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.