Mushroom Bolognese

November 15, 2017

 

 

Since adopting the semi-quasi-ovo-lacto-charlatan-vegetarian eating plan in September, I’ve been getting lots of emails and questions from you readers, which is awesome on many levels. I mean, reason #1 is obviously that I love you, and love hearing from you. I also love to hear myself talk, which ties in nicely with reason #1. It’s also interesting to find that many of you are, like me, realizing that maybe relying so much on animals for protein in our diets isn’t the most efficient or planet-friendly way to operate. Or cost effective, for that matter. It’s funny…I certainly was aware on some level how much of our grocery bill was going to organic, grass-fed, locally sourced (if possible) animal protein, but I didn’t really get it until I saw the drop in our grocery bill. Even if you buy the eggs from happy, wandering, pasture-fed chickens and the imported cheese, it’s a dang steal compared to the buffalo steaks and the lamb chops. A steal.

One question I’ve been getting frequently is, “Is it harder to get meals on the table?” The answer to that question is yes, but not for the reasons you’d think. Most people think it’s harder because my kids won’t eat the vegetarian fare I’m dishing up, and they’d be partially right, but my kids could shovel down eggs and toast for every meal without complaint. Truth is, my children didn’t eat half of the “regular” meals I make because they are carbotarians, and finicky ones at that. Feeding them hasn’t changed. My husband and I are the problem, but it’s not a big problem. I’m just committed to finding new recipes and not trying to go all “death by black beans,” on our asses, which does take time and effort. I don’t imagine this will be an issue forever. I’ll find new favorite recipes to rely on.

The most common question I’m getting is, “Have you lost weight?” It’s a natural question. Any time you shake up your diet, that’s kind of the question at hand. My answer is: I don’t think so? I don’t know for sure, because I don’t keep a bathroom scale around. I’ve learned that a scale is not a good thing for me to have, so I don’t. I didn’t really expect to lose weight, because I didn’t do a significant “overhaul” of the way I eat. I’m still eating lots of fun things like carbohydrates and cheese, so it’s not like I’ve taken drastic dietary measures. Plus, Menopause! What a pain in the arse, that menopause. It would take a lot more than cutting my animal protein intake to shed significant poundage. Rotten fact. But. I feel good. I am for sure sleeping much better, which is a weirdo side effect I didn’t anticipate. I also think my skin looks better. My jeans still fit, so I’m not complaining one speck. The only thing fatter thing in this scenario is my wallet, so I’m taking it. And so far, sticking with it.

One of the most surprising recipes I’ve tried so far on this eating plan is this one, for mushroom bolognese sauce. It doesn’t sound impressive, really, and like most dishes featuring mushrooms, it’s not stunningly beautiful (then again, is regular bolognese sauce?).

It is damn delicious, though, and both my husband and I couldn’t get enough of it. We put it on pasta, we spooned it on top of baked potatoes and polenta, we tossed it with baked spaghetti squash (when we were feeling particularly virtuous). I even added it to my morning veggie and grain bowls, which made them doubly luscious. I made three batches of this in a row, and I don’t see myself slowing down. I like it every bit as much as I do regular, meat-based spaghetti sauce.

I will say that I think it’s imperative to use a variety of mushrooms in this sauce. Using strictly button mushrooms won’t give you the depth of flavor you want from a bolognese. I used a combination of button, cremini and portobello mushrooms and was quite happy.

One word of caution: if you don’t want to texture to turn funky, be sure to hand-chop the mushrooms instead of putting them in the food processor. The food processor blade chops them too finely (you want a rough dice/chop). The processor sort of mashes everything together and the texture’s all wrong. Take the extra time and effort to chop them yourself; if you do that, you won’t miss the meat. I mean it! I was dubious too but I truly didn’t miss the meat here.

Chopping aside, this is easy enough to earn a spot on your regular meal rotation, but delicious enough for a special meal. You might just scarf the entire pan in 2 days and have to make another batch. Ahem.

Worth it.

Mushroom Bolognese

slightly adapted from Gimme Some Oven

serves 6

 

2 tablespoons butter (you can use olive oil but butter gives it a little extra somethin’)

1 small white onion, chopped

1 carrot, diced

2 celery ribs, diced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms, cleaned and diced (I used a mixture of button, cremini and portobello)

2/3 cup dry red wine

1 2/3 cup vegetable or chicken stock

1 tablespoon soy sauce (use tamari sauce if you want this vegetarian)

1 (15-oz) can tomato sauce

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

kosher salt and black pepper

1 pound of your favorite pasta, cooked (I’d urge you to use imported, if you can)

1/2 cup fresh parsley or basil, chopped

freshly grated Parmesan, for serving (be generous!)

 

In a large saute pan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook for about 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic and the tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until the mushrooms are browned.

Pour in the wine and give the vegetable mixture a good stir, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until the wine is reduced by half.

Add in the stock, tomato sauce, bay leaf, Italian seasoning and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer sauce, uncovered, for 10-20 minutes or until it is reduced and thick like a meat sauce. Stir in crushed red pepper and salt and pepper to taste.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Add the pasta straight into the pot with the sauce and toss to coat. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and a generous amount of grated Parmesan.

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Although Autumn is my favorite season by far, I’m always a little relieved to wave October goodbye. Three family members have October birthdays, and then there’s all of the hubbub and excitement (and mess!) of Halloween, and by month’s end, I’m shot.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook already know that Miss D. went her usual full-throttle-creative-dynamo speed when it came to her Halloween costume, and while the results were impressive, so was the mess in her room.

 

      ~And yeah, I let her cut up my 200$ bomber jacket from the 80’s to make this. So long, jacket of my youth!

 

Two weeks prior to Halloween, I told her to just close the door to her bedroom every morning, because I wasn’t even going to LOOK in there.

Y’all, that was the smartest decision I ever made. I had two weeks of relative peace before having to face the horrendous scum-pile that was her room. Lordy, that child is a wrecking ball. And there’s zero “clean-as-you-go” mentality when she’s working on her epic creations, so when it’s finally time to unveil the masterpiece (and face the music) her room is virtually unrecognizable.

We managed, but I almost fainted when I first saw what she’d done in there. Hoo-boy. I needed a stiff drink after helping her clean up that disaster.

Add in a trip to Happy Valley for the Penn State game and two different foster kitties, and you’ve got one burned out Kitch.

 

         -This is our current foster kitten, George. Some critter messed up his head, so he is in Cone Hades right now. Poor George!

 

It’s been real, October, but later. Not sad to see you go.

November brings some different challenges. My husband’s work schedule is hor-rendous this month (and his holiday shindig/party circuit begins and won’t stop until Christmas)…which means a lot of single-momming it. And single-mealing it.

If I look on the bright side, I can tell myself that all of these solo evenings will make my life simpler. The girls are easy to please (if easy to please means pizza or pasta) and getting them fed is relatively simple.

But.

When my husband isn’t going to be home for dinner, I have a hard time making healthy choices for myself. I turn into a lazy pile of inertia and ennui. I eat cereal for dinner, or crackers and crack cheese, or a big bowl of buttered rice. Quick and easy? Sure. Nutritious and wholesome? Not so much.

I really need to have more self-respect when it comes to feeding myself. I’m going to try.

I envision big pots of black bean chili and veggie-packed soups that I can eat off for several days. Brown rice and broccoli stir-frys. Spinach and tomato omelets.

I can do this, right?

Heh.

We shall see.

One thing I’m going to promise myself to make again is this farro dish, which I’m calling a “risotto,” because while it’s not the traditional Arborio rice risotto, its texture is similar–creamy and rich and comforting.

And it’s better for you, because it uses fiber-rich farro.

And it’s easier, because you don’t have to constantly stir it and babysit it like you do the rice variety.

And it’s yummy and vegetarian.

How about that?

The recipe is a riff on one I’d seen from the blog Smitten Kitchen, which I’m sure you’ve heard of because Deb is uber famous and funny and her photography skills are incredible. Please do not compare any of my skills to hers, mmkay?

She raved about her one-pan farro with tomatoes, and I’m sure it’s good, but it sounded kind of bare bones and super-healthy and, dare I say, austere? I felt the need to fatten it up, frankly. I felt it needed an added textural note, so I included tomatoes two ways–cooked in the dish and then also stirred in at the end of cooking, for a pop of freshness. I also added some luscious, gooey, delicious cheese because hey, we’re already being virtuous with the farro and the vegetarian side of the deal, so let’s have a little fun, shall we?

Cheese makes everything mo’ betta’ in my opinion. I chose smoked mozzarella for a little sexy hint of smoke and Parmiggiano-Reggiano for that sharp hit of flavor. It’s a winning combination. Cheese is the best, man.

Plus, nights are getting cold and dark, and cold + dark = need for cheese. I’m sure it’s written down somewhere.

Cold, dark, [self pitying] lonely November nights will be made just a little brighter if you cook yourself a pot of this. Cuddle up with a warm blanket, the t.v. remote, a white fluffy dog, and a couple of rogue foster cats, and you’ve got a cozy scene.

If your loved one is home and across the table from you, more’s the better, and if you’re of a mind, it would be stupendous alongside a nice roast chicken. However you serve it up is up for you to decide but do serve it up, because it’s yummy.

Now…who hid the crack cheese?

 

 

One Pan Farro “Risotto” with Tomatoes

serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

 

 

2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock (or chicken stock, if that’s what you have and you’re not a stickler)

1 cup farro

1/2 large sweet onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

12 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes, divided (I used multi-colored ones for fun)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste (use less if you are sensitive to heat)

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or 1/4 cup sliced fresh basil leaves

2 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, diced

2 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese

 

Place vegetable broth and farro in a medium saucepan and soak for about 5 minutes while you prepare other ingredients. Add the onion, garlic, about half of the tomatoes, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and olive oil to the pan. Bring the pan to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until farro is chewy but tender. There should be about a tablespoon or two of liquid left in the pot at this point; if not, add a tablespoon or two of water to the pan. Keep pan uncovered and crank up the heat to medium-hi. Stir the farro vigorously, allowing the farro to release starch and allow the liquid to become reduced and creamy, about 5 minutes.

Remove farro from heat, stir in the other half of the tomatoes, the parsley or basil, the smoked mozzarella and the parmesan. Drizzle with a glug of olive oil and serve immediately in warmed bowls.

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Greetings, Readers!

We are back from our adventures in Pennsylvania and our dogs are tired, let me tell you. My husband’s fighting off some respiratory gunk (I know! Immune System Man has a sickness!) and hollering his brains out at Beaver Stadium and staying up until 2am on game night didn’t do him any favors. He will tell you it’s completely worth it though, and he’d be right about that.

Not only was it a perfect night for a football game, but it was a Penn State “white out” night, which is something to behold, especially with a record crowd in attendance. I was completely overwhelmed by the people and the spectacle and the activity, but the boys drank everything in with relish. That stadium was thrumming and humming and louder than heck. And…ahem…it didn’t hurt that the Nittany Lions beat the tar out of Michigan.

Daddy-o was grinning ear to ear watching that beat-down, which made everything that much more special. He said it was one of the best weekends of his LIFE, and when a guy can say that in his 83rd year on this planet, it must have been good fun.

Exhausting, but good fun.

We’re in the throes of unpacking and sorting/washing laundry and all of those chores, including re-stocking the pantry and refrigerator, because I cleaned it out to bare bones items before we left. It’s funny, because we weren’t away for that long, but I always feel compelled to purge the refrigerator before any trip. It’s just in my blood.

I’ll be packing that refrigerator up with lots of vegetables, because after a little hiatus, it’s back to the semi-quasi-vegetarian eating plan. We actually did okay while we were in Pennsylvania; salads were eaten, as were vegetable-laden things like ratatouille pizza. However, other things were also consumed, like beerbeerbeer and delicious seafood and artisan sausages. Hey–we were in the land of beer and pierogi. What’s a girl to do?

I’m actually looking forward to getting back to the healthier side of things, as I usually am after any vacation. Vacations are for letting go a little, but it’s also nice to get back to better habits. I sleep better and feel livelier when I don’t have a belly full of stout beer and bratwurst, that’s for sure.

One thing I’ll be turning to in the next few days is this recipe for farro with Swiss chard and shittake mushrooms, which we ate a few days before we left for our trip, and I can’t wait to make it again. This dish really does have it all. The farro makes it hearty and substantial, the parmesan cheese makes it rich and nutty, and the shiitake mushrooms make it feel special.

We ate this as a comforting main dish on a cold night, and it really did warm the soul. It would be equally good as a side dish for four people (it serves two as a main course); I think the flavors would lend itself beautifully alongside a roast chicken, if you are so inclined. I ate the leftovers for lunch the next day, topped with a poached egg, and that was genius. You can also double (or triple) the recipe and serve it to company, because it’s that yummy. I’d even say it would make a standout addition to a Thanksgiving buffet table.

Yes…I said it. Thanksgiving. It’s coming. You knew that, right? I mean, it’s true that it isn’t even Halloween yet, but as soon as those candy wrappers are in the wastebasket, blink twice and it’s Thanksgiving time.

As many of you know, I am not a fan of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. The only thing worth eating at the traditional Thanksgiving meal is a plateful of mashed potatoes and a boatload of gravy, if you ask me. Sorry, Thanksgiving lovers and purists everywhere. It’s just how I feel.

Some years I can get away with cooking something less traditional, like a roast or a seafood feast. Some years, I want to indulge my turkey-loving father and decide to suck it up and make the whole festive spread. Some years I’ve gone totally renegade and made Chinese food or paella for the holiday meal.

This year, it’s going to be…weird. Really, really weird. Daddy is spending Thanksgiving in Hawaii (as we all did last year, the first year without my mother at the table). I think it feeds his soul to be in Hawaii during Thanksgiving, at least when things are still so raw. Frankly, I think this holiday season might be just as hard as last year, if not harder. I’m happy he’s doing what he needs to do and taking care of himself that way.

We’ll be staying here, but my husband is working the entire Thanksgiving weekend this year, so we won’t see much of him. Not gonna lie: this sucks. I don’t know why he got so royally screwed this year but he’s not only working Thanksgiving, he’s working Christmas, too. Thanksgiving I could maybe handle but do not fuck with my Christmas, scheduling Gods. I mean it. I’m bitter. This had better not happen again any time soon.

I’ll deal with my Christmas disappointment when the time comes, but the Thanksgiving dilemma doesn’t faze me as much because let’s face it–I try to get out of cooking traditional Thanksgiving food anyways, and now I have a very good excuse. I’m not sure what I’ll decide to make this November. I have a few weeks to figure it out, so that’s a good thing.

Any ideas or inspiration?

Maybe I’ll just make farro with Swiss chard and shittakes and cry into it. Boo hoo.

Kidding. Sort of. Anyways, I’m glad to be home.

 

 

Farro with Swiss Chard, Shiitakes and Parmesan

serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish

 

1/2 cup whole farro

1 1/4 cups vegetable broth

1 small onion, chopped fine

1 minced garlic clove

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon butter

3 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced

8 ounces Swiss or rainbow chard, ribs removed, sliced into 1-inch pieces

a few drops of liquid smoke or liquid aminos

2/3 cup parmesan cheese

toasted pine nuts

lemon zest (optional)

 

Bring the farro, broth, onion, garlic, thyme and 1/4 teaspoon salt and a grind or two of pepper to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15- 20 minutes or until tender. Do not drain farro; you should have a little liquid (about two tablespoons) left in the pan.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to brown and release a little of their liquid, about 4 minutes. Add the chard and a few drops of liquid smoke and a little more salt and pepper. Stir and cook until chard begins to wilt and the liquid in the skillet is mostly evaporated, a couple of minutes more. Set aside.

If you have more than a 2 tablespoons of liquid in the pot with the farro in it, boil it down over high heat until reduced to about 2 tablespoons. If you don’t have any water left in the pan, add a couple of tablespoons water and bring it to a boil. Once you have about 2 tablespoons liquid in the pan, add the parmesan cheese and keep stirring until the cheese is melted and the farro is saucy. Stir in the Swiss chard/mushroom mixture. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Top with toasted pine nuts and a little lemon zest, if desired.

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