A tale of two Sarahs, and a savory sage-y mushroom sauce

20 Apr

About two pals named Sarah, and food fun with fungi
 

Rambling

I have two friends named Sarah. One lives here in the Saratoga Springs area, and I have known and worked with her for a few years. One lives in Wisconsin, and I have never actually met her. This is a quick ramble about the Sarahs, followed by the Bon Appétit pasta recipe that links the two.

Saratoga Sarah is a kickass chick. She is the numbers-cruncher/resident “mom”/kid sister/do-anything/takes-no-shit business manager for the best builder in town, and a real estate agent in her spare time. She is quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and wise beyond her years. And she’s a great bowler. She came over for dinner on Wednesday, and enjoyed this new recipe with me. 

Wisconsin Sarah is someone I bumped into in Bloglandia, back in January when I first launched into this thing. I found her on Freshly Pressed, when her recipe for (nay, her beautiful photos of) pistachio sticky buns caught my eye. I clicked, and found Sarah’s Place, and the multi-talented hostess herself, a Midwestern gal from our leading cheese-producing state and the land of Richie Cunningham (i.e., my mecca). She’s an incredible professional photographer, an amazing cook, a self-taught knitter, a fan of Tina Fey, a mother to kids with fur and four feet, a lover of old movies and maps. And she’s the nicest, most supportive person I have never actually met. A few months ago, she randomly awarded subscriptions for Bon Appétit to a few of her web friends. I was a lucky winner. More so for having met Sarah, but the gift subscription was a great bonus.

This week, I tried a recipe from the April Bon AppétitPenne with Pancetta, Sage, and Mushrooms, and it did not disappoint. So, a gift from one beloved Sarah, enjoyed by me with the other. For their friendship, humor, and shared love of food, I thank them both!

Roast

Penne with Pancetta, Sage, and Mushrooms

From a recipe published online and in April 2012 Bon Appétit
 

Bring 1 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth and 1 cup dry red wine to boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until reduced to 1 cup. (What’s the trick with this? I had to keep pouring the reduction out of the pan and into my liquid measure, then back again, since I can’t successfully eyeball saucepan contents being reduced.)

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large deep skillet/saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 12 oz. assorted fresh mushrooms (such as oyster, crimini, shiitake), cut into large pieces, and season with salt and pepper. Saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a plate.

Add 8 oz. thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon), coarsely chopped, to same saucepan. I am a fan of cooking/prep shortcuts, so just bought two packages of this brand of diced pancetta:

Saute pancetta until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes.

Drain pancetta with slotted spoon and discard drippings. Return to saucepan, and add wine reduction, 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter (cubed), 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage, and 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary.

Simmer until liquid thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook 1 lb. penne rigate (I used whole wheat, which, for reasons unknown, is packaged as 13.25 oz.) in a large pot of boiling salted water, until almost tender but still firm to the bite (isn’t that what al dente means?). Drain pasta, then stir into mushroom mixture with 1 c. finely grated Parmesan. Heat through, coating pasta thoroughly. Serve topped with shredded Parmesan.

Bon appétit!

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Unleash the quiche: Enjoying eggs with Hamm

16 Apr

Yummy egg pie for Sunday dinner, with a side of (Jon) Hamm
 

Rambling

I am somewhat of a slowpoke when it comes to TV trends. I started watching Seinfeld when it was in its last season. Never saw Sex and the City until it hit mainstream cable in late-night reruns. First saw 24 on DVD when my brother loaned his Season 1 copy to me…last year. So of course I was late to Mad Men. Thank goodness for Netflix streaming. I spent the better part of this past September catching up on four seasons of this seductive serial in quick succession, not realizing that Season 5 wasn’t slated to air until March. I was watching three or four episodes a night. It was, um, unhealthy. I started drinking scotch. I craved cigarettes (I don’t smoke).

I even had a deliciously odd dream about Don Draper. In this dream, I woke up in Don’s post-Betty apartment bedroom, cuddling the maddest man…while my mother sat in a rocking chair beside us. “Mom! Oh, hi. This is Don. I mean, Jon. Meet Jon.” (Freudian coincidence: Hubby’s name is Jon.) Mom, with mild disapproval: “Now I know why you don’t call more often.”

That was a sure sign that I was a wee bit too invested in this Mad world. Fortunately, I got to the end of Season 4 shortly after that (and moved on to reliving five seasons of 30 Rock). Now, Mad Men is back on, and I am all over it. On this Sunday night, an oh-so-1960s caramelized onion quiche for dinner. In time for my weekly dose of Mad-ness, and just lovely when paired with a handsome slice of Hamm…

Roast

Caramelized Onion Quiche 

Adapted from a recipe published online and in April 2012 Family Circle
 

Ingredients

  • 1 refrigerated pie crust
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 5 c. thinly sliced onions
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 c. 2% milk
  • 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 6 oz. shredded Swiss cheese
  • 2 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 small zucchini, thinly sliced

Directions

Preheat oven to 375. Fit crust into a 9-inch pie plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until browned and soft, stirring once in a while, about 35-40 minutes. (If onions begin to burn, reduce heat to medium-low.) Set aside to cool a bit.In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, mustard, salt, and nutmeg.

Remove pie plate from refrigerator. Sprinkle cheese evenly on bottom of crust.

Scatter onions on top. Pour egg mixture over cheese and onions.

Bake quiche at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, or until eggs are set and crust is browned. At this point, the quiche looked nice, but a little too plain (think “Peggy”).

So I decided to give it a little bit of color and added interest (think “Joan”). I had some leftover yellow Cheddar and a small zucchini on hand. I halved and thinly sliced the zucchini…

…and then topped the quiche with the Cheddar and zucchini slices, and brushed on a little olive oil

…then baked for about 5-10 minutes more, broiling for a few minutes toward the end to brown the top.

So, how do you like your Hamm…I mean, quiche?

Nutty noodles, Vermont-style

13 Apr

A unique Vermont-made nut butter, perfect for spicy sesame noodles
 

Rambling

On last weekend’s trip to our favorite Vermont country store, I was drawn to the nut butter section. Yep, the nut butter section. Oodles of creamy concoctions made with not just peanuts, but also cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, and beyond. Most of them made in Vermont, most of them made for sweet pairings. But one screamed savory, and piqued my interest: a jar of Maple & Chipotle Triple Nut Butter, made by The Nutty Vermonter. No suggested uses on the jar, but a company website promised recipes. So I added it to my only-in-Vermont haul–along with maple basil roasted almonds and Mad River Mojo peanut butter–and made this tasty, super simple sesame noodle dish. With enough leftover nut butter to perhaps try one of the other website recipes…Chocolate Chipotle Hard Shell Ice Cream Topping. Much love, nutty Northeast Kingdom neighbors! 

Roast

Maple & Chipotle Sesame Noodles

From an online recipe posted by The Nutty Vermonter

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Maple & Chipotle Triple Nut Butter
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin
  • Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Directions:

In a blender, add the ginger, garlic, sugar, Triple Nut Butter, tahini, vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil, and water. Process until the mixture is well combined. Put the blender jar into the refrigerator and let it chill for about 30 minutes.

Cook the pasta in large pot of boiling salted water over medium heat until barely tender and still firm. Strain and rinse with cold water until cool. Drain the noodles well and transfer to a wide bowl. Pour the sauce over the noodles and toss until well coated. Serve garnished with the scallions, sesame seeds, and cilantro.

Be sure to toast the sesame seeds! Easily done in a dry sauce pan over low heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and lightly browned…brings out great flavor!

I fricasseed the Easter Bunny

9 Apr

On rambling to a vaunted Vermont country store, and baking bunny meat
 

Rambling

Vermont is crazy amazing. I Lovermont. Rolling hills, pastoral pastures, birch-filled woods, limpid mountain waters, peace, progressiveness, cheese. (If it had an ocean, it would be perfect. It has Lake Champlain, which is still pretty cool.) On Saturday, Hubby and I took our annual spring road trip through a favorite corner of southwestern Vermont, not so very far from home. This is Norman Rockwell country. Covered wooden bridges, and salt-of-the-earth locals in waders, and roadside general stores that have little changed over the decades.

A fun stopover for us–and sometimes a destination unto itself–is the Wayside Country Store in Arlington, along the banks of the Battenkill River and just over the New York border. From live bait to Burt’s Bees products, from fine wines to a dozen different varieties of Vermont-made nut butters, from Silly Putty to hot meatball subs…this store has everything. Including frozen rabbits, processed at a nearby farm. On this, the day before Easter, my mind was on bunnies. Specifically, bunny meat. I knew this store sold it, and I wanted to cook it. On Easter. Perverse? Perhaps.

Along with the rabbit, Hubby and I loaded up on a lot of other fun, only-in-Vermont vittles, and headed out to enjoy the rest of the day rambling. But I’ll save that travel tale for later. For now, it’s all about the rabbit.

Yeah, I was a bit squeamish about cooking it. I have never eaten rabbit before, let alone cooked it. Did I think twice when I saw a sweet cottontail hopping through the backyard on Easter morning, as I prepped my own hapless hare? Yep. Was it odd that Hubby insisted on channeling Yosemite Sam–asking when the hasenpfeffer would be done–and Elmer Fudd–singing about the “wascally wabbit”? Sure. But I was not to be deterred. Especially not after finding a few really yummy-looking rabbit recipes online. The one that sold me? Why, the one that called for bleu cheese, Doc.   

Roast

Rabbit with Bleu Cheese-Dijon Sauce

Adapted from a recipe found at Food.com by “Chef Shadows”

Ingredients

  • 1 (2 1/2-3 lb) rabbit , cut up
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh savory leaves
  • 2 bay leaves, fresh, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup crumbled bleu cheese

Directions

Steel your stomach, and remove the innards from the rabbit, after looking at it for a little while and coming to grips with the fact that it’s just a step up from a squirrel, and just a step down from your pet cat. Cut up the thing much like you would a fryer, except instead of wings…two large and two small legs, and only a little bit of breast (or is that belly?) meat…

In a 9×13 baking dish, toss the rabbit meat with the olive oil and herbs until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

In a small bowl, combine the mustard and water, mixing until smooth.

Pour half the mustard mixture over the rabbit meat, and bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn over rabbit meat pieces, coat with other half of mustard mixture, and bake for another 20-25 minutes, basting a few times.

Remove baked rabbit to plate and keep warm.

On stove top over medium heat, heat mustard sauce, reducing to about 1/2 cup. Whisk in half-and-half and heat to bubbling.

Stir in all but a few tablespoons of the bleu cheese, whisking over medium heat until melted and smooth.

Pour sauce over rabbit. Top with additional bleu cheese crumbles and serve warm. Suggested accompaniments: Steamed greens and new potatoes. Dessert? A chocolate bunny, perhaps…

Thinking Thanksgiving

1 Apr

Stumped by sweet potato gnocchi…then inspired to create a bowl o’  Thanksgiving
 

Rambling

I know, I know. It’s April. It’s spring. I am supposed to be rejoicing in the warmer weather, and longer days, and limbs being liberated from winter woolens. Truth is, spring and summer depress me. Sunshine makes me sleepy. The clingy fashions don’t fit me. Bugs are a bane. And during the dog days, the food just isn’t as fun. I suffer salads. My grill intimidates me. The fresh produce I stockpile spoils too quickly.

I am a fall and winter gal. I love long nights, and bracing cold, and crackling fires, and turtlenecks, and any excuse to use a crock pot. In the past week or so, we’ve seen unseasonable 80-degree days surrender to the return of 20-degree nights. My belly and I have loved it. A week that started out warm, and with a vernal version of pizza, wrapped with a recipe of autumn-inspired goodness in time for the revisit of cooler weather. I had picked up sweet potato-stuffed gnocchi at the supermarket, but couldn’t figure out what sort of sauce to pair with these different dumplings. Sweet potatoes made me think “Thanksgiving”, so I decided to throw in other flavors from the holiday: turkey, veggies, potatoes, gravy, dried cranberries. Turns out I overestimated the sweet potato-y-ishness of the gnocchi–I really couldn’t taste the filling much at all–but the dish was still pretty yummy (passed the meat-and-potatoes Hubby Test), and made for a quick, warming, weeknight meal.

Note to foodies and food purists: I used turkey gravy from a jar (gasp!) and frozen (not fresh) veggies (including seasoned microwaveable potatoes loaded with bad-for-you sodium…horrors!) to make this dish. Hey, I work. And as the week wears on, I get lazy and like my TV time…mmm-kay?

Roast

Thanksgiving-in-a-Bowl

Ingredients

  • 12-16 oz. turkey breast
  • 16 oz. package of whole wheat gnocchi with sweet potato
  • Large package of frozen julienned vegetable mix (carrots, green beans)
  • Package of frozen seasoned red potatoes, prepared
  • Large jar of turkey gravy
  • Dried rosemary, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Handful of dried cranberries
  • Handful of chopped pecans

Directions:

Poach turkey breasts: Put them in a large pot of water, bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, cut the cooked breasts into 1-2″ chunks.

Prepare gnocchi per package directions. In this case, place gnocchi into large pot of water, and bring to a boil. Gnocchi are cooked when they float to the top.

Place the frozen vegetable mix in a colander. Drain gnocchi over the vegetables.

Return the vegetable-gnocchi mixture to pot. Stir in prepared potatoes and gravy, and season with rosemary and salt and pepper to taste.

Add a handful of dried cranberries. Heat through. Serve topped with chopped pecans, if desired. 

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