magic mushrooms

I can’t say that I’m the biggest fan of the mushroom family. I searched through my recipe archives, and not one dish on here highlights mushroom as the chief ingredient. Not one. Unless you count the sloppy Joes from last year, and I still vote that those are more “beefy” than they are “mushroomy”. Also, I still vote that the cans of Manwich are f-ing awesome. Judge not.

So we’re back to this – a first, of sorts – a sandwich with a key ingredient – a big ol’ fatty chunk of a portobello mushroom. Watch out, people.

I’d like to also add though, that the pesto is certainly something to “shake a stick at”, too. Chris and I spent a good part of a recent Saturday morning cooking together for our second bout of our Turntable Kitchen subscription (the first included an excellent cioppino, if you missed the post). We rocked out to some lovely tunes (including Biggie Smalls! yes! and also some lesser knowns that I’m sure will lead to album purchases) and got our bags packed for one of our very favorite picnics yet.

If you’re in the Bay area when the sky is clear (which is most certainly a crap shoot in the summer, for sure), head over to Lands’ End, essentially the furthest you can go northwest in SF without falling into the ocean. Don’t steal our picnic spot, which is top secret, because it’s so awesome and we’ll go there as much as possible, but search carefully for lovely patches of land to plop down onto. You might have to do a little shimmie down some dirt to get to the spot, but I promise you it’ll be worth it.

If you aren’t in the Bay area, just go have a picnic somewhere else for cryin’ out loud. Picnics are fun almost anywhere, except maybe a swamp, or during high-tide, or a heavy sandstorm in the desert, but you know what I mean, right? Pack a hearty lunch and some snacks, too. You’ll want to stay a while. Also, pack some sunscreen, because I forgot and almost couldn’t focus on my Temper Trap concert later that night as a result of severe burning of the insides of my legs. Especially the right one.

I pulled through and enjoyed it, in case you were wondering…

Even if you’re a meat-eater, make sure this exact sandwich is packed – you won’t regret it. And toss in a small grain salad with some quinoa, farro, or even just peaches and lettuce. A soda? Or just some nice, cold rosé (we opted for both). If you have any treats stowed away in the freezer, this is a perfect time to take that out at the last minute, throwing it on top of all your other goodies because it was the best last-minute idea ever (in my case, it was a slice of that awesome Earl Grey cake).

At the end of the day, you’ll have a hard time figuring out your favorite part of the meal, because it’s all just ten times better, and so magical, when you’re eating it outside. And atop it all, the best part of that is the company (well…. maybe the view…if it was as awesome as ours!).

Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches
adapted from Turntable Kitchen; makes 4

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
pesto
1 c arugula
10-12 fresh mint leaves
1/2 c walnuts
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/3 c grated Manchego cheese
1/3 c olive oil
fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

sandwiches
2 large portobello mushrooms, cleaned with stems removed
olive oil
arugula for putting on sandwiches, optional
1 fresh loaf of ciabatta bread

instructions
make the pesto. combine arugula through cheese in a food processor. add some of the olive oil and process until smooth, adding more olive oil by the tablespoon if needed. add a squeeze of lemon juice, then adjust taste with salt and pepper as needed. process one last time until smooth.

oil and preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. salt and pepper the mushrooms and brush lightly with oil. grill whole for about 5 minutes on each side, until tender. meanwhile, cut ciabatta loaf in half to create the top and bottom sandwich pieces. I like to scoop out some of the bread (which you can grind up and use for bread crumbs) so the sandwich isn’t so ‘bread’) slather pesto sauce onto the bottom of the bread (using almost all of the loaf, but save some for another use if you have a large loaf. you just want enough for the two mushrooms to cover, which will result in good-sized sandwiches but not ginormous.) and then add arugula, if using. put mushrooms atop arugula and then close the loaf and cut into 4 equal sized sandwiches.

Just the Two of Us

In almost 3 years of blogging, there are a lot of recipes around these parts. And among all the ones seafood-centric, not a one of them involves scallops.

This is going to change that, and majorly.

Chris and I usually do like everyone else and head out to a restaurant for Valentine’s day, whereby all the wait and cook staff forced to work that night provide somewhat lackluster food at dilated prices. It never stops us though – and it’s not like we go to restaurants we’ve been eyeing for years, or places we’ve never been to – we go to the same places we’d go any other weekend. That said, it seems just as reasonable to stay home and just be together, saving the tasting menus and parking hassles for another night.

So we did this year. I mean, at least this year Chris wasn’t about to hop on a plane and move to California without me for two months, right?! So there was certainly plenty to celebrate – a March and April free of selling a condo, shipping our belongings across the country, tempering territorial cats, living out of a suitcase, and apartment-shopping. Instead, months of continuing to settle in and absolutely adore everything different about this year was something definitely in need of appreciating.

So I decided it was well past time to make scallops. I picked up a half dozen oysters, too. We hung out in the kitchen together – me searing scallops and making this amazing lemongrass-tomato sauce, and Chris shucking oysters and putting together a nice, spicy mignonette to eat them with. We even ate at the dining room table like civilized folk. Or do civilized folk eat on the floor in front of the TV, desperately trying to catch up on episodes of Castle or CSI? Because if that’s the case, then we are ultra-civilized. I can’t decide…

Either way, I enjoyed the way things turned out that night. I enjoyed being home, a little music in the background, not having to worry at all that the cooks would serve me raw pork chop (V-day 2009) or that someone would propose in a super cheesy way nearby (V-day 2004) or that we’d be drunk and stumbling home in the cold (V-day 2011). We just ate together, the two of us.

And this dinner was freaking awesome, to boot.

Seared Scallops in Lemongrass-Tomato Sauce
adapted from Self Magazine, 2008 via Epicurious; serves 2 

this recipe was originally slated for 8, probably as an appetizer. I pared it down and made it for 2, but you’ll still have leftover sauce. it would go great on any seafood or even on pasta, so don’t throw it out!

time commitment: 45 minutes

printable version

ingredients
2 T canola oil, divided
1/2 onion, chopped
4 stalks lemongrass, dry leaves removed, stems pounded; cut into 3-inch lengths*
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 red Thai bird chiles, finely chopped*
1 c dry white wine
1 can (14 ounce) whole tomatoes, plus juice
1/4 c Thai basil
1/4 c fresh mint
1/4 c cilantro sprigs
1/2 c baby arugula
Juice from 1/2 lime
10 jumbo sea scallops

*lemongrass and Thai chiles can be found abundantly in Asian markets (Thai chiles are sometimes in their freezer section) or in well-stocked grocery stores, like some good-sized Whole Foods.

instructions
Heat 1 t canola oil in a large, nonstick pan over low heat. Cook onion with a pinch of salt until translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in lemon grass, garlic and chiles. Add wine. Raise heat to high, then simmer 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and juice; break apart tomatoes. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove lemongrass and discard; puree the rest in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Meanwhile, toss basil through arugula together in a bowl; season with salt and pepper. Whisk lime juice and 2 t oil together, then add to salad and sit aside.

Season scallops with salt and pepper. Heat a large nonstick pan over high heat 1 minute; add 1/2 T oil. Cook 5 scallops 1 minute; reduce heat to medium-high; cook undisturbed until golden, about 4 minutes. Turn scallops over; cook 3 minutes more. Remove from heat. Repeat with remaining 1/2 T oil and 5 scallops. Divide scallops and sauce and serve with salad.