Monthly Archives: November 2011

Portabella Steaks

There’s something about the first juicy, toothsome bite of a portabella mushroom that truly is reminiscent of meat. I never understood this and didn’t give it much thought until I learned about umami (disclaimer: I’m about to be a big nerd).

Umami is the fifth taste category that the human taste buds can discern – the one that doesn’t fit neatly into the previously defined sweet/sour/salty/bitter packages. Translated simply, it means “delicious,” but the umami flavor is generally defined as meaty, robust, or savory. Umami’s discoverer, Japanese researcher Kikunae Ikeda, identified the broken down form of the amino acid glutamate (L-glutamate) as the source of the umami taste. Guess what’s super-rich in glutamate and hence, really delicious when cooked? Yep – mushrooms. This is why mushrooms are so often used as a meat substitute, and why the texture and mouthfeel of a grilled portabella is so very steaky.

Got all that? Okay, now you can forget it, because you’re not going to be thinking about glutamate or taste buds or century-old Japanese research when you make this. You’re just going to be thinking about how something so quick and easy could possibly be this good. We had these with roasted asparagus and fresh watercress on the side, and the entire thing went from grocery bag to table in under 45 minutes. Not too shabby for umami.

Portabella Steaks
1 ½ lbs whole portabella mushrooms (about 6)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the broiler or fire up your grill. Or, if you’re me, put a grill pan on your stove and coat it with an equal mixture of Pam and your own tears, because you don’t own a grill and your oven is so old that the broiler is actually a drawer underneath the stove that licks tongues of hungry flames upon your food as soon as you open it, charring it beyond recognition and causing a cringing Pavlovian response every time someone says “broil.”

Place the mushrooms in a large, shallow dish (either a large baking dish or rimmed baking sheet will work well) Combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley in a bowl and mix well. Pour over mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Marinate for 30 minutes, turning once.

Place the mushrooms on a grill grate (or aforementioned grill pan) or broiler pan (gill side down if grilling, gill side up if broiling) and cook for 4-6 minutes per side. The mushrooms should give off some of their natural liquid and be mostly firm to the touch. Serve hot.

Source: adapted from Williams Sonoma


Let’s Start With a Drink: Watermelon-Thyme Cocktail

Whenever I have people over (rare, since my apartment is approximately the size of the a shoebox), the first thing I do is offer them a drink. Aren’t you sad that I can’t have people over more often? Me too. But since this is my first post here, I can’t think of a better way to start than with a cocktail.

Since I can’t have people over much, I often do the next best thing, which is to go to my friends’ homes and have them offer me cocktails. I had this particular one at a get-together at my friend Wendy’s home, and loved it so much that I made it at least three times over the ensuing months, twice for parties and once for no occasion at all. I’m not normally a tequila drinker, but found that the watermelon and simple syrup gave it a pleasing sweetness that muted the tequila’s…well, tequila face factor (you know what I’m talking about. We all have a picture from college that someone impeccably timed while we were taking a tequila shot. Um, right?). And though I haven’t tried it yet, I’m certain that vodka would make a more than suitable replacement. Cheers!

Watermelon-Thyme Cocktail
Yield: about 6 healthy pours
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup water
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
6 cups diced watermelon, seedless or seeds removed
1 cup ice
3/4 cup tequila (or vodka)
2 Tbsp orange liqueur (we used Triple Sec)
Fresh thyme sprigs (to garnish)

First, make the simple syrup. Combine sugar and 1/4 cup of the water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir frequently to dissolve the sugar. When boiling, remove from heat, add thyme, and stir for 1 minute. Let cool.

Place the watermelon, 1 cup water, and ice in a blender on high for 2 minutes or until smoothly pureed. Add cooled simple syrup, tequila, and orange liqueur and blend until thoroughly combined. Pour into martini or margarita glasses and garnish with thyme sprigs.
Source: Adapted from Chef Marcela’s Mexican Made Easy.