Sam Sifton recalls, when the waitress at Chicago’s Balena restaurant approached
the table with a steak knife, everyone’s eyebrows went up. No one had ordered
steak. The waitress explained the knife
was for the mushrooms. Someone had
ordered a ravishing dish: Creamy-rich Creminis browned to perfection and very
simply cooked with some shallots and fresh thyme before being turned into
complete ambrosia with a beaker of heavy cream.
Not content to stop there, Chef Chris Pandel used them atop thick
slices of toasted Sour Dough Rye Bread crowned with the sweetest of caramelized
onions. They literally jumped off the page at me. I could not wait to try them.
And neither apparently could Sam Sifton.
Last week was the 12th birthday of our godchild, Olivia. Now since Andrew and I saw her within her first hours here on earth, it’s sometimes unbelievable that all those 12 years have passed with the speed of summer lightening. And that for all twelve of those birthdays we have celebrated with our own Birthday Party with her other two ‘Uncles’, Shawn and Terry. This year was no exception except that this year we spent a whole weekend celebrating because Olivia and her parents stayed with us. If the title of this post terrifies you for its size, this issue of Chewing the Fat is really an amalgamation of several delicious meals we had last weekend. The food was wonderful and Olivia got to bake alongside her Uncle Andrew to produce delicious Martha Stewart-inspired Strawberry Cupcakes.
Chicago's Stephanie Izard was the winner of the 4th Season of Top Chef. She was the first woman to win, and thus far, the only one. During the course of the show she
won 4 Quick Fire challenges and finished at the top of elimination challenges
10 times! She also has the distinction
of having won the $10,000 Fan favorite prize when she competed on the Top Chef
reunion special. Of course, it hasn’t
been all lollipops and roses for Stephanie.
She had to close her first Chicago restaurant, Scylla because of what
were described as “overwhelming financial difficulties”. But she has dusted herself off and last July
opened a small plates and charcuterie restaurant called “Girl and the Goat”
(809 West Randolph
Street, Chicago, Tel: 312.492.6262.) The restaurant has the distinction of being called "America's Best New Restaurant" in the March issue of Saveur Magazine. The name was given to the place because “Izard”
is the name of a breed of goat raised in the Pyrenees, where the Izard Family, late
of Stamford CT., has its roots.
When I saw a
profile of Stephanie in January’s Food and Wine, I was anxious to try one of
her recipes. The one I focused on was
her recipe for Mushroom Ragu. And I was
glad I did. This is one of those dishes
that you can make in a big batch and then eat in various ways for quite a few
meals. It’s a wonderful side dish, which is how I first used it, with a simple
grilled paillard of chicken. It’s also a
great vegetarian pasta sauce hif you replace the chicken stock with vegetable
stock at the outset. Then reheat and
toss with pappardelle and some parmigiano.
Or incorporate a cup of it into a pound of sweet Italian sausage for a
heartier weeknight dinner that’s quick and easy. The ingredients are all reasonably easy to
find. Harissa and White Miso were both
found at Fairway. And for god’s sake use
the low fat version of Coconut Milk – it’s every bit as delicious and really
cuts down on the calorie count. Here’s the recipe
with thanks to Stephanie and Food and Wine.
Recipe for Mushroom Ragu
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 pound shiitake mushrooms—stems discarded, caps sliced 1/4 inch
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound mixed mushrooms such as cremini, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes,
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Be sure to add capers and raisins for a big flavor boost
1 tablespoon harissa
2 teaspoons white or blond miso
1 tablespoon golden raisins
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 cup chicken stock
1.In a large skillet, heat 2
tablespoons of the oil. Add the shiitake and season with salt and pepper. Cover
and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until tender and starting to brown,
about 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
2.Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the
skillet. Add the mixed mushrooms and cook over moderately high heat until any
liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms start to brown, 5 minutes. Add the
onion and remaining 1 tablespoon of oil; season with salt and pepper. Cover and
cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, 5 minutes. Add
the garlic, cover and cook over low heat, stirring a few times, until fragrant,
2 minutes. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for
3.In a bowl, whisk the coconut milk,
mustard, harissa and miso. Add to the skillet with the shiitake, raisins,
capers and stock. Simmer over low heat, stirring, until thickened, about 4
minutes. Season with salt and pepper.