portabello-mushroom

Portabello Burgers
Hello loyal readers, all 10 of you. Sorry it’s been awhile since our last post. We’ve been busy, but the upshot of that is there’s a lot to talk about. Among those things is my first formal food post.
One of the under-appreciated benefits of living in Southern California is the fresh produce available not only in the farmer’s markets that are ubiquitous throughout LA’s cities and towns, but also the ease of access to that produce in the supermarket. Sure, you can get real organic heirloom tomatoes every Thursday night in South Pasadena, but you can get them all week in Whole Foods, Pavilions, or even Vons. Needless to say, the fact that we can get such vegetables without any special effort got Pam and I thinking less about what to have with chicken, and more about what to have with a produce centerpiece.
This paradigm shift in our dietary planning is much healthier, as well. Sating your hunger with more filling-but-calorically-poor foods like produce, and less from calorie-rich-but-not-filling pre-prepared foods and meats leaves you feeling full, but with fewer calories to burn at the end of the day. So, if you’re concerned with caloric accounting, this is probably the easiest way to go quickly from the distinctly American habit of overeating to feeling full but having to worry less about how much you ate that day. If you’re grad students like the two of us are, it’s certainly the least time-consuming way that we’ve focused on for living a more healthy lifestyle.
Before I digress much further, this is the philosophical underpinning for some of the dishes we’ve been experimenting with lately. Specifically, a classic entree that shocks many when they’re told how satisfying it is as the centerpiece of any meal: the Portabello Mushroom burger.
The Portabello has all sorts of health benefits of varying veracity that are detailed in other places, but the revelation that appealed to us was that each portabello has about 20 calories in it. 20 calories, and you can feel as full afterward as if you just ate a normal-sized hamburger.
The downside is that the mushroom itself has little to no taste before being cooked, but that’s where the fun really starts.
To start with, we prepared a dressing consisting of a 1:1 mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Into this suspension was mixed a combination of crushed fresh rosemary (great to use the rear end of a wooden spoon to crush these in olive oil), and minced garlic, with a little fresh ground pepper and salt for extra seasoning. The flavor of fresh rosemary is subtle relative to its dried counterpart, so feel free to liberally add the herb. Also, a touch of basil similarly crushed gives a savory kick to the dressing if it is desired, but has a tendency to dominate the flavor, so be careful. This dressing was prepared in under 5 minutes, so it’s a simple, healthy and fresh addition.
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After removing the stipe (a mushroom’s stem) to give a flat, patty-like bell, we added our well-mixed dressing by drizzling it from the bowl onto the underside of the mushroom in order to saturate but not overfill the gills. Now we’re ready to cook.
We’ve had a lot of trial and error with the grilling side of things, but have found that the best way to keep the mushroom moist and flavorful without the leathery undercooked texture or the burnt blandness associated with too long on the grill is straightforward. Placing the dressed mushroom top-down on a squared piece of aluminum foil and wrapping gives a neat, grill-ready package for cooking.
Insofar as the grill is concerned, pre-heat to about 500 degrees, then just throw your mushrooms on for about 10 minutes, keeping the temperature in the 400-500 degree range. The foil keeps the mushroom cooking evenly, and prevents burning. Perhaps most conveniently, you don’t have to flip the mushroom while it’s on the grill, so if you’re like me, you can watch TV (sports and other manly things, never the food network) inside, and come back in 10 minutes.
To check if the mushrooms are done, just peel back some of the foil and see if the mushroom gills look softer, in that they have lost their ability to hold their shape. Generally, if the dressing is boiling on top of the mushrooms, you’re in good shape, and you can take them of the grill. Once that’s done, turn up the heat to high, hopefully over 600 degrees.
At this point, peel off the package and take out the mushrooms. To the extremely hot grill, add these again in order to sear both sides, for about a minute each. Grill the top sides first to get your customary grill marks and then flip, letting the dressing fall out. This will kick up flames, so be careful. Close the grill top to keep the flames down, but after only a minute, take the mushrooms back out.
We recommend serving them with a slice of tomato and a thick slice of mozarella cheese on a bun. Let them sit for about 2 minutes with the cheese on to get an awesome texture contrast of the soft cheese with the crisp and juicy mushrooms and tomatoes. The result is a satisfactory bite with a sour and meaty burst of juicy flavor from the first bite to the last. If you still feel like adding extra seasoning, we haven’t found them lacking, but we’d certainly love to hear your suggestions.
This is our first go-to thoroughly vegetarian meal, and has inspired us to look into more. So, as the summer starts to wind down, give it a shot… happy grilling!
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Valentine’s dinner part deux.  My girlfriend beat me to posting this portion of the meal by putting it on her tumblr first.  I’m okay with it because this was so damn good (if I do say so myself.)  This was however, a bit of a stretch when it comes to fitting in my theme dinner.  This was supposed to be a fort.  You know those pillow forts you made as a kid?  Well my girlfriend loves hanging out in them.  I tried to replicate these forts by making a portabello mushroom appetizer.  Basically, I just thought that I’d layer some veggies to try to replicate all the layers of a good fort.  I took a couple portabello caps, and let them marinate oven night in balsamic and tabasco.  I put a roasted pepper on that and then them some fresh mozz.  I thought my mom had brought me a cucumber earlier in the week and I was going to add that on top for a crunch.  Of course, it was actually a zucchini so I threw it on the frying pan with some oil and added.  I fired the whole thing in the oven so that the mozzerella would melt over the whole dish.  The end result was way better then I had even hoped.  The portabello was a bit too peppery, but it was perfectly flavored when eating all of the layers at once.  I had never really tried anything like this so I was pretty happy that the flavors were so balanced.  I’m certainly going to have make this again.