Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Goat Cheese and Olive-Caper-Pepper Relish

A couple Saturdays ago we were making scrambled eggs for breakfast, and while we weren’t looking, Levi grabbed the cumin from the spice rack, unscrewed the top, and sprinkled some into the eggs. It threw me off (though I was thankful he chose the cumin over the cinnamon). Dustin ran with it. He added some chopped kalamata olives, onions, peppers, and tomatoes and called it a Mediterranean scramble. Then he served it over toasted pita bread spread with goat cheese. Brilliant. Thanks, Levi, for unintentionally (or intentionally?) pointing us in the direction of an awesome breakfast.

Last summer we grilled portobello mushrooms and filled them with goat cheese, fresh tomatoes, and basil. We thought they would be pretty hard to beat. The weekend after the Mediterranean scramble incident, we filled the same umami-packed mushroom caps with goat cheese and a relish made from capers, olives, grilled red peppers, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. The flavors are reminiscent of a Muffaletta sandwich, but a vegetarian version; the portobellos, of course, standing in for the cold cuts. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the combination of capers and olives and how their brininess brightens up grilled meats, seafood, pasta dishes, and in this case, grilled mushrooms. Before grilling them, I added a few dashes of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, just to add a little depth of flavor.

While the weather is still nice, and the grill is accessible, try this meatless meal that boasts of bright flavors and easy preparation (make the relish ahead of time!) And make sure your spice lids are screwed on tight if you have a toddler accompanying you in the kitchen 😉


Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Goat Cheese & Caper-Olive-Red Pepper Relish

(Inspired by Levi’s addition to our scrambled eggs, and the “Vegetarian Muffaletta Wraps” in the book The Fifth Taste – Cooking with Umami; Serves 3-4 – we had some extra filling after stuffing our 3 mushrooms)

3 large portobello mushrooms
Olive oil for brushing
Worcestershire sauce
Soy sauce
Salt & Pepper
1/2 a small red bell pepper
1/4 cup roughly chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup roughly chopped Spanish olives with pimentos
1 1/2 tsp. minced capers
2 tsp. minced fresh parsley
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. soft, fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

  • Prepare a charcoal grill for low-medium heat (by controlling the vents to allow the coats to die down).
  • Twist the stems off the portobello mushrooms and scrape the gills out using a butter knife or spoon, discarding stems and gills. Brush or drizzle the mushrooms on both sides with olive oil, a splash of soy sauce, and a splash of Worcestershire. Set aside.
  • Remove the seeds and ribs from the bell pepper half and brush or drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  • In a medium bowl, toss together the olives, capers, parsley, garlic, oregano, and olive oil to combine.
  • When the grill is ready, grill the red bell pepper until blistered and soft. Remove from grill, cool slightly and roughly chop. Add to olive-caper mixture.
  • Grill the portobello mushrooms gill-side down for 5-7 minutes and until nice grill marks form. Flip so they are cap-side down and continue to cook for several more minutes or until almost tender. Carefully spoon some goat cheese into each mushroom cap and spread  into a thin layer. Spoon the olive-caper-pepper relish on top of the goat cheese. Cover the grill and cook until the mushrooms are tender and the filling is warmed, about 2 minutes.

Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Apricot Glaze


My son is obsessed with the garage. It’s no surprise. His father and his grandfather (my dad) love it as well. It’s where they spend many a Saturday, working on projects of various sorts. The other evening as we were getting ready to start dinner, Levi made his usual “uh? uh?” sound while pointing emphatically towards the garage. There’s no ignoring that request. Once inside, we turned our backs for 20 seconds while we opened the garage door and got out the BBQ in anticipation of grilling some pork tenderloin, and he had climbed about 6 rungs of the extension ladder that’s propped up agained the wall. Parenting fail. When we got him safely on the ground,  he pointed to the BBQ and blew three times (the indication of it being hot). “You’re right,” I say, “It’s not hot yet, but it will be soon. We’re going to grill some pork tenderloin tonight! Are you hungry?” (Oh, and by the way, never do that again. You scared the sh!t out of me).


A jar of apricot jam in the pantry inspired this pork tenderloin, which came from El Salchichero, our community butcher. We decided to make a sweet and spicy glaze by combining the jam with some minced rocoto pepper from our backyard. These peppers are spicy – almost like a habanero – so we used them sparingly. Some fresh Meyer lemon juice added a little acidity to balance things out.


When the coals were hot and the tenderloin had been marinating in a little olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper, I asked Levi to get the  BBQ tongs and bring them to daddy. Not surprisingly, he knows where they’re located and is always eager to help if it means retrieving something from the garage. After grilling, we allowed the pork tenderloin to rest so that it would be nice and moist when we sliced into it. The glaze caramelized nicely on the outside and imparted a subtle sweet and spicy flavor. Not bad for a quick weeknight meal. Levi enjoyed it too. Climbing an extension ladder makes for a good appetite.


Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Apricot Glaze

1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb.)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh rosemary, chopped
apricot jam (about 1/2 cup – I used 1/2 of a 9.5 oz. jar)
1/2 a hot chili pepper (such as a jalapeño, serrano, or rocoto), minced
fresh lemon juice (I used 1/2 of a fairly large Meyer lemon)

  • Place the tenderloin in a baking dish (or on a big plate) and drizzle a little olive oil over it. Season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Using your hands, rub the oil and seasonings all over the tenderloin. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the apricot jam with the minced hot pepper, lemon juice, and some salt & pepper. Mix well. Taste and add more ingredients as necessary to balance the flavors. I ended up adding a little more lemon juice and more peppers after tasting.
  • Take the tenderloin out of the refrigerator as you prepare a charcoal grill. When coals are ready, brush the apricot glaze on the tenderloin so that it covers all surfaces. Place on the grill, cover, and cook for about 4 minutes. Brush more glaze on the top, flip the tenderloin, and glaze the other side as well. Cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Continue glazing and flipping every few minutes, until the inside of the tenderloin reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees and the outside is nicely caramelized. Transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest for several minutes. Slice and serve with your starch and vegetable of choice. We had couscous, grilled summer squash, and a salad.

Argentine Hot Dogs (with Chimichurri, Pickled Red Onions, Marinated Queso Fresco & Chorizo)


It’s nearing the end of summer, and you’ve probably had your share of hot dogs, but these Argentine dogs are as far from yellow mustard and ketchup as you can get.  Grilled all-beef hot dogs get an array of colorful and flavorful toppings: a verdant chimichurri with the addition of finely chopped sweet red and yellow peppers and grated carrot, sweet and tangy pickled red onions, queso fresco marinated in olive oil and yellow flecks of lemon zest, and spicy ground chorizo. Yes, chorizo on a hot dog. It’s a hot dog elevated to a new level.

I came across this recipe when I was reading the food section in our local newspaper. I made only a few changes. I thought these dogs deserved something better than your typical white hot dog bun, so we bought some soft steak rolls, cut them in half lengthwise and made a slit in each half, creating hot dog buns with some substance. I also went in a different direction with the pickled onions. The original recipe calls for pouring a simple syrup and grenadine over them, but since I didn’t have any grenadine and didn’t have a need for buying a whole bottle, I decided to just use my method for quick cucumber pickles (adding a little vinegar, agave nectar, and salt), but adding more agave nectar to make the onions sweeter, in order to counter-balance the acidity in the chimichurri. The chorizo adds the perfect amount of spice, and the marinated queso fresco adds a cooling, creamy counterpoint. See why this hot dog is in a different dimension?


Levi especially enjoyed these hot dogs. I wish we had taken a picture, but his plate contained a de-constructed version of an Argentine hot dog. The pieces of hot dog and queso fresco disappeared first, but he seemed to enjoy all the components of this meal!

The pickled onions and the marinated queso fresco are made the night before, and the chimichurri can be made the morning of, so everything comes together quickly at dinner time. All you have to do is cook the chorizo, grill the hot dogs, and assemble! Make these Argentine hot dogs while the grill is still out. Quick! Summer is fleeting.


Argentine Hot Dogs

(Slightly adapted from the San Jose Mercury News, original recipe by Carole Wendling; Serves 2)

For the Chimichurri:

1/2 a bunch of parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 TBS. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. crushed garlic
1/4 cup finely diced red and yellow peppers
2 tablespoons grated carrot

For the Pickled Red Onions:

1/2 red onion, sliced
2 TBS. white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
agave nectar to taste
Kosher salt to taste

For the Marinated Queso Fresco:

4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Salt, pepper to taste

To Assemble:

2 grilled beef hot dogs
1 sweet or sour steak roll – cut in half lengthwise, with a slit cut into each half to form 2 hot dog “buns”
4 ounces ground chorizo, cooked


Wow – that’s a long list of ingredients, I know! But everything is so easy to make. Here we go …

  • To make the pickled onions, place the sliced onions in a bowl and add the vinegar. Add a good drizzle of agave nectar (or you can use honey or sugar) and season with a little salt. Stir to combine. Taste and add more sweetener if needed. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Combine the marinated queso fresco ingredients. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Make the chimichurri. Combine the first six ingredients in a food processor; pulse to pesto-like consistency. Season to taste with salt. Fold in peppers and carrot. Set aside. Can be made several hours ahead. Cover and chill. Take out of refrigerator 1 hour before serving.
  • Lightly toast the buns on the grill, grill the hot dogs, and top with cooked, crumbled chorizo, chimichurri, pickled red onions, and marinated queso fresco.

Goat Cheese, Tomato & Basil Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms


I failed to produce a grocery list before we entered the store last Sunday. Luckily, the order in which we strolled through the produce section determined the menu. It was hard to miss the pile of huge portobello mushrooms, dwarfing the other fungi varieties around them. We decided that their savory, rich umami flavor would make them a perfect alternative to meat on this particular evening and make them a good match for a charcoal grill. Now that we had our blank canvas to work with, we just needed to decide what to put inside their vast caps. The smell of fresh basil wafting from behind us got our attention and into the cart went a beautiful verdant bunch. Levi tried to grab it as it went in; the smell must have captivated his little senses as well. Next, my eyes were drawn to a stunning heirloom tomato, the colors of an orange and yellow sunset. Even though the classic combination of caprese was becoming our inspiration, we decided to deter a little and use a soft goat cheese called fromage blanc instead of fresh mozzarella.

Every bite of these stuffed charcoal-grilled portobello mushrooms was bright and summery, with that underlying rich portobello flavor. On the side I made a simple rice pilaf and a spinach salad with sliced white peaches.


Goat Cheese, Tomato & Basil Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

(Adapted from My Recipes)

2 portobello mushrooms
balsamic vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
1 large heirloom tomato
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 TBS. chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
your favorite soft goat cheese, such as fromage blanc
a couple handfuls of baby spinach leaves

  • Prepare a charcoal grill.
  • Using a spoon, scrape the brown gills out of the mushroom caps. Discard gills. Remove and discard stems. Place mushroom caps on a large plate and drizzle both sides with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  • In a small bowl, toss the chopped tomato with the garlic, fresh basil & oregano, and a little splash each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.
  • Place mushroom caps, stem-side down on an oiled grill grate and grill for about 5 minutes on each side, or until soft.
  • Fill the caps with a few spoonfuls of goat cheese and spread so that it covers the bottom of the mushroom caps evenly. Lay a small handful of baby spinach leaves on top of the goat cheese, followed by a few spoonfuls of the tomato mixture. Cover and grill for 3 minutes more. Remove from grill and transfer to plates. Sprinkle with a little more chopped basil and serve.

Grilled Pita Bread


They’re chewy, they’re hot off the grill, and their pockets can be filled with everything from scrambled eggs to falafel. Pitas are a versatile staple to have around the house, and it felt very satisfying to make at home what we usually just grab at the store. The original recipe suggested placing a cast iron skillet on the grill over indirect heat and cooking the pitas that way, but we found that throwing them directly on the grill imparted a delicious flavor, left those appealing grill marks that lets everyone know that yes, you grilled your pitas, and allowed us to cook more at a time. We think it was the right decision (per advice from Bridge of The Way the Cookie Crumbles).

Grilled Pita Bread

(Slightly adapted from the June/July 2010 issue of Fine Cooking – Makes 10 pitas)

1 TBS. honey
2 tsp. active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 TBS. olive oil; more for the bowl and baking pans

  • In a small bowl, mix the honey with 1/2 cup lukewarm water and stir in the yeast. Let sit until the yeast has started foaming, 2-3 minutes.
  • Put both flours and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (alternatively, you can use a hand-mixer that has a dough attachment – we don’t have a stand mixer and this worked fine). With the mixer running on low speed, mix in the olive oil until fully incorporated, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the yeast mixture and 1 cup lukewarm water and mix until fully incorporated, 2-3 minutes more. Raise the speed to medium and knead dough until it starts to come away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball that is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, 4-5 minutes. If the dough seems too wet and sticky, add more flour 1 tsp. at a time.
  • Raise the speed to medium high and continue kneading for another 5 minutes.
  • Oil a medium bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Roll to coat the dough with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  • Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead two or three times to remove any air bubbles. Form into a log and divide it evenly into 10 pieces. Form each piece into a ball and then roll into disks about 1/4 inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Lightly oil two rimmed baking sheets, and place the disks on the baking sheets. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until just doubled in thickness, 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Prepare a charcoal fire with indirect heat by placing the coals to one side of the grill. Place the pitas directly on the grill (over the “cool zone” – not directly over the coals) for 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes until cooked through. Depending on the heat of your coals, the time may be shorter or longer. Enjoy while hot!


Looking for a new idea to use homemade pitas? This is what we came up with the evening we made ours. Instead of making use of their pockets, lay them flat, spread a thin layer of goat cheese (like a fromage blanc from Harley Farms), scatter a handful of caramelized onions, and season with salt and cracked black pepper. Place the pitas back on the grill (covered) for a few minutes to warm the cheese and onions, and then top with a handful of fresh, peppery arugula and finish with a drizzle of balsamic. You’ll love the flavor combination. I made a simple fruit salad to go alongside these “pita pizzas.” I tossed freshly cut watermelon, peaches, strawberries, and plums with fresh lime juice and chopped mint. It tasted like summer!

Grilled Butter Lettuce with Buttermilk-Chive Dressing


It’s easy to get into a salad rut, so I wanted to share a quick recipe that we discovered this past weekend. If you’re already grilling for dinner, why not throw the salad on too? Just halve a head of butter lettuce and grill cut-side down for a few minutes until it’s nicely charred and wilted, while the inner core retains that distinct butter lettuce crunch. Transfer to a serving plate and drizzle a creamy and tangy buttermilk-chive dressing over it. The dressing takes less than 5 minutes to whisk together, and paired with the grilled lettuce and its pleasing caramelized edges, you won’t know what’s hit you. Your ho hum dinner salad has been transformed! Enjoy & Happy 4th of July to all our readers!


Grilled Butter Lettuce with Buttermilk-Chive Dressing

(From the June/July 2010 issue of Fine Cooking)
Serves 8

1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup crème fraîche*
2 Tbs. mayonnaise
2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt
Vegetable oil for the grill
4 large heads butter lettuce, halved lengthwise

* Try adding some leftover crème fraîche and chopped chives to your scrambled eggs in the morning. Delicious.

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, crème fraîche, mayonnaise, chives, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. (Can be made 1 day ahead, covered, and refrigerated).
  • Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct, medium-high heat.
  • Lightly season the halved heads of lettuce with 1/4 tsp. salt. Grill cut side down until wilted, lightly charred, and the cores are crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Transfer grilled lettuce to a serving platter (or individual plates) and drizzle with dressing (you won’t need all of it). Lightly season with salt and serve.

Southwestern Grilled Chicken Salad with Cherry Tomato-Black Bean-Corn Salsa


As I’m writing this it’s drizzling, and since we can’t play outside, Levi is entertaining himself with a drawer filled with various kid-friendly kitchen implements (the “decoy drawer,” as I call it, because it keeps him away from the dangerous stuff and buys me a few minutes here and there to write blog posts, fold laundry, or answer the phone). I swear that just yesterday we were enjoying the warmth of the early evening sun, grilling chicken in the backyard, and sipping icy pints of IPA. Levi was playing in his shark sprinkler — the perfect summer scene. How the weather changes on the central coast! And how we as mothers adapt as far as activities go for our kids.


Speaking of adaptation, meals take even more planning-ahead these days. Not only is Levi walking; he’s running and climbing — onto couches, chairs, boxes, whatever he can. You have no idea how many distractions I had to have in place in order to make this cherry tomato-black bean-corn salsa. It’s hard when every 20 seconds you have to look up from whatever you’re doing to make sure your son hasn’t scaled the bookshelf. But somehow I made it work and we ended up with this beautiful salad for dinner, which was perfect for a warm evening, but also sounds delicious now as I hear the pitter-patter of rain against the window.

The chicken is seasoned with a delicious spice mixture of chile powder, brown sugar, cumin, and coriander before being grilled to perfection. Then it’s sliced and set on top of crunchy romaine lettuce, along with a spoonful of the salsa, and sliced avocado, and dressed with  a slightly sweet/slightly tart lime-cilantro vinaigrette. My slight adaptation to this Fine Cooking recipe is that we decided to grill some corn on the cob and add the kernels to the salsa, which added a nice sweet flavor and seemed to fit in with the southwestern theme. We also used romaine instead of Bibb lettuce, omitted the pine nuts (because we didn’t have any) and substituted chicken thighs for the chicken breasts. Our changes are reflected below. We hope you enjoy this dinner salad this summer. Its bold flavors will not disappoint.


Southwestern Grilled Chicken Salad with Cherry Tomato-Black Bean-Corn Salsa

(Slightly adapted from the Aug/Sept 2010 issue of Fine Cooking)

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 TBS. chili powder
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt
1 large ear of corn, husked and lightly oiled
6 TBS. extra-virgin olive oil
2 TBS. +  2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 TBS. + 2 tsp. chopped fresh cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
2 tsp. honey
Freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco (optional)
1/2 of a 14-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained (save other 1/2 for another use)
4 oz. small cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered or halved (about 3/4 cup)
1 small clove garlic, minced
1  head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 medium firm-ripe avocado

  • Prepare a medium-high gas or charcoal grill fire.
  • In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, brown sugar, coriander, cumin, and 3/4 tsp. salt. Rub the spice mixture over both sides of the chicken thighs (you’ll have some left over, but it’s a great spice blend for another use). Let chicken sit at room temp while the grill heats.
  • Grill the corn until tender and the kernels are charred in spots, about 6 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool. Grill the chicken thighs until done, about 6 minutes, flipping once. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  • Using a knife, carefully cut the kernels off the cob (this is easier when done in a large bowl so the kernels don’t go flying everywhere) and transfer to a small bowl.
  • In a small jar or other container with a tight-fitting lid, combine the olive oil, lime juice, 1 TBS. of the chopped cilantro, the honey, 1/2 tsp. salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a few shakes of Tabasco (if using). Shake well to combine.
  • To make the salsa, add the beans, tomatoes, garlic, remaining 2 tsp. cilantro, and a pinch of salt to the small bowl with the grilled corn kernels. Add 2 TBS. of the dressing and toss gently.
  • Put the lettuce in a bowl, season with a little salt, and toss with just enough of the dressing to lightly coat. (Reserve a little to drizzle on the chicken.) Arrange the lettuce on a platter or two dinner plates. Slice the chicken thighs. Pit and slice the avocado. Arrange the chicken slices, avocado, and salsa on the lettuce. Drizzle a little of the remaining dressing over the top. Garnish with cilantro leaves.