Embracing the Mushroom

mushroomragout2

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!”

mushrooms

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?

portobellopizza

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.”

mushroomragout1

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.

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Cranberry Beans

I have never seen these in my farmers’ market but I’m hoping I will this year! Do cranberry beans grow in Virginia?

Well I found the dried kind in the grocery store a few weeks ago and got a little adventurous for one of my Sunday night dinners. When I spotted them, I had never seen them before but I was instantly intrigued and knew I had to try them. Last Sunday I couldn’t stop thinking about what to do with them. I distractedly entered my friend’s house to meet up for a walk to the coffee shop, tapping away at my BlackBerry in search of ragout and soup recipes. When she asked me how I was doing, I replied “I have to figure out what I’m going to do with these cranberry beans.” Accustomed to my food-related outbursts, she just went with it and we set out on our walk. That evening, I figured it all out. Cranberry Bean Ragout over Grilled Polenta with Garlic-Parsley Green Beans.

No explanation this time, because beans are beans are beans, and I was less interested in research this time around and more compelled to just get them on the plate. I suppose I did my research in the kitchen, rather than on the computer. In the end, I didn’t use any of the recipes I found while tapping away at my BlackBerry on my morning walk. However they served as inspiration, and when I got into the kitchen that evening I just cooked on the fly. Many thanks to Kyle, who wrote down an improvised recipe while I spilled wine on the stove, picked up pieces of onion from the floor in an attempt to save the cat from eating them, and unintentionally flung chopped carrots in his general direction as he took notes.

I quick-soaked the beans. I probably should have soaked them overnight, but when the idea for this dinner popped into my head, I wasn’t patient enough to wait another day. I rinsed the dried beans, and then boiled them in a pot of water for five minutes, followed by 1 hour of rest, covered, on the stove.

Then I drained them. Sadly, they lost much of their reddish color and turned to a gray speckled brown. Let’s compare dried to soaked beans:

I believe it was at this point that I pulled the bottle of cooking wine out of the refrigerator and declared that I would make these cranberry beans red again. They really just turned out brown, but more on that later.

I prepared the following, which I added to 2 tablespoons of hot olive oil in a pan over medium heat:

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

I rarely have celery around, so my mirepoix isn’t really mirepoix. Anytime a recipe calls for it, I just throw in an extra carrot for crunch and leave out the celery. It’s much better than having neglected celery rotting in my refrigerator. Anyway, back to deliciousness.

I sauteed this for several minutes and then added 3/4 cup of red wine, let the carrots get drunk for a minute, and then added 2 cups of vegetable broth. Pacific Foods makes this great vegetable broth that comes in a pack of four 1-cup servings. It’s perfect for recipes that don’t require a quart of broth, and for people who have a hard time using a whole box of broth before it goes bad in the fridge.

Then I added the cranberry beans (3/4 lb, quick-soaked and drained), 1 tsp of dried thyme, and 1 tsp of dried rosemary. I covered the pot and got to work on the sides.

I got these green beans at the Bel Air Farmers’ Market in Harford County, MD on a visit to my parents’ house. After washing and snapping off the ends, I steamed them over the stove and then sauteed them in olive oil, garlic, and fresh parsley. Season them to taste with salt and pepper.

Sadly, I have no photos of the grilled polenta. I had never used prepared polenta before (the kind that comes in a tube) and I was so focused on getting the grill marks right that I completely forgot to capture the process with my camera. Although, cornmeal isn’t that exciting so it really isn’t that big a tragedy. Basically I chilled the tube of polenta, then sliced into 1/2″ thick rounds, and then laid the slices on a hot oiled grill pan. Let them cook for a few minutes then turn over. I plated the polenta first and layered a bit of parmesan cheese on top instead of salt.

Then I checked on the ragout, which was just about done. Do not forget to salt and pepper your ragout! After seasoning the bean mixture, I spooned it on top of the grilled polenta rounds and then added the tender-crisp green beans on the side, with a garnish of fresh parsley so my dinner guest would think that I’m fancy.

This was a great meal, although it is probably more suited to the Fall or Winter. As long as your A/C is working properly, you could enjoy this meal in the Summer as I did, but don’t try taking it out on the porch or deck for an outdoor feast. It is way too heavy for that. Plus those little beans really hold their heat! I did find some cranberry bean salad recipes though, so I won’t write off these beans as a seasonally inappropriate ingredient. I think with a dash of lemon and a dice of cucumber and tomato, they could make a colorful and seasonal salad for a picnic or cookout.

Summer Weekend

The progression of my mood over the weekend has started to pique great interest from my friends, my boyfriend, and my cat. Lately I have rushed home on Friday night, still fully entrenched in work week mania: over-caffeinated, detail-obsessed, and plan-crazy, like the multitasker I am required to be in my work life. Routinely on Fridays I have indulged in pizza and a large ( seemingly ever-larger) glass of wine, and collapsed in bed before the clock strikes twelve. I dream about timely task completion, effective crisis response, customer satisfaction and, occasionally, world domination.

Saturdays the mania ensues, as I drag Kyle out of bed for coffee, breakfast, and an early AM trip to the farmers’ market. And then as I peruse the stalls, smelling local fruits, chuckling at oddly shaped vegetables, and chatting about social plans for the week ahead, I calm down and begin to enter weekend mode. By the time I toss my market loot in the back of my car, I am a little less concerned about sales reports and delayed shipments. I am more focused on preparing fresh tomato sandwiches, locating the recipe for homemade pesto that I had tucked into a binder or notebook at home, and popping ripe raspberries into my mouth as I enjoy a glass of chilled Prosecco on the balcony.

By Sunday morning I appear to be a different person than I am on Fridays. I make fresh coffee, cook a delicious breakfast, and make lists. On Sundays I do cleaning, errands, and cooking, but not with the fervor with which I approach my job Monday through Friday (or anything I tackle on Thursday or Friday evenings). I am much more relaxed because on Sundays I have countless moments to myself, and the feeling that I can do whatever I choose all day long, free of meetings, phone calls, or deadlines, except the self-imposed ones.

This morning I saw the bottom of the bag of this Virginia roasted coffee from Dark Hollow Roasters, purchased at Ellwood Thompson, my local grocery store. I guess it’s time to buy some new coffee.

Pardon the poor quality of this photo, taken with my Blackberry. I never claimed to be an excellent food photographer, just an excellent food enjoyer! I didn’t even take a picture of my breakfast this morning because it looked so good that I couldn’t wait to eat it. But I’m still going to talk about it because you can make this breakfast in 15 minutes or less and get a restaurant-quality brunch for minimal effort (and cash).

Fried Eggs Over Creamy Polenta, Melted Provolone and Fresh Heirloom Tomatoes

Ingredients

3 ounces prepared polenta

2 tablespoons milk (you could use cream for creamier polenta, but I went with 1%)

1 tablespoon butter

2 large brown eggs

1 ounce of provolone cheese (about 1 thick deli slice or 1.5 thin slices)

1 thick slice of heirloom tomato

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Mix the milk into the polenta on a microwaveable plate and cook in the microwave for 1-2 minutes on high, until just heated through. Let sit in microwave one minute and then remove to counter to set up a bit.

2. Heat the butter in a pan over low-medium heat. When the butter is melted, crack two eggs, one at a time, into the pan.

3. Add salt and pepper to the polenta. Put the provolone on top of the polenta and let it get melty. Top with a slice of tomato.

4. Flip the eggs and cook to desired doneness. I like mine not hard but not runny (I know, I’m picky) so I break the yolk before flipping and then cook an additional minute or two until the yolk is set but not cooked through.

5. Put the eggs on top of the tomato and add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Dig in before you even get a chance to snap a photo for your food blog.

I’m off to recipe plan for this evening. Kyle works on Sundays and I always make a big dinner on Sunday night that we enjoy together before my hectic work week begins. It’s one of the highlights of my week!