Cooking columns provide the ideal combo for dinner

Long before I started writing this column for the Cape Gazette, I was an avid reader of any article related to cooking that appeared in the daily newspaper. I especially enjoyed discovering how the topic was covered when visiting other regions of the country. I didn’t do as well when visiting overseas, except for England and Ireland, where I understood the language, if not all the slang.

Last week, the Washington Post published an article about a garlic chicken dish that caught my attention. The author, Ann Maloney, offered a number of tips on how to peel garlic cloves, including a humorous description of a messy, unsuccessful technique that she did not recommend. Her comments about substitute ingredients were helpful, offering vegetarian alternatives for the chicken.

She also described her love of garlic and its intense bitterness, which gave me pause when I considered preparing the dish for dinner. The recipe calls for boneless chicken breasts, baby spinach, rice, and an entire head of garlic. Not just a few cloves (or “toes”) but the whole thing, which explains why she invested so much ink on the best approach to removing the peel.

On a page farther back in that day’s food section was a charming article about foraging for mushrooms. The wide-ranging piece was prompted by the recent publication of “Fantastic Fungi: Community Cookbook,” edited by Eugenia Bone. The author of the article, Charlotte Druckman, contacted several of the mushroom foragers who contributed recipes to the collection, pointing out that the featured dishes were not curated by restaurant chefs, but developed by home cooks who foraged for their key ingredient.

Like many articles in today’s politically charged climate, her focus extended into the demographic of mushroom foragers who are not covered in the book: African Americans and Native Americans. Druckman quotes a few women who are beginning to become more prevalent in mushroom clubs (called mycological societies) and M. Karlos Baca, a Colorado-based food activist in the indigenous community, is given almost a full column to share his perspective.

He views the current “mushroom-as-trend phenomenon” as a way in which foraging for mushrooms has become viewed as a leisure activity, instead of an agricultural practice that was in place long before European explorers and settlers arrived. He is one of the regular contributors to A Gathering Basket, a serially published digital cookbook collection that recently released its fourth issue (icollectiveinc.org/gathering-basket).

The column was never really about cooking a specific ingredient or dish, but more about the popularity of mushroom foraging and how it is perceived by a wide range of participants. At the very end of her piece, Druckman mentioned the dish seen in the photo accompanying the text, brioche topped with creamed mushrooms. To me it looked mouthwatering and elegantly simple.

Based on the two articles, I was ready to make dinner. The chicken garlic dish from Ann Maloney had no savory sauce, and very little moisture in the sautéed chicken and rice. However, the oyster mushrooms would provide exactly what I needed to add more layers of flavor with their creamy gravy. I don’t think they realized it, but the two columnists together provided a delicious combination for our evening meal.

Garlic Chicken and Rice *

2 C cooked long-grain rice

1 head of garlic

1 lb boneless chicken breast

salt & pepper

1 T olive oil

5 oz baby spinach

2 T butter

Parmesan cheese for garnish

Peel the garlic and chop or grate the cloves; set aside. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the chicken in a single layer. Cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Remove chicken to a platter. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes; transfer to the platter with chicken. Melt butter in the skillet and add garlic. Cook over medium, stirring often for about a minute. Add cooked rice and stir to combine. Spread rice evenly in the pan and cook until the bottom begins to crisp. Return chicken and spinach to the pan; toss together until well mixed. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. * Adapted from Ann Maloney in the Washington Post.

Creamed Mushrooms *

4 T butter

8 oz oyster mushrooms

1/8 t white pepper

2 t flour

1/4 C dry white wine

1/4 C sour cream

1/4 t herbs from Provence

1/4 t tarragon

1/4 t Worcestershire sauce

1/4 t soy sauce

pinch cayenne

1/4 C half & half

chopped parsley, for garnish

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium. Coarsely chop the mushrooms and add to the skillet. Sprinkle with pepper and cook until the liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat. Add the wine to deglaze the pan and cook for a minute. Stir in sour cream, herbs from Provence, tarragon, Worcestershire and soy sauce. Reduce heat to low and cook until the sour cream dissolves, about 2 minutes. Add the half & half and cook until thick and creamy, about 2 minutes. Serve over grilled chicken, garnished with chopped parsley. * Adapted from Charlotte Druckman in the Washington Post.

Send comments, questions and recipe suggestions to capeflavors@comcast.net.

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