Posts Tagged ‘comfort food’

I couldn’t tell you how long this recipe has sat neatly written in one of my recipe binders, begging to be brought to life.  Three years?  I remember sitting at my parents’ house, watching Everyday Italian and immediately logging onto the Food Network website so I could copy the recipe down.  I even read the reader comments and wrote notes on the margins such as “probably use less salt.”  🙂  However, I never found a reason to make it.  My dad, Alison and I all really enjoy mushrooms, but my mom is only a borderline fan, and has complained before when I’ve made dishes that lean too heavily on them.  So it was never really an option if she was around.  When Holly and I lived together, we were probably just too cheap to go out and buy smoked mozzarella and proscuitto (if we could find them!).  But, now I live with two brave foodie souls, and I am fully employed…no more excuses!

It seems, for now anyways, that this never-ending 2012 Los Angeles summer has come to an end.  Thus, it’s now acceptable to turn on the oven to make dinner!  We were down to one meal on our list from the most recent grocery trip; this one.  Seeing as it was a Sunday evening and I didn’t work until the following night, we went for it.

A word of warning: Giada says this only takes 30 minutes to prepare…however, with 2-3 of us working at any given time, it was probably more like 45.  There is a lot of chopping and grating of ingredients, not to mention three pots and pans going at once before you can assemble the finished product.  So we cranked some Florence + the Machine, opened some red wine, and went to town.

Here’s the recipe.  It’s long, so I thought it was hyperlink appropriate 🙂

Remember before when I said I had written down the one comment about not using so much salt?  This version has been updated since I copied down mine; Giada now calls for 1.5 teaspoons of salt in both the sauce and the mushroom mixture versus the full tablespoon previously.  We still used only about a teaspoon in each.  8 ounces of proscuitto means A LOT of salty flavor, and I didn’t see any reason to over-do it when it would be so easy to sprinkle a little extra on if necessary.

Let’s see, what else did we change….

  • Black pepper: I love pepper, however, 2 teaspoons in each part of this dish seemed excessive.  We cut that in half, and I thought it was the perfect amount.  There’s a ton of flavor in the dish, and instead of being overpowering, the pepper was just a nice heat in the background.  So…season to taste, and work your way UP to the full amount!
  • Fresh herbs are expensive (though worthwhile, I know…), and since this was already getting to be an expensive dinner, we opted to use the dry versions we already had in the pantry.  Instead of 1.5 Tablespoons of chopped, fresh rosemary and thyme, we used 1 heaping teaspoon of the dried versions.  Again – it was just the right amount, for us at any rate.

As far as mushrooms, we used 10 oz. each of white and cremini.  Trader Joe’s sells them sliced for about $2 a bag; it’s a great deal.  I’m SURE shiitake would have been awesome, but again, the cheapskates in us reared their ugly heads to put the kibosh on that idea 🙂  Also, please don’t consider substituting regular mozzarella for the smoked stuff.  The flavor is so important to the success of this dish!  If you can’t find smoked mozzarella, try a smoked gouda.  We ended up using regular lasagna noodles, since none of the three stores we checked at carried spinach noodles.  Had we had any on hand, we decided we would have thrown some wilted spinach in with the mushrooms for a little green in the dish.  But the plain pasta was absolutely fine!

Dinner is served!

Forgive my photography skills on that picture.  I had been texting a friend all day, bragging about how good this recipe was going to be, so I snapped a pic on my phone once I sat down to eat.  In fact, forgive my slicing-and-serving skills too!  We did let the dish sit for about 5 minutes once we took it out of the oven, but the smell was driving us all insane 🙂  Obviously, it didn’t hold its form very well!

And seriously, for essentially being noodles and mushrooms, this dish was so amazing!  Each bite is full of flavors, and none overpowers any other one.  There’s the saltiness of the proscuitto (one of my favorite things, ever).  The pepper and the herbs.  The smokiness of the mozzarella.  If you need a “fancy” dish to impress guests, this would definitely be an option!  With some fresh, crusty bread to soak up all that white sauce and steamed veggies this would look like something you’d pay a lot of money for at a nice Italian place 🙂


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As a Wisconsinite of German descent I am obviously a lover of brats, among other delicious sausages.  Californians, I guess, are not sausage people.  While Italians and various chicken sausages are easy enough to find, good Chorizo has proven rather difficult and when purchasing brats we must settle for some very over priced Johnsonville variety.  Don’t get me wrong, Johnsonvilles are perfectly adequate, I just miss the varieties of fresh made-in-house sausages you can get at a Wisconsin meat market, or even a supermarket like Festival Foods.

A few weeks ago Johnsonvilles were on sale and I picked up some brats because it just feels right to have some in the freezer, just in case.  We pulled them out this past weekend when the possibility of grilling out at a friends came up, but that fell through and as we do not yet own a grill [I know! Shame on us!] I looked for an alternate way to serve up those babies in an appropriately Wisconsin style.  The result was a very tasty adaptation of mac and cheese.

I started by searching on pinterest for a homemade mac and cheese recipe that included beer, because I felt that would add to the whole “awesome Sconnieness” of the dish.  This one fit my requirements and the original poster is clearly using Leinenkugel’s so I instantly liked her and looked no further.  The two biggest changes I made were obviously adding bratwurst and also using penne instead of macaroni, since I could not find anything of the sort at Trader Joe’s.  Here’s the recipe with my adjustments noted:

Easy Beer Mac and Cheese

serves 4-6

  • 2 1/2 cups uncooked whole wheat elbow noodles (as I mentioned, I used Penne and it turned out fine)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 8 ounces milk
  • 8 ounces beer (sadly TJ’s is also lacking in WI beers so I used Mission St. Brown Ale )
  • 8 ounces freshly grated cheddar cheese (we go with the sharpest we can find, which is usually still pretty mild to us)
  • 4 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • pinch of black pepper (I may have accidentally dumped in several pinches, and it may not have been peppery enough.  If you like your spice I’d say go with at least a 1/4 tsp here, too)
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 10 large basil leaves, chopped for garnish (um, we just garnished with extra bratwursts… the Epic Meal Time guys would be proud)
  • and speaking of… 3 bratwursts par boiled in beer and sliced into medallions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Prepare water for pasta and boil according to directions, shaving 1-2 minutes off of cooking time since pasta will continue to cook in the oven.

Heat a saucepan over medium high heat and add butter. Once melted and sizzling, whisk in flour to create a roux and cook until bubbly and golden in color, about 2 minutes. Add milk and beer into saucepan whisking constantly, then add cheeses and stir until melted. Turn heat down to medium and continue to stir, cooking for 5-6 minutes while mixture thickens. It will most likely NOT thicken like regular mac and cheese because of the beer, but you want it to thicken a little bit. Stir in pepper, paprika and nutmeg.

(Here’s where I added the brats to the cheese sauce before pouring on noodles.  In the future I’d probably mix the brats with the noodles before adding the cheese, but it really makes no difference)

Add cooked and drained noodles to a casserole dish, then pour cheese over top, mixing gently to combine. Top with panko bread crumbs and an additional sprinkle of cheese if desired. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top.

Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then top with fresh basil (or the pan fried extra brats).


I especially loved this dish because it tastes like Wisconsin in a bowl.  It would only have been better if the weather had been less California sunshine and more Wisconsin gloom, warm comfort foods such as these taste better when its blustery outside, but I guess we can survive the sun.

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Go figure, it’s been five weeks since I posted anything.  For which I apologize.  However, I haven’t really cooked anything exciting lately.  There was a stretch somewhere in those five weeks where I worked 13 or 14 days straight, often until 7 or 8 at night.  More than once I came home, stood in my kitchen, and ate a bowl of leftovers quick for dinner before showering and passing out 🙂  Not to mention I’ve been busy trying out restaurants in the neighborhood….(Here’s my shout out to The Burger Kitchen…where they not only have awesome burgers, but probably the best fried pickles I’ve tasted yet.  And bacon-wrapped homemade tater tots.  The sheer caloric load of it all makes me feel like I’m back home instead of in vegan and organic obsessed Los Angeles.)

However, Ali and Chris are here now, which means when I cook there aren’t leftovers for several days of meals anymore.  Which means more cooking, and more reasons to blog!

I find it difficult to believe it’s already closer to December than it is to October, and that Thanksgiving is only a few days away.  Probably because, for the most part, it’s 70 degrees here every day and the sun is almost always shining through the smog.  The past few days have been a tad odd, however.  It’s sprinkled a few times and today there was an outright downpour that lasted several hours.  I found it extremely comforting to be watching football in a sweatshirt and wool socks, drinking my coffee and being cozy.  The weather also put me in the cooking/eat a lot of carbohydrates because it’s time to hibernate mood.

We settled on this old reliable Rachael Ray recipe for dinner.  The first time I made this was for Ali while we were holding down the fort at my parents’ in the middle of winter a few years ago.  They were in Florida experiencing record highs, and we were experiencing near-record lows and constant below-zero temps in Wisco.  A big steaming pot of cheesy noodles sounded about right (as did starting a fire and watching Bedknobs & Broomsticks…ha!).

Homemade mac n’ cheese is about as easy as it gets, even though it sounds scary because it involves making a roux to thicken the cheese sauce.  And I know foreign languages in recipes can be quite daunting 😉  Hol and I made a pretty delicious one with bacon and pepper jack last winter.  This one is a little more subdued, but delicious nonetheless:

  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound cavatappi pasta (thick elbow mac works well too), cooked
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 TBSP butter
  • 3 TBSP all purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2-3 cups shredded provolone
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 3/4 lb. thinly sliced deli roast beef (cut into strips)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 12-15 minutes until they’re tender and slightly carmelized.  (This was harder than it sounded for me the first time.  I totally burned the sh*t out of the first batch of onions.  For real…take the full 15 minutes and use lower heat 😉 ).

While the onions do their thing, melt the butter in a small pot over medium-high heat.  Add the flour and cook for 1 minutes, stirring constantly.  Whisk in the milk slowly and bring to a bubble to thicken, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in 1.5 cups cheese until melted.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

*Let’s take a time out and discuss cheese, shall we?  I’ve made this with provolone, and I’ve made it with Monterrey Jack.  I’ve used brick cheese sliced thinly, which works just fine.  It’s getting melted, after all.  But since this is a cheese-steak inspired recipe, I’d stick with a white cheese.  It just seems proper…*

Preheat your broiler.  Add the beef stock and sliced beef to the onions and cook to warm through.  If your skillet is broiler-safe, add the pasta and cheese sauce at this time, top with the remaining cheese, and broil for a few minutes until the cheese melts/browns.  If your skillet isn’t safe for the broiler, place the mixture in a baking dish that is, and then broil it.  Or just skip the broiling step if you want.  A few minutes in a hot oven will do essentially the same thing.

That pan is probably the most useful thing in my kitchen....

My tummy is nice and full as I type this, but as usual I have a few comments on what I just created.  Though the broiler does give the top layer a nice crunch, I think it would be yummy to add some bread crumbs to the top with the cheese to sort of extend that.  Make it sort of tuna casserole-esque.  And though my cheese sauce turned out fine, I used skim milk.  I’m sure the French, as well as Rachael Ray, would shudder at the thought.  And I’m sure 2% would make it a bit richer.  I just want you all to know, skim works fine.  Don’t worry 🙂

I hope I can find the time to blog more here with the holidays coming up!  But for now, I will wish you all a happy Thanksgiving.  Enjoy that turkey, and while you’re at it…cheer for the Packers!


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