Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Wild Mushroom Toast

I remember, back in the day, my mother used to tell my dad that she married him for better or for worse, but not for lunch. Dad would occasionally come home for lunch, leaving my mother quite perplexed. She really found lunches, on the whole, to be rather boring. I feel the same. We tend to get locked into doing what we are used to for lunch rather than trying something new. This recipe makes a wonderful lunch. It’s perfect for Meatless Monday or any day of the week, and will be enjoyed by carnivores and vegetarians alike. You can make the mixture a day ahead, or even earlier in the day, spread it onto the bread, and heat it. Hearty, woodsy, and flavorful.

Wild Mushroom Toast

1 1/2-oz. pkg.
Melissa’s dried porcini mushrooms
2 T. olive oil
1 lb. crimini mushrooms, cleaned
1 T.
Melissa’s minced garlic
1 T. finely chopped Melissa’s shallots
1 T. cognac
1 T. butter
½ t. kosher salt
1/8 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 t.
dried rosemary
1/8 t. dried thyme
¼ c. chopped flat leaf parsley
¼ c. grated Parmesan
4 slices rustic bread*

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Soak dried mushrooms in a bowl of hot water to re-hydrate while you slice the crimini mushrooms 1/4” thick. Rinse re-hydrated mushrooms and squeeze to dry.

Over medium high heat, heat a 12” ovenproof skillet until very hot. Add olive oil and fresh mushrooms, and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms release their liquid, about 10 minutes; stir in garlic. Add the shallots, cognac, butter, salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast, for 15 minutes. Serve warm on garlic bread sprinkled with Parmesan.

*I used split ciabatta rolls.

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Friday, January 27, 2023

Kirsten's Fried Pork Chops with Country Gravy

Last week, lured by an exceptional sale, I bought a pack of pork chops. After I got home and started unloading my groceries, I wondered what the heck I was thinking. Sure, I’m weak and pathetic when it comes to a bargain; still, I hadn’t made pork chops in years. I decided to pull out the behemoth that was the cookbook of favorite recipes that my husband and I had put together over our 23 years, and came across this one. It had been heavily annotated, including the mention of how quick and easy these were, and how much we both enjoyed them. That was all I needed to hear. Brining is of the utmost importance here so don’t skip that step. Do make these. They are, indeed, quick and easy, and they certainly are delicious!

Kirsten's Fried Pork Chops with Country Gravy

From food.com, adapted, edited for clarity

 Basic Brine:

3 c. boiling water

¼ c. kosher salt

¼ c. sugar

2 c. ice cubes

6 bone-in pork rib chops (each 1/2-inch thick) or 6 boneless pork chops

 Country Gravy:

½ lb. bulk fresh sausage

2 T. flour

2 c. half-and-half, plus additional if needed

Freshly grated nutmeg

¼ t. Worcestershire sauce

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco)

 ½ c. flour

Sausage fat or bacon fat

 To make the brine:

Put the water in a large bowl and stir in the salt and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add ice cubes and cool the mixture to at least 45ºF. Submerge the pork chops in the brine. Refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 4. Remove the pork chops from the brine, pat dry, and wrap in plastic wrap. Store in refrigerator until ready to cook.

 To make the gravy:

In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium heat, breaking it up with a spatula or fork. Pour off all but 2 T. of the fat and discard. Reserve the fat in a cup for cooking chops. Sprinkle the flour over the cooked sausage in the skillet; stir to coat. Gradually stir in the half-and-half, nutmeg, and Worcestershire sauce. Cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add more half-and-half if the sauce becomes too thick. Season, to taste, with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Cover the skillet and set aside while you cook the chops.

 To cook chops:

Sprinkle the chops generously with pepper. Dredge then in the flour, shaking off excess. In a large, heavy skillet, heat the reserved fat plus additional oil to a depth of 1/8-inch over medium-high heat. Put the chops in the pan, as many as will fit without crowding, and fry until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes. To serve, put 1 chop on each plate and spoon the gravy over the top. Serve extra gravy on the side to pour biscuits or grits.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Ultimate Bacon Ranch Cheese Ball

I am not a fan of football, but I know that the Super Bowl is coming, and that means lots and lots of party food. I also know that, back in my day, a party wasn’t a party without a cheese ball. This “ultimate” cheese ball is the best one that I have ever had. I tweaked it a tiny bit, and trust me when I tell you this is cheese ball perfection. You’ll want to have this at your next casual gathering.

The Ultimate Bacon Ranch Cheese Ball

Slightly adapted from thechunkychef.com

 16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

3 T. sour cream

1 oz. pkg. (3 T.) ranch dressing mix

¾ t. garlic powder

½ t. dried minced onion

¼ t. kosher salt

¼ t. black pepper

½ t. Worcestershire sauce

1 ¼ c. grated cheddar cheese (divided)

½ c. grated pepper jack cheese

8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (divided)

1/3 c. chopped green onions (divided)

2/3 c. chopped toasted pecans

1 t. poppy seeds


 In a large mixing bowl place cream cheese, sour cream, ranch seasoning, garlic powder, minced onion, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire. Beat until combined. Add 1 cup of the cheddar cheese, all of the pepper jack cheese, half of the bacon, and half the green onions.  Stir until mixed. Lay out a large sheet of plastic wrap and drop cream cheese mixture onto it.  Cover tightly on all sides, and shape into a ball shape.  Refrigerate for several hours or overnight, until firm.


 Add remaining 1/4 cup cheddar cheese, remaining bacon, and green onions to a small mixing bowl.  Stir in poppy seeds and refrigerate alongside the cheese ball. Before rolling the cheese ball, add pecans and stir well.


Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread out the outer coating in an even layer. Remove plastic wrap and roll cheese ball in coating, making sure all sides are coated.  You may have to pick up some of the coating and press it so it sticks. Serve immediately, or cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Monday, January 23, 2023

Quick & Easy Baked Ziti

This is the perfect dish for Meatless Monday, particularly in a month such as this one where the weather can be dreary and bitingly cold. Do yourself a favor and put it together early in the day to be baked around dinnertime. Serve it with an Italian salad, some cheesy garlic bread, and you have a wonderful, memorable, family pleasing meal.

Quick & Easy Baked Ziti

3 T. olive oil
1 T.
Melissa’s minced garlic
1 14.5-oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 14.5-oz. can stewed tomatoes
1 14.5-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 t. sugar
Pinch kosher salt
½ t. dried basil
½ t.
Italian seasoning
1 lb. ziti rigate, cooked al dente
½ c. shredded Gouda
½ c. grated Parmesan
1 c. shredded mozzarella

Béchamel Sauce
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
Freshly ground black pepper
A generous grating of
fresh nutmeg
2 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, sauté garlic in olive oil for one minute. Add all three cans of tomatoes to the pot, sugar, and salt, and simmer 10 minutes. Add basil and
Italian seasoning, reduce heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes more.

While the red sauce is simmering, make the béchamel sauce. Melt butter in a small pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook one minute, adding salt, pepper, and nutmeg to flour. Add milk and bring sauce to a bubble, reduce for five minutes.

Place pasta into a
2-quart casserole dish. Pour the tomato sauce over the pasta, tossing to coat. Pour the béchamel sauce over the coated pasta and top with all three cheeses, scattering to the edges. Place the casserole into the preheated oven to melt the cheeses and bake until the edges are light brown and bubbly, 10 to 15 minutes.

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Friday, January 20, 2023

German Potato Salad Soup

I like potatoes; they are one of my favorite vegetables. One of the reasons for my fondness is that they are incredibly versatile. The other day I was making potato salad — the German variety — to have alongside some brisket, and was wondering if German potato salad would translate into soup. Indeed, it does, and quite deliciously. This soup has a lot of flavor and complex tastes from the tang of the vinegar and sauerkraut to the uniqueness of the caraway seeds; add a bit of corned beef to this and you have a Reuben in a bowl. This pairs well with said Reuben, or a Rachel sandwich, and can be made chunky or smooth.

German Potato Salad Soup

4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
Melissa’s organic yellow onions, diced
½ c. sauerkraut
1 bay leaf
6 c. of chicken broth
¼ c. cider vinegar
4 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 t.
dried marjoram
1 t. caraway seeds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ c. heavy cream

In a stock pot, cook bacon until brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside. Add onions and bay leaf to the drippings in the pan, and cook and stir until onions are transparent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add sauerkraut and cook one minute more.

Pour chicken broth into the pot; add vinegar, potatoes, marjoram, caraway seed, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in heavy cream and bacon and cook another 1-2 minutes. Blend with immersion blender. (You can leave it partially chunky, if desired.) Top with additional bacon, caraway seeds, or chopped parsley.

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

Nutty Chicken Salad

Back in the day my mother used to play bridge a couple of times a week. I don’t play bridge, but I can totally get on board with playing cards with women a couple of times a week. Different women rotated hosting the gatherings every week. There was always a signature cocktail, delicious food, dessert (naturally), and lots of conviviality. Sometimes there were prizes. What’s not to like about that? Does anyone play bridge anymore? If not, why not? Invite me! I don’t play bridge, as I mentioned, but if there is ever a Crazy Eights party, count me in!  My mother always tried to be unique and innovative with her meals. She used to tell me that she was so sick of chicken salad because that’s all anybody ever seemed to make — hot chicken salad, cold chicken salad, chicken salad on lettuce leaves, chicken salad in a pineapple boat, you name it, she ate it. As a consequence, she grew to have quite a disdain for chicken salad. Me? I love it!

I was experimenting last week and as I was making the chicken salad my eyes rested upon a large canister of mixed nuts that I had recently purchased. I wondered how the combination of cashews, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and pistachios would be in chicken salad. Let me tell you, it was magnificent! I loved the variety of tastes and the crunchiness, paired with the creaminess of the chicken. Winner!

Nutty Chicken Salad

2 c. cooked, cubed chicken
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 T. finely chopped
Melissa’s shallot
½ c. salted mixed nuts, rough chopped
½ c. Duke’s mayonnaise
1/8 t. garlic powder
1/8 t. smoked paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients into a medium mixing bowl. Fold together until combined. Chill 2-4 hours (preferably overnight) before serving.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

New York Times’ Chocolate Whiskey Cake

My search has begun for the perfect whiskey cake to serve at my annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner. I started with this one, a recipe from the New York Times. My interest is in chocolate, and whiskey, in cake form. This cake was deeply flavored, densely chocolate, and very good, but with only a whisper of whiskey. So, while I liked it, that whisper of whiskey wasn’t the kick in the face that I was looking for, so I will press on. If you like a relatively easy recipe for a scratch chocolate cake unlike any other, you’ll certainly enjoy this one. It’s particularly good when paired with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of fudge sauce.

New York Times’ Chocolate Whiskey Cake

 12 T. unsalted butter, cut into 1” pieces
¾ c. +2 T.
unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ c. brewed strong coffee
½ c. Irish whiskey
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. light brown sugar
2 c. flour
½ t. baking soda
¾ t. fine sea salt
¼ t. black pepper
 1/8 t. ground cloves
3 large eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 c. mini semi sweet chocolate chips
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Heat oven to 325°F. Spray a
10-inch springform pan with Baker’s Joy. Dust with 2 tablespoons cocoa powder; set aside.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, warm coffee, whiskey, butter, and remaining cocoa powder, whisking occasionally, until butter is melted. Whisk in sugars until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, pepper, and cloves. In another bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Slowly whisk egg mixture into chocolate mixture. Add dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Transfer to oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, then remove sides of the pan. Dust with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.

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Thursday, January 12, 2023

Welcoming January

When it comes to taking down Christmas decorations after the holiday, I have found that there are two schools of thought. There are the people who, when the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Day, already have half of the ornaments off the tree; and then there are the people who keep it up through Epiphany and (Horrors!) beyond. I am of the former camp. I consider it a personal failure if I don’t have all of the decorations down, everything put away, and not a speck of red in the house by the morning of New Year’s Eve. This year I beat that goal by a day. Needless to say that it made me proud.

Because of all of the bold colors of Christmas, I like a neutral palette for the next month or so, generally up until Valentine’s Day when I bring out the pink and red. Having stripped the tables of their entire holiday decor, I set to work on what I always refer to as the “winter hutch.” Here’s what it looks like for the New Year.


I have recently come to embrace gray, so I have added it to the hutch. Because of my love of plants and the natural world, no matter the holiday, the hutch always has a touch of green, as you can see here in the Bordallo Pinheiro cabbage leaf chargers; they are a permanent fixture.

 On top of them are the white plates in the Blanc Amelie pattern from Maison Versailles. I love these plates because not only do they have wonderful, curvy edges, but a white on white raised pattern. These are topped with Pfaltzgraff salad plates a part of their “Gia” pattern. (I have recently become very impressed with Pfaltzgraff because they are selling place settings of dishes in different colors and patterns so that you can easily build your own plate stack with just one purchase.)

  These are topped off with an adorable Mottahede pot de crème.

I like to mix modern with antique, so have placed an inherited sugar spoon on top of a modern white ceramic a fruit dish.

Rae Dunn "Nibble" plates (personal faves) rest atop a new set of glazed gray stoneware bowls.

On the other side of the hutch I have a white pottery barn tureen, flanked by rustic black stoneware, simple salt and pepper shakers, and one of my new favorite serving dishes shaped like oyster shells. They are wonderful dipping bowls, but are absolutely superb for serving coquille Saint Jacques.

  By the time this posts, I will have no doubt have swapped one or two things as the mood hits. After all, isn’t that part of the fun?

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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Amaretto Pound Cake

As often happens during the month of January, I’ve been going through my kitchen cabinets trying to assess what I have, what I really need, and what I really don’t. In excavating the liquor cabinet I discovered that I had two brand new bottles of amaretto. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, but I vowed to put it to use in a new and different way. For whatever reason I started thinking about my mother’s rum cake and it caused me to wonder how such a cake would be if I replaced the rum with amaretto. These days with the prices of everything so astronomically high, it’s not often that I experiment, but I couldn’t imagine any way in which this wouldn’t work. I was right! If you are an almond lover like I am, you will be over the moon. If not, you’re still going to love it. I allowed it to soak overnight (an absolute must!), and could hardly wait to extract it from the baking pan first thing in the morning. I ended up having a big slice with a cup of coffee. What a way to start the day! I took a hefty slab of it over to my number one son; he and his wife loved it as much as I did. Never have I had a pound cake with such intense flavor as this one.

Amaretto Pound Cake

 2 c. flour

1½ c. sugar

1 3.4-ounce box instant vanilla pudding mix

2 t. baking powder

1 t. salt

8 T. unsalted butter, softened

½ c. vegetable oil

½ c. whole milk, room temperature

4 large eggs, room temperature

½ c. Amaretto

2 t. almond extract


8 T. unsalted butter

¼ c. water

1 c. sugar

¼ t. kosher salt

½ c. Amaretto

½ t. almond extract

 Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray the heck out of a 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan with Baker’s Joy; set aside.

 Place the flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking powder, salt, butter, and vegetable oil in the work bowl of a stand mixer. Beat, at medium speed, until the mixture appears sandy. Beat in the milk, and then beat in eggs, one at a time. Scrape down, and stir in the amaretto and almond extract.

 Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 - 60 minutes until cake tests done. Remove the cake from the oven. Leave the cake in the pan to cool slightly while you make the syrup.

 To make the syrup:

 In a medium-sized saucepan combine the syrup ingredients, except almond extract. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer and cook, without stirring, for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the almond extract.

 Use a long skewer to poke holes all over the cake. Keep the cake in the pan and slowly drizzle the syrup over the cake (still in the pan). Do this in increments in order to allow the syrup to soak in.

 Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit overnight at room temperature to soak in all of that luscious syrup. When ready to serve, loosen the edges of the cake and invert onto your serving plate. If the cake won’t release, don't force it. Place it in the oven, turn the oven to 350°F, and warm for about 10 minutes, to soften the sticky syrup. Remove the cake from the oven, and tip it onto the serving plate.

 Store at room temperature, covered, for several days. Freezes well.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Tuscan Butter Mushrooms

 I love mushrooms, all types, and I’m always looking for a new way to use them. When I spotted this recipe, I knew that it was one I needed to try. Unique and different, it makes a wonderful starter or side dish for any meal. With the addition of tomatoes and fresh spinach, the colors are such that it would be perfect for a holiday table. I’m going to be making this again in the summer using my own homegrown produce that will certainly enhance the flavors. You’ll want to eat this one with a spoon so that you don’t miss a drop of the wonderfully tasty sauce.

Tuscan Butter Mushrooms
Adapted from delish.com

4 T. butter
1½ t.
Melissa’s minced garlic
1 T. tomato paste
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
¾ c. heavy cream
¼ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3 c. fresh spinach

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add garlic and tomato paste, and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add mushrooms and tomatoes, and cook until mushrooms are tender and tomatoes are starting to burst, 5 minutes.

Add heavy cream and Parmesan and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes, and then bring to a simmer. Add spinach and cook until sauce is thickened and spinach is wilted, five minutes.

Yield: 4 servings

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Friday, January 6, 2023

Mixed Vegetable Casserole

If you’re anything like me, and like to have one or two vegetables with your evening meal, by week’s end you have a lot of leftover vegetable portions that are often destined for the bin. I told myself that this year I was going to do my very best to not waste as much food as I have in the past, and this casserole is the result. It really is delicious, and the surprising outcome of trying to make do with every little leftover bit. If you keep something like this in mind for the end of the week, it can help you with meal planning earlier in the week because you can make vegetables that you know will combine well into this casserole. Give it a try, and let me know what you think. My guess is that you could easily pass this off on company, and they’d love it!

Mixed Vegetable Casserole

 6 c. mixed vegetables*

1 10.6-oz. can cream of mushroom soup

½ c. sour cream

1 large egg, beaten

¼ c. heavy cream

¼ t. onion powder

¼ t. parsley flakes

¼ t. garlic powder

¼ t. smoked paprika

½ t. salt

½ t. freshly ground black pepper

2½ c. shredded cheddar cheese, divided

1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed

6 T. melted butter

 Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a 9” x9” casserole dish (or similarly sized dish) with PAM; set aside.

 If vegetables are uncooked, blanch for five minutes; drain.

 In a medium mixing bowl, stir together soup, sour cream, egg, cream, herbs and spices, and 2 cups of the cheese. Fold in reserved vegetables. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, and cover all with the cracker crumbs. Drizzle melted butter on top.

 Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the edges are bubbly at the top is brown. Cover with foil if it shows signs of burning.

 *I use broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots, red onion, and corn.

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