Stuffed Mushroom Caps

I built this dish around 1 ingredient- but it’s the least obvious ingredient in the dish. It wasn’t the mushrooms, even though they had been in my fridge for a week and would have stayed there longer had I not thought to make this. It wasn’t the parmesan, even though it was the last of it and the perfect way to finish up what I had left. It wasn’t even the scallions- those were thrown in because I was out of shallots. No, this entire dish was built around 1 thing: Parsley.

I’ve become insanely obsessed with parsley recently – constantly trying to throw it into any dish I can. Not because it makes the dish prettier or because I like to use fresh herbs (both of which are true), I just think it has a bad reputation and has so many awesome uses. I put it in my eggs, in my soups and in my pasta dishes- the possibilities are endless people. I remember being a kid (ok- I was like 19) and picking parsley out of my dishes- being absolutely annoyed that the chef would even add it to the dish on the side. Those days are long gone. And don’t get me wrong- the mushroom is the star in this dish, but the parsley plays a strong supporting role.

This is a quick snack, appetizer, or side dish. Instead of the usual, super heavy and dry stuffed mushrooms, this recipe is light and refreshing. The lemon juice gives it a real zip and the parsley gives it a great herby flavor.

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Stuffed Mushroom Caps

(for about 8-10 small mushroom caps)

1 small package of small mushrooms (should include 10-12 mushrooms)
3 garlic cloves- minced
2 tbsp onions – finely chopped
2 tbsp scallions – chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp italian breadcrumbs
1 tbsp – freshly grated parmesan, more for topping
The juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper – to taste
About a 1/4 cup of parsely- or as much or little as you like

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400. Brush dirt off of the mushroom caps and carefully remove stems, making sure not to break the mushrooms. Heat 2 pans, 1 small and 1 medium, over medium heat with a tbsp of olive oil in each. Add the mushrooms to the first pan and allow to saute.

2. In the other pan, add the garlic, scallions, and onions and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and parsley and cook for another minute. Add the breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and parmesan and mix well. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. The mushrooms should be cooked at this point. Remove them from the pan and add them to a baking dish. Generously spoon the mixture into the mushroom caps and cover with a sprinkle of parmesan. Bake uncovered for about 10 minutes.

4. Remove from baking pan with spoon and serve immediately.

Eggplant Parmesan

My aunt Liz is going to kill me. She said so when I told her I posted the Mofongo recipe (which was hers by the way). “But Chris, what if I want to write a cookbook someday? You’re giving away all of my secrets!” So when I asked her for Grandma’s Pumpkin Fritter recipe she wouldn’t give it to me. She didn’t want it to end up on here. (Don’t worry- I’ll get it one way or the other…) But that didn’t stop me from snatching a few recipes from her when I was down there a week ago. She should know better- I’m crafty. If you want to learn someone’s recipe, you can have them email it to you, write it down as they dictate it to you, taste it and try to de-construct it- or you could simply watch and help them cook it. Yes- I helped her cook this eggplant parm and soaked up every last step. Oh, is she going to be annoyed!!

I used to hate eggplant but am slowly starting to like it. This recipe allows the eggplant to shine and tastes really rustic. I made it for Thanksgiving and my dad really loved it- and he’s a tough critic. I made this on Wednesday, before I left for Connecticut, and reheated it an hour before dinner. It tasted even better the next day (Yes- I had a bite before I left for Connecticut and it was good. I couldn’t help myself! The next day- it was really good!)

Eggplant Parmesan – serves 6

2-3 medium eggplants- sliced thinly
1/2 cup flour- for dredging (more if necessary)
1 cup –  italian breadcrumbs
1 cup Olive Oil for frying- total
1 cup – tomato sauce
1 cup – shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup  – freshly grated parmesan
Salt
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1. Start by cutting the eggplant, lengthwise into about 1/4-1/2 inch thick slices (not too thin, not too thick). Lay the eggplant on a paper towel lined cutting board. Lightly sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for about 20-30 minutes. Pat dry with a paper towel.

2. Get your ingredients for dredging ready in separate plates/bowls (flour, eggs, italian breadcrumbs). Dip the eggplant in flour on both sides, then dip into the egg mixture and allow to drip off. Finally, dip the eggplant in breadcrumbs and make sure to coat well. Continue process until all the slices are well coated.
3. Start heating olive oil (or veggie oil) in a pan over medium-high heat. You want the eggplant to cook as fast as possible because they will soak up the oil quickly, but you also don’t want to burn the eggplant. Cook until browned on both sides- about 5-6 minutes. Add more oil to pan as needed during the frying process. When the eggplant slices are browned, transfer them to a paper-towel lined cutting board or baking sheet.

4. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a pan (I used an 8×8 which I think was a good size for this dish.) ladle a thin layer of tomato sauce in the pan- enough to cover the bottom. Add the first layer of eggplant. Add another thin layer of tomato sauce, and an even layer of shredded mozzarella and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Top with another layer of eggplant and repeat steps. Do this until you have 4 layers of eggplant. Generously top the last layer with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and grated parmesan.
5. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook until the top layer is golden- about another 10-15 minutes. Let the dish rest for about 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Orecchiette Alla Vodka

Orecciette all Vodka

Orecciette all Vodka

I’ve had many cooking failures in my life. There was the time I tried to make stir-fry. I ran out and bought tons of stir-fry materials including a wok and a “how-to wok” book, got a perfect recipe and went for it. It was a disaster- to say the least. Then there was the time I tried to make filet mignon and puff pastry alla Mickey and Mooch (one of my fav Charlotte-area restaurants). That too was a disaster. The steak was overdone and the pastry was underdone. Quite simply- a failure! Then there was that time I tried to make Giada’s Limoncello recipe. At first it seemed ok but after sitting in my fridge for a week or two, my mom had a sip and it almost made her throw up! (Sorry Mom!!! I really can cook… I swear!!)

However, I moved forward and didn’t give up on cooking- especially when trying to recreate some of my favorite dishes. One of those was Penne alla Vodka. The first time I tried to make it I wasn’t satisfied with the results. The flavors were there, for the most part, but something was off- the consistency and color wasn’t right. I gave up on it for a while but revisited it recently. This time it was a success.

Orecchiette Alla Vodka – serves 6

1 35-ounce can (Italian) whole tomatoes
1 pound orecchiette
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
Crushed red pepper flakes; Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
1  tablespoon- chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus 1-2 tablespoons to top

1. Add the can of whole tomatoes and pulse in a mini food processor with quick pulses until it is chunky. Transfer this to a bowl. In the same food processor, chop 8 cloves of garlic until minced. 8 cloves may seem like a bit much but I’m a garlic extremist.

2. In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic begins to brown slightly- about 2 minutes. Carefully add the tomatoes to the pan and bring to a boil. Season with salt, crushed red pepper flakes, and pepper to taste- I like my pasta sauces a little on the spicy side. Once they start to boil, add the Vodka and bring to a simmer.

3. Start boiling well salted water for the pasta. I chose to use orecchiette because it’s a really great pasta for saucy dishes and it happened to be the only pasta, besides elbow macaroni, that I had in the apartment. Once the water is boiling add the pasta until it is almost al dente.

4. Once the pasta is almost done, add the cream to the sauce and stir well. Add the pasta directly into the pan and toss well. Top with the Parmigiano Reggiano and parsley. Toss to coat evenly. Serve and top with remaining parmesan.

After all was said and done, it turned out really well. Creamy and decadent and oh-so comforting. AND I was shocked at how quick the whole process was. I was sitting down to eat about 20 minutes after I started cooking- that’s shorter than my Sunday tomato sauce recipe (which is amazing and will be up here soon)! I still don’t know what went wrong that night I tried to make it for the first time.  Probably some fluke accident. Either way, I’m really happy I gave it a second chance. Maybe it’s time to revisit that stir-fry…….

White Bean and Spinach Soup with Leeks

White Bean and Spinach Soup with Leeks

White Bean and Spinach Soup with Leeks

I had high hopes for this weekend. I wanted to go into the city early on Saturday, buy a companion fish for my upside down catfish, buy some groceries at the Union Square Green Market, and rush home to cook a fabulous meal. What I wasn’t counting on was spending most of the weekend fighting off a cold/flu in bed.

After sleeping in bed for most of the weekend, by Sunday afternoon I was starting to gain back some of my strength. I didn’t want the whole weekend to be a wash so I wanted to cook something that would give me strength but that I could also feel accomplished cooking.

I recently had a really wonderful white bean soup at El Quijote restaurant in New York City. My family has been going there for years to celebrate birthdays, graduations, and any other special events that happen in our lives. I had the soup on my last visit and really enjoyed it. I made sure to add it on to my “must-make” list and found this to be a perfect opportunity to give it a try.

The Parmesan Rind... I knew this would come in handy...

The Parmesan Rind... I knew this would come in handy...

White Bean and Spinach Soup with Leeks – serves 4

36 ounces of Chicken Broth
1 cup of water
1 lb white beans
6 cloves of garlic, minced
4 leeks (bulbs), diced
½ white onion, diced
2 carrots, cut into ½ in. pieces
1 large potato, cubed into 1 in. pieces
1 parmesan cheese rind
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp rosemary
2 tbsp salt
½ tbsp pepper
  1. Heat water in a pot. Once the water is hot, turn the heat off, add the beans and let sit for one hour. Once the beans are done soaking, drain and rinse with water in a colander.
  2. 10 minutes before the beans are done soaking, add olive oil to the pot you will cook the soup in and turn on the heat to medium. After a few minutes add the leeks and onions and stir until softened, or about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the chicken broth, beans, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary to the pot. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 40-50 minutes or until the beans are almost fully cooked, stirring occassionally.
  4. Add carrots and potatoes to the soup and cook for another 15 minutes. Feel free to add ½ cup-1 cup of water to the soup if you feel it is necessary at this point.
  5. Add spinach and let wilt into the soup, about 5 minutes or so. Stir occassionally.
  6. Serve topped with freshly grated parmesan
The soup bubbling away

The soup bubbling away

The soup came out really great and it really helped to clear up my sinuses… at least for a little while. I also made enough to have for a lunch and dinner this week. It was really filling, had lots of fresh vegetables, and even though it took a long time to make, it was mostly a hands off meal.  Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to call this soup my “cure your cold and flu white bean soup”.

Update: While it wasn’t my complete cure all it really did help to clear up my sinuses. However, it was no match for my fever so I ended up staying home sick yesterday. The silver lining? I got to have the soup for dinner last night and after having sat for a day it was even more packed with flavor! So how am I feeling today? Not 100%, but I am posting this so that’s a good sign!

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