Tangy Shiitake Mushrooms with Garlic and Thyme

I don't have any formal cooking training. I love to read cookbooks and food blogs, but when it comes down to it, I'm mostly just experimenting in the kitchen. I like to think I have the intuition of a cook, a fairly good palate, and a bit of knowledge on what flavors taste good together. And often my experiments work out, but occasionally I do have massive failures. (I'm still a bit bitter about that one sour meal of lentils in wine, garlic and lemon last year that didn't quite turn out as I'd hoped...) These mushrooms though, they were a success.

My favorite meals are often the ones resulting from a bit of spontaneity. I love coming across a recipe I just have to make right now. Or finding a unique or super fresh ingredient and rushing home to find the perfect recipe. And sometimes the best dishes come out of necessity. Those times when you have something in the fridge that's going to go bad if you don't use it asap.

I had a handful of gorgeous Shiitake Mushrooms, grown by my dad's basketball buddy, Jim. They sat in my fridge, bundled in paper towels and a paper bag for a week and a half before I finally got off my butt and spontaneously tried out this recipe. I couldn't waste them. After all, I'd practically forced my parents to give them to me in the first place.

So there I was, planning on a quick supper of roasted broccoli and a box of rice pilaf. And I thought, what if I roast these mushrooms too? A quick google of "Roasted Shiitake Mushooms" took me to this New York Times recipe from 1993. I adapted it quite liberally, ending up with more of a braise than a roast, in a small baking dish with water and sherry vinegar instead of wine.

After 15 minutes in the oven my whole apartment smelled like the best restaurant ever. Luckily, the mushrooms tasted as good as they smelled. The garlicky, slightly tangy broth revived my slightly dehydrated shiitakes beautifully. The result was plump, tender mushrooms with a silky texture and plenty of flavor.

Now, this recipe really only makes enough for one person. Though you could probably squeeze out two servings if it's part of a larger meal. I had ten mushrooms, in varying sizes, so that's what I cooked but I'm sure the recipe can size up just fine in a larger baking dish. If you don't have sherry vinegar, other wine flavored vinegars would work just fine. I'm sure lemon juice would be delicious as well. The mushrooms made a lovely meal alongside my broccoli and rice. My only regret was the lack of crusty bread to mop up the tablespoon or so of remaining broth.

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Tangy Shiitake Mushrooms with Garlic and Thyme
Plump shiitake mushrooms braised in a light, tangy broth flavored with garlic, sherry vinegar, and fresh thyme.
    around 10 Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms 1 clove Garlic 1 tablespoon Sherry Vinegar 1/4 cup Water 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2 sprigs Fresh Thyme 1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes Kosher Salt Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Pre-heat your oven to 350˚F. Remove and discard the stems from the shiitake mushrooms. With a damp paper towel, brush mushroom caps to remove any dirt or debris. Thinly slice the garlic.

Pour water and sherry vinegar into a small baking dish. Arrange mushrooms in dish and sprinkle with garlic slices, pepper flakes, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper then drizzle the olive oil all over the mushrooms.

Cover the baking dish in foil and place in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove foil and check liquid level, if it looks dry, add another tablespoon or two of water. Return to oven, uncovered, for 15 more minutes until the mushrooms are plump and tender.

Serve hot with plenty of crusty bread!
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1-2 servings


Slow Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad

It's the middle of summer and for some reason I've been craving roasted veggies like crazy. It seems so silly heating up the whole kitchen just for a little crispy-tender-sweet broccoli or cabbage. Luckily these slow roasted tomatoes are delicious compromise. Given a light coating of olive oil, a few cloves of garlic, and a low 225˚ oven, little cherry and grape tomatoes transform into juicy, sweet bombs of flavor. Tossed with fragrant basil, nuggets of creamy mozzarella, and a bit of balsamic glaze you have a gorgeous summery side salad.

This recipe calls for a pound of tomatoes, but really the salad only uses about half of that. Don't worry, you'll find a way to use the remainder. You could smear a few of the roasted garlic cloves on some bread with a little olive oil and few roasted tomatoes. Or make a sort of bruschetta - pile on top of toasted, garlic rubbed slices of bread. The tomatoes are truly divine on their own as well, I ate most of my leftovers like little tomato candies. The rest I tossed with orecchiette, a pat of butter and some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese.

Likewise, the balsamic glaze cooks down to about 1/3 - 1/2 a cup of liquid, more than you'll need for this salad. The leftover glaze will last in your fridge for quite a while. It's lovely over grilled meat and fresh or cooked veggies. Make sure to use fresh mozzarella, you want whole balls shrink wrapped in plastic or sold in tubs full of whey. I used boccocini, delicate bite sized rounds of fresh mozzarella, you can usually find them with the gourmet cheeses. 

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Slow Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad with Balsamic Glaze
Grape and cherry tomatoes turn sweet and deeply flavorful after slow roasting in a low oven. Tossed with fresh mozzarella, basil, and a balsamic glaze you have a beautiful summer salad.
    16 oz Cherry or Grape Tomatoes 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 teaspoon Ground Coriander Seed 1 head fresh Garlic 1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 1 cup Balsamic Vinegar 8 oz fresh Mozzarella 4-5 large leaves fresh Basil
Pre-heat your oven to 225˚F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Halve the tomatoes and separate the cloves of garlic, leaving them un-peeled. Toss tomatoes and garlic with olive oil, ground coriander, salt and pepper. Arrange tomatoes on the baking sheet - cut side up.

Roast tomatoes (and garlic) for around 3 hours, until the edges are wrinkled but the insides are still a bit juicy. I found that round cherry tomatoes tend to take a bit longer than oval shaped grape tomatoes.

To make the balsamic glaze - heat the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring vinegar to a boil and allow to reduce by about half, until it's thick and glossy. This will probably take around 20-30 minutes, keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.

When you're ready to serve your salad, tear the mozzarella into bite size chunks and chiffonade the basil. Then, in a medium sized serving bowl, toss basil with the mozzarella and a cup of the roasted tomatoes. Drizzle with the balsamic glaze and serve right away with some crusty bread!
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 servings
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