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    Baked Ditalini and Cheese

    There is nothing more comforting than a plate of “Mac and Cheese” well at least where I’m concerned. I was looking to update this old favorite adding a little twist to the standard dish. Finding the right mix of cheeses can be daunting specially when it comes to cheddar cheese as it tends to be oily when baked. I’ve found that Kerrygold Cheddar worked perfectly along with BelGioioso Gorgonzola and Mozzarella make for a great taste sensation. Instead of the usual elbow macaroni I used Ditalini for an added twist.

    You will need:

    Ditalini — One pound, dry.
    Milk — One quart. I used a 3 to 1 mix of milk and half and half but milk alone will do just fine. I wouldn’t add cream since it tends to make too rich and somewhat off putting.
    Flour — ¼ cup
    Butter (unsalted)— 5 TBSP
    Salt— 2 tsp
    You will be using the above 4 items to make a Bacic Bechamel Sauce
    Gorgonzola Cheese — 6 oz. crumbled
    Mozzarella Cheese — 6 oz. shredded
    Cheddar Cheese — 6 oz. shredded
    Bread Crumbs — 1 cup (I used Panko)
    Parmesan Cheese — ¼ cup shredded.

    In a large stock pot add at least 2 quarts of water, bring to a boil and add the pasta, cook according to package instructions. While the pasta cooks prepare the Bechamel. Once it starts to thicken incorporate the cheeses, one at a time, stirring at each addition until the cheese melts. Drain the pasta, do not rinse, fold the cooked pasta into the Bechamel/Cheese sauce until completely combined.

    Lightly butter a 9 x 13 baking dish/casserole, combine Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, pour the cheese mixture into the casserole dish and spread it out to an even thickness. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan/Panko mixture. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes, uncover and continue to back until the topping is a golden brown. Enjoy!

    Cream of Mushroom Soup

    I developed this recipe just recently due to the fact that I had several pounds of Miatake (Hen of the Woods) mushrooms. I was fortunate to live in an area adjacent to a woodland where I found a very large Miatake, 50 pound, clump. I used some fresh and dried the rest but never came up with an idea as to how or what to do with them.

    My aha moment came the other day when my local grocer had a good variety of dried mushrooms on sale. I picked up some Shitake, Wood Ear, Oyster and Porcini. I decided also to get some button mushrooms to add another layer of flavor. This recipe makes about a gallon of soup, I canned some and froze some it’s up to you.

    YOU WILL NEED:
    2 large shallots, finely diced, divided.
    2 oz each Dried Porcini, Shitake, Wood Ear and Oyster mushrooms.
    6 oz Dried Miatake mushrooms*.
    6 oz fresh button mushrooms.
    ¼ cup Port wine (separated).
    1 pint heavy cream or half and half.
    Olive Oil (enough to sauté mushrooms and shallots).
    Sea Salt, Pepper.

    PREPARATION:

    Put dried mushrooms in separate bowls, add enough warm water to cover them. Soak until they are pliable. Chop the Miatake into medium dice, they will be used as the base for the soup. In a large stock pot place chopped Miatake along with soaking liquid and enough warm water to cover. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Add the soaking liquid from the other mushrooms.

    Depending on the size of the button mushrooms cut in half or quarters. In a pan large enough to hold the mushrooms sauté half the shallots until translucent, add mushrooms and continue to cook until any water released has evaporated. Add half the port wine and set aside. The rest of the mushrooms do not let off a lot of liquid and usually to not shrink as much as the button so when you cut them take this into consideration. In a pan large enough to hold the balance of the mushrooms sauté the remaining shallot until translucent, add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until cooked through, add remaining port and set aside.

    Now we need to concentrate on the base stock. I’ve found that using a food processor doesn’t really do a good job in pureeing the mushroom stock. I use a blender for this step and do it in batches so as to insure that all of the base mushrooms are liquefied. Return the pureed stock to the stock pot and now is the time to season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cream to the stock and stir to combine. Bring back to a simmer and add the balance of the mushrooms stirring to combine. Readjust seasoning if needed, I added a little more port at the end to finish.
    Enjoy!

    Wild Mushroom Soup

    This recipe is the result of a sad moment in Chicago Supermarket history. A stalwart in the industry, Dominick’s Finer Foods (that’s what it was called at one time) closing it’s stores and leaving the market. Started in the early 1900’s by Dominick DeMatteo the stores served our community offering quality product at a realistic price.

    My local store, as well as those in other areas, began selling their wares at deeply discounted prices. On a couple of my recent ventures to MY store I purchased dried Porcini, Oyster and Chanterelle mushrooms at a great price. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them until it came to mind that I hadn’t made a good soup in some time. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I do.

    You will need:

    Dried Mushrooms — approx. 5 oz. I used an assortment as mentioned above.
    Sweet Onion — 1 medium size.
    Bacon — 3 slices.
    Beef Broth — 2 cups – I used low sodium Swanson or if you have it home made works great. For vegetarian use a good quality vegetable stock.
    Soy Sauce — 2 TBSP
    Heavy Cream (Optional) &#151

    Let’s start. In a 4 quart measuring cup add dried mushrooms and fill with warm water, let soak for approximately 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the bacon into one inch or so pieces and place in a food processor, run until it is finely chopped. Heat a stock pot large enough to hold all of the elements and add the processed bacon. Cook slowly until all of the fat is rendered. While that is working slice the onion as thinly as you can and when the bacon is rendered add it to the pot. Cook slowly until the onion is a rich dark brown. Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid, reserving liquid, and finely dice. Add mushrooms to the onion/bacon mixture. Sauté for about 10 minutes until the mushrooms dry a little then add the reserved liquid, be careful to pour it slowly from the measuring cup so that any dirt stays at the bottom, add the beef stock. Bring pot to a simmer and cook for approximately 15 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly and put into a food processor or blender (in batches) and process until you get a smooth, mixture. Check for the consistency, if it is too thick add more broth. You can turn this into a Cream of Mushroom by adding some heavy cream, just use enough to provide the taste and texture you desire. Enjoy!

    Apple/Pear Slaw

    Summer is just around the corner, picnics and barbeques are already going strong. Here is a light, easy to prepare slaw that will liven up any gathering. This recipe will make enough for 4 people.

    You will need:

    Apple — one/4 servings, use a sweet variety I used Pink Lady.
    Pear — one/4 servings, make sure it’s ripe I used a Bosch for this version.
    Lime Juice — one medium/4 servings should be enough
    Habanero Pepper — one small/4 servings.
    Fresh Mint Leaves — approx. 1/4 cup/4 servings
    Kiwi — 2 small/4 servings
    Onion — 1 TBSP/4 servings very finely diced, use a sweet variety such as Walla Walla or Vidalia as an alternative you can use a red onion.
    Olive Oil — approx. 1 TBSP/4 servings
    Sea Salt — just a pinch or two

    Use a bowl large enough to hold all of the ingredients. Cut all of the fruit into 1/8 inch sticks, roll all of the mint into a log and finely chiffonade. Finely dice the habanero pepper and onion. Add the olive oil, salt and mint to the bowl mix well, add the lime juice and stir once more. Add the apple, pear, onion and pepper stir all to combine. This slaw is best if you let all of the flavors marinate for an hour or so then Enjoy!

    Cabbage/Peppadew Slaw

    What do you make when you have about a half head of Savoy cabbage, not enough for a whole meal, some Peppadew peppers again not enough for anything substantial? Well you make this recipe.

    I like using savoy cabbage in recipes since there isn’t as much liquid in it as there is in the good old fashioned head you are used to, so if you don’t have the savoy the only thing you need to do before putting this together is to put the shredded cabbage into a strainer/colander placed over a bowl, toss it with a good handful of salt so that any excess moisture wicks out. Rinse the cabbage before adding it to this slaw, don’t worry it doesn’t absorb any salt. This recipe will serve at least 4 people.

    You will need:

    Savoy Cabbage — one half head, shredded
    Peppadew Peppers — two or three medium sized, finely sliced/diced
    Carrots — One medium sized, shredded
    Mayonnaise — 1/4 cup
    White Vinegar — 1 TBSP
    Sea Salt/Pepper — to taste

    In a bowl large enough to hold all of the ingredients place cabbage, peppers and carrots, toss or stir to combine. Add mayonaise, vinegar, salt and pepper then stir to combine completely. I think you’ll like the combination of flavors this slaw has to offer. Enjoy!

    Super Easy Hard Boiled Eggs

    You’ve most likely seen or heard tons of ways to cook the perfect hard boiled egg. Some are easy some not so much. This one, my tried and true version, makes it so easy everyone can get the perfect egg, whether it’s one or a dozen.

    Place egg(s) in a high sided pot large enough to hold them all in a single layer. Fill pot with just enough water to cover by two inches. Set a timer for 20 minutes and put on stove with the heat turned to high. As soon as water starts to bubble reduce to medium. Immediately after the 20 minutes has ended carefully drain the water from the pot and then bounce the eggs in the pot to slightly crack them, fill pot with ice cold water.

    By cracking the eggs in the pot it allows the cold water to get under the shell making them easy to remove. That’s it. Done.

    German Style Potato Salad

    Every once in a while I dig into my past with thoughts of things I haven’t made in some time. Today was one of those days. I had some leftover cooked potatoes which I decided to use for a breakfast plate which reminded me of one of my favorite potato salads. As I have been known to remake old favorites I think this effort is well worth a try.

    There are two things that made sense to change, one is the type of potato the other how they are cooked. Back in the day I used good ole red potatoes which I boiled for use in the salad, this time I chose to steam some Yukon Gold for this recipe. Steaming provides a great texture and retains some of the moisture normally lost when they are boiled.

    You will need:

    Potatoes — one pound small to medium sized Yukon Gold
    Bacon — quarter pound, thick cut, diced. Try to get bacon that has a lot of fat since you will need the rendering for the sauce.
    Vinegar — two or three TBSP
    Sugar — two or three TBSP, white. You might need more to adjust the taste.
    Pepper — fresh ground, to taste.

    Whether you use a steam basket or colander over a pot really doesn’t matter just be sure that you steam the potatoes in a single layer if there isn’t enough room you can steam them in batches. You can tell that they are done when a sharp knife goes into the flesh easily.

    While the potatoes steam put the bacon into a sauce pot large enough to hold it and the vinegar with room to spare. Cook the bacon until crisp, remove it from the fat with a slotted spoon, reserve. Add one TBSP of sugar to the hot fat stirring to combine, carefully add one TBSP of vinegar then repeat with the remaining sugar and vinegar tasting as you go along to get the sweet/sour combination you desire. Keep the sauce warm while you carefully remove the skin from the cooked potatoes, dice them into about 1/2″ cubes. Place them into a bowl with the cooked bacon and then dress with the bacon/vinegar/sugar mixture. Serve warm. Enjoy!

    Maple Glazed Baby Carrots

    I developed this simple recipe years ago but never put it into Let’s Eat. I am sure your guests will love it even those finicky kids.

    You will need:

    Baby Carrots — 1 lb bag, alternatively you can use large carrots cut diagonally into bite size pieces.
    Maple Syrup — Approximately 1 cup – use the real stuff here folks not that “pancake syrup” you find in stores, it’s all high fructose corn syrup with no maple anything in it.
    Butter — 5 TBSP make sure you use unsalted.
    Sea Salt/Pepper — to taste.

    The first step is to steam the carrots. Steam until a sharp knife goes in easily about 1/4 way through to what is called just “al dente”. You want to maintain the some of the crunch. In a sauté pan large enough to hold all of the carrots in a single layer heat the butter until just melted. Add the carrots simmer on low until the butter coats the vegetables. Add the maple syrup and simmer until the syrup reduces by half.<.p>

    If you don’t have equipment to steam the carrots add enough water to the sauté pan to just above half their thickness, cover and let cook until most of the water has evaporated add the butter and maple syrup then proceed as stated above. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can do them ahead of time, keep at room temperature until you are about to serve, return to the sauté pan and heat them up.

    Baked Ditalini

    I had a half empty or is it half full box of ditalini sitting on the shelf where I keep all sorts of pasta extruded pastas. I decided to use it for dinner and went to the freezer where I knew I had left over sausage and mushroom ragu thinking to bake some sort of baked item and all I was missing was the cheese. I walked to my nearest grocer, not my favorite but didn’t feel like getting in the car for only a couple of items. They DO have a nice cheese department and decided to get some ricotta, parmesan, asiago and romano as all of them work well in baked goods.

    When I got home I realized that after opening the container I had purchased Ricotta con Latte instead of Ricotta. I had never used it but seeing the creaminess of the cheese I thought it would work. The end result came out pretty good and I think you and especially your kids will find it well worth the effort

    You will need:

    Ditalini &#151 1 pound
    Ricotta Con Latte — 1 16 oz container.
    Sausage/Mushroom Ragu — you can substitute 1 LB ground beef or pork and tomato sauce just sauté the meat and combine with the tomato sauce.

    Prepare the ditalini according to package instructions, strain but do not rinse. Return pot to heat and add the ragu or meat/tomato sauce mixture and heat until thoroughly warmed, remove from heat. Add the ricotta to the mixture and combine completely then add the pasta and combine thoroughly. Place mixture into a lightly oiled, oven proof baking dish, cover and bake for 30 minutes. I think you will enjoy the finished product.

    Sausage/Mushroom Ragu

    A good ragu is always a welcome addition to anyone’s repertoire. This recipe comes from my desire to use a portion of the Maitake mushrooms that I had freeze dried from the past seasons harvest. Of course if you are fortunate enough to have a fresh supple they can be used as well, additionally a good substitute would be portabella. For purpose of this recipe I’ll use the generic term mushroom(s) instead of being specific. Make a batch and then use some and freeze the rest.

    You will need:

    Italian Sausage — 1½ lbs bulk.
    Fresh Mushrooms — ½ lb. chopped.
    Shallot — 1 medium size finely diced.
    Fresh Oregano — 2 TBSP
    Fresh Marjoram — 2 TBSP
    Olive Oil — 4 TBSP
    White Wine — ¼ cup – a good Chardonnay works well
    Heavy Cream — ¼ cup
    Tomato — 1 26oz can diced or crushed – San Marzano Plum work best.
    Sea Salt/Ground Pepper — to taste

    In a sauté pan large enough to hold all of the ingredients heat two tablespoons of olive oil until it dances/shimmers. Add bulk sausage (if you can’t find bulk at your grocer purchase links and remove from casing) and using a potato masher start breaking up the meat continue sautéing until most of the pink is gone do not brown completely or the sauce will be too dry.

    Remove sausage from the pan, drain and set aside. Add 1 TBSP to the sauté pan heat to shimmer then add the mushrooms. Cook until all of the moisture exuded from them is evaporated. NB: Not all mushrooms have the same moisture content for instance Maitake and Portabella have less than Button or Crimini.

    Remove mushrooms fro the pan and set aside. Add 1 TBSP Olive oil and sauté the shallots until they are just translucent then add the sausage and mushroom to the pan stir to combine. Add the herbs, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Turn heat to medium high and add the white wine, cook until the mixture is somewhat dry. Add the heavy cream, stir well to combine and cook until the mixture is somewhat dry. Add the tomatoes, stirring to combine and cook until they break apart. If you think the ragu is too dry you can add some tomato sauce but not enough to make it soupy.

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