Friday, February 27, 2009

Portobello Mushrooms With Leek, Garlic and Tomato Sauce Over Noodles

This is an easy dish to prepare and makes a very tasty, very satisfying vegetarian meal. The recipe below makes 4 servings.

Portobello mushrooms are a great meat substitute in vegetarian dishes. They have their own rich mushroom flavor, they have a nice firm texture, and they will take up the flavors of whatever they are cooked with.

In this dish, we sauté up the mushrooms first with butter, olive oil and seasonings, then set them aside. They are then added to the sauce for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Here's the recipe:

4 medium sized Portobello mushrooms, sliced into 1/4-inch thick strips
5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 small leeks or 1 medium to large leek, chopped (*)
1 16-oz can chopped tomatoes (**)
2/3 cup vegetable stock
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp rubbed sage (***)
2 tsp thyme (***)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
8 oz. wide egg noodles
Fresh shaved Parmesan cheese

(*) Use only the white and tenderest green part of the leeks; don't worry about having too much leek as it has a very mild flavor so there's lots of leeway.

(**) These days cans are running 15 oz or eve 14.5 oz -- don't worry about that either, just use a can, it will be fine. Also you can get different varieties of canned chopped tomotoes these days -- I used one with garlic and basil this time.

(***) If the sage or thyme are fresh, double or triple these amounts. If they are dried and getting old (i.e. losing their flavor), go ahead and use more too.

Place about 1 Tbsp each butter and olive oil in a frying pan, adding about 1/3 of the black pepper, sage and thyme, and heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is thin and slides around. Place 1/3 of the mushroom slices in the pan and sauté them gently, first on one side and then on the other side, until they have absorbed the butter and oil -- about 2 minutes in all. Remove them from the pan and do the same procedure with the rest of the mushroom slices.

Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of butter and olive oil to the frying pan, and tently sauté the chopped leeks and garlic, until the leeks start to become transparent and break up. Now add the canned chopped tomatoes, the vegetable broth, and the balsamic vinegar to the sauce and bring it up to a boil, then turn it on low to simmer.

While the sauce is simmering, prepare the noodles.

Now while the noodles are boiling, remove the cover from the sauce and allow the liquid to simmer on medium heat to reduce it.

When the sauce is reduced and the noodles are ready, add the mushrooms back into the sauce and stire them gently in -- we don't want to break them up, we want nice big robust mushroom slices in this dish. Let them simmer on low for about 5 minutes. Test the flavor, adding salt to taste if needed.

To serve: place a bed of noodles on each plate, spoon mushrooms and sauce over the noodles. Top with fresh shaved Parmesan cheese. With bread, a green salad, and wine or sparkling juice, this makes an elegant and satisfying vegetarian meal, suitable for company.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

About Kona Coffee

Years ago, in another phase of my life, I was involved in the Kona coffee business. I traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii, stayed at a coffee farm up high on the mountainside on the famed Kona Coast area, and learned a lot about how coffee is grown, processed and roasted. So I thought I would share some of that information here with my fellow foodies.

The Kona coffee industry goes back well over 100 years. When Mark Twain visited Hawaii in 1866, he waxed enthusiastic about it, saying "Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it by what name you please." Many connoisseurs would agree with him. To this day, Kona coffee is considered one of the world's most prized coffees, in the same league as the famed Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee.

Although coffee trees were originally brought to Hawaii from Brazil, they were from a strain of Coffee Arabica trees that originated in Ethiopia. The volcanic soils and relatively moderate temperatures on the higher slopes on the Kona coast turned out to be ideal for the cultivation of coffee. However, the terrain is not suited to mechanical means of production, and to this day Kona coffee must be picked by hand.

The steps in processing Kona coffee are also very labor intensive. First, the red coffee berries (called "cherry") are packed into 100-lb burlap bags for handling. The cherry is then processed through a machine called a "pulper", which removes the bright red berry and leaves the seeds, which are the actual coffee beans. Usually there are two seeds per berry; but sometimes, the seeds do not separate and remain one round seed. These, when processed and packed, are known as "peaberry". Oddly, the round peaberries are smaller than their single counterparts.

The freshly-pulped seeds are then soaked for 18 to 24 hours or so in a tank of water. This process allows fermentation that processes the sugars on the outside coating of the beans, preventing later spoilage.

Next the beans are put out on wooden decks to be sun-dried. Even though the Kona coast is relatively dry, by Hawaiian standards, still they get their share of rain. So the drying decks have roofs that can be pulled over the beans when the rain comes. During the drying process, the beans are raked from time to time with large wooden rakes to keep turning them and allow them to dry evenly. When dry, the outer coats, called "parchment", have a very light color, something between sand and eggshell.

Once the beans are dry enough, they are again packed into burlap bags and taken to the mill. At the mill, machines separate the beans by size and remove the parchment to produce the green coffee beans ready for roasting. For longer term storage, beans will usually be kept in the parchment and not milled until they are ready to be shipped to the roaster.

Roasting is an art in itself. There are points at which the beans make a "cracking" noise, and experienced roasters know exactly what to look for, listen for, and smell to determine when they have achieved the desired level of roasting. The usual roasting levels that people talk about are light, medium and dark; the dark roast will result in the bean releasing its oils to some extent, and therefore these should be used soon after roasting.

The differences in coffee flavors from different regions of the world are due to many factors: the plant stock (all gourmet coffees come from varieties of the "arabica" family rather than the "robusta" family of coffee trees), climate and soil, farming methods, how and when it is picked (Kona coffees are picked by hand, and during the harvest season, there will be several passes because the pickers will only pick the ripest red coffee cherries), and how it is processed. Both Kona and Jamaican coffees are processed similarly, resulting in clean light coffee flavors. African coffees typically are dried in the cherry before the beans are removed; this results in a different sort of flavor that many people find to be richer and more complex than Kona, Jamaican or the typical Central American coffees.

In my own view, Kona coffee is deserving of its special status among the world's coffees. It has a wonderfully floral aroma, and a rich yet mild flavor without any bitterness. What it lacks in complexity it more than makes up for with its purity of coffee flavor. I prefer my Kona coffee roasted at a medium level rather than dark, because the darker roast tends to overpower the subtleties of its flavors.

Oh, one more thing. If you would like to try some great Kona coffee from family farms and at quite reasonable prices, I recommend the following two sources. Please note, I am not affiliated in any way with these two family farms, but I am acquainted with them and know how they grow and process their coffee. It is top notch.

Kona Purple Mountain (I recommend the Full City Roast)

Smith Farms


Friday, February 20, 2009

Smothered Pork Chops

Well as you can see, we're eating well again here at Maison Mundy. Tonight it was pork chops, smothered in onion, apple and sweet yellow pepper. Yes, we've been on a bit of a sweet pepper kick lately!

So here's the recipe:

Place three pork chops (about 1 lb.) in a marinade consisting of:

1 Tbsp fresh chopped thyme leaves
2 Tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 Tsp salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
2 cups vegetable stock

Now while the pork chops are marinating, start trimming:

1 large sweet yellow bell pepper
1 medium yellow onion
1 medium Granny Smith apple

Don't forget to save the trimmings for stock -- but not the green stems or seeds or the apple core! You can peel the apple or not -- if you do not peel it, be sure to wash it to remove the wax coating.

Chop the pepper, onion and apple into bite sized pieces and set aside in a bowl.

Rinse 1-1/2 cups long grain white rice
Heat 2-3/4 cups water, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 Tbsp oil to boiling. Add the rice, turn down to low, and set the timer for 20 minutes.

Heat 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan, along with 1-2 tsp fresh chopped thyme, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, and 1-2 tsp rubbed sage. When the butter has melted and the pan is hot, add the vegetable mixture (add only enough to cover the bottom, leaving some space in between -- in other words, do not crowd the pan). Sauté until the onion pieces break apart and start to become translucent. If you are doing the vegetables in more than one batch, remove the first batch into a bowl leaving as much of the oil as you can, and just add and cook the next batch until you are done.

Now add a little more butter and oil and the same seasonings, heat it up again, remove the pork chops from their marinade and place in the frying pan. Leave the heat on medium high, and sauté each side until brown, about 3 minutes per side.

Now add back the vegetables and cover the pan, putting it on medium low heat. Cook for another 7 or 8 minutes, until the pork chops are just done.

Remove the pork chops and vegetables into an ovenproof baking dish. If it does not have a cover, cover it with aluminum foil and place it in a warm oven while finishing up the sauce.

Turn the heat off the rice when the 20-minute timer goes off.

Deglaze the frying pan with the marinade liquid. Cook on high heat -- we're going to reduce it. After it starts to reduce, taste and adjust. The lemon and vinegar will have made it a bit tart. I added: 1 Tbsp honey, 1 tsp reduced sodium Soy Sauce (the reduced sodium Soy Sauce is not only less salty, but also milder than regular Soy sauce -- but be careful -- we don't want the soy flavor to really stand out here, just to provide some background), a little more thyme, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Keep reducing until the sauce is about one quarter of its original volume and is rich and dark looking.

Now remove the baking dish from the warm oven and pour the sauce over them.

To serve, place a bed of rice on the plate, place a pork chop over it, and spoon the vegetables and sauce over all. Garnish with a sprig of fresh time.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Savory Stuffed Crepes

It's so great when you try something new and it turns out as good as you hoped it would -- or sometimes, even better than you expected.

I have a cookbook that is all about potatoes and vegetables. It's a strange small format book, and thick at the same time, so it's almost cube shaped. And it has lots of nice pictures. I think I picked it up on the discount table at a bookstore. But it has lots of wonderful recipes inside, and I go to it for ideas.

So the other day I opened it up to a page that had a recipe for vegetable-stuffed crepes. Now I'm not one to just follow the recipe religiously, and this was no exception. I used it as a jumping-off point. But I did use all the elements: crepes, vegetable and chicken stuffing, and cheese sauce.

While it was a bit of a production, it turned out to be well worth it, so I'm posting it today to share with all you food lovers out there. Try it out, you will not be disappointed.

Vegetable and Chicken Filling:

1 large sweet yellow pepper
1 medium onion
8 medium white mushrooms
3/4 to 1 lb skinless chicken breast

Chop all of these into 1/2-inch cubes, more or less. Bite sized, small enough to stuff into crepes without being too bulky.

Place 2 Tbsp. each of olive oil and butter in a large frying pan. Add freshly ground black pepper and a few sprinkles of dried sage. Sauté the mushrooms, making sure not to burn the butter, remove from the pan and set aside. Add another 1 Tbsp each olive oil and butter to the pan, more freshly ground black pepper and sage, and sauté the pepper and onion until the onions are starting to become translucent, again being careful not to let it get too hot and burn the butter, and also stopping before the yellow pepper becomes limp. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add another 1 Tbsp each of olive oil and butter, more freshly ground pepper and sage, and sauté the chicken until it is just cooked all the way through. Now add the vegetables back into the pan with the chicken, add a scant teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, a dash of crushed red pepper (1/8 tsp -- just a little accent), and 1 to 1-1/2 tsp cumin (again, just an accent). Cook them over medium heat for another couple of minutes to meld the seasonings, and salt to taste.

Cheese Sauce:

2 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
3/4 cup stock (vegetable or chicken) (*) See note, below
3/4 cup milk (or milk and half-and-half)
1 cup cheese (I used Pepper Jack)
2 Tbsp freshly chopped cilantro
Dash freshly ground nutmeg

Make the roux by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then adding the flour, making it all evenly mixed and continuing to cook until the flour begins to toast just a bit. In the meantime, combine the stock and the milk and heat them to scalding temperature either in another saucepan or in the microwave. When the flour is toasted and the liquid is hot, pour the liquid all at once into the flour mixture and immediately begin whisking vigorously to mix and prevent lumps. Cook for another couple of minutes until it thickens. Now add 2/3 cup of the cheese and the nutmeg and cilantro, whisking until the cheese melts. Remove from heat and taste, adding salt if necessary. I never add salt before adding cheese, because the cheese itself is salty and you may need none at all. Set the sauce aside, covering the pan.

(*) I took out a jar of vegetable trimmings from the freezer, placed them in 6 cups of water, and let them simmer for about an hour, until the water was down to 4 cups or so and the broth was dark and rich (leek trimmings, onion ends, sweet pepper, zucchini, mushroom ends). While I was trimming the chicken pieces, I put any trimmed veiny or tendony parts right into the broth. Then I strained the broth, used it for the cheese sauce, and saved and froze the rest.


Crepes are so easy, I have to ask myself why I don't make the more often!

3/4 cup flour
pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
1-1/2 cup milk

Whisk the egg and milk together. Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl, stirring or sifting them to mix. Now pour the liquid into the flour mixture all at once and whisk vigorously until the batter is well mixed and smooth (a few small lumps don't matter).

Now heat a non-stick or cast-iron frying pan and add a little butter or olive oil and let it spread evenly around the pan. When it is hot enough, pour about 1/6 of the batter into the pan and move the pan around until it has formed a thin even coat over the bottom. You'll have to get a feel for this -- you don't want it hot enough to burn the butter or oil, but you want it hot enough to start cooking the batter immediately. If there are a couple of holes where the batter did not fill in, don't worry about it -- you'll see. Cook the crepe about 1-1/2 minutes on the first side, until the top is starting to set (no more runny batter), then flip it and cook on the other side for 1/2 to 1 minute more. Remove from the frying pan and set aside; continue cooking crepes until you've cooked all 6 of them.

Now we're ready to assemble the dish. Lightly oil an ovenproof baking dish. Spoon about 1/6 of the vegetable and chicken filling on a crepe, roll it up and place it in the baking dish. Do the same with all 6 crepes, hopefully they will fit snugly in the dish, one right next to the other. Note: if you end up with some leftover filling, just go ahead and sprinkle it on the dish of rolled crepes. Now, pour the cheese sauce over the crepes, and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Finally, place the dish of stuffed crepes under a preheated broiler and broil for 4 to 5 minutes, until the cheese on top is bubbling and starting to brown. Remove from heat, let stand a few minutes and serve, carefully removing one crepe at a time for each plate.

Okay, yes, it was a fair amount of work. But it wasn't expensive, made enough to feed 4 people easily, and was wonderfully healthy and tasty. Hard to beat!