A Basic Omelet

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There was a summer many years ago when I taught cooking classes to four little girls – two sets of sisters who were homeschooled. Their mothers thought that cooking classes would satisfy many interests and teach quite a few skills to the girls. And indeed, I’ve always thought that cooking classes are fabulous for not only learning about food, but also grasping important applications like math and chemistry.

During those classes we had a session on eggs – how to appreciate them for the wonderful little package of food they are, and how to treat them with respect in the kitchen. And one thing we made together were omelets. (Also a pavlova, which was a huge hit!)

Now, it may not seem that creative to put an omelet on my blog, but on the contrary, I think that an omelet requires learning some skills. Plus, there are a lot of terrible omelets out there, so perhaps I’m doing a community service with this post. I hope so.

To me, there are a few criteria for making the perfect omelet:
1. good eggs
2. good cheese, for a cheese omelet
3. the right skillet
4. a lid
5. patience

Of course it goes without saying that the ingredients that you choose for your omelet have to be good. It’s especially nice to have access to farm-fresh eggs – the kind that are almost impossible to break open because the shells are so hard.

Cheese is subjective – there’s no “right” cheese. I like Fontina, Gruyere, or even a good Monterey Jack. Who am I kidding?! Any cheese that melts well will work.

The right skillet is important because you want your omelet to end up a decent thickness. Place your whisked eggs in too large of a skillet, and you will get a thin omelet. Unless you like that kind, I don’t recommend too large of a skillet.

The skillet I use for my one-person, 2-egg omelet, is actually a crêpe pan. It’s got a flat bottom and flat sides. The outside diameter is 8″; the inside diameter, or bottom, measures 6″ in diameter.

crepe

A perfect-fitting lid is also important for making a good omelet.

And then the most important aspect of making an omelet – patience. As Rome wasn’t built in a day, an omelet can’t be prepared in one minute. I know everyone likes fast food, but if you rush your omelet, it will taste and feel like something purchased at a fast food restaurant. Which would make me wonder why you’re even bothering to cook an omelet at home in the first place…

For today’s omelet, or omelette, I chose butter, 2 eggs, grated Fontina, and some diced, leftover ham. And here’s what I did.

A  Basic  Ham  and  Cheese   Omelet

2 eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Diced ham, optional of course
Cheese of choice – grated, or sliced fairly thinly

Whisk the 2 eggs in a small bowl with a fork, before you begin heating the skillet. Also, please don’t think that brown eggs are better than white. My mother had chickens that laid many different colored eggs, depending on their breed.

Place the butter in the skillet over medium heat. It should begin melting immediately, but not burn. If you think the skillet is too hot, remove it from the heat source for a minute. Cooking is a lot about common sense.

You need to work fairly quickly at first, but don’t worry, it’s not a race. Just have all of the ingredients available, as well as the skillet lid. And don’t forget to adjust the heat on the stove. That’s why there are knobs. Or, if you panic, completely remove the skillet from the heat source and collect yourself.

Pour the whisked eggs into the skillet. The butter has browned a bit. You can see that the skillet is “grabbing” the eggs and the cooking process has begun.

Immediately place the ham and cheese over the top of the eggs and turn down the heat to the lowest setting. Trust me.

Then place the lid on the skillet. Let the omelet cook slowly, with the lid on, over the lowest heat, for about 4 minutes.

At this point, the top of the omelet will look like this:

Most of the cheese is melted, but there is still a bit of egg that need to cook through. Remove the skillet completely from the heat source, but leave the lid on.

After about 1 minute, the omelet should be ready. I prefer an omelette baveuse, or soft. Cook a little more if you can’t handle runny eggs!

You can use a thin spatula to remove the omelet from the skillet and fold over gently, or slide it out for an open-face presentation. Alternatively, use the skillet to slide the omelet on the plate, then fold it over into a semi-circle using the edge of the skillet.

The egg part of the omelet is cooked and somewhat puffy, almost like a soufflé, but not to the point of rubberyness. I don’t mind a bit of browning on the eggs.

Notice the cheese is fully melted inside because the lid on the skillet allowed the cheese to warm and melt, just like with a quesadilla.

What’s important is that in spite of the fact that this omelet took a little time, the results are superb.

I swore off omelets at restaurants a couple of decades ago. No more rubber omelets, ever!

Mu Shu Pork

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When my husband and I lived in bigger cities, like Dallas and Houston, we enjoyed dining at a variety of ethnic, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, including Indian, Ethiopian, Japanese, and Chinese. The food was fabulous, and wasn’t expensive for us young working folks.

My favorite item to order at Chinese restaurants was Mu Shu Pork, sometimes also spelled Moo Shu. I loved the pancakes with the hoisin sauce, the tasty pork, and the vegetables. And, mu Shu pork was fun to eat, because you rolled your own pancakes.

Plus, you get to eat fun ingredients like lily buds and wood ears.

They must be hydrated in hot water before using, then patted dry.

Mu Shu pork supposedly originated in Northern China, perhaps Shandong. To use an authentic recipe, I reached for my Shun Lee Cookbook written by Michael Tong, published in 2007. Shun Lee translates to “smooth sailing.” The recipes in the book are “from a Chinese restaurant dynasty.”

Mr. Tong moved to the United States over 50 years ago as an engineering student, but after moving to New York City, where he settled, He joined the restaurant business with his uncle.

He claims that Chinese food in the U.S. long ago was only Cantonese, and it was his mission to introduce Americans to the foods of Hunan, Sichuan, and Shanghai regions of China. His restaurant, Shun Lee Dynasty, eventually earned four stars from the New York Times Restaurant Guide. Craig Claiborne was a frequent diner.

Today in New York City, Shun Lee West still exists, as does Shun Lee Palace.

Mu Shu Pork
printable recipe below

4 ounces boneless pork butt, cut into thin strips 2” long, 1/4” wide, and 1/4” thick
2 large eggs plus 1/2 large egg white (beat a whole egg white until foamy and measure out half)
!4 teaspoon plus a pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
Vegetable oil, for passing through
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1/4 teaspoon dark sesame oil
10 ounces, or about 12 leaves Napa cabbage, stem part only, cut into pieces 2” long, 1/4” wide, and 1/4” thick
1/4 cup dried tree ears, soaked in hot water until softened, drained, patted dry, and torn by hand into 1” pieces
2 ounces dried lily buds, soaked in hot water until softened
1/4 cup thinly sliced bamboo shoots, cut about 2” long
3 scallions, green part only, trimmed and minced
8 small Mu Shu (also called Mandarin) pancakes, about 4” in diameter
Hoisin sauce, for serving

Mix the pork with the egg white, pinch of salt, cornstarch, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of water in a medium bowl until blended. Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Fill the bottom of an Asian-style steamer with an inch or two of water, and bring it to a boil over high heat.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come 1” up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 325 degrees F. Add the pork and stir gently until it turns light brown, about 30 seconds. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, transfer the pork to a colander to drain.

Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the wok, and return the wok to high heat. Beat the whole eggs in a bowl until frothy, and add them to the wok. Scramble the eggs until they are quite firm and not runny, about 15 seconds. Transfer the eggs to the colander, separate from the pork, to drain.

Mix the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl, and set aside.

Place the pancakes in the steamer and cover it. Heat until they are hot, about 2 minutes. (Or, gently use a microwave for this purpose.)

While the pancakes are warming, return the wok to high heat. Add the cabbage and stir-fry until softened, about 1 minute.

Add the tree ears, lily buds, and bamboo shoots, and stir-fry for 20 seconds. If the cabbage discards liquid, tilt the wok over a colander and pour off the liquid.

Return the pork to the wok, and add the scallions and the soy sauce mixture. Stir-fry for 30 seconds.


At the last second, return the scrambled eggs to the wok and scatter them gently, so they remain yellow, among the pork mixture.

Place the pork mixture on a serving platter, surrounded by the pancakes. Serve immediately, with hoisin sauce on the side.

This is the hoisin sauce I prefer, but there are many brands from which to choose. Just don’t bother with an American brand.


Let each guest spread hoisin on a pancake, add some pork mixture, roll up and eat!

For perfect Mandarin pancakes, use the recipe from my Peking Duck post.

 

 

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.

IMG_7064

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.

IMG_7017

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.

IMG_7019

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.

IMG_7058

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 a sweeter baked brie with roasted strawberries, shown on the left, to a savory 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!

brie1

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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