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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!

    Stuffed shells with roasted vegetable sauce

    Another Oldie but Goodie this one was developed in the Chicago Tribune test kitchen.

    Preparation time: About 45 minutes – Cooking time: 25 minutes – Serves 4

    You will need:

    Shells

    1 16oz. container ricotta cheese, drained.
    1 large egg
    ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
    2 TBSP chopped parsley
    ½ teaspoon kosher or to taste
    Freshly ground black pepper to taste
    16 large (3½ inch long) pasta shells, cooked according to package, drained.

    Sauce

    3 strips bacon, coarsely chopped
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1 large clove garlic, minced
    3 TBSP olive oil, or as needed
    3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped.
    1 ear corn, roasted or grilled, kernels removed. You can use frozen corn just sauté until lightly charred.
    1 green bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, chopped.
    1 TBSP chopped fresh basil
    ½ tsp kosher salt, or to taste
    Freshly ground black pepper to taste
    Grated Parmesan Cheese

    1. – Heat oven to 350°. For shells, combine ricotta, egg, Parmesan, Parsley, salt and pepper, stir well. Fill cooked shells with chease mixture. Place shells in single later in a 13 by 9 inch baking pan; set aside.

    2. – For sauce, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon; set aside. Add onion and garlic to skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add oil and tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until tomatoes fall apart and form sauce, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in corn, bell pepper, basil, salt and pepper. Heat through, about 2 minutes, adding water if too thick.

    3. – Spoon sauce over shells, cover with aluminum foil. Bake until heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

    Seared duck breast with orange and currant couscous

    This is the first in my new series “Oldies but Goodies”, recipes garnered from newsprint over the years. I’ve given credits when found. The majority of these were cut from daily newspapers published in Chicago, my home town, all but a few cut by my mom’s hand.

    Preparation time: 20 minutes – Marinating time: 4 to 12 hours – Cooking time: 15 minutes – Serves 6

    You will need:

    For the marinade:

    ¼ cup orange juice, strained
    Coarsely chopped zest of one orange
    2 TBSP red wine vinegar
    2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
    ½ red onion
    ½ tsp kosher salt
    ½ freshly ground pepper
    3 or 4 fresh thyme sprigs
    2 or 3 fresh rosemary sprigs
    6 boneless duck breast halves

    For the couscous

    1¾ cups water
    1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
    ½ tsp kosher salt
    2 cups couscous
    ¼ dried currants
    6 orange sections pith removed, cut into 4 pieces
    2 TBSP finely grated orange zest
    3 TBSP fresh orange juice, strained
    3 TBSP fresh mint
    1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

    1. – T make the marinade. In a large bowl or shallow baking dish, mix all the marinade ingredients together. Put the duck breasts in the marinade and turn several times. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for 4 to 12 hours.

    2. – To make the couscous. In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boi8l and add the 1 tsp olive oil, salt, couscous and currants, stirring to mix. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Using a fork and your fingertips, fluff the couscous to separate it. Taste and adjust for salt. Stir in the oranges, orange zest, orange juice and mint. Set aside and keep warm or let cool to room temperature.

    3. – Remove the breasts from the marinade and pat dry. In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat the remaining olive oil. Add the breast and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Transfer to a cutting board and cut each breast into ¼ inch thick slices. Arange each sliced breast in a fan shape on a warm dinner plate accompanied by the couscous. Serve immediately.

    NB: Add the marinade to the pan in which you cooked the duck, heat to a boil scraping the brown bits from the pan and cook for 2 or more minutes until slightly thickened. Pour over duck breast and couscous.

    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!

    Asian Pork Belly

    If you’ve visited my site before you would have noticed that there aren’t many Asian inspired offerings. This one was developed when a gentleman I’ve known through my demonstration efforts happened to mention that he was going to prepare a pork belly and at that moment, or shortly thereafter, I decided to try my hand at coming up with my own version. One might think that this inexpensive protein would be too fatty and hard to prepare but with a little time and effort you can make this one of your standards. This version will take 8 hours to marinate the pork and about 5 hours to cook.

    You will need:

    Pork Belly — about 3 LBS.
    Mirin — ¾ cup.
    Soy Sauce — 2 TBSP
    Hoisin Sauce — 2 TBSP
    Garlic — 2 cloves, crushed.
    Habanero or Jalapeno Pepper — depending on your level of heat tolerance. I used ¾ a habanero.
    Ginger — 1 TBSP, fresh, crushed.

    With fat side up using a sharp knife score the fat cap. It’s best if your scoring is about a half inch apart in both directions this will allow the marinade to soak in. Mix all of the ingredients well and coat both sides of belly. Put it into a non-reactive dish such as a Pyres roasting vessel or a one gallon ziplock or similar bag. If using the Pyrex method you will need to turn the belly a few times during marination. If using the bag format massage it a few times to evenly distribute the marinade. Place belly in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.

    Remove belly from marinade and with a spatula wipe off as much of the marinade as possible reserving the juices. Put belly, fat side down in a cold sauté pan which is large enough to hold the pork. Bring pay up to temperature and sear the belly until you get a nice, rich brown color. Put marinade into a roasting pan then place belly, fat side up into the pan. Cover tightly with foil wrap and roast at 300° for 5 hours. Cut into serving size portions then in a hot sauté pan sear on all sides and serve.

    Chicken Saltimbocca

    Saltimbocca translates to “jumps in the mouth” or “hops in the mouth” so I guess you should make extra for your family or guests. There are many recipes out there however I think this one will prove quick and easy for any good cook.

    You will need:

    Chicken Breast — 1 6 or 8 oz/serving cut into cutlets.
    Prosciutto — enough to cover each cutlet (see recipe for more information).
    Fresh Sage Chiffonade (Instructions if needed) — the amount depends on your personal taste for this herb but make sure you don’t use too much as it might be off putting.
    White Wine — a good Chardonnay works well here plan on about 1/2 a bottle more or less.
    Olive Oil — 1 TBSP/cutlet
    Unsalted Butter — 1 TBSP/cutlet
    Shallots &#151 one small to medium bulb finely diced.
    Flour — approx. 2 TBSP

    As you’ve read in the ingredients part of this recipe we call for Chicken Cutlets. If you don’t have the patience or time for this bit you can ask your butcher but why pay the extra when it’s easy to do yourself. Place a chicken breast on a clean cutting surface if you are right handed point the narrow part to the right (reverse for left handed). With a sharp knife, preferably boning, following the angle of the narrow side carefully slice it at a thickness of 1/4″. Continue until the breast is cut, you might have a small piece left at the end. Continue with all of the breasts. Lightly rub a little olive oil over each cutlet, sprinkle with the Sage then cover with a piece of Prosciutto and affix with one or two toothpicks.

    In a sauté pan large enough to hold all or most of the cutlets add the butter and olive oil until the butter melts and the oil shimmers. Using a pair of tongs carefully place the cutlets, Prosciutto side down into the pan and cook just until prosciutto crisps which won’t take long so watch this step. Flip the cutlets and sauté briefly just enough to have the pink color disappear, remove from pan place on an oven proof plate, tent with foil, and keep warm.

    If there isn’t enough oil/butter in the pan add enough to sauté the shallots. When the shallots start to turn opaque sprinkle enough flour to just coat continue cooking until all of the flour is absorbed carefully add the white wine scraping up all the good bits left on the bottom of the pan. If the resulting sauce is too thick add a little warm water if it is too thin combine some softened butter and flour and add to the sauce. Place the chicken cutlets, Prosciutto side up into the sauce and warm through. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

    Veggie Lasagna

    I’ve been asked several times to add more vegetarian recipes to my repertoire so I dug into the basement of my brain to see what I had produced in the past but for whatever reason never put them to print. I remembered this one that I used to prepare for the vegetarian counselors from my camp days. Most of the work is in the preparation, however, it is well worth your while.

    You will need:

    Eggplant — 2 LBS. approx. I used the Italian variety but the classic will do just fine.
    Zucchini — 2 LBS.
    Mushrooms — 2 LBS. Button work fine but crimini will give you a more earthy flavor.
    Red Bell Peppers — 1 LB.
    Green Bell Peppers — 1 LB.
    Onions — 1 LB. Use a sweet variety such as Walla Walla or Vidalia.
    Bechamel Sauce — 1 Quart. Here is an easy recipe to use.
    Italian Tomatoes — 2 32oz. cans diced or crushed. Try to use San Marzano.
    Ricotta Cheese — 1 LB.
    Eggs — 2 well beaten.
    Mozzarella Cheese — 2 large balls
    Lasagna Noodles — 1 LB package. You can use either the cook or no cook variety. If you use the cook version prepare according to directions on the package however you want them just under al denté.
    Basil — 2 TBSP dry or 4 TBSP fresh.
    Oregano — 2 TBSP dry or 4 TBSP fresh.
    Sea Salt/Cracked Pepper — 2 tspn each.
    Olive Oil 8 TBSP which equals 1/2 cup

    I usually don’t peel the eggplant for this recipe but that’s a personal choice, either way won’t affect the taste. Cut it into 1 inch pieces place in a collander over a bowl and salt liberally toss to coat set aside. Cut the zucchini into 1 inch pieces, set aside. Heat oven to 350 degrees then place the bell peppers on a cookie sheet and roast until soft and partially blackened. When they are ready, remove from the oven, place them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, set aside. Cut the mushrooms into 1/2 inch pieces, set aside. Dice the onions into 1/2 inch pieces place in a strainer and rinse well, set aside. Using the large holes on a grater grate the mozarella cheese, set aside.

    Heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a sauté pan until shimmering. Place the eggplant into the pan and cook just until browned, put cooked eggplant into a large bowl. In the same pan add 1 more TBSP oil and sauté the zucchini until browned add to the bowl of eggplant. Add 1 more TBSP oil and sauté the mushrooms until browned add to the bowl. Add 1 more TBSP of oil and sauté the onions until opaque, don’t let them brown then add to bowl. Peel the skins off the roasted peppers chop into 1 inch pieces and add to the bowl. Sprinkle one TBSP each basil and oregano and 1 tspn salt and pepper over the cooked vegetables and stir to combine, set aside. In another bowl place the ricotta cheese, egg and mozzarella cheese and stir until well combined.

    Lightly oil a lasagna pan then coat the bottom with crushed tomatoes, just enough to make it about 1/2 inch deep. Add a layer of lasagna noodles then spread enough Bechamel Sauce to cover, then add a layer of the mixed veggies then a layer of the cheese mixture. Add a layer of crushed tomatoes sprinkle with some of the basil and oregano. Repeat this process until all of the ingredients are used ending with the crushed tomatoes as the last layer. Cover the lasagna dish with foil place on a cookie sheet and bake for approximately 45 minutes, checking occasionally to avoid burning. After you remove it from the oven let it cool for about 20 minutes before service.

    I usually have enough left over to cut into nice sized portions and freeze for another day. ENJOY!

    Gnocchi Marsala

    Sometimes things just pop into my head and sometimes something I’ve sampled brings a flood of ideas. This one is a combination of the two. At a demonstration one of the store managers cooked up a large dish of dumplings with mushroom sauce somewhat of a European entrée. I thought about making a similar item and came up with this offering.

    You will need:

    Gnocchi — 1 LB. — If you make your own that’s great however for those that either don’t have the time nor knack there are a few frozen varieties that can be purchased at most stores. If you can’t find frozen some manufacturers make a dried version.
    Mushrooms — 1 LB. — Use either button or crimini or a combination of the two.
    Marsala Wine — 1/4 cup (approx)
    Stock &#151 chicken, veal or vegetable depending on your personal taste, I wouldn’t use beef as it would overwhelm the mushroom/marsala taste.
    Heavy Cream — 1 cup (approx.) — if you want a lighter sauce you can use half and half or milk.
    Shallots — 1 TBSP finely diced.
    Butter/Olive Oil — 1 TBSP each

    Depending on which gnocchi you use timing here is flexible. You want the gnocchi to be ready just as you are about to finish the sauce which will take about 15 minutes or less to prepare.

    Clean the mushrooms of any excessive dirt and cut into pieces that are about the same size as the gnocchi. In a saucepan large enough to hold all of the mushrooms heat the oil and butter over medium/low heat, add the diced shallots and cook just until they turn a little translucent, don’t overcook them. At the mushroom pieces and cook until they give off most of their liquid, add the marsala wine and cook just long enough to burn off the alcohol. You want the sauce to be a little liquid so if it gets a little too dry add some of the stock. Turn off the heat and add the cream/milk stir to combine then add the cooked gnocchi. 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!

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