December 22, 2011

Portobello Mushrooms

Frankly, portobello mushrooms are not my favorite, I often find them much more tough and dry than most mushrooms, maybe because we consume them at an older age than most other mushrooms. However, when portobellos are allowed to braise slowly with onions, fresh herbs and garlic, they become very flavorful and quite delicious. Portobellos, conversely portabellas, are, in fact, a mature variation of Agaricus bisporus, the common white or brown mushroom native to Europe and North America, which is known by many different names depending upon their coloring, age and location. Braising the mushroom cap on top of the onion gill side up, lets the onion caramelize and the mushroom to braise in its own juices, creating a rich and hearty dish. They are lovely served with greens, asparagus and salad.

4 portobello mushrooms, stems removed

1 small onion, sliced into 4 ¼" thick rounds

4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped

4 sprigs rosemary

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

1. Coat the bottom of a large skillet or shallow pan with olive oil and arrange the onion rounds so they are evenly spaced in the skillet or pan. Place the portobello mushroom caps on top of the onion rounds, gill side up. Generously season the mushrooms and place a clove of garlic and sprig of rosemary on each mushroom cap.

2. Turn the heat on to medium-low, cover the mushrooms and braise until tender, 15-20 minutes. Occasionally check the heat, to make sure the onions are not burning, and reduce as necessary. Once the mushrooms are fully cooked and tender, remove from heat and set aside for 5-10 minutes.

3. Serve the portobello mushrooms warm, along with the cooked onions and juices from the pan, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 portobello mushrooms

December 14, 2011

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Sweet potatoes have been on my mind lately, possibly because they are commonly served during winter holiday meals or maybe because I am in the south, where sweet potatoes have been cultivated since the 16th century. In the southern States, sweet potatoes seem to be preferred over regular potatoes and due to their sweeter nature; they are found in a wide array of both savory and sweet dishes, including pies, casseroles, breads, stews and fries. Lately, I have come across sweet potato pancakes on menus and signs; at first I thought were similar to a European potato pancake using grated sweet potatoes as a base, which sounded delicious. However, I subsequently learned, in the south, they are referring to traditional breakfast pancakes, in which cooked mashed sweet potatoes are used in addition to the flour. I found baking the sweet potatoes before adding them to the pancakes, added a depth to the pancakes and created a rich sweet potato flavor in the finished product.

Sweet potatoes can be baked in advance. Sugar and spices can be adjusted to taste, depending upon personal preference.

1 lb sweet potatoes

2 c flour

2 ¼ c milk

¼ c butter, melted

2 eggs

4 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg

½ tsp salt

vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the whole sweet potatoes in the oven and bake until tender, 30-45 minutes. Remove from oven, cool slightly, peel and blend until smooth in a medium mixing bowl.

2. Add the dry ingredients to the blended sweet potatoes and thoroughly combine. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs and butter, add to the dry ingredients and potatoes, and gently fold to combine into a smooth batter.

3. Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat. Once heated, coat the griddle or skillet with oil. Drop about ¼ c of the batter on to the griddle or skillet, repeating until the griddle or skillet is full. Cook pancakes until bubbles appear on the surface, flip and cook until both sides are golden brown and pancakes are fully cooked. Repeat process with remaining batter.

4. Serve sweet potato pancakes warm with butter and maple syrup, if desired.

Serves 3-4

December 8, 2011


From the French term touiller, to toss food, ratatouille is believed to have originated as a dish made by peasants around Nice in the Provence region of France as ratatouille niçoise, influenced from neighboring Spanish and Italian cuisine. Essentially a stewed vegetable dish, ratatouille generally contains eggplant, summer squash, bell peppers and tomatoes, which are baked, braised, roasted, sautéed or stewed with various herbs, garlic and onion. Because ratatouille can be made any number of ways using any number of ingredients, it is an easy and delicious dish to prepare and serve as an entrée, side dish or leftover. Baking the vegetables gives helps retain their integrity and them a rich flavor. Socca, beets and tangerines or polenta go well to compliment ratatouille.

1 small eggplant, thinly sliced into rounds

1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds

1 medium yellow squash, thinly sliced into rounds

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced into rounds

1 large tomato, diced

1 tbsp basil, roughly chopped

1 tsp parsley, roughly chopped

1 small onion, diced

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until lightly browned, 5-10 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. Stir in the garlic and tomatoes and continue sautéing until the tomatoes are tender and beginning to form a sauce. Fold in the basil and parsley, simmer until herbs are fragrant and remove from heat. Cool slightly before placing tomatoes in a food processor, purée into a fine sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread sauce evenly on the bottom of a medium baking dish, roughly 9"x9". Layer the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red bell pepper evenly on the sauce. Drizzle the remaining olive oil on top and season with salt and pepper.

3. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake until vegetables are tender and lightly browned on top, 30-45 minutes. Remove the ratatouille from the oven and set aside to cool slightly. Top with Parmesan, goat or cheese of choice and serve ratatouille warm or room temperature.

Serves 3-4