Wickedly Creative Cooking

by Mike Isenberg

Mike from Wicked Cactus holds his Feast Your Eyes on This trophy

While neither a professional nor formally trained chef, I am a foodie and cooking TV junkie. Join me as I explore new things, letting you know what has worked for me, and hopefully inspiring you to get out there and try something new as well. I am owner of Wicked Cactus Sauce and love everything spicy.

have a problem.

I love mushrooms.  Sautéed mushrooms to be exact.  The savory/earthy/meaty flavor, the versatility, the delicious transformation that comes from the simplest of cooking process*.  I’ve made sautéed mushrooms before and ate them before the rest of the meal was done!  I really, really love sautéed mushrooms.

*and I mean stupid easy

Cool story, so what’s the problem?

My wife can’t stand them.  The smell of them specifically.  And I live in a <1000 sq. foot house.  Without a kitchen vent.  So, yes, this is a problem.

Solution?  Cooking outdoors.

Sure, I’ve been a BBQ and grilling enthusiast for a long time.  I love to go throw a steak on the grill or drop some ribs in the smoker, but up until a few years ago that was where it ended.  I’d hook up the entrée outdoors and come back inside to wrap up everything else.  Not that this is such a bad thing, since, well, everything for cooking is generally kept in the kitchen.

Cooking outdoors allows otherwise objectionable smells to dissipate instead of flavoring the whole house.  Added benefit: as anyone who has had the misfortune of cooking anything even remotely spicy inside you know that aromas can go from delicious to incapacitating real quick.  When I’m cooking outdoors I can freely add super-hot peppers without having to break out the respirators.  Cook what I want without stinking up the house and keep the domestic peace?  Win – win!

And no, I’m not talking about spending $10,000 to build out an outdoor kitchen.  I’m talking about simple things I’ve done to make cooking outside more versatile and enjoyable.

Heat source.  We’re cooking, right?  You need heat.  While you can cook just about everything on a charcoal grill, sometimes you need a bit more measured heat source.  I have a dual fuel gas & charcoal grill that, while not the best of either a gas or charcoal grill, happily has a gas side burner.  The side burner works very well for anything you might otherwise cook on the stove-top.  In addition, I have a couple of hand-me-down electric appliances – a griddle and hot plate.  Between the grill, the side burner, and the hot plate I can’t think of anything I can’t cook outside.

Tools.  I have a selection of ‘retired’ skillets in my garage next to my grill.  Noting fancy, just a couple of older but still serviceable non-stick pans* and a cast iron pan.  Just keep in mind that if you are cooking on your grill surface it will get HOT.  Unless you like the taste of burning plastic stick to cast iron (or stainless steel) cookware on the grill.  I also like to have a jug with water on hand, both to cook with and for clean-up.

*if your non-stick coating has started to flake off, toss the pan.  No one wants to eat Teflon.

Mise en place.  Good advice for any type of cooking, but doubly important for cooking away from the kitchen.  This means get everything ready before you start cooking.  Measure out your spices, trim and prep your meat & vegetables.  There is a reason everyone cooking on television has 20 bowls in front of them, and it’s not just that watching someone cut celery or measure flour on camera is boring. Doing your prep before you start means that you can pay attention to the cooking instead of getting distracted.  You don’t want your steaks catching fire because you were inside prepping asparagus.  Do yourself a favor and pick up some small Pyrex bowls or stainless steel portion cups, and start practicing this today.

Lastly, bug repellent.  St. Louis is lousy with mosquitoes.  You probably won’t think about the bug spray when you are cooking, but you sure will be thinking about it that night when you are trying to go to sleep.

Sauteed Mushrooms

·         2 lbs Crimini or Button Mushrooms (cleaned, stems removed, sliced about ¼ inch thick)

·         1 medium shallot (finely diced)

·         2 Tbs Olive Oil or Vegetable Oil

·         1 Tbs Tomato Paste

·         1 Tbs Anchovy Paste*

·         1 Cup Wine (I use Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc)

·         Salt & Pepper

·         Optional:  Dried hot chiles (I like a pinch of ghost pepper for this recipe)

Over high heat, add oil, shallots, tomato paste, and anchovy paste.  Allow to cook for a few minutes until shallots become translucent and fragrant.  Add the mushrooms and salt, and continue to cook over high heat.  The mushrooms will lose a lot of water.  Stir the mushrooms frequently.  Once the mushrooms are reduced in volume by half add half of the wine and dried peppers if using.  Continue to cook over high heat, stirring frequently.  The mushrooms will reduce to about a quarter of their original volume and begin to brown.  Add the remaining wine and continue to cook until the wine is absorbed.

Use these as a delicious side for any entrée, toss with pasta, or serve on crusty bread with sliced tomato.

*don’t skip the anchovy paste!  This takes these mushrooms from good to shove-a-small-child-out-of-the-way delicious. 

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Wicked Cactus Sauce LLC
P.O. Box 659
Chesterfield, MO 63006


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