mushroom mania

     When I'm chatting with my brother, Stu, we usually get around to sharing recipes... imagine that! But I invariably forget his disdain for the edible fungus family and bring up a recipe containing mushrooms. Our conversation is quickly halted by his exclamation of disgust... oops, I forgot. Again.
     Stuart's strong dislike of mushrooms is shadowed only by my intense passion for them. I cannot get enough, much to the dismay of my kids. Mushroom risotto, stuffed mushrooms, mushroom ravioli, mushrooms in my salad, on my pizza... the list is endless.  I am drawn to all manor of mushrooms from recipes, dishes in restaurants to things in the grocery store. I need to try it, order it, have it!
     I usually have dried ones in my pantry and fresh ones in the fridge. One of my favorite recipes, containing mixed wild mushrooms, is the veggie lasagna I shared a few months back... click here to see it again. One pasta dish even combined my love of mushrooms with fresh sage leaves and Gorgonzola cheese. It nearly made me cry. I will share it with you soon, so get the tissues ready.
     My friend, Michelle, posted a recipe for tortellini soup, which I made and fell in love with. The original recipe called for mushroom tortellini, but not finding any, I made it with cheese. Still divine. Then last week I was trying to come up with something to go with some fresh mushroom agnolotti (ravioli) that had been languishing in my fridge's cheese drawer. Hmmm. I wonder...
     Being the brave soul that I am, I dropped them into the soup pot instead of the tortellini, hoping for the best. WOW! Now, I am hooked and doubt I will ever go back. The mushrooms in the original recipe really put it over the top. (In my humble, but accurate opinion, of course.) Fresh mushrooms, fresh spinach, and parm... what's NOT to love?

tenderloin salad with champagne bleu vinaigrette

Here is a light and lovely salad with a bleu cheese champagne vinaigrette:
For the dressing
1/2 cup champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
2 oz. crumbled blue cheese, preferrably maytag or another high quality brand
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad
2 heads butter lettuce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Maytag blue cheese
1/2 c. diced fresh pears tossed with a squeeze of lemon juice
Combine the vinegar, shallots, and mustard in a blender.  With the motor running, add the olive oil, a few drops at a time at first and then gradually increasing to a slight but steady stream, and blend until emulsified. Repeat with the canola oil. Remove to a bowl and add crumbled cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Use salt sparingly, as cheese is very salty.

Turn it into a dinner salad:
Take a small beef tenderloin steak and let it come to room temperature. Rub both sides with a little seasoned salt and lots of extra pepper. Let it sit, covered for thirty minutes. Grill until med. rare or sear in hot grill pan til desired done-ness. Let rest for ten minutes. Slice thinly and place on top of salad with pears, grape tomatoes, fresh sliced mushrooms and remaining crumbled blue cheese. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread and homemade herb cheese.

fresh strawberry pie

     I love strawberry pie. I love, love, love strawberry pie! (Yes, we've covered the fact that I love most everything edible.)
     Right now, it's spring and Florida strawberries are in season. The farm stands and food stores are filled with loads of plump, juicy berries.
     My mom's friend, Peggy gave her this recipe a zillion years ago. I have it jotted down in my weathered, old blank cookbook, written in strawberry-pink pen. If you've been paying attention and wonder if she is the same Peggy, famous for the oatmeal cookie recipe, yes. She is.
     Many a family favorite has originated from her and I recently uncovered a great secret. I found an old letter my mom wrote me while my dad was still living, but terminally ill with pancreatic cancer.
     My mom lamented over her constant search for something he would eat. She mentioned a new meatloaf recipe (gasp!) given to her by Peggy that Daddy loved. All these years, I have given the credit to Mommy, never knowing how she came up with our family's most beloved sweet-loaf.
     Don't you just love the fact that we are never truly alone in a kitchen? Laurie Colwin pointed out that when we cook, our mothers, grandmothers and friends are with us through the recipes they've shared.
     This pie is similar to Shoney's famous one. Try as I may, I've never found anything else to top it.
     The entire production takes mere minutes to throw together and in the end you will be a superhero in the eyes of whomever you serve it to. Really, you will...
1 baked pie crust
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 T. strawberry jello
1 cup water
up to 2 pounds of strawberries, sliced (depending on size of pie plate. 8" will hold less, 9 or 10" will hold more.
whipped cream, for serving
In a deep saucepan, whisk together the dry stuff: cornstarch, sugar and jello. By doing this first, you will eliminate any fear of lumpy cornstarch. Slowly whisk in the water, blending until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Mixture will be cloudy and bright, pink-ish red.
Cook mixture until thick and clear. Remove from stove and cool until you can stick your finger in and leave it without getting burned. (I know it sounds kooky and unprofessional, but it works. Plus, I never claimed to be a professional, anyway.)
Now don't be in a hurry and skip this important step. This is a fresh strawberry pie, not a baked one. Hot glaze mixture will wilt and soften your fresh berries, causing them to look cooked. That is bad...You want them to be ripe, red and firm.
Place sliced strawberries in baked pie shell. A pound is enough for one 8" shell. I've found that when using my BIG pie plate, I need almost another pound. As you can see below, I needed more. On this particular day, I was baking two pies and didn't get the piled high effect I wanted... But the pies tasted great;)
Slowly pour cooled jello mixture over, making sure that liquid gets in and under and around all of the berries... you want the glaze-y stuff everywhere! Chill pie for awhile before serving, with whipped cream on the side...
If you have the willpower to wait.

Greek Pasta Salad

      In honor of my friend and fellow blogger, the Housewife's safe return from Greece, I am sharing this fast and easy Greek pasta salad recipe. Michelle and I have spent hours talking about traveling together to foreign soil, but so far our trips abroad have been with others.
     This time she went without me and returned home with pneumonia... feel better soon. I'm now glad I stayed behind. Maybe next year, when she is finished planning the wedding of the year, and I am the proud mother of one college graduate, time to embark on an adventure together will finally come.
     But enough about dreams and wishes... back to the recipe. You can add things that you like or omit things I like and you don't... its just that simple.
     I have added other Greek salad ingredients in the past, such as julienned ham, pepperoni, and mild pepper rings to make this a meal. I have also converted it into an Italian salad by changing the ingredients a little. Omit the feta, add fresh little mozzarella boccini or crumbly ricotta salata.

1 pound pasta, cooked and rinsed, reserving ½ c. pasta cooking water
1 pound grape tomatoes, washed and halved
1/2 c. (or more) pitted Calamata olives
1/2 c. roasted red pepper, sliced4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
2 T. fresh basil leaves, julienned
1 c. baby spinach leaves
Pepperoncini, additional basil and olives for decoration

6 T. olive oil
2 T. balsamic, red or white wine vinegar
2 T. sweet hot mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 t. dried, Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente pasta. Drain and shock in cold water to stop cooking process. Toss pasta with tomatoes, olives, red pepper and feta.  Pour mixed dressing over salad.  Mix well.  Chill or serve at room temperature. Just prior to serving, mix in the basil leaves and fresh spinach, as it wilts quickly. A small amount of reserved pasta water may be added if salad seems dry. Place in large bowl. Decorate with a clump of basil, pepperoncini and olives.
 Remember our motto: Be Brave, get into the kitchen and get creative...

happy pi day

It is National Pi Day... woo hoo! For all of you that share my unfortunate characteristic of being mathematically challenged, I'm reposting a link to a girl after my own heart. Instead of lamenting over the fact that I barely remember what Pi is, I will celebrate, as she does... with PIE! And who doesn't love pie? They are focusing on savory (not sweet,) pies in this article. I may have to try one of these really soon! The website is bellamiento. Click on it.

Here is what Paula says,
"Happy Pi Day! Today people everywhere are rejoicing and celebrating pi. The mathematical constant that reflects the ratio between a circle’s circumference and diameter… 3.14159265. Here’s a fun fact: Pi day is celebrated on March 14 {3/14} since the numbers 3, 1, and 4 are the three most significant digits of pi in it’s decimal form."

My pick would be, of course, the savory mushroom pie. Here's the link, on the mushroom channel.

celebrating spring: fruit salsa with cinnamon chips

     It seems that in the past week alone, trees in the coastal south are beginning to burst into bloom. After months of gray winter landscape, tiny bits of vivid color peek out, hinting of more to come.
     On the street, ruffled trench-coats and fluttery dresses imitate hues painted by Mother Nature... daffodil, wisteria and poppy. As much as I love the crispness of autumn air after a blistering summer, nothing compares to the suspenseful signs of spring.
     It makes me want to eat lighter as well. Spring says, put those saucy comfort foods away, toss things together, pull something out of the ground and eat it raw.
     Growing up in Florida, I waited impatiently for strawberry season each year. Fresh, juicy berries begin populating the produce shelves in early March. In my humble opinion, nothing compares to the sweetness of a Florida strawberry.
     I have seen several variations of this recipe. Some use mango and pineapple, some called for nectarines, peaches or blueberries. You can mix it up and toss in what ever fruit is in the house. If you are working your way back into last year's swimsuit, you could use low sugar jam and a pinch or two of stevia instead of sugar.
2 kiwi, diced                                          
2 apples, cored and diced                      
1 package fresh raspberries                   
1 package fresh blackberries                 
1 pound fresh strawberries, sliced
2 T.  granulated sugar
3 T. fruit preserves, any flavor
cooking spray
10- 10” flour tortillas                  
2 c. cinnamon sugar (*see recipe below)
Combine all fruit in a large bowl. Mix jam and sugars in a small bowl. Gently stir into fruit. (If you stir too hard, it will all turn purple from the berry juices.) Set aside.
Place tortillas on baking sheet. Spray one side with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Prick lightly with fork. Bake in 300 degree oven until brown. Turn over and repeat. Break into pieces. Serve with fruit salsa.
*Basic recipe for cinnamon sugar: 6 parts sugar to 1 part cinnamon.

easy chicken marsala

     When my girls were small, Hannah instituted Family Game Night, held once a week on Thursdays. My husband would pick up a pizza on the way home, I would make a salad and the girls picked the games. Since we homeschooled, we avoided the hectic after school schedule. Our family time was sacred and memories of those days remain sweet.
     Today, however, with two girls in college, holding part-time jobs and my husband and I working, eating together has become a challenge in a different way. A couple of years ago, we instituted Family Dinner Night, in an effort to spend more time face to face with our kids. One of our favorite thing to do is to meet at Carraba's Italian Grill. The atmosphere and food reminds us of home cooking, Italian style, but gives mama a night off. A favorite dish is their Chicken Marsala.
     Here is my version, done the easy way. By using store-bought, pre-cooked 'grilled' chicken breast meat, you save time. If you are incredibly organized and thrifty, you can grill your own chicken ahead of time, cut into strips and freeze for later use. Most of the ingredients can be kept on hand in your well stocked pantry. Start by organizing...
Using your chef's knife, remove the garlic skin by placing the knife on top of a clove and pressing down with the heel of your hand. Repeat with remaining two cloves.
see how easy that was? 
     Next, mince the three cloves of garlic and set aside. Dice a medium onion and slice up some mushrooms. I use around a pound because I love them... alot. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the onion and let it soften up a bit before adding garlic. When garlic is nice and golden, toss in mushrooms. Frequently stir everything around to keep it from browning too much in one spot.

Splash in a half cup of Marsala wine and scrape the bits of vegetables off the bottom of your pan. I like to use a wooden utensil instead of metal for this. The sound of metal on metal reminds me of nails on a chalkboard for some reason. Next, add a cup of chicken stock, preferably homemade. Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes.
Look at the veggie mixture simmering on the stove... doesn't it look inviting? 
I could dive right in.
     Now, add two or three cups of pre-cooked, grilled chicken. Sprinkle in a little Italian seasoning. Let it warm through and absorb all of the lovely flavors. You can ignore it for a few minutes while you prepare the rest of your dinner. If serving over pasta, get those noodles into the pot.
     Make sure you have something green on the table. We want to keep the Food Maven happy, don't we? A pretty green salad is fast and easy. Steamed asparagus or garlic green beans would also be great.
     The last thing you will do is add a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream to the pan. Let it simmer for about five minutes. You should notice the sauce begin to 'tighten up,' or thicken slightly. This is good.
     If serving with pasta, drain and throw it into the pan with the Marsala mixture. Let it absorb some of the sauce. Don't forget to taste it for seasonings. A little extra freshly ground pepper is usually warranted, but more salt may or may not be needed. Place into warmed pasta bowls and sprinkle with grated Parmesan.
     Mmmm. Is this making you hungry? It is making me hungry as well, so don't feel bad. It is nearing lunchtime at my house and I am throwing an Amy's Organic Margherita pizza in the oven. What? You're shocked to learn I'm not making a 'snooty' little salad for myself? Hey, I'm writing this blog to me as well as to you.
Should I be the pot or the kettle today? You decide.

homemade laundry soap

     A couple of years ago, my friend, the Housewife, gave me this recipe for homemade laundry soap. I originally had a top loading machine, but now have a front loader. It is works well in either.
     There are only three ingredients to make this detergent. I make ten recipes at once, in order to save time. Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda costs around three dollars a box. Ten recipes use an entire box. The Mule Team Borax is a little over three dollars and a half of a box is enough. The Fels Naptha laundry bar soap is $.99 cents at our local Publix food market and around $1.25 at Ace Hardware. Kroger has stopped carrying it. My initial investment is around sixteen dollars, but don't have to purchase detergent stuff for several months.
     The most time consuming part of this process is grating the bar soap.  I use a large knife to cube the Fels Naptha, then throw it into my food processor and run until it resembles cornmeal. Blend the three soaps together in an airtight container to store.
     Here's the best part: 
     You only use one or two tablespoons per load!!!  Why, you ask? No fillers. For this reason, I am spending only a few cents per load. My laundry is fresh and clean. Here's the recipe... 
mix together:
1 C. super washing soda
1/2 C. mule team borax
1 bar of fels naptha soap, grated
Use 1 Tbsp. for a light load or 2 for a heavy one 
If you need a delicate soap for allergy sufferers or baby clothes, you can use Ivory soap instead.
You'll love the clean, natural smell.
Next time, we'll be discussing skin care recipes from the kitchen!

roasted tomato pesto panini

     Once again, I am enamoured with something I ate somewhere else. I was at the Cafe in our local Barnes and Noble Bookseller with Hannah, who we lovingly refer to as Rollie... from the 101 Dalmatians movie. As a child she would say, in similar fashion to the cartoon canine, "I'm hungry, Mama. Really I am." The nickname has lingered, she still to this day is hungry most of the time, but definitely not rollie!
     On this particular afternoon, in true Hannah fashion, she was ravenous. We ordered coffees and a panini sandwich to share. It was made with basil pesto, oven roasted tomatoes and cheese. The panini was warm and gooey and tasted a little like pizza! What's not to love?
     I need to make this at home! After experimenting a little, (its not like it is rocket science or brain surgery, folks) here is what I came up with:
Roma tomatoes
a couple of garlic cloves
extra virgin olive oil (evoo)
salt and pepper
Fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
Sliced, sharp provolone cheese such as Boar's Head
a jar of basil pesto sauce
Ciabatta bread
Slice Roma tomatoes lengthwise and place in a bowl. Toss with a drizzle of evoo, a few finely minced garlic cloves and a sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast in 275 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove tray from oven and cool slightly while assembling remaining ingredients. Slice bread open horizontally.  Spread with basil pesto.  Place tomatoes and cheeses on bread.  Close and grill on Panini press until brown.  Serve warm. Remaining tomatoes can be stored in refrigerator for a week or so. Make extra... you're going to need them!

quickie bruschetta

     Need a fast lunch or after school snack idea? Give this quickie bruschetta a try. I used to make this for the girls when we were homeschooling. It is also great with a bowl of soup or a nice healthy salad.
1 box (8-10 slices) Texas garlic toast... use just what you need
1 can petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 T. olive oil
2 t. minced garlic
1 T. fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese
Place drained tomatoes in small bowl. Add olive oil, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Toast one side of Texas toast on cookie sheet in oven, per directions. Turn over and top toasted side with tomato topping. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake until brown and cheese is melted, about 5 more minutes. Cut into 2 or 3 slices to serve.

     Remaining topping can be tossed with hot pasta as a fast sauce. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and reserve a little pasta cooking water to loosen up the sauce if needed. Immediately toss with tomato sauce. Add a little pasta water if needed. Taste for seasonings. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.