Both down-to-earth and offbeat fare

The Baltimore Sun

The PlumpJack Cookbook

Great Meals for Good Living

From the Earth to the Table

John Ash's Wine Country Cuisine

By John Ash

Chronicle Books / 2007 / $24.95

I cannot vouch for the Fresh Corn Ice Cream With Almond Lace Cookie Fans, one of the more offbeat recipes offered by author John Ash. But weird as it sounds, I am tempted to make it, if only because what I did cook from this book was so good.

An expanded, paperback version of a volume first issued in 1995, this book will appeal to adventurous foodies. But there is plenty -- the book contains more than 300 recipes for salads, pastas, breads, entrees and desserts -- to please the meat-and-potatoes crowd, too.

The Marinated and Grilled Flank Steak With Lime-Chipotle Sauce could please both foodies and finicky eaters. It's basically fajitas, but that now-too-familiar dish is enlivened with a tangy citrus sauce.

No photos here, but plenty of tips for pairing wines with the dishes and for finding exotic ingredients.

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Sandwich on Focaccia With Eggplant, Red Peppers and Sun-Dried Tomato/Goat-Cheese Spread

Makes 4 sandwiches

1 small eggplant, cut into thin rounds

coarse salt

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided use), plus oil for drizzling

4 large portobello mushrooms, stemmed

2 red bell peppers

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

4 ounces soft, mild goat cheese

4 squares (5 inches) high-quality, store-bought focaccia

1 to 2 ounces baby lettuce

Prepare an outdoor grill.

Sprinkle the eggplant rounds with salt and set aside for 30 minutes. Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in water for at least 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Brush the tops and gills of each mushroom with the oil mixture. Grill over a hot fire for 5 to 7 minutes per side, until the mushrooms are tender. Be careful not to let them burn. Set aside.

Roast peppers on the grill, turning them until they are lightly blackened on all sides. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap to let them steam for 5 minutes.

Remove the peppers from the bowl and peel the skins under cool running water. Split the peppers in two. Remove and discard the seeds and stems. Pat the pepper halves dry with a paper towel, drizzle with olive oil, and grill them until they are soft, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from heat.

Use a paper towel to wipe the eggplant slices free of any liquid they have sweated. Drizzle with olive oil. Grill until tender, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Gently toss the eggplant and peppers in the vinaigrette to coat them fully.

In a small food processor or blender, blend the sun-dried tomatoes with 2 to 4 tablespoons of their soaking water until you have a coarse puree. Use a fork to combine the goat cheese with the puree.

Split focaccia squares in half to create sandwich buns and toast them lightly on the grill. Spread the goat-cheese mixture on the cut sides. Layer a mushroom, half a roasted pepper, several eggplant slices and 1/4 of the lettuce on the bottom half of each bun. Cover with the top half.

From "The PlumpJack Cookbook"

Per serving: 439 calories, 14 grams protein, 22 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 51 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fiber, 13 milligrams cholesterol, 576 milligrams sodium

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