After All This Time, All I Have To Offer Is Casserole

It was never my intention to take a leave of absence from this space, but it seems that it happened anyway.  Oops.

If I’m being perfectly honest, it was kind of nice.  Not being tied to a camera or a computer for a little while.  I might try it more often.

Not that I don’t enjoy coming here and sharing with you – certainly I do.  I just might be doing it a little more sporadically right now (not that I was all that regular about it before).  When I make something that I think you’ll particularly appreciate, then I’ll share it with you.  That’s what this space is really for, after all.

It’s still January for a few more days.  I didn’t really make any earth-shattering resolutions at the start of this New Year.  I’ve found that I’m not very good at keeping them.  What I did decide with some certainty is that I really need to simplify.  Complicated is just…well…too complicated.  So, simple it shall be.

I’ve kind of gotten into a routine with my cooking.  Another reason posting hasn’t happened much lately – not much new to share.   Once a week or so, I make this chicken (or some variation thereon), and we eat about half of it for dinner that same day.  Then I cut the rest of the meat off the carcass and tuck it away for use another day and make this lovely dark chicken stock out of the bones.casserole2

Then, a day or so later, I make chicken and rice casserole with that leftover meat.  I know what you’re thinking – casserole is so passé (does anyone even say passé anymore, or is that passé)?  Just hear me out, though.

casserole4 (2)

See – I have a very picky toddler in my house.  He’s three, and he’s demanding.  And also sometimes unpleasant.  And unlike his older, more amenable brother, he doesn’t care much about pleasing anyone but himself.  So if he doesn’t like something?  He makes life pretty miserable for the rest of us.  Thus, rather than making two different dinners every night, I’m trying to come up with things that we can all enjoy (and that don’t involve opening a box of noodles that may also contain a packet of orange cheese-flavored powder – not that I haven’t done that a time or two in desperation).  This seems like a good enough compromise.casserole1

It’s loosely based on this casserole from the archives of Paula Deen.  I say loosely because hers involves opening a bunch of cans (canned chicken, canned soup, canned beans, canned water chestnuts, parboiled rice, etc).  My version takes sauteed onions and celery and homemade chicken stock and just the tiniest hint of heavy cream and mixes it all together with hearty brown rice and skillet roasted chicken (and maybe a smidge of extra-sharp cheddar) for a flavorful, tummy pleasing meal.  Paired with a salad for the grown-ups and some unsweetened applesauce for the kids, it’s an easy weeknight fix (and disagreeable-toddler-approved).


Chicken and Rice Casserole

prep time: 10 minutes

cook time: 45 minutes

serves: 6-8


  • 2 Tablespoons oil (I used coconut, but you could use olive oil or butter – whatever you have)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, cubed (optional – this was decidedly not a toddler-approved addition, but I enjoyed it)
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 6-8 oz. of cooked chicken, diced (I used one breast and one thigh off a pre-roasted chicken)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (this was about 2 1/4 oz. by weight)
  • 2 cups brown rice, cooked according to package directions (yields approximately 6 cups cooked)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F
  2. In a large oven-proof enameled cast iron pan over medium-high heat, saute your onions and celery in oil until they begin to become translucent (if you don’t have a pan like this, you can do everything in a regular skillet and then transfer it to a casserole dish to bake in the oven).
  3. Add the mushrooms and let them get good and brown.  Taste for seasoning – add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and stir it around.  Let it cook for a few minutes so that it loses the raw flour taste.  You’re making a roux.
  5. Pour the chicken stock in the pan and stir to combine, making sure you dissolve any lumps of flour that might be remaining.  Let it come to a boil – it should thicken.
  6. Add the heavy cream and stir to combine.  Turn off the burner.
  7. Add the chicken and the rice.  Carefully stir to combine.
  8. Add the cheese and stir through.
  9. Cover and bake in a 350F oven for 45 minutes.  Remove the lid during the last 15 minutes to let the top get good and brown.
  10. Enjoy!



I Won This Ravioli. It Rocks.

Okay, so remember that review I did a couple of weeks ago of the butternut squash seed oil?  Well, if not, here’s a link that will bring it all rushing back with amazing clarity.  That particular post was part of a contest that was being sponsored by Marx Foods, and the winner was awarded their choice of six pounds of Pumpkin or Butternut Squash ravioli.

Guess who won?

Yep – it was I.  Little old me.

And on Thursday, I was greeted by a friendly delivery man dropping off a large box full of frozen squares of pumpkin-sage deliciousness.  Not that I ate them frozen.  That would be weird.

Despite the fact that pumpkin-sage ravioli is really more of an autumnal pasta, I decided to serve it for dinner last night with a mushroom/goat cheese cream sauce.  And let me just tell you – it was pretty amazing.

I mean, you can’t really go wrong with piquant goat cheese and earthy, deeply browned cremini mushrooms.  That combo would be tasty over just about anything.  But, when you pair it with this ravioli – this beautiful, colorful pasta, which is slightly sweet and a little nutty, bursting with robust savory richness – it is elevated to a whole new level.  This is a marriage of flavors, y’all.

To make the sauce, I browned a pound of sliced cremini mushrooms in about a tablespoon of butter over high, high heat.  You want those babies to get brown, brown, brown.  I waited to add salt until they had achieved the level of brown-ness I wanted, since salt draws out moisture, which is the enemy of browning.  I also added a minced shallot toward the end and just let it soften.

Once the mushrooms got good and brown, and the shallots had softened, I reduced the heat to low and added a cup of cream and 4 oz. of goat cheese to the mix.  I tasted for seasoning and added a little more salt and some cracked black pepper.  Once the goat cheese melted and became incorporated,  I added the cooked pasta and it was done.  It was about 15 minutes, start to finish (which is just about how much time it took for the water to boil and the pasta to cook).

If you have an occasion to taste this ravioli, I encourage you to take advantage of it.  I realize that the price on the Marx Foods website seems a little high, but when you consider that it includes overnight shipping and handling, it doesn’t seem so bad.  You get about 16 portions, which breaks down to 6 pieces per person (which is more than enough) for an entree portion, but you could easily extend it by serving it as an appetizer and only serving 2 or 3 pieces per person.  And my experience with the folks at Marx Foods has been nothing but positive.  They’ve been very helpful and quick to respond to my emails.

I do recognized that it’s unseasonably warm in most areas of the country, and pumpkin sage ravioli may be the last thing you want to think about right now.  However, this was too delicious not to share.  And as I said, this sauce would be tasty over just about anything – on scrambled eggs for breakfast, over papardelle for dinner, on crostini as an appetizer (you might want to reduce the cream for that last one).   It’s good stuff.

Pumpkin Sage Ravioli with Mushroom Goat Cheese Cream Sauce
prep time: 2 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes
yields: 4 servings


  1. Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil.  Add the frozen ravioli and stir immediately to avoid sticking.  Cook 4-6 minutes, or until they float.  Remove from the water using a strainer or large slotted spoon.  Add to the sauce.
  2. While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, heat a large, heavy bottomed saute pan over high heat.
  3. Add butter and sliced mushrooms.  Cook over high heat until mushrooms are browned.
  4. Add shallot and cook until softened.
  5. Reduce heat to low and add cream and goat cheese.  Stir to melt goat cheese.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Add cooked pasta and stir to coat.
  8. Enjoy!

Note:  I received this ravioli free from Marx Foods as an award from a contest in which I participated.  I was not asked to write a review in return for the product.  The opinions in this post are mine.

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup

And so my first week of work has begun.  I’ve jumped in with both feet, welcoming the adult interaction and the intellectual stimulation.  I’ve already got projects to work on and I’m being challenged beyond what I thought I’d be.  It’s nice.

At home, we’re busy decorating and planning.  The tree has been lit and decorated and the lights have been strung about the outside of the house.  The children are all atwitter with the anticipation of Santa’s arrival, and the ornaments dangling from the fragile branches of the tree are almost too much for the youngest to resist.  He’s just so curious and excited all of the time, eager to touch and explore everything.

We’re talking about the meaning of Christmas. We have a small wooden nativity that the children are allowed to touch and manipulate.  We talk about the different members in the scene, and my oldest takes care to gather all of them around the tiny baby in the manger.  He wants them all arranged just so – in a tight circle, gazing down at the swaddled infant.  He’s very particular, and gets quite agitated when his brother decides that the various figures need to be scattered about the house.  I spend  a good amount of time fishing them out from under the sofa and from between the cushions.  At least they’re interacting with them and curious about them – right?  It gives us ample opportunities to share the Christmas story.

Amidst the joy and the lights, and the work obligations, I’ve been a little bit remiss in my cooking duties.  Luckily, my work schedule is only part-time, so I do still have some time available during the week to focus on food.

As I sat home on Tuesday, thinking about dinner and dreading the inevitable battle of wills that has become the standard with my two-year-old at the dinner table, I decided soup would be my best bet.  It has been unseasonably warm over the last few days, but the dreary, rainy  weather welcomed the idea of warm, nourishing soup.  I’d been to lunch with a friend over the weekend (she’s hilarious, and she writes about food – of course we’re friends) and we’d both ordered soup and salad.  I chose a wild mushroom number and she went with an onion soup.  Both soups were cream based  (much to my friend’s surprise), and they were both hearty and flavorful.  I really wanted to replicate that same rich creamy texture and deep flavor at home.

This isn’t really a recipe per-se.  It’s more of a bunch of stuff I had in the fridge that I threw together on a whim.  Sometimes, those are the best meals, though – for some reason the stars align and the seas part and you’re left with a perfectly satisfying meal that took very little effort and actually helped you clean out the fridge a little bit.  This is one of those meals.  I imagine you could use just about any vegetable here – just roast the heck out of it, and then whir it up with some broth and half-and-half.  I’m trying to think of a vegetable that wouldn’t work here, and I’m drawing a blank.

In this case, I had a pound of mushrooms in the crisper, along with about two cups of broccoli florets and a bunch of asparagus that our neighbors gave us before they left for a cruise (lucky ducks!).  I decided to roast them all at 400F until they got good and brown and toasty.  I just tossed them with some olive oil and salt and pepper and spread them out on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.  They roasted for about 35 minutes.

While that was going on, I caramelized a thinly sliced onion in some butter in an enameled stock pot on the stove.  Once they were nice and golden brown and sweet and buttery-delicious, I added about 1 1/2 quarts of turkey stock (because I had some left over from Thanksgiving.  You could also use vegetable broth or chicken stock).  To this I added the roasted veggies, and I pureed it all using my stick blender.  I topped it all off with about a cup of half-and-half, and added half a cup of parmesan cheese.  Then I tasted it for seasoning and added salt and pepper.

I loved this soup.  And what’s better, my kids actually liked it.  No complaining, no moaning and groaning about how many more bites they had to take before they could be done.  Just quietly eating and cleaning their plates.  Broccoli and asparagus soup.  Who’d have thought?  It’s not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but it sure did taste good.  And I guess, at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.

While it’s not really a recipe, here’s my estimation of the amounts I used and how long it took:

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup
prep time: 5 minutes
cook time: 45 minutes
serves: 6-8


  • 1 lb mushrooms
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 lb. asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 1/2 quarts stock
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

I think this one might become part of our regular repertoire.  What are some of your favorite autumn and winter soups?

The Economy of Puff Pastry

e-con-o-my \i-ˈkä-nə-mē\1. archaic: the management of household or private affairs and especially expenses; 2. a: thrifty and efficient use of material resources : frugality in expenditures; also: an instance or a means of economizing:savingb: efficient and concise use of nonmaterial resources (as effort, language, or motion) (source: Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)

I am moving toward economy in all aspects of my life.  Economy of resources, of words, of effort.  Minimal expenditure, maximum gain.  That old saying that sometimes less is more?  Yep – that’s what I’m going for.

This puff pastry embodies the concept.  Few ingredients, simple technique, maximum impact.  Elegant, flaky, delicate. Impossibly thin layers – thousands of them –  shatter and melt in your mouth.

When I saw a similar product at the market for $12, I thought to myself “how the hell can this lump of flour and butter cost $12?” Surely I could create something just as good for pennies on the dollar, and I could do it using whole grains rather than refined white flour.

The recipe is adapted from the good old Joy of Cooking.  I used freshly ground soft winter wheat, ground it fine, and then passed it through a medium-mesh sieve to remove the largest bits of bran and germ.

  • 2 1/3 cups freshly ground flour
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup ice water (the original calls for 3/4 cup, but I didn’t use it al)
  • 1 3/4 cups butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 cup flour
  1. Combine the first 2 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine
  2. Add 4 tablespoons butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs
  3. Add ice water and pulse just until dough comes together in a ball.
  4. Form a 5-inch square, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  5. Freeze 1 3/4 cups butter for 2 minutes
  6. Place in the bowl of the food processor, along with 1 cup flour
  7. Process mixture until it looks like fine gravel.
  8. Scrape down sides of bowl and process until smooth.
  9. Scrape onto a sheet of plastic wrap, form a 6-inch square, wrap and refrigerate while you roll out the dough.
Illustration of puff pastry technique - through the first double fold

From here, it’s all about technique.  Handling the dough as little as possible, yet creating layer upon layer of buttery, tender pastry.  First, you roll the 5-inch square of dough out to a 13×8 inch rectangle.  You place the 6-inch butter block at one end, and fold the other end of the dough over it, crimping the edges to seal all around it.  Roll this out to a 17×7 1/2-inch rectangle.  Fold the bottom third up over the center of the dough, and fold the top third down over the bottom third, like folding a business letter.  Turn this so that a short side is facing you, and roll it out once more to a 17×7 1/2-inch rectangle.   Fold the top 1/4 down and the bottom 1/4 up to meet in the center.  Then fold this in half, creating four layers of dough (this is a “double fold” – you will be repeating this step two more times). Refrigerate for 45 minutes.

Roll dough to 17×7 1/2-inch rectangle again, do a second double fold, and refrigerate for another 45 minutes.  Do the same again, and refrigerate for another 45 minutes before using (or freeze if not using immediately).

To test the success of this simple pastry, I decided to pre-bake a tart shell.  I rolled about a third of the dough out to a 1/4-inch thickness, creating a long thin rectangle.  I created a border by trimming about 1/2 inch of dough from each of the four sides and adhering them to the edges with an egg wash.  I brushed the entire thing with egg was and sprinkled it with sea salt.  I docked the center with a fork, to keep it from puffing to much, and I baked it at 375F for 10 minutes.

I made a filling by sauteing 8 oz. of button mushrooms and 1/2 a thinly sliced yellow onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until golden brown and soft.  I seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper, and finished it off the heat with an ounce of good goat cheese and a tablespoon of heavy cream.  I spooned the filling into the shell and sprinkled a few sprigs of fresh thyme over the top.

The final product was something I’d be proud to serve as a first course at the finest of dinner parties.  Sliced into two-inch square servings and placed atop my grandmother’s fine china, it was the epitome of refinement.  The earthy, musky mushrooms paired with the sharp chevre and the sweet, buttery onions, spooned in thrifty measure onto the golden brown pastry – it was a memorable marriage of flavor and texture.

There is a lesson to be learned here.  It doesn’t require a lot of money, or a laundry list of ingredients, to create elegant food.  Simple, real ingredients, treated with care and minimally processed, can result in the most elevated of pastries.  A case where less truly is more.  Flour, butter, water, salt.  Four ingredients, that’s all.  It’s what you do with those ingredients that makes all the difference.