Not-so-mellow mushrooms: Sherry-Braised Wild Mushroom Salad with Pecorino and Hazelnuts

Not-so-mellow mushrooms: Sherry-Braised Wild Mushroom Salad with Pecorino and Hazelnuts

Mushroom Salad 3 sm

Though it’s an oxymoron, a warm salad is the perfect starter or main course for your table any time of the year, and I have just the recipe for you: sherry-braised mushrooms sautéed with shallots, thyme, and garlic, tossed with mixed greens, toasted hazelnuts and shaved Pecorino cheese.

Mushrooms are a great alternative to meat in a salad as they’re savory and hearty, pairing well with a variety of vinegars, nuts and cheeses. Many varieties of mushrooms are widely available in the winter and early spring months, which is why this is the perfect time to go foraging for tasty fungi at your local grocery store.

Though I didn’t go out and dig them up in my backyard, I’m using the term “wild mushrooms” with this dish because species of edible mushrooms that are either cultivated or harvested wild can be used in it. Examples of cultivated (or farmed) mushrooms include shiitake, Portobello, cremini, oyster, trumpet, etc.; mushrooms that are most commonly harvested wild (foraged) include truffle, matsutake, chanterelle, hedgehog, and, of course, the psilocybin-containing hallucinogenic ones (which I wouldn’t advise using in this recipe). Unless you’re a seasoned mushroom hunter, your safest bet is probably to buy them at the grocery store.

The key to this salad is adding the freshly sautéed mushrooms straight from the pan to the salad greens and tossing them together seconds before serving. The greens will wilt a few minutes after the hot mushrooms are added, so you don’t want them to wilt too soon before they’re eaten — they won’t taste bad, but a soggy pile of salad just isn’t pretty to look at.

Enjoy this salad as a main or first course, and pair it with a zesty Sauvignon Blanc or a medium-bodied Pinot Noir.
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Soup for Dummies: Warm up with this easy-to-make curried cauliflower-apple soup

Soup for Dummies: Warm up with this easy-to-make curried cauliflower-apple soup

Cauliflower Soup 1 logo

When the temperatures start to take a nose dive and it’s finally time to dig out the sweaters, I have one thing on my mind (besides keeping warm): soup! Synonymous with warmth and comfort, no wonder it’s such a popular dish this time of year.

The best part about soup is that it’s so darn easy to make. Seriously. You throw everything into a pot, bring it to a boil, lower it to a simmer, then let it ride for anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours (depending on what you put in it).

With most soup recipes, especially those that need to simmer for a long period of time, a lid is required during cooking to prevent the liquid from evaporating (or else you’ll just have a pot of soggy vegetables). Also, you’ll notice that soup is always cooked in a pot or saucepan with high sides instead of in a sauté pan with low sides. Why? The high sides prevent some of the moisture from leaving the pot and evaporating, while pans with low sides are designed to help wick moisture away — which is why they are great for making pan sauces and reductions.

Curried Cauliflower and Apple Soup is a creamy, dreamy dish using currently abundant seasonal produce. Cauliflower is a great base for a pureed soup because, when blended, it acquires a creamed consistency; hence no cream (or the added calorie count) is needed. The Madras curry gives the recipe an Eastern twist and a pop of flavor, but feel free to omit it or change it up with your favorite curry blend.

Cauliflower Soup logo
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May the odds be ever in your favor: The Hunger Games’ sweet and savory Lamb Stew with Dried Plums Over Wild Rice

May the odds be ever in your favor: The Hunger Games’ sweet and savory Lamb Stew with Dried Plums Over Wild Rice
Katniss' favorite meal of lamb stew with dried plums and wild rice.

Katniss’ favorite meal of lamb stew with dried plums and wild rice.

If you’ve ever read The Hunger Games trilogy, you’ve probably noted that the most memorable dish in said texts is Katniss’ memorable meal of lamb stew with dried plums over wild rice. Her first taste of it in book one is at the games training center in the Capitol, and she is later rewarded with more of it later on during her time inside the game arena (it pops up in the following books quite a few times as well).

To create this dish, I used my favorite Irish Guinness beef stew as the base recipe: swapped out the beef for lamb, traded the Guinness for red wine, and threw in some dried plums (a.k.a.: prunes). Otherwise, the base is simply, onions, carrots, potatoes, fresh herbs and tomato paste — all items that can be easily found at your local grocery store.

This rustic lamb stew is incredibly easy to make and is the perfect dish to serve over these next few chilly months. The lamb is tender and slightly sweet, further enhanced by the herbaceous rosemary and sweet prunes. If lamb is too pricey for your budget, simply use beef or pork stew meat in its place. This can be simmered on the stove top for about 45 minutes, or cooked low and slow in a slow cooker over the course of a few hours. It is great served on its own, but to keep with the original inspiration for the dish, it’s even better served over wild rice (though I prefer a wild rice blend as wild rice can be rather chewy and rather costly).

Put yourself in Katniss’ shoes and volunteer yourself as tribute for cooking up this heartwarming meal. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

(P.S.: Happy New Year!)
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Chicken with Fresh Peas Braised in Sparkling Wine: A simple dish that’s packed full of flavor

Chicken with Fresh Peas Braised in Sparkling Wine: A simple dish that’s packed full of flavor
Marks & Spencer

Image credit: Delish.com

As most of you faithful readers know, I love cooking with booze. Using beer, wine or spirits is a great way to infuse flavor and amp up a dish. Whether it’s used for deglazing in a simple pan sauce or for a low and slow braise, alcohol can add a myraid of flavors to a dish (as long as you’re not using bottom shelf swill).

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Image credit: Marks & Spencer

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Brioche and Sausage Stuffing with Apples, Dried Cherries and Hazelnuts

Brioche and Sausage Stuffing with Apples, Dried Cherries and Hazelnuts
A revamped holiday stuffing sporting an array of awesome flavors

A revamped holiday stuffing sporting an array of awesome flavors

Besides the giant turkey, I bet if you asked most Americans what their favorite Thanksgiving dish is they’d say it’s the stuffing. Being included in that party, it’s only appropriate that my first official holiday-related recipe of the year is a classed up version of this favorite side.

For this revamped stuffing, I wanted to use a variety of tastes: buttery brioche bread, savory sausage, sweet apples, tart dried cherries, and crunchy hazelnuts. The pièce de résistance? Hitting the saute pan with sweet and smoky bourbon to deglaze it and concentrate the flavors of the alcohol.

My pro tip for stuffing: Don’t even think about putting it inside your raw turkey and baking it that way — always bake it separately. Stuffing baked inside turkeys gets soaked with raw turkey juices and almost never reaches the proper internal temperature, thus making it one of the biggest causes of food-borne illness during the holidays.

Stay safe and keep it tasty this Thanksgiving, and be sure to try out this updated take on the best addition to your holiday table.
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Pumpkin-Gingersnap Trifles combine the classic flavors of pumpkin pie in a glass

Pumpkin-Gingersnap Trifles combine the classic flavors of pumpkin pie in a glass

Pumpkin Parfait text

Aside from shopping for gifts, food — both making and consuming — seems to be most folks’ main concern when planning for said holidays.

The thought of preparing a large feast or nibbles for a large fête can be quite daunting, and for most people, the dessert course often seems to be where home cooks are either spending hours preparing or they’re skipping the hassle by just purchasing something from the grocery store. Not to sound like Rachael Ray or Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) from The Matrix, but what if I told you that you could whip up a mouthwatering dessert in thirty minutes or less and be able to brag that you made it all from scratch?

My inspiration for the following recipe came when I needed to whip up a quick dessert, but didn’t have enough time (or motivation) to bake a whole pumpkin pie. These Pumpkin-Gingersnap Trifles incorporate the flavors of classic pumpkin pie — spiced pumpkin filling, whipped cream, gingersnap cookie “crust” — but take only about a third of the time to make from start to finish. The best part about the dish is that you can make them as individual servings or in one big dish to share.

So if you’re strapped for time this holiday season and/or baking challenged, try out this quick and easy pumpkin treat which is sure to impress all of your guests.
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Pumpkin and sage give macaroni and cheese an injection of autumn flavors

Pumpkin and sage give macaroni and cheese an injection of autumn flavors

Pumpkin Mac text

Since I’m still on my comfort food kick and totally inspired by the season, I decided to whip up another classic dish and given it an injection of autumn: baked macaroni and cheese with pumpkin and sage. Sure, mac and cheese is great as it is, but you’d be surprised how much better it can be with the addition of pumpkin, giving it the slightest hint of sweetness. Sage is my absolute favorite herb to cook with during the fall and it pairs perfectly with pumpkin, so I figured, why not throw it in this dish, too?

I also wanted to write up this particular recipe to teach you readers a thing or two about classic cooking techniques. I recently featured a recipe here that used the classic “mother sauce” Béchamel — milk thickened with a roux (equal parts fat and flour) to make a white sauce. This one uses the basics for Béchamel but adds cheese to it, thus making it a Mornay sauce (read: fancy name for cheese sauce). See? You can make easy, tasty food and learn some fancy cooking skills along the way.

While you can use just about any cheese you’d like for this recipe, I suggest using a white, mild-flavored cheese, like white cheddar, Gouda, or Gruyere, as it won’t overpower the pumpkin flavor or hide the bright yellow-orange hue imparted by the pumpkin puree. And while this mac and cheese doesn’t need to be baked after the creamy sauce is cooked, popping it in the oven gives it a firmer texture and and crispy exterior.
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Creamed Kale and Sweet Onions: Try this (slightly) healthier twist on classic creamed spinach

Creamed Kale and Sweet Onions: Try this (slightly) healthier twist on classic creamed spinach

Creamed Kale text

For my next autumn fare installment, I decided to take a classic comfort dish, creamed spinach, and give it a more modern makeover by using the very popular cruciferous vegetable kale in place of the spinach. Kale has such a great reputation for being so healthy and nutritious, so I figured it could handle being slathered with a butter-laden cream sauce. The vitamins and minerals in kale negate some of the calories in the sauce, right?

I’ve seen creamed spinach done every which way — simmered with cream, mixed with cream cheese, etc. — but I’m a fan of using the old school, classic Bechamel sauce for this application. It’s quick, easy, and it’s a good basic sauce-making skill to have in your culinary repertoire (if you don’t already). Bechamel is one of the five basic “Mother Sauces” in classic French cuisine made up of a roux and milk. A roux is a thickening agent for liquids that is equal parts fat (butter, oil, animal fat, etc.) and flour cooked together before adding the liquid.

Try this out on your table this season for a (somewhat) healthier take on the standard creamed spinach. It’s a side that’s sure to please even the pickiest eater or green veggie hater.
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One-Pan Roast Chicken with Sausage, Apple, Citrus and Rosemary

One-Pan Roast Chicken with Sausage, Apple, Citrus and Rosemary
Get a taste of fall with this one-pan roast chicken and sausage recipe

Get a taste of fall with this one-pan roast chicken and sausage recipe

It’s funny how the autumnal equinox can make an almost immediate change in the weather — with the overnight switch from summer to fall you can start to smell the faint hint of autumn in the air almost overnight. Maybe it’s all in my head, but I swear the slightest breeze feels just a tad cooler the day after the calendar date of this change of seasons. And with this real or imagined cooler weather comes the itch to crank up my oven and start using the warm and comforting flavors of this time of year. Hearty herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme are hallmarks of fall tastes; citrus, apples and pears are in season, and baking and roasting are the cooking methods that prevail.

For my first recipe of the season, I’m giving plain old chicken an injection of fall flavors with the addition of rosemary, orange and smoked sausage in a one-pan roast. Pan-seared chicken legs and thighs are nestled in a bed of onion, apple, smoked sausage, seasoned with orange zest and fresh rosemary, and then roasted to golden-brown perfection in the oven.

On its own or paired with a few sides, this dish is a savory and flavorsome addition to your autumn recipe repertoire. It’s also very versatile: use lemon in place of the orange, sage or thyme to replace the rosemary, and you can even switch up the smoked sausage and use cured Spanish chorizo in its place.
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Paleo Thai Coconut Red Pork Curry with Zucchini “Noodles”

Paleo Thai Coconut Red Pork Curry with Zucchini “Noodles”
Paleo Curry 1 text

A tasty Paleo diet makeover of a popular Thai curry dish.

The Paleo diet. It’s something you’ve probably been hearing a lot about lately — as I like to say (purposely trying to sound like Paris Hilton) “It’s so hot right now.” But what is it anyway? As the name suggests, it is based on the diet that mimics what the cavemen of the Paleolithic era might have grazed upon, wild plants and animals. It includes fruit, vegetables, roots, fungi, nuts, seeds, eggs, and pasture-raised, grass-fed animal protein. Followers of this way of eating subscribe to it because they believe it to aid in healthy digestion and weight loss, and prevent blood sugar spikes, systemic inflammation, autoimmune-related diseases — among a slew of other health benefits. Many people who previously followed strict gluten- and/or dairy-free diets have taken to this diet because it nixes the foods that they cannot eat.

So what’s on the ‘NO’ list? Grains, legumes, dairy, soy, added sugars, booze, white potatoes, vegetable oils, and processed foods. Though there are quite a few dietary restrictions, it doesn’t mean that the Paleo plate must simply consist of a hunk of meat and some bland, boring vegetables. Many Paleo cooking enthusiasts have made it their mission to come up with creative and tasty ways to incorporate the Paleo rules into their (and others’) diet. My friend Melissa Joulwan, author of Well Fed, the upcoming Well Fed 2 (on store shelves later this month) and TheClothesMakeTheGirl.com, is one of those cheerleaders of creative Paleo cooking. She’s been my mentor and inspiration when dabbling in, as she calls it, “dino-chow.”

I do not strictly follow the Paleo lifestyle, but I do love the culinary challenge that it gives me to come up with dishes that are appetizing to Paleo folks and enticing to those (open-minded) non-Paleo people. That’s why I came up with the following recipe for Thai red curry with pork over “noodles.” It’s a Paleo-friendly spin on the classic Thai peanut and coconut milk sauce with red curry paste. I used roasted cashew butter in place of peanut butter (because peanuts are a legume) and substituted coconut aminos for the soy sauce and zucchini peels for the rice noodles. They were easy swapouts and, in my opinion, this dish tastes as good as the original.

In closing, this is only a brief description of the Paleo diet and just the tip of the iceberg. There are also many versions of Paleo out there and, if interested, I encourage you to read up on them and find the one that suits your lifestyle best.
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