Hang Out with a Fun Guy (fungi, get it?)

costcoAlthough I have a deep and abiding love for it, I have a complicated relationship with Costco.

It took many years before I could walk into my local warehouse and walk out with only what I need, and not a 50-gallon drum of marinated artichoke hearts and a pallet of golf balls (I don’t even golf).  But still, each time I visit I discover something I’ve never even known existed, but also know in my very marrow, that I can’t continue life on this planet without it.costco coolerI often venture into that house-sized refrigerator where the keep their veggies and come out bearing a giant amount of this or that.  Frequently, it’s their button mushrooms, that come in like a forty- or fifty-pound box.

And when I get them home, I look at them with the same confusion and trepidation with which Petey and I gazed at the newly born Kid.newbornWhat do we do with it now?

Last week, I decided to do a creamy mushroom bake.  I love all three of those words; each one implies something tasty, and used together, connote comfort food heaven.

There were two big stars in this dish.  One’s a tub of Brie.  I love brie but rarely have it around the house because I’m scared I’ll go into a cheese fugue state and run dairy amuck.  It’s the same thing with still-warm Krispy Kreme doughnuts—I just don’t trust myself around them.  I’ve never eaten more than three in one sitting but am pretty sure I could polish off 18 or 20 without batting an eye.kristiesThe other new, but really important ingredient was mushroom stock.  I always discard the stems when I use mushrooms, but this time I tossed them into a pot with 2 cups of chicken stock, a handful of dried mushrooms, and a couple bay leaves.  I then boiled it until it reduced by half, then strained it.

Creamy Brie Mushroom Bakecreamy mushrrom bake½ cup + 3 tablespoons butter, divided

2 pounds sliced button mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed and saved for stock

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 tablespoons dried thyme

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

½ cup white wine

½ cup flour

1 cup mushroom stock

2 cups 2% milk

½ cup heavy cream

1 5-ounce container spreadable Président Creamy Brie

1 16-ounce box corkscrew pasta, cooked for 5 minutes only

½ cup shredded manchego

Salt & pepper to tasteshroomsMelt 3 tablespoons of butter in large, heavy pot.  Add mushrooms, onion, thyme and rosemary.  Season, then stir to coat.  Turn to medium, cover and cook until the water’s released from veg.  Uncover and cook until the liquid’s cooked out, and mushrooms start to brown.  Pour in wine and cook until dry.  Remove veg and set aside.

Melt rest of the butter and stir in flour.  Cook 2 minutes then add stock, milk and cream.  Stir continuously until it boils.  Take off heat and stir in brie until melted.mushroom saucePreheat oven to 350.  Add vegetables and noodles to pot.  Stir until everything’s coated and veg are evenly distributed.  Taste for seasoning and re-season, if necessary.  Pour into greased casserole dish.  Cover with parchment, then foil.

Bake covered casserole for 45 minutes, uncover, top with shredded cheese, and bake, uncovered for 30 minutes.  Let sit 15 minutes before service.  Serves 8.

The dish was a hit, but it almost got Petey a punch in the nose.The Brady Bunch Vintage Tv GIF by absurdnoiseWhen I told him what we were having for dinner, he asked, “Isn’t this mushroom stuff just like something you’ve made before?”

No, Petey.  It has mushroom stock and brie—it’s totally different.


Thanks for your time.

It’s French, Dahlink

When is a convertible not a convertible?

When it’s the fresh crusty loaf of bread with cloud-like interior that the French call a baguette.  The most French of breads that actually has laws defining what is in the dough.

One might think that when prehistoric French painters wandered out of the Chauvet and Lascaux caves for lunch, they dined on baguettes and wooly mammoth nuggets.But, one would be wrong.

Baguettes are the relatively recent sum of experience, ingredients and technology of the baking world.  There wasn’t even a bread officially called “baguette” (meaning wand or stick in French) until the early 20th century.Fortunately, even though there are laws about baguettes, as far as I know, none of them prohibit us non-French rubes from enjoying them.  And, unlike your average loaf of Sunbeam, baguettes are sublime at every stage, from fresh out of the oven to old, hard and stale (just not furry—that’s no good for anybody).

Thus, the convertible-ness.So fresh it’s still warm: break off a hunk, and smear it with a big scoop of runny, buttery brie.  You eat enough of this and you will acquire a French accent.  You’ll also acquire a butt so big that you need two seats at the movies, but that’s a whole other conversation.Super fresh but room temperature: sharing a large piece with a friend on a veranda with butter, strawberry jam, and coffee (French press, of course) or thick creamy hot chocolate.  On this side of the Atlantic, the very best place to do this is Caffe Driade, in Chapel Hill.  Honest, it is one of the few supreme joys in this life that cost less than $20.

The top patio at Caffe Driade, in Chapel Hill.

Same day freshness: the jambon-beurre; a modest amount of very good butter, preferably from Brittany or Normandy, and thinly sliced top shelf ham.  Chef Vatinet, owner of Cary’s La Farm is a Gallic rebel who adds gruyere to his version.  It’s so delicious the not quite authentic recipe is not only forgiven, it’s welcome.

La Farm.

The days following baking have its own tasty gifts.

The simple: sliced into rounds painted with a bit of olive oil, seasoned and baked at 350 for 15-20 minutes, and you have crostini, a much more urbane vessel for dips and spreads than potato and corn chips.If you cut the bread into cubes, and toast them in a skillet with oil, herbs and salt and pepper you have croutons that will make you wonder why you ever bought those sawdust squares in the bag.And one of the greatest uses for any bread: pain perdu.  What a North Carolinian calls French toast, a resident of the Loire Valley calls, “lost bread”.  You make a custard with eggs and milk, flavor with brown sugar, vanilla, fresh nutmeg, and a pinch of salt.  Heat the oven to 375 and melt a dollop of butter in a skillet while you soak both sides of 1&1/2” slices in the custard.  When the butter’s foamy, cook the slices on both sides until golden. As they finish, lay them on a sheet pan you’ve fitted with a cooling rack.  When they’re all ready, bake in the oven until puffed and the custard’s cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.  Dress and devour.If you have a baguette, and can’t get to it while it’s fresh, freeze it.  When you’re ready, dampen the entire loaf, and cook in a 350-degree oven for 13 minutes.  Right before you put in the loaf, splash ½ cup of cold water into oven to bring up a burst of steam.  It will come out as fresh and crusty as day one, I promise.

Coco Chanel and Gigot.

Merci pour votre temps.



Liberté, égalité, blueberry

While in office as president of France, Charles De Gaulle said, “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”

Currently there are over 600 distinct types in production there.  And they take their cheese very seriously.

They have a government agency which tightly restricts cheese and many other products.  Once a food has this designation, you just can’t produce it anywhere or in any manner willy-nilly.

Authentic brie has to be made in the Ile de France.  And, the milk can only come from a cow.  No goat, sheep, or whale milk allowed (it really exists and I would totally pay to see somebody milk a whale).

They don’t mess around when it comes to carbs, either.

Boulangeries are bread bakeries.  And the French government has some very strong ideas on the making and selling of it.  Just to be called a boulangerie, each location must choose their own flour, knead their own dough, and bake on premises.

The bake shops in France are separated into two groups.  In one group everyone must vacation in July, the other, August.  This is to make sure all the bakeries won’t close at the same time.  The only other business considered this essential to the welfare of the people of France is pharmacies.  They too, are on staggered vacation schedules.

Sugar is taken quite seriously, as well.  Most French folk purchase sugary baked goods at a place called a patisserie.  To be called a patisserie the shop must employ a licensed maître pâtissier (master pastry chef), who has gone through lengthy training, apprenticeship, and a long and difficult written test.  There are combination boulangerie/patisserie shops, but they must adhere to all the rules for both types of shops.

Did you know the French helped our fledgling nation during its struggle for independence in many vital ways?

They supplied 90% (you read that right—90) of the gunpowder used by the Colonists.

Contrary to being a bunch of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”, they sent over more than 250,000 soldiers, including Lafayette and Rochambeau.  French ships threw up a blockade that almost kept the British Navy bottled up in their harbors in England.

I’ve often thought that many in the ruling elite probably regretted this martial assistance when two years after the Americans “brexitted” English rule, the French people revolted and years of chaos and slaughter ensued.

So this week to celebrate our own independence and express gratitude with the French, I have created a French dessert; a galette, a rustic, free form pie, with brie.  There’s an American thrust in the choice of fruit, and the store-bought nature of the crust (using my God-given right as an American to half-ass it).

Old Glory galette


1 refrigerated pie crust

8 ounces brie

1 ½ cup fresh blueberries

1 cup frozen cherries, thawed and drained

2 teaspoons very finely minced fresh rosemary

Juice and zest of one lemon

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 beaten egg

2 tablespoons sanding sugar: a large grain decorating sugar that sparkles and won’t dissolve while baking

Preheat oven to 350.  Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

Lay the crust into the center of the parchment-lined sheet.Cut the rind off the brie and cut into strips about ¼ X 2 inches.  Leaving a 2 ½ inch border around the outside of the crust, layer the brie onto the crust.

In a bowl, combine blueberries, cherries, rosemary, lemon zest, salt, and brown sugar.  Spoon 2/3 of the mixture over the brie.

Fold the border of the crust up and around the outer edge.  Put the rest of the berry/cherries on the center of the galette.

Brush the crust with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the sanding sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.  Let sit 10 minutes before slicing.  Serves 6.

This is a festive, easy dessert for a July 4th picnic or cookout.  And if you want to get all French-ified and fancy, make your own pastry dough, and make six individual galettes.

And when you serve them, you speak in a French accent.  Just like Pepe le Pew.

Thanks for your time.

General Delivery, North Pole

Dear Santa Claus,

I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve written to you.  I think the last thing I asked you for was a Donny Osmond cassette and a Malibu Skipper doll.

Skipper and Donny-it's Sophie's choice to pick only one.

Skipper and Donny-it’s Sophie’s choice to pick only one.

I decided to send you a letter this year because you’re magic.  And to happen, most of my list needs a healthy dose of magic.

Last year when Petey was in the hospital, I would often stop at Panera Bread for dinner.

The order always consisted of the same two items; broccoli cheddar soup, and their spinach power salad.  The super-delicious salad was baby spinach, marinated mushrooms, crispy onion rings, and hard-boiled egg.  It came with a Vidalia onion dressing, and an entire large salad was only about fourteen calories (I may be exaggerating a touch here).

But for some reason, this spring, they dropped it from the menu.

Santa, please make them bring it back.  I’ve written a few emails to the company, but they haven’t worked. So I’m turning to a higher authority; you, to make this happen.

Tanya, Konrad, and the folks at Daisy Cakes (401 Foster St, Durham) make the best whoopee pies I’ve ever eaten.  The first time I tried one, it was so good, I almost cried.  But, they don’t have them very often.  So I would like for the chocolate/salted caramel version to be waiting for me every time I visit.

After hoping and wishing for many years, Durham is getting a Krispy Kreme.  Thank you very much.  In addition to this cathedral of crullers, Durham desperately needs a Sonic drive-in.  And they should put their steak sandwich back on the menu.

I would really like it if you could make clementines available year-round and take all the calories out of brie.  Put a Nana Taco much closer to my house, and give Locopops an ice cream truck that comes to my neighborhood every day fully stocked with blueberry/buttermilk pops.

Vaguely Reminiscent (728 9th St, Durham) is one of my favorite stores.  Owner Carol Anderson stocks the perfect merchandise for our funky little Bull City, including lots of distinctive, uncommon kitchen gadgets.  And the clothes, shoes, and accessories are just my style.  So, I’d like a $10,000.00 gift certificate, and a social life befitting all the fashionable raiment I will them own.

When you visit my house you’ll notice I’ve left you saltines.  I’d like to give you some of my mom’s improbably scrumptious frosted sugar cookies, but I only have a very limited amount, so can’t (won’t) share.  But I will give you the recipe, because, as they say, “If you teach an enchanted, immortal holiday figure to fish…”

Mom’s Christmas cookies

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup sugar

½ cup butter flavored Crisco

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift dry ingredients into bowl.  With mixer, cut in shortening until it resembles coarse meal.  Blend in egg, milk, and vanilla.

Roll out to 1/8 inch, and cut into shapes.

Bake on parchment lined cookie sheet for 6-8 minutes or until golden.  Remove to cooling rack.

Frost cookies when they are completely cooled.  Makes about 1 ½ dozen.

Mom’s Frosting

1 box powdered sugar (equal to 3 ¾ cups unsifted)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 scant teaspoon cream of tartar

1/3 cup butter-flavored Crisco

1 egg white

1/4 cup of water (or less)

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For decorating: colored sugars and jimmies

Dump all ingredients, except water, into mixer. Beat ingredients at low until it starts to come together.  Put the water in at this point, so you can judge just how much to use. Beat until it is creamy and fluffy. Dye it festive colors, and very heavily frost each cookie, then sprinkle with colored sugar or jimmies.

One last thing.  I’d love to win the lottery, but Petey says I can’t win it, if I’m not in it.  The whole thing is very confusing to me, and because of that, I don’t play.

So, I’d appreciate it if you could slip a winning ticket into my stocking.

Thanks for your time, Santa,

Love Debbie.