Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Goat Cheese and Olive-Caper-Pepper Relish

A couple Saturdays ago we were making scrambled eggs for breakfast, and while we weren’t looking, Levi grabbed the cumin from the spice rack, unscrewed the top, and sprinkled some into the eggs. It threw me off (though I was thankful he chose the cumin over the cinnamon). Dustin ran with it. He added some chopped kalamata olives, onions, peppers, and tomatoes and called it a Mediterranean scramble. Then he served it over toasted pita bread spread with goat cheese. Brilliant. Thanks, Levi, for unintentionally (or intentionally?) pointing us in the direction of an awesome breakfast.

Last summer we grilled portobello mushrooms and filled them with goat cheese, fresh tomatoes, and basil. We thought they would be pretty hard to beat. The weekend after the Mediterranean scramble incident, we filled the same umami-packed mushroom caps with goat cheese and a relish made from capers, olives, grilled red peppers, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. The flavors are reminiscent of a Muffaletta sandwich, but a vegetarian version; the portobellos, of course, standing in for the cold cuts. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the combination of capers and olives and how their brininess brightens up grilled meats, seafood, pasta dishes, and in this case, grilled mushrooms. Before grilling them, I added a few dashes of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, just to add a little depth of flavor.

While the weather is still nice, and the grill is accessible, try this meatless meal that boasts of bright flavors and easy preparation (make the relish ahead of time!) And make sure your spice lids are screwed on tight if you have a toddler accompanying you in the kitchen 😉

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Goat Cheese & Caper-Olive-Red Pepper Relish

(Inspired by Levi’s addition to our scrambled eggs, and the “Vegetarian Muffaletta Wraps” in the book The Fifth Taste – Cooking with Umami; Serves 3-4 – we had some extra filling after stuffing our 3 mushrooms)

3 large portobello mushrooms
Olive oil for brushing
Worcestershire sauce
Soy sauce
Salt & Pepper
1/2 a small red bell pepper
1/4 cup roughly chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup roughly chopped Spanish olives with pimentos
1 1/2 tsp. minced capers
2 tsp. minced fresh parsley
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. soft, fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

  • Prepare a charcoal grill for low-medium heat (by controlling the vents to allow the coats to die down).
  • Twist the stems off the portobello mushrooms and scrape the gills out using a butter knife or spoon, discarding stems and gills. Brush or drizzle the mushrooms on both sides with olive oil, a splash of soy sauce, and a splash of Worcestershire. Set aside.
  • Remove the seeds and ribs from the bell pepper half and brush or drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  • In a medium bowl, toss together the olives, capers, parsley, garlic, oregano, and olive oil to combine.
  • When the grill is ready, grill the red bell pepper until blistered and soft. Remove from grill, cool slightly and roughly chop. Add to olive-caper mixture.
  • Grill the portobello mushrooms gill-side down for 5-7 minutes and until nice grill marks form. Flip so they are cap-side down and continue to cook for several more minutes or until almost tender. Carefully spoon some goat cheese into each mushroom cap and spread  into a thin layer. Spoon the olive-caper-pepper relish on top of the goat cheese. Cover the grill and cook until the mushrooms are tender and the filling is warmed, about 2 minutes.

Baked Eggs in Puff Pastry with Goat Cheese & Bacon

I love brunch, but since going out to eat involves taking turns chasing an active toddler around the restaurant, we prefer to make it at home, or better yet, make our favorite brunch dishes for dinner. For this Blogger’s Choice recipe swap (hosted by A Taste of Home Cooking), I was really excited to be assigned the blog The Jey of Cooking. I used the same decision-making tactic that I did for the previous blogger’s choice recipe swap and went straight to Jey’s Eleven Favorite Recipes for 2011, because I really wanted to make a recipe that was a top favorite in her home.

Second on that list, these baked eggs in puff pastry stood out to me. I was craving some sort of breakfast/brunch-for-dinner and this sounded perfect. The versatility of the dish also appealed to me. Jey used cheddar cheese and bacon in her baked eggs; the original recipe called for feta and prosciutto. We decided to use goat cheese (because we had some in the fridge to use up) and made half with prosciutto and half with El Salchichero‘s chorizo bacon (one of our favorites – I raved about it in this salad). When you cut into these flaky, buttery puff pastry “plates,” you find the cheese and the meat under the egg; bacon hidden in anything is a delightful surprise. I served our baked eggs in puff pastry with some roasted asparagus and a mixed greens salad, and Dustin picked out a bottle of this Saison that paired wonderfully with the whole meal.

I need to digress on baking eggs. I’m still waiting to get them right. My first attempt was for this Shakshuka recipe, and while it was delicious, the eggs were definitely overcooked. This time, guess what, I undercooked them, so I had to throw them back in the oven for a few minutes and they were still not as crispy and done as I had desired. I swear one of these days I’ll get it! Or perhaps I’ll just cheat and lay a fried egg on top of whatever called for a baked one. When I make these again, I’ll increase the initial baking of the puff pastry with the cheese and bacon, and also after cracking the eggs into them. I think this will result in a more golden puff pastry crust and a more perfectly cooked egg. The cooking times below reflect the original recipe, and I’m just going to blame my oven in the meantime 🙂

Happy brunch-ing or brinner-ing – whether you make it for breakfast for dinner, you’ll love this dish. Try it with a glass of Saison!

Please note – these pictures were taken before I realized that the whites were still slightly undercooked and that the puff pastry could use a bit more browning. Back into the oven they went, but by the time they were done, I was too hungry for another round of pictures 🙂

Baked Eggs in Puff Pastry with Goat Cheese & Bacon

(Slightly adapted from The Jey of Cooking; Originally from I Will Not Eat Oysters)

2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted*
goat cheese
2 slices prosciutto + 2 slices chorizo bacon (or regular bacon)
4 large eggs
2 TBS. Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh parsley, chopped for garnish

*We were able to get four circles out of one puff pastry sheet

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Heat a large pan on med-high heat and drizzle a little olive oil into the pan. Cook the prosciutto (followed by the bacon) on both sides until crisp. Place on a paper towel to drain off any excess fat. Cool, then crumble and set aside.
  • Using a a bowl about 5″ in diameter, cut out 4 circles from the puff pastry. Transfer to the baking sheet. Score a border about 1/2″ in around each circle. Be sure to not cut all the way through! Prick the inside, not the border, with a fork. Place in the fridge for 15 minutes.

  • Fill each puff pastry center with dollops of goat cheese and top with crumbled prosciutto and/or bacon, making sure there is none on the border.

Bake for 8 minutes or until the border has puffed up. Press the center down gently with the back of a spoon. Break an egg into a small bowl then pour it into the center of the “plate”. Repeat for each egg. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Place them back into the oven for another 6-7 minutes until the whites of the eggs are set and the puff pastry is golden. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Endive and Apple Salad with Warm Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Salad for dinner may conjure up images of summer evenings, but this one is about as wintry as you can get, and (dare I say) just as comforting as a bowl of soup. Endive cooked in butter becomes nutty and caramelized, pairing perfectly with sautéed apples, baked walnut-encrusted goat cheese, fresh baby spinach leaves, and a sweet-slightly tart pomegranate vinaigrette. We loved the juxtaposition of warm goat cheese, apples, and endive with the cool spinach and the pop of fresh pomegranate seeds. It’s everything you want in a dinner salad, with winter flair. Since we are traveling the day after Christmas to spend time with family, and probably won’t get a chance to post until the new year, we’ll leave you with this festive salad as a way to say Merry Christmas and Happy 2012!! We look forward to the coming year, when we will celebrate our blog’s 5th anniversary (crazy)! There is also a little family venture that’s been brewing that we will reveal soon . Thanks, readers (whoever you are; I love finding out who is actually following along!) What’s your wish for the new year? See you then!

Endive and Apple Salad with Warm Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

(From the Oct/Nov 2011 issue of Fine Cooking; Serves 4)

1 cup pomegranate juice
6 oz. goat cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts*
3 TBS. butter
2 large Belgian endives, halved lengthwise with core left intact, each half cut lengthwise into 4 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 firm, medium-sweet apples (like Fuji or Honeycrisp), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3 cups)
1 medium shallot, finely diced (about 3 TBS.)
1 TBS. cider vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
6 TBS. extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. (4 lightly packed cups) baby spinach
1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)**
2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives***

* We used walnuts instead.
** Optional, yes, but they look so pretty, don’t they? And they add a refreshing pop to the salad.
*** Our store was out of chives, so I omitted these.

  • Position a rack in the center of an oven and heat to 425°F.
  • In a small saucepan over high heat, reduce the pomegranate juice to about 1/4 cup (it should be syrupy), about 15 minutes (mine took about 12).
  • Meanwhile, mash the goat cheese in a small bowl with a fork until smooth (I must have used a dryer goat cheese because it didn’t mash well. I skipped this step and went straight to forming it into rounds). Form the cheese into four 2-inch-diameter rounds. Put the hazelnuts (or walnuts) on a small plate and press the goat cheese rounds into the nuts on all sides to coat. Transfer the cheese to a small baking sheet and bake until the nuts brown and the cheese softens, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • While the goat cheese bakes, melt 2 TBS. of the butter in a 12-inch heavy-duty skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the endives flat in the pan (they’ll fit snugly), sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper, and cook, undisturbed, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook until the other side starts to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a large plate.
  • Melt the remaining 1 TBS. butter in the skillet, add the apples and shallot, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt and cook, shaking the pan often, until the apples start to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Transfer the pomegranate juice to a medium bowl. Add the vinegar, mustard, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper; whisk until combined. Gradually whisk in the oil and season with more salt and pepper to taste.
  • In a large bowl, toss the spinach and apples with half of the vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange the endives on 4 large serving plates, top  with a mound of the spinach mixture, and then the goat cheese. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette. Serve.

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas and Feta

When the December issue of Bon Appetit introduced me to shakshuka, a popular dish in Israel, it screamed comfort to me. You crack eggs over a simmering aromatic tomato sauce, seasoned with paprika, cumin, jalapeño, and garlic, and then transfer the skillet to the oven for them to poach. Chickpeas add substance, crumbled feta adds creaminess, and chopped cilantro adds brightness. Place the hot skillet (carefully) in the middle of the table and dig in with pita bread for dipping. If you succeed in poaching the eggs just right, the whites will be set and the yolks will be nice and runny. I was not so successful. After the suggested 5-8 minutes of cooking time, my whites were still clear, so I let them go a little longer and then they overcooked. Alas. It was still delicious, however, and I’ve been blogging long enough to feel comfortable admitting my screw-up. The next morning I redeemed myself. I fried two eggs (perfectly over easy, I might add – I’m more comfortable cooking eggs in a pan than in the oven) and placed them over the leftover tomato sauce/chickpea/feta mixture. Amazing. There are not many meals that I’d gladly eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but this is one of them.

The holidays can be a time of stress, whether it’s menu planning for your first Christmas dinner, braving the crowds downtown to find the perfect sweater for uncle so-and-so, or entertaining last minute out-of-town guests. Or in my case, maybe you have a 20 month old who can go from being the sweetest boy in the world to screaming at the top of his lungs when Mommy decides it’s time to leave the children’s section of the bookstore to pay for our books. In the midst of this kind of week, may I suggest this meal as a quick (and more importantly, comforting) weeknight dinner. In 30 minutes it can be on your table, and as soon as you tear off that first piece of pita and dip it into the bubbling sauce, you’ll be reminded of what matters. There is good food to be had. And look at the people sitting around your dinner table – you’re truly lucky to have them. Looking at my own (grown-up) baby reminds me of that baby in a manger, oh so long ago, who embodied love and grace for the world; I don’t know about you, but I could sure use some of that right about now.

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas and Feta

(From the December 2011 issue of Bon Appetit)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 jalapeños, seeded, finely chopped
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, juices reserved*
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely crumbled feta
8 large eggs**
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Warm pita bread

*I used one 15 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, and one 15 oz. can of Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes (had to make use of what was in my pantry).

**For the 3 of us (yes, Levi actually counts as a whole person now when it comes to serving sizes), I used 5 eggs. I kept the amount of tomato sauce the same, even though the original recipes says it serves 4-6. It makes wonderful leftovers, and you can always fry an egg (or 2) the next morning and place it on top of the sauce.

  • Preheat oven to 425°. Heat oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and jalapeños; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Add chickpeas, paprika, and cumin and cook for 2 minutes longer.
  • Add crushed tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle feta evenly over sauce. Crack eggs one at a time and place over sauce, spacing evenly apart. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, 5–8 minutes. Garnish with parsley and cilantro. Serve with pita for dipping..

Grilled Sriracha “Poppers”

Remember when I confessed how much I love onion rings? Well there’s one appetizer that I’m even less likely to turn down if I see it on a menu – Jalapeño Poppers. Just like the rings, I wanted to make a version at home that was a little healthier and wasn’t deep-fried. I’d been eyeing a Jalapeño Popper recipe in The Sriracha Cookbook that uses a mixture of cream cheese, Sriracha (naturally), grated Monterey Jack cheese, and cumin for the filling. It sounded so much more exciting than the usual cream cheese, so we decided to use the kicked-up filling, but throw them on the grill instead of breading and frying.

After a couple minutes over direct heat, and a few minutes more on indirect heat, the jalapeños were perfectly charred on the bottoms and the zesty, cheesy filling was happily bubbling. We loved them and didn’t even miss the fried coating. Even Levi ate these poppers voraciously! Apparently at almost 16 months, his heat tolerance level is getting higher. Good boy! If you have leftover filling, it’s awesome on a toasted bagel for breakfast.

Grilled Sriracha “Poppers”

(Adapted from The Sriracha Cookbook; Serves 4-6 as an appetizer/snack)

12 medium to large-sized jalapeños
7 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 TBS. Sriracha
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 tsp. cumin
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
Olive oil for the grill

  • Prepare a charcoal grill.
  • Wash the jalapeños and pat dry. Cut off the stems and cut in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to gently scrape out the seeds and membranes. Arrange jalapeño halves on a large platter.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, Sriracha, Monterey jack cheese, and cumin and mix well. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
  • Fill each jalapeño half with the cream cheese filling.
  • When the coals are ready, oil the grill grates. Using tongs, carefully place the Jalapeño Poppers in the center of the grill. Cook for a few minutes, or until the bottoms of the jalapeños just begin to char. Move the poppers to the edge of the grill so that they can continue to cook over more indirect heat for about 5 minutes more. When the jalapeños are soft, the cream cheese filling is bubbling, and the tops are turning golden, they are ready!
  • Transfer to a serving platter. Try not to burn your mouth because they’ll look so good, you’ll want to pop one in your mouth right away.

More Poppers, Please!

Goat Cheese, Tomato & Basil Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

I failed to produce a grocery list before we entered the store last Sunday. Luckily, the order in which we strolled through the produce section determined the menu. It was hard to miss the pile of huge portobello mushrooms, dwarfing the other fungi varieties around them. We decided that their savory, rich umami flavor would make them a perfect alternative to meat on this particular evening and make them a good match for a charcoal grill. Now that we had our blank canvas to work with, we just needed to decide what to put inside their vast caps. The smell of fresh basil wafting from behind us got our attention and into the cart went a beautiful verdant bunch. Levi tried to grab it as it went in; the smell must have captivated his little senses as well. Next, my eyes were drawn to a stunning heirloom tomato, the colors of an orange and yellow sunset. Even though the classic combination of caprese was becoming our inspiration, we decided to deter a little and use a soft goat cheese called fromage blanc instead of fresh mozzarella.

Every bite of these stuffed charcoal-grilled portobello mushrooms was bright and summery, with that underlying rich portobello flavor. On the side I made a simple rice pilaf and a spinach salad with sliced white peaches.

Goat Cheese, Tomato & Basil Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

(Adapted from My Recipes)

2 portobello mushrooms
balsamic vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
1 large heirloom tomato
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 TBS. chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
your favorite soft goat cheese, such as fromage blanc
a couple handfuls of baby spinach leaves

  • Prepare a charcoal grill.
  • Using a spoon, scrape the brown gills out of the mushroom caps. Discard gills. Remove and discard stems. Place mushroom caps on a large plate and drizzle both sides with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  • In a small bowl, toss the chopped tomato with the garlic, fresh basil & oregano, and a little splash each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.
  • Place mushroom caps, stem-side down on an oiled grill grate and grill for about 5 minutes on each side, or until soft.
  • Fill the caps with a few spoonfuls of goat cheese and spread so that it covers the bottom of the mushroom caps evenly. Lay a small handful of baby spinach leaves on top of the goat cheese, followed by a few spoonfuls of the tomato mixture. Cover and grill for 3 minutes more. Remove from grill and transfer to plates. Sprinkle with a little more chopped basil and serve.

Grilled Halloumi with Rosemary-Grape-Walnut Relish & Garlic Bread

Here we are in the heart of grilling season. There are a lot of enticing recipes out there – most of which revolve around meat – but I’m going to share something a little different, and if you’re a cheese-lover like me, you are sure to get excited about this one. It’s a cheese plate on the grill! A grilling cheese like halloumi or yanni can withstand the heat of the grill without melting. It softens nicely on the inside, and appealing golden grill marks form on its exterior. The creamy, slightly salty taste is a brilliant match for the sweet rosemary-grape-walnut relish and the the rustic, grilled garlic bread. The relish gets a delicious sweet, smoky flavor from cooking the bunch of grapes directly on the grill (I bet you’ve never grilled grapes before!) The garlic bread adds a nice savory counterpoint. Try this as an appetizer at your next BBQ, or as a dinner in itself (as we did) served with a salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Dining al fresco makes it taste even better.

Grilled Halloumi with Rosemary-Grape-Walnut Relish & Garlic Bread

(From the June/July 2011 issue of Fine Cooking)

1 medium red onion, cut into 3 to 4 thick slices
2 Tbs. plus 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 oz. halloumi cheese, cut into 3/8-inch-thick slabs (we used Yanni, a Mediterranean grilling cheese)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small loaf of ciabatta (about 8 oz.),cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 large bunch seedless black or red grapes (about 1-1/4 lb.)
2 to 3 tsp. balsamic vinegar

  • Prepare a charcoal or (high) gas grill.
  • Drizzle the onion slices with 2 tsp. of the oil and lightly season them with salt and pepper.
  • Pat the cheese dry and drizzle with 2 tsp. of the oil.
  • In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2 Tbs. of oil, the garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper; brush the mixture evenly over one side of the bread slices.
  • Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Coarsely chop the walnuts while still hot and transfer them to a medium bowl. Mix in the rosemary.
  • Place the onion slices and the bunch of grapes on the grill. Cover and grill, turning once, until the grapes are bursting and the onions are grill marked, about 10 minutes. Transfer the grapes to the bowl with the walnuts, and the onions to a cutting board.
  • Use tongs to pull the grapes from their stems as well as crush them one by one before dropping them into the bowl with the walnuts & rosemary. Chop the grilled onions and add them to the bowl. Season to taste with the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Set relish aside.
  • Clean and oil the grill grate. Place the bread and cheese on the grate and grill uncovered, turning once, until there are nice grill marks on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Divide the bread, cheese, and relish among 4 plates (if enjoying as an appetizer) or 2 plates (as a main dish) and enjoy immediately. A lighter bodied red wine pairs wonderfully with this meal.

And yes, I’m aware of the sippy cup in the background of our pictures. “You know you’re food blogger-mom when …”

Feta Baked in Olive Oil with Marinara, Red Onions & Oregano and a Simple Chickpea Salad

It’s the end of a long day, and you want a simple meal that brings you back to a happy time and place; Something like softened feta cheese bathing in bubbling-hot olive oil, accompanied by crusty bread. When we first made this baked feta, we were re-creating an appetizer that we enjoyed in a dimly-lit taverna on the first night of our honeymoon in Santorini. You place a block of feta in a baking dish, pour olive oil over it, scatter some chopped onions, peppers, and tomatoes (when in season), season with salt, pepper, and oregano, and let it bake until the oil is bubbling and the cheese is softened. So simple. Then you spoon the hot cheese, olive oil, and vegetables over your slices of bread and try not to burn your mouth as all those simple ingredients come together in one delicious bite after another.

On this night we had some jarred marinara sauce to use up, so we decided to spoon it around the feta before baking. It ended up being a great addition, and a good substitution for the fresh tomatoes we used in the original version. We also added some fresh chopped oregano and red pepper flakes on the top, which added beautiful color and bright flavor.

I wanted something cool to accompany this hot appetizer and turn it into a more substantial meal, so I tossed together some canned chickpeas, baby spinach, sliced red onion, grated carrot, fresh oregano, and crumbled feta (to echo the flavors in the main dish), and then dressed it with a simple lemon vinaigrette. The baked feta and the salad were a great combination and a comforting dinner. Bring a little piece of the Greek Islands into your home with this dish and allow it to comfort you. What comforts you at the end of a long day?

Feta Baked in Olive Oil with Marinara, Red Onions & Oregano

(Serves 2)

1 block of feta
extra virgin olive oil
jarred marinara sauce
red onion, diced
fresh oregano, chopped
salt & freshly ground black pepper
red pepper flakes

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the feta in a shallow baking dish. Pour olive oil on and around the feta so that it almost covers the feta, but leaves the top of it exposed. Add spoonfuls of marinara sauce around the feta, on top of the oil. Scatter the onion and fresh oregano on top. Season with a little salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Bake until the oil is bubbling and cheese is softened, about 20 minutes. Serve with sliced crusty bread.

Simple Chickpea Salad

1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
a couple handfuls of baby spinach
a couple handfuls of grated carrot
some crumbled feta
chopped fresh oregano
juice of 1 small lemon
olive oil
agave nectar
salt & freshly ground black pepper

  • Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, a few good drizzles of olive oil, a drizzle of agave nectar (or honey) for sweetness, and salt & pepper to taste. Toss everything together. Taste, and adjust seasonings if necessary. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. Better yet, make the salad as the feta is baking so the flavors can really meld.

Ravioli Soup with Carrots, Kale & Parmesan

It’s spring in Santa Cruz, which means we flip flop between hot days that draw us outside to beaches and parks, and cold days that beckon us back inside for comforting meals like soup. The latter inspired this meal.

When Levi is enjoying what he’s eating, he makes this cute little humming sound. Using that as a gauge, he loved this soup, which makes me happy.  It’s really easy to throw together on a weeknight, and is packed with nutrition from the vegetables. We found this really good fresh ravioli (made by Santa Cruz Pasta Factory) that’s filled with herbs, green onion, and Nicolau Farms farmstead goat cheese. My father-in-law sells goat cheese for them so he’ll be particularly pleased by this mention 🙂

If the spring weather can’t make up its mind where you live, you’ll find this soup to be just what you need!

Ravioli Soup with Carrots, Kale & Parmesan

2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, diced
a generous pinch of Herbes de Provence
1 quart organic chicken broth
1 bunch of kale (we used red curly kale, but any kind will do), thick stems removed, greens roughly chopped
12 oz. fresh ravioli (we used an herb, green onion, and goat cheese variety)
salt & pepper to taste
a big handful of grated Parmesan + more for sprinkling on top

  • Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrots, garlic, celery and Herbes de Provence. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until vegetables soften a bit and onion becomes translucent.
  • Add the broth and the kale. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook, stirring once or twice, until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Taste and add salt & pepper to taste.
  • Add ravioli and an additional cup of water. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, according to package instructions. Our ravioli cooked for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Stir in the Parmesan. Divide between bowls and top with additional Parmesan. Serves 4.

Sweet Potato, Swiss Chard & Feta Galette {made with teff flour}

Confession: I have an irrational fear of working with dough. There’s so much that could go wrong – I could add too much water; It might not come together correctly; It could get too warm to work with; It could stick to the rolling pin and tear, etc. And yet I know that both my husband and I are very detail-oriented people, and also very good at following directions, and so, of course, our dough always turns out fine. All that worrying for nothing.

This savory galette was inspired by the “sweet potato, swiss chard, and feta tart in a teff crust” in Fine Cooking. We don’t have a tart pan, so a nice, rustic galette seemed like the way to go. Teff is a grain that we’d never heard of before. Did you know it’s the smallest grain in the world? It’s also naturally gluten free (note: this recipe is not, as it is combined with regular flour), and it has a nutty flavor that (according to Fine Cooking’s article) is reminiscent of hazelnuts to some and artichokes to others. Interesting! We found the former to be true. This galette’s interior was filled with a delicious sweet & savory combination of roasted sweet potato, swiss chard sautéed in garlic, caramelized onions, and salty feta, which all went beautifully with the buttery, nutty crust that reminded us of either a really good biscuit or a perfect shortbread cookie — or a combination of both!

We probably could have trimmed off a little of our dough before folding it over the filling, as it covered up more of the middle than we envisioned. I guess the amount of dough needed for a crust is more than you need for a galette. Live and learn! I also found some guidance on Smitten Kitchen for the cooking time and temperature for a galette, as well as how to assemble it.

You should head to your nearest natural foods’ store and check out the bulk section. If you see teff flour, try it out and add a new grain to your repertoire!

Sweet Potato, Swiss Chard, and Feta Galette

(Adapted from this tart in Fine Cooking. Serves 4, or 2 with leftovers for breakfast or lunch)

For the Dough:
5-1/2 oz. (1 cup) teff flour
4-1/2 oz. (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. table salt
6 oz. (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces*
4 to 5 Tbs. ice water

* We used salted butter and added a little less salt than indicated

For the Filling:
1 large sweet potato
3 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled, halved, and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Kosher salt
1 1/2 TBS.  balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large bunch Swiss chard, thick stems removed, greens roughly chopped
6 oz. feta, crumbled
Crushed red pepper flakes
1 large egg
Freshly ground black pepper

  • In a food processor, combine both flours and the salt. Pulse until combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas. Sprinkle 4 TBS. of the ice water over the flour mixture and pulse until the dough just comes together. If it seems too dry, add tiny amounts of the remaining water until the dough comes together. Transfer dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap, and using it as an aid, form dough into a thick disc. Wrap it in the plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 min. to an hour.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the sweet potato and poke it a few times with a fork. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast until you can pierce it with a fork. Cool, peel, and cut into a 3/4 inch dice.
  • While the potato is roasting, heat 2 TBS. of the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until they soften and develop nice dark-brown charred spots, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until they caramelized, about 10 minutes more. Add 1/2 TBS. balsamic vinegar and cook until it glazes the onions. Transfer onions to a small bowl and wipe out the skillet.
  • Heat the remaining 1 TBS. of olive oil in the skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and just beginning to color, 1 to 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, add the chopped chard and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring, until chard is completely wilted, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining 1 TBS. balsamic vinegar over the chard and toss it until the vinegar cooks away, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl.
  • Add the diced sweet potatoes to the large bowl, as well as about three-quarters of the cheese, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Toss gently. In a small bowl, whisk the egg with a little pinch of salt and pepper and add to the bowl as well. Mix together.
  • Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Unwrap and roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. Spread filling over the middle of the dough, leaving a border (ours was a little wide; ideal would be leaving 1 1/2 inches). Scatter the caramelized onions on top of the filling, as well as a little more cheese. Fold the border over the filling, making little pleats in the dough to make it fit; leave the center of the galette open.
  • Bake galette at 400 degrees until the crust is done and the cheese on top is nicely browned, about 30 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, then transfer to a serving plate. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature (aka it’s ready when you are! awesome!) Add a simple salad and you have a well-rounded vegetarian meal!

Ultimate Sriracha Burger

If you go through the Rooster Sauce bottle as often as we do, then you probably know that they recently came out with a Sriracha Cookbook, and in it you will find a variety of recipes ranging from “Srirachili con carne” & bacon-Sriracha cornbread to peach-Sriracha sorbet. This stuff is versatile!  (Photo from

They weren’t kidding about this Ultimate Sriracha Burger (don’t be turned off by the heart attack warning that prefaces the recipe in the book). This thing was intense. We planned a special “Sriracha dinner night” with our friends because this burger definitely warranted company! Let me break it down for you – a buttery broiche bun, grilled grass-fed beef patty seasoned with Sriracha and soy sauce, bacon, caramelized onions (caramelized in the bacon fat!! yum!), nutty swiss cheese, peppery arugula, tomato, and a (not so) secret (anymore) sauce of tangy blue cheese dressing mixed with Sriracha. Good luck getting your mouth around it, but when you do, the flavors come together brilliantly. The Sriracha really packs a punch, but not an overwhelming punch. The extra “secret sauce” just cries out for sweet potato fries to be dipped into it, which is just what we did!

I can’t believe the weather we had last weekend. Here we were in February, grilling burgers in the backyard on Superbowl Sunday, wearing shorts and flip flops, while so much of the country is blanketed in snow! It seems unfair, but we embraced it. Earlier in the day we picked up a growler of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Amber – a refreshing match for these zesty burgers.

Ultimate Sriracha Burger

(Adapted from The Sriracha Cookbook; Makes 4 burgers with extra “special sauce”)

1 1/2 lbs. ground grass-fed chuck
2 TBS. soy sauce
5 TBS. Sriracha, divided
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 slices thick cut bacon
1 large sweet onion
3/4 cup blue cheese dressing
4 brioche buns
4 thick slices Swiss cheese
1 tomato, sliced
several handfuls of arugula

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, soy sauce, 2 1/2 TBS. of the Sriracha, and the pepper. Be careful not to overmix. Form the mixture into 4 patties, and set aside, on a parchment-lined plate, covered, in the refrigerator.
  • Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium high heat.In a medium frying pan over medium-low heat, cook the bacon, turning as necessary. While the bacon is cooking, peel and quarter the onions. Cut each section into 1/4-inch slices. Once the bacon is cooked through and slightly crispy, remove the slices from the pan, cut each in half crosswise, and drain onto paper towels, reserving the remaining bacon fat in the pan. Cook the sliced onions in the bacon fat over medium-low heat until they caramelize, 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Grill the burgers, turning once, 4 to 41/2 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer registers 130° to 135°F for medium-rare.
  • While the burgers are cooking, combine the blue cheese dressing with the remaining 2 1/2 TBS. Sriracha in a small bowl.
  • Lightly toast the buns on the grill during the last minute of cooking time.
  • Assemble the ultimate burger! Spread the blue cheese mixture on both halves of each hamburger bun. Stack a burger patty, slice of swiss cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, slice of tomato, and a small handful of arugula between each hamburger bun. Devour (not saying it’s easy)!

Turkey & Black Bean Quesadillas with Spicy Guacamole (and Thanksgiving ’10 Recap)

Bring on the Turkey leftovers!  Did everyone have a good Thanksgiving? We did too, but we didn’t get around to photographing all the food this year between taking turns holding a teething baby (both his top teeth are coming in right now and he’s less than thrilled about it) and cooking two of the vegetable side dishes. So regardless of the lack of pictures, here is a Thanksgiving recap:

My dad made his usual smoked turkeys like last year, and we snacked on spiced nuts and two varieties of cheese (an aged goat cheese and a cheddar). Once again, my brother provided some awesome beer to wash everything down. We had stuffing two ways – one with cornbread, and one with roasted lemon. There was the usual cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, beets, and butterflake rolls from Gayle’s Bakery, and we contributed roasted brussels with chanterelles and cream, and a sweet potato gratin. My mom made a fresh kale salad with pomegranate seeds and sliced persimmon. Lastly, my uncle Rick made four amazing pies for dessert: pumpkin, pecan, coconut cream, and “crack pie” — a recipe from Momofuku in New York. It’s an oat cookie crust with a filling mainly consisting of butter, brown sugar, and egg yolk. Here is the recipe that was featured in Bon Appetit. Yum.

Despite teething-fussiness, Levi enjoyed his first Thanksgiving! He even added beets to his food repertoire (delicata squash, butternut squash, yellow zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, pears, apples, bananas, rice cereal, and oatmeal cereal. He has also tried cinnamon and nutmeg). I can’t believe he’s 7 months old already!

My favorite thing about Thanksgiving turkey is the leftovers. When there’s so much on your plate, it’s hard to truly appreciate the turkey, but later in the week it can take center stage! We enjoyed our annual turkey sandwiches at the Christmas tree farm last Friday (we found the perfect little picnic spot in between the trees), then last night we thought that the smokiness of the turkey would pair well with black beans, so we decided to make turkey-black bean quesadillas with spicy guacamole.

Turkey & Black Bean Quesadillas with Spicy Guacamole

  • Combine 1 ripe avocado, 1 small clove of minced garlic, the juice of 1/2 a small lime (reserve the other half), and 1/2 a minced serrano chile in a small bowl. Mash and combine. Taste and season with salt & pepper. Set aside.
  • In a small sauce pan add 1 can of black beans, drained. Then jazz them up a bit — add whatever spices you want.  We added some cumin, chile powder, coriander, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt & pepper to taste. Add a splash of water, too. Heat, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, until beans are hot. Turn off the heat. Squeeze in the other half of your lime.
  • Assemble your quesadillas with flour tortillas, grated Monterey jack cheese, a few spoonfuls of black beans, and some leftover sliced Thanksgiving turkey. Cook in a skillet over medium high heat. When one side is nicely browned, flip and cook on the other side. Transfer to a cutting board and slice. Serve with spicy guacamole and a salad.

White Wine-Braised Chicken with Sweet Potatoes

Lately we’ve been enjoying comforting meals that require slow simmering on the stove top. Recipes like Lentil Soup, Black Bean Tortilla Soup, Chili Verde, and these braised chicken thighs are great for chilly fall days.  They give Levi and I a fun project during the afternoon, make the house smell amazing, and the best part is, when dinner time comes around, it’s already done! Braising the chicken makes it amazingly tender and flavorful. The sweet potato adds a nice sweetness to counteract the savory broth, seasoned with fresh herbs. Serve alongside rice pilaf to soak up the delicious sauce.

White Wine-Braised Chicken with Sweet Potatoes

3 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
dried oregano
2 small leeks (or 1 medium), trimmed and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 small handful of fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
cayenne pepper, to taste
onion powder, to taste
coriander, to taste

  • Season the chicken thighs on both sides with salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Heat 2 TBS. of oil over medium high heat in a large pot that has a lid. In batches (so as not to crowd the chicken), cook the thighs until they brown, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining thighs.
  • Add the remaining 1 TBS. of olive oil to the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Add the leek and garlic and sauté until the leek softens and is lightly browned. Add the bay leaf, sweet potatoes, and oregano and stir to combine.
  • Add the wine and stir, using a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan and get all the nice brown bits from cooking the chicken thighs. Add cayenne, onion powder, and coriander to taste (or whatever spice combination you desire at the moment). Season with a little more salt & pepper.
  • Place the chicken thighs back in the pot in a single layer. Add the chicken broth so that it just covers the chicken thighs. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the the chicken is fork-tender, about 45 min. to an hour. Discard the bay leaf. Serve with rice pilaf. Serves 3-4.

Orecchiette with Roasted Root Veggies, Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese

It’s that awkward time in between winter and spring where in an attempt to somehow magically control the weather, I wear dresses and flip flops, but end up freezing. Really, the reason I want it to get warmer is so I can wear dresses instead of maternity pants. But I can be patient. In the meantime, plum trees are blooming all over town and they’re beautiful and remind us of Japan. We can also take advantage of the last of the winter produce, like all those root vegetables that are crying out to be roasted until they’re sweet, nutty, and caramelized.

In this pasta, we simply toss orecchiette (I know it means “little ears”, but I like to call them “little hats”) with cubed roasted root vegetables (we used sweet potato, parsnips, carrots and beets but use whatever combination you like), pine nuts, and goat cheese, resulting in a hearty pasta with a touch of creaminess. Soon we’ll have fresh peas, asparagus, rhubarb, and fava beans galore, but until then, enjoy the flavorful vegetables in this dish!

Orecchiette with Roasted Root Veggies, Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese

a couple small golden beets with greens – beets peeled and cubed, and greens washed and roughly chopped
1 small sweet potato, cubed
a couple parsnips, cubed
1 carrot, cubed
a few cloves of garlic, unpeeled
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
a handful of pine nuts
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 lb. orecchiette pasta
1/2 cup chicken stock, warmed
soft goat cheese, crumbled to taste (we used a log of Cypress Grove goat cheese)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Give your beets about a 10 min. head start in the roasting process (they take a bit longer than the other vegetables): Place on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil. Season with some salt & pepper and throw in the oven (not literally).
  • While beets start roasting, toast the pine nuts in a large skillet, stirring frequently until fragrant and golden. Set aside. Place the other cubed root vegetables and the garlic cloves on another baking sheet and toss with olive oil. Season with a little salt & pepper. Place in the oven to join the beets. Roast until all veggies are tender and caramelized, 20-30 min (depending on how small they are cut), stirring once or twice during that time.
  • In the same skillet that you used for the pine nuts, sauté the beet greens in some olive oil until wilted. Season with a little salt & pepper, and squeeze half a lemon over them.
  • Get some water boiling for the orecchiette. Cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and add to the skillet with the beet greens.
  • When the veggies are ready, remove from oven. Pick out the garlic cloves, and peel and chop (when cool enough to handle). Transfer the roasted veggies to the skillet with the pasta and beet greens. Add the chopped roasted garlic. Gently toss everything together, adding a little chicken stock at a time to keep the pasta moist. Add the pine nuts and goat cheese (to taste) and gently mix in (it’s ok if the goat cheese melts. It makes the pasta nice and creamy). Divide among bowls with some Parmesan cheese on top, if desired. Serves 2-3.

Chorizo Mac & Cheese with Crispy Panko Topping

Who’s your favorite Food Network personality? For me, Alton Brown is up there on the list (next to Tyler Florence, but mostly because he’s cute). Alton’s show is entertaining, informative, and his food isn’t pretentious. I got his newest cookbook from my father-in-law for my birthday, Good Eats: The Early Years, and it’s packed with tons of recipes, as well as all that scientific explanation that goes along with them.

Last night we thought a baked mac & cheese would pair well with the 35 degree temperature outside, and I was anxious to use my new cookbook. We decided to add chorizo and a little cayenne pepper to Alton’s recipe (hopefully that wouldn’t offend him), and the result was a spicy mac & cheese with a little Mexican flare. The panko breadcrumbs on top added the perfect crunch. This recipe makes 6-8 servings, so you may want to halve it as we did unless you’re feeding a crowd. We ate our chorizo mac & cheese with some baked kale chips and a salad.

Alton Brown’s Mac & Cheese (+ Chorizo)

(From Good Eats: The Early Years)

1/3 lb. chorizo (bulk; no casings)
8 ounces (1/2 lb) elbow macaroni
(we used small shells, even though Alton says elbow is the best!)
3 TBS. butter
3 TBS. all-purpose flour
1 TBS. ground (powdered) mustard
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 cups milk
1 large egg
9 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

For the crispy topping:

3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
3 TBS. butter, melted
1 cup panko
(Japanese breadcrumbs – you know, the kind we use in everything)

  • Cook the chorizo in a pan over medium high heat, using a wooden spoon to break apart as its cooking. When done, set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until firm al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook until mixture is pale blond, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the mustard, paprika, cayenne, and onion. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking constantly, for 7 to 8 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.
  • Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl. Add a few ounces of the milk mixture and whisk to combine (this tempers the egg so it doesn’t curdle). Whisk the egg mixture back into the milk mixture. Stir in the cheese, 1 tsp. salt, and the pepper.
  • Fold in the macaroni, and then the cooked chorizo. Pour into a 4-quart casserole dish.
  • Top the casserole: sprinkle with remaining 3 ounces of cheese, then toss the breadcrumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle them over the cheese.
  • Bake for 30 minutes (broil for the last minute if the top isn’t as golden as you want it), cool for 5, and serve.

Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)

One bite of spanakopita from a little bakery in Santorini 4 years ago and we fell in love. Spinach and feta make a delicious savory filling, sandwiched between sheets of buttery phyllo dough (or if your store is out of it, as ours was, puff pastry makes a good substitute). We tried making spanakopita once in Japan, but the filling turned out a tad bland. This time we used the same recipe as a guide, but added some minced garlic and some extra salt & pepper. When cut into small squares, spanakopita makes the perfect appetizer since you can serve it either hot or at room temp.


(Adapted from the recipe in Modern Greek by Andy Harris)

10 oz. frozen spinach (or a little less than a pound of fresh spinach)
3 green onions, including green stems, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 egg, beaten
freshly ground back pepper
1 TBS olive oil
1 package of frozen puff pastry (containing 2 sheets), defrosted according to package instructions
melted butter (about 2-3 TBS)

  • Defrost the spinach in the microwave according to directions. If using fresh spinach, blanch in boiling water. Drain spinach thoroughly by placing in a kitchen towel and squeezing until no more liquid comes out. Roughly chop spinach. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
  • Add the green onion, garlic, feta, egg, salt & pepper, and olive oil to the bowl with the spinach. Mix well.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a baking dish that is roughly the same size as your puff pastry. Place one sheet of puff pastry in the bottom of the dish (it’s ok if some of the pastry drapes over the edge of the baking dish; just fold over and pinch like a pie crust). Brush with melted butter. Add the filling and spread evenly. Place the remaining puff pastry sheet on top. Brush with melted butter. Pinch the edges of the two sheets together.
  • Sprinkle a little water on top to prevent pastry from burning. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until top is golden brown. Slice into squares. Serve either hot or cold. Serves 3-4.

Sausage & Mushroom Penne Gratin

Last Monday was a drizzly day. The overcast sky and the crisp air meant a dinner that was warm, comforting, and (given my current cravings) cheesy. I had just gotten home from lunch with Nikita when we decided to flip through old Gourmet magazines for dinner inspiration (oh Gourmet, how we will miss you when you are gone!!! :() Nikita came across this recipe. It fit my criteria so off to the store I went to grab Italian sausage, mushrooms, cream, and fresh mozzarella. Dustin liked it and said it reminded him of stroganoff, one of his favorite meals. I loved how it tastes like it’s been baking for an hour, when really most of it is done on the stove top and it’s finished off under the broiler – all under 30 minutes. We ate our penne gratin with a salad of baby spinach, apples, and hazelnuts (a lovely fall combo I first had at my parents’ house the night before, but I loved it so much I recreated it). The recipe below serves 4-6. We halved it and still had enough leftovers for Dustin to take it for lunch two days in a row (lucky him). Try this recipe sometime this fall when you’re in need of something comforting and cheesy. And enjoy it with a glass of red wine for me, will you? 🙂

Sausage & Mushroom Penne Gratin

(From the November 2008 issue of Gourmet)

1 pound dried penne
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound sliced mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
8 ounces shredded whole-milk mozzarella, divided

  • Cook penne in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta and transfer to a flameproof 3-quart baking dish.
  • Preheat broiler.
  • Meanwhile, cook sausage in 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces, until no longer pink. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl, leaving fat in skillet.
  • Add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet along with mushrooms and garlic, then cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden, about 3 minutes.
  • Return sausage to skillet along with cream, reserved 1/2 cup cooking water, a rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and boil over high heat, stirring once or twice, until thickened, about 4 minutes.
  • Pour over pasta, then stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/2 cup mozzarella, and salt to taste. Spread evenly in baking dish and top with remaining mozzarella.
  • Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat until golden brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it so you don’t burn your cheese!
  • Serve with my new favorite salad: combine baby spinach leaves (or mixed greens) with a sliced apple, and a couple handfuls of roasted hazelnuts. Toss with a dressing of red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt & pepper. I also added a little agave syrup for sweetness.

Happy Easter! Part 4: Paskha

In our family, Easter is not Easter without this traditional Russian dessert. This version is made by heating buttermilk until it separates into curds and whey (yep, just like what Miss Muffet ate). Then the curds are combined with eggs, butter, sour cream, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest to create a delicious creamy mixture that’s poured into molds lined with cheese cloth. As a child I always looked forward to eating it for breakfast on Easter morning before church, and then again for dessert after Easter dinner. I loved watching it come out of its mold, and then helping decorate it with almonds and raisins, making the letters XB, which stand for Христос Воскресе (Xristos Voskrese), meaning Christ is Risen!


(Serves 12-16)

1 gallon buttermilk
zest of 2 lemons
2 eggs
2 cups sour cream
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
almonds, raisins, and/or edible flowers for decorating
special equipment: cheesecloth

Pour buttermilk into heavy 5-6 quart pan and warm over medium low heat, stirring once or twice until separated into curds and whey (about 20 minutes).

Line a fine mesh strainer (or colander) with 2 layers of cheesecloth, rinsed and squeezed dry.

Pour curds and whey through strainer. Let stand until curds stop dripping, 10-15 minutes.

Pick up the cheese cloth around the curds and squeeze to discard clear whey.

Tada! You have beautiful curd cheese made from buttermilk!

Combine the curds, lemon zest, eggs, sour cream, and vanilla bean seeds in a food processor. Process until very smooth. In the heavy pan, combine the butter and the sugar. Heat over low heat, stirring, until the butter melts. Add the processed mixture to the pan with the butter and sugar, and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Line several 3 small bowls or clay pots with 2 layers of cheesecloth.

Pour cheese mixture into containers.

Fold excess cloth over cheese. Transfer to refrigerator to chill for 6-24 hours.

Invert onto serving plate, decorate with almonds/raisins or edible flowers, and serve. Or chill up to 3 days.

Welsh Rarebit & Roasted Broccoli

Whether you say welsh rarebit or welsh rabbit, when Guinness Stout meets melted extra-sharp cheddar cheese, an irresistible open-faced sandwich is born. You might need a knife and a fork, but even if you tackle it with your hands, it’s well worth it and might even become your new favorite comfort food. I served this sandwich with some roasted broccoli spiked with chili flakes, because broccoli is one of those vegetables that has a great relationship with cheese. Enjoy this meal with a glass of Guinness, of course!

Welsh Rarebit (From the January 2009 issue of Food & Wine) and Roasted Broccoli

1 cup Guinness Stout
1 cup heavy cream
9 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3 cups)
4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 TBS. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. dry mustard
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 sweet baguette, halved lengthwise and cut into 8 pieces, toasted
2 small heads of broccoli
extra virgin olive oil
chili flakes

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees for the broccoli
  • In a small saucepan, boil the Guinness over high heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the cream and boil until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 4 minutes.
  • Scrape into a bowl and let cool to room temperature.
  • Meanwhile, cut the tough stems off of the broccoli and toss the florets with olive oil, salt, pepper and chili flakes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Stir with a spatula and continue roasting for 5 more minutes or just until starting to brown on the edges. Take broccoli out of the oven and set aside.
  • Turn off the oven and preheat the broiler.
  • To the Guinness-cream mixture, add the cheddar, egg yolks, Worcestershire sauce and dry mustard. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper.
  • Arrange the toasted baguette pieces on a large rimmed baking sheet. Spread the toasts with a 1/4-inch-thick layer of the cheddar mixture. Broil 4 inches from the heat for about 2 minutes, until the topping is bubbling and browned around the edges. Serve right away with the roasted broccoli. Serves 3-4.

Four-Cheese Mini Macs

Mmm, look at that cheese bubbling up around the edges … I can’t take the credit for this recipe, other than buttering the muffin tins and later eating the finished product, but I CAN rave about it so that’s what I’ll do! While I was working on my minted pea dip, my Mom was busy making these cute mini mac and cheeses, as another Oscar Night appetizer. In place of half of the American cheese, she decided to use a nice chunk of blue cheese, which promoted them from three-cheese mini macs to four-cheese mini macs. Even better. Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? If you want a crowd pleaser, you will need to try these! The recipe below reflects the changes made to the original recipe in Food & Wine Magazine. The recipe was doubled and it was perfect for 7 people as an appetizer. We also had lamb-meatballs that were to die for, but unfortunately they didn’t get photographed.

Four-Cheese Mini Macs
(From the December 2007 issue of Food & Wine)

1 pound elbow macaroni (or small shells)
3 TBS. butter, plus more for greasing pans
1/2 cup cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 TBS. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
8 ounces white cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
4 ounces deli-sliced American cheese
4 ounces blue cheese
2 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika

  • Preheat oven to 425°. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, shaking off the excess water.
  • Grease 4 mini-muffin pans (we had only one mini-muffin pan so we used one mini one and one regular sized one). Sprinkle with a 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano; tap out the excess.
  • In a large saucepan, melt the 3 TBS. of butter. Whisk in the flour over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking, until boiling, about 5 minutes. Add the cheddar, American, and blue cheeses and whisk until melted. Off the heat, whisk in the egg yolk and paprika. Fold in the macaroni.
  • Spoon slightly rounded tablespoons of the macaroni into the prepared muffin cups, packing them gently. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmigiano on top.

  • Bake the mini macs in the upper and middle thirds of the oven for about 10 minutes, until golden and sizzling. Let cool for 5 min­utes. Using a small spoon, carefully loosen the mini macs, transfer to a platter and serve, or simply put the muffin tins on the table and allow people to help themselves.

    (This recipe can be prepared through Step 4 and refrigerated overnight. How about that!?)