Grilled Stuffed Portabellos with Spinach and Goat Cheese

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I’ll admit, I’m biased. I’m never going to think like a meat-lover. So when I plan a meal, I don’t usually think in terms of meat substitutes. A portabello mushroom, for instance, isn’t a “steak” – it’s just a portabello mushroom. And it’s delicious.

It’s extra delicious when you stuff it with spinach, goat cheese and all kinds of goodness and let it all come together on the grill. That’s just what I did yesterday and it made for a fine addition to a Mother’s Day lunch.

I adapted the recipe from Serious Eats, using fresh spinach instead of frozen and adding some chives (fresh from my parents’ garden), pine nuts and a generous helping of crushed red pepper (spicy!). With herbed goat cheese and a lot of minced garlic, these babies were not short on flavor.

With the spinach and a soft cheese as a base, this is a great recipe for adapting and would work with whatever add-ins you have on hand – sun-dried tomatoes, chopped olives, bread crumbs, any kind of herbs – there are so many possibilities. This is just one:

Grilled Stuffed Portabellos with Spinach and Goat Cheese

  • 4 portabello mushrooms, cleaned and gills scraped out with a spoon
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • 3 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 package herb-flavored goat cheese (5.3 ounce) (room temperature is best)
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or to taste)
  • salt and pepper

Prepare the grill.*

Drizzle olive oil over portabellos and brush to coat. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Spoon into portabellos.

Grill for 15-20 minutes, covered.

Enjoy.

*Note: If you’re using a gas grill, check out these detailed grilling instructions from Serious Eats. If you’re using a gas grill, use medium to low heat.

(Adapted from Serious Eats, adapted from Taming the Flame by Elizabeth Karmel)

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Dear Deviled Eggs: It’s Not You, It’s Me

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Oh little vegetable blog, how I have neglected you. I still don’t have anything original for you, but how about some nice Easter deviled eggs to tide you over?

Two years after my first deviled egg attempt, I decided to make them again. The results? Pretty much the same. Fun to make, well received but I still don’t love them. They’re fine, but hard-boiled eggs just aren’t my thing. They’re pretty though, huh?

I used a recommendation in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian to mix in spring vegetables – peas, asparagus and radish – and I added some fresh dill.

Speaking of hard-boiled eggs, here are a few that Crystal and I dyed. We dyed them with turmeric, blueberries, paprika, tea and red onion skins. The turmeric+blueberry (green) combination was my favorite, and the blueberries alone and tea worked really well too.

It was a fun little project, but man were there some funky smells coming from the kitchen when all the dye ingredients were boiling in water and vinegar. Whew!

Hope you all had a happy Easter!

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Food Reading in 2008

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I started keeping track of the books I read on this site last year, mainly to just keep a record of them but also to motivate myself to read more. I doubt anyone pays much attention to my list, but I can’t help feeling good as it gets longer and longer.

I have a habit of reading voraciously for a while and then getting stuck on a book I don’t really like, and instead of just giving up on it or forcing myself to finish, I keep telling myself I’ll get to it and end up not reading anything for a few months. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2008 was to read more and fight that silly habit – if I got stuck on something, I’d power through or give it up and move on. I’m happy to say I found myself doing the former more than the latter and ended up really liking several books I might otherwise have put down.

I ended up finishing 25 books this year, compared to 14 last year, and I have to say, it’s nice to have actually stuck to a resolution for once, even if it was a pretty easy one. I mean, I do enjoy reading. A whole lot more than I enjoy, say, exercising. But that’s another story. Let’s just focus on the positive for now.

Eight of those books were food related, and not surprisingly, some of them were my favorites this year. Here’s a quick roundup of the food reads I gobbled up (and choked down) this year:

Heat by Bill Buford My first book of the year, Heat was a great way to start 2008. Buford’s “adventure as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany” was inspiring. I especially enjoyed the unsanitized but not necessarily unflattering portrait of Buford’s first boss in the restaurant industry, Mario Batali.

Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin and Rory FreedmanThis one wasn’t so much fun to read (plenty of gross-out material) and it’s pretty heavy on the snark, but I was glad to have read it, especially as I was deciding to stop eating meat. The vegan thing didn’t work out for me, but it’s definitely a good read for someone who wants to know more about what she’s eating. Just be prepared – you may be compelled to change your eating habits.

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme I loved every page of this book, a memoir written with the assistance of the iconic chef’s great-nephew. I didn’t know much about Child before I read the book, so it was a delight to learn about her fascinating life.

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee See my take on this book here.

The House of Mondavi by Julia Flynn SilerI don’t have a very refined palate when it comes to wine, and I’m not really into studying it. But I do like a good drama, which is what this book promised to be. The first half delivered that more frequently than the second, which was too heavy on financial and legal issues for my taste. Overall, it was extremely well researched, but pretty dry.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan This young adult novel isn’t a food book per se, but food plays a major role in the story. Esperanza and her mother are forced to flee their wealthy estate home in Mexico and become migrant farm workers in California. Set in the Depression, the book touches on the Mexican Deportation Act and efforts to improve workers’ conditions, weaving in descriptions of seasonal foods and bits of fantasy. I think it’s a great read no matter what your age.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’NanThis is such a great little novel (little as in only 160 pages). It’s about the last day of business at a Red Lobster restaurant in Connecticut as told by the earnest, barely-holding-things-together manager who’s always thought of the place as his own. Set during the holiday season in the midst of a snow storm, it’s a great winter read. If you’ve ever worked at such a place, I think you’ll find many of the little details ring true.

Waiter Rant by The WaiterI got this book for Christmas and finished it this morning. It’s kind of funny that I started the year reading about someone idealistically starting out on his culinary career and ended it with an account of a long-suffering, cynical waiter. The Waiter dispenses freely with the snark and gossip, but he also waxes philosophical and offers often-poignant insights about human behavior. It was a fun, relaxing read for some lazy holiday vacation days.

Here’s to good eating and reading in 2009! Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve!

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10 Favorite Foods of 2008

rsz_mosaic4079681Tis the season for end of year lists, and while there are certainly “best of” food lists that are much more comprehensive, I thought I’d make a small one of my own. These are the 10 dishes and food items (homemade and not) that had me going back for more in 2008:

  • Muhammara – This was probably my favorite food I tried this year. Pomegranate molasses is now one of my pantry staples so I can make it any time. So, so, so good.
  • Cheddar olives – The official balled appetizer of 2008
  • Peppadews – Stuffed with goat cheese, tossed with pasta or all by themselves – I can’t get enough of their tangy goodness.
  • Cauliflower plate from Al-Khayameih – Lightly fried cauliflower, fresh tomatoes and parsley and tahini sauce. Simple, delicious and comforting. Ditto for the sandwich version.
  • Leek Dumplings from Thai Oscar – Flaky, garlic-crusted dumplings filled with savory leeks – Nom, nom
  • Plantains – I’ve really been into plantains this year. I usually marinate slices in some mojo and grill them in the grill pan. They’re great with black beans for a really simple dinner. Or if I have more time, I’ll make a batch of plantain enchiladas with mole sauce.
  • Seasonal Vegetable Bowls from Wow Bao – I avoided the bowls here for a while, assuming they couldn’t compete with the doughy edamame bao and crispy green vegetable pot stickers. But I shouldn’t have. They’re really good and truly seasonal. I was eating them a lot around late summer when they featured crisp green and yellow wax beans, sweet corn, bok choy and pickled daikon radish.
  • Guava and Cheese Empanadas from Sabor a Cuba – Crispy pastries filled with tangy sweet guava and gooey cheese. ‘Nuf said.
  • Spinach Artichoke Goat Cheese Scones from Hannah’s Bretzel – I usually try to eat a quick weekday breakfast at home, or at least bring something with me from home, but if I’m going to splurge a little, I’m getting one of these. I’m sure they’re loaded with butter, and goat cheese of course, but hey, at least they’re organic.
  • Cranberry Parker House Rolls – I only made these once, but this recipe definitely deserves a spot on the list.

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Thanksgiving Recap 2008

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I’m even later than last year with my Thanksgiving recap, but here it is. As usual, I tried out several new recipes this year. My Thanksgiving tradition seems to be that I always have to try something new, for better or for worse. Luckily, this year, it was for the better.

I made Cheddar Olives as an appetizer, which were a big hit. So much so that they disappeared before I thought to snap a picture. This recipe has become a favorite in my house lately. I always make it with smoked paprika instead of cayenne, and I prefer to use Trader Joe’s Extra Extra Sharp Cheddar. The finished product tastes like a warm Cheez-It wrapped around an olive, which I mean in the best possible way. Yum.

I made the Wild-Mushroom Bundles with collard greens from the November issue of Gourmet, and it turned out to be an almost all-local dish. I didn’t quite have enough to fill the pan, so I added a few lemon wedges before cooking the bundles for volume and some extra acidity.

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I switched my sweet potato plan at the last minute. I’d planned to make a creamy, cheesy gratin (and I still can’t wait to try that recipe), but I decided there were enough heavy dishes and decided to go with something a little lighter. Nikki’s Sweet Potatoes from 101 Cookbooks fit the bill. Fresh ginger and coconut milk are mixed into mashed sweet potatoes, topped with coconut and baked, finished off with chopped macadamia nuts. Another success.

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My Cranberry Parker House Rolls finally thawed, puffed and baked up well, and I served them with a side of extra cranberry butter. I cut down on the butter and sugar to cranberry ratio for the extra spread, using one stick of butter with one bag of cranberries cooked with a bit of sugar. I probably should have used a bit more sugar, but I didn’t mind the extra tang.

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There were plenty of other delicious dishes, too. My brother Philip made Dutchess Potatoes, beautifully piped out and baked with chive butter. Mmm.

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My dad made a batch of Ralphie’s Mom’s Braised Red Cabbage (via the NWI Times) from “A Christmas Story.” It smelled amazing, and tasted just as good.

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My mom made, among other things, her famous Broccoli Cheese Casserole. It wouldn’t be a holiday without it. So good.

There was plenty of other good stuff too that I didn’t get photos of, including my Grandma Weezie’s Cranberry Relish (made properly by Grandma Weezie herself) and my Uncle Phil’s pies.

So many good eats – 2009 has some big shoes to fill!

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Cranberry Relish, and Adventures of the Reluctant Baker

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Last November, I attempted to make my Grandma Weezie’s Cranberry Relish. It was a bit of a disaster. This year, I tried again and came closer to getting it right. The problem seems to be that the cooks in my family have perfected the recipe over the years, and those little adjustments aren’t included in the original recipe.

This recipe is different from a lot of cranberry sauces because the cranberries themselves are not cooked. Instead, they’re ground in a food processor and mixed with fruit juice, pineapple, orange zest and Jello. And of course sugar – lots of sugar.

The Jello makes it sort of a old-school salad, but it’s not really a “Jello salad.” It has the consistency of a relish and the Jello just gives it some firmness. It should be a bit more firm than what you can see in the picture, so I’m thinking maybe more Jello? When I figure it out, I’ll post the recipe.

Oh, but what are those strange little rolls on the side, you ask?

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Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand

MenuPages asked, I answered. My review of Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand is up at The Kitchn.

Not sure if it’s the first actual review, but it is a review nonetheless.

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