Vine and Dine – Cajun Portabello Sandwich with avocado and remoulade

We moved to our second dish from Conscious Cook this time. We decided to try one of the sandwiches. Tami and I are both known for our love of the sandwich and the chapter in Conscious Cook is full of enticing suggestions. This sandwich is fairly straightforward – marinated mushrooms with crisp lettuce, creamy remoulade and luscious avocado.

The portabello mushrooms we can get here usually come a lot smaller than the ones I’ve seen in America so I generally pretty much double the amount any recipe calls for unless it handily specifies a weight too. This one doesn’t, so although I was halving the rest of the recipe I kept the full amount of mushrooms. This turned out to be a good decision as it meant the buns were crammed full of tasty mushrooms. I bought a different brand of Cajun seasoning (Julian Graves) this time and didn’t like it so much; although oregano is way down on the ingredients list it seemed to dominate and made the dish taste too herby and Italian rather than Cajun and spicy. (Full disclosure, I have no idea what Cajun food is supposed to taste like but I guess not like pizza sauce).

We loved this sandwich despite the oregano issue – marinating the mushrooms gave them a great flavour which worked really well with the remoulade and avocado.

I’ve enjoyed using Conscious Cook for this challenge. It’s a lovely book with nice inspiring pictures and the recipes have some unusual flavour combinations. I could do without the interviews, personally, and as many others have said, would prefer a bit less gardein, but that’s easily substituted. I’ll be making more recipes from this book for sure.

Matthew’s words on the wine:

When we read the words cajun spice on a menu, default wine region
selection is New World not old, and probably Chile or California, and we
are looking for something robust to stand up to the chilli, paprika, cumin
and pepper, as well as refreshing to provide a contrast to that spiciness.
Because this was a rustic dish, with white bread, portobello mushroom, and
(the slightly less rustic) avocado, we went with a simple wine, Vintage
Roots  Barra Estate Mendocino Zinfandel, 2004, yours for a measly
£10.99 s a monumental 14.5% ABV and the high alcohol content,
coming from those baking California summer days, was definitely
appropriate with the strong simple flavours. It’s by no means a
complex wine; quite one dimensional really, not much finish,
although a good dimension with the sort of sweet plum jam and soft tannins
that gave the contrast we were looking for. This combination worked fine,
but an inexpensive Argentine Malbec or a Chilean Cabernet would be just as
good and a bit cheaper.

Vine and Dine – paella with sausage, nori dusted mushrooms and wine braised artichoke hearts

For our next two Vine and Dine recipes we’ve moved to Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen. We’re starting off at least by trying to pick books that neither of us have used much and as I’ve only made one dish from this book, it was a perfect choice. It’s a lot harder than it sounds to pick 2 dishes that neither of us have made, and that all four of us like and that we can both get all the ingredients for. Even with this first pick there’s an ingredient I know Tami won’t touch and that Matthew doesn’t like (nori). I pressed ahead with blatant disregard for his likes and dislikes because I love nori and I figured that there’d be enough big flavours for it not to be the big stand out dish. The recipe is reproduced here if you’d like to try it.

I followed the recipe quite closely except I substituted Italian sausages from Vegan Brunch for the Field Roast, left the peas out altogether and used a mixture of oyster and chestnut mushrooms – still nowhere near the suggested 2lb though; 2lb of oyster mushrooms would be a sackful!

The recipe was straightforward to follow although it uses a number of steps; there’s no throwing everything into a pan, but it flowed smoothly and was enjoyable to make. It had lots of big flavours, big enough to stand up to the very weighty wine Matthew chose. The nori dusted mushrooms were delicious and even Matthew admitted to enjoying them and said that the nori added flavour without fishiness. The sausage and artichokes completed the meal and even the jarred artichokes were transformed when browned and braised with wine.

The only slight negative was the serving size – it supposedly served 6-8 but we only got 2 evening meals and 3 smaller lunches from it.

Here’s what Matthew had to say about the wine:

With great Spanish food, it would be rude not to drink top Spanish wine. Rummaging around under the stairs unearthed a bottle labelled ‘Barcelona 2006, lots!, keep your hands off!’, designed to avoid uxoricide. It was a bottle of 2003 Clos d’Agon, which is from an area of Catalonia quite near to Girona, in the far North Eastern corner of Spain, up in the mountains about 5 km inland. If you want to try a bottle, it is yours for about €70, from several internet sources such as Vinissimus. As with most small producers, we’re not certain about the production techniques and whether it is genuinely vegan, but we are sure it is stonkingly good. Like most of the best Catalonian reds it has power and concentration. It’s a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Mourvèdre, which add a range of subtle herby and grassy undertones to the dominant blackcurrant, vanilla and eucalyptus. As a combination with the food it was a winner: the power stood up to the spiciness of the seitan sausage, the richness to the lusciousness of the oyster mushrooms and artichokes. However if you don’t fancy splashing out quite so much, a good Priorat or Montsant – from a little further South West in Catalonia would do nicely: for example Vintage Roots has the wonderful Mas Igneus Priorat listed at £17.95. For this dish, it really is worth treating yourself, as it’s such an opportunity to drink the best Spanish wine with food that will complement it perfectly!

I’ve come to realise that paella is a real favourite of mine. I love the version from Jump Up and Kiss Me, which uses chestnuts, arbol chillies and fennel seeds, and I tested a fantastic version recently for Carolyn from Healthy Voyager. All 3 were very different but had in common lots of flavour and great textures but with comforting  creamy yet almost stodgy rice. I highly recommend trying this version, and I’m looking forward to the next Vine and Dine from Conscious Cook, which promises to be very different! Don’t forget to see what Tami and Jim thought of the dish over at Vegan Appetite too!