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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Blue Ribbon Portobello Melt

In the summer of 2010 the San Diego County Fair held in Del Mar, California posted a "Sensational Sandwich" contest. Since I had become vegetarian in January of that year, I was having fun converting favorite recipes and making them veg-friendly. A chicken sandwich from an old issue of Cooking Light came to mind for this particular challenge. I got to work making it my own (which often means adding garlic, lots of garlic), and of course sans-poulet.  My family loved it so I sent in my recipe for consideration. From all entries received finalists would be chosen and would create their sandwiches at the fair in front of a live audience which sounded fun and terrifying. A couple of weeks went by and I had almost given up hope, then I received notification that I was chosen as a finalist! 

On the morning of the contest I gathered my ingredients into a cooler, and stopped at Von's to get a loaf of their freshly made Italian bread (one of the secrets to this great sandwich!).There were three other finalists - a banged-out turkey sub, a turkey sandwich with homemade kumquat marmalade, and a homemade head-cheese sandwich with homemade pickled cherries. I was a little nervous & wasn't feeling very confident, but I prepared my sandwich and chatted with by-standers. Everything went off without a hitch, and I presented the finished sandwich to the runner. While the judging was taking place I had a chance to check out the other sandwiches. I was really hoping that I would place in one of the top spots but I was a little worried about the two turkey sandwiches. I thought the one with the kumquat marmalade would take the top prize and I hoped I'd at least place above the head-cheese (gross!)! It seemed to take forever for the judges to decide. When the winners were finally announced, third place went to the turkey sub, and that confused and scared me.  Second place went to the head cheese and I thought, "Oh no, I didn't even place! I lost to head-cheese - really? REALLY?!" Surely the kumquat marmalade would cinch the win, that sandwich looked delicious. But lo and behold, while all this was going on in my head I think it took me a moment to realize the first place blue ribbon and $150 prize went to my Portobello Melt! I must admit I got a little verklempt... I was honored to have been chosen by a panel of judges over three meat sandwiches (at least I think head-cheese is considered meat?!). 

A man approached me after the contest and joked that it was practically cheating to use brie (I know, right?), but hey - the other contestants could have used brie on their sandwiches too!

Portobello Melt
makes 4 sandwiches

2 cups halved grape tomatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil - divided
4 cloves garlic, minced - divided
3 large Portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed if desired
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1 Tbsp whole grain mustard
1 loaf crusty French or Italian bread (baguette)
4 ounces brie cheese, sliced 1/4" thick
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
kosher or sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh spinach
Preheat broiler on low
Place tomatoes on a sheet pan covered in foil or parchment. Toss with 1 tsp. olive oil, a fourth of the minced garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Broil on low, stirring occasionally until most of the tomatoes are broken down and blistered, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place mushrooms on another lined sheet pan. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with Italian seasoning, a fourth of the minced garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake on lower rack of oven while tomatoes are broiling about 8 minutes, turning once after 4 minutes. While veggies are cooking, mix mayo, mustard and a fourth of the minced garlic together in a small bowl. Slice bread in half lengthwise and spread mayo mixture onto cut side of top half. Toss spinach with 2 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, the remaining garlic, and a pinch of salt & pepper in a medium bowl. Spread bottom half of bread with roasted tomatoes and arrange brie on top. Slice mushrooms 1/2" thick and arrange on top of brie. Top with dressed spinach. and cover with top half of bread. Cut crosswise into 4 even pieces.

As written, one serving is about 548 calories, which I had room for in my calorie budget due to a light lunch. Next time I think I will slice the bread cross-wise into thin slices which should cut about 100 calories. 

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