The Ultimate Grilled Cheese

Serves 4

Mushrooms + Butter = Heaven

Yes, it’s a bold statement, but it’s so true.  And it’s a great truth because it makes those expensive and intimidating mushrooms a bit more accessible.  I wasn’t a mushroom lover.  During my vegetarian years, mushrooms seemed like another meat substitute and I got tired of the ubiquitous portobello mushroom ‘burger’ pretty quickly.  That’s the only way mushrooms were available.  Then I moved to Japan and the mushroom world opened up to me…and it’s still unfolding today.  Yet, no matter what mushroom I come across (no, I haven’t been foraging yet, but I can’t wait to get there someday), it seems that Julia Child and my friend, Sophia were right; sauté in a little butter, salt and pepper and YUM!

The health benefits of mushrooms in general are pretty much endless.   I worked at a food conference once about food and cancer and the keynote speaker, a very progressive oncologist, talked about mushrooms.  They are anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, some inhibit tumor growth, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, lower blood pressure, protect against the effects of chemo and radiation.  Maitakes are particularly full of Vitamins B and C and minerals zinc, iron, potassium, and selenium.  They are thought to be the most immune boosting of the bunch.  They are also potent anti-virals and amazing detoxifiers.

After all that she says, if they really want to clean up the Gulf of Mexico (just after BP spill), dump a few tons of mushrooms into the gulf.  They’ll take care of it.*  Now that’s a bold statement!

You’ll need:

2 large shallots, sliced

1/2 lb. maitake mushrooms

1-2 T olive oil

1-2 T organic butter, (pastured or raw would be even better)

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Emmentaler cheese, sliced (A nice sharp cheddar or Parmigiano Reggiano are great options, too.)

Sourdough bread, sliced

1 T fresh parsley, finely chopped

To make:

1. Heat olive oil over low-medium heat in a sauté pan (I use a cast iron skillet for every step…there’s just something about it for this!) and add shallots.  Add a pinch of salt and let caramelize.  Stir often to not let them burn.  It should take about 7 mins.  Remove from pan.

2. To clean the mushrooms, just wipe them gently with a paper towel.  With your fingers, take them apart (like string cheese…yikes, remember those days!).  Add 1 T butter to the pan over low-medium heat and then add mushrooms, a good pinch of salt of pepper.  Let cook and get slightly browned, about 10 mins.  Remove from pan.

3. Assemble the sandwiches with a thin layer of cheese on the bottom, mushrooms, shallots and another thin layer of cheese on top.  With remaining butter, grill sandwiches in pan.

4. To serve, top with chopped parsley.

5. Enjoy!

P.S. These are awesome for kids, too.  I know that sounds crazy and I wouldn’t believe it either, but I am speaking from experience!  Just try them:)

*Pamela Yee, MD, at Food Solutions – Navigating Cancer at Urban Zen Foundation, 2010

Sesame Tofu with Broccoli and Shiitake Mushrooms

Serves 4

I had a craving for this dish ever since I picked some up at Mrs. Greens a few weeks ago.  I don’t always feel so great when I eat prepared foods, so I decided to whip some up myself.  It’s also a great addition to this week’s pre-race menu.  (My husband is running the NYC half-marathon today.)

A word on tofu – as a vegetarian, I hated it.  Tofu always meant substitution for animal protein and it was always poorly cooked and presented, always bland and utterly boring.  Then I moved to Japan.  What a revelation!  Tofu was enjoyed by everyone as a regular part of their diet.  It came in numerous textures, eaten a variety of ways; fried, in soups, salads, fermented.   Tofu was often showcased, like fine cheeses are here in the U.S.  Their flavors were each different but subtle and lovely.
So, though none of the packaged tofu here comes close, I have decided to give it another chance, but it had to be delicious.  In this recipe, it is!

Nutritionally, tofu is cholesterol-free and low in saturated fats.  It is a high quality protein.  It supports colon health and is good for those who have high blood pressure.  It’s also a great source of calcium especially, but also iron, phosphorous, potassium, essential B vitamins and Vitamin E.

You’ll need:

14 oz firm or extra firm tofu
1/4 C cornmeal* (approx)
1/4-1/2 C organic canola oil (for frying tofu)
2-3 T sesame oil (+ more for sauce, see below)
3 T sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1-2 scallions, finely sliced
8 large shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large bunch broccoli, cut into medium sized florets

For the sauce:

1/4 C honey or agave nectar
2 T tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
2 T sesame oil
2 T rice wine vinegar
1 T mirin
2-3 T fresh ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t red pepper flakes (or more if you like a lot of heat!)

To make:

1. Drain tofu and wrap in 2 clean kitchen towels.  Place between 2 cutting boards or plates and place a bit of weight on top to help remove water.  Let sit/drain for 20-30 minutes.

2. Toast sesame seeds lightly in a skillet over low heat.  Take care not to burn!  These little seeds have a way of being forgotten!

3.  Cook the veg:  Add 1 T sesame oil to pan and cook mushrooms until tender.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Add remaining oil and broccoli and about 1/4 C of water, cover and let steam for 5 minutes until the broccoli is a beautiful, bright green color.

4. Stir sauce ingredients together and simmer sauce over low heat until it thickens.

5. Remove towels from tofu and cut into 1″cubes.  Dredge in cornmeal and fry in skillet with canola oil until golden brown.

6. Toss the tofu into the sauce and let cook for a few more minutes.  Remove tofu with a spoon to serve.

7. Serve tofu with vegetables and drizzle remaining sauce over veggies.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.  (I like to serve over short grain brown rice, but it’s also delish as is!)

8. Enjoy!

*You can also use cornstarch to dredge the tofu though I prefer the cornmeal for a crunchier texture.