Embracing the Mushroom

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There was a time that I wouldn’t touch mushrooms. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even pick them off of a pizza; I would just reject the whole slice. If mushrooms had come in contact with my food, that food was no longer edible for me. A friend in college once served me mushroom flavored Top Ramen and tried to pass it off as a different flavor by dousing it with condiments. I took one bite and called her a dirty liar.

I was not allergic to mushrooms, and to my knowledge, I had no traumatic mushroom-related experience in my childhood. I just did not like them. If you replaced “green eggs and ham” with “mushrooms” in the classic Dr. Seuss tale, you would have an accurate depiction of my relationship with edible fungi for the first twenty-five years of my life.

“I would not like them here or there, I would not like them anywhere!”

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People just could not believe that I did not eat mushrooms once I became a vegetarian. I have to admit it was pretty difficult. It’s hard enough to find a meatless meal in some places, and harder still to find one with no mushrooms. I had an issue with the texture. I know, I know. . . how I ate tofu but not mushrooms is a mystery to me too. I also had an issue with the idea of eating fungi in general. Large mushrooms scared me. Portobellos? Way too big. Scary. Nothing good can come from eating a fungus that large, am I right?

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But then, everything changed during the season that I worked at the GrowRVA South of the James farmers’ market. I volunteered at the Chef Demonstration tent with Chef Samuel Baker* from May through November of 2012. You can see my posts about that gig here on Vegology in the Market Chef section. I discuss a foraged mushroom called Chicken of the Woods in a late September post. This pricey little gem changed my mind about mushrooms. Sauteed in a pan with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, the bright orange and creamy white Chicken of the Woods mushroom tastes just like chicken, no lie. It was incredible, and I was hooked.

“I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam-I-Am.”

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After consuming the gateway drug that is Chicken of the Woods, I started trying other mushrooms too. My next favorite find was the Maitake mushroom (“hen of the woods,” coincidentally) and that one is still a favorite in my kitchen. I gradually worked my way up to the mighty portobello, and fell in love when I had the perfectly prepared marinated and grilled portobello burger last summer. Now I’m unstoppable and I have made a full recovery from my fear of mushrooms.

One of my favorite recent finds was Tosca Reno’s Pesto-Stuffed Portobello Pizzas, pictured above in this post. This dish is fantastic. I served it on Christmas Eve with a wilted kale salad, and my house guests didn’t even miss the meat from the meal.

Another favorite is Terry Walters’ Grilled Polenta with Mushroom Ragout from the Clean Food cookbook, available for purchase here. Sorry I don’t have an Internet version of the recipe, but maybe Google it?

And, just one more, which is a little out of season but can totally be made on an indoor grill if it’s chilly outside. My favorite recipe for Portobello Mushroom Burgers. It’s all about the marinade!

I guess the moral (morel?) of the story is this: try new things. You might surprise yourself. And if you’re still looking for a New Years Resolution, that might be a good one to try out.

*Chef Samuel Baker is now working at The Betty on Davis in Richmond, VA and you can follow the progress of his food adventures on his Facebook page.

Chickpea Noodle Soup

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I can’t explain this midsummer soup that I made at the end of a July heat wave, except by saying, “sometimes you just need comfort food.”

It was the end of a long, stressful day and I needed a quick late night dinner. Although it had been 90 degrees that day, I really wanted soup. So I scoured the pantry and fridge and came up with almost all of the ingredients for chicken noodle soup, except for chicken. No problem, I thought. I had chickpeas.

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Don’t worry. I haven’t lost my mind (yet). I am aware that chickpeas are nothing like chicken, and I know that just because an ingredient sounds like another, that does not mean they taste the same. However, I needed some protein and chickpea noodle soup just sounded so right that it couldn’t be wrong.

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I used a vegetable soup base blend that I had picked up from the frozen vegetables section, and I think the okra in this blend really helped to thicken the soup. I also added some texture by tossing a third of the chickpeas into the food processor before adding them to the soup. The noodles and legumes were very filling, and the veggies made me feel like I had made a semi-healthy meal choice.

If you just can’t bear the thought of hot soup in July, or you think it’s a waste to use canned and frozen ingredients in the middle of the best season for fresh produce, I get it. Really I do. I’ve eaten a fresh tomato sandwich for dinner the last two nights in a row so you know I appreciate what’s coming out of the dirt over what’s coming out of the can right now. But at least toss some fresh green beans and okra in the freezer now and bookmark this recipe, because if you aren’t ready today, I think this is just what you’ll be looking for in January.

Chickpea Noodle Soup

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Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 lb frozen vegetables (I used a vegetable soup blend that included carrots, potatoes, corn, green beans, lima beans, okra, peas, celery and onions)
  • 1- 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 quart low sodium vegetable broth
  • 4 oz. egg noodles
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb blend (optional)
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic and onion to pot and sauté until onion is translucent.
  3. Add vegetables to pot, and cook while stirring for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Divide chickpeas into three equal portions. Add one third of the chickpeas to a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped.
  5. Add whole and chopped chickpeas, broth, and 1 cup water to pot. Bring to a boil.
  6. Add noodles and the rest of the ingredients, return to a boil, then cover and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes.

Grilled Gruyere and Radish Sandwich

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My husband is a radish fiend. For three years I have brought them home from the market nearly every weekend that they are available, and he never tires of them. This time of year, Kyle is in radish and greens heaven, and I am constantly trying to find new ways to prepare both. We have always eaten radishes raw, so last week I roasted a bunch of French breakfast radishes with carrots – big win! I highly recommend it. This week, I got home from the market and immediately dumped my purchases out and searched for lunch inspiration.

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This week at the South of the James farmers’ market, I picked up Agriberry strawberries, Norma’s Produce baby yellow squash, Norwood Cottage craisin bread, Crumptown Farm Tokyo Bekana (a new-to-me green!), Walnut Hill Farm turnips (with bonus greens – two vegetables for the price of one!), Bella Grove purple radishes, and Broadfork Farm dill. Our cluster of radishes was small and it was calling my name. It was a little cool outside that day, and I thought grilled cheese sounded pretty good. I decided to add some sliced radishes to our grilled cheese sandwiches to provide a little crunch and flavor.

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I used some smooth, nutty, Gruyere cheese that I had leftover from last week’s groceries, leftover spinach leaves, and thinly sliced spicy radishes, with a thin spread of Dijon mustard, sandwiched between two slices of Ellwood’s Bakery whole wheat bread, over-buttered and griddled to golden brown in a pan. I wasn’t planning on making these sandwiches for a post, but they turned out so well that I decided to take some photos and share the recipe with you. This is super simple, but a little different, so I thought it felt special. I served with a  bowl of fresh strawberries and iced coffee. If we were having these for dinner, I would definitely serve with a glass of Syrah instead.

Sometimes the recipes you come up with on the fly, with the freshest local ingredients available, are the best ones. So, while you probably don’t need the instructions, I’m giving you a grilled cheese recipe. Enjoy!

Grilled Gruyere and Radish Sandwich

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Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of bread (I used whole wheat)
  • 1 ounce Gruyere cheese
  • 2 small radishes, sliced
  • 1/4 cup spinach leaves
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • Butter

Preparation:

  1. Heat a medium pan over medium heat. Melt a dab of butter or oil in the pan to coat.
  2. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Stack them with the buttered sides facing each other, On the top slice of bread, spread the Dijon mustard.
  3. On top of the mustard, place the spinach, cheese, and radishes.
  4. When the pan is hot, take the top slice of bread with its toppings and place it buttered side down in the pan. Top with the other slice of bread, butter side up.
  5. Cook for 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Veggie Redux: Shrimp and Grits – Behind the Scenes!

You might have found me today through my guest post on Virginia is for Bloggers. If you’re new to Vegology, welcome! If you’re a regular here and you haven’t discovered VAis4Bloggers yet, you should check them out today! Here’s why.

Vegetarian “shrimp” and grits.

That’s right, my latest Veggie Redux takes on a lowcountry classic and makes it vegetarian-friendly. I don’t know if it tastes anything like the real deal, but I assure you that it does taste awesome. Any recipe that starts with an obscene amount of Old Bay seasoning usually does.

You can find the recipe over at the Virginia is for Bloggers site, but what you won’t find over there is the back story. The funny thing about the crab boil pictured above is that this method for making vegetarian “shrimp” did not make the final cut for my recipe for shrimp and grits. In case you haven’t read the post and recipe yet, SPOILER ALERT: the “shrimp” is actually cauliflower. I was inspired by Richmond Chef Kevin Roberts’ “poor man’s shrimp cocktail” which was featured in a recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

Kevin Roberts is the owner and Chef of The Black Sheep, which is one of my favorite Richmond restaurants. I used his recipe for fake shrimp cocktail when I was experimenting with this dish. I found the boiled cauliflower to taste remarkably similar to shrimp with a texture and flavor that would hold up well to cocktail sauce. The man is clever. You should serve this at your next party. However I understand that the shrimp in traditional shrimp and grits is pan-fried to a crispier texture, with a whole lot of spice. Roasting helped me achieve the texture and taste I was looking for.

This dish was a super hit at my house and I think Kyle will ask for this meal to show up on the dinner menu more often. Like I said before, I have no idea how close this is to the original, since I became a vegetarian before I had the chance to experience real shrimp and grits. However, I hope that creative chefs like Chef Roberts and adventurous eaters like yourselves would approve of this preparation. Enjoy!

Fresh Pasta Two Ways

Remember how I couldn’t resist the fresh pasta from Bombolini at last weekend’s SOTJ Market?

I did a little search on the internet and discovered that fresh pasta should be used within 3 days so I knew I had to get cooking. This was not the healthiest adventure I’ve had, but it was oh so delicious.

The temperature dropped about 15-20 degrees between Thursday and Saturday. I don’t handle drastic temperature changes very well so I found myself fighting a headache all weekend. When I got cooking on Sunday, I was craving comfort food.

When I used to get migraines as a kid, my Dad always made me cheddar mashed potatoes when I woke up from my headache-induced naps in my cool dark bedroom. A big bowl of starchy cheesy potatoes was all it took to get me feeling like myself again. So it’s no mystery why I crave pasta or potatoes (with a generous dose of cheese) when I am feeling a little under the weather.

With that in mind, I got to work on the stockpile of noodles in my refrigerator. With the pound of dill shells, I cooked a cheesy pasta by making a béchamel sauce with a dash of cayenne and then melting in a combination of colby, cheddar, and monterey jack cheeses. I cooked the pasta in boiling water for two minutes and then added it to the cheese sauce. After seasoning with salt and pepper, I served it alongside swiss chard sauteed with white beans, onion, and fresh heirloom tomatoes, and dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I wanted to make a nice pasta salad to take for lunches at work this week, so with the twist of spinach fettucine, I made cold pasta salad with the following mix-ins:

  • diced green bell pepper
  • white beans
  • diced heirloom tomato
  • diced cucumber
  • garlic
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

It turned out very good, despite it being an unconventional pasta shape for salad. I was even able to share some of the fettucine with some friends to get a second and third opinion. There were second helpings all around so I called it a success. I was happy that my comfort food was able to create a bright spot in someone else’s day.

And now that we are back to highs in the mid-nineties, I am feeling much more like myself. Whether it was the return to normal temperatures or it was the shells and cheese, I will never know. But it’s good to be back!