A Hearty Mushroom Ragout

4 Oct

A delicious Autumn meal I eat year round.

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I love fall. Hands down my favorite season. It’s not because I look my best in fall clothes… although, to be honest, that is part of it. I love everything about fall: cool crisp sweater weather, football games at twilight, County Fairs, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Fall Back from Daylight Savings Time (an extra hour of sleep, yes!!), earth tones, melancholy (can’t be beat) and of course all kinds of fall food… from soups to stews to root vegetables to pie to, well, any food that warms the soul and speaks to Autumn.

I love Fall so much I even have a playlist I created that makes me feel like Fall, all year round:

“The Fall” on Spotify

To start fall off right I present to you a divine Mushroom Ragout, one you can serve in a variety of ways. Vegetarian to the max (and even Vegan if you omit the final pad of butter) you’ll never think of this as a vegetarian dish, it’s so hearty and meaty and satisfying.

A twist on a ragout by the incredible chef David Tanis (his books are wonderful) this easy ragout will satisfy your soul.

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Mushroom Ragout over polenta

HEARTY MUSHROOM RAGOUT

INGREDIENTS

Olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 T salt; 1 T cracked black pepper; 1 t cracked red pepper (to start)

3 – 4 lbs. mushrooms (see note)

5 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

20-25 single sprigs of thyme, just the leaves

4 T tomato paste (I use double concentrate… or double it to 8)

2 cups mushroom broth (recipe follows, see note)

1 carrot

1 rib celery

2 bay leaves

NOTE ON MUSHROOMS:  I use a variety and love all shapes and sizes. Bags or cartons of sliced mushrooms work great… but try to add variations. Whole button mushrooms (cremini!) can be halved and quartered… the smallest ones can be left whole (use the stems on all.) Take a couple of Portobello mushrooms and cut them into various sizes. The more sizes the better!

NOTE ON MUSHROOM BROTH: If you start the broth before you cut your onion, it will be ready enough to use by the time you get to the broth stage.  Make a lot – it freezes beautifully and you will use it all the time.

INSTRUCTIONS

Mushroom Broth (doubles or triples easily)

Into a pot put 4 cups water; a bay leaf; a few sprigs thyme; half an onion (with peel), a carrot and a celery stalk (all the veg cut into chunks); a package of dried mixed wild or porcini mushrooms and a handful of fresh mushrooms.  Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 30 or so minutes. Strain well. (Cheesecloth is great here to get rid of the grit from the mushrooms, but you won’t die without that fine of a strain.)

Mushroom Ragout

Pour 3 healthy glugs of olive oil in a large pot. Add the chopped onion and sauté over low heat. (Remember, with onions, the lower and slower the better and more flavor… but if you need to go quicker, go ahead, just be careful.)

After 15 minutes or so, add the sliced garlic, a few healthy pinches of salt, a few healthy pinches of cracked black pepper and one healthy pinch of cracked red pepper. Stir and watch the garlic, which can brown. You want the garlic to sauté, get soft and add flavor but don’t let it brown.

Add all your mushrooms. Toss everything together, then turn the heat to high and cover. Wait eight minutes then remove the lid. You may be surprised how much liquid the mushrooms have released! (If there is no liquid, toss again, cover again and wait another 5 minutes.)

Turn heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered, as the liquid begins to burn off. Taste here and there and add any of the three previous spices you need. By now, the mushrooms will be about half the level they were at the start. When the liquid is mostly reduced down but there is still a nice little layer of liquid in the pot:

Add 4 T tomato paste. Stir well and continue to cook over medium. The liquid should slowly thicken quite a bit.  (Many people add a few sprinkles of flour here. I don’t, because so many people are gluten free. I’ve found you don’t really need the flour. But feel free to add it here: Wondra flour works perfectly.) After 10 or so minutes, when it has thickened:

Add the mushroom broth. Leave over medium and it should still come to a bubble. If not, turn to medium high until it starts to bubble, then lower again.

Now… let it simmer and cook, 10 minutes at medium then turn to low. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens to a consistency you like. (I sometimes go 45 minutes to get it pretty thick.)

At some point in this final cooking stage, add 2 T or so of butter. Yum. It will help thicken the ragout and, well, yum.

When it is at your desire thickness… eat!

I love it over buttered pappardelle noodles, over polenta/grits, as a side for any protein, you can pour it over cauliflower steak, or just eat it with a spoon by itself. Another wonderful choice if you are avoiding pasta is over spaghetti squash ‘noodles’… just as good as pasta, if I say so myself. 

A Platter of Tomatoes

19 Sep

A perfect way to slide from summer to fall… with an additional secret recipe.

I realize the subject of tomatoes is late given some of you are probably past tomato season. Summer in Southern California, however, starts and ends late (mid-July thru sometimes mid-October) and we remain in the midst of a glorious tomato bounty.

Tomatoes are like my other favorite food, the egg: the uses and recipes for each are endless. Even so, if you’re lucky enough to be in possession of fresh, best of season tomatoes, nothing satisfies like a simple platter of tomatoes.

Platter of Tomatoes

a platter of tomatoes

I realize there are a few sad souls who don’t like tomatoes raw. One of my best friends is such a person… I’m looking at you, Tanja! (We’ve somehow managed to remain close friends.) In my house growing up, we ate tomatoes off the vine like you would a fresh apple. Just pick and bite right in. If it squirts all over your face and runs down your forearm, you know you have the perfect tomato.

Like any good southerner, l don’t serve a meal during tomato season without a platter of tomatoes. This is as ubiquitous on the dinner table in the South as salt and pepper or bread and butter. I’ve easily made over a hundred of these platters and while the prep is fast and easy, there’s an art to the prep as well, a perfect combination of seasoning and herbs to maximize your tomatoes. I’ve tried many variations and have landed on the best.

So scroll down to find out to prepare your perfect platter of tomatoes. Then keep scrolling for the other perfect use for a perfect tomato… 

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Cauliflower Steak

13 Sep

A different kind of steak, but just as wonderful.

Cauli steak dinner

pan roasted cauliflower steak

Last week, we had steak and pasta. This week, a different kind of steak… Cauliflower Steak!

Before you run screaming, these are terrific. Even the staunchest carnivore alive might be surprised to find out how much they like these steaks. And yes I’m calling them steaks because, if you slice them thick and cook them properly (easy) they are steak-y satisfying and quite hearty.

I guess in some ways this has been my year of the cauliflower on the blog. I do love cauliflower — so much — and love many preparations, from a simple oven roast to wonderful soups to, of course, my cauliflower pizza crust, my cauliflower mash (updated, btw, with an additional, killer, preparation) and even my breakfast fried rice, which you can make with cauliflower rice. 

These steaks, however, are different from the other recipes and so satisfying. They make a wonderful fall dinner.

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A Favorite Dinner Vol. I

6 Sep

Back from Summer Hiatus with a quick easy dinner I love, steak and pasta.

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NY Strip with a side of Cacio e Pepe

If I’ve learned anything over the years from favorite chefs like Patricia Wells, Suzanne Goin, Nigel Slater and more, often times when cooking simplicity is best. I may love to make cassoulet over seven days, but I love just as much a simple dinner.

One simple dinner I’ve come to enjoy over the last few years is the combination of steak and pasta. It’s not something I ate growing up; we had a cattle farm so we ate a lot of steak, but we always had steak with a baked potato. Whether loaded with everything or dressed only with butter, salt and pepper, a baked potato is a perfect food, particularly when the inside is moist and tender and the outside crispy as hell. Oh my.  After discovering the wonderful combo of steak and pasta, however, I don’t serve a baked potato with a steak nearly as often.

I believe I was turned onto this combo on my first visit to the LA institution Dan Tana’s. Located next to the equally famous Troubador on Santa Monica Blvd, Dan Tana’s has been open well over fifty years and I dare say will be open well over fifty more. An Italian steakhouse with wonderful cocktails, Dan Tana’s serves up terrific versions of Italian classics (the veal parmigiana, for instance, is to die for) but they also serve the Dabney Coleman, a 20 oz New York Strip that might be the best steak I’ve ever tasted. It comes with a side of pasta and the first time I tried this pairing, I knew I’d be having a lot of steak and pasta from then on. 

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Breakfast Fried Rice

30 May

(Your next favorite killer comfort breakfast is good for you and has various tweaks for various diets…)

Breakfast Fried Rice

Breakfast Fried Rice, sans necessary extras

After a few years of On Food and Film (time sure flies!), it must now be obvious how much I love breakfast. Savory breakfast at least. Sure, I’ll eat a pancake or french toast if you shove it in front of me but otherwise, savory breakfast rules.

Well, then. Let me give you a savory comfort breakfast that will satisfy you completely. It’s also fairly healthy and can adapt to a variety of diets.

You see, along with loving breakfast, and chicken, and pasta, and salad, and… I love rice. I’ve mentioned that growing up Cajun the starch that was our staple was white rice not potatoes. Rice is a wonderful vessel for so many things… Gravy! Au jus! Red beans! Butter! Gumbo! Etouffee! When I was in grade school, I loved white rice topped with French’s Yellow Mustard (long story). Oh hell, I still do. But I even love rice all by its lonesome.

I also love fried rice. Once a week growing up in my hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, Mom, Dad, my brother David and I went to The Dragon Inn, a restaurant in downtown Port Arthur run by a wonderful man named Johnny. If you’ve seen the final scene of A Christmas Story, you know what Johnny and the restaurant were like, although The Dragon Inn was a long rectangle shooting in perpendicular fashion back from the street. It had a bar on one side and booths all along the other. Painted on the booth side wall, winding the length of the restaurant, was a single, very long Chinese dragon that enthralled me for years. Johnny is who hooked me on Mu Shu Pork, Sweet and Sour Pork, Beef with Snow Peas and amazing fried rice. 

Back to breakfast: I’ve been working out early mornings as of late, with a terrific trainer named Ryan, who suggested the best time to eat carbs was after a hard workout. When he said, ‘You can even use white rice’ I lit up, given I’ve been avoiding rice lately trying to slim down. His suggestion was the only encouragement I needed and voila! Breakfast Fried Rice was born.

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Homemade Crème Fraîche??!!

19 May

(how to make homemade crème fraîche you will eat with a spoon, plus suggested uses and recipes)

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homemade crème fraîche

I can’t believe I’ve been cooking for years and didn’t know I could make crème fraîche at home with 90 seconds of prep. Well. Now I’m making it at least once a week, if not more, using this incredibly delicious and decadent ‘soured cream’ on everything. 

Less tart and much creamier than sour cream, I’ve used store bought crème fraîche for years. It’s terrific in soup and stews, wonderful on eggs, a better way to make creamy salad dressings, and is the perfect foil for both sweet and spicy dishes: it brings a slight tartness to a sweet dessert, adding depth and balance (how ‘chef’ does that sound!) and tempers a spicy dish, such as my skillet chilaquiles. 

Trust me… give this a try and you will ever after always have a jar of homemade crème fraîche in your fridge. The uses are near innumerable. 

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Fresno Chilis Will Change Your Life

12 May

(including recipes for a killer hot sauce, a mini tutorial on delicious pan sauces, pickled chilis, and more…)

Fresno Chili and jar

Fresno chilis and hot sauce

Fresno chilis, which look like a red Jalapeño, have become my favorite chili by far. Milder than a Jalapeño, they still have a nice bite along with a slight, lovely sweetness that makes them more versatile than a Jalapeño or Serrano. Because they can be enjoyed even by people who ‘don’t like spicy’, Fresnos are often called a ‘gateway chili’, as you can see in this excellent history of the Fresno:

Fresno Chilis

I stumbled onto Fresnos a couple of years ago because a favorite chef of mine, Nancy Silverton, throws them in just about everything. I made a marvelous chicken recipe of hers, that uses pickled Fresnos, and loved them so much I started throwing them in and on everything: the pickled Fresnos are terrific on pizzas and in sandwiches, I love raw slices in salads, and a gentle sauté of a sliced or diced Fresno transforms most any main dish or side vegetable. They are also wonderful in my baked omelette.

When I started making my own hot sauce (ridiculously easy, as you will see in the recipe below) I really fell in love. This hot sauce is The. Best.

Fresnos are perfect for pan sauces (see recipe below) as well as in an upcoming recipe that will also change your life, Breakfast Fried Rice. 

If there’s a problem with Fresnos, it’s that unlike the Jalapeño or Serrano, they’re not always available year round. Subsequently, when I see them, I buy out the store, make a few jars of hot sauce, pickle some more, then freeze the remainder. 

So look for the Fresno! Buy a bunch and try these recipes… and be on the lookout for Breakfast Fried Rice!

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