One of the most utterly frustrating things for me, as an overly enthusiastic yet still rather novice foodie, is the fact that I have a good few friends who cook and bake incredibly well with what seems to be little to no effort. Now, I recognize that 'effort' is subjective; it is possible that they are actually trying really hard but are just playing it cool. (Possible, but doubtful. These aren't ladies who care too much for fronting.) Either way, when these few friends make magic in the kitchen, there are certainly no recipes in sight. Epic frittata for six brimming with roasted veg? No problem. Moroccan tagine? Sure, just give me an hour. Silky smooth cream cheese frosting? Let me just check the pantry and we'll be on our way. Don't get me wrong, I am incredibly grateful to have these friends--not only because of the sheer joy I derive from cooking with them but also for the tips and tricks I've learned. But I would be lying if I said their effortless skill in producing ridiculously delicious, impeccably seasoned, and truly creative dishes wasn't mildly frustrating (okay, bordering on irritating, if I'm being honest. But that's just because I envy their skills so greatly!).
I feel this is worth sharing not to vent my frustration, but because I wonder if some of you might relate? Every time I express these sentiments to my friends, hovering over the stove or the Kitchen Aid, they never fail to remind me that they have years of experience. In restaurant kitchens, in bakeries, at home with their families. You'll get there, they say. You're getting there already.
I have come across a great many inspiring recipes over the past year of my bordering-on-compulsive food blog reading. While I find them undoubtedly useful and follow them often, I also love using a recipe as a framework and adding my own spin to it. During the relatively short time I have been embarking on this journey, I have recognized and appreciated the importance of knowing the basics and having a few good tricks up my sleeve to use as the basis for something entirely different. This Baked Egg in a Balsamic Portobello is just that: delicious in its own right but also a great springboard for you to adapt and run with.
The portobello mushroom cap, marinated in balsamic vinegar, garlic and herbs, is so succulent, meaty and brimming with flavor, I was truly stunned into silence the first time I made it. The marinade comes courtesy of Sarah B. from My New Roots, who suggests grilling the mushroom and serving it with an avocado & basil aioli (which is equally delectable). In this version, I've prepared it with caramelized onions and a baked egg, giving it a boost of protein and a more brunch-y feel. Truth is though, the possibilities for this mushroom are endless: slice it up and toss it in a salad or a wrap; fill it with quinoa, nuts and fresh herbs; pack it with sautéed leafy greens; turn it into a caprese by topping it off with basil, tomato and melted mozzarella...you really can't go wrong.
For the accompanying salad, my focus was twofold: simple and seasonal. While I've always liked pears, I never found them to be a wow-factor fruit--until a couple months ago, that is, when I first sampled a pear slice from my local farmers market. The pear was unlike any I had previously tasted, overwhelmingly fragrant and dripping with sweetness, perfectly ripe yet retaining a slight firmness. While the height of pear season has passed with autumn, a few varieties are still popping up at local markets and I'm making sure to take advantage. For the salad's dressing, I sought to create flavors that would compliment the sweetness of the pear while playing against the spinach's mild bitterness. I ultimately opted for something a bit punchy and a bit bold: a cinnamon-sage vinaigrette. Topped off with toasted sunflower seeds to add some crunch, this salad is quite simple yet combines flavors that are complex. Simply satisfying.
Adapted from My New Roots
2 medium eggs
2 large portobello mushroom caps (preferably with tall and curved-in edges)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3/4 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small red onion
1 Tbsp. olive, sunflower or coconut oil
salt & pepper, to taste
1. Prep mushrooms: With a clean cloth or paper towel, brush any dirt off mushroom caps. Break off and discard the stems.
2. Put 1 Tbsp. olive oil, balsamic, garlic, and herbs into a large plastic re-sealable bag and give it a shake. Add the mushroom caps and swish them around the bag, ensuring that they are thoroughly coated with the marinade. Refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour. (They can be left for up to 12 hours in the fridge).
3. When ready to prepare the rest of the dish, pre-heat oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4.
4. Grease a baking tray and line it with parchment paper.
4. Slice onion into ribbons (whatever thickness you prefer). Heat 1 Tbsp. of cooking oil on medium-low in a medium size pan.
5. Cook onions on medium-low heat until caramelized (translucent and fully softened with browning edges), 10-20 mins. (Cooking time will depend on the size of your onion strips.) Sprinkle with a pinch of salt if desired and stir only occasionally, primarily leaving them to sit and simmer.
6. When onions are ready, place mushrooms gill-side up on baking tray.
7. Place caramelized onions in mushroom caps.
8. Very carefully, slide one egg in each cap on top of the onions. It may be easier to crack each egg into a small ramekin and slide them in from there.
9. Bake mushrooms for 15-25 minutes, until the egg whites are opaque and the yolk is set to your liking.
Spinach, Pear and Sunflower Salad
Dressing adapted from Love and Lemons
A few hefty handfuls of fresh baby spinach leaves
1 pear, cubed
1 Tbsp. raw sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 sage leaves, minced
salt & pepper, to taste
1. In a small frying pan, toast sunflower seeds on a low heat until fragrant and browning very slightly, 2-4 minutes.
2. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar or container with a tight lid. Shake vigorously.
2. Mix spinach, pear slices, and sunflower seeds and dress until lightly and evenly coated.