Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

Among the various offerings inside a grilled veggie sandwich at a reasonable Italian restaurant I had one day, my favorite was the portobello mushroom. Mild flavor, consistent smooth! So when I saw a package of portobello mushrooms at Trader Joe's that afternoon, they were instantly mine. With access to an outdoor gas grill in our rental house, I look for any excuse to grill.

But what recipe? I quickly searched and found one that called for marinating in a balsamic vinegar mixture. Perfect! I'm into balsamic these days. The recipe called for onion, but I did it with some red onion I had handy anyway. Mix it up, pop it on the grill...sounds easy!

Sure, if you know what you're doing. The recipe called for gill-side-up for grilling the portobellos, making for a little reservoir for the marinade. Leave it on or off? I decided to leave it on and not flip the mushroom.

There's a lot of margin for error in grilling portobellos, I think, because they're perfectly edible uncooked. As much as I love balsamic flavor, the balsamic overwhelmed the mild mushroom flavor, rendering the portobello a mere vehicle for the strong vinegar. But that wasn't so bad.

I really liked this, but it's hard to go wrong with portobellos anyway. As is so often the case, I was the only one in my family who'd even try it. Fine, because I only had two caps anyway.

I need a lot more practice before I dare present this to mushroom aficianados, but I'm looking forward to that.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Pan-Seared Ahi with Blood Orange Sauce

Pan-Seared Ahi with Blood Orange Sauce
Ah, TJ's...a never-ending source of inspiration. I try not to buy ingredients without having a basic plan for it, but this Wild Ahi looked too good to pass up. Even if a small package was ten bucks.

This new thing about actually having heat in my temporary kitchen opens all sorts of doors. I've seared fish before, with rubbery results, but with some serious firepower under the pan now, it was worth trying again.

I found this recipe for Pan-Seared Ahi with Blood Orange Sauce on Like most reviewers, I didn't happen to have blood oranges, let alone enough to squeeze out a cup, so plain-old store-bought OJ would have to do. I heeded the advice that the recipe calls for far too much cook time, with one reviewer accurately quipping "more than a few minutes, then you might as well open a can of tuna and call it a day."

The sauce was easy to make, and the fish easy enough to cook. The tricky part was: how long? It became immediately clear that the quality of the ingredients, and skill or luck of the cook would make or break it. Well, I managed to cook it in range, despite my lack of familiarity with my hot new cooktop, but another 20 seconds and I'd have gone over. The fish itself was really outstanding to begin with, so it was really mine to mess up.

I loved this. The sauce was light and a little sweet, not overpowering, and a perfect complement to perfectly (well, almost) lightly cooked fish. I will certainly make this again, but only if I find the right fish to begin with.

Bonus: my husband liked it and my sons wouldn't try it! All the more for me!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Endive, Pear, and Roquefort Salad

Endive, Pear, and Roquefort Salad

Yet another little gem from my all-time favorite Barefoot Contessa episode, "French Made Easy." I'm not sure how French this recipe really is, but it sure sounds French when you say "on-DEEV" instead of "en-dIve."

I made this salad in the most intimidating of circumstances: not in my own kitchen, in a rural area in Pennsylvania without access to a Whole Foods, and for a large group of people that included a genuine professional chef -- and my mother. I didn't have Roquefort cheese or champagne vinegar, so ordinary bleu cheese (see, it's French if you write "bleu" instead of "blue"), and very ordinary white wine vinegar would have to do.

I'd never made an emulsified dressing before, but as soon as you put fresh fruit in a salad, I'm willing to try anything. The dressing was actually simple to make, despite needing some actual technique of whisking up the olive oil at the end. Fortunately I was able to find some appropriate pears, Bartletts, and at the right ripeness.

As always, I over-toasted the walnuts and ended up liking them better that way. I don't know if that's a shared sentiment though.

I've had endives in salads before and liked them, so I was surprised when my sister said she found them bitter. And now that I made a whole salad based on endives, I had to agree. In fact, the only thing I didn't like much about this salad, other than the dull cheese, was the endive base itself. They make for a nice presentation, but I think a different "green" would taste better. Maybe radicchio?

Fortunately for me, I'm still in the stage of cooking that everyone wants to encourage me instead of offering genuine criticism (sort of like you always tell your 4-year-old that the picture he drew was great), so reviews all around were good. Still, I think there's much room for improvement the next time -- and there will be a next time, as this simple combination is exactly the sort of twist on basic ingredients that I love.