Boeuf Bourguignon

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Back when I was single, I’d often cook myself beef liver for meals. It was cheap and I loved it, especially with eggs, which were also affordable. I had no other meat experience. Nor with vegetables, other than salad.

So I marry at 25 and know I need to learn how to cook and put daily meals together for my husband and myself. Plus, my husband didn’t eat liver.

Fortunately I was fearless in the kitchen. I jumped into this set of cookbooks from Time-Life – called Foods of the World – that my mother gifted me when we married, and proceeded to cook. My naïveté helped me.

Peking duck? Sure! Tempura? Of course! Rogan Josh? Certainly. Nothing intimidated me, except crazy desserts and pastries, which still do…

When it came to the Provincial French cookbook, I dove in with the same enthusiasm I had for every other cookbook, with glorious results.

Take this boeuf bourguignon. Every aspect of this dish is prepped separately prior to being added together at the end.

I learned how to use salt pork, a new ingredient for me, poaching it first to get rid of all of the salt. I learned how to respect mushrooms, those water-gorged fungi. I peeled pearl onions, not my favorite chore. And I quickly learned how to use good wine in cooking, not one that turns everything purple.

So if you’re willing to spend a little more time to create an outstanding French Burgundian specialty, you will be so happy you did. Nothing is hard, well, except for those darn pearl onions. This recipe just takes a bit of time.

Boeuf Bourguignon
Beef Stew with Red Wine
To serve 6 – 8

To ensure that no one element in your boeuf bourguignon is overdone, cook the onions, mushrooms and beef separately before finally combining them. Although the different steps may be taken simultaneously, it is easier to deal with them one at a time.

The onions
1/2 pound lean salt pork, cut into strips about 1 1/2” long
and 1/4” in diameter
1 quart water
1 tablespoon butter
18 – 24 peeled white onions, about 1” in diameter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. To remove excess saltiness, the salt pork should be blanched by simmering it in 1 quart of water for 5 minutes; drain on paper towels and pat dry.


In a heavy skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over moderate heat, and in it brown the pork, stirring the pieces frequently, until they are crisp and golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towels.

In the rendered fat left in the skillet, brown the onions lightly over moderately high heat, shaking the pan occasionally to roll them around and color them as evenly as possible.

Transfer the onions to a shallow baking dish large enough to hold them in one layer, and sprinkle them with 3 tablespoons of pork fat. (Set the skillet aside, leaving the rest of the fat in it.) Bake the onions uncovered, turning them once or twice, for 30 minutes or until they are barely tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and set aside.

The mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 pound fresh mushrooms, whole if small, sliced in large

While the onions are baking or after they are done, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over moderate heat in a skillet. When the foam subsides, cook the mushrooms, tossing and turning them frequently, for 2 or 3 minutes, or until they are slightly soft.


Add the mushrooms to the onions and set aside.

The beef
3 pound lean boneless beef chuck or rump, cut into 2” chunks
Bouquet garni made of 4 parsley sprigs and 1 bay leaf, tied together
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup very finely chopped carrots
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup hot beef stock
2 cups red Burgundy
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

Make sure the oven is preheated to 350 degrees F. Pour almost all of the rendered pork fat from the skillet in which the onions browned into a small bowl, leaving just enough to make a thin film about 1/16” deep on the bottom of the pan.

Over moderately high heat, bring the fat almost to the smoking point. Dry the beef with paper towels, then brown it in the fat, 4 or 5 chunks at a time to avoid crowding the skillet.

Add more pork fat as needed. When the chunks are brown on all sides, remove them with kitchen tongs to a heavy, flameproof 5-6 quart casserole. Bury the bouquet garni in the meat.

After all the beef if browned, add the chopped shallots and carrots to the fat remaining in the pan and cook them over low heat, stirring frequently, until they are lightly colored. Stir in the flour. (If the mixture looks dry, add a little more pork fat.)


Return the skillet to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour begins to brown lightly, but be careful it doesn’t burn. Remove from the heat, let cool a moment, then pour in the hot beef stock, blending vigorously with a wire whisk.


Blend in the wine and the tomato paste and bring to a boil, whisking constantly as the sauce thickens.

Mix in the garlic, thyme, sautéed pork strips, salt and a few grinding of black pepper, and pour the sauce over the beef, stirring gently to moisten it thoroughly. the sauce should almost, but not quite, cover the meat; add more wine or stock if needed.



Bring to a boil on top of the stove, cover tightly, and place the casserole in the lower third of the oven. Let the beef cook, regulating the oven heat so the meat simmers slowly, 2 – 3 hours, or until the meat is tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.

Then gently stir the browned onions and mushrooms, together with any juices that may have accumulated under them, into the casserole.

With a large spoon, gently mix the beef and vegetables with the sauce in the casserole. Continue baking for another 15 minutes.

To serve, remove the bouquet garni, and skim off any fat from the surface.

Taste the sauce and season it with salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle the beef with parsley and serve it directly from the casserole.


In the past I’ve served this luscious stew over fresh pasta, but this time I was lazy and cooked some fettuccine.

It’s also wonderful, as you can imagine, over any kind of potato – mashed, roasted, a gratin…

The full flavors of this beef stew are so intense. It’s rich in a way, but rich with flavors of wine and thyme. The onions and mushrooms add delightful texture as well.

Use a good wine – something you’d serve with this dish.

You can serve the stew as you would chili, in a warm bowl without toppings, of course, but I prefer a base of pasta or potatoes.

Sautéed Mushrooms

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I happen to adore mushrooms. But I remember the days when they appalled me, mostly because they tasted like dirt. Unfortunately, my mother picked a lot of mushrooms in her foraging days, and I missed out on all of that!

Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m now a proud mushroom lover. For the blog I’ve topped a warmed brie with sautéed mushrooms, prepared crepes filled with mushroom duxelles, added mushrooms to a savory bread pudding, and topped toasts with creamy mushrooms. They obviously can be used in so many ways.

Although I’m not much of a steak eater myself, I will enjoy one with my husband when I plan on topping the filet mignons with sautéed mushrooms. There is just something magical in that combination.

So much can be done with sautéed mushrooms, by using wine or cognac, bacon grease or duck fat, herbs, spices, demi-glace… and when you enjoy a perfectly cooked steak topped with perfectly cooked mushrooms you feel like you’re dining in a 5-star restaurant.


I buy whole mushrooms and peel them with a small knife before slicing. I don’t trust the pre-sliced variety.

Here’s what I do.

Sautéed Mushrooms
Enough for four steaks

4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper
2 – 3 shallots, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons cognac
1/2 cup flavorful broth mixed with
1 teaspoon beef demi-glace and warmed
1 – 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
Salt to taste

Place 3 tablespoons of butter in a hot skillet or wok over high heat. Add the mushroom slices and season with the garlic pepper. Stirring or flipping frequently, sauté them until browned. Using this high heat technique, much less fat is required and more browning occurs.

Remove the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside. This step can be done way ahead of cooking the steaks.

Meanwhile, prepare the steaks and place them on a rack to rest. Cover lightly with foil.

Add the remaining butter to the cast-iron skillet that the steaks were cooked in, and sauté the shallots gently, adjusting the heat accordingly. You don’t want too much caramelization.

Return the mushrooms to the skillet, along with any juices that might be in the bowl. Then over fairly high heat add the cognac and flambé the mushrooms. Shake the skillet gently until the flames subside.


At this point add the broth and demi-glace mixture. Stir well and let reduce a bit.

The mushrooms should be nice and glazed. Add the parsley, thyme, and season with white pepper, if using, and salt.

Serve immediately over filet mignons or your choice of steak.

You can use part wine and part stock if you prefer, and if you prefer garlic over shallots, use them, just don’t sauté them for more than 30 seconds.

If you don’t like the liquid, you can always quickly remove the mushrooms, add a little Wondra flour, and make a quick “gravy” with a whisk. I prefer the broth.

Furthermore, a little heavy cream or creme fraiche can be added for extra decadence!

Enjoy.

Mushroom Toasts

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My readers know that, maybe because of my advanced age, or perhaps because I’ve always been on the stubborn side, food trends turn me off. But I do know that stubbornness can get in the way of experiencing good food.

Case in point – avocado toast. Perhaps avocado toast didn’t excite me much because avocados are my biggest source of protein, not being a huge meat eater. I didn’t need to serve them on grilled bread to appreciate the wonderful food that they are.

Until I did have avocado toast, that is, and I have to say that they were thoroughly enjoyable!

Recently online I saw a headline for the “new” avocado toast – mushrooms on toast. I immediately envisioned sautéed mushrooms that I top my husband’s steaks with occasionally.

So that’s what I did to make my version of jump-on-the-bandwagon mushroom toast.

Mushroom Toast

Bread slices, like sourdough or French
Olive oil
Mushrooms, sliced, about 1 pound
Butter, about 1/4 cup
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cognac or brandy, optional
Garlic pepper
Dried thyme
Salt
Pepper
8 ounces Crème fraiche

Brush some olive oil on the bread slices and toast them, either over fire, in a skillet, or in the oven. They should be crispy. Set them aside.


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over fairly high heat until bubbling, then add the mushrooms.

Keep the heat high, and stir only occasionally while getting some color on the mushrooms. If they stick at all, add a bit more butter, but keep the heat high. This keeps the mushrooms from requiring an inordinate amount of fat.


Once there is good caramelization on the mushrooms, turn the heat to medium, and add the garlic. Stir well for a few seconds.

Immediately add a splash or two of cognac and let it ignite. Shake the pan until the flames extinguish.

Turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook until most of the liquid has cooked off, if there is any.

At that point, season the mushrooms to taste.

Remove the skillet from the heat, let it cool a bit, then stir in the crème fraiche. Heat through.

Place some mushrooms on the toasts using a small, slotted spoon, then pour a spoonful of cream over the top. Serve immediately.


If you want decadence, sprinkle a little finely grated Gruyere, Fontina, or Parmesan on top of the toasts.


Top the toasts with some fresh thyme, parsley, or chives, if available.

If you’re serving these for company, don’t put too many out; they must be warm. There’s nothing much worse than cold mushrooms.

Not only would these be good for hors d’oeuvres, they would be wonderful served with soup. So much better than plain bread!

Verdict: These toasts are fabulous, and any mushroom lover will love these. The toasts would work with finer chopped mushrooms, or even a duxelles.

Mushroom Arugula Pasta Salad

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Even though I was born in the U.S. I wasn’t raised on a traditional American diet. As a result, I’m not fond of many popular foods. Velveeta, although not really a food, comes to mind. As does Miracle Whip.

A few salads I also find unpalatable. Like the over-mayonnaised macaroni salad, salads with poppyseed dressing, and any salad with jello.

Pasta salads should be lovely, flavorful, not drowning in any kind of dressing, and definitely not sugary.

One day this pasta recipe caught my attention. If you’ve never discovered the blog The Vintage Mixer, you need to hop over there. Becky is a beautiful young woman, cook, traveler, adventurer, living in Utah.

She has even written a cookbook.

Her pasta salad contains roasted mushrooms, a definite improvement over raw mushrooms! The pasta in this salad if pesto-filled tortellini, and who doesn’t love tortellini?!! Also included are fresh arugula leaves, plus a simple lemon dressing. Simple but brilliant.

Because it is wintertime, I served this salad warm, with the warm tortellini and roasted mushrooms, and the arugula slightly wilted from the dressing.

Mushroom Arugula Pasta Salad

12 ounces fresh assorted mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
16 ounces pesto-filled tortellini
5 ounces arugula
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Dressing:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss mushrooms in olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and fresh thyme. Spread out onto a baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes.


While mushrooms are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the tortellini and cook according to package directions.

Whisk together all of the ingredients for the lemon dressing and set aside.

Once mushrooms are done remove from oven and set aside.

Drain tortellini and toss with a little oil.

Once tortellini has cooled slightly, toss with the arugula and lemon dressing.

Let the arugula warm and “wilt” for a few minutes, then stir in the mushrooms and Parmesan gently.

Top with shaved Parmesan and serve.

As you can tell, I also sprinkled on some pomegranate seeds and microgreens over the salad for the sake of festivity!

note: After visiting 4 stores, I had to finally settle on cheese tortellini. Maybe I have to go to Utah for Becky’s pesto-filled tortellini!

Barbeque Eggplant Sandwiches

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A while back I browsed through sandwiches on Epicurious.com, which is odd for me as they are not something I think about. Nothing against sandwiches, but I have only one sandwich post on this blog, out of 500 posts! So that says something…

However, I was planning food for a get-together where I needed a make-ahead, picnic-type, easy-to-eat food. I thought that a sandwich, perhaps in the barbecue category, wrapped in foil and kept warm, would be the easiest for me; the sides could be made the day ahead.

And there it was, while I was browsing – a barbecue eggplant sandwich. I had to click on it – the name was so intriguing.

Plus, I have Japanese Ichiban eggplants growing in my garden.

What a unique way to use eggplant, besides eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, and baba ganoush.

Barbecue Eggplant Sandwich
Adapted from Epicurious

Eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds total), trimmed and sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick planks
1/2 cup BBQ sauce*, divided
1 teaspoon garlic pepper, or favorite seasoning
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 small red onion, halved and sliced into thin wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 slices provolone cheese
4 soft rolls
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Pepperoncini peppers

Position oven rack six inches from the heat source and preheat broiler.

Brush eggplant slices on both sides with 2 tablespoons BBQ sauce and season with 1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper. Arrange slices on a sheet pan.

Broil eggplant until browned and soft, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss mushrooms and red onion with oil, remaining garlic pepper and reserve.

Remove broiler pan from oven, flip eggplant slices, and brush with 2 more tablespoons BBQ sauce.

Scatter mushroom mixture around the eggplant on the pan and broil until browned and soft, about 3 minutes more.

To assemble the sandwiches, first toast the rolls using a little butter and a hot skillet.

Then brush the top toasted half of each roll with 1 tablespoon mayonnaise.

Lay the cheese on the rolls. Because provolone are circular, I cut them into narrow slices.

Layer an eggplant slice and some mushroom mixture on the bottom of each roll.


Close the sandwiches and serve immediately. You can drizzle a little more barbeque sauce in the sandwiches if desired.

The original recipe suggests using some thinly sliced pepperoncini inside the sandwiches, but I prefer them on the side.

Once I bit into this sandwich I knew I’d be making it again. Especially with a vegetarian in the family.

An added slice of bacon would please anyone insisting on a non-vegetarian sandwich.

But seriously, with the meaty eggplant and mushrooms, meat will most likely not be missed.

* Typically I make my own barbecue sauce, but there is one jarred product which I sincerely love, and that is Head Country, made right here in Oklahoma. The original is wonderful – not vinegary, not sweet – and now there are other varieties as well. The hot and spicy is incredible. Just use the barbecue sauce that’s your fave!

Also, if you ever need to keep sandwiches warm in an oven or warming drawer, try these foil wrappers. I used them when I was catering large, casual events, and they are a perfect size for a sandwich like this!

Curried Salmon

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Typically, when I prepare fish, I pretty much leave it alone. A little salt and pepper, and that’s it. Because my theory is that if it’s good fish, then why cover up its delicate flavor with seasonings and sauces?

But salmon is different in my mind, with its stronger flavor. It can really hold its own. So I decided to make a meal of salmon accompanied by a dish of curried spinach and mushrooms.

When I follow Indian recipes, I use the individual spices listed in the recipes. But it’s nice to have a good curry powder on hand. After testing this one, sweet curry powder from Penzey’s, I now always have it on hand. I think it’s excellent.

However, I don’t want my curry dishes to all taste the same, so sometimes if I use this curry powder, I might add some extra cumin or cinnamon. If you have a favorite curry powder, feel free to use it for this dish!

powder

Here is my recipe for salmon and curried vegetables.

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Curried Salmon
Serves 2

3 tablespoons olive or tasteless oil
1 small onion, halved thinly sliced
1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons heavy cream
8 ounces fresh spinach leaves
1 teaspoon curry powder, or to taste
White pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 salmon filets, rinsed and dried on paper towels
Salt
White pepper
3 tablespoons white wine
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
Ground turmeric

In a large wok, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them until soft. Add the mushrooms, turn up the heat a little, and sauté them until golden.


Add the garlic, give it a stir, then add the cream.

Stir to combine, then add the spinach. Stir gently to incorporate it, then turn down the heat to the lowest setting, put on a lid, and let the vegetables steam-cook for about five minutes.
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Remove the lid and stir the vegetables. You want to reduce the liquid a bit, so let them cook over low heat for a few minutes. Then add the curry powder, white pepper, nutmeg and salt. Stir well, then set aside.
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Heat the butter in a skillet over high heat. When the butter is browned, add the salmon, skin-side up and turn the heat to medium.
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After five minutes, turn the filets over and lower the heat to its lowest setting. The salmon should be nicely browned.
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Season the salmon with salt and white pepper. After another five minutes, the salmon should be cooked through, yet still tender in the middle; do not overcook them or they will be dry. The timing, of course, depends on the thickness of your salmon filets.

Remove the filets to a plate and heat the butter remaining in the skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the wine and a little turmeric, about 1/4 teaspoon. I added turmeric mostly for a little color.


Reduce the wine to just about one tablespoon, then add the cream. Reduce the cream sauce until there’s about three tablespoons left in the skillet and remove the skillet from the heat.

To serve, place the warm vegetables on the place and top with a salmon filet.
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Then divide the cream sauce between the two servings.
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The curried salmon was perfect with a pinot gris.
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Mushroom Bread Pudding

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Most people are familiar with bread puddings that are sweet and typically served for dessert. They probably came about for the purpose of using leftover bread. In fact, many recipes actually call for day-old bread. Sometimes the crusts are removed, sometimes not. Either way, bread is layered in a baking dish, smothered in an egg and cream mixture until it is absorbed, and baked. The resulting “pudding” is soufflé-like light and fluffy.

I’ve only made one bread pudding on the blog, and the recipe came from a bed and breakfast my husband and I stayed at in Dingle, Ireland. Their bread and butter pudding was offered on the breakfast buffet every morning. I tried it once, because the owner himself did the breakfast cooking every morning, and it was fabulous. But it was too sweet for me, especially at breakfast. But they were nice enough to share the recipe.

However, if you’re talking savory bread puddings, you’re talking my culinary language! Bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and cheese, in between puffy layers of baked bread. Fabulous!
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If you don’t love mushrooms, you can change this recipe in so many ways, like use sausage and apples, or use corn bread instead of yeasted bread and include dried cranberries and pecans. So many options!

The bread pudding could also be made in ramekins, for prettier individual servings.


The recipe I created is for an 8 x 8″ baking dish. The bread pudding can be reheated,if there are leftovers, but should be done so gently, so as not to overcook.

Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding

3 ounces unsalted butter
1 pound fresh, sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Black pepper
4-5 slices good bacon, finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
5 eggs
2 cups heavy cream or 1/2 & 1/2
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Fresh bread slices, about 12 sandwich-style, I used whole-wheat bread
8 ounces grated white cheese, like monterey jack
Grated Parmesan

Melt the butter in a large skillet or wok over high heat. When the butter has melted, add the sliced mushrooms. I used a combination of button and portobella mushrooms. If you want an earthier tasting bread pudding, check out my savory baked brie for instructions on adding dried mushrooms to the fresh, which creates a deeper flavor.
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After about 4-5 minutes, turn down the heat and let the mushrooms cook further. Add the thyme and black pepper.
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When they have softened completely, place the mushrooms in a large colander over a bowl to collect the mushroom liquor. Always save this! It can be used in reductions, sauces, soups – just about everything!

Clean out your skillet and place it over high heat. Add the bacon and let it cook just until lightly browned. Add the chopped onion and turn down the heat to medium. Sauté until the onions have softened.
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Add the mushroom mixture, stir well, and set aside.
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Meanwhile, place the eggs and cream in a medium bowl. Add salt and white pepper.
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Whisk until smooth; set aside.

At this point, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and generously grease an 8 x 8″ baking dish.

You are going to be making layers with the bread, cheese, and mushroom mixture. In between creating the layers, add 1/2 cup or so of the egg and cream mixture over the bread layers, instead of pouring the whole amount on the top when you’re done with the layering.

Begin by removing the crusts from the bread.

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Place the bread slices on the bottom of the buttered baking dish. I use a little cheese on top of the bread, then add the mushrooms, than a little more cheese.

It helps make the layers “stick” together.

Continue making your layers, filling up any spaces between the bread slices if necessary, and when you’ve created the final bread layer, pour all of the remaining egg and cream mixture over the top. The final layer should be the mushrooms.

Wrap the baking dish loosely with foil and bake for one hour. Remove the foil and shake the baking dish to see if there’s any movement. If there is, most likely the middle hasn’t finished cooking. Turn down the heat to 300 degrees, and bake for about 15 minutes more. You can also use a cake tester to make sure the pudding is fully cooked. Just be careful not to overcook.

When the bread pudding is cooked, remove the baking dish from the oven, and set the oven on broil. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the mushrooms and broil until browned.

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Let the pudding sit for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Serve warm.

It can also be made the day before, but re-heat gently. You don’t want it become rubbery.
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I served the bread pudding to my husband with pork tenderloin, but I think it would go with just about any meat.

I would have sprinkled the bread pudding with chives or chopped parsley, but it was raining.
bread

A Savory Baked Brie

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To me, there’s nothing quite like a baked brie, especially as part of an hors d’oeuvres spread. Plus, wheels of brie come in different sizes, so you can choose one depending on your number of guests.

I’ve made baked brie a couple different ways on this blog, from an easy brie with a sweet maple-pecan topping, shown on the left, to a brie topped with a tomatillo sauce, on the right.

When I catered, I created fancier versions of baked brie, often topped with a cranberry chutney and wrapped up in puff pastry for Christmas parties. But you don’t need to go through all of that work.

So here’s another savory baked brie that would be good any time in the fall or winter, especially with a crisp hard cider, a Côtes du Rhone, or a half-dry Riesling.

It’s a brie topped with thyme-scented sautéed mushrooms. A variety of wild mushrooms plus dried mushrooms is ideal, but if you’re limited in your access, regular button mushrooms or Portabellas will do just fine!
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Baked Brie topped with Mushrooms

3/4 ounce dried mushrooms
8 ounces of mixed, fresh mushrooms
3 ounces unsalted butter
3 shallots, diced
Fresh or dried thyme
Salt, pepper
Brie, at room temperature, mine was 1.5 pounds

First, place the dried mushrooms in a bowl, and cover them with hot water. Place a smaller bowl inside along with a weight like a can, to keep them submerged, and let the mushrooms hydrate for at least 15 minutes.


Chop the fresh mushrooms into small pieces and set aside.

Then dice the shallots.

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Remove the softened mushrooms from the water, and dry them off on a paper towel. Then chop those as well, removing any hard bits. By the way, always save this mushroom jus! It can be used in sauces or soups for wonderful mushroomy flavor.


Meanwhile, heat a skillet with the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and the fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots and mushrooms have completely softened.

By cooking over fairly high heat, the mushrooms don’t require as much butter, and no water is produced. Cook the mixture until there is slight browning.


Add the chopped dried mushrooms. Sprinkle with thyme and season with salt and pepper.

Now your mushrooms are ready for the brie. When I went to my local grocery store for a brie, I intended on purchasing a whole wheel, maybe 2-3 pounds. However, there were none, there was only this 1.5 pound slice. Since this was a fairly last-minute plan, I had to go with it.
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Normally, I would preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and bake the brie along with the mushroom topping for about 15-20 minutes.

However, because of my brie slice, I had to warm it in the microwave. You just have to be careful to adjust the power levels because you’re simply warming the brie – not cooking it.
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So that’s what I did. Just make sure the plate or platter is large enough to accomodate the oozing brie.
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Serve with fresh bread or crostini.

note: You could always use cognac or brandy to flame the mushrooms after they’re cooked, but that will give them a stronger flavor.

Dried Mushroom Risotto

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I think my husband could live on risotto alone. Well, steak and risotto. So I make risotto often, creating different varieties to keep life interesting. It’s the kind of cooking I like to do, in any case, like when I made a Thai-inspired risotto a while back. My Italian ancestors are probably rolling in their graves, but one doesn’t always have to make only “authentic” dishes authentically!

Most people have sautéed mushrooms for pasta, or to top steaks. But have you ever used dried mushrooms? They used to be harder to find, but nowadays you can get just about any variety of mushroom in a dried form at most grocery stores. Italian, French, and so forth.

If you haven’t used them, I urge you strongly to try them once. It’s simply a matter of soaking them in hot water to hydrate them, then toss them into soups, pastas, gratins, you name it. They have a unique flavor, one that’s much different from the fresh counterpart.

Quite often I mix Italian and Chinese mushrooms together; the provenance of the mushroom doesn’t matter. Chinese mushrooms aren’t just for Chinese food, unless you get into the fungus, like cloud ears. Those would be more specific to Chinese dishes. My opinion.

Sometimes I mix different mushrooms together in a dish and have no idea what kind they are, because I was too dumb to save the packaging, like these. Chanterelles, maybe?
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Other times, with Chinese packaging, there’s no English translation. But in this case, I know these are Shitakes.
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So today I’m making a risotto with a mixture of the two above dried mushrooms. It’s still cold outside where I live, so I was inspired to make this risotto. It’s not something I would make during the spring and summer months. I’m seasonally responsible when I cook!

To prepare the dried mushrooms, place them in a larger bowl and add hot water to cover. To keep the mushrooms submerged, I place a smaller bowl on top and weigh it down with a can or an apple. Let them soak for at least 15 minutes; they can’t overhydrate.

Here’s the risotto I made today with the dried mushrooms. It’s just a general recipe. If you want more of a tutorial, check out some of my other risottos, like zucchini risotto.
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Dried Mushroom Risotto

1 ounce of your choice of dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil if you prefer)
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio or other risotto rice
1/4 cup white wine
Juice from mushrooms (see below)
Broth
3 ounces Parmesan, optional
Salt
Black or white pepper, to taste

To begin, heat the butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté them for a few minutes. Then stir in the rice. Stir it for about a minute, so that all of the rice grains are coated with the butter.

Begin adding liquid to the rice, about 1/4 – 1/3 cup at a time, and stir until it disappears. I like to start with the wine for some reason.

Meanwhile, remove the mushrooms from the liquid and place them on a cutting board. Chop the mushrooms, feeling for any hard pieces and discarding them.

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Using a fine sieve, strain the mushroom “liquor” to remove any grit. You will be using this liquid in the risotto.

Continue adding liquid to the risotto, using the mushroom liquor, followed by broth.
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Keep stirring, and you will see the rice continue to absorb liquid. When you can tell that you’re close to the end of cooking time, add the chopped mushrooms and grated Parmesan, if you’re using it. Stir gently to combine. Taste and season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.

Some people like to add more butter and sometimes heavy cream to risotto, but the rice itself gets so creamy that to me it’s not necessary.
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As far as toppings, you can use fresh parsley or chives. I chose a bit of fresh thyme.

This risotto is fabulous as is, but would also be lovely with poultry or beef.
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Lasagna Soup

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I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t love lasagna. It’s hard not to love, with the luscious layers of red sauce, pasta, and multiple cheesiness. But what’s odd for me, is that I rarely make it. In fact, if I do make it, it’s for a post-funeral family get-together or such. I make it for other people. I can’t remember the last time I made it for my own family.

Sure, making lasagna is a bit tedious, but there’s nothing difficult about it. But unless there’s another funeral to cook for, I may never make lasagna again, thanks to my girlfriend. Years ago she showed me a recipe from a cooking magazine, and since then I’ve been hooked on making lasagna soup!

It’s got all of the elements of lasagna – pasta, red sauce, a few cheeses, plus a few extras. It’s hearty and delicious, and a big pot of this soup goes a long way. It’s great for company.

I don’t have the original recipe, but here’s what I did today. As with most of my recipes, you can put your own stamp on it by substituting ingredients. Just as you keep the soup tasting like lasagna, it will be delicious!
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Lasagna Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 – 1 pound packages bulk Italian sausage
19.2 ounces of ground turkey
2 onions, finely chopped
1 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 – 32 ounce cartons beef broth
10 ounces baby spinach
1 – 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried basil*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Cheese(s) – you can use ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan, or any combination thereof

For the lasagna soup, I chose a combination of Italian sausage and ground white-meat turkey, but you could use beef and pork if you prefer.


Begin by adding the oil to a large stockpot. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the meats, and spend about 10 minutes slightly browning and cooking them.
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I have a wonderful tool that this same girlfriend gave me last Christmas that helps cut up ground meat into smaller pieces. Grab one of these if you spot one.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onions. Stirring occasionally, cook the onions for about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms.


Cook the mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and give it a stir. Then add the broth.

Break up the lasagna noodles and place them in the broth.
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Submerge the noodles as best you can, cover the pot, and lightly simmer the noodles for about 30 minutes. I used whole-wheat noodles. If you’re using white noodles, be careful not to overcook them.

Add the spinach, and carefully stir it into the broth until it wilts. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and add the seasoning.


Give everything a good stir. Spinach and mushrooms aren’t necessarily traditional in lasagna, but in this soup the vegetables are a great addition, making the soup a little healthier by stretching the meat.
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Heat the soup, taste for seasoning,and serve hot.
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In the past, when I have made this soup for a crowd, I offered cheese choices so everyone can customize his/her lasagna soup. You can place a little blob of fresh ricotta in the bottom of your bowl, add the hot soup, then add a few fresh mozzarella pearls and freshly grated Parmesan. Or simply offer grated mozzarella. It’s all good. But some cheese is absolutely necessary or it won’t be lasagna soup.

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Today I placed grated fresh mozzarella in the bottom of the bowl, and topped the soup with finely grated Parmesan. When you stir the melted cheese with the soup, you’re tasting lasagna. And it’s fabulous!

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* Which herb or herbs to use in a red sauce that would be used in a traditional lasagna are widely debated. Some people only use oregano, some a mixture of basil and oregano. I just love the flavor of dried basil, when no fresh basil is available. Make this soup your own.

note: It’s important to add all of the broth to this soup. For one thing, it’s important for cooking the noodles. But secondly, you don’t want the soup so tomatoey thick that you’re eating spaghetti sauce instead of a soup. Keep a good balance between the crushed tomatoes and broth.