting, I recommend going for either mushrooms or beans. A can of chick peas or 12 oz of dried shiitakes go with pretty much everything. Don't know what slow cooked barley tastes like? Don't worry- if you like what shiitakes taste like. I guarantee  you won't hate whatever they taste like WITH bulgar. At this point, you could add meat as well. Beef, chicken, chorizo, or even TVP or soy. Again, you know the flavor- let it dominate the dried grains.

Step three: add broth. Six to eight cups will do it. And now add your experimental dried goods. One cup is a fine place to start, but I don't recommend putting in more than two. Expect your dried goods to double in size while cooking.

Step four: slow cook for six to eight hours. 

Step five: add greens, lemon juice, or spicy sauce. Again, go with what you know works. If you chose a black bean compliment, go for a spicy salsa. If you chose a more mellow flavor, you could add fresh spinach or chard. With chick peas, you could add tahini or lemon juice.

Step six: Add salt/pepper to taste.

Congratulations! You've invented a slow cooker soup!

Now feel free to invent another. My personal favorites? Brown lentils with chick peas, mushrooms with barley, pearl onions with black caviar lentils.

Look at that- it's soup!
Get experimenting! And enjoy your delicious soup inventions.

02 January, 2013

Makin' with the Marinara

Once upon a time, I believed that a well stocked pantry contained at least one bottle of pasta sauce.  You know, for those emergency, make-a-quick-dinner nights.

Now, I know the truth.  Those nights still happen, but all you really need is a can of tomato paste.  Because marinara sauce?  It's embarrassingly easy to make.  In fact, it's so easy to make that all sorts of non-chef type people like to sneak hints at how awesome their marinara sauce is whenever they can.

Which is why I learned to make marinara sauce, not from a cookbook or my mother, but from movies.

The first thing you need to know about marinara sauce is the very basic ingredients.  Tomato paste, olive oil, wine, and sugar.

From there, it's a matter of taste, experimentation, and preference.

So what do I consider my most basic marinara sauce?

First, the godfather of all film marinara sauce scenes, The Godfather.  Yup, if you've never seen it, I highly recommend it.  And if you want to see a murderous, middle aged man teach you to make spaghetti sauce in less than a minute, behold (and feel free to skip to :40):

Now, being a vegetarian, I tend to omit the sausages, but I do add all sorts of other things there.  The things that make a marinara sauce special.

From Heathers, "Lots of oregano."  I use a TON of oregano.

Garlic.  Because everything is better with garlic, no?

And, thanks to a marvelous scene from a mediocre movie called Bandits starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis (it's actually kind of hilarious), a little saffron.

I also frequently add basil during the summer, and I'll throw in rosemary pretty often too.  The thing is, depending on what else you're cooking, you can sort of borrow flavors.  Rosemary roasted vegetables? A little rosemary in the sauce brings the whole meal together.  Serving it with a nice fresh salad?  Toss in some lemon juice.  Pairing with an onion-y soup?  Onions are good in marinara sauce.  Hell, anything is good in marinara sauce.

How certain am I of that?

Let's put it this way.  Once you've done it half a dozen times, you can make marinara in the same amount of time it takes to boil the pasta.  And in one of those holy-cow-let's-all-eat-now moments, I was tossing together my batch of marinara just this week.  Without checking bottles, I grabbed garlic and wine and threw everything onto the stove.  My first taste of the marinara blew my mind.

It was, without a doubt, the best marinara I had ever made.  But why?

I kept eating by the spoonful- what was making it so delicious?  What was that extra flavor?  And as I heard my husband mention the heaps of Christmas candy adorning our living room table, it hit me.

That flavor?  It was chocolate.  I had opened a bottle of chocolate wine my parents had brought me for Channukah.

And you know what?

It was the best marinara sauce I ever tasted.

12 October, 2012

Is It Soup Yet?

An American classic
Once upon a time, I was terrified of soup.

Not of eating it, of course, but of making it.  I don't know why, but the idea of preparing something that amounted to essentially boiling tons of water and making it taste delicious was daunting.

Ah, how times have changed.

First of all, I learned the true secret of soup- do not boil tons of water.  You will ruin the soup.

Soup isn't actually water with stuff in it.  It's a bunch of stuff that you add water to.  Do you see the difference?

Briefly, this is how you construct a soup, sans meat things:

1. Simmer some delicious vegetables in oil or butter
2. Add more delicious food items, including delicious flavory things
3. Add water/broth

So it turned out, soup was easy.

Really, soup is like a very wet stir fry.  In the fall, it is a fabulous way to get improvisational and creative in the kitchen.  And everybody loves a big bowl of soup on a cool autumn evening.  Maybe even with a hunk of fresh bread to go with it.

Here are a few of tips I've uncovered for getting the. best. soups.

1. To get the best flavor out of your mushrooms, roast them in the oven for about ten minutes before you chop them up.  I never have this kind of foresight, so I recommend just taking your mushrooms and roasting them as soon as you get home from the store.  They'll store pretty well post-roast if you stick them in the freezer.

I love mushroom soup, but it always felt like I had to add a million mushrooms to get a strong enough flavor.  But roasted mushrooms?  Perfection.

Mushrooms aren't the only vegetable that this is the case for.  Asparagus, tomatoes, lima beans, and peppers can also benefit from a brief roasting.

2. Seaweed is your soup's best friend.  Sound crazy?  I thought so too, when my mom taught me this one.

One thing that meat eaters frequently complain about when it comes to vegetarian soups is that they don't taste hearty enough- that there's something about a meat-free soup that isn't satisfying.  The reason for that is a type of taste that the Japanese call "umami."  It's that meaty flavor- that fill-up-your-whole-mouth flavor.  It's not sweet, it's not sour, it's not savory... it's umami.  And you can count on a culture that can name the mouth-feel of a kind of flavor to come up with ways to sate the need.

I recommend keeping a package of sushi nori seaweed in your pantry.  First of all, sushi can be a fun, quick, and diverse meal- so long as you've got that seaweed to hold it all together.  But secondly, that seaweed?  It's delicious.  And it's umami.  If your soup seems a little lacking, you can just throw a whole sheet in, and essentially let it dissolve.  And your soup will become instantly more umami.

3. Learn your starches.  Potatoes and rice and noodles are all excellent in soups, but not all potatoes, rice, or noodles are the same.  Take the time to think about how much time you have to make your soup, what the overall texture of your soup should be, and how thick you want your broth.  A waxier potato, like a Yukon Gold, will make your soup creamier than something like a russet.  Large rotini noodles might soak up a lot of your broth and turn your soup into a hearty stew (though there's nothing wrong with that!), rice that is overcooked can become mushy.

I've found that the best rice for soups is wild rice, because it's thicker husk maintains the flavor and consistency best when left in a pot of liquid for long periods of time.

4. Go totally overboard on your seasonings.  You know what you do if your soup is too strong?  You add water.  And then suddenly, you have more soup.  And what do you do with extra soup?  Stick it in the freezer.  Soup freezes really, really well, and it's as simple as dumping your soup-cube into a pot to turn it back into soup.

5. Broth powder.  So you've made a delicious sort of a stir fry in your pot, and you've added water, and the flavor is just... a little lacking?  Broth powder.  I'm a big fan of Osem, which makes an excellent vegetarian broth powder, but you can get any variety that you like.  You don't need to use nearly as much as you have liquid- you've half made your broth with the seasonings you've put in and with your vegetables- but some broth powder (to taste) can really finish the job well.

Oh, how I want one of these pretty blenders!
6. Get thee an immersion blender.  It's also called a stick blender.  It's a tiny blender, on a stick, that you immerse in your soup.  That way, you can turn a broth-and-solids soup into a creamed soup without having to transfer scalding liquid into your blender caraffe- which sucks.  Some vegetables that turn unbelievably creamy and delicious are chick peas and cauliflower.

Don't be afraid, like I was.  Soups aren't scary.  And best of all, they are flexible and forgiving.  Too salty?  Add a halved potato- that'll absorb it.  Then you can remove the potato and toss it/save it for some awesome mashed potatoes.  Too bland?  Broth mix!  Too flavorful?  More water!  Too thick?  More water!  Not quite savory enough?  Seaweed!

Ah, fall.

Soup's on.  :)