Posts Tagged ‘appetizer’

Things are crazy around here with a busy toddler! Although I am able to find time to cook at night, it is often tough to find time to sit down and write a blog post. Cycling and running are two of my biggest hobbies, and I try to do a ride or run most days of the week. My favorite little gal is sometimes now only napping for an hour or so during the day, which means I have to carefully choose how I want to spend said free hour! Today, though, the little one is out running errands with her dad, so I have some time to sit down and do some writing.

Seafood is probably the food category I am least confident cooking because I always fear that I will either over or undercook it. Typically, though, I find that my gut is usually fairly trustworthy, if only I’ll allow myself to listen to it. Scallops were recently on the menu in our house, as I prepared Alton’s three scallop recipes for us. While I have cooked scallops a few times, they do not make regular appearances in our house; rather, they are something I occasionally order when we go out to eat. My favorite scallop preparation I remember consuming was a pairing of sea scallops with a huckleberry reduction that my dad and I both ordered as a special at a restaurant.

Seared Scallops

When purchasing fresh scallops, store them in an airtight container over ice, and use them as soon as possible after bringing them home. Frozen scallops can be kept in the freezer for a couple months and should be thawed on ice in the refrigerator. Diver scallops are optimal, as they are the freshest and have been harvested by divers. I did not know that sea scallops (the big ones) can be classified as either wet or dry. Dry scallops tend to have a sticky texture, have an ivory/pink/orange hue, and are not stored in any liquid. Wet scallops, on the other hand, are white in color and have been soaked in a solution of sodium tripolyphosphate, which is a preservative. This preservative causes the scallops to retain water and can impart some odd flavors, so dry scallops are preferable. Oh, and for an odd fact about scallops… did you know they are hermaphrodites?

Alton’s first scallop recipe is a simple and classic seared preparation of sea scallops. If you can find dry scallops, you’ll want to use those; I could not find dry sea scallops where I shopped, so mine were wet. To make four servings of scallops, you’ll need 1 – 1 1/4 pounds of scallops. Rinse your scallops in cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. If your scallops have a small side muscle attached (it looks sort of like a mini scallop attached to the side), pull it off and discard it. Place a large skillet on medium-high heat, adding 2 t olive oil and 2 t butter.

Olive oil and butter in skillet.

Season your scallops with Kosher salt and pepper and, once the butter stops bubbling, add the scallops to the pan, working from the outside of the pan to the inside. Sear the scallops for 1 1/2 minutes on each side.

Serve the scallops immediately over greens with a vinaigrette.

Alton’s seared scallops.

This is an easy and foolproof recipe for cooking scallops. If you cook the scallops as Alton instructs, you will be rewarded with perfectly cooked scallops. This would be an excellent first recipe to try if you have not cooked scallops before, and it is also one of the fastest meals you could ever make!

Scallops on the Half Shell

The second recipe in this episode uses bay, rather than sea, scallops. For four servings, you will need a half pound of bay scallops (side muscles removed), rinsed and patted dry. Preheat the oven to 450 and heat 2 T butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add 1 T minced garlic and a pinch of Kosher salt. After about 30 seconds, add 1 C of crushed club crackers (this is what Alton used in the episode). Stir the cracker mixture until everything is combined and set it aside.

In a small bowl combine two finely chopped ripe medium tomatoes with 1/4 C chopped flat leaf parsley and 1/4 t Kosher salt.

Divide the tomato mixture evenly among four small ovenproof dishes. Evenly distribute the scallops on top of the tomatoes and top the scallops with the cracker mixture.

Bake the scallops for 8-10 minutes or until the cracker topping is golden brown.

Alton’s scallops on the half shell after baking.

This was my first time cooking bay scallops and they turned out really well. I personally felt that the ratio of crackers to scallops/tomatoes was a bit too high, which resulted in this being a surprisingly heavy and filling dish. I would probably reduce the crackers by a third. I was worried that the crackers would be soggy, but separating the crackers from the tomatoes kept the crackers nice and crispy. This would make a really nice appetizer for a dinner party, and is another recipe that comes together in a snap.

Scallop Mousse

Scallop mousse is the final recipe for this one. Since there were only two of us eating this recipe and I was planning it to be an appetizer, I only used about 1/4 pound of sea scallops and adjusted the other ingredients accordingly. For a full batch of this recipe, you’ll need a pound of wet sea scallops. Begin by preheating your oven to 350. Place your rinsed/patted pound of scallops in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them to a smooth paste – about 5 pulses. Add two egg whites and pulse until the egg whites are no longer visible.

Add 1/4 t nutmeg, 1/4 t white pepper, 1/2 t lemon zest, 1/2 t parsley, and 1 t Kosher salt.

Nutmeg, pepper, lemon zest, parsley, and Kosher salt.

With the machine running, drizzle in 1/4 C of cold heavy cream. Transfer the mousse to a large zip top bag, sealing it well. Use scissors to snip off one bottom corner of the bag, as this will allow you to use the bag like a piping bag. Pipe the mousse into mini phyllo shells (you can find these in the freezer section) placed on a baking sheet.

Mousse, after adding seasoning, being piped into phyllo cups.

Bake the mousse for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly before eating.

I have to be honest that I was turned off from this recipe from the get-go. Even as I was watching Alton prepare this mousse, I just found it really unappealing, and that bias was hard to turn off. As I placed the scallops in the food processor and began pureeing them, it was just as unappealing as I had imagined. There is just something really gross about pureed seafood. Then, when you add egg white to the party… well, it just gets worse and starts to resemble something along the lines of foamy snot. Flavorwise, the mousse is very mild, almost to the point of being quite bland, but both Ted and I struggled with the texture. Yep, this one for me, was a straight no-go.

I fell behind a little bit in my project, as we went out of town a couple times and our 11-month-old has kept me pretty busy. She is crawling everywhere, standing, and into everything, so I can really only get things done when she is sleeping! Oh, and some days we only take one nap! I also wanted to make some of my favorite summer dishes (gazpacho, caprese, and risotto) before the season is over. Summer has gone by way too quickly for my liking.

This episode, featuring another “flat” food, showcases flounder. Alton claims that flounder is a readily available fish, which is probably true in some areas, but not where I live. I called our local markets and was told that they never have flounder, and that any flounder they would order would be frozen. My only option, it seemed, was to use frozen flounder fillets, so that’s what I did.

Baked Stuffed Flounder

The first flounder recipe is for flounder fillets stuffed with a vegetable filling. This recipe, as written, makes enough for four to six people, so I halved it for us. To make the full recipe, you’ll first want to cook enough rice to yield three cups of cooked rice. You can set the rice aside until later. To start the filling, melt 2 T butter in a skillet over medium-low heat, adding a chopped medium onion and a pinch of Kosher salt.

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Onion and Kosher salt in skillet with melted butter.

While the onion sweats, pour 1 C heavy cream and 1/4 C white wine into a saucier over medium heat, and whisk as you bring the mixture to a simmer.

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Heavy cream and white wine in saucier.

Meanwhile, add 1 minced clove of garlic to the onion and cook for a minute. Once the cream mixture is simmering, slowly whisk in 10 ounces of cheddar cheese, letting each addition of cheese melt before adding more. When all of the cheese is in and the sauce is smooth, remove it from the heat.

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Cheese, ready to add to simmering cream/wine.

To finish the filling, add to the onion pan 10 ounces of chopped frozen spinach that has been thawed and drained, along with the zest of a lemon. Next, add 2 T chopped parsley, 1/2 t Kosher salt, and 1/4 t pepper. Remove the filling from the heat.

Stir the cheese sauce again before placing 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of flounder fillets on a sheet pan. Season the fish liberally with Kosher salt and pepper. Distribute the spinach filling among the fillets, placing a mound at the widest part of each filet.

Roll the fish around the filling, bringing the tail end up over the filling and the head portion down, kind of twisting the fish around the filling. Place the fillets seam side down in a 1 1/2 to 2 quart casserole that has been filled with the 3 C of cooked rice from earlier.

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Fillets rolled around filling and placed on rice.

Pour the cheese sauce over the fish and rice and bake the fish for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Let the fish rest for five minutes before serving.

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Cheese sauce poured over fish and rice.

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Fish after baking for 25 minutes.

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Alton’s stuffed flounder.

Okay, so I instantly cringed at the idea of fish and cheese together when I watched Alton prepare this dish. Cheese and seafood? Well, it turned out that the cheese wasn’t so much of the problem as was my fish. Is all flounder fishy? My flounder smelled super fishy when I opened it and maintained a fishy flavor after cooking. The fish also had a somewhat mushy texture, and we both found it really unappealing. In fact, I just ended up eating the rice with the filling and sauce. I would definitely not make this recipe again as it is written. Maybe this would be better with a different type of fish? Still… fish with cheese. Yeah, I’d recommend skipping this one.

Oil Poached Flounder

After making Alton’s first flounder dish, I decided to make the remaining to recipes with a different type of fish that I could get fresh locally – salmon. My flounder was just so bad that I could tell it would not taste good in any recipe. Yes, substituting ingredients (especially the main ingredient) goes against the premise of this project, but I chose to do it here in Alton’s oil poached flounder recipe. To poach fish in oil, heat 3 C of olive oil on the stove over low heat until it reaches 300-310 degrees.

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Olive oil heating to 300-310 degrees.

While the oil heats, heat the oven to 350 degrees and season 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of fish fillets with Kosher salt and pepper.

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Salmon, seasoned with Kosher salt and pepper and cut into fillets.

Thinly slice a lemon and line the bottom of a cast iron skillet with the lemon slices. Top the lemon slices with a few sprigs of fresh parsley.

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A layer of lemon slices and parsley in a cast iron skillet.

Place the fish fillets on top of the parsley and top the fish with another layer of thinly sliced lemon and a few more sprigs of parsley. Make sure your parsley is not wet.

Place the skillet in the preheated oven and carefully pour the hot oil over the fish.

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Skillet placed in oven and hot oil poured over.

Let the fish cook for 10 minutes before removing it from the oven. Let the fish rest for five minutes before serving.

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Fish after poaching for 10 minutes in the oven.

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Alton’s oil poached fish.

You can strain and save the oil for later fish cooking. If you plan to make the next recipe, which uses leftovers from this recipe, be sure to save 1/2 C of the cooking oil and two of the lemon slices. My salmon turned out moist and flavorful, yet not greasy. I do think my fish was slightly overcooked, so I would be tempted next time to cut the cooking time by several minutes. I did like this method of cooking fish and I did save the oil, so I think I’ll try this again. I suppose you could always mix up the fresh herbs; since I used salmon, I think dill would pair well.

Flounder Fish Salad

Leftover fish is typically pretty gross, so I wasn’t sure what to think when I saw Alton making a leftover fish salad. To make this salad, whisk together in a bowl:  3 T white wine vinegar, 1 T lime juice, 1/2 t Kosher salt, 1/8 t pepper, and 8-10 drops of hot sauce.

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White wine vinegar, lime juice, Kosher salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

Slowly whisk in 1/2 C of the strained leftover cooking oil from the previous recipe until you have an emulsion.

Fold a pound of leftover cooked fish from the previous recipe into the dressing.

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Leftover poached fish added to vinaigrette.

Finally, add two diced  leftover lemon slices from the previous recipe, 2 T parsley, and 2 T scallions. Serve the fish salad with crackers.

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Diced lemon, parsley, and scallions added to fish.

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Alton’s fish salad on crackers.

I used my leftover salmon from the previous recipe and thought this turned out to be surprisingly good. We ate this as an appetizer on crackers. The fish didn’t taste fishy and the vinaigrette had a nice pep to it. The leftover diced lemon added both texture and a bit of tart citrus. I found this to be a very summery dish. While I never would have considered eating leftover fish before, I may make this salad again in the future if we have good leftover fish. I can assuredly say that this recipe would have been awful if I had used the frozen flounder that I used in the first recipe, so if you do decide to try this one, be certain that you are using good fish!

The ground is frosted here and the holidays are just around the corner. Thankfully, we don’t have any snow yet. We are not hosting Thanksgiving this year, but I still highly recommend Alton’s Thanksgiving recipes. His “Countdown to T-Day” special is broken down into a specific schedule that works beautifully and cuts down on hosting stress. The original Good Eats roast turkey is also delicious.

For Thanksgiving this year, Ted is making a cranberry gin and tonic and a cherry pie. I will be making my dad’s blue cornbread and sausage stuffing, along with Alton’s pecan pie from the countdown special. It sounds as if there will be plenty of food!

Parmesan Crisps

We always have a lot of cheese in our house, but the 113th episode of Good Eats gave me a great excuse to consume some more, beginning with Alton’s Parmesan crisps. I’ve mentioned before that I introduced my dad to Good Eats years ago and it became one of his favorite shows. He served us this recipe as an appetizer when we went to his house several years ago, as he had recently watched this episode. To make the crisps, you first need to line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silicone mat. Next, place tablespoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese on the lined baking sheet, flattening them into discs. Be sure to space the discs adequately, as they will spread.

You can leave the Parmesan plain, or you can sprinkle on some seasoning, such as black pepper or paprika. I made a total of six crisps:  two plain, two with pepper, and two with paprika.

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Two plain crisps, two with paprika, and two with black pepper.

Stick the baking sheet in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes. *These were the baking instructions from the episode, whereas the online recipe tells you to bake the crisps in a 300 degree oven for 5-6 minutes. If you bake the crisps at 375, they will be done in 4-5 minutes.

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Cheese crisps after baking.

When you pull the baking sheet from the oven, you can let the discs cool into flat chips, or you can shape them into little cups by draping them over cups or spice jars until they cool and harden.

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Molding crisps on spice jars.

You could fill the cups with a small salad or a meatball and serve as a party hors d’oeuvre, or you can stick the flat Parmesan discs into mashed potatoes as a garnish.

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Parmesan cheese crisps.

These cheese crisps are about the easiest snack you could ever make. They bake up crispy with the salty nuttiness of Parmesan, and they are kind of fun to eat – like eating a lacy cheese doily.

Cheese Soup

A couple weeks before I started this episode, we had kind of a chilly weekend, and I made the comment that I was in the mood for hearty soup. Ted found a recipe for beer cheese soup online and I made a batch for lunch that afternoon. Little did I know that I would be making Alton’s cheese soup a couple weeks later! Alton’s cheese soup starts with heating a quart of chicken broth to a simmer on the stove.

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A quart of chicken broth, heating to a simmer.

While the broth warms, melt 2 T butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.

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2 T butter in a Dutch oven.

To the melted butter, add 5 ounces diced onion, 5 ounces diced carrot, 5 ounces diced celery, and a big pinch of Kosher salt.

Let the vegetables cook for 5-10 minutes, or until softened. Using a hand sieve, sprinkle 3 T flour evenly over the vegetables. Stir and cook the flour until it is no longer visible.

Increase the heat to high and slowly pour in the warm broth, stirring as you pour.

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Warm broth added to vegetables.

Next, add 1 bay leaf and 1 T garlic, stirring to incorporate. Cover the pot, decrease the heat to low, and simmer the soup for 30 minutes.

After the simmer, remove and discard the bay leaf, and pour in 1 C heavy cream. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup until it is smooth.

Now it is time for the cheese, and Alton uses 10 ounces of shredded Fontina for his soup, stirring it in a handful at a time.

Once all of the cheese has melted and the soup is smooth, finish the soup by adding 1 t Marsala, 1 t Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 t hot sauce, and 1/2 t white pepper.

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Alton’s cheese soup.

Alton recommends serving his cheese soup with a good beer. You can keep the soup warm in a thermos if you are not going to serve it right away. To re-heat leftover soup, a double boiler is recommended to prevent curdling. This soup is really delicious, having a velvety, creamy mouthfeel without being overly heavy. The flavor of the soup is rich, cheesy, and perfectly seasoned. I would say this is one of the best cheese soups I have had, and it is excellent for a chilly day.

Fromage Fort

The last recipe in this episode is a great use for any leftover cheese you may have sitting around. You will need a pound of cheese for this recipe, and you can use any blend of cheeses you would like. I used a blend of sharp cheddar, mozzarella, goat cheese, and queso fresco.

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A pound of cheese: cheddar, goat, mozzarella, and queso fresco.

Let the cheeses come to room temperature for an hour before you begin. Remove any hard rinds from the cheese, cutting cheeses into rough 3/4″ cubes. If you are using any super hard cheeses, you will want to grate them. Place your pound of cheese in a food processor, adding 1/4 C dry white wine, 3 T room temperature unsalted butter, 1 clove of garlic, and a small handful of parsley.

Process the cheese mixture for a full two minutes. Serve the cheese spread with crackers.

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Fromage fort.

This was a great way to use up some excess cheese, and it was definitely better than any prepared cheese spreads you can buy in the grocery store. The fun thing about this is that it will be different every time, depending on which cheeses you use. I don’t think I could have identified the cheeses in my spread, other than the cheddar. The garlic was quite prominent, while the wine was pretty subtle. I foresee myself making this again, as we really like to have appetizers and we often (ahem, always) have a variety of cheeses in our refrigerator.

To finish this one off, I’ll share some cheese tips from Alton. To store soft cheese, place it in a lidded container with a slice of apple or a damp paper towel. Store hard cheeses by wrapping them (not tightly) in wax paper, securing them with rubber bands. Always bring cheese to room temperature before eating.

For a cheese tasting, Alton suggests serving three cheeses with a theme, such as three cheeses from the same country, three of the same type of cheese with different lengths of aging, or three cheeses made with the same type of milk. Allow 1/4 pound of cheese per person for a cheese tasting.

And, for those of you who are lactose-intolerant, you can feel pretty safe when eating aged cheeses. Why? Aged cheeses have little to no lactose because the bacteria in the cheese has consumed the lactose. I don’t know about you, but I’m craving some cheese now.

This episode of Good Eats sees Alton in the kitchen with his “nephew,” striving to whip up some kid-friendly sandwiches. Alton has four rules for making sandwiches:

  1. Soft fillings and spreads pair best with soft breads.
  2. A barrier (mayo, butter, oil, etc.) should be used to keep bread from getting water-logged from wet ingredients.
  3. The order of sandwich ingredients matters – slippery ingredients are not to be placed next to each other.
  4. Quality of bread is crucial, and you should only utilize bread that you would happily consume plain. Pre-sliced bread tends to be loaded with preservatives, so should be avoided.

Pan Bagnat

The first sandwich Alton makes is a pan bagnat, which translates to “wet bread.” What is a pan bagnat? Basically, it is a French version of a sub sandwich, consisting of several layers of ingredients. This sandwich is designed to be made a couple hours before consumption, as it is best to let the flavors mingle. This sandwich starts with a vinaigrette made by placing 1/2 t Dijon mustard in a bowl, and whisking in 1 T red wine vinegar, 1/2 t Kosher salt, and several grinds of pepper. While continuing to whisk, drizzle in 3 T olive oil to form an emulsion. Set the dressing aside while you build the sandwich.

This sandwich serves four people, and I only needed enough for two, so I cut the recipe in half. Bread-wise, for four servings, you want to get a 16-inch baguette. Slice the loaf in half horizontally and use your fingers to dig out trenches in the center of each half of bread, as if you are creating bread canoes. You can discard the removed bread, or use it to make bread crumbs.

Fill the trench in the bottom half of bread with 12 ounces of drained tuna fish (you can use either oil or water-packed tuna).

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Bottom bread trench filled with tuna fish.

Next, add a layer of 1/3-inch thick green bell pepper slices, followed by a layer of 1/3-inch thick red onion slices.

Next, add two hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced.

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Tuna topped with green bell pepper, red onions, and hard boiled eggs.

On top of the eggs, sprinkle on 1 C of pitted/chopped Kalamata olives.

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Tuna topped with green bell pepper, red onions, hard boiled egg, and Kalamata olives.

Top the olives with 4-5 slices of very ripe tomato and drizzle on the red wine vinaigrette, letting the dressing drizzle down between the ingredient layers.

Place the top bread on top of the sandwich. Wrap the sandwich very tightly in plastic wrap; you will need to overlap sheets of plastic to have a sheet wide enough for the length of the sandwich. Once wrapped, let the sandwich sit at room temperature for two hours before slicing and eating.

I made this sandwich last Friday, as we were taking a short road trip out of town. The sandwich sat in the car for the duration of our drive, and was then ready to eat for dinner when we arrived at our vacation rental.

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Alton’s pan bagnat. Excuse the poor lighting in this photo, as our vacation rental had horrible lighting.

Personally, I really liked this sandwich, but Ted doesn’t like canned tuna, so he was not a huge fan. He did, however, say that he would really like this sandwich if it were made with a different protein. Basically, if you’ve ever had a niçoise salad, this sandwich is that salad in sandwich form. Alton did not follow his second sandwich rule of using a moisture barrier with this recipe, so I wondered if the sandwich would end up soggy from the tuna, tomato, olives, and dressing, but it really was not soggy at all. What I liked most about this sandwich were its contrasting flavors, colors, and textures. The veggies gave the sandwich a crunch, the tomato and dressing kept the sandwich from being dry, and the eggs gave a slight creamy texture. Flavor-wise, the vinaigrette and olives were tangy, bright and salty, while the red onions gave a bit of spice/heat. The tomato added fruitiness and the tuna contributed a slight fishy flavor. It was also convenient to be able to make this sandwich ahead. I will definitely make a version of this sandwich again, though I likely will substitute something else (chicken salad?) for the tuna unless I am the only one eating it.

Cuban Sandwich

The second sandwich recipe in this episode is for Alton’s take on the classic Cuban sandwich. To make Cuban sandwiches, slice hoagie rolls in half horizontally and liberally spread yellow mustard on both halves of the rolls.

Top the mustard with a thin layer of baked ham, followed by a thin layer of roast pork (I made a small pork roast for these sandwiches).

Top the pork with two slices of provolone or Swiss cheese (I used Swiss) and two long, thin slices of Kosher dill pickle.

You can wrap the sandwiches in plastic and save them for later, or you can cook them right away. To cook the sandwiches, brush/spread them with butter and press them in a panini press for about 10 minutes.

If you do not have a panini press, you can still press the sandwiches by wrapping three fireplace bricks in foil. Place the bricks on a sheet pan. Place three more bricks (they do not need to be wrapped in foil) on a second sheet pan. Place the two sheet pans of bricks in a 500-degree oven for an hour. Remove the sheet pans from the oven and brush the foil-covered bricks with butter. Place the sandwiches on the foil-covered bricks and brush the sandwich tops with butter. Place the sheet pan of unwrapped bricks on top of the sandwiches and let the sandwiches press between the bricks for about 10 minutes.

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Alton’s Cuban sandwich.

I really enjoy Cuban sandwiches because I love their zesty flavor, and I thought this was a great, fast version to make at home. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of roasting pork for this recipe, you could always substitute sliced turkey, or at least that is what Alton says. I’m sure some Cuban sandwich classicists would pooh-pooh Alton’s version with provolone and turkey, but if it tastes good (and it does), who cares?

Roasted Vegetable Spread

The last recipe in this episode is for a vegetarian spread that you could use on any sandwich, or just on crackers or bread. Preheat your oven to 400. While the oven heats, toss the following vegetables with 1-2 T olive oil:  1 sliced zucchini, 1 sliced (into rings) red bell pepper, 1 sliced (into rings) onion, and 4-5 crushed cloves of garlic.

Spread the veggies on a foil-lined sheet pan and sprinkle them with Kosher salt. Roast the vegetables for 45 minutes, stirring them occasionally.

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Zucchini, red bell pepper, onion, and garlic tossed with olive oil, spread on a sheet pan, and sprinkled with Kosher salt.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and let them cool to room temperature.

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Vegetables after roasting for 45 minutes.

Place the veggies in a food processor, along with eight ounces of cream cheese, and pulse to combine.

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Roasted vegetables in the food processor with cream cheese.

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Alton’s vegetable spread, served with bread slices.

Alton recommends serving his spread on soft bread (see sandwich rule number 1 above). This spread has a sweet veggie flavor from the caramelized vegetables. While I would not be able to identify zucchini in this spread, the flavors of red bell pepper, onion, and garlic are easily identifiable. I did feel that the spread could use a bit more Kosher salt, though. We enjoyed this as an appetizer on sliced bread, though I can attest it is also good on crackers. This is a recipe that would be great to keep in mind for when you are cleaning out your produce drawer, as you could roast a variety of leftover vegetables and have a different spread each time. I plan to make this again the next time we have leftover veggies.

The 93rd episode of Good Eats is all about ways to utilize a variety of grains in the kitchen; wheat berries, bulgur, and couscous are the stars of the show. Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels that have not been processed. Bulgur, on the other hand, is whole wheat that has been cracked and partially cooked. Finally, couscous is actually not a grain at all, but a pasta that is often mistaken for being a grain because of its nutty flavor and usage in grain-like recipes. First up:  wheat berries.

Basic Cooked Wheat Berries

Alton first demonstrates his go-to method for cooking wheat berries, which can then be used in a variety of recipes. To begin, place 2 C of wheat berries in a large skillet, toasting them over medium-high heat until they begin to smell nutty. This toasting step is omitted in the online recipe, but certainly imparts more flavor in the finished wheat berries.

Place the toasted wheat berries in a pressure cooker, adding two heavy pinches of Kosher salt and 4 C of water, or enough to cover the wheat berries by about an inch.

Close the lid of the pressure cooker and bring it up to pressure over high heat. Decrease the heat and maintain the pressure for 45 minutes. If you have an electric range like I do, you may find that you have to adjust the burner temperature regularly to maintain pressure.

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Pressure cooker, being brought to pressure.

After 45 minutes of cooking, release the pressure from your cooker. I had never cooked wheat berries before, so I was not sure exactly what a perfectly cooked wheat berry would look like.

I found the wheat berries to have a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy al dente texture. I took Alton’s recommendations and used my wheat berries to make the next two recipes in the episode:  wheat berry tapenade and mushroom wheat berry pilaf.

Wheat Berry Tapenade

The first way Alton suggests to use cooked wheat berries is in his wheat berry tapenade. For the tapenade, combine three minced garlic cloves, 1 C chopped Kalamata olives, 1/2 t Dijon mustard, and 1 t Kosher salt.

Stir in 1 C of cooked wheat berries, and serve the tapenade with crackers or toast.

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Cooked wheat berries added to olive mixture.

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Wheat berry tapenade.

We ate this as an appetizer one evening and both thought it was super tasty. In fact, we ate a whole bowl. This tasted like any great Kalamata tapenade, but with much more to offer in the texture department. The salty, briny flavor of the olives supplemented with the tang of the mustard paired well with the nuttiness of the wheat berries. I did end up adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to my tapenade, as I felt it could use a small kick of acid. This is a healthy and fast appetizer to make (once the wheat berries are already cooked), and I will be making it again very soon.

Mushroom Wheat Berry Pilaf

I can only assume that Alton is a huge fan of his mushroom wheat berry pilaf, as an updated version of this recipe appears in his newest cookbook. The biggest difference between this version and the updated recipe is that the updated recipe uses no rice. For the pilaf, heat 1 T olive oil in a large skillet, adding 1 1/2 C chopped onion, a pinch of Kosher salt, 5 minced garlic cloves, and 1 T butter. Stir after each addition.

Increase the heat to high and add 1 pound of sliced mushrooms (I used cremini), and 1 T soy sauce.

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Mushrooms and soy sauce added to skillet.

Continue to cook the mushrooms until they have reduced by half, which will take a little while.

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Mushrooms, cooked until reduced by half.

Once the mushrooms have reduced, add 1/4 C chicken broth, 1/4 C red wine, 1 C cooked wheat berries, 1 1/2 C cooked rice, 1/2 t chopped fresh thyme, 1 t chopped fresh rosemary, and 1 t chopped lemon zest.

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Mushroom wheat berry pilaf.

We ate this as an entrée and both really liked it. For a vegetarian entree it had a lot of flavor and a variety of textures. The mushrooms and soy sauce give this dish a lot of umami flavor, while the herbs give it a nice freshness. The lemon zest comes through in this recipe in a big way, giving a refreshing, bright tang that really lightens everything up. Plus, this is another healthy, delicious way to incorporate whole grains. This is a fantastic recipe that could be used as either an entree or a side.

Bulgur Gazpacho

You had me at “gazpacho.” I absolutely love a spicy, tangy gazpacho, so this recipe piqued my interest right away.

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Ingredients for bulgur gazpacho: cucumber, scallions, bulgur, cumin, tomato puree, tomato/veg juice, tomato, garlic, green bell pepper, balsamic vinegar, hot sauce, and Kosher salt.

Start by bringing 1 C of water to a boil with 1/2 C tomato puree; I did this in the microwave.

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Water and tomato puree being heated to a boil.

Pour the tomato mixture over 3/4 C bulgur in a bowl, sloshing to combine. Cover the bowl with a plate and set it aside for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, add 1 minced garlic clove, 4 sliced scallions, 1 C seeded/diced cucumber, 1 C chopped tomato, and 3/4 C diced green bell pepper.

Next, stir in 1/2-1 C tomato juice (I used spicy V8), 2 T balsamic vinegar, 1-2 t hot sauce, 1/2 t cumin, and 1 1/2 t Kosher salt. Stir the gazpacho until combined and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour before eating.

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Bulgur gazpacho.

Sure enough, we really enjoyed this recipe. Though this isn’t soupy, it does have the vibrant, zesty flavors of a gazpacho. Also, with the addition of bulgur, this gazpacho has enough substance to stand alone as an entrée. There is also a lot of texture to this dish, coming from the variety of vegetables and the bulgur. This would be a really nice summer entree or side dish.

Steamed Couscous

Couscous is something we used to eat a lot, and this episode made me realize it is something we should eat more often. Alton begins his couscous segment with his recipe for steamed couscous, which can then be used in any couscous recipe. To make Alton’s couscous, prepare a steamer basket by adding water to the bottom pan, keeping the water level a couple inches below the bottom of the top basket. Heat the pan, allowing steam to begin to form. I used my pasta pot.

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Preheating steamer.

Meanwhile, rinse 2 C of couscous with water and turn it out onto a sheet pan. Sprinkle the couscous all over with Kosher salt.

Once steam has formed in your steamer, line the top part of the steamer with a damp kitchen towel and dump the couscous into the towel. Fold the towel over the couscous, forming a bundle. Place the lid on the steamer and set a timer for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, use tongs to lift the couscous-filled towel, dumping the couscous onto the sheet pan again. Drizzle 1/2 C cold water over the couscous, tossing.

Next, spritz the couscous with oil or non-stick spray, also lubing your hands. Rub the oil into the couscous for about three minutes, breaking up any clumps.

Once again, transfer the couscous back into the towel-lined steamer, folding the towel over the couscous. Place the lid on the steamer and steam the couscous for a final 10 minutes.

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Couscous after final 10 minute steaming.

I have to say that this couscous method is the most labor-intensive one I have ever used. The resulting couscous was fluffy and lump-free, but I don’t think I would go to the trouble of making couscous this way again. I did what Alton did and used my steamed couscous to make his cherry couscous pudding, which follows below.

Cherry Couscous Pudding

Although I have eaten my share of couscous, I had never had it in a sweet application… until this recipe. For this one, heat 1/2 C whole milk, 3 T sugar, and 1/4 C dried cherries. Once warm, set aside for 10 minutes to steep.

After 10 minutes, add the pulp of one vanilla bean to the milk.

Pour the milk mixture over your steamed couscous (see above), stirring to combine.

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Milk mixture poured over steamed couscous.

Add 8 ounces vanilla yogurt and refrigerate the pudding for at least an hour before serving.

Sprinkle individual servings of the pudding with cinnamon.

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Couscous pudding, sprinkled with cinnamon.

This recipe was a real dud. It was dry and flavorless, but I think I know what the issue was. In the episode, Alton cooked his steamed couscous as written above, using the full batch of couscous to make this pudding. In looking at the online recipe, I see that it calls for only 1 1/2 C of the steamed couscous. This may be a first, but I think the online recipe may be correct, while Alton’s preparation in the episode resulted in a super dry couscous that was anything but pudding-like. I am somewhat tempted to make this again with only 1 1/2 C of couscous, as surely it would have better flavor and texture. Honestly, this is the first couscous recipe I have not liked, and I cannot recommend it as it was prepared in the episode.

While my beer was fermenting from last episode, I got busy prepping the four recipes from the 75th episode of Good Eats. The main player in this episode is that famous star of the cocktail party:  dip. Alton raises the question in this episode of what, exactly, constitutes a dip. Is salsa a dip? Alton concludes that salsa is not, in fact, a dip. Why? It does not meet Alton’s dip criterion, which is that a dip must be able to travel from its vessel to your mouth without going “splat” on the floor. Sour cream and onions do, however, make a suitable dip, which is the first one up in in this episode.

Onion Dip from Scratch

Sour cream and onion dip, also known as “California Dip,” was apparently very popular in the 60s, and Alton’s take on it begins with a bowl containing 1 1/2 C sour cream and 3/4 C mayonnaise (I used homemade mayo).

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Sour cream and mayo (homemade) make the dip base.

The next step is to heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat, adding 2 T olive oil, 1 1/2 C diced onions, and a pinch of Kosher salt. The onions should be cooked until they are caramelized and golden, which will take about 20 minutes.

Once the onions are golden brown, set them aside to cool a bit. Finally, add the onions, 1/2 t Kosher salt, 1/4 t white pepper, and 1/4 t garlic powder to the sour cream/mayo bowl, stirring to combine.

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Caramelized onions added to dip base, along with Kosher salt, white pepper, and garlic powder.

This dip came together super easily and was quite addictive, and I served it with good bread, baby carrots, and bell pepper.

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Alton’s onion dip with veggies and bread.

The sweet caramelized onion flavor is just right with the tangy sour cream and creamy mayo, and it is easy to see how this would be a crowd favorite.

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Back when I did Alton’s episode on artichokes, I seriously questioned his judgement in not including a recipe for spinach/artichoke dip. Alas, I guess this dip episode explains why he did not. Spinach and artichoke dip is definitely one of my favorites, so I was excited to make Alton’s version. Alton has a newer version of this recipe on his web site, which I actually made for our neighborhood New Year’s Eve party this year. The big difference between the Good Eats recipe and the new recipe is that there is a higher ratio of cream cheese to spinach.

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Ingredients for artichoke/spinach dip: mayo, sour cream, frozen spinach, artichoke hearts, cream cheese, Kosher salt, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and Parmesan.

For the original recipe, begin by combining 1/4 C mayo (I again used homemade), 1/4 C sour cream, and 6 ounces of cream cheese, warmed in the microwave.

Heat 1 C of chopped frozen spinach and 1 1/2 C frozen artichoke hearts  in a cup of boiling water until warmed through; I had to use canned artichoke hearts, so I did not heat them. Be sure to thoroughly drain the spinach, squeezing out any excess water.

To the mayo/cream cheese mixture, add the spinach and artichoke hearts, along with 1/3 C grated Parmesan, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 1/4 t garlic powder, and 1/4 t Kosher salt.

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Spinach, artichoke hearts, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and Kosher salt added to dip base.

This dip is, of course, best served warm. You can keep the dip warm by putting about an inch of water into a Crockpot, setting the bowl of dip into the water. Set the Crockpot to low and it will keep the dip warm for serving.

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Spinach and artichoke dip, kept warm in a Crockpot.

We ate Alton’s artichoke dip with bread, crackers, and veggies.This dip creamy, tangy, has a touch of heat, and has a variety of textures.

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Spinach and artichoke dip.

I do have to say that I prefer Alton’s updated version of this dip over the original, as I like a greater ratio of dip base to artichokes/spinach. We also really appreciated the heat from the red pepper flakes in this recipe. This is one I will make again, albeit the updated recipe.

Guacamole

A dip episode would not be complete without a recipe for guacamole. We make guacamole pretty frequently, usually just tossing together some avocados, lime juice, Kosher salt, garlic, and sometimes some salsa. If I want to put more time into it, I go to a recipe my mom created that uses roasted tomatillos. To make Alton’s version, squeeze the juice of a lime into a bowl and add the flesh of three avocados, tossing the avocados to coat them thoroughly and prevent browning.

Drain the lime juice from the avocados, reserving it for later.

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Lime juice drained off of avocados and set aside for later.

To the avocados add 1/2 t Kosher salt, 1/2 t cumin, and 1/4 t cayenne pepper. Mash the avocados with the seasonings, using a potato masher.

Once you have your desired consistency, add 1/2 an onion, chopped. Next, add 1 T cilantro, 1/2 of a seeded jalapeno, 1 clove of garlic, 1 T of the reserved lime juice, and 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped.

Mix everything together, press plastic wrap onto the surface, and let the dip sit in a cool place for two hours before serving.

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Alton’s guacamole.

Of course, we ate our guac with some tortilla chips. This guacamole was good, but it was nothing outstanding, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to make it again. I did like the additions of the tomatoes, onion, and jalapeno, as they added texture and flavor, but I thought it could use a touch more heat.Mom’s recipe remains my favorite, as those roasted tomatillos take guac to a new level.

Chicken Liver Mousse

Last up in this episode was Alton’s chicken liver mousse, which was to be my foray into cooking with liver. I only made half a batch of this recipe, as it was just for the two of us and the shelf-life of this dip is only a couple days. For a full batch of the dip, heat a large saucier over medium heat and melt 2 T of butter.img_5891 To the melted butter add 2 C chopped onions, 1 chopped Granny Smith apple, 1 t fresh thyme, and a heavy pinch of Kosher salt. Cover the pan and let it cook until the contents are golden.

Next, add a pound of cleaned/drained chicken livers to the pan. I found chicken livers near the chicken in my grocery store. Honestly, I find chicken livers hard to stomach when they are raw; they just are not at all appetizing to me, and I may have gagged a little… just a little.

Anyway, stir the livers gently, cooking them until they are gray on the outside, but still pink on the inside; Alton says this will take about three minutes, but it took several minutes longer for my livers to be cooked. Once the livers are cooked, add 1/4 C brandy to the pan and simmer for a minute.

Remove the pan from the heat, letting it cool for five minutes. Once the liver mixture cools, puree it in a food processor until it is smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat a cup of heavy cream until it has soft peaks.

Finally, fold the whipped cream into the liver mixture in two installments.

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Alton’s chicken liver mousse on crispy baguette.

Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to two days. We thought this was just okay. We have had other chicken liver pâtés that we have really enjoyed (in fact, we had a great one last week at a restaurant), but this one was not our favorite. The color of this mousse was sort of gray and unappealing, and Ted commented that he found the mousse overly sweet. Of the recipes in this episode, this one was our least favorite.

When I was a kid, my family used to head out in the woods to go mushrooming. My parents had taken classes on the subject and had a variety of books. If we happened to find any questionable fungi, my parents would ask an expert before we would eat them. My parents swore that my brother and I were better at finding mushrooms than they were, which my dad attributed to us being “closer to the ground.” Who needs a mushroom-smelling hog when you’ve got little kids?

My mom once caught me eating small brown mushrooms in our front yard when I was little. Shortly after I ate the mushrooms, I became very sick. It turned out that the mushrooms were not poisonous, and I just had coincidentally contracted some sort of bug. It makes for a good story now, but it wasn’t so funny at the time.

The Fungal Saute

I really like mushrooms and we eat them fairly regularly, though we don’t tend to purchase the more exotic varieties very often. We usually stick to the creminis, portobellos, and the occasional shiitakes. A family friend taught me a recipe for sauteed mushrooms when I was a teenager, and it became one of the things I cooked regularly for our family dinners. I was curious to see how Alton’s recipe for sauteed mushrooms would compare to the one I’ve been making for nearly 20 (yikes!) years now. The first part of this recipe is actually a recipe within the recipe, as you first need to make clarified butter. I had never made clarified butter before, though I knew the basics of how to do it (it’s very simple). My dad used to make it on a regular basis. To make clarified butter, Alton explains that you simply melt your butter over low heat, continuing to cook it until it stops bubbling and the liquid is clear. This takes approximately a half hour.

Melting butter.

Melting butter.

Butter mid-way through the clarifying process.

Butter mid-way through the clarifying process.

Clarifying butter = a half hour of torture for a hound dog.

Clarifying butter = a half hour of torture for a hound dog.

Butter, still bubbling as it clarifies.

Butter, still bubbling as it clarifies.

Final clarified butter.

Final clarified butter.

Once cool, you strain the butter for immediate use. Or, to use later, you top the hot butter with a couple inches of hot water, and allow the liquid to cool in the refrigerator. The clarified butter will solidify into a solid puck. I began the butter process while I prepped my ‘shrooms.

Apparently, there actually is something a Coonhound will not eat.

Apparently, there actually is something a Coonhound will not eat.

Alton suggests cleaning your mushrooms if they have any visible dirt. To clean them, he says it is easiest and best to simply give them a good rinse in a colander, drain them, and roll them in paper towels.

Cremini mushrooms, ready to be rinsed.

Cremini mushrooms, ready to be rinsed.

Mushrooms, rinsed and drained.

Mushrooms, rinsed and drained.

Other mushroom tips from Alton:  1) Store mushrooms in a paper bag. 2) Treat mushrooms like they are meat, using hot, fast, and dry cooking methods. For this particular recipe, you use cremini mushrooms. I washed my mushrooms and sliced them into 1/4″ slices. Apparently, an egg slicer works perfectly for slicing mushrooms, but we do not have one, so I did mine with a good ol’ knife.

All of the ingredients for the saute.

All of the ingredients for the saute.

Once your butter is clarified and strained, you heat some of the butter in a pan over high heat. The high heat is why it is necessary to clarify the butter in the first place, as clarified butter has a higher smoke point than standard butter. To your butter, you want to add your sliced mushrooms, handful by handful.

First handful of mushrooms in the hot pan.

First handful of mushrooms in the hot pan.

As each handful of mushrooms browns, you move them to the outside of the pan while adding new mushrooms to the center of the pan.

Adding mushrooms, handful by handful.

Adding mushrooms, handful by handful.

Once all of the mushrooms are in the pan, you add Kosher salt and shallots. You continue to cook the mushrooms until they are all a rich brown color and a crust has formed on the pan. At this point, it is necessary to deglaze the pan, and Cognac is the liquid of choice.

Mushrooms with shallots and Cognac.

Mushrooms with shallots and Cognac.

You add some chopped chives to your mushrooms, along with some pepper, and you are ready to go.

Final sauteed mushrooms with chives.

Final sauteed mushrooms with chives.

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We ate our mushrooms as a side to our entree. The nice thing about this sauteed mushroom recipe is that it really allows the meaty flavor of the mushrooms themselves to shine. While I still like my old sauteed mushroom recipe too, I do think that the old recipe had some strong flavors (garlic, lemon, etc.) that overpowered the mushrooms. This recipe didn’t wow me, but it was good, and the predominant flavor was definitely that of the mushrooms.

That Ol’ Cap Magic

The second recipe in this episode of Good Eats is for stuffed mushroom caps. The online recipe is a bit vague with its ingredients, as it calls for a batch of sauteed mushrooms. After watching the episode, I got a bit more clarification. Alton tells you to prepare a batch of sauteed mushrooms, using the same method as used in the previous recipe. This time, however, he recommends that you use shiitake mushrooms. My grocery store only had one package of shiitakes, so I used those plus a portobello mushroom cap.

Shiitakes and portobellos.

Shiitakes and portobellos.

To the sauteed mushrooms, as prepped previously, you add heavy cream, shredded parmesan, and dried tarragon.

Melting clarified butter.

Melting clarified butter.

Sauteeing the mushrooms.

Sauteeing the mushrooms.

Addition of cream, parmesan, and tarragon.

Addition of cream, parmesan, and tarragon.

At this point, you remove your pan from the heat and add some breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs nicely bind the sauce. This mushroom mixture will be the filling for white mushroom caps.

Breadcrumbs added off heat to tighten the sauce.

Breadcrumbs added off heat to tighten the sauce.

After destemming the mushroom caps, you sprinkle them with olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and garlic, tossing to coat them well.

Mushrooms to be stuffed.

Mushrooms to be stuffed.

Mushroom caps after destemming.

Mushroom caps after destemming.

Garlic, rosemary, and thyme.

Garlic, rosemary, and thyme.

Mushroom caps tossed with olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and garlic.

Mushroom caps tossed with olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and garlic.

These caps go into a hot oven until they are tender. It is best to cook them upside down on a cooling rack that is placed on a baking sheet, as this allows all of the juices to drain. I actually forgot to bake my caps upside down, so their cavities were filled with liquid that I had to drain out.

Mushrooms ready to go in the oven.

Mushrooms ready to go in the oven.

Mushrooms after baking. I forgot to turn mine upside down before I baked them, so they filled with fluid.

Mushrooms after baking. I forgot to turn mine upside down before I baked them, so they filled with fluid.

The sauteed mushroom filling is spooned into the seasoned caps, and Alton stresses not to overstuff them.

Mushrooms stuffed with mushrooms.

Mushrooms stuffed with mushrooms.

The filling is topped with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs, and they go under the broiler on the highest rack.

Some breadcrumbs sprinkled on top.

Some breadcrumbs sprinkled on top.

The mushrooms will not need to be under the broiler long – mine took only about two minutes until the filling began to bubble.

I guess the mushrooms smelled good when they came out of the oven.

I guess the mushrooms smelled good when they came out of the oven.

A perfect appetizer plate of stuffed mushroom caps.

A perfect appetizer plate of stuffed mushroom caps.

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We ate these mushroom caps as an appetizer, and we both really liked them. They were quite juicy and the filling had rich, creamy flavors and textures that paired well with the meatiness of the mushroom caps. The flavors of the different mushroom types all came through too, as did the herbs. I preferred this recipe to the sauteed mushroom recipe, and I could see making these again as an appetizer.