Monday, May 19, 2008

"This is the Best Thing That's Come Around In a While"

...said the Sous Chef last Friday night over a dinner of blue cheese portobello mushroom wellingtons with brown butter white wine sauce, rosemary polenta and sauteed yellow beans.

This was a bold statement. But I suppose I was flattered because in truth, this dinner was a bit of an experiment. Our good friends were over for an impromptu dinner party and I was charged with creating something a) vegetarian b) sans onions and c) (hopefully) delicious. I had been to a terrific pioneer vegetarian restaurant in Seattle, Washington several years ago called Cafe Flora and had something similar. Now, I am not a total novice -- I have had a bit of experience with vegetarian cuisine. I think it must be requisite to dabble in vegetarianism if you spend any extended period of time on the West Coast. I spent about 2 meat-free years in the wild west. Being vegetarian, and by that I mean being a "good vegetarian" i.e. conscious of proteins and fats and necessary dietary components is obviously the most challenging part of being successfully meat-free. But equally challenging for me was achieving the same complexity of flavor in vegetarian cooking as its carnivorous counterpart. When I was veggie, I was young and relatively unschooled in the nuances of kitchen alchemy. Hence, most of my dishes were one dimensional. Having a better handle on the chemistry of things these days, I set out to create a complex multi-layered, multi textured vegetarian dinner that was as satisfying to the average meat eater as it was to my extremely conscientious meat-free friend/dinner guest.
The first thought I had when composing the menu was puff pastry. Who says vegetarian has to be low-cal? (Thankfully my friend was not vegan because the key component to this dinner was butter) The second thought I had was to stuff a smallish portobello cap with a delicate mixture of minced shitake mushrooms, shallots, thyme, white wine and butter, top it off with a chunk of baley hazen blue cheese and wrap it all up in puff pastry. The rosemary polenta was pretty tasty too, though polenta is always tasty, in my opinion. I was informed by the Sous Chef that he could eat a "pile of it". Well put.

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