Grilling on Meatless Monday: Mushroom Burgers!

 

You CAN enjoy the pleasures of grilling without the meat. Just throw the largest Portobello mushrooms you can find on the grill and let them absorb those delicious smoky flavors. These mushroom sliders can even use dinner rolls for the buns!

Source: Mini Mushroom Burgers – Meatless Monday

Meatless Mondays – Vegetable Paella: hold the gravel, but don’t skimp on the saffron!

saffron
Saffron

A friend of mine recently expressed a preference for chicken paella over that made with seafood. You know exactly what I was thinking…and the following post is a tried and true recipe for vegetable paella!

I recall an entertaining chapter in Derek Lambert’s book, Spanish Lessons, in which the author’s wife carefully plans a dinner party while they are residing in Spain. Paella will be the main attraction, for which they rent a huge pan to cook the dish over an open fire. In a comedy of errors, two of their “friends” drop the pan and spill much of the ingredients on top of some gravel that had been brought to the yard during their remodel. Not wanting to admit their mistake, the men just scoop up what they can and pick out the obvious pieces of gravel. You can just imagine what happens at the table as the guests begin eating…

No, this recipe doesn’t contain gravel. What is paella, you might ask. It’s a traditional Spanish, or Valencian, dish that contains rice, often various meats or seafood, and a variety of legumes and vegetables. To me, the taste is dictated by the main spice: saffron. Sure, it’s expensive, but adds a deep, earthy flavor that is crucial to success.

Shopping List (amounts vary depending on your preferences)

Saffron
Paprika
Rosemary (if desired: sprig of fresh or dried)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
Vegetable stock (have at least 2 cups handy, but could also use part water)
Garlic (chopped)
Onion (diced)
Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers (long slices)
Tomatoes (diced: fresh or canned)
Green beans (cut: fresh)
Eggplant (hefty chunks)
Portabella mushrooms (large, cut into thick slices)
Chickpeas (canned or pre-cooked)
Rice (Arborio or other; I’ve used gluten-free with success)

Soak a healthy pinch of saffron strands in a bit of hot water. In a large, low pan, stir fry the eggplant, onion, garlic, and peppers in olive oil to soften. Add rice (at least 1 cup), stock, tomatoes, saffron, rosemary (if wanted) and a few teaspoons of paprika. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes. Stir as needed, although some cooks like to allow the rice to cake a bit on the bottom of the pan, being careful not to let it burn.

Add the chickpeas, green beans, and mushrooms. Cook about 15 minutes longer, or until the rice is softened and the mixture is thick and bubbly. If you plan to imbibe, a good Spanish red would go nicely!

paella

 

Cooking with a Twist

veg-o-matic
1960s Veg-O-Matic

As a kid, I loved the commercials that appeared on television around the holidays featuring people who demonstrated those “slicer and dicer” kitchen tools. Slice-O-Matic, Chop-O-Matic, Veg-O-Matic…you get the idea. Their hands moved more quickly than a magician’s, and I expected a severed finger to surely end up in with the wavy potato slices or the tomato wedges! I remember wondering why my mother didn’t have one of those contraptions, but she always just stuck with her trusty, favorite paring knife.

I’m not really one for kitchen gadgets, myself, and was surprised to find a food spiralizer under the tree this past Christmas morning. Even if you haven’t made any of these spirals, yourself, you’ve probably seen some “ready-made” in the grocery stores, with squash seeming to be one of the most popular. The end results when using this bladed tool are basically vegetables or fruits cut to look like strands of pasta.

The spiralizers evidently come in multiple formats, from various types of rotary incarnations that help the users build arm muscles, to deluxe electric models, with mine being the rotary sort. I’ve experienced mixed outcomes, but still have many fruits and vegetables to try. Eggplant turned out to be too squishy, and the broccoli stems were a challenge, but do-able. My best results, so far, have been with zucchini and summer squash. I won’t resort to calling them “zoodles” or “squoodles,” but they really do resemble noodles and taste great!

The internet is awash with related recipe ideas, but I came up with one based on ingredients that I happened to find in my refrigerator and cupboards, so I’ve included it, below. Feel free to share your favorite spiralizer recipe in comments. In fact, one lucky commenter will be chosen at the end of February to receive a $5 Amazon e-card! Hmmm. Now I’m thinking about a cold spiralized beet salad for Valentines Day…

 Seafood Casserole

2 firm zucchini
2 firm summer squashes
Cooked fish, shrimp, or other seafood of choice (any amount you wish; canned works well, too)
Olive oil
Scallions/green onions (the leafy part, which is easiest to cut with kitchen scissors)
Garlic paste (optional)
Shredded cheese of your favorite type (optional)
Pimento slices, mostly for color
Bread crumbs

Spiralize your vegetables with the peel left on and spread out in an oblong casserole that has a bit of olive oil in the bottom. Add your seafood, onions, and garlic paste, if desired. Drizzle about two more tablespoons of olive oil into the mixture. Mix with a fork. Sprinkle cheese, if wanted, and bread crumbs over the top. Bake at 350-360 for 30-45 minutes until heated through.

Marvelous Miso

 

In case you are not familiar with miso, this is a fermented paste, traditionally made from soybeans and various grains, which is used as a seasoning in many Japanese dishes. More recently, miso also may contain chickpeas, quinoa, or other ingredients as the base. The color and taste of your miso will depend on the type you choose. Resulting flavors range from salty to sweet and savory to fruity, all the while retaining a wonderful, earthy taste. It is said to contain protein and vitamins, and versions with reduced salt content may be found in select markets.

Miso first came to my attention years ago when it was called for in a recipe from a Japanese cookbook. I had forgotten about it until last week, when coming across an instant version of tofu miso soup at the grocery store. It wasn’t too bad and reminded me how much I like miso. In that format, however, the servings were very small, fairly expensive, and the dehydrated tofu squares were miniscule. Why not make the real thing?

After searching in several stores, I found a tub of miso in the refrigerated produce section. It was a light-colored version and had a somewhat sweet, but earthy flavor. I started my cooking experiment with several cups of water in a pan and began to spoon miso, while heating and stirring until it was dissolved and had the taste I wanted. I then added quartered mushrooms, along with slices of the white part of a green onion and continued to simmer.

Meanwhile, I cut a quarter tub of tofu and arranged the cubes in the bottom of a soup bowl. When the vegetables in the soup were soft, I poured it over the tofu and added soy sauce, to taste, with a few snips of the onion greens for color.

M-m-m-marvelous!

Other Possibilities

Leave out the mushrooms, onion, tofu and/or soy sauce.

Add any of the following:

Chopped bok choy or spinach
Dried sea vegetables
Bonito (fish) flakes
Dried/ground shrimp
Anchovy paste
Fish or other seafood
Sesame oil

My Own “Instant” Version

*Heat water in a pan.
*Place small cubes of tofu in the bottom of a large mug.
*Slice mushrooms (or use canned) on top of the tofu.
*Add a spoonful of miso, along with any other desired flavorings.
*Pour boiling water over the contents in the cup.
*Stir, until the miso is dissolved.
*Cover the cup for several minutes to blend flavors.

How have you cooked with miso? I’d love to read about your ideas in comments!

 

 

 

 

 

Memoir Publication and Garden Update

UP Reader

The U.P. Reader, which includes my memoir piece, “Lonely Road,” is now available in print and e-book! This literary magazine is published by Modern History Press in conjunction with the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association (UPPAA). The publication also contains fiction, humor, poetry, history, and more.

When I read the call for submissions, my first instinct was to write a fictional story set in Michigan’s U.P., where I lived for many years. What about my own, personal tales, just waiting to be told? I decided that memoir was the way to go.

As Barbra Streisand sang in one of my favorite movies, “The Way We Were,” memories really can “light the corners” of our minds. But, when too much pain is caused by remembering, we often choose to ignore and wall-off those sections of our brains. Writing memoir can be like taking the partitions down and letting the light shine, once again, onto those remembrances. The act can bring questions, heartache, revelations and healing.

Lonely Road” relates an evocative experience during my wintertime move to the Upper Peninsula, with the purpose of giving a faltering marriage one more try. The story is also a metaphor for the journey of life, with its pleasant surprises, difficult challenges, and safe havens. That “one more try” to stay together spanned several additional decades. Success or failure? Guess it depends on how you look at it. This was a very difficult piece for me to write because of all the emotions to which it gave rise. I would like to say that I felt better once I had it down. Saying it well and true did give me a sense of satisfaction. The sadness over our loss still remains.

I hope that you’ll consider reading about my experience, along with sampling contributions from other writers with connections to the Upper Peninsula, in the beautiful state of Michigan. The book is available from the publisher, through Amazon, and at several retailers in the U.P.  Reviews are welcomed!

                                                                                                                   

GARDEN UPDATE

The Community Garden is looking quite bountiful these days! Cucumbers and zucchini are already producing. Today, I also spotted tiny green peppers and tomatoes. Giant sunflowers provide a lovely backdrop. My little plot contains huge marigolds and abundant basil. I’ve already taken several bags of the herb over to the food pantry. Basil is great in curries and salads. Pesto, anyone?

The rosemary is a bit on the small side, and I’m afraid the watering that’s helping the basil thrive may be somewhat of a negative for those plants, which often prefer drier conditions. They’re growing, though, and I snipped the ends to encourage even more growth. Did my molasses and orange oil concoction succeed in the fight against the fire ants? Yes and no. It worked well enough to drive them over to the other side of the little garden bed. At least they stay off the plants!

Putting the “I” Back into Cook-I-ng

I spent years trying to please others through the act of cooking. As a young newlywed, I collected recipes that I wanted to try out on my husband and promptly struck out. If it didn’t look like something that his mother or grandmother often made, then he wouldn’t even taste it. For example, only “fried chicken” was acceptable, he said, and my attempt at that dish was met with disdain. Come to find out, his mother’s secret for “fried chicken” was really “Shake-n-Bake”! I gave up before I even got started. Over the years, I found quick and inexpensive foods that my daughters would eat. End of story (and marriage).

My second husband was a self-taught gourmet cook. No, I’m not just saying this in case he still reads my blog. He really is that accomplished and taught me a lot about cooking methods and ingredients. We took turns cooking, and I have to admit, that as my skills grew, I began to feel a bit competitive. My dishes started to turn out wonderfully and earned well-deserved praise. When my efforts didn’t work out, there were no polite or pretend compliments from him, either.

Cooking never came naturally to me, however, and I almost always relied on cook books and carefully measured ingredients. If a recipe was successful, I made a note of it on the inside of the book for future reference. Sometimes the pressure of producing acceptable meals was a negative force. Things went downhill when I started having digestive problems and had to give up many of our favorite foods and most wine. I won’t pretend these restrictions caused the end of our marriage, but they certainly did alter the daily dynamic of an already strained relationship.

I currently find myself “cooking for one,” a phrase that I’ve never really liked. I don’t even much care for recipes that say, “Cooking for Two,” as if someone is missing and this is all you have left. I occasionally prepare a meal for others, but more often than not, there’s one plate on my faux-Victorian dining table.

I made the early decision NOT to fall into the trap of watching television while eating. Sometimes I listen to my music, or enjoy tunes that emanate from a local activity in the Square, like the one going on as I write this piece. Other times, I read from a novel or non-fiction of recent interest, such as Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr. Weak indirect lighting over my table was an issue for reading. To fix that problem, I recently splurged on an attractive, industrial-style table lamp with a high-powered bulb, in an old-fashioned tone of light green.

Another big change is WHAT I make for dinner.  First of all, I’ve cut way back on meat and more often turn to other forms of protein…eggs, tofu, beans, and occasional seafood. Sometimes just a large salad appeals to me, and I jazz it up with some of my favorites, like olives, capers, and fresh veggies lightly cooked. My go-to cheeses are feta and goat, since they seem easier for me to digest. Olive oil ALWAYS for cooking and salads! I rarely buy according to a recipe, now, but purchase ingredients that look good to me and then just decide what to do with them, later.

I’m starting to have fun with this and don’t think I’ll go back to eating by candlelight any time soon. Following is one of my recent culinary creations:

Egg-cellent Baked Mushrooms

One or two extra-large portabella/portobello mushrooms, stems removed, cap side up in baking pan

One egg for each, cracked open into the mushroom cap

Your choice of fresh or dried herbs to taste

Light sprinkling of cheese, if desired

Bake at 350˚-400˚ until egg is set to your liking and mushroom is sufficiently tender (about 20 minutes minimum).