Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sausage and Lentil Soup


I can say that I have ever cooked with lentils up until now. I've known they were healthy and good for you, the hippies back in the day said so. The first time I ever had them was in stew form as a side dish to some braised short ribs in Paris and absolutely fell in love with them. Quite tasty, but be warned as they can be a little gassy to those of you with problems with the legume family. Then again, if you have kids it could be a plus as nothing elicits giggles better than gas.

This soup is based on one that appeared in this months Bon Appetit, loosely based as the quantity it made was twice what this one does, plus I didn't have everything needed so I improvised, a lot. Also note that I used all dried spices and herbs with this soup which is a bit of a departure for me, but hey even So Cali has its months where herb gardens go dormant. So inspired by one and improvised based on own taste scores again here at casa fraz.

Sausage and Lentil Soup

  • 1 lb Italian sausage-cut to1/2 inch slices
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 1 c chopped celery, tops included
  • 1 1/2 cups lentils
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 t basil
  • 1/2 t marjoram
  • 1/2 t thyme
  • 1 T fennel, crushed lightly
  • 2 T parsley
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 5 oz package fresh spinach
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmesan cheese

In large stock pot add enough olive oil to just coat the bottom. Over medium high heat add sausage. Stir often until well browned and no pink spots remain. Add onion, pepper and celery, stirring often cook until onion is translucent - about 5-8 minutes.

Add spices, chicken broth and lentils. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer 30 minutes until lentils are tender. Stir in spinach and cook until just wilted. Serve hot with Parmesan grated over the top of the soup.

Dr. Pepper Devils Food Cake

I can't lay claim to the recipe or idea for this cake. I got the idea from the "Chocolate Crazy" cookbook I bought some 20 years ago. It was for a from scratch cake using Dr. Pepper as the liquid base for the cake. (Even though out of print it is copyrighted work so I can't reprint here). The cake worked for me and was a hit at numerous parties I brought it too. Then came children and the need for stupid easy shortcuts which brought about the "invention" of this version.

One thing that does take a bit of time is tracing out and cutting paper liners for the cake pans. Hardly worth skipping as it guarantees you an easy release from the pan every time. Really.


Dr. Pepper Devil's Food Cake


  • 1 18oz Cake Mix - Devil's Food Chocolate
  • Regular Dr. Pepper - not diet
  • Pre-packaged Chocolate, or Fudge type Frosting

Follow directions on cake box for the amount of eggs and oil, substitute the water with the Dr. Pepper. Follow mixing and baking directions. (I used 3 8" pans which weren't on the box directions and they were done in 18-20 minutes). Cool cakes and frost with your favorite chocolate type frosting.

Now, just how much more stupid easy can one get?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Easy Beef Stroganoff (cream o'mushroom to the rescue)

Living with picky eaters means calling things something other than what it is and avoiding discussions on the specific ingredients. In the case of stroganoff sour cream is the indicated thickener and it is something 2/3 of the children won't touch, even if we are at a Mexican restaurant. So I called this "steak and gravy with mushrooms" and I got 2/3 to eat it.

The savior is canned soup, specifically cream of mushroom for the thick creamy texture to the gravy, the rest is simply getting some familiar other things into it and voila...easy stroganoff that can pass as "steak and gravy". The nice thing about using mushroom soup instead of sour cream is you don't have to worry about the sour cream curdling and separating on you, the soup stays nicely creamy even on a simmer.

Easy Beef Stroganoff

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs sirloin, sliced into small strips
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 T minced garlic
6 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 can beef broth
1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t salt (less if the broth is high sodium)
1/2 t black pepper, fresh ground if you have it

In large skillet heat 2 T olive oil over medium high heat. Add sirloin strips and stir fry until edges start to brown. Move meat to side of pan and add onion, stir fry until translucent. Add mushrooms to pan and stir all until evenly distributed.

When mushrooms are starting to brown add soups, broth, salt (to taste) pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Stir until soup is dissolved into the liquids. Simmer 15 minutes until meat is tender. Check the salt and adjust if needed. Serve over cooked egg noodles or mash potatoes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Peppermint Layered Fudge


Woot...now that I have perfected stupid easy white fudge its time to start mixing it up and coming up with variations other than "vanilla" and into the realm of more adventurous. This layered fudge idea comes from the "Peppermint Bark" candy sold by Willam- Sonoma this time of year. Good stuff made better ala the fraz.

Of course it falls into the stupid easy category, I mean what good is fudge and candy making if you can't do it fast and easy? Though this has two steps, they are essentially the same you just need to allow time for the first layer to set before adding the second layer. Trust me on this, let the first layer set up in the fridge because trying to put the second layer on the first while it is still soft will yield a marbled mess rather than layered fudge.

Don't freak on the addition of the coffee extract to the 1st layer, coffee for reasons I'm not quite certain of will make chocolate taste even chocolatier!


The easiest way to crush the peppermint candies in the peppermint layer is to give them a whack with a meat mallet while they are still in their wrappers. It neatly contains the crushed candy and makes it easy to unwrap into the measuring cup. If you take it out of the wrapper you wind up with peppermint candy shrapnel all over you and the kitchen, not a good thing.

Peppermint Layered Fudge

1st layer
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 oz semi-sweet or dark (70%) chocolate - chopped
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 t coffee extract
  • 1/8 t sea salt

2nd layer
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 24 oz good quality white chocolate chips
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 t peppermint extract
  • 1/8 t sea salt
  • 1/3 c crushed peppermint candies (about 15 starlight mints)

Line 13X9 inch pan with plastic wrap.

For the first layer pour chopped chocolate into microwave safe mixing bowl. Add extracts and salt, cover with sweetened condensed milk. Microwave on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, pour into prepared pan evening out to cover bottom of the pan. Chill in refrigerator at until set (about 2 hours).

For the second layer pour the white chocolate chips into microwave safe mixing bowl. Add extracts and salt, cover with sweetened condensed milk. Microwave on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, fold in chopped candies. Pour over first layer and even out until smooth. Chill at least 2 hours to set firmly.

This should be the last of the fudge recipes for this year. Who knows what next year will yield, in the mean time I have some 20 pounds of fudge to divvy out as gifts for the neighbors and use as hostess gifts this year!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spinach and Rice Soup

After all of the mousse cake and fudge of the last few weeks its time to remind myself that healthy eating is a must. Nothing like a good hearty soup to sustain you while being healthy at the same time.

I used a prepackaged blend of brown, white, basmati and wild rice from Fresh and Easy market, any raw rice blend you find would easily be substituted in. If you are desperate and understocked in the old pantry just plain white rice could be used, you'd just miss out on some of the flavor and texture the other rices bring to the soup.

Spinach is there for several reasons, primary is that it is a mild green and full of folic acid and other goodies that make this soup extra healthy without clouding the good rice flavors and textures.

Spinach and Rice Soup

  • 1 yellow onion chopped
  • 4 medium carrots sliced
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup rice blend
  • 12 oz package fresh spinach leaves
  • 46 oz can low sodium chicken broth

Coat the bottom of a large stock pot with olive oil and add onion and carrot. lightly salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium-high heat until the onion is starting to turn translucent. Add rice and saute another 3 minutes or so, stirring often until the onion is clear and the rice is lightly toasted.

Add chicken, basil and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover at low simmer 30 minutes until carrots are tender and rice is fully cooked. Stir in the raw spinach and cook another 2-3minutes until wilted and well integrated into soup. Serve hot with a salad and fresh baked bread.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chocolate Mousse Cake

This has been a stand by for years. The original recipe came from a Betty Crocker cookbook I bought when I first went out on my own and didn't know how to cook. As always I can't leave well enough alone and have modified it a bit over the years to get to this final result.

It is always a "wow" at a party, thoroughly rich, decadent and a delight in your mouth as you savor. IT is not, and I repeat NOT an every day dessert nor one for the cholesterol challenged among us. But oh is it worth every calorie at a special function or occasion.

Chocolate Mouse Cake

  • 1 cup freshly brewed strong coffee
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 lb unsalted butter (2 cups or 4 sticks)
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 lb semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 8 eggs lightly beaten.

Line a 9 inch spring form with aluminum foil.

In heavy sauce pan add coffee, sugar, salt, vanilla and butter. Heat over medium heat and stir occasionally until butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Allow it to come to a simmer, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

In large mixing bowl add the chopped chocolate. Pour hot sugar mixture over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Slowly beat in the eggs until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake 50-60 minutes at 350F until set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Chill before serving at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. When chilled carefully remove foil from the cake and place on serving plate. Garnish each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and chopped nuts.

The cake will come out cracked and dried at the edges and lower in the center. This is normal for the cake, or at least it has been for me in the 20+ years I have made it.
Make sure the sides of the pan are lined to the top with the foil. This is an extremely liquid batter and will leak out of even the tightest sealed spring form pan.
A simmer is just that...a couple of bubbles and not a hard rolling boil. A hard boil will scorch the coffee and sugar.

The money shot...root beer float fudge!

Stupid Easy Fudge Take Two...
I found a bottle of root beer extract over a year ago at Surfas in Culver City. (They now are have split out the store from their mail order but the link will get you to the goodies I found). With that little purchase I set out to make a root beer float fudge and this is the final recipe that worked, completely. Where I failed in years past was to not have enough white chocolate chips in the mix for it to adequately set so it would hold its shape at room temperature instead of oozing and sticking all over the place.

The Holidays are my signal to set about making batches of fudge, not just ordinary fudge but different fun stuff. I found out that my friend Mike aka Cosmo loves peanut butter fudge. I found a recipe or two on online that I could modify to fit my "Stupid Easy" formulation, prep and results. That lead believe it or not to determining the key to making the Root Beer Float version that really rocks.

All of my recipes are done in a 1200 watt commercial grade microwave oven so please increase your time if you are using a smaller wattage unit in small increments of 15-30 seconds to get the same results.

Root Beer Float Fudge

  • 24 ounces good white baking chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli brand)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 t root beer extract
  • 1 t vanilla extract

Line an 8X8 inch pan with plastic wrap, allowing enough hanging over the sides to be able to fold it back over the fudge.

Pour chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl. Add extracts and toss lightly. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the chips. Microwave on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, if the mixture starts to stiffen before completely mixed zap it in the microwave for another 15-30 seconds.

Pour the homogeneous mixture into the prepared pan, carefully folding the flaps over the top of the fudge. Chill in refrigerator until set, about 2 hours.

The peanut butter is equally easy, the recipe is a blend of a couple. The common thread in most I found was to use white baking chocolate bars rather than chips. I suspect those don't have emulsifiers like the chips and has a different hardener in place that better offsets the fatty peanut butter that is soft at room temp as it is. Regardless, I went with the majority and the results were really good. You can make it with or without nuts, I opted for without as the picky eaters in my house don't like nuts in fudge or cookies.

Peanut Butter Fudge

  • 1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1/2 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 12 ounces white chocolate squares or white baking bars, chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8X8 inch pan with plastic wrap, allowing enough hanging over the sides to be able to fold it back over the fudge.

Break up and coarsely chop the white baking chocolate. Add to microwave safe mixing bowl. Add peanut butter. Pour sweetened condensed milk over all of the white chocolate and peanut butter. Microwave on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, if the mixture starts to stiffen before completely mixed zap it in the microwave for another 15-30 seconds.

Pour the homogeneous mixture into the prepared pan, carefully folding the flaps over the top of the fudge. Chill in refrigerator until set, about 2 hours.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

White Bean and Greens Soup


Yesterday it was the perfect day for baking, and cooking here in LA. Cold, wet and rainy so I needed to come up with something to warm the cockles of my heart. Soup was on the agenda. A simple soup was the option, one that would be healthy as well as tasty. This simple soup fit the bill and was rounded off with fresh baked bread. (Yesterday I was a regular Julian Child in the kitchen).

In this soup you can use any green you want that is in season and looks good in the produce section. This soup I used mustard greens for their peppery bite, but kale or even beet greens would have worked just as well.

This soup could easily be made vegetarian by substituting a vegetable broth for the chicken broth. It would remain healthy as you are getting your protein from the beans not the broth, and the fiber rich greens are still there to clean out your pipes as my Uncle Al would have said.

White Bean and Greens soup

  • 2 cups small white beans
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 3 small carrots sliced
  • 1/2 green pepper diced
  • 1 T garlic - minced
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 t ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch mustard greens - trimmed and coarse chopped
  • bay leaf
  • 1 t rosemary
  • 1 can (49oz) chicken broth

Cover beans with water and soak over night. Drain and refill stock pot with 8 cups water. Add bay leaf and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1.5-2 hours until beans are tender. Drain well and put aside.

Saute onion, carrots and green pepper in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook one more minute. Add rosemary and a new bay leaf. Add chicken broth and simmer 30- minutes until carrots are soft. Add greens and cook until wilted but still tender crisp, about 5 minutes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Without Okra is it still Gumbo? I say yes.

Traditional recipes for gumbo all include "Okra" but if I use it I effectively alienate 3/5 of my household to the point they won't touch it. What's a cook to do but omit something that offends a majority where possible.

My gumbo style is more of the "Creole" Gumbo in that it has a lighter roux and includes tomatoes. By omitting the okra everyone eats it. Celery is another bit that shouldn't be omitted as it is part of the trinity of onion/pepper/celery, but since it falls in the category of "okra" with my picky eaters I substitute in celery seed for the pop of flavor needed and there is no loss to those of us who really like gumbo with all the goodies.

Traditionally it is served over rice and eaten with a bowl. Please do so as you won't want to miss a bit of the wonderful sauce or "gravy" that comes with it.

Creole Gumbo

  • 1 lb smoked sausage - sliced
  • 1 lb chicken (I use de-boned thighs) in large dice
  • 2 lb raw shrimp
  • 1 T bacon grease or oil
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 green pepper diced
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 2 t celery seed
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 T butter
  • 3 T flour
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1 T File' powder
  • 2 cups rice, cooked according to directions.

In large stock pot add bacon fat and sausage. Cook until browned. Remove with slotted spoon and cook the chicken in the remaining fat. Remove with slotted spoon.

Add the onion, green pepper, carrots, cayenne pepper and celery seed. Cook in remaining fat over medium-high heat. Stir often and scrape up browned bits from bottom of pan. Cook until onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 10-15 minutes. Add butter and flour. Stir constantly until the flour is dissolved and takes on a light brown color, about 3-5 minutes.

Add diced tomatoes, chicken broth and tomato sauce, stir until the flour mixture (roux) is completely incorporated and lump free. Return sausage and chicken to the pan. Bring to boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Increase heat and add shrimp and file' powder. Stir constantly until shrimp are cooked and the gumbo is thickened about 5 minutes. Serve over hot cooked rice.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sweet Potato Praline

Gawd I wish I had taken an pic of this one so you could see it in all its glory...but feasting was more important on Thanksgiving rather than documenting what we were eating.

The basic recipe came from my cousin Andrea and I updated it with a few twists. Subtle spicing was added with just a little heat coming from the fresh ginger as well. A home run with even the "I hate sweet potato" crowd. I love the crunchy nutty topping contrasting against the soft custardy sweet potato in each bite.

And, I do know there is a difference between "Yams" and "Sweet Potato". The two really aren't interchangeable and you need to make certain you are getting Sweet Potatoes for this one as a yam just won't cut it. The only added sweetness to this is the praline topping which totally rocks.

Sweet Potato Praline

  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed (about 4 cups).
  • 1/4 c cream
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 t salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1/8 t nutmeg
  • 2 t fresh grated ginger
  • Praline topping:
  • 1/2 c brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 c dark corn syrup
  • Heaping 1/2 c chopped pecans

Beat together sweet potatoes, cream, egg, salt, pepper and spices. Spoon into well buttered shallow baking dish (2-3 quart size). Spread out mixture until even with back of spoon.

In small sauce pan over low heat add corn syrup, brown sugar and butter. Stir constantly until butter has melted and brown sugar has dissolved. Do not boil. Pour evenly over sweet potato mixture. Sprinkle nuts over the praline topping.

Bake in 350F oven until set, about 40-50 minutes. Topping will be soft when taken out of oven but will harden as it cools.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pumpkin Harvest Bread

Jack-o-cide: the annihilation of ones jack-o-lantern for the sake of baking and cooking. Every year I commit that heinous crime and love the end results for months afterwards by pureeing then canning the resulting glorious orange pulp. No fava bean jokes...please.

This recipe came about as I love pumpkin bread, but have tired over the basic stuff. The addition of cranberry's add a tart tang. The dried blueberry add a nice sweet chew and added texture contrast to the walnuts. Its all the best of fall in one pumpkin bread, how can anyone go wrong with that I ask.

This recipe makes 3 healthy sized loaves. You can either give one as a gift to a deserving neighbor, pass along as holiday gifts or even freeze ahead for the days you crave a little pumpkin bread. No matter what you do with the extra its all good.

Pumpkin Harvest Bread
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 2 c pumpkin puree
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 c vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs beaten
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • 1/2 t allspice
  • 2 c fresh or frozen cranberry
  • 1 c dried blueberry
  • 1 c chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F

Sift together flour, soda and powder. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl add pumpkin, oil, milk, eggs, sugar and spices and mix well. Slowly incorporate flour until just mixed. (Over mixing causes the bread to night rise as well and have a tough texture). Fold in cranberry, dried blueberry and walnuts.

Spray bread pans with cooking spray. Divide mixture evenly between the bread pans. Bake 50-60 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

The one thing I can't stress enough is from trial and error and it involves filling the pans. Over filling you run the risk of the batter rising out of the pan and into the oven. If it doesn't run over by the time you get the center cooked your edges are starting to burn. No more than 2/3 full on a pan if you want good consistent results.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

A chill in the air means its Chili Season

This is more of a Midwestern style chili in that it is rich with tomatoes and a tomato sauce. Definitely not Texas style or even Southwestern style. Tasty none the less and perfect for those chili fall evenings when jackets are needed after sunset.


I use both beef broth and bullion paste to really amp up the flavor in this. As such hold of adding salt and pepper into the final product until you've tasted your chili. Nothing worse than over salting so pay heed, commercial broths and bullion could be very salty and any extra could ruin the dish. I used low sodium beef broth from Wolfgang Puck, but any low sodium brand can be used if you can find it.


Coarse ground beef is hard to find. I often resort to grinding my own from the stew meat if I can con the butcher into making some from me.



Black Bean and Chile Chili


  • 2 lbs coarse ground beef

  • 1 large yellow onion

  • 2 T minced garlic

  • 3T Chili powder

  • 2 cans diced tomatoes

  • 1 can tomato sauce1 29 oz can black beans-drained

  • 1 7 oz can ortega fire roasted chile

  • 2 t bullion paste (or two bullion cubes)

  • 2-3 cups water or beef broth
Brown ground beef in batches over high heat to ensure good browning. Add onion to hot pan and saute over medium heat until transparent. Add garlic and stir 1 minute.


Return browned beef to the pan. Add next 6 ingredients and stir well. Add 2 cups of the beef broth (water), add additional water if needed to get a good consistency.


Bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

I found this recipe for "Cranberry Upside-Down Cake" in Nov 09 Cooking light magazine. It looked good but needed some tweaking as its recipe ingredients were light on flavor too. I added in Cinnamon for that proper Holiday taste and smell. I also added some coarse chopped walnuts to finish off the cake, I mean those two play so well together why not add a little to the cake and make it more festive.

To make up for the added fat calories from the nuts I swapped out nonfat milk for the 1%. Not much of a savings, but every little bit helps. I also noted that this was a cake made with whipped egg whites for part of the fluff so I subbed in cake flour for a softer crumb than the all purpose.

I didn't reinvent the wheel, I just rounded it out. My version....

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
Topping
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 scant cups fresh cranberry
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • 1/3 c coarse chopped walnuts

Cake
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 c cake flour
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 cup bakers sugar (also labeled super fine or ultra fine)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 large egg whites
  • pinch cream of tartar
  • 1/2 c nonfat milk
  • 1 t vanilla.
  • 1 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F

Put butter and brown sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave 1 minute and stir until sugar dissolved. Microwave additional 30-45 seconds until mixture starts to boil. Spray sides of 9 inch cake pan with baking spray. Pour in hot brown sugar mixture, roll pan to coat bottom well. Toss cranberries with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the hot sugar, pat softly until in one even layer. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

For the cake cream the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add egg yolks one at a time beating well with each addition. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add a third of the flour mixture to the batter and fold in slowly, adding 1/2 of the milk. Add another third of the flour and fold in slowly, adding remaining milk. Add remaining flour and stir until well mixed.

Mix egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar (in copper bowl if you have one for maximum volume). Beat on high until stiff peaks form. Add half of the egg whites to the batter and fold in briskly to incorporate all of the egg white and lighten the batter. Take remaining egg whites and gently fold in by hand until just incorporated.

Spoon batter over the cranberry mixture. Bake on middle rack about 55 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.



Cranberry Raspberry Conserve

This recipe is inspired by Ina Garten from one she does called Cranberry Fruit conserve. I liked it but saw room to add my own touches. First I like my cranberry to be tart when served with rich foods such as Thanksgiving which is about a week away. That tartness cuts right through the rich sauces and stuff keeping the palette alive. That's a good thing while stuffing your face.

There are a couple of changes among them is the dried fruit used in the conserve. She uses raisins for cripes sakes. Raisins. Those things kindergartners stuff in their noses and who knows what else they do with the creepy little buggers. The only thing worse than a raisin in my book is a cooked one. Everyone knows that grapes are meant to be juiced and turned into wine, right!? Hence the change to dried raspberry.

A secret to jelly making, (jams and conserves too) is a good heavy pan to to avoid hot spots that might scorch your sugary goodness. Using a heavy copper pan pretty much guarantees you will have even and rapid heating. When buying copper get a stainless steel lined one so you don't have to worry about getting it "re-tinned" when a tin lining wears off.
Cranberry Raspberry Conserve
1 (12 ounce) bag fresh cranberries
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 orange, juice and grated zest
1 large lemon, juice and grated zest
3/4 cup dried Raspberry
3/4 cup walnuts coarse chopped

Directions
Cook the cranberries, sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the skins pop open. Add the apple, zests and juices and let cook for 15 more minutes. Remove from heat and add the raspberries and nuts. Pour off into jars and seal. Let cool, and serve chilled. It will store safely in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Microwave Apple Crisp

First off, sorry for the craptastic photo, the oven mitt is really deep red and the crisp had a rich dark brown topping. When all is said and done with two colors of light in the room it through off the trusty old cell cam and gave me this image. Bummer, as the cobbler was sooooo freakin' good it was devoured before I could do a reshoot with a better camera.

This dessert goes back to the days as an early apt dweller in The Valley when our apt had marginal air conditioning, with none in the kitchen. There is a always a sweet tooth to be satiated and there are times where good old comfort foods like a fruit crisp are the only thing that will do the trick. When its 100+ one does not turn on an oven in an already uncomfortable kitchen. What to do...turn old oven based recipes into one that works in a microwave. This recipe did just the trick. Very simple and it is based on a 1200 watt microwave so you will need adjust times to suit your machine.

With apple crisps (pies and cobbles too) I like to use a couple of different apples. Its all about the textural differences and the juice for the sauce. Some apples hold their shape well with a nice crunch but yield little juice. Others release a lot of juice but wither down to mush. A mix of apples gets you the best of both worlds. For this reason I used a mix of Red Delicious and Gala apples.

Microwave Apple Crisp

  • 6 cups (approximately 6 medium apples) sliced
  • 2 t lemon juice
  • 2 t cinnamon, divided
  • 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c uncooked oatmeal
  • 1/4 c flour
  • 1/4 c butter - room temp
  • 1/2 t salt

Place apples in an 8" X 8" microwave safe baking dish. Add lemon juice and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Toss. Microwave 4 minutes until tender crisp.

Combine remaining ingredients. Mix well. Sprinkle evenly over warm fruit mixture. Microwave on high 9-12 minutes until apples and topping are bubbly. Let set for 10 minutes, serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream topping.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ham and Cheese Roll Ups

Last night an hour before a Halloween Party the better half gave me a "by the way I told Shane you'd bring a hot appetizer". An HOUR before the party and they were counting on me to whip up something out of thin air.

Clock ticking I figured out quick what I'd need for these Ham and Cheese Roll Ups. Stupid easy to do and tasty too. What I didn't have on hand was the pastry dough and resorted to my favorite old stand by....crescent rolls in a can to get things done fast.

Ham and Cheese Roll Ups

  • Good Dijon Mustard
  • 2 cans Crescent Rolls
  • 4 slices smoked ham, Black Forest if you have it
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese.

Open the cans and unroll the crescent rolls. Cut each in half. Brush with Dijon mustard. Quarter each slice of ham and Swiss cheese. Place a piece of ham on top of the pastry dough, add a slice of cheese. Starting with the fat end of the pastry roll up croissant style and place on a a parchment paper lined baking sheet. (Will make a total of 32 appetizers).

Bake in 375 oven 11-13 minutes until golden brown and the cheese is all melted. Serve warm.
All prepped up and ready for the rolling.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup - slightly spiced

It rained this week and it was perfect soup weather. I love Butternut Squash soup and Jax in Glendale makes the best, but they won't give up the recipe no way, no how. I've been working on duplicating. This is pretty close, very tasty and very close.

The secret to making this soup is the long caramelization, 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat so the onion's develop their maximum sweetness while taking out the raw onion sharpness. Low and slow, stirring often and not allowing the onion to char is the secret to good caramelization. (Redundant I know, but I can't drill it into my head enough on this one).

Subtly Spiced Butternut Squash Soup.
  • 1 large yellow onion.
  • 1 butter nut squash
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 inch thick piece of ginger
  • 1/4 T cayenne pepper
  • 2 14 oz cans chicken broth
  • 1/2 c half and half

Slice, clean out seeds and quarter the butternut squash. Place in microwave safe dish, cover with plastic wrap (cling film to you all in the UK who follow me). Microwave on high 12 minutes. Let cool to room temp covered, it will steam and soften while standing.

Slice onion into thick slices. Slice the ginger thinly. Heat butter and olive oil over medium low heat in large stock pot and add ginger and onion. Cook over slow flame 15-20 minutes until onion is caramelized and a very light golden brown.

With food processor or blender, add the onion and liquid from the squash pan. Pulse until liquefied. Pour back into the stock pot. Take 1/2 of squash and add to processor/blender along with about 1/2 can broth. Process until liquefied and add to stock pot. Repeat with remaining squash. Add enough remaining broth to get the mixture to soup consistency.

Return stock pot to a low flame. Heat until just starting to simmer, stirring occasionally. Once at simmer remove pot from flame and add the half-and-half and stir to mix it in. Do not add half-and-half while pot is on the flame as you might curdle your soup.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Beer Braised Beef Short Ribs

Meat eaters have their place in the food chain too. I love my red meat in moderation. The other morning when asked what to make for dinner that night the overwhelming response was meat. So I grabbed a pack of boneless short ribs I had in the freezer and proceeded to thaw for use that night.

Beer Braised Short Ribs is stupid easy with barely a hand full of ingredients and a couple of easy steps to get dinner going. Braising is the secret to getting an inexpensive and tough cut of beef "fork tender"by cooking it long, low and slow. The added bonus is when you braise is that there is enough liquid that stirring and scorching isn't much of a concern so its low maintenance once its in the oven.

Beer Braised Beef Short Ribs

4-5 lbs boneless beef short ribs
1 bottle beer
1 can beef broth
3 bay leaves.
1 c flour
4T Montreal Steak Seasoning blend
4 strips bacon.
1 large onion
2 medium carrots sliced
2 T garlic minced (or less to taste)
EVOO

In large dutch oven of similar cooking pot add just enough EVOO to cover the bottom of the pan and add the bacon strips. Cook until crispy. Remove bacon and set aside.

Mix flour and steak seasoning blend. Increase heat in dutch oven to medium-high. Dredge short ribs in flour and add to hot pan. Sear all sides, 3-5 minutes per side. Cook in batches so you do not crowd pan.

When short ribs are all browned let them rest on a platter and add onions and carrots to the pan. Stir constantly and scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When onions are translucent and starting to caramelize add garlic and cook 1 minute longer, stir constantly so as to not burn the garlic. Add bottle of beer and scrape up all remaining bits from bottom of pan.

Arrange short ribs over the browned vegies. Wedge bay leaves in between the short ribs. Add enough beef broth to bring the liquid to just below the top of the meat. (See photo).

Cover and bake in 325F oven for 2 hours. Serve hot with mashed potato or similar on the side using the braising liquid as a "gravy".

The liquid in a braise should just come to the top of the meat. Covering the meat with the liquid would be stewing and yields a similar but not the same result as a braise.
Cooking the short ribs in batches ensures a good sear to the meat. Overcrowding a pan winds up "steaming" the meat in its own juices and does not yield good color. To quote Tyler Florence, "color is flavor and you don't want to lose it".

Sunday, September 13, 2009

BBQ Baby Back Ribs

The basic recipe here feeds 4 nicely with a few left overs. The glory of this recipe and process is that it can easily be doubled, quadrupled or deca-drupled for parties and large crowds. (In my insanity I once did ribs for 30 so I can attest it is an easy recipe for crowds). The "secret" to this recipe is pre-cooking the ribs low and slow in the oven so they are cooked through and fall off the bone tender. All the grill does is provide smoke flavor and allows your BBQ Sauce to thicken and caramelize on the racks without fear of having undercooked ribs.

BBQ Baby Back Ribs
  • 2 racks pork baby back ribs
  • Dry rub (recipe follows)
  • Favorite BBQ Sauce. (I use my own super secret recipe)

Split the racks in half. Remove the silver membrane on the underside of the racks. To each side of the half-racks apply 1 tablespoon dry rub. Massage into the meat. In a large square of aluminium foil place an ice cube (or 1 table spoon apple juice). Fold foil to form a sealed packet. Place on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining half-racks.

Bake at 32F for 1 1/2 hours. At this point you can cool them down and refrigerate for use the next day to finish them off on a grill or do it right away. To finish on grill, add smoke chips if you have them. Remove the ribs from foil and place on grill bone side down first. Grill on low heat over and allow fat to drip and "smoke" the ribs. After about 5 minutes turn ribs over and baste with BBQ Sauce. Cover and cook 5 minutes then turn over, basting with BBQ Sauce. Cover and cook for 5 minutes over the slow smokey heat until the sauce begins to caramelize. Turn ribs over last time and rebaste the top with additional bbq sauce if you like them "sloppy wet" or remove to platter and split into portion size pieces. Serve with additional BBQ Sauce on the side.

Dry Rub Mix
  • 1 C Paprika
  • 1 C Brown Sugar
  • 1 T sea salt (or kosher)
  • 2 T dried Onion Flakes
  • 2 T dried garlic
  • 1T black pepper
  • 1 T dry mustard
  • ¼ t cayenne pepper
  • ½ t red pepper flakes
  • ¼ t nutmeg
  • ½ t allspice

Put mix in blender or food processor and pulse until well blended. For large bulk spices I like to use “It’s Delish” brand as its huge quantities very cheap. Sea Salt or Kosher work better than regular table salt as they are sweeter with no metallic aftertaste. Store in cool dark place.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Baked Chicken Chop Suey

Some days I just don't want to deal with slicing, dicing and sauteing. Some days, especially one with a migraine involved, I want something I can toss together with minimal effort, preferably in one dish. This is such a dish. Simple, honest to the point grub that feeds the masses.

Baked Chicken Chop Suey
2 cups rice
2 cans chop suey vegetables-drained
1 can cream of chicken and mushroom soup
1 can water
1/4 c soy sauce
1 lb cooked chicken breast - diced
fresh ground pepper
crispy chow mein noodles.

Cook rice according to package directions (usually 2-1 ratio water to rice).

Put hot rice in baking dish and fold in remaining ingredients. Bake in 350F oven about 20-30 minutes until hot and bubbly. Serve with crispy chow mein noodles on top.

Oh yeah, this is one of those "hot dishes" or casseroles that clue you in I am less than 6 degrees of separation from being a FOTP (fresh outta the Trailer Park) kinda guy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Drunken Pulled Pork Sandwiches

I got the idea for this one from, you guessed, a few different sources. One was some new cooking show on FoodTV and the other from the Top Chef series. Pulled Pork was a big deal back in MO growing up and the appearance of it on TV made me suddenly crave the stuff. So when the boys said it looked good and wanted me to make them some I was all over that project.

The key is a long braise to make a cheap cut of meat fork tender to pull apart. The pork barely cost me 8 bucks and I only used about half of it for the 4 of us for dinner tonight. A pretty frugal meal too it turns out.

Drunken Pulled Pork

  • 3.5 lbs pork shoulder
  • 1 T smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • evoo
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 large carrot sliced
  • 1/2 c chopped celery
  • 2 T dry BBQ Rub
  • 1/4 c Worcestershire
  • 1 bottle beer
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 can beef broth

Cut pork shoulder into 3 inch cubes. Season well with salt and pepper. Coat well with smoked paprika. Brown over medium high heat until all sides have a good sear. Remove from pan and reserve.

Add onion, carrot and celery. Cook until onion becomes translucent and begins to brown. Add BBQ Rub and stir well. Add liquids. Return meat to the pan, include any drippings that accumulated while resting. Bring to boil then cover.

Simmer in 325F oven for 2 hours or until fork tender. When done remove pieces of pork from the braising liquid and shred with a fork for making sandwiches or eating as is.

The difference between braising and stewing is pretty nominal. A braise doesn't have the meat covered completely, rather it goes up about 3/4 to the top of your meat. In this case you add enough of the beef broth to get yourself to the right depth without submerging the meat!



Corn and Basil Salad with a little apology



No, I haven't forgotten about this blog, I just have been so busy I've hardly had the time to work on new recipes let alone blog them.
This little recipe is a combination of a few I've seen on TV and in cooking light magazine in recent weeks. The better half wanted me to come up with a "corn salad" to put with grilled Salmon or similar. Since I smoked some salmon on a bed of red onion and basil I figured taking those elements and bringing them to the salad would sort of "marry" the two items flavor wise. It worked and as the better half says "This must be one of your go to recipes". High praise indeed.
Corn and Basil Salad
  • 2 1 lb bags frozen corn thawed and drained
  • cooking spray
  • 1 T butter
  • 1/2 C loosely packed, chopped fresh basil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 3 T red wine vinegar
  • 3T evoo
  • 1/2 t fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 t coarse ground sea salt
Pre-heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray and add butter. Add corn and saute for about 5 minutes or until a few kernels begin to brown. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
In mixing bowl add corn and remaining ingredients. Toss lightly until all combined. Serve at room temp or cold.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I cooked my way through Julia Childs "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" one year

I remembered reading it as a kid (strange child that I was) when I was learning to cook at my Mom's side. Flash forward many years later and I got for Christmas my own copy of the book from my Mom and I cooked my way through it in one year. I didn't blog it.

Be thankful I didn't do it in drag like this video. The 99 Cent Chef cracks me up, this is one of his funniest in a while. Loved him in drag doing Julia teaching crepes.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Candied Lemon Cake

So what do you do when you lack an ingredient for one recipe you really want to do? Short of running to the store for something I won't have much use for with the excess I improvise. Not entirely by the seat of my pants, but with a little research for similar recipes with ingredients I have on hand.

Such is what happened with the Candied Lemon Cake. The idea came from a recipe Martha Stewart's everyday food. I lacked buttermilk and wasn't about to run off to the store for a quart when all I needed was a cup. I had sour cream, but how much to substitute and how was the question. I found a few other recipes with sour cream based cakes and subbed in the amount of sour cream and juice I needed. Voila problem solved and I could use the rest of the recipe as guidance for assembly for the final product.

The cake itself has a nice crumb and a density more like a pound cake than your usual boxed cake. A good thing in my book as it packs more flavor in each bite. The frosting is actually more of a Swiss Meringue as it starts over warm water to dissolved the sugar into the egg whites. That too is a good thing as it is a very light and fluffy frosting and the perfect counterpoint to the dense richly flavored cake. Of course the candied lemons on top are just the perfect pissy touch to make it all edible with your eyes. Presentation is everything.
The one trick I have for you applies to the application of the syrup to the warm cakes. Put the cakes on their cooling rack over a baking sheet to catch the drips and prevent the cakes from sticking to the counter. On the rack lets the syrup run all over as you brush it on without fear of making a bigger mess on the counters, or worse the cake sticking to the counter.


Candied Lemon Cake

  • 1 C (2 sticks) room temperature butter plus more for pans
  • 2 ½ C flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for pans
  • ½ t baking powder
  • ½ t baking soda
  • 1 ½ c sugar
  • 2 large eggs plus 3 egg yolks (reserve whites for frosting)
  • 1 T Lemon Zest
  • 3/4 C sour cream
  • 1/4 C lemon juice
  • Whipped Frosting

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour 2 8X2 inch cake pans, tapping out excess flour. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round.

In a medium bowl whisk flour, baking powder, soda and salt.

In a large mixing bowl using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks one at a time. Mix together lemon juice and sour cream. Alternately beat in flour mixture and sour cream , beginning and ending with flour mixture, mix just until combined.

Divide batter between pans; smooth tops. Bake until cakes pull away from sides of pans, 32-25 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges of pans and invert cakes onto a wire rack. Cool completely.

While cake bakes bring ½ c sugar and ½ water to boil in a sauce pan. Add one thinly sliced lemon and simmer 25 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer lemon slices to a wax paper lined plate. Stir in ¼ c fresh lemon juice into the syrup. Using a toothpick, poke holes in warm cakes on rack. Brush with lemon syrup.

Place cake, bottom side up on a cake stand. Tuck strips of parchment paper underneath. Using offset spatula spread top with whipped frosting. Top with remaining cake. Frost top, then sides. Add candied lemon slices to the top of the cake as edible garnish.

Whipped Frosting:
In heat proof bowl over simmering water (not touching) combine 3 large egg whites, ¾ c sugar, pinch of salt and 1/3 c water. Cover over medium, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved and mixture registers 150F on instant read thermometer. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium high until glossy, stiff peaks form. Do not over beat, about 3 minutes: reduce speed to low and add 2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice and beat until just combined.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Parchement Paper: who'da thunk it was a miracle product

Being the frugal type (cheap) I always figured why bother with parchment paper when it was called for in a recipe. I used non-stick bake ware and thought that would be enough. I was usually wrong.

Then one afternoon of baking shows on FoodTV I saw them repeatedly using parchment paper on cookie sheets when making cookies, lining cake pans for cakes, loaf pans for loafy things. You get the picture, it went everywhere.

I broke down and gave it a try. First with cookies. It helped them bake more completely and added boner in the process is there was no burned bits to scour off the cookie sheet. Win. Then I started cutting rounds, a pain in the butt, and line the bottom of my non-stick pans. Guess what. Another win. The bottom came off clean AND no burned bits on the bottom.

I swear by the stuff. I buy large rolls to keep cost down and voila half my clean up is solved not to mention better baking results.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Peach Pie means summer

Growing up for a time in MO I learned that super sweet southern peaches were the best ever for making pies. I still miss those pies and break down once a year and make a peach pie with those supermarket peaches. It isn't quite the same as a fresh from your own tree peach pie but it will do quite nicely.

I don't have a pasty hand. I just don't. More dough has been tossed than used over the years. When Pillsbury came out with the already pie crust you just unroll I was in pie making heaven. Though not exactly cheap it is about as good a crust as I could make from scratch. (When you factor in the flop ratio its probably as cheap as trying to make my own).
To allow for juices I've learned not to overpack a pie with the fruit going not much more than an inch over the top of the pie plate. And notice how perfectly shaped that pastry is, nothing says lovin' from the oven like Pillsbury baby!


Cutting a shallow "X" in the bottom of each peach prior to the blanching makes it easier for the skin to slip off. Blanch 2-3 minutes in simmering water then toss into an ice bath to cool them enough to handle and help the skins loosen.

Peach Pie

Pastry for 2 crust 9" pie
5-6 cups sliced peaches (about 9 medium)
1/2 c sugar
2 T corn starch
juice of one lemon
1/8 t almond extract
cinnamon to taste
half and half
Raw sugar (turbinado)

Preheat oven to 425F. In large mixing bowl put in peaches and sprinkle with the juice of one lemon. Add almond extract. Sprinkle on corn starch and toss lightly to combine so as to not bruise the peaches.

Line bottom of pie plate with one pastry round. Add fruit. Add top pastry, fold edges under to seal. Brush top with half-and-half and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake 60-65 minutes until bubbly and golden brown on top. Cover edges of pie with aluminum foil last 20 minutes if need to prevent over-browning.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Not KFC but quite tasty still

Last week in the news was a guy, a fellow food blogger no less, from back east who claimed to have "broken the secret recipe for KFC's 11 spices and herbs". My eyebrows were raised when the 11th item listed was "Accent" or a brand name for MSG...like I really like allergic reactions to my food. I'm here to tell you he didn't break the code. He did come up with a "bomb a@@ chicken" according to my boys so I suppose this recipe will stay in the box.

I worked in a KFC when I was in high school. The marinade was premixed, all we added was water. The "flour" was preseasoned and it was simply a matter of dipping in the marinade then into the flour. Then the floured chicken was put into a contraption that was part deep fat fryer and part pressure cooker. We'd deep fry the chicken with the lid up until golden, then put the basket into the fryer, seal the lid and let 'er rip until the pressure release valve went off some 10-15 minutes later.

I don't have a pressure cooker and would be reticent to try that sort of cooking in a home use pressure cooker. I think you need industrial strength cookers to pull off the type of cooking actually done at KFC.

Regardless, having been at a KFC I can tell you we never knew what was in the 11 spices and herbs. I did pick up a few things as noted that I could bring to the show when it came time to test his spice blend.

Not KFC Fried Chicken
  • 6 chicken breasts.
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 t chili powder
  • 1 t sage
  • 1 t basil
  • 1 t marjoram
  • 1 t pepper
  • 2 t salt
  • 2 T Paprika
  • 1 t onion salt
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1 ½ c flour
  • 4 cups peanut oil.

Marinade:
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 1/4 t oregano
  • 1/4 t chili powder
  • 1/4 t sage
  • 1/4 t basil
  • 1/4 t marjoram
  • 1/4 t pepper
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 t Paprika
  • 1/4 t onion salt
  • 1/4 t garlic powder

Combine marinade ingredients. Pour over chicken in a glass bowl and cover for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350F. Heat oil to 375F in large heavy bottom frying pan. Combine spices, herbs and flour in a shallow bowl. Pull a piece of chicken from the marinade and loosely shake off excess marinade. Dredge through flour mixture and put into the hot oil. Repeat with other breasts. Do not crowd pan. Cook 5-7 minutes until golden brown, turn over and cook 5 minutes longer. Place chicken onto parchment or silicone baking sheet lined baking dish.

Bake 20 minutes or until largest breast will have clear juices when poked with a fork.



Mushrooms and Thyme are bestest friends


No kidding, mushrooms and thyme really play well together in terms of taste. One of our favorite recipes for dinner parties or pot lucks is "Big Pasta and Mushrooms". Its an adaptation of a recipe from Nigella Lawson that hits the flavor profiles, but in a smaller quantity (hers calls for 3 lbs of pasta) and without the fuss of making a bechamel sauce.

I'm inherently lazy and will take short cuts where appropriate. Canned cream of mushroom soup is the short cut here that saves a ton of time in prepping the dish.

For my version I kept the amount of mushrooms similar to what the original recipe called for. Why? Because I love freaking mushrooms and felt that my ratio gave you more of a sense of the mushroomy goodness than the original.

The mushrooms I chose were those that looked best when I went to the market on the day I made this batch. The type of mushroom you use isn't as important as getting the quantity right and using those that are freshest when you are in the market. You can even fudge with the weight as an extra ounce more or less won't hurt the final outcome.

Big Pasta and Mushrooms
  • 8 oz portobello caps sliced
  • 6 oz cremini mushrooms sliced
  • 3.5 oz oyster musroom sliced
  • 2 c loosely packed dried shitake mushrooms
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme tied in a bundle - plus extra for garnish
  • nutmeg
  • 1 t herbed sea salt (regular sea salt can be substituted)
  • 1 t fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 c vermouth
  • boiling water
  • 1 1/2 c fresh grated Parmesan
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 4 c milk
  • 1 1/2 lbs large pasta (I used stuffing size rigatoni)
  • 1 1/4 c fresh chopped parsley
  • Preheat oven to 400F.

Put dried shitakes in a measuring cup and cover with boiling water. Allow to steep for at least 5 minutes. Put salted water on to boil for pasta. Cook pasta to "al dente".

In large sauce pot add butter and olive oil. Over medium heat melt butter and then add garlic and thyme bundle. Cook one minute. Add the sliced mushrooms and fresh cracked pepper. Using microplane add 10-12 good scrapes of nutmeg to the mushrooms. Cook 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally until they have released their moisture and the liquid has nearly evaporated.

Drain the shitakes, reserving liquid (should be about 1 cup). Add shitakes with the sea salt to the pan and cook 1 minute folding them in constantly until evenly distributed. Add vermouth, cook 2-3 minutes until absorbed by the mushrooms. Add the reserved shitake liquid and cook 5-7 minutes until nearly evaporated. Remove thyme twig bundle.

Add cream of mushroom soup, milk and 1 cup parsley to the mushroom mixture stir until soup is dissolved. In large mixing bowl add the cooked and drained pasta. Add the mushrooms and fold gently until well distributed. Sprinkle on 1 cup of Parmesan and fold until well distributed.

Pour into 12X17 baking dish. Sprinkle 1/2 c Parmesan across the top. Bake 30 minutes until parts are browned and crusty.

Remove from oven and garnish with 1/4 cup parsley and 6-8 thyme sprigs.