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April 20, 2004

Small-Time Cooks

The weather was so nice this week I had to knock off work early. I was trailing a couple of guys, and I wanted to go to the lake instead of down some dark alley. So Maria and I packed up a grill and went to a park. Burgers are always the choice when I cook out, but we decided to make sandwiches instead. Maria was fond of some great grilled Portobello mushrooms at a local diner, so we made our own on our little grill.

Portobello Sandwiches

Makes 2 sandwiches

Marinade:

1/3 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped

3 cloves garlic

Dijon Sauce:

3 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely minced

Sandwich ingredients:

2 large Portobello mushrooms

2 Italian or hoagie loaves

fresh-sliced Swiss cheese

fresh-sliced tomato

lettuce leaves

First, smash the garlic for the marinade into little bits; you can use the widest part of the blade of the knife, near the handle, for this. Heat a pan to high and add in the marinade ingredients, stirring constantly. The garlic will soon begin to sizzle in the oil; at this point, turn down the heat to medium. As soon as you see the garlic begin to change color, remove the pan completely from the heat (otherwise you will burn the garlic). Wash and stem the Portobellos, drying them thoroughly. Lay them out on a plate, and brush them on both sides with marinade mixture from the pan. (If the mushroom cap isn't dry, the marinade won't soak in at all.) Cover and refrigerate the caps for about half an hour.

In the meantime, prepare the Dijon sauce by mixing the ingredients thoroughly. When the mushrooms are ready, grill them for about 3 to 5 minutes, turning once. I use a George Foreman grill since it's wasteful to make a grill fire for just these. Besides, the Foreman is much easier to maintain. If you don't have either, sautéing them works as well. Add a bit of oil to the pan to avoid scorching the caps.

When the caps are done, remove them from the heat and slice into thick strips. Slice the bread in half (lengthwise) and melt the cheese into the bread in the oven—3 minutes on 350 degrees should do it—and top with the mushroom strips and Dijon sauce. You can add anything else to the sandwich; almost any fixing is tasty. More cheese, tomato, lettuce, avocado, black olives, or sprouts are especially tasty.

It is important to use fresh rosemary in this dish. In the Dijon sauce, the rosemary is uncooked, and in the marinade it is only slightly cooked. Using dry rosemary will not correctly temper the sharpness of the Dijon and garlic, and—in general—you'll lose the great taste. Dry rosemary is much more potent that fresh rosemary, and the flavor is subtly more robust than the fresh stuff. Typically, dry herbs have a taste vastly different from fresh, and this is especially true for thyme, basil, sage and rosemary.

Oven Fries

Okay, so this isn't really a recipe—it's more like a good idea. Take three Russet potatoes and scrub them clean. Slice them into sticks about the thickness of your finger. Put them in a bowl and cover with a little vegetable oil, enough to get a thin coat all over.

Here's the part that isn't a recipe: Add in spices that you think would taste good. Traditionally paprika and lemon pepper make a good fry, with enough to sprinkle on every potato stick. Southwestern fries are good, too—a combination of garlic salt, fresh ground pepper, chili powder, paprika, and some cumin (but not too much). Mix the spices over the fries, and place onto an aluminum foil-covered pan. Put a touch of oil on the foil so the fries don't stick. Pop them in the oven for about 30-40 minutes at 350, turning at the halfway point. Test their tenderness with a fork; they're done when they're tender all the way through.

Everything here is vegan, as long as you don't use the cheese. For a substitute, add some arugula; it will blend well with the rest of the ingredients.