Friday, November 27, 2009

Cream of Forest Mushroom Soup

A minor glitch on the blogging front - I made a spur of the moment decision to drive to Portland to surprise my dad on his 87th birthday and ended up staying for a week.  So when I got back there was plenty to catch up on with work and Thanksgiving preparations so I've not been keeping up here.  But I have plenty to post and will try to get caught up.

On my last night in town I spent the night with my best friend.  We've known each other since we were four years old (which sounds less frightening than saying we've been friends for 42 years).  It was her husband's birthday so I helped her with the birthday dinner - she had a great menu planned.  The soup was one they'd had on a cruise and her mission was to recreate this dish that had been a favorite of her husband's.  She found a local bakery to make the oregano bread bowls which were amazing.  Definitely worth the effort to find or make yourself as the flavor really enhanced the soup (which was delicious).

Cream of Forest Mushroom Soup

1 ounce dried morels, or 2 ounces fresh morels

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup Portobello mushrooms, finely sliced

2 ounces white mushrooms

3 ounces fresh porcini mushrooms, finely sliced

3 shallots, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

salt and freshly ground white pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 cups no-chicken broth

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

leaves from one fresh thyme sprig, minced

leaves from one fresh oregano sprig, minced

2 large fresh basil leaves, chopped

4 6-inch round bread loaves (preferably oregano bread)

If using dried morels, wash the caps and soak them in warm water to cover for 10 minutes. 
Remove the stems and discard them. Cut small morels in half and large ones into three or four pieces.

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute all the mushrooms for about three minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add the wine, and cook to reduce the liquid by half. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer the soup for about 25 minutes. In a blender or food processor, puree half the soup until very smooth. Return the puree to the pan. Stir in the parsley, thyme, oregano, and basil and cook for about 2 minutes. 
Taste and adjust the seasoning. Keep warm.

2. Preheat the oven to 200. Cut off the top of each bread loaf. With a large spoon, remove the soft inner part of the bread. Place the loaves on a baking pan and warm in the oven for about 5 minutes. Remove the warm bread loaves from the oven and pour the hot soup into the bread cups. Garnish with rosemary and sprigs and serve.

Happy Birthday Dad!

me, my dad and my BFF

Friday, November 13, 2009

herb and goat cheese gratin

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of having lunch with two of my "internet" friends.  That is, two people I originally met through an online group (back before yahoo groups was even around...) who are now my real life friends.  I love that about the internet.  So this one friend has been super busy at work so we met her there and had lunch at their cafeteria.  I think if I worked there I would never cook again - it was amazing.  Anyway, I had this gratin that was pasta mixed with herbs and goat cheese and topped with buttery, herbed bread crumbs.  It was delicious.  So of course I had to attempt it at home!

Herb and goat cheese gratin

8 oz fusilli pasta
~ 4 oz goat cheese
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup bread crumbs
fresh Italian parsley (a combination of herbs would be nice but this is what I had)

Get the pasta going... while the pasta is cooking finely chop about 1/2 cup of parsley.  Melt the butter in a small saute pan and add the parsley.   Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the butter into the bread crumbs and mix well.  Season with some salt and pepper.  When the pasta is cooked and drained, toss with the remaining herb butter and the goat cheese.  Spoon in to individual gratin dishes and cover with bread crumbs.  Bake in a 400 degree oven until the bread crumbs are brown and toasty.  Easy peasy. We had this with roasted acorn squash - they served it with roasted purple potatoes and a carrot/green bean mixture.

I'm hopping in my car in about 30 minutes to drive 10 hours to surprise my dad for his 87th birthday which is tomorrow.  Hubby is on home duty with the pups.  I will try very hard to blog on the road...Happy Friday the 13th!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Recycling for the holidays

A non-cooking post today.  Last night I started working on my Christmas presents - on hubby's side of the family we always do homemade presents.  Even the kids get involved and make presents (they do, however, receive good ol' store-bought - no crocheted football helmets or anything).  Anyway, I can't post what I'm making this year (yet!) but thought I'd post about last year's gifts - a friend of mine wrote on her blog about trying to green the holidays.  I tried really hard to have a green/recycling theme for my gifts last year.  I made soy candles in glasses I found at various thrift stores:

I actually made several different ones but didn't get pictures of them all...each person received a set of four - either glasses or dessert dishes, that could then be used again once the candle is burned.  It was actually hard to part with some of the glassware - I had so much fun searching for it.  I also made lemon and ginger infused vodka with lemons from our trees.  I wrapped all gifts in repurposed/recycled fabric - pillowcases, fabric scraps, holiday napkins etc.  Even took apart a dress I found at a thrift store and used it for wrapping.  I did indulge in nice ribbon on most gifts because I know people reuse it.  Some of the bows were made from white plastic grocery bags!

I'm trying to have a similar repurposed approach to gifts this year - so I will be sure to post after the gifts have been distributed!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Portobello Mushroom fajitas

I finally made it into my favorite store tonight - the produce bin in the refrigerator was down to some Brussels sprouts (on the stalk) and half a cabbage.  I am creative but I am not a miracle worker.  Clearly some fresh produce was in order.  Since it's Tuesday and that's means Mexican food I decided to pick up portobello mushrooms and red bell peppers for fajitas.  Everything went together quickly and alongside some refried beans topped with an extra sharp cheddar (baked in the oven at 450 for about 15 minutes) and some fresh fruit, we had an easy, but good dinner.

Portobello Mushroom Fajitas

2 large portobello mushroom caps, stem removed and cleaned
2 bell peppers, cut into strips
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 avocado, thinly sliced
shredded cheddar
hot sauce or salsa
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

Saute the mushrooms slices in a small amount of oil until they release their moisture and start to brown.  Add onions and peppers, salt and some red pepper flakes and more oil if necessary.  Once everything is browned serve them in corn tortillas that have been warmed and top with cheddar, sliced avocado and hot sauce or salsa to taste.

Tomorrow I plan to post more about my favorite little store so stay tuned!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Flatbread pizza with grilled pears, gorgonzola and arugula

One of my favorite ways to make an easy pizza is with lavash flatbread.  Most grocery stores carry lavash these days (at least around here) and in no time at all you can have a crispy pizza, hot out of the oven.  This one came about when I looked through the fridge and found a small container of gorgonzola, some arugula and in the fruit bowl - two pears.  

Flatbread pizza with grilled pears, gorgonzola and arugula

2 pieces lavash bread (I use the one's from Trader Joe's about 14" x 10")
spray oil
2 pears
4 ounces crumbled gorgonzola
a handful of arugula

First, I sliced the pears and grilled them on my panini maker - just sprayed the grill with a little oil and then cooked the pears until they had grill marks on each side.  Put the lavash on a cookie tray and spray with some olive oil then distribute the pears evenly on the two pieces of bread.  Sprinkle the gorgonzola evenly and put the the cookie sheets in a hot oven (450 degrees) for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and the edges are crispy and browned.  When they come out of the oven add the fresh arugula to the pizzas.  

I love the sweetness of the pears with the peppery arugula.  I'll definitely be making this again!

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Well I made it six days into the month with daily blogging and I blew it yesterday!  I had a good excuse though - my broken heart after the Ducks lost to Stanford.  Our defense was sort of a "Where's Waldo" only we never did find it...poor Ducks.  But hats off to Stanford for a great game - we know how exciting that big win felt!  Being a "glass half full" kind of girl I prefer to focus on the fact that I had a great day out in the sunshine with my hubby, my brother (who flew into town for the game) and two of our good friends.  Even got to see a friend I haven't seen since high school.  He is a grandparent.  Ouch.  I am old!

So back in the saddle...both for blogging and for my Ducks.  quack.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Vegetarian Crockpot Chili

Tonight is movie night with our fellow empty nesters (two other couples in the neighborhood - we've formed our own little secret society- shhhhh).   Anyway, we're watching "Across the Universe" - one of my favorites.  I realize it's basically a two hour long music video but I love it anyway!  I made a pot of vegetarian chili and we are set to go.  I know I've posted this recipe before but it really is a good chili recipe - especially for serving to non-vegetarians - they always seem to like it!

Vegetarian Chili

1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ ounce ground cumin seed
1 ounce plain chili powder
2 tablespoons dijon style mustard
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried dill
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons red wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
2 28 ounce cans chopped tomatoes (do not drain)
2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup TVP (texturized vegetable protein)
1 small can sliced black olives
water as needed

Combine everything except olives in crockpot and cook on high for about 4 hours then reduce to low for another 4 hours or so. Add olives about an hour before you’re ready to serve. The longer it cooks, the better it tastes.

Serves: 6-8

Adapted from Silver Palate Cookbook “Chili for a Crowd”


Thursday, November 05, 2009

My favorite time of year

Fall is my favorite time of year - I love the weather, gearing up for the holidays, college football, even the getting-dark-early evenings.  There are many things I already miss about summer - mainly the fruit.  But today I had a perfect pear.  It was perfectly ripe - sweet and delicious.  And by the time I'm tired of pears it will be time for berries and melons once more.  I also got to watch a beautiful sunset -a very good day:

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese and Almonds

We are nearing the end of a prolific fig season.  Our trees overflowed and the squirrels were overjoyed.  We had an invite for drinks and appetizers at a friend's house one night and I was scrambling at the last minute to find something to bring - I googled fresh fig appetizer and came upon this recipe at allrecipes.com:

Elegant Fig Appetizers with Goat Cheese and Almonds


  • 12 fresh figs, halved
  • 4 ounces herbed goat cheese (chevre)
  • 24 almonds
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar


  1. Preheat the oven broiler for high heat.
  2. Place the fig halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Top each half with about 1/2 teaspoon goat cheese. Place one almond on each, press to push the cheese slightly into each fig.
  3. Broil the figs in the preheated oven until the cheese is soft and the almonds are turning a rich shade of brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the broiler and let cool for 5 minutes. Arrange the figs on a serving platter and drizzle with honey and balsamic vinegar. Serve warm.

I made it pretty much as written except I substituted slivered almonds for the whole almonds.  Wow.  We all loved this and I think I made it five or six times over the next couple of weeks.  I've made it with the herbed goat cheese and with plain.  Also made it with peppered goat cheese - all with great results.  I was a little loose with the amounts of honey and balsamic vinegar - just made sure each one got a little bit.  These go together so quickly and taste so good.  Some of the reviewers even said they made it with dried figs - I'll have to try it that way because I'm not sure I can wait until next fall to have these again!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Crispy Veggie Tacos

One of my very favorite places to eat in the bay area is Cactus Taqueria.  When I get my hair done in Berkeley it is a ritual - hair, then tacos.  The neighborhood where I get my hair done has so many good restaurants - Indian, Thai, even Zachary's Pizza (deep dish spinach and mushroom - yum!).  But every single time - I go and get my tacos.  They have crispy veggie tacos - grilled vegetables, cheese, guacamole, salsa and lettuce.  I would be too embarrassed to ever have more than one order (I mean, it's a plate with three tacos!) but I swear, I could do it.

I've never been into frying anything at home but sometimes the craving for those tacos is too strong to wait for the next haircut.  So one day I decided to make my own oven baked version.  I roasted some vegetables in the oven - some broccoli, zucchini and carrots - tossed with some olive oil and roasted in a 450 degree oven.  Once the veggies were nice and brown I warmed up some corn tortillas on the stovetop and then filled them with the veggies and some monterey jack cheese.  I folded them over and spray both sides with some olive oil spray  I put these in the oven for maybe 15 minutes or so, until the tortillas were brown and crispy.  Once out of the oven I pried them open and filled them with guacamole, salsa verde, chopped tomatoes and thinly slice romaine.  They were almost as good as the restaurant version - really, just as good for me - and there was no oil dripping out as we ate them.

Taco Tuesdays are still in effect in this empty nest and these definitely fit the bill!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Chaminade salad

In September we took our youngest down to the LA area for college. It was a busy, busy weekend and of course a tearful goodbye. The day we left also happened to be our 23rd wedding anniversary (which came a week after my birthday - I've now been married half my life!). So instead of driving straight home we went to Santa Cruz and spent the night at The Chaminade Resort & Spa. We went for a beautiful hike through the eucalyptus groves and ended up at the restaurant where we sat outside and sipped a couple icy cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ales. We watched the deer and the sunset and since we'd been there so long we decided we might as well just have dinner right then rather than going back to the room and cleaning up first. We got a little carried away with ordering and had a ridiculous amount of food. My favorite thing was a delicious salad: Bufala Mozzarella and Tomato, Mesclun Greens, Pinoli, Tomato Oil and
Foccacia Toast. Such a simple combination but better than any tomato and mozzarella salad I'd had before. Since then I've made my own version many times and now I simply call it the Chaminade salad. There's something about the addition of the pine nuts that adds so much flavor. We're now past the good, local heirloom tomatoes but I will be ready and waiting for their return.

That weekend also marked the beginning of a new era of cooking in our household - cooking for two. I find that I'm doing far less cookbook cooking and a lot more foraging for what we have on hand and turning it into something. It's actually a lot of fun and we've been eating pretty well. Hopefully I can get caught up on posting some of it...until tomorrow...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Mad Men Party!

I took the challenge from a friend and decided to sign up for NaBloPoMo. Let's see how this goes!
Fueling my obsession with my favorite show, Friday night we had a Mad Men themed Halloween party with several of
our friends and neighbors. We had close to 30 people and the most perfect weather we could have hoped for in late October.

I'd scoured the thrift stores over and over for serving dishes, table linens, glassware etc. We had deviled eggs, shrimp cocktail, chips and dip (of course) - one friend even brought pimento spread in the jar. Perfect.

How I wish I could have pulled off a Joan - I fear I ended up more like Betty's mother. Oh well - we had a blast!