Mushroom and Leek Stuffing

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Many of you may already know, but for anyone that doesn’t know, I am totally and madly in love with carbs. I want to marry carbs. I want to spend my life with carbs.

I cannot get enough of carbs. They’re probably my favorite food group and whether I’m chowing down on a crusty baguette, eating bowl after bowl of pasta, or enjoying each and every grain in a huge bowl of rice, I cannot resist carbs.

It should come as no surprise that my favorite part of Thanksgiving is stuffing (aka dressing). How could anyone not be crazy about a dish that celebrates bread? I would be completely okay with simply eating cubes of plain bread goodness, but I know most people like their stuffing/dressing to have a bit more substance.

This Mushroom and Leek stuffing is absolutely delicious. An abundance of mushrooms makes this a substantial and almost meaty dish, while leeks give a delicate onion flavor and pancetta gives a salty bite. You can’t go wrong with any form of stuffing/dressing, but I highly recommend this one.

Just a few notes:

  • Stuffing deserves good bread! Cubes of generic, white bread are nowhere near as good as a loaf of rustic style bread. Treat yo self!
  • Serving stuffing in a large casserole dish (or 9 x 13 dish) is probably the most common, but why not divide into individual ramekins?
  • Feel free to cube bread into 1 inch pieces, but I like ripping the bread into comparable sizes. It looks more rustic and I think has superior texture than a cube.

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Mushroom and Leek Stuffing

  • 1 lb rustic bread
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 lb pancetta, chopped into a small dice
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thoroughly rinsed and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 lbs crimini mushrooms, chopped into quarters
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing pan(s)
  • 1 tablespoon minced sage
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rip up a 1 lb loaf of rustic bread into approximately 1 inch pieces (you want about 8-10 cups). I don’t even bother removing the crust as I think leaving the crust adds a greater variety of texture. Spread bread pieces on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until nice and dry.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium to medium high heat. Add pancetta and cook for 8-10 minutes, until fat has rendered and pancetta is nice and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove pancetta and place into a large bowl.

In the same skillet used to cook pancetta (leaving the rendered fat from the pancetta), add prepped leeks, and cook for 8-10 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the same bowl the pancetta is in.

In the same skillet, add in quartered mushrooms and butter. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until mushrooms are tender and have released any liquid. Add to the large bowl containing pancetta and leeks.

Once bread is done baking and is pale but very crispy, add to the large bowl of pancetta, leek, and mushrooms and stir in chicken broth, sage, and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well (and taste again for seasoning!). Crank up oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using additional butter, lightly grease 8-10 individual ramekins (depends on how big yours are, mine are slightly larger than 1 cup), or one large casserole dish/9×13 pan. Divide stuffing between ramekins or pour in the stuffing mixture into casserole dish.

If using individual ramekins, bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes, or until top has crisped up. If baking in a large casserole dish, cover with aluminum foil, bake for 25 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 20-25 minutes.

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Butternut Squash Soup

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While this butternut squash is comprised of incredibly simple ingredients, the taste manages to be quite intricate and rich. Roasted squash and apple create complex flavors while caramelizing onions and shallots mellow out typically harsh and intense ingredients. Besides some sage, salt and pepper, a bit of olive oil and butter, and a healthy amount of stock, there’s not much else to this recipe. A splash or two of heavy cream at the end can make this already velvety smooth and decadent soup a bit more indulgent, but it’s completely optional.

What I enjoy about this soup so much is the simplicity creates a perfectly balanced dish that’s delicious as is, but can be punched up in flavor, if desired. Seriously, this soup does not need any elaborate garnishments, but if you were so inclined, toasted pepitas would be a fantastic addition, as would some drops of hot sauce, drizzle of crème fraiche, chopped chives, salted cashews, or candied pecans.

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Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 Butternut Squash (approximately 3.5 – 4 pounds)
  • 1 apple
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 1 shallot
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 6 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 8-10 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)

Prep ingredients by peeling and seeding the butternut squash, coring the apple, and peeling the onion and shallot. Chop squash and apple into approximately 1-inch dice. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 30 – 40 minutes, or until tender and golden brown, stirring once or twice during the process.

Meanwhile, approximately 10 – 15 minutes into the cooking time of the squash, in a large saucepan or stockpot, melt butter over medium-low to medium heat, chop shallot and onion (medium dice) and sauté with butter until caramelized, about 15-20 minutes. Add chicken stock and sage leaves and bring to a simmer. Once squash and apples are done roasting, add to stockpot and cook for a few minutes.

Blend mixture in batches in a blender or food processor, or puree with an immersion blender. Simmer mixture for a few more minutes, just to ensure the flavors meld. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To make this richer and creamier than it already is, finish off by stirring in the heavy cream (optional).

I garnished with some sour cream thinned out with a bit of milk and a light sprinkling of cayenne.

Pear and Cranberry Cake

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Every now and then I overthink things. Deciding what to have for lunch is occasionally a three hour long process where I have to ask 20 people what I should have and by the time I’ve decided it’s practically dinnertime. Friends of mine all know they shouldn’t ask me what I want to do during a weekend, since my answer tends to be “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” While I can make important choices under pressure, in my day-to-day life I can sometimes be a bit indecisive.

Deciding on what to cook or bake can sometimes be a challenge as well. Do I go back to a favorite recipe I’ve made before that has exceptional results, or do I try something new and different? Yesterday when I couldn’t decide whether or not do something familiar or new, I decided to settle and I made a few revisions to a recipe I knew I loved.

Several years ago smitten kitchen posted a recipe involving browned butter, obscenely whipped eggs, and sweet pears juxtaposed against the bite of bittersweet chocolate. It was a cake that I loved to make and within 2 months of seeing the post for the first time I had made the recipe 5 or 6 times. I thought it was that good.

Now that the recipe is officially a go-to in my arsenal, I thought it might be time to update it a bit. Don’t get me wrong, the pear and chocolate combination is delicious, but considering Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I thought it might be appropriate to swap out the chocolate for fresh cranberries. Texturally, cranberries aren’t at all similar to chocolate, but taste wise the tart bite of the cranberries is a great substitute to the bitterness of chocolate. Despite the fact that fall spices are nowhere to be found in this recipe, a bite of it was quintessentially autumn, and I think this would be a perfect addition to Thanksgiving dinner, or any dinner for that matter.

If anyone is indecisive on what to make, I’ll help you with the decision…. make this!

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Pear and Cranberry Cake

Adapted from smitten kitchen

  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal (small grind)
  • 1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder (yes, a tablespoon, that’s not a typo)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room-temperature
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 pears, peeled, in a small dice
  • 1 1/4 cup fresh cranberries, sorted and washed
  • Powdered sugar and whipped cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with cornmeal (you could also use plain breadcrumbs or flour), set aside.

Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip eggs on high until pale and very thick (beyond ribbon stage). This should take a minimum of 8 minutes using a stand mixer, 10+ using a hand mixer, and I would imagine a very, very long time if whisking by hand.

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While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter by melting the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once butter has melted, it should start browning in approximately 4 minutes. Do not stir for the first few minutes, but once butter starts to bubble you’ll want to occasionally stir to ensure the solids don’t burn. You’ll know it’s done when it smells nutty and the white solids in the butter turn brown. Remove from burner but leave in a warm spot so butter doesn’t solidify.

Meanwhile, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl, set aside.

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip 2 more minutes, or until the mixture just starts to loosen. Reduce speed to the lowest setting, add one third of the flour mixture, half of the brown butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Mix until barely combined, then lightly stir by hand with a spatula, to ensure all flour has been incorporated, being careful not to over mix.

Pour batter into prepared pan and lightly sprinkle the pears and cranberries on top.

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Bake in preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean or with one or two tender crumbs.

Let cake cook completely, dust with powdered sugar (optional), and serve with whipped cream.

Due to the juiciness of the pears and cranberries, this cake is still moist on the second and third days, if it isn’t all eaten before then.

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(As if by magic, the cake rises over the pears and cranberries that were on top prior to baking)

Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits

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Hello, WordPress! How have you all been? Well, I hope. I certainly haven’t intentionally ignored my blog and all of the great blogs I follow for the past two months (more like several months), but I’ve been rather busy. My summer was full of anniversaries, reunions, vacations, weddings, parties, barbeques, volunteering, and working. It seems like just last week I couldn’t decide how to spend my 4th of July so it’s a bit hard to believe that Halloween is in two days! Where has the time gone? Summer is practically just a memory.

With weather that’s more and more rainy and cloudy it’s nice to think back on the warm days of summer and all of the exceptional, seasonal fruit and veggies that were practically spilling out of my refrigerator. While it would be almost impossible to choose a favorite summertime vegetable, corn is definitely at the top of my list. While corn on the cobb, lightly boiled, with the tiniest bit of butter and salt is delicious, every now and then corn just begs to be added to entrees. In particular, I found the bright, fresh flavor of corn to be a fantastic addition to rich, thick, hearty grits.

(Good) fresh corn may be a bit hard to come by this time of year, but thinking of this dish makes me nostalgic for summer and I look forward to 8 or 9 months from now when fresh corn is in abundance. If you happen to have the hookup on fresh corn on the cobb, definitely consider this recipe. Otherwise you just might have to wait until next summer. But trust me, the wait will be worth it.

Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits

Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 3 ears of corn, husked
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¾ cup grits (not instant)
  • 1 cup shredded, sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons minced, fresh oregano
  • ½ teaspoon paprika and a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1½ pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left intact
  • Chopped fresh chives (for garnish)

Grate 2 ears of corn on the large holes of a box grater over a medium bowl, catching as much juice as possible; set aside. Cut kernels from remaining ear of corn into another medium bowl; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring broth, milk, and 1½ cups water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and gradually add the grits (whisk constantly as you add the grits). Cook for 20-25 minutes uncovered, stirring often (every few minutes). Mix in cheese, butter, and grated corn. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once oil has heated, add garlic, paprika, and cayenne and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add fresh oregano and cook and additional 30 seconds. Add whole corn kernels and cook for 2 minutes before adding shrimp and cooking an additional 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve shrimp and corn over grits, topping with chives.

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Pasta Puttanesca (and The Protein and Dairy Debate)

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When people ask me what my favorite food is, I typically say “anything with seafood.” It can be French, Italian, Vietnamese, Peruvian, or virtually any other cuisine that serves seafood. Provided the food is cooked properly, it’s rare I come across fish of any kind I don’t love. What’s my second favorite seafood you might ask? Cheese 

I personally don’t mind when fish and cheese are combined. I view it as a marriage of two of my favorite foods. However, I know some Italian traditionalists may view it as a huge faux pas.

The Kitchn has a page on the great fish and cheese debate, and while it in no way resolves the issue, it does shed some light as to why it may be in place. In summary, some may argue cheese overpowers the delicate flavor of fish, great cheese making regions tend to be landlocked and traditionally don’t have as much access to fish, and historically, and it was forbidden in some religions to have protein and dairy.

When I initially found a recipe for Pasta Puttanesca (hardly a fish dish, but it does have anchovy in it), I read through comments and noticed people said any cheese garnish was a no-no. So would a purist shun the addition of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top? Maybe. Probably. But I thought it was a delicious finishing touch, although perhaps garnish at your own risk.  

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Pasta Puttanesca

Adapted from The NY Times

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 or more cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
  • 6 or more anchovy fillets
  • 1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pitted black olives, preferably oil-cured
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 1 heaping teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, more or less to taste
  • 1 pound linguine or other long pasta
  • Chopped fresh Italian Parsley, optional
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, optional

Bring pot of water to boil and salt it.

Meanwhile, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil with garlic and anchovies in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is lightly golden and anchovies have somewhat disintegrated into oil.

Drain tomatoes and crush with fork or hands (feel free to reserve the drained tomato juice for a Bloody Mary). Add to skillet, with some salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and mixture becomes saucy, about 10 minutes. Stir in olives, capers and red pepper flakes, and continue to simmer.

Cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until it is al dente. Drain quickly and toss with sauce and remaining tablespoon of oil. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary, garnish with herbs and Parmigiano Reggiano, if desired, and serve.

Sparkling Mint Lemonade

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A few months ago, completely sick of buying fresh herbs at the grocery store, I decided to take matters into my own hands and grow my own herbs. Now, that may sound like something relatively easy for the average person, as dirt, sun, and plants are all you need. Easier said than done when you live in an apartment with very little natural light and no outside space (besides a small front stoop).

After evaluating my options I decided to go with a pot hanging from the railing in front of my apartment entrance. So I headed to the nearest hardware store to get myself a planter, dirt, and herbs. I had a list of about 20 herbs I might want, but the selection was a bit lacking so I ended up settling on mint, basil, rosemary, sage, chives, thyme, and oregano.

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Sadly the size of the planter isn’t very conducive to growing huge plants. I won’t be plucking cup after cup of basil to make copious amounts of pesto but for the most part it has been fulfilling my needs. I ended up being rather impressed by the fact that I was able to harvest almost a cup of mint.

While lemonade is the quintessential summer beverage, every now and then I think it needs a bit more flavor. The addition of any kind of berry is highly recommended and while I’ve enjoyed both rosemary as well as basil lemonade, the addition of mint is incredibly refreshing and most certainly my favorite. Swapping still water for sparkling also makes this a bit more festive and if you feel compelled to add a bit of vodka, I most certainly wouldn’t judge (and would most likely encourage it).

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Sparkling Mint Lemonade

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup fresh mint, ripped into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 cups plain, unflavored sparkling water
  • Vodka (optional)
  • Fresh mint leaves for garnish

Add 1 cup water, and torn mint leaves into a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, add sugar, and cook for a few seconds until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and leave at room temperature until cooled and basil has infused the simple syrup.

Strain mint syrup through a fine mesh sieve into a large pitcher. Add fresh lemon juice and sparkling water. Pour in as much vodka as desired. Enjoy!

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Loco for Loco Moco

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Every now and then I eat something where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Do I like rice, ground beef, egg, and gravy? Of course, but I can’t ever imagine going crazy over them individually, or a combination of some kind.

The first time I heard about loco moco (a mound of rice, topped with a ground beef patty and fried egg, which is smothered in gravy) I was rather underwhelmed. It sounded okay, but nothing I would go out of the way to try and something I didn’t see myself make. Then someone I went to brunch with ordered it and I fell head over heels in love with the dish. Runny egg yolk, rich beef gravy, starchy rice, and a seared beef patty are the perfect marriage. And it’s something that can be enjoyed any time of the day at either breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner.

When it comes to Loco Moco there are so many variations. One of my favorite local restaurants makes an exceptional version with the addition of Portuguese sausage, grits, and pineapple. Other establishments use fried rice instead of white rice and every now and then I come across a chunky, creamy sausage gravy instead of a broth based beef gravy. Are these variations all delicious? Yes, but there’s something about the original that I prefer, which is why I like to make mine as basic as possible.

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Loco Moco

Serves 2, recipe can easily be doubled or tripled

  • 1/2 cup white rice (brown rice is an alternative, but it’s just not the same)
  • 2/3 lb ground beef
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 cups beef stock or broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Scallions

Cook rice per package instructions.

Approximately 15 minutes before rice is done, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat (a cast iron skillet is perfect for this). Form ground beef into two patties. Season the outside liberally with salt and pepper. Once the pan is very, very hot, add the beef patties and cook 3-4 minutes then flip and cook another 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan. Turn down the burner heat to medium. Add butter to the same skillet and add finely minced shallot and cook for a few minutes just until softened. Add flour and cook for 2 more minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Add broth, stir, and continue to cook until thickened.

Meanwhile in another pan, fry eggs (you could poach them if you were so inclined). I like my eggs nice and runny.

To assemble dish, place a scoop of rice in a wide bowl, top with a beef patty, fried egg, and pour in gravy. Garnish with chopped scallions.

Enjoy!