Friday, December 17, 2010

What the heck do I do with....Mushrooms???

Mushrooms are an under appreciated entity.....they are not a plant, but rather a fungus; they form spores and don't create chlorophyll. In reality, they are nutritional powerhouses. Mushrooms are packed with selenium; selenium has been known to help lower the risk of prostate cancer. Mushrooms are also packed with B vitamins, potassium, are low in calories and high in fiber.
So, what do you do with mushrooms?
Well, they can be eaten in the raw state on salads, but that's pretty boring. They can be sauteed with garlic and thyme and made into a hearty topping for crusty bread. They can be sauteed with garlic and onion and then stewed with tomatoes to make a hearty sauce. They can be used to make an earthy, meaty broth as I did.

I used both fresh and dehydrated mushrooms to make a full bodied, heady broth that I then used to make an Asian inspired mushroom soup. I used dried shiitake mushrooms which I found in an Asian market not far from where I live.
The dried mushrooms give the broth a richness that fresh mushrooms just can't. This is due to the fact that the flavor gets so concentrated when they dry out and all the flavor comes out into the broth as it cooks. I also had a few dried oyster mushrooms kicking around, so I added those as well. Check out these shiitakes:
Other ingredients for the mushroom broth included leeks, onion, carrot, thyme and white button mushrooms. Did you know that the white button mushroom has been found to have the highest antioxidant levels, up to 5x more than other mushrooms??
To make the broth, add all of the ingredients with some water into a pot and bring to the boil; reduce and let simmer for 45-60 minutes.
When the broth is done, you'll have a beautiful brown broth with a delicious, earthy flavor. You can use it in soups, stews, to cook grains even to make risotto...
After my broth was done, I then used it to make a mushroom soup; it was Asian inspired with Nama Shoyu, a fermented soy sauce, which is lower in sodium than it's counterpart, tamari. I also added in some garlic and chile pepper...I would have used ginger and cilantro to finish it off, but I was out...none the less, it was delicious..
I used a variety of fresh, wild mushrooms: chantarelles, yellow foots, oysters, shiitakes and creminis along with carrot, celery, garlic, serrano chile, spinach and kale.
I sauteed the aromatics in coconut oil until tender.
I added in the broth and brought it up to the boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes.
I then added the mushrooms, Nama Shoyu and greens, brought it up to the boil, and let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
At this time, a handful of chopped cilantro would be nice, a squeeze of lime juice or even a splash of sesame oil would also work. I enjoyed the flavor of the mushroom broth too much and wanted to keep sesame out of it this time :) It was delicious, perfect for the cooler weather, real meaty and hearty tasting, without making you feel like you've eaten something not good for you.
So don't be afraid to try out some mushrooms the next time you go to the market :)
Enjoy, Sharon

Thyme To Cook Wins (Prof division) of 1st Annual JP Mac-Off

Yup, it's true...I won a Mac-n-Cheese contest! I happened to get an email regarding a Mac-n-Cheese contest that was going to be held in Jamaica Plain (JP), the city where I used to live. It is a suburb of Boston and it has a real sense of community. I immediately wanted to enter, not even because I thought I had a winner Mac-n-Cheese, rather, just to support the community.

The contest was set up by a local chef, Keesha O'Galdez, otherwise known as the Gourmet Diva; the proceeds of the event were going to benefit the JP Small Business division of the JP Neighborhood Development Corp, an organization responsible for getting many of the businesses up and running in the JP area.

My first thought was to enter my standard mac-n-cheese, which is made from a basic cheddar cheese sauce with the addition of ham and peas....but then my mind wandered to a sandwich I once demo'd at Sur La Table, shortly after I started Thyme To Cook. It was a Mexican sandwich which I found in a cookbook by Rick Bayless called Chorizo and Frijoles Negros Tortas. The sandwich was a mixture of chorizo, a spicy sausage, and mashed, sauteed black beans with a chunk of queso fresco (fresh cheese) and avocado, on a crusty baguette. The flavors of this sandwich were off the hook, really. I thought about the flavors and realized that they would probably go great mixed with a nice Monterey Jack cheese sauce. And viola, my Sultry Chorizo and Frijoles Negros with Queso Fresco and "Tortas" Crust Mac-n-Cheese was born.

I did a test run where I invited a bunch of people over to taste test it about a month before the Mac-off. I'm glad I did because I made 2 major improvements to the recipe. First off, I learned I had to make it more cheesy; it just wasn't gooey enough. Second, I was apprehensive about being too aggressive with salt because the queso fresco is a pretty salty cheese, and I learned that I needed to add a bit more salt; the first time around it was a bit flat.....other improvements I made were to add poblano peppers to the chorizo and black bean saute as well as a squeeze of lime juice to brighten the overall flavor.

Here it is all coming together....My list of things to do.....
First off, I sauteed the chorizo, some garlic, and poblano peppers....I added in powdered New Mexico chiles as well as smoked paprika...

Now, unlike the sandwich, where you mash the black beans and saute them, I left them whole and just mixed them with the sauteed chorizo and poblanos.

I made my bechamel sauce....

and added in cheddar as well as Monterey Jack cheeses...

I made the crusty topping out of a day old baguette, olive oil and queso fresco cheese, then assembled it all together.
Just prior to baking....
and after, with my cilantro/scallion garnish...

At the contest...
I was surprisingly nervous as I approached the church where the contest was being held. I don't know why I was nervous, I guess it was my competitive edge coming out. There was 1 other professional chef present, a few kids for the kids division and the rest were in the amateur division for a total of 16 entrants.

When the event started, there were not alot of people there, but slowly but surely, the place filled up and there were over 200 people who attended. Judges were given samples of the mac-n-cheese in small cups to try. Since I was #15, I was 1 away from the end. I was worried that the mac-n-cheese was going to dry out, since it was on sterno for 2 hours, but it didn't even come close to drying out. I was also worried that I was going to run out of mac-n-cheese before the judges got to taste it, since I was 2nd to last; I was starting to run low. I didn't want to pull any samples for fear that they would be cold and dried out. Thankfully, I had enough and served the judges nice hot and gooey, yummy, mac-n-cheese. The judges got to declare the winners in each category and there was also a People's Choice overall award. In the end, I beat out the other professional chef to take 1st place in the professional division, and I took 2nd overall for people's choice.

Overall it was a great experience. Not sure if I'll go back for the 2nd annual Mac-off next year...but we'll see.... :)

Here is my's a bit involved, but totally worth it:

Sultry Chorizo and Frijoles Negros with Queso Fresco and Tortas Crust
Chorizo Black Bean Mixture
1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
8 oz chorizo, diced
1 poblano pepper, chopped
6 garlic cloves, sliced
2 TBS fat of your choice for sauteing
2 tsp New Mexico chile powder
2 tsp smoked paprika
Juice of 1 lime
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
S+P to taste

Bechamel/Cheese Sauce
5 cups 1% Milk
5 TBS butter (or Vegan "butter" such as Earth Balance)
5 TBS flour
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
Nutmeg, S+P to taste

"Tortas" Crust
1 day old Baguette, chopped into small dice
1/2 cup Queso Fresco, crumbled, divided
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
S+P to taste

For Assembly
1 Pound cooked pasta, shape of your choice, al dente

1. Make your Chorizo/Black Bean filling by sauteing the poblano and garlic over medium heat until softened, in the fat of your choice. To that add your chile powder and smoked paprika, stirring for a minute until fragrant.
2. Add in the chorizo and increase the heat to medium-high. Saute until crispy, then add cilantro and lime juice, tasting for S+P.
3. Remove from heat and mix in the black beans. Re-season as necessary.

4. Make your bechamel by melting butter, adding flour and "cooking off" for a minute, then adding warm milk and whisking constantly. Bring to a boil and let boil for a minute.
5. Remove from heat and add nutmeg, S+P.
6. Stir in your cheeses and re-season as necessary.

7. Make your "tortas" crust by adding baguette and 1/4 cup queso fresco to food processor fitted w"S" blade and process into crumbs. Drizzle in the olive oil and then process once more until the oil has been incorporated. Season w.S+P. Reserve the remaining 1/4 cup queso fresco to put over the top of the mac-n-cheese prior to baking in the oven.

8. Assemble the mac-n-cheese by mixing the al dente pasta with the chorizo/black bean filling and the cheese sauce until well incorporated. Pour into a 9x13 pan (sprayed w.non-stick cooking spray). Top with the "tortas" crust and then the remaining 1/4 cup queso fresco.

9. Cover w.tin foil that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15-20 more minutes until bubbly and golden brown.

That's it. Enjoy! Feel free to email me w.questions or comments.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What the heck do I do with....Bison?

Bison, the other red meat.....but seriously....have you tried it? It is a great lean, red meat that is grass fed, low in calories, fat and cholesterol, and high in iron and Vit B-12: 100 grams of cooked bison has 7 g fat (2 g saturated), 143 cal, 55 mg cholesterol, 3.4 mcg iron and 2.9 mcg Vit B-12....and a whopping 20g protein!!! It's a good choice for people on special diets.
I have one client who I cook for that follows the UltraSimple diet by Dr Mark Hyman. Bison is recommended as a lean meat and so I used it to make a Bison Chili. This client in question has allergies to onions and so I needed to eliminate that from my chili. Instead, I used garlic as an aromatic. This client is not allergic to tomatoes, but does not care for them. Instead, I used tomatillos.
Basically, I minced a bunch of garlic cloves and chopped a couple carrots, browned them up and added in the ground bison to brown. For spices, I added in ground New Mexico chile powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cayenne.

After the bison browned up, I added the tomatillos, some black beans, lentils and a bit of veggie stock.

I let the mix simmer for about 20-30 minutes and it was done. To finish it off, I added a bunch of chopped cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Real tasty, very hearty. The tomatillos and lime juice added a tang that went well with the bison, beans and lentils.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What the heck do I do with....Dried Fruit?

I'm always on the fence about dried fruit. Do I like it? Don't I like it? Is it yummy? Is it bad for you? I say it's ok, everything in moderation (well most things). Just make sure the dried fruit you are getting is not processed with Sulfur; sulfur dioxide is used to preserve the color and flavor of the fruit, and has been shown to induce asthma in those individuals sensitive to it. Dried fruits are packed with fiber and vitamins and minerals but are also high in sugar, so enjoy in moderation.

I made this delicious snack cake after going apple picking. We have an abundance of apples and I'm slowly going through them. I found this recipe in Living Without Magazine, a magazine dedicated to gluten free recipes as well as recipes surrounding other allergies. But don't stop reading, because you can make the recipe with standard flour (whole wheat in a particular would go nicely).

The recipe uses both fresh fruit (it actually calls for pears but I used an apple and a pear), dried fruits (I used cranberries, apricots, Hunza raisins and 1 date, because I had one laying around), chopped almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. To sweeten the bar the recipe calls for maple syrup and date sugar. I used Grade B maple syrup and coconut sugar, not date sugar. Coconut sugar is a low glycemic sugar (lower than cane sugar or honey) and can be used 1 for 1 as a substitute for white sugar. It's a great alternative since it has many vitamins and minerals in it, and it is a sustainable product. The recipe also calls for either quinoa flakes or oats. I love quinoa, in any form, but I used raw oat flakes, simple because I had them.

Overall, the bar is nutritionally dense, and delicious.

Let's talk Flour blends for those who need gluten free options: I tend to lean toward this blend of flour that has the following flours or startchs in it: teff, millet, brown rice, tapioca and is a high protein, high fiber blend with a nice flavor. I found this blend in Living Without magazine. Here is the recipe: 1 cup brown rice, 1/2 cup millet flour, 1/2 cup teff flour, 2/3 cup tapioca starch and 1/2 cup potato starch. Just mix together well. Most of these flours can be found at Whole Foods or other health food stores or on line as a last resort.

Here is the recipe for the bar, w/pics:

Recipe from Living Without magazine


¾ cup gluten-free All-Purpose Flour Blend
1 cup toasted quinoa flakes or gluten-free oats
¼ cup date sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup maple syrup or agave syrup
¼ cup oil of choice
1 egg or flax gel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 pears, peeled and coarsely grated
½ cup chopped dates, dried apricots or dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped almonds, lightly toasted, optional
¼ cup hulled pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
2-3 tablespoons sesame seeds


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and line an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

2. Mix together flour blend, toasted quinoa flakes or oats, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon.

3. Stir in maple syrup, oil, egg and vanilla. Add pears, dates, almonds and pumpkin seeds. Stir well to combine.

4. Spread mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle sesame seeds over mixture.

5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until done. Cool. Cut into 12 bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blueberry Tea Cake

I got some beautiful wild blueberries from Maine last weekend and decided to make a tea cake with them. I played with a basic recipe to "sharon" it is what I came up with.

1/2 cup coconut oil
2 TBS Earth Balance vegan butter
3/4 cup evaporated palm sugar (Sweet Tree Sustainable Sweeteners)
1 1/4 cup sprouted wheat flour
1/2 cup raw oat flour
1/4 cup raw flaked oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 egg whites
1/3 cup almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup wild blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 and oil/flour an 8x8 cake pan....
1. In a large bowl, cream together the coconut oil, vegan butter and palm sugar until light and fluffy.
2. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (sprouted wheat flour -> vanilla powder).
3. In a small bowl blend the egg whites, almond milk and vanilla.
4. Add the ~ 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the creamed oil/sugar and mix until just combined; add ~ 1/3 of the wet ingredients to the creamed oil/sugar mix and mix until just combined.
Repeat with remaining dry and wet ingredients taking care to not over mix.
5. Gently stir in the blueberries and turn out batter into prepared pan.
6. Bake in center of oven until done, approximately 30-35 minutes.

The cake was delicious and moist. I will definitely be making this tea cake again (and soon) :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Anatomy of a Soup

It's uncanny, really, that when Labor Day comes and goes, it's as if Mother Nature knows to turn off the HOT switch and turn on the COOL switch...
This season, once that switch turned, I had an immediate desire to make soup.

I had a chicken carcass in the freezer, ready to make stock with....some dried chickpeas and some beautiful kale....add in some potatoes and we've got a hearty soup. Last night I soaked up the chickpeas and decided that I was going to use them to make a Kale Chickpea Soup.
Both the chicken and the produce I used today came from my CSA from Stillman's Farm, Lunenberg, Ma.

Anatomy of the Soup
Step 1: Soak the dried chickpeas
Dried chickpeas should really be soaked overnight for a couple reasons. The first is to rinse away any enzyme inhibitors that might be held with in the bean. All beans, nuts and seeds have enzyme inhibitors that prevent them from sprouting or growing in unfavorable environments. A soak in water is enough to rinse them away. The second reason is to soften them up in order to shorten cooking time. After an 8-10 hour soak, here is what the chickpeas look like:
Step 2: Cook the chickpeas
I chose to cook the chickpeas separate from the soup itself. I actually used a pressure cooker to cook them up; the pressure cooker is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen. By cooking foods under pressure it reduces cooking time and is notorious for softening up tough cuts of meat. I put the chickpeas in the pressure cooker with water, garlic cloves, rosemary sprigs and a touch of olive oil. You can cook the chickpeas on the stove as well, but it will just take a bit longer.
The cooked chickpeas:
Step 3: Make the chicken stock
While the chickpeas cooked, I set up a basic chicken stock with the chicken carcass, cut up onions, garlic, carrots and celery. I added water, a bit of cracked pepper, a pinch of salt, and a couple bay leaves. After it came to a boil the heat was reduced and impurities were skimmed away. The longer you let a stock cook, the more flavorful the it will be. I let it go for an hour and a half before straining it.
Step 4: Make the Kale and Chickpea Soup
I started the soup by sauteing minced garlic and diced onions in a bit of coconut oil.
After the garlic and onion softened up, I added in diced white potatoes and chopped rosemary and cooked them for a bit.
To that I added just enough stock to cover the potatoes.
I cooked the potatoes until softened, then I used a potato masher to mash them up and thicken up the soup a bit.
At this point, I added in the cooked chickpeas and raw kale, brought the soup back to the boil and then reduced heat to a simmer to cook kale and blend flavors.....all along the way, I seasoned with salt and pepper.....

After about 15 minutes the soup was done, and was delicious....

The heartiness of the chickpeas with the texture from the potatoes, the earthiness from the rosemary and the texture of the kale worked so well together. It hit the spot, in more ways than one.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What the heck do I do with....Shelling beans?

I love when I see the first shelling beans at the farmer's market; inevitably I get a memory of visiting Italy and eating the most amazing beans, simply prepared with garlic, rosemary and extra virgin olive oil.
These beans are called Barlotti beans or Cranberry beans and they are beautiful...check them out:
As you can see, they come in a variety of patterns. Unfortunately, as they cook, they lose their beauty and turn an ugly gray color. However, what they lose in beauty, they gain in taste; the beans are soft, buttery and delicious.

Fresh shelling beans are so easy to cook. Simply shell the beans, rinse them and put them into an ample sized pot. Cover the beans with water to about 3/4 of the way up the pot. Add in some whole cloves of garlic, like 4-6 cloves, some thyme, and a couple bay leaves then bring to the boil.
I have learned in the past that salting beans prior to them being (partially) cooked is a no-no; this is supposedly because if salted, the salt interferes with the bean softening up. So, with these fresh beans, I let them go 5 minutes, then I add in a generous amount of sea salt or kosher salt.
The beans take about 15 minutes total...that's it. Too easy to not do yourself.
When the beans are done simply drain them, put them in a bowl and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. They make a great accompaniment to grilled meat or as a topping on a salad of mixed herbs.