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Lunch at Abacus with the Mushroom Council

Posted By Kelly On June 5, 2009 @ 8:00 am In Cooking,Featured Articles | 27 Comments

Today’s post is a departure from the norm.  Stay with me, there are a lot of good cooking tips to come.

A few weeks ago, through the wonders of Twitter, I was offered the opportunity by The Mushroom Channel to attend a lunch hosted by the Mushroom Council.  I know what you are thinking.  There is a council for mushrooms?  Yes, indeed there is and they hosted a lovely lunch event for restaurant owners, food suppliers, university food service professionals, and two very lucky food bloggers.  Yours truly being one and Temperance from High on the Hog being the other.

The lunch was hosted at Abacus, known as the former home of Tré Wilcox of Top Chef fame, and we enjoyed a cooking demonstration by Chef Kent Rathburn.  It was, in short, fantastic!

The goal of the lunch was to show the attendees the versatility, cost effectiveness, and nutritional benefit of mushrooms.  There was a lot of information presented before the cooking demonstration that was eye opening.  For example, mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin D, something which most Americans lack and in the months to come mushrooms will be packaged in pink indicating that part of the proceeds go to breast cancer research.  Good to know! 


After the presentation, and a brief round-table type discussion, Chef Rathburn got to work.  He was very entertaining and provided cooking tips for cooks of all skill levels.  Never once did he talk down to the audience.  I appreciated that.

We started with Wood Grilled Portobello and Oyster Mushroom Pizza with Gorgonzola and Rocket Greens Salad.

A few tips from the chef that I managed to jot down. 

First, marinate the sliced and cleaned mushrooms in a small amount of garlic oil, kosher salt and pepper.  Because you want to give the mushrooms the most flavor you can you want to marinate them for a few minutes in a small amount of flavored oil before transferring to a perforated pan for grilling. 

Second, rather than use a tomato sauce, which could overpower the delicate flavor of the mushrooms, Chef opted to oven dry sliced cherry tomatoes.  Dried in a low oven (180 F) for about an hour and a half, the dried tomatoes add the perfect tangy zip and chewy texture to compliment the smokey grilled mushrooms.

This pizza has three cheeses – goat cheese, Gorgonzola, and fresh mozzarella.  It also has chopped rosemary, which adds a pungent, woody note.  Each pizza crust is par-grilled and then baked once topped.  After removal from the oven it is topped with a rocket salad simply dressed with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and more Gorgonzola cheese. 

This is a fresh pizza that would be perfect for a light Summer dinner with a glass of cold white wine.  The mushrooms added a hearty texture, smoky flavor, and paired well with the creamy cheeses.  The crust, both grilled and baked, is at once chewy and yielding. 

We then moved on to dish two.  Pan Roasted Shitake and Button Mushroom Linguine with Braised Veal Shank and a Port Demi Glace.

Chef cooked shallots and garlic over lowish heat until they began to soften.  He then added the mushrooms, which were stemmed and sliced, and veal ossobuco to the pan.  After cooking until the mushrooms were softened he deglazzed the pan with port, reduced it slightly then tossed in the linguini, fresh basil, fresh oregano, butter, and some ricotta cheese.

This dish is rich, hearty and satisfying.  The mushrooms absorb the flavor of the ossobuco and the port gives the sauce a slightly sweet finish.  Creamy ricotta adds a lovely soft finish to the dish.

Course three was by far my favorite. By far and away.  Chef said this was comfort food, the kind you would go back to the pan again and again for.  Were it not so rich I would agree, but one serving would be all the comfort I could take, no matter how much I would want more.  And, I would want more.

Our third course was Crimini and Maitake Mushroom Ragu with Grilled Romano Cheese Polenta.

The polenta, which Chef sadly could not demonstrate, was fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside.  It was salty and creamy, and paired well with the mushroom ragu.  The ragu itself was hearty and rich. The ragu is made with shallot and mushrooms cooked together then the pan is deglazed with Marsala wine.  He then added cream and butter for a velvety texture.   Last he added fresh basil and oregano, salt and pepper.

I could eat this any season, any time.  It is what defines comfort food for me.  Velvety, rich, and the different textures from the mushrooms and polenta made this a stand out.  I requested this recipe from the Mushroom Council and  I hope they send it along to me.

We ended with a plate of cookies, truffles, and toffee.   Overall, they tray was very tasty, but the toffee was by far and away the best thing on offer.  It was spicy and sweet, crispy and creamy. 

Overall, this was an excellent meal, and it has inspired me to try and incorporate more mushrooms into my cooking.  I would like to thank the Mushroom Council for asking me to participate, and I would like to thank Temperance at High on the Hog for sitting with me and being such charming company.

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