Monthly Archives: October 2011

Last Night’s Dinner, Sunday Edition: Mushroom and Lentil Pot Pies

This is a recipe I’ve been wanting to make for about a year.  To paraphrase Joey from Friends, “Mushrooms?  Good.  Lentils?  Good.  Gouda-biscuit topping?  Goooood.”*

It’s a pot pie, and it had a buttery-biscuit crust, topped with cheese… indulgent.  But it’s meatless and surprisingly filling without making you feel stuffed.  (I mean, we all had room for one or two servings of cherry pie afterwards.**)

It was a bit time-intensive, so it’s a good weekend project.  And the filling can be made two days in advance, so I prepared that on Saturday, which made Sunday a lot easier.  I followed it pretty closely, but with a few changes.  The original recipe calls for dried porcini mushrooms, but they were sold out, so I compromised with half lobster mushroom and half chanterelles.  No one complained.

I also soaked the dried mushrooms in a mixture of water and cooking sherry.  And I added shallots, because… well, why wouldn’t you use shallots??  My sister kept insisting I had added bacon- I credit the shallots and lobster mushrooms.

Mushroom and Lentil Pot Pies (adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2010; original recipe here)


1/2 cup lentils

1/4 tsp salt

1 oz dried mushrooms (such as porcini, chanterelle, lobster, or a combination)

1/2 cup cooking sherry

1 tbsp butter

6 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 carrot, cut into 1/4 inch-thick rounds

1 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary

1/4 tbsp fresh thyme

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 large shallot, minced

2 tbsp all purpose flour

2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled & cut into 1/2 inch chunks

4 tsp soy sauce

1 tbsp tomato paste


1 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour

6 tbsp yellow cornmeal

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

4 tbsp butter, chilled and diced

1/2 cup buttermilk

3/4 cup grated smoked Gouda



Combine 3 cups cold water, lentils, and salt in medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender (about 25-30 minutes).  Drain and set lentils aside.

Boil 2 1/2 cups water and 1/2 cup cooking sherry over dried mushrooms in a medium bowl.  Soak for 25 minutes.  Remove mushrooms from soaking liquid, squeeze dry and chop coarsely.  Make sure you reserve the soaking liquid!

Heat 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add fresh mushrooms and saute about 3 minutes.  Add oil, onion, carrot, and herbs and saute 4 minutes.  Add garlic and shallots and saute for 30 seconds.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute.  Add the soaking liquid.  Stir in the (no-longer) dried mushrooms, potatoes, soy sauce, and tomato paste.  Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally (about 13-15 minutes).  Add lentils and season with salt and pepper.  Add a sprinkle of cumin and/or coriander if you’re feeling dangerous.  Divide filling among four 2-cup oven-proof bowls, or one larger dish.  (If you make this in advance, cover and refrigerate for up to two days.  Bring to room temperature before continuing.)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in food processor; blend 5 seconds.  Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal.  Add buttermilk and pulse until dough forms moist clumps.  Gather dough into a ball and divide into four equal sections.  If you’re doing the individual bowls, shape each dough piece into a disk about 2/3-inch thick.  If you’re using one baking dish, spread them out in whatever way will cover the dish.  (I’m giving you some artistic freedom here.)

Bake for about 20 minutes.  Sprinkle on cheese and then continue baking for another 10 minutes or so, or until tester inserted into the biscuit topping comes out clean.

*Have I used that reference before?  It seems familiar but it might just be that I think about it a lot.

**Store-bought cherry pie.  Farm-bought, if you want to get technical about it.  But either way, yes, I purchased the pie. 


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It’s the Little Things… Favorite Wedding Details, Part 1

I never thought of myself as a backyard wedding kind of person.  I started collecting wedding magazines when I was in college, although at that point – fortunately – my interest was pretty much focused on having a wedding, not a marriage.  Through the next five or seven years, my plans for what I wanted evolved from getting married in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles (yes, that Versailles) to a beach wedding in the Outer Banks to a cool reception at a museum in Baltimore, but there was never a point where I thought, “Hey, my parents’ home would make a great place for a wedding!”

Courtesy of Stevie T Photography

Nick and I initially decided on a 120-guest reception at a museum in Baltimore with live music and a seated dinner.  We actually signed a contract and put down a deposit.  But as Nick and I started to talk more about the details, it became evident that neither of us really wanted the big wedding.  For me at least, I think the appeal of a large wedding was that – in some ways – it would be easier- we wouldn’t have to make tough decisions about who to invite, there would be a fleet of professional wedding people to do a lot of the work for us… but it just didn’t sit well with me.  There was definitely some hesitation about putting so much money into one day, but mostly I just wanted something more intimate.

Courtesy of Stevie T Photography

It was Nick who first suggested we consider having the wedding at my parents’ house.  I liked the idea – it would be personal, we could do the food ourselves- but I also had reservations, and figured my parents would never go for it.  To my surprise they were willing to do it, and lots of our family and friends offered to help out in whatever way they could.

In the end our wedding was something far better than I had ever imagined.  We got to celebrate with lots of friends and family, I was able to actually spend time to talk with most of our wedding guests, and we have some absolutely beautiful photographs, thanks to the incredibly talented Stevie Trischmann and Danielle Mahoney.  Also, having a wedding at their home finally pushed my parents to follow through with the kitchen renovations they’ve been talking about for years.

I would like to think I would have done more myself, and be a little more organized, if the wedding planning didn’t coincide with my first year of a doctoral program.  But Nick and I did still manage to have lots of DIY details (really, more like DIWLOHFWFM- Do It With Lots of Help From Wonderful Family Members).  These are some of my favorites:

Save the Dates

I don’t remember how exactly we got to the idea of a yearbook-themed Save the Date.  I had in mind that I wanted our actual invitations to be fun (but also pretty and a little fancy) so I was open to the Save the Dates being a little more wacky.  We asked friends to use the Yearbook Yourself program (or give us permission to do it for them) or send us their actual yearbook photo.  (The strange-looking guy in the top row, second from the left, by the way, is Bailey.  The cat face superimposed on the human head still disturbs me, but Nick insisted that we include him.)


The invitations were time-consuming, but absolutely worth it.  I hand-drew the designs with watercolor pencils and scanned the images to print on the stationary.  Originally they were all going to be the same as the red hibiscus flowers on the actual invitation, but while I was working on them I commented to Nick that just the outline looked pretty cool.  It was his idea for the three pieces of stationary to all show different steps in the process- so the RSVP cards were just the outline (with some pencil still showing), the Information cards were after I had shaded the whole thing, and the invitation was the final design, once I had blended everything with a wet brush.

I knew I wanted turquoise pocket folds, but I was having a hard time finding the right shape and color.  I have to thank my friend Audrey, whose May wedding featured a brown and turquoise theme, for referring me to Cards and Pockets where I finally found what I was looking for.  We bought the envelopes and pocket folds from there, but for white card stock we used double-sided matte photo paper, because the print quality was a lot better than anything I found from the stationary suppliers.  This meant we had to cut everything ourselves, but my dad was happy to have an excuse to buy a new paper cutter.


From the beginning I planned on baking cookies for favors.  In hindsight, sugar cookies, containing more butter than you could ever imagine, were not necessarily the easiest cookies to make in June, even in an air-conditioned kitchen.  It required working in small batches and frequently returning the dough to the refrigerator.  And I gave up on the idea of doing both cat-shaped and heart-shaped cookies, as the cat shapes were much more difficult to work with (typical) and ended up being unrecognizable anyway.  You can find the recipe here: Cardamom-Orange Sugar Cookies.

Courtesy of Stevie T Photography

Stay tuned for the second installment of my favorite wedding details!

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Cardamom-Orange Sugar Cookies

Some of my favorite desserts have orange and cardamom in them.  These cookies are no exception.  I made them for Christmas last year, and decided they’d make an excellent wedding favor.

(The non-star is a dog bone.)

I should warn you.  These have a TON of butter in them.  Well, 3 sticks of butter in a batch of 55 or so cookies.  But it’s worth it, trust me.  The only downside is that the dough is very sensitive to heat.  If you make them in the summer, like I did, I recommend dividing the dough into quarters rather than half before chilling, and work quickly.  I made two or three batches for our wedding, and it took me two or three days to bake all of them.  But again, it’s sooo worth it.  (The photos, by the way, are from Christmas….  I did not give out tree-shaped cookies at our July wedding.)

Cardamom-Orange Sugar Cookies (from the December 2009 issue Bon Appetit)

makes about 55 3-inch cookies

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), room temperature

1 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg, room temperature

Raw sugar

Whisk flour, cardamom, and salt in a medium bowl.  Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a large bowl until creamy, about 2 minutes.  Gradually add sugar; beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in finely grated orange peel and vanilla.  Add egg; beat to blend.  Add 1/3 of the flour mixture; beat on low speed to blend.  Add remaining flour mixture in 2 additions, beating on low speed to blend.  Refrigerate until firm enough to hold shape, about 1 hour.

Divide dough in half (or, if you’re working in a warm kitchen, divide into quarters).   Form each half (or quarter) into a ball and flatten into disk.  Wrap each in plastic and chill until firm enough to roll out, about 45 minutes.*

Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to generous 1/8-inch thickness.  Cut out cookies with cookie cutters.  Carefully transfer cookies to baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.  Sprinkle with raw sugar.  Gather dough scraps into a ball, flatten, and freeze for about 10 minutes until it is firm enough to roll out again.

Bake cookies until light golden brown, about 16 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking.  Slide parchment paper and cookies onto a cooling rack.  Let baking sheets cool, and repeat process with remaining dough.

Cookies can be stored for 3 days in an airtight container.  (I also found that they freeze well for a couple weeks.)

*You can make the dough 1 day ahead and refrigerate.  Let the chilled dough stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes so that it is soft enough to roll out.

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Last Night’s Dinner: Veggie Burrito Bowls

When I’m not obsessing over decadent restaurant menus or baking desserts to accompany Nick’s indulgent dinners, I’m usually trying to compensate by eating healthy dinners.  When I’m just feeding myself, it’s no big deal- I’m happy with whatever combination of vegetables, whole grains, and protein I can come up with.  But when Nick is home, I feel obligated to come up with something slightly more interesting.  (In no way does Nick demand this… but if he is willing to go along with my attempts at healthy eating, the least I can do is make it somewhat exciting.)

One of my favorite recent creations is my version of a burrito bowl.  I’d like to think it’s more nutritious and fewer calories than what you find at Chipotle.  If nothing else, it’s a lot easier to resist the giant mounds of sour cream, cheese, and guacamole if you don’t give yourself the options, or at least control the amount you put on.

This meal also happens to be an important milestone for me- this is the first time I have defied my own rule against soy products masquerading as meat.  Nick suggested we throw in some Lightlife Smart Ground, Mexican Style and he must have caught me at a weak moment, because I agreed.  And it wasn’t bad once it was mixed in with all the other stuff.  I have to admit- 70 calories, 0 grams of fat with lots of protein and a decent amount of iron is hard to argue against, especially when it’s surprisingly low in sodium, as far as pre-seasoned foods go.

Slight tangent: I do want to note – and this applies to a lot of my Last Night’s Dinner entries – that I’m not intending to present this as a recipe that should be followed closely.  When I’m thinking about things to cook for weeknight dinners, I want inspiration for using things in my pantry, doing something a little different than what I’ve done 20 times before, in a way that works for me.  That’s what I intend for these entries to be.

Veggie Burrito Bowls

Start the rice an hour before you want to eat.  Then you have about 30 minutes before you need to start prepping the rest, so you can go watch an episode of 30 Rock on syndication, or clean up the kitchen from last night’s dinner, if you live like I do.

Bring two cups of water and one cup of short grain brown rice to a boil.  Stir, cover, and simmer for 50 minutes.

Prep while rice is cooking: Slice an onion and two or three bell peppers (I love a combination of green and yellow, but the yellow peppers were selling for $6/pound (?!!) so we just used green this past time).  Core and slice a jalapeno pepper.  (Jalapeno is optional, but wearing gloves is not, if you do choose to use it.)  Chop up a handful of fresh cilantro.  Grate one lime’s-worth of zest into a small bowl and then add the lime juice to the bowl.

When the rice has simmered for 50 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit, covered, for 10 minutes.  Heat some oil (olive or safflower work nicely) in one large skillet and two medium skillets, all over medium-high heat.  Add the bell peppers and onions to the large skillet and saute until tender, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  In the mean time, add one can of black beans (drained and rinsed) to one of the medium skillets and season with salt and ground cumin.  In the last skillet, add half a package of Mexican-style Smart Ground.  Heat both the beans and fake beef until heated through, stirring occasionally (about 6 minutes).

Fluff the rice with a fork and stir in the lime zest and juice.

Divide rice among bowls.  Top with peppers and onions, beans, and fake beef.  Squeeze some more lime juice on top, if desired.  Add any combination of the following- jalapeno slices, Tabasco sauce, sour cream (Greek yogurt works, too), grated cheese, chopped cilantro, avocado, salsa.


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Last Week’s Dessert: Rustic Apple Tart

Finally the rain has let up and the temperature has dropped (although tomorrow is supposed to be pretty warm for October).  I’m enjoying the sun and crisp air.  I can have the windows open and A/C turned off.  I can wear sweaters and boots.  And I can find apples that were actually grown in the US, not New Zealand.

Last Sunday, Nick cooked chili and cornbread for dinner.  I was hoping he would be willing to write about it, but he hasn’t seemed inspired.  I can’t blame him.  His chili is fantastic, but it’s probably one of the most free-form things he cooks.  Consequently there isn’t necessarily a lot to share in the way of a particular recipe, or anything close to a recipe.  It occurred to me when we were shopping that he either is doing some secret math in his head (knowing Nick, that seems unlikely), or intuitively knows the right ratio of beans and meat to tomatoes.  I’d be too worried about ending up with tomato soup with beans, or a thick lump of beans and ground beef with barely any tomato-ness to it.  But somehow Nick pulled random stuff off the shelves at the store and out of our pantry at home and successfully cooked chili that was a perfectly balanced mix of beans, ground bison, crushed tomatoes, peppers, and spices.  And bulgur.  And bacon.  And coffee.  And chocolate.  And dried cherries (which re-hydrated themselves in the chili… interesting).

Oh,  and the cornbread?  Cooked in bacon grease.

So, I guess it’s a good thing that the rustic apple tart recipe I made for dessert turned out to be from Cooking Light.  I actually didn’t notice that until I was well-into baking.  That’s the risk of Google searches, I suppose.  You never know where it’s going to take you.  Kind of like when I learned that searching for “Indian Delight” will take you to different websites than searching for “Indian Delight Restaurant.”

Anyway, this tart is not exactly fat- and calorie-free, but I guess when you compare the amount of sugar and butter to that in an apple pie, and the fact that it uses one pie crust instead of two, it really is on the lighter side, as apple desserts go.

Rustic Apple Tart (from My Recipes)

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 tbsp granulated sugar

3 pounds of apples, cored, peeled, and sliced; should yield about 9 cups (I used 4 Gala apples and 3 Granny Smith apples)

2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 package (one crust) of refrigerated pie dough

1 tsp ice water

1 tsp granulated sugar

1 tbsp apricot preserves

1 tsp water

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add brown sugar and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, stir until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes (my sugar didn’t really dissolve… I mean, it doesn’t have much butter to dissolve into.  But it didn’t seem to cause any problems).

Stir in apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Cover, reduce heat, and cook about 20 minutes, until apples are tender, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and set rack to lowest third.

Place dough on parchment paper, and roll out to 14-inch round.  Slide parchment paper and dough onto baking sheet.  Arrange apples in center of dough, leaving a 2-inch border.

Fold edges of dough toward center, pressing gently to seal.  Brush edges of dough with 1 tsp ice water and sprinkle with 1 tsp granulated sugar.

(I got a little obsessive about making concentric circles with the apples… but it looked really pretty.  Also, I had a lot of extra juice in the skillet from the apples.  I drizzled some of it over the apples.  It did leak a little while baking, but hey, it’s rustic.)

Bake tart for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Microwave apricot preserves and 1 tsp water for about 30 seconds or until bubbly.  Stir mixture and brush over warm tart.

Cut into wedges and serve warm or room temperature.  (Obviously with vanilla ice cream.)

I apparently got too excited about eating it, and I don’t have an after-baking picture.*  But I do have this picture of Matilda helping Mike clean his plate, which is both cute and provides evidence that everyone enjoyed it.

*If you’re really that devastated about the lack of an after-baking photo, just look at the pre-baked photo, and imagine it a little more golden-brown.  There, you have an after-baking photo.

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Comfort Food

During the first fifteen minutes of my Factor Analysis class tonight, I was having the following thoughts:

  • Wow, I have a lot of studying to do before next Thursday’s midterm.
  • Wow, I have a lot of reading to do before I can study for next Thursday’s midterm.
  • S***, I never returned that library book that’s due today.
  • I need to finish those paper revisions and resubmit them.  And finish the poster for the conference next Friday.  And finish taxes.  And prepare for Monday’s meeting.  And prepare for presenting in class on Monday morning.  And figure out what’s causing Bailey’s allergies.  And keep working on the lab website.

And then I realized if I didn’t start paying attention I was just going to have to do more studying.  So I learned about Principal Axis Factoring and ran to the library during the break.  And I accepted that this weekend will involve a lot of reading and studying.  But tonight, there was comfort food and NBC sitcoms.  (And taking a few minutes to submit a paper because it was nice to have something checked off the list.)

What is comfort food for me?  At the moment, yummy things that don’t take a lot of work and don’t result in a lot of guilt.

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