Last night I actually intended to make something entirely different for dinner, but then a local farmer’s market happened, and I found some finds that I had to eat immediately!
Last night’s dinner at its essence is nothing more than a country vegetable plate–but with super fresh ingredients and lots of flavor, a little more than you’d get at S&S Cafeteria…
Veg Plate Part 1: Chicken of the Wood
(or any other mushroom)
(I’m not kidding. There’s a mushroom actually donned Chicken of the Wood.)
We’re all tired of the over-used, somewhat cliché, “It takes just like chicken!” that we’ve likely heard about all kinds of other foods: frog legs, alligator tail, you name it. The expression is also used so frequently to describe something ironically that it’s lost all meaning. Until now (sorry, feeling gimmicky).
As of yesterday, I did not know Chicken of the Wood was a shroom that us humans ate, though I’ve seen it hiking in the Smokies plenty and just thought it was a fungus that grew on trees, nothing more. After a quick Googling, I learned that it’s called such because it’s flavor is supposedly that of lemony chicken. I had my doubts based on the tired expression aforementioned.
But I actually gasped when I bit into this chewy, meaty shroom last night at dinner. It actually did taste sort of like chicken and sort of lemony and a whole lotta buttery and smoky.
There were a few recipes online for this mushroom, but they were all too buttery and too fatty. One from the Washington Post called for 5 tablespoons of butter and 1/4 cup heavy cream. UNNECESSARY! This shroom already tasted buttery and decadent. That much fat would’ve been overkill and made the dish far too rich–and likely would’ve removed some of the mushroom’s own unique flavor. I wanted to eat this baby with as little frill as possible, so I went to my go-to and favorite preparation of mushrooms: sautéed in a little olive oil, garlic, finished with a dash of white wine or dry vermouth (and, of course, seasoned with some salt and freshly ground pepper). The dry white wine/vermouth gives it a nice flavor at the finish and deglazes the pan.
Here’s the play-by-play for Sautéed Mushrooms:
1. Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in pan over medium heat. Meanwhile mince 2-3 cloves garlic. Throw it into the pan and let it cook for a minute or two.
2. Slice 1 pound of mushrooms into slices. (Okay, I acknowledge that Chicken of the Wood is a weird and unusual find–who knows if I’ll even find it again. You don’t have to use that shroom. Any meaty mushroom works for this “meat” of the dish: Portobello, oyster, chanterelle (in fact, chanterelle has the closest flavor to chicken of the wood and is easier to find)). Once you slice ’em, throw them into that pan, keeping the heat at medium!
3. Let it saute, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes. They’ll start to turn this amazingly shiny, caramel-red color. Once they become glossy and feel a little more tender, season with salt and pepper. Add a splash of white wine or dry vermouth and let it cook off completely. All done; serve and enjoy.
Mushrooms, especially meaty ones like this one, Portobellos, oyster, and chanterelles make great meat replacements if you’re completely avoiding meat–not because they taste like meat but because they have a chewy, meaty mouthfeel. And they fill you up. This preparation is easy and simple–takes less than 20 minutes from start to finish. It feeds 3-4 folks.
PS: If you’re still curious about those freak mushrooms, Cornell University has a mushroom blog…
Veg Plate Part 2: Lemony, Garlicky Greens
There was a ton of fresh greens available at the farmer’s market yesterday–I had my choice of kale, Swiss chard, mustards, spinach, or escarole. I decided on Swiss Chard because I couldn’t resist their fun, rainbow-colored stems (and it had been a minute since I’d eaten some chard).
Just like the mushroom recipe, this one can easily be adapted to almost any green (though, the cooking time varies–kale, for example, takes longer, whereas spinach cooks in seconds). You might also notice that I essentially cooked the greens the same way I cooked the mushrooms replacing the wine/vermouth with stock.
Here’s the play-by-play for Lemony, Garlicky Greens:
1. Start by removing the ribs from 2 big bunches of Chard (or your green of choice). With Chard, you can actually cook the stems and they’re delicious; Kale stems are usually too hard and fibrous to be enjoyable. Once you do this, wash the stems and greens well. Then, chop the stems into 1-1.5 inch pieces and roughly chop the leaves.
2. Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Mince 2-3 cloves garlic. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute.
3. Once the garlic has softened and cooked for a minute or so, add the stems. Add these first because they take longer to cook than the green leafy bits. Saute and stir occasionally for 10-12 minutes over medium heat. (And, again, I wouldn’t recommend cooking Kale stems…)
4. Once the stems are tender, add the leafy bits. At this point, season with salt and pepper to taste add a 1/4 cup unsalted vegetable or chicken stock. Stir and let cook 3-4 minutes until the stock has cooked off. Just before serving, squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the greens.
That’s it, folks. Just like the shrooms, it takes about 20 minutes from start to finish. It feeds about 4 people.
Veg Plate Part 3: Roasted Vegetables
The last thing I made for this super fresh veg plate was some roasted broccoli. Just like the other two recipes, this basic preparation could be used for almost any vegetable: cauliflower, brussels sprouts, green beans, sweet potatoes, squash, you name it. You can also adjust the seasoning to be whatever you want–but this is the most basic and simple variation.
Because I had two things cooking on the stove, I knew I wanted the last veg to be cooked in the oven (mostly for my own sanity). This recipe is so simple; it’s a go-to any time I need a vegetable side for a meal and can’t scratch my head to think of anything else.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Throw a few handfuls of the veg of your choice into the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Using your hands, toss the veggies to coat with oil and seasonings. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, shaking the vegetables a couple of times throughout so they don’t stick.
I promise this meal was 100% filling; when you eat a giant helping of fiber-filled broccoli, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get full. Plus, those Chickens of the wood (I’m assuming that’s the plural, a la culs-de-sac or mothers-in-law) were really meaty and dense. However, if you really can’t handle mushrooms or you insist on a starch, here is an alternative to butter and cream-laden mashed potatoes: Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes. If you feel like you need more protein, this bean recipe is easy and delicious (skip the recommended bacon/sausage garnish): Pureed White Beans with herbs.