Double Stuffed Mushroom Caps

IMG_8805Mushroom caps have long been a staple on appetizer buffets, and rightly so! They’re easy to do, usually just a mouthful or two, a perfect finger food. They’re typically filled with cream cheese, maybe with some crab mixed in. Cheese seems to be in so many appetizers, so if there’s a way to hold back on the stuff (this is me talking, She Who Wants Cheese) I try to do it whenever possible. This recipe is full of umami, and can easily be adapted to be Gluten Free or Vegan (see following main recipe). I usually allow for 3 per person if they’re to be plated and served before the salad course. However, if they’re part of an appetizer buffet allow for 1 – 2 per person.   Continue reading

Oyster Mushrooms with Orzo

IMG_7538It seems like a funny time of year to be harvesting mushrooms, but I suppose as long as conditions are right, those little fungi are going to bloom! I’ve never been really confident on picking mushrooms, but there are a few that I know well, that are safe to eat. Oyster Mushrooms, Puff Balls, and Prince Mushrooms are so easy to identify in this region.

The oyster mushrooms were blooming all over a downed balsam-log. Mushrooms are the blooms of fungi that live in the ground, wood or organic matter (factoid).

There were about 8 feet of them, all over the top half of the log. I found them when they were perfect, the bugs and slugs hadn’t got to them, and they hadn’t started to dry out at the edges. A totally unexpected bounty! For dinner I made up a super easy orzo based risotto type dish. As we’d recently returned from travels, my pantry was quite depleted, but I had all I’d need to make an incredibly mushroomy dish.

I don’t expect that most people will stumble over an oyster mushroom laden log conveniently behind their chicken house, but if you do, harvest those beauties for your meal. If you don’t stumble over such a log, buy some at a grocery store. Continue reading

Three Cheese Macaroni

IMG_5944As a kid I found macaroni & cheese to be too bland.  I could get through a serving if I had enough pickles.   Apparently, though, I was a rarity.  Macaroni & Cheese was part of pretty much any Children’s section on a menu, and presented frequently at Potlucks for “the kids”.  I watched in horror as other children slathered it in ketchup and gobbled it up.  Then there was the boxed version, Kraft Dinner.  My older brother and sister would share a box upon returning home from school some days.  I would go to my room.

It wasn’t until I had children of my own, that I realized why kids are served Mac & Cheese, a protein-laden pasta dish that would fill them up.  Texture is important to children when eating, and it has a very consistent texture, so doesn’t get picked apart.

However, my palate still wasn’t buying it!  So I started to play around.  Typically when I make a simple white sauce, I add bay leaves to the heated milk, and nutmeg to the finished sauce.  By adding a pinch of cayenne, it gave it a bit more zest.

I had always used aged cheddar, but added in some Parmesan and Gruyère, which definitely upped the flavour.

It wasn’t until reading Martha Stewart’s Favorite Comfort Food in the late 90’s that I found the one missing element that would raise my concoction to just what I was looking for, by adding a topping of buttered fresh bread crumbs.

This mixture of zest, cheeses & crumb elevates the lowly macaroni & cheese of my childhood, to something I am proud to serve, and even enjoy myself. Continue reading

Butternut Squash Gratin with Baby Kale & Pecans

IMG_5686Back in the beginnings of our life on the farm, we used to grow squash in places where we’d had a burn pit.  We’d turn over all the ash, add some compost, and plant a few seeds.  Sometimes they were seeds that a friend had from the last year’s crop.  The biggest were Hubbards, and they grew to be huge, grey-green, miss formed globes.  If we had excess milk from the dairy that needed to be thrown out, it would go on the squash mounds to feed them even more.  I suppose seeing how big we could grow them was part of the charm, until we wanted to use them.  As we didn’t have a frost-free storage area to store them, we would cook, and then freeze them.

Cutting into a Hubbard squash is not easy.  I can remember swinging the splitting maul, just hoping to pierce it enough to pry it open.  When we finally did get it open, then we’d need to cut it into chunks that would fit into our trailer’s oven, to be roasted, and then frozen for use later on in the winter.  It would take about 3 roastings just to get it all done, from just one squash!

It’s been awhile since we’ve done any major squash growing.  It’s just so easy to go to the farmer’s market and buy lovely Butternuts, Acorns, Delicatas, and so many more.  They’re a manageable size, and I don’t have to worry about storing them in a frost-free space!

This is a wonderful gratin that really shows off the great flavour that Butternut Squash has.  It’s teamed with garlic and kale, with a yummy gratin topping.  Even though it is meant as a side, it could easily be served as a main.  You’ll just need more! Continue reading

Parmesan & Bacon Strata with Spinach

IMG_4890This is my very favourite Strata.  To be honest I’ve never been a fan of Stratas in general. Ones I’ve had in the past tend to have too much cheese, too much sausage, and left me feeling overfull.  To fix this, I thought it best to figure out the right ratio of bread, egg, & milk.  Once that was figured out, I started to build it up with just enough ingredients to give it a full flavour.  I’m happy to serve this for any breakfast / brunch event, and it disappears quickly.

The bread, egg, & milk ratio (1# bread to 3 cups milk and 10 eggs) can be accented with either savoury or sweet ingredients; just use your imagination.  For instance, add some vanilla and maple syrup to the egg mixture, and tuck in some thin apple slices and pieces of cream cheese.  This will give you a lovely, French toast type Strata.  Be inventive! Continue reading