Blog - Playing with Food

Playing with Fire

There's something primal about barbecuing. Perhaps it strikes an ancient chord harking back to times when we lived in caves and fire was our only way of cooking food - and staying warm, lighting the dark, keeping wild animals at bay... But it sure smells good!

On our evening walk my husband Edmund and I meander through the neighborhood on the way to the park. Along the route I catch whiffs of chicken grilling to perfection and hamburgers incinerating beyond recognition. "Salmon" I'll mutter en route. "Tandoori. Trout with lemon. Bratwurst. Chicken with way too much sugary barbecue sauce, it'll be charcoal in a minute". Edmund shakes his head. I have what I like to refer to as an exceptionally refined sense of smell or as my spouse calls it, "a nose like a blood hound". I can suss out virtually every ingredient in any dish at a restaurant, identify every item grilling outdoors and even scent out what someone's had for dinner the next day (that particular super power isn't necessarily a good one if you're on a crowded bus, however...)

But neighborhood barbecues can be inspiring. Me, I'll grill almost anything. Since Edmund is a vegetarian we grill lots of veggies and they're at their peak this time of the year. Sauvie Island corn roasted in its husk, portobello mushrooms marinated in balsamic vinaigrette, zucchini and peppers just plucked from the garden and fresh fruit from James, The Giant Peach Tree who grows about 20 feet from where our barbecue is stationed. Oooh.

Even the most neolithic carnivore will like marinated portobellos on a barbecue. They have a meaty texture and absorb flavors without losing their lush earthy taste. If you're in a hurry they're your best friend - they take just a couple minutes on each side, done so fast that not even a super powered nose like mine can get a whiff of them before they're on the table.

Here's a recipe for one of the most popular items on my catering menu: marinated portobellos.


Portobello mushrooms (1 per person unless you're my husband then it's two per person)

Sweet peppers, any combination. Red and yellow look particularly nice in this recipe.

Small zucchini (find it in your garden before it grows to the size of a baseball bat!) cut into rounds or if it's already a baseball bat size, cut into 2" pieces and do not use the tough seeds...

garlic, minced (I like about two cloves per cap. Use more or less to taste)

Olive Oil

Balsamic vinegar

Sicilian Herb Mix (recipe below)

Sea salt


Select plump firm mushrooms and wipe the cap with a damp towel. I leave the black gills in when grilling, they have great flavor. Snap the stems, cut into 2-3 rounds, and put in a packet of foil along with some peppers and zukes tossed in olive oil and sea salt. 

Mix balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic and a couple generous teaspoons of Sicilian Herb Mix (recipe below). You can keep this marinade on hand like a salad dressing - you'll find lots of uses for it! Put the caps in the herbed marinade in a large zip lock bag or bowl and toss them until the mushrooms are well coated. The longer they rest in the marinade the more they'll pick up the flavor so if you like a more mushroom-y taste, retrieve them after about five or ten minutes or you can marinate up to an hour.

PLAY WITH FIRE (a.k.a. cook)

Put the foil packet with the peppers, zucchini and mushroom stems on the side or on an area of the grill with a lower flame and cook for 8-10 minutes - about as long as it will take to do the mushroom caps

Grill the portobellos on the hottest part of the grill, cap down, for 3-4 minutes. The juices will start to release and moisten the cap.  Turn them, grilling for another 3-4 minutes. 


Take the mushrooms and veggie packet off the grill. Fill the mushroom cap with the vegetables, draining off excess liquid. Enjoy!

Sicilian Herb Mix

This recipe is for dry herbs and it stores well for months. If using fresh herbs which are abundant this time of year, use within a few days and keep in an airtight container in the fridge.

2 Tablespoons dried basil
2 Tablespoons dried marjoram
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
2 Tablespoons dried thyme
2 Tablespoons dried savory
1 Teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 Tablespoon dried rosemary