Saturday, January 17, 2009

Stuffed Portabellos

Oh, rats. You know those people who put themselves down just so you will compliment them and make them feel better? They play a new song they wrote, but preface it by saying, "I don't really like it." Or they hand you a hard copy of a story they penned, and mutter, "It isn't very good." So of course, OF COURSE, you have no choice but to say something positive. "Well," you say about the song, "The hook is really cool." And for the story, "The character development is very intriguing," you enthuse in a reassuring fashion.

I am not one of those people. I swear.

The thing is though, I made this Portobello Mushroom Stuffed with Spinach and Goat Cheese recipe last night, and it was smashingly good. Lick your lips, steal a bite from your kid's plate, eat-more-than-you-should good. And I just couldn't WAIT to sidle on in here during Little Miss Piggy's nap today so that I could share it. But then I uploaded the photos from my camera, and, well, the picture looks a little disgusting. I mean, everything is all brown and white in the most unappealing fashion, and even after I typed the title directly above said disappointing photo, you still can't really tell what is depicted. So I almost just scrapped the whole thing, thinking I would post about chilaquiles instead, but no kidding, that mushroom recipe is too good to not share just because the photographer failed in her mission to make it look as yummy as it tastes.

So, please. Don't feel like you need to stroke my ego. I'm sure we can all agree that it isn't a very good photo, and I don't have a clue as to how to make it more palatable (nor do I have any more portabellos in the house to use as target practice), but I had to post it. Really, I had no choice. Because truly, if you look carefully at the aforementioned sad-looking picture, you will notice the height of the finished dish, and you have to admit, that is pretty impressive. Right?

Hi. My name is Sarah, and I am an apologist.

This recipe (sans photo, I might add) appeared in the January issue of Bon Appetit and I couldn't wait to try it. I have kind of a thing for mushrooms in the first place, but what really caught my eye about this particular one was the description in which the writer, who is not a vegetarian, makes note of it's appeal as a vegetarian entree. For obvious reasons, I was intrigued. Seven or eight years ago, I found a very simple recipe for a similar spinach-and-Fontina-stuffed-portabello, but even after countless tinkerings, The Carnivore and I finally agreed that it just wasn't that good. Fontina, as a whole, doesn't have very much flavor of it's own, and I was never able to come up with a proper marinade to flavor the mushroom. And then there was the small issue of The Carnivore feeling that the mushroom was trying too hard to pretend to be a piece of meat.

But this recipe used ample amounts of olive oil in the marinade, which, I'm a little embarassed to admit, is something that never occured to me, but which seemed a stroke of genius since that would clearly help the other flavors to better cling to the mushroom. And it was in Bon Appetit, giving it a little more authority, I felt, to reassure The Carnivore that it was worth a try. He looked a little skeptical when I announced the menu last night, but I pressed on. This recipe was going to be attempted, if for no other reason than I had planned it for earlier in the week, but had been flummoxed when, an hour before dinnertime, I actually read the recipe a little more carefully and noticed the minor detail in the instructions about marinating for four hours. I hate it when that happens.

[And to be honest, that happens much more often than it should. I try to read recipes in full the morning before I will be cooking them, to be sure I have everything on hand and that I have done any advance prep work, you know, in advance. You wouldn't believe how often though, at 5:00 in the afternoon, I discover I am missing a crucial ingredient or that I failed to soak the beans or something else equally obvious.]

With these mushrooms though, the end result was nothing short of spectacular. The filling, as I have already mentioned, achieved great height, making for a very majestic presentation, and the moist and tender texture of the mushroom provided a welcome foil to the ever-so-slight-crunch of the Parmesan topping. There was a bit of tartness from the goat cheese, which had turned silky during the cooking time, and a surprising balance of sweet and salty in the mushroom from the marinade. Most interesting though, was how hearty the dish was, so much so, in fact, that it may become one of my new favorite vegetarian entrees.

And The Carnivore? After he cleaned his plate, I caught him leaning against the oven, prying up fallen bits from the baking sheet. The true test of the universality of a vegetarian entree is whether or not a dyed-in-the-wool carnivorous type gets true enjoyment out of the dish, and this one passed with flying colors.


PORTOBELLO MUSHROOMS STUFFED WITH SPINACH AND GOAT CHEESE (serves six, adapted from Bon Appetit and attributed to the Arizona restaurant Cucina Rustica)

Marinated Mushrooms

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • pinch of dried thyme
  • 6 large portobello mushrooms


  • 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 pound button mushrooms
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup plus 6 Tbs finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned dry breadcrumbs
  • 5-oz soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled
  1. Whisk first 8 ingredients (through thyme) in a medium bowl.
  2. Cut stems from portobellos and set aside.
  3. Arrange mushrooms, gill side up, in a large glass casserole dish.
  4. Pour marinade over mushrooms, letting plenty of it pool up in the gills, and marinate for four hours.
  5. Squeeze excess water from spinach and place spinach in a small bowl.
  6. In two or three batches in a food processor, pulse the reserved portobello mushrooms with the button mushrooms until coarsely chopped.
  7. Heat 2 Tbs oil in a heavy, large skillet over medium heat.
  8. Add onion to skillet and saute, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.
  9. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds, stirring.
  10. Add chopped mushrooms and stems to skillet, sprinkle with salt, and increase heat to high. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 8 minutes, until liquid has almost completely evaporated.
  11. Season mushroom mixture with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.
  12. When mushrooms have cooled to about room temperature, add the spinach, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and breadcrumbs to the mushroom mixture and stir.
  13. Fold in the goat cheese.
  14. Remove the mushrooms from the marinade and place them on a rimmed baking sheet, gill side down.
  15. Roast mushrooms at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, until mushrooms are becoming tender.
  16. Turn mushrooms over and divide filling among mushrooms.
  17. Sprinkle 1 Tbs of remaining Parmesan over the top of each mushroom.
  18. Bake for another 15 minutes.
  19. Run under the broiler for 1 or 2 minutes, until Parmesan browns and crisps up.
  20. Serve immediately.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dark Chocolate Truffles

I'm finally getting into a rhythm with this new chocolate-on-a-daily-basis resolution. There were a few stumbles in the first couple of days, like the morning when I had trouble buttoning my pants (ahem) and the one day last week when I realized I wasn't really craving chocolate, but all in all, I still believe in the feasibility of this experiment. After all, doing an extra workout or two per week never hurt anyone, right? And besides, I have found the perfect solution to those moments in which I might not have chocolate on the brain. Truly, do 30 minutes of yoga and then eat a truffle. The state of calm that can be achieved in this manner is peerless.

There used to be a place downtown where The Carnivore and I would pop in occasionally to purchase a couple of truffles. We loved the little locally-owned candy store, where the truffles were made on site and the selection was of mind-boggling variety, so we were aghast when they closed down five years (or so) ago. See, I'm a little picky about my confections. While Godiva makes perfectly luscious little treats, I just don't get the same thrill from mass-market goods as I do from something handmade. And it was with no small amount of dismay that I discovered the new candy store in town buys their truffles from California and merely displays them, unboxed and on wax paper, behind glass as if they were made that morning.

Obviously, I knew that this, my Year of Daily Chocolate was going to involve learning some new recipes and I was looking forward to that aspect. And where I generally adore baking new brownie recipes and and making rich chocolate tarts, most of the time I would prefer something more simple. Some little bite-sized bit of heaven to go with my afternoon coffee. A taste and texture more interesting than a square from a bar of dark chocolate, but which doesn't include a long and arduous list of ingredients.

You know, like a truffle.

So I climbed up on the stepladder in the kitchen and started pulling down some cookbooks. Only once before had I attempted a truffle recipe and it was one from a leading and rather pedestrian women's magazine that, while easy enough to make, wasn't really anything to write home about. There was no hard outer coating and the truffle itself, while rich and creamy, was rolled in nuts and just seemed a little too fussy for my taste.

I have a tidy little stack of chocolate cookbooks and so I tagged a handful of truffle recipes in the indices. Each sounded incredible and well worth the work (and the cost of the ingredients) required, but it was in David Lebovitz' The Great Book of Chocolate that I stumbled across a recipe for Deep Dark Chocolate Truffles which used only a handful of ingredients, had both the creamy interior and the hard outer shell that I consider non-negotiable, and was billed as simple enough for any trained monkey (my words, not his).

I should mention that I really like David Lebovitz. He had a post on his blog a year or so ago in which he included detailed instructions for peeling a banana and I can't help but trust him implicitly now. Irreverance is a virtue in my book.


I adapted his recipe slightly, making the truffles a little larger than he suggested (mainly because I'm a six-fingered slob when it comes to using a melon baller), skipping the cocoa powder coating (because I hate/loathe/abominate getting dust all over my lips - powdered doughnuts are obviously a deal-breaker for that reason), and substituting coffee liqueur for cognac.

There is time involved here. Not hands-on time, mind you, but there is dead time between steps for firming and chilling and all that nonsense, so no small amount of patience is required. This used to be just the kind of thing that drove me batty, but now that I have grown accustomed to interruptions (thanks be to The Boy Wonder and Little Miss Piggy), the waiting periods meshed nicely with all the other things I had going on last weekend when I was making these.

But enough about the little details, right? All that really matters is the final result and oh my stars, these were incomparable. The texture inside was spot-on, the hard outer shell was thin and cracked just perfectly when the truffle was bit into, the flavor was intense and complex and just barely sweet and I am deeply in love.

These are so superb, in fact, that I'm afraid to try any of the other recipes that I flagged. I just don't see how they could live up to this one.


DEEP DARK CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES (adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate, makes 20 or so truffles)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 14 to 16 ounces bittersweet chocolate (divided), chopped
  • 2 tsps coffee liqueur
  1. Bring the cream just to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in 10 ounces of the chocolate, stirring until melted. Stir in the liqueur and let the mixture stand for at least two hours, or until firm enough that it will hold it's shape when rolled into balls.
  2. Dip a melon baller into very warm water and scoop the chocolate mixture into 3/4 to 1-inch balls and set them on a plate. Once you have scooped all of the mixture, use your hands to roll the balls until perfectly round (or thereabouts). Rinsing your hands in warm water will help keep the chocolate from sticking to your palms and making a ginormous mess.
  3. Place the chocolate balls in the refrigerator and chill completely.
  4. Melt four ounces of the remaining chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds).
  5. Butter a couple of plates or a cookie sheet and set aside.
  6. Using a small spoon, place the chocolate balls, one at a time, into the melted chocolate and roll them around to coat them completely. Place the coated truffles onto the buttered plate as they are completed. If the melted chocolate runs low, melt the remaining 2 ounces of chocolate and continue dipping and coating.
  7. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Red Lentil Dal

Oh, dear. If I am really going to stick to my New Year's Resolution, then some adaptations are going to need to be made to the other ways in which I live my life. By Day Two of this little experiment, my pants felt a little snug and it occured to me that maybe I should have first tried to recover from the holiday excesses before embarking on a year-long quest to increase my dark chocolate intake.

Just as with Thanksgiving, I finished out the week of Christmas with a profound (though always short-lived) disdain of, but not limited to, the following: anything in a casserole dish, cookies of all kinds, pecan desserts in any form, vegetables that can be swallowed without first being chewed, and substances that can be slurped from a spoon.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I baked my way through at least six pounds of butter, more than one five pound bag of sugar, three or four pounds of pecans, and what felt like a bushel of sweet potatoes. I don't mean to sound dissatisfied. I love the holidays. Spoiling the kids rotten was an immense amount of fun this year, and though I was exhausted by the time it was all said and done, I enjoyed every minute (and every bite) of the laughter and food shared with family and friends.

But it is high time to get back to normal (even if 'normal' does include a daily dose of chocolate for the next 365 days). So I'm ramping up the exercise and taking a good, hard look at our menu to see how healthfully we can eat for the next month or so while we hibernate in our lounge clothes and turn into unsociable trolls during the cold days of January. And, since it is winter, and the variety of fresh, local vegetables is limited, that means a lot of beans.

I say that in a much more positive manner than it might initially sound. We like beans. Kind of a lot, actually. As a matter of fact, Little Miss Piggy would be perfectly content to eat beans for every meal, including a handful of garbanzos for a snack. Come to think of it though, between the soymilk we pour over our granola, the chickpeas I tuck into salads, the black beans we load into our quesadillas and chili, and the silken tofu I have used in cheesecake, there have been entire days when we HAVE had beans for every meal.

Such is the life of a vegetarian and the family who depends on her for sustenance.

We started the year off right, of course (even beyond The Daily Chocolate), happily gorging on Black-Eyed Peas and Collard Greens for our traditional New Year's Day meal, and since we had half a skillet of cornbread left over, The Carnivore requested lentils for dinner the following night. And oh, did I ever oblige.

Lentils are fun to cook anyhow, because there is no pesky soaking time and thus no advance planning involved. And, well, I like the pretty colors they come in, though the red ones are my hands-down favorites. Our current favorite lentil recipe is one that I clipped from an issue of Cooking Light a year or so back, and which includes charred onions (be still, my beating heart) and a heady combination of spices that warms both the tummy and the soul. It is a relatively easy recipe, though the flavors are nicely layered, and makes a delicous vegetarian entree when served over brown rice.

As for the desire for healthful foods right now, this meal is spot-on: high in fiber and protein, low in calories, and chock full of vitamins and minerals. It is so good for you, in fact, that it nearly cancels out the batch of Dark Chocolate and Coffee Liqueur Truffles that I am putting the final layer on right now...


RED LENTIL DAL WITH CHARRED ONIONS (adapted from Cooking Light, serves 6)
Serve over brown rice for a vegetarian entree
  • 3 tsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 small red chili pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 Tbs minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dried small red lentils
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tbs fresh lime juice
  • salt
  1. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to skillet and cook for a few minutes, until blackened and charred. Carefully turn onion slices over and char on the other side. Remove from heat, coarsely chop, and set aside.
  2. In a small metal skillet, toast the mustard seeds, coriander seeds and clove over medium heat for a minute or two, stirring frequently, until fragrant.
  3. Remove seeds and clove from skillet and set aside.
  4. To the small skillet, add the chopped chili pepper and cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently, until charred and dried out a little.
  5. In a coffee grinder (or spice grinder), combine the mustard seed mixture, the chili pepper, cumin, cinnamon and cardamom. Pulse into finely ground.
  6. Heat remaining 2 tsp oil in small Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic to pan; saute for 1 minute. Stir in spices and saute for 1 minute more.
  7. Add broth, lentils and tomatoes to pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Uncover the pan; add onion, and cook for 10 more minutes.
  9. Turn the heat off. Stir in the cilantro and the lime juice. Add salt to taste.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Daily Chocolate

I am in a decadent mood. I was asleep before midnight on New Year's Eve (not a terribly unusual occurence now that I have children), so I saved the hedonism for today. My primary New Year's resolution this year is to eat chocolate every day. Not just any old chocolate, mind you, but good-quality chocolate. So to properly set 2009 in motion, I woke up early this morning, did 30 minutes of yoga, and then sat down to enjoy a cup of strong, locally-roasted coffee and a luxurious, fist-sized, wicked-good pain au chocolat.

And then I ate another one.

I would have taken photos, because I have this new camera and tripod that I have played with incessantly for the past week, but, well, The Boy Wonder polished off the last one before I could photograph the evidence.

If you really must see pictures though, you could always Google it. In the interest of full disclosure, I do that myself, every time I get a hankering for a flaky, buttery croissant oozing with chocolate.

I know that many resolutions center around getting healthier, so I suppose I should apologize for publicly announcing my intention to live more unrighteously, but let's be honest, dark chocolate is actually good for you. And did you notice that I exercised first? That has to count for something.