Tag Archives: cremini mushrooms

CHICKEN SPAGHETTI FOR ONE

When my wife is away for a while, I always bounce around the house at loose ends. One of my main challenges is to decide what to eat. Sometimes I will go to a restaurant, but feeling comfortable at a table for one is always a problem. Sometimes I buy a bunch of frozen dinners with the misguided, maybe even delusional, notion that I can lose some weight during Susan’s absence. The other alternative, cooking for one, is neither easy nor appealing. Still, this time I decided to cook something fairly simple that could be eaten as leftovers.

I had bought a chicken breast during my planning for meals for Susan’s trip, but I wound up not using it. So, needing to cook the chicken, I settled on a family favorite that could be scaled back from the usual crowd-pleaser.

When Susan’s mother and father were living on their East Texas farm, the many siblings and their children would often visit. The old-fashioned Southern comfort food, chicken spaghetti, was on the list of must-cook favorites. Mom Mom would often comply by cooking up a big batch. Her version included boiling a whole chicken to get a lot of chicken broth and shredded chicken. The recipe also called for Velveeta or American cheese. The finished dish fed a houseful of relatives.

For my home-alone effort, I wound up paring down the recipe and substituting ingredients including mild cheddar cheese for Velveeta.  I’m sure my friend, Jim, would want to add green chiles, and that would be good, too. It was fairly easy to make, and there was enough left over from the first dinner for the next night. It tasted good, but I am anxious for Susan’s return.

RECIPE

Mom Mom’s Chicken Spaghetti For One

Ingredients

  • boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 scallions including green tops, sliced
  • ½ green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 ounces mild cheddar cheese + more for topping
  • 1/3 pound dry spaghetti
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. In a large pot, cover the chicken with chicken stock and bring to the boil. Lower heat to low boil and cook for 3o minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and reserve the broth.
  2. With two forks, shred the chicken and set aside.
  3. Return the broth to the boil and stir in the scallions, peppers, and mushrooms. Simmer for 10 minutes until the vegetables are cooked but still crunchy.
  4. In the meantime, make a blonde roux by combining the butter and flour in a small saucepan over medium low heat. As the butter melts, stir until  they form a smooth paste. Cook for another 2-3 minutes to get rid of any raw flour taste. The roux should be smooth and not browned. Pour in a few tablespoons of the stock mixture, stirring at the same time. Then add the tempered roux back to the broth. (This should prevent lumps)
  5. Add the grated cheese and shredded chicken to the broth mixture and simmer for 10 minutes until everything is heated through.
  6. While the broth and chicken are simmering, cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water until tender, about 10-12 minutes. With tongs, transfer the cooked spaghetti to the hot broth mixture and stir gently until well combined. If needed, use some of the cooking liquid to thin the broth. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  7. Ladle the mixture into a serving bowl making sure to include chicken, spaghetti, vegetables, and broth. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese and serve immediately. Enough for one with leftovers for a second meal.
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SHRIMP-STUFFED POBLANO CHILES WITH TOMATILLO-CHIPOTLE SALSA

One of the classic dishes of Mexico is chiles en nogada: poblano chiles stuffed with shredded pork (picadillo) and topped with walnut sauce (nogada), and pomegranate seeds. Supposedly the dish was invented in the city of Puebla in 1821. The green poblano chiles, white  walnut sauce, and red pomegranate seeds symbolize the colors of the Mexican flag. In season, chiles en nogada is a popular dish throughout Mexico , especially on September 16, Mexican Independence Day.

This is not the season. Fresh walnuts are not available and pomegranates don’t appear until late summer. Still, I thought about making the dish when I located some walnut halves in the freezer I am under instructions to clear out. I also saw some nice looking poblanos in the supermarket. As well, the walnut sauce sounded too complicated, so I decided to stuff the chiles with some pre-cooked, pre-shelled shrimp from the meat counter and cremini mushrooms from the refrigerator drawer. Then I topped it all with crema, the Mexican version of sour cream. The final dish still turned out green, white, and red because I used some tomatoes in the stuffing.

As a side dish, I made a tomatillo salsa with chipotle. That took only a few minutes and gave a little extra kick for those who wanted it. Avocado slices finished things off for a festive and surprisingly light dinner.

RECIPES

Shrimp-Stuffed Poblano Chiles

Ingredients

  • 4 fresh poblano chiles
  • ¼ cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 crimini mushrooms, washed, trimmed, and quartered
  • ½ pound pre-cooked, shelled shrimp (31/40 per pound)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped coarsely
  • ¼ cup scallions including green tops, sliced
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • juice of ½ lime
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (optional, see recipe below)
  • Mexican crema

Method

  1. Roast poblanos over an open flame until the skin is evenly charred. Place in a zipper bag, seal, and let rest until cooled. Then remove the charred skin under running water, slit one side, remove seeds and core, dry, and set aside.
  2. In a small sauté pan over medium heat dry roast the walnuts until lightly browned and the oils have begun to be released. Stir frequently. Be careful not to burn. Remove from the heat, cool, chop coarsely, and set aside.
  3. In the same sauté pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the quartered mushrooms and sauté until they are soft and lightly browned. Drain, cool, and set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the shrimp,  walnuts, mushrooms, shrimp, tomatoes, scallions,  cilantro, and lime juice. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in the optional adobo to suit your taste.
  5. Fill the prepared poblano chiles and arrange on individual plates. Drizzle with crema, and serve.

Roasted Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa

Years ago, the first time I made this for my chef son-in-law, he liked it so much that he copied the recipe to the collection he keeps in his laptop. The salsa is refreshing and quite different from the usual bottled kinds. You can make it as hot as you like by varying the number of chipotles and the amount of the adobo sauce. Tomatillos, along with tomatoes, belong to the nightshade family, but they are more tart than tomatoes, stay green when ripe, and are covered with a papery husk that needs to be removed before eating or cooking. They can be eaten raw, but the tart flavor is not very good, in my opinion. Roasting them mellows the flavor. Tomatillos  used to be hard to find except in Mexican grocery stores, but now they are in nearly every supermarket. Chipotles are actually smoked jalapeños. You can find them canned in a spicy adobo sauce.

Ingredients

  • 5-6 fresh tomatillos (about 1 pound)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped fine
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves, stemmed and chopped coarsely
  • 2 chipotles (canned in adobo sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Remove the husks of the tomatillos. Then broil them for 15 to 20 minutes on a baking sheet that has been lined with aluminum foil. Turn occasionally. Remove from the broiler when the skin has dark brown spots all over and the flesh is soft and somewhat watery.
  2. In a small skillet, sauté the chopped onion in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Do not brown.
  3. Transfer the onion to a medium bowl. Chop the tomatillos finely and add them to the onion. Add more adobo sauce if you want the salsa to be more piquant. Stir in the vinegar and cilantro. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve as a dip with tortilla chips or as a condiment with a main course.

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MAC AND CHEESE/SHRIMP AND GRITS

Macaroni and cheese is as American as you can get. Some authorities attribute its invention to Thomas Jefferson, although that is probably apocryphal. Jefferson did bring pasta machines to the United States, but the first known published recipe came from a Philadelphia chef in the early 1800s. Whatever the real origin, the dish soon became popular in Virginia and the rest of the South. It appeared on the tables of many Southern homes as well as hotel and railroad diner menus for many decades extending into the twentieth century. Early recipes called for boiling the macaroni for an hour or longer until it fell apart. Then it was combined with cheese, covered with bread crumbs, and baked into what resembled a sort of pudding. Honestly, it sounds pretty disgusting regardless of its popularity.

The "gold standard" - boxed mac and cheese

The real event for mac and cheese, though, came in 1937 near the dawn of the prepared food rage that still engages America’s home cooks. Kraft brought out a boxed version complete with dried macaroni and a powdered cheese sauce  that was billed as cheap, fast, and easy. The original recipe on the box called for bread crumbs on top and baking, but these embellishments were soon abandoned in favor of speed.  Boxed mac and cheese was immediately popular and became more popular during the Second World War. After the war, when the whole style of home cooking was changing, it became a real favorite, especially with kids.

I remember loving mac and cheese as a child – pouring the macaroni out of the box into the boiling water, waiting for it to cook, draining it, and adding the powder from the little envelope along with some milk and butter. My grandkids still love that version, and when all else fails to please their finicky kid-type appetites, macaroni from the box is sure to appeal to them. For me during college days, boxed macaroni was a standby along with ramen noodles. Maybe that’s why and when it lost interest for my more grown-up tastes.

These days, restaurants including some very high-end places in our town are bringing out their fancy versions of this old-time favorite. You may find mac and cheese made with bleu cheese, green chiles, goat cheese, curly pastas, mushrooms, and even truffles.

Shrimp and artichoke mac and cheese coming out of the oven

Another favorite comfort food, especially if you are a Southerner or even if you have only visited the South, is shrimp and grits. This delicacy of Southern cooking has a lot in common with macaroni and cheese – a smooth creamy base of starch, oozing, gooey cheese, and maybe a little crust on the top to give it just a bit of bite.

Served with broccoli, broccoli puree and cornbread

A couple of weeks ago, I was wondering what I could do to liven up the mac and cheese that I was making for dinner. What I came up with is this riff on shrimp and grits. It is guaranteed to be gooey and loaded with cheesy flavor. The shrimp, bacon,  mushrooms, and artichokes make it a lot more substantial than the old-timey product made straight out of the box. I doubt that my grandkids would like this version, but I certainly did.

SHRIMP AND ARTICHOKE MACARONI AND CHEESE

You can use regular elbow macaroni for this dish, but it is more interesting to use different shapes or colors that you have been wanting to try. I have used foglie di carciofo, a flat, round pasta flavored with dried artichoke. It seems perfect for the dish,  but any other would do.

Ingredients

butter

panko

12 oz (3 cups) dried pasta

5 oz (4 strips) thick-sliced bacon

5 medium (4 oz) cremini mushrooms, sliced

14 oz (1 can) or fresh or frozen artichoke hearts, quartered

1 lb raw shrimp, peeled

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

4 Tablespoons flour

1½ Cups milk

½ Cup  cream

2 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated

2 ounces Monterey jack cheese, grated

4 ounces Swiss cheese, grated

4 ounces sour cream

salt and pepper to taste

grated Parmesan cheese

melted butter

  1. Generously butter the inside of a two-quart baking dish. Coat the insides with panko and set aside. Reserve additional panko for the top.
  2. In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and return to the boil. Cook the pasta for 12 minutes or until al dente, stirring frequently. Drain and return to the pot. Set aside.
  3. In a 9 inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until not quite crisp. Remove the bacon and drain it on several thicknesses of paper towel. Chop coarsely and set aside.  Then add the mushrooms to the still hot skillet and sauté in the bacon fat until lightly browned. Add the artichoke hearts and shrimp and continue to sauté until the shrimp are pink – about 3 minutes. Set aside.
  4. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the flour, stirring constantly to make a light roux. Be careful not to brown. Add the milk and cream and stir constantly until thickened.  Add the grated cheeses and sour cream and continue to stir until the cheeses are completely melted.  Pour the mixture over the reserved pasta. Add the mushroom, artichoke, and shrimp mixture and stir gently to combine.  Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.
  5. Transfer the mixture into the prepared baking dish, top with additional panko and  grated Parmesan cheese. Baste the top with melted butter.
  6. Bake in the top third of a preheated oven at 350° for about one hour or until the top is golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack for about 5 minutes and then serve immediately.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6 generously

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