Tag Mushrooms

Take Back the Grill!

I don’t know when Memorial Day became a National Day of Grilling. But what was once a day of remembrance, has become a time to relax — with friends, a six-pack or two and a Weber.

If you doubt the significance of the Memorial Day barbeque, look no further than this hilarious New York Times story  about the Weber Grill hotline and its busiest week of the year. While the tale of Weber’s grill experts (who are overwhelmingly women) is my favorite cooking-related article of the weekend, grilling stories abound. And here’s what irks me: Most all of these articles ignore vegetarians — or insult them. A recent O slideshow titled “6 Inventive (and Tasty!) Takes on the Classic Burger” includes this telling line: “To come up with topping ideas for vegetarian burgers, I think of a big bowl of plain rice—what could I add to that bowl that would taste delicious?”

In other words, meatless burgers are about as tasty as a bowl of plain rice.

I guess I should give the O editors props for including a real vegetarian main course — a brown rice and lentil burger — rather than just a side dish like grilled corn.

But still. I want more. I want to take the grill back. I want backyards across the nation to fill with the scents of slowly roasting peppers, of carrots and onions — getting sweet and charred, of spicy black bean burgers, and generous slices of corn bread. I want the grill-queens at the Weber hotline to be answering questions about the right temperature for grilling cauliflower and how to stop their portobello mushrooms from drying out. Dammit, I want to hear Sarah Moose-Shooting Palin brag about Todd’s grilled asparagus!

Until then, I’m doing my little part to take back the grill.

The Professor’s sister and brother-in-law are visiting, and we fired up the Weber on the night they arrived to cook asparagus and pizza.

I admit, we did make one or two pizzas with chicken sausage for our Southern guests. I also made two with garlicky spinach and fresh ricotta. And one with sauteed wild mushrooms.

“When you make a mushroom pizza, you do not joke around,” said The Professor as he carried my portobello- and shitake-smothered pizza to the grill. He’s right. And hmmm, hmmm was it tasty.

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food52 Takes on Mushrooms

Food52 is a Web site, online community, and blog started by former New York Times food reporter Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, who helped Hesser test recipes for her new(ish) book, The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

The site is based on the idea that the best recipes come from home cooks. So every week they pick a theme (Shrimp, Chilled Soups, Summer Cocktails, etc) and ask readers to submit their best recipes. The submissions go into food52’s recipe database and the very best have been published in a what food52 calls “the first crowd-sourced cookbook.”

In any case, submissions for the Your Best Mushroom Recipes are live. And some of them look delish! Like a warm mushroom salad with crispy polenta. Mmmm… Check them out here.

Fried Tofu … A Tale of Woe

Last night I made soy-ginger udon noodles with mushrooms … and tofu. I have often served the Asian noodles topped with roasted salmon, and that’s been a hit.

Udon Noodles topped with Salmon

But because my ultimate goal here is to find or develop great vegetarian (rather than pescatarian) dishes, I’ve been trying to create a version with fried tofu.

Sigh.

For my first attempt I bought cubes of fried tofu from my local Whole Foods. They were tasty and not too fried, so they didn’t sit like lead in your stomach. But they were also big — so big you couldn’t comfortably get some noodles and a whole cube of tofu into your mouth at the same time.

For my second attempt, I thought I’d just fry up the tofu at home. I diligently pressed the tofu to squeeze out the water, sliced it, heated up a few tablespoons of peanut oil, and tossed the little cubes into the pan. “It will take a few minutes for the tofu to turn golden,” Deborah Madison had advised. So I cleaned some mushrooms while they began to fry. When I turned back to the stove to flip the cubes, I found they were sticking to the pan. Hot oil was spattering, the baby was crying, and eventually I ditched my tongs for a metal spatula and began scraping the little cubes off of the pan’s surface.

My first attempt to fry tofu

Was the pan too hot — or not hot enough? Had I not dried the tofu off enough? Or should I have just used a non-stick pan? I don’t yet know.

On the positive side, the slight crunch of the somewhat overcooked tofu added a nice texture to the dish. That said, next time I think I’ll try baking it.

Jody Adams’ Mushroom Fricassee

Jody Adams is the award-winning chef/owner of Rialto in Cambridge, MA, author of In the Hands of a Chef, a former contestant on BRAVO’s Top Chef Masters, and a truly lovely person. (She’s also a seemingly lapsed blogger.)

Adams focuses on regional Italian cooking. Her menus explore the culinary traditions of Sicily, Sardinia or Emilia-Romagna, and while a handful of regular dishes are available year-round, most of her offerings change with the seasons.  In the autumn months, she sometimes offers, as a side dish, a delicious fricassee of wild mushrooms (shiitakes, chanterelles and more) served in a rich, slightly soupy sauce. It is delicious.

Could it be the basis of a vegetarian entree, I wondered. So last night I experimented: I made Adams’ mushroom fricassee (I used shiitakes, portobellos, chanterelles, oysters and blue foot mushrooms, and used olive oil instead of the butter the recipe called for), and I served it on a bed of soft polenta, topped with a poached egg and a sprinkle of parmesan.

The Professor, an initial skeptic, deemed it “good,” though he declined to grade the first effort, preferring to evaluate it after a few attempts. But this much was clear: The combination of flavors worked well, and the addition of dry Marsala (a wine I’d never cooked with before) helped create a hearty broth. But overall, the fricassee was very, very rich — in part because Adams calls for cooking each type of mushroom separately and adding butter/oil each time. There’s a reason that Adams serves it as a side dish, rather than a larger dinner portion.

I am going to try a version of the dish again, but I’ll cut the amount of olive oil next time. And I’m going to study the recipe for Mushroom Hash (topped with a poached egg!) that, by coincidence, Martha Rose Shulman published this week in her New York Times’ Recipes for Health column.

Tofu or not Tofu

Tofu is a healthy source of protein, no doubt. It’s also the plastic of food products — it can be formed into just about any form, texture, and flavor from deli-like slices of “bologna” and “turkey” to soy pepperoni, soy chicken nuggets, and meatless ground beef. The myriad soy products out there constitute an impressive feat of food engineering, and personally, I love Tofurky’s Italian sausages and WildWood’s Spicy Southwestern Veggie Burgers. But would I serve them to The Professor? Not a chance. When it comes to meat-eaters, soy products masquerading as meat products are doomed to fail.

So can you ever serve soy products to a carnivore? Yes, but only in two forms. First, the humble soy bean. Do you know anyone who doesn’t like edamame, as the Japanese call young soy beans? The Professor and my toddler will both gobble them down (and I plan to find or develop some recipes using the little green beans soon). Second, as straight-up tofu — I recommend it cubed and fried, and buy it freshly prepared that way at my local Whole Foods.

Now let me just say, I wouldn’t have served tofu for dinner if the Professor hadn’t suggested it as a possible addition to a dish he already likes: Udon Noodles with Soy-Ginger sauce. In the past, I’ve served it topped with salmon (a recipe I’ll share in my next post). But in the interest of creating a more strictly vegetarian version, and with The Professor’s permission, we tried tofu.

You’ll need:
1 lb udon noodles
1/2 lb fried tofu
4-6 portobello mushrooms (depending on size and how much you like mushrooms), halved and then sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
2 1/2 cups shredded cabbage (green, Napa, or Savoy)
1/2 to 2/3rds of a bunch of scallions, washed and chopped (use the whole scallion, cutting the whites into fine slices and the green ends into 1/4 inch pieces)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 inches ginger, chopped
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sweet mirin (a cooking wine sold in the Asian foods section of any well-stocked supermarket)

(A quick note about the sauce: you can make and add more or less sauce depending on how juicy you like it. Just remember the 2:1 ratio of soy sauce to mirin.)

While a big pot of water is heating up, prep the garlic, ginger, scallions, mushrooms and cabbage.
Make the sauce
When the water is boiling, add the udon and a generous handful of salt and set the timer for 6 minutes.
Heat a wok or frying pan, then add oil to coat.
When the oil shimmers add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently for 30 seconds.
Add the mushrooms and toss to coat with the oil. Sprinkle with salt and cover. Take off the lid every minute to stir and check the mushrooms. If they are done before the noodles, turn the burner off.
When the timer goes off, rinse the noodles in cold water. They should be a bit undercooked — chewy but not crunchy.
Push the mushrooms to the sides of the wok or pan, add the sauce and turn the heat to high. Add the noodles, the tofu, and the cabbage and toss until the tofu is warmed and the noodles are coated in sauce and fully cooked. Turn off the heat and mix in the scallions.

Now, The Professor gave the noodles with tofu a B, in part because the cubes were a bit too big. But he welcomed a second attempt … more on that soon.