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.

Husbands.bridegroom

Thanks for your time.

Turns Out, It’s Pretty Easy Being Green

One would think, to hear me whine week after week about too spicy this, and hellishly hot that, that my favorite cuisine might be something famously bland.

Like Finnish food, or hospital cafeteria.

But one of my very favorite national cuisines is Mexican.  It’s rich and comforting.  Much of it is simple, but simple in the way a Chanel suit is simple; classically elegant.  It’s full of fresh flavors, yet much of it is slowly cooked, “peasant” fare.But I still have the heat tolerance of a snow angel, so I’ve learned some self-protective hacks.

Dairy is my friend.  The heat from chilis comes from an oily substance called capsaicin. Milk, or more commonly, sour cream contains something called casein.  The casein is a fat-loving compound which binds to the fiery lipids and washes them away.  Water only spreads the heat, and while alcohol also works, you’d have to drink about a fifth of tequilla to cool a couple of bites.And while some folks prove this doable on a daily basis, I’m the cheapest of cheap drunks who would be swinging from the chandelier or napping under a table after three or four swigs.

So, it’s sour cream for me.Green is usually (but not always, not by a long shot) milder than red.  Green sauces normally contain tomatillos, a sour fruit that looks like a green tomato, and brings no heat to the party.  And of course there is my very good, very green friend; avocado who feels to me like it cools thing down a bit.

One of my favorite dishes on a Mexican menu is chicken enchiladas Suizas.  Suiza means Swiss, and connotes pale creamy cheeses and sauces.

Right?

Enchiladas are terrific in restaurants, where all you have to do is order them.  But at home, not so much.  You have to make the filling, stuff them, roll them, and lay them in the baking vessel.  Then bake them off while hoping they don’t fall apart or end up with dry, burned tortilla parts that didn’t get sauced.

Wrong.

Years ago I found a spicy Mexican cornbread pie thing.  I changed some ingredients and turned it into an easy family favorite with all the flavors and textures of those creamy green enchiladas.

Chicken enchilada Suiza casseroleenchilada casserole1-8 ½ oz. package Jiffy corn muffin mix

1-14 ¾ oz. can creamed-style corn

1-4 oz. can green chilis, drained

2 eggs lightly beaten

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon Goya bitter orange adobo

2 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese

2 cups green salsa (heat level of your choice)

3 cups shredded cooked chicken (I use half of a grocery store rotisserie bird)

Sour Cream, avocado slices, scallions, radish and limes wedges (garnish)garnishPreheat oven to 400. Spray 13X9 pan with cooking spray.

In large bowl, mix first seven ingredients and 1 cup cheese. Pour into pan and bake 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, and pierce casserole 12-15 times with sharp knife. Pour and spread salsa all over. Scatter chicken on top and cover with rest of cheese. Bake 20 minutes. Let rest out of oven for 10 minutes, then slice and serve with garnishes.Makes 8 servings.

And it gets even easier.  You can take it right up to the second bake, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 24 hours before finishing.  Just leave off the top cheese then sprinkle it on right before baking.

And if you do choose tequila to quell spiciness and end up with a lampshade on your drunken head, that’s your choice—but please, send plenty of photos.Thanks for your time.

Rice, Rice, Babette

This week there isn’t much snappy patter or witty bon mots. The room I would normally use has been taken up by a recipe from Julia Child.  It’s got a lot of steps but none of them are hard.

It’s perfect to use up some of that fresh zucchini, but more importantly, it’s delicious.

Bon Appétit! (To be read in your best Julia voice)Julia Child’s Tian de Courgettes Au Riz (Zucchini Tian)

j child zucchini

2 to 2 1/2 pounds zucchini

1/2 cup plain, raw, untreated white rice

1 cup minced onions

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, mashed or finely minced

2 tablespoons flour

About 2 1/2 cups warm liquid: zucchini juices plus milk, heated in a pan (watch this closely so that it doesn’t curdle)

About 2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese (save 2 tablespoons for later)

Salt and pepper

A heavily buttered 6- to 8-cup, flameproof baking and serving dish about 1 1/2 inches deep

2 tablespoons olive oil

Shave the stem and the tip off each zucchini (or other summer squash), scrub the vegetable thoroughly but not harshly with a brush under cold running water to remove any clinging sand or dirt.

If vegetables are large, halve or quarter them. If seeds are large and at all tough, and surrounding flesh is coarse rather than moist and crisp, which is more often the case with yellow squashes and striped green cocozelles than with zucchini, cut out and discard the cores.Rub the squash against the coarse side of a grater, and place grated flesh in a colander set over a bowl.

For each 1 pound (2 cups) of grated squash, toss with 1 teaspoon of salt, mixing thoroughly. Let the squash drain 3 or 4 minutes, or until you are ready to proceed.

Just before cooking, squeeze a handful dry and taste. If by any chance the squash is too salty, rinse in a large bowl of cold water, taste again; rinse and drain again if necessary. Then squeeze gently by handfuls, letting juices run back into bowl. Dry on paper towels. Zucchini will not be fluffy; it is still dampish, but the excess liquid is out. The pale-green, slightly saline juice drained and squeezed out of the zucchini has a certain faint flavor that can find its uses in vegetable soups, canned soups, or vegetable sauces.While the shredded zucchini is draining (reserve the juices,) drop the rice into boiling salted water, bring rapidly back to the boil, and boil exactly 5 minutes; drain and set aside.

In a large (11-inch) frying pan, cook the onions slowly in the oil for 8 to 10 minutes until tender and translucent. Raise heat slightly and stir several minutes until very lightly browned.

Stir in grated and dried zucchini and garlic. Toss and turn for 5 to 6 minutes until zucchini is almost tender.

Sprinkle in the flour, stir over moderate heat for 2 minutes, and remove from heat.Gradually stir in 2 1/2 cups warm liquid (zucchini juices plus milk, heated gently in a pan — don’t let it get so hot that the milk curdles!). Make sure the flour is well blended and smooth.

Return over moderately high heat and bring to simmer, stirring. Remove from heat again, stir in blanched rice and all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Taste for seasoning. Turn into buttered baking dish, strew remaining cheese on top, and dribble olive oil over cheese.

Half an hour before serving, set in upper third of a preheated 425-degree F oven until tian is bubbling and top has browned nicely. The rice should absorb all the liquid.Thanks for your time.

Fairly Balanced

My favorite ice cream treat is Dairy Queen’s peanut buster parfait.  It is a miracle of simplicity; vanilla soft serve draped in hot fudge sauce and studded with peanuts.

But who knew my affection was rooted in science?

While each component is plenty tasty on its own, it’s the contrasts that push it to icon status.  The hot/cold, salty/sweet, and creamy/crunchy excite us and satisfy the palate.  It’s called dynamic contrast.

The accepted definition for this term is: moment-to-moment sensory contrast from the ever-changing properties of foods manipulated in the mouth.All this fancy scientific palaver boils down to one thing: humans like contrast, and crave it.

The Kid recently found a dish on the website Smitten Kitchen, which was inspired by an Ina Garten recipe and features contrast.

Crusty Baked Cauliflower and Farro

Final amended recipe

I’m sorry guys, there are just a crap ton of ingredients in this dish.

2 cups cooked farro

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pound head of cauliflower, cut into small florets

2 tablespoons capers, drained

2 large or 3 regular cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 cups coarsely grated Manchego

½ cup Marcona almonds, given a brief, rough chop into halves or thirds

1/2 cup full-fat ricotta cheese

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/3 cup finely grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese

2 teaspoons dry thyme

Directions:

Place farro into large bowl.

Par-cook cauliflower:

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Brush a large baking sheet with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread florets in one layer, drizzle with 1 more tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes until lightly browned and crisp-tender (they will finish baking with the farro). Reduce heat to 400 degrees.  Place cauliflower into bowl with farro.

Assemble casserole: Add the capers, garlic, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to cauliflower and farro and stir to combine. Stir in manchego and almonds. Transfer half of the mixture to an oiled 10-inch ovenproof frying pan or equivalent baking dish. Dollop rounded tablespoons of ricotta all over. Sprinkle remaining cauliflower and farro over the ricotta, leaving the pockets of it undisturbed.

In a small dish, combine panko with Parmesan, thyme and 1 tablespoon olive oil until evenly mixed. Sprinkle over cauliflower and farro.

Bake casserole: For 20 minutes, until browned and crusty on top. Dig in.Do ahead: Farro can be cooked up to 3 days in advance, kept in an airtight container in fridge. Cauliflower can be cooked 2 days in advance. Casserole can be assembled and baked a day later, easily, although the crumbs might lose their crisp from absorbing the moisture below if not added right before baking. Casserole keeps for several days in fridge and longer in freezer.

The Kid loved this dish so much it was a struggle to leave enough for me to try.  I liked it a lot, but had a couple of tweaks in mind.

The sample I tasted had a lot of lemon zest; like a whole lemon’s worth.  It was too much.  It became very floral, and the flavor overpowered the other components.  We reduced it.

It needed crunch, and we picked nuts because they don’t go soggy.

We both thought about pine nuts, but Chinese pine nuts from the Pinus armandii can give you something called “pine mouth” which deadens your taste buds for a while and leaves you with a metallic taste for two weeks or more.   And unfortunately, it’s not usually easy to discern the origin of your pine nuts.So we chose Marcona almonds because they’re addictively tasty.  They were the perfect foil for the other ingredients.  It was a true balance of both taste and texture.

And, here’s one more contrast for you.

When I eat something outrageously delicious, it makes me want to cry; with pleasure, gratitude, and the ephemeral nature of the food. But The Kid gets angry.

Yeah, angry.I only offered another contrast.  I didn’t promise it wouldn’t be bonkers.

Thanks for your time.