We continue to suffer our local food dilemma. I'm a good cook but I'll probably never be a baker. It's taken me years to understand that I while I do write recipes, I have the knack for taking the components we have on standby and paring them up for a great dish or meal. This gets easier though when you have great ingredients. People will ask "Do you taste the difference? Is your melon or Japanese eggplant really so much better tasting…" They are. It's not so much an organic thing, it's more that on Wednesday we drive up the street and pickup food that was recently picked from the ground; they are bursting with flavor. It didn't travel from some hot house, it wasn't stored in a cargo container and gently frozen for its trip from New Zealand. No, a guy named Joe tended to it on his little farm Love is Love.
The dilemma we suffer is that we don't go to our mega farmers market anymore. So we don't "fill in the holes" that our two community supported agriculture providers leave us with. I'm not saying-nor am I implying that we never buy vegetables from anywhere else anymore. I'm saying that in the last year or so we've stopped also going and getting the other half of our food from the market. And when we do supplement our CSA garden it's as close to 100 mile that we can make it. We still go to Kroger for dairy, we'll stop by the market for grains, we make our own bread, but last week for example we got tomatoes, okra, eggplant and mushrooms from our CSA, there was other stuff, but by Saturday not much was left. The trick is making exciting food when you have ingredients that aren't necessarily singing to you on Saturday morning, when you just want to eat something.
And I don't walk into the kitchen thinking "Do a reduction, fire roast the shitakes, then sear and glaze the okra. Oh yeah, I hate goat cheese, but I'll work that in somehow; that's the ticket!" As a matter of fact I just start working on one vegetable and then the music montage takes place, and I dance violently around the kitchen with my headphones in and my knife waving around. There is no premeditation other than to create companion flavors that pair well. This isn't just in my mind. A lot of spoons are exhausted in the process, as I will meet with the components in the conference room that is my mouth.
So this isn't a recipe, this is a reflection of what I ended up with and how I went about it getting there. Everything was built around the Shitake mushrooms. They were easy to start with; there is so much flavor in the shitake mushroom, if you just tease it out a bit. I simmered them in stock and garlic, till they absorbed all the stock, then I seared them with a little oil and garlic. Everything was about celebrating the real smoky flavor. The Okra which I roast all the time and usually only season with salt and pepper was punched up with a bit more zing. The red chili sauce was an easy win, but it wasn't till I decided to add spicy homemade mustard and wasabi powder that it really sang. The oven was already hot, shitake mushrooms don't mind sitting around being subjected to heat. The relish was an easy play, as I had sweet and savory, but rich was still lacking and I knew the minced onions, which were a little hot in their raw state would mild out and give some complexity to the goat cheese. And frankly, if you don't have minced onions and garlic ready while cooking, no wonder you're so disappointed in the stuff you're doing in the kitchen.
Everything was prepared in one large skillet in phases. I went from simmering on the stove stop, to baking, to broiling, back to baking. I patiently cooked everything while trying to figure out what I was actually going to be serving. Halfway in I decided it would be sandwiches with okra fries. But you could just as easily take a shallow bowl, mince lettuce, tomatoes, onion and garlic and then chop the okra and shitake. Working with components becomes less about cooking a meal and more celebrating the vegetables; the meal will come.
Pickles & Bread
The sweetened pickles were made at 1470 a few months ago. I've been forbid to refer to them as bread and butter pickles, as they are not sweet enough to qualify as that. I can't say I'm mad, I've seen diabetics dial in higher insulin shots for some bread and butter pickles. The rolls that made the sandwiches with are also homemade, a quick recipe that my wife makes when she can't make our standard bread.
The shitake mushrooms were julienned then simmered over a ½ cup of vegetarian stock, with three cloves of minced garlic and a teaspoon of canola. Once the stock was reduced the shitake were tossed in a half teaspoon of canola and then baked in the oven @ 450 for five minutes.
The shitake mushrooms were then isolated in the skillet and the okra was added
The Okra cooked in the same skillet that the shitake mushrooms were reduced and roasted in. I left the mushrooms to continue cooking in one corner of the skillet. The Okra was rubbed in canola, light salt and pepper and then roasted at broiler setting for 8 minutes-turned once.
Meanwhile, red chili sauce, wasabi powder & homemade mustard were combined, ratios 2 to 1 to 1-adjust for flavor. Sauce was then added to the cooked okra and the oven was then set to bake @ 450 degrees, cook five minutes longer.
Between broiling and then glazing with a sweet sauce the okra was fork tender but still had some texture to it.
Goat Cheese Relish
Admittedly, I'm no fan of goat cheese. I like goats. Bahhhhh. But the goat cheese, at least just the regular old white stuff, y'know the stuff that taste like gritty cream cheese, I'm not much into it. I'm just coming clean on that one. This recipe is served by using goat cheese and cream cheese in a 50/50 combination. Ingredients include a heaping tablespoon of goat cheese with a heaping tablespoon of cream cheese turned with a raw relish consisting of half an onion, half a head of garlic, ½ teaspoon of oil, salt and pepper, all finely minced. Vegetable and cheese ingredients are then spoon turned.
Some assembly required…
Spicy mustard was applied to the bottom of the bread, thin sliced tomatoes were then added. The relish was generously spooned over the red discs, followed by the roasted julienned shitake mushrooms. Thin sliced romaine and a leftover red chili/wasabi sauce finished the sandwich. I won't lie, lately I've been warming my plates before serving meals, I've felt a cold plate ruin my timed presentation.