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There’s a renaissance of creativity erupting in this country. Out of necessity people are making all sorts of wonderful things from found items. In my quest to “Waste Not, Want Not” I’ve been making my ever changing mac n’cheese. I love the alchemy that takes place when I use leftover cheeses from my fridge to make this dish. Homely scraps, wedges and lumps of different cheeses go into a white sauce that’s mixed with penne macaroni and then covered with parmesan cheese. Baked until golden brown,the interior of this dish emerges loaded with toothsome pieces of pasta bathed in a complex sauce of many cheeses. It’s magical how all the flavors deliciously merge and meld into each other.  

At different times I’ve used bits of brie, fontina, gorgonzola, manchego, cheddar, provolone, gruyere, parmesan, and asiago.It always turns out delicious. If I have some leftover bits of ham or prosciutto I’ll add them as well. Sometimes a mound of caramelized onions,handful of spinach or sun dried tomatoes get thrown in.The fun part of this dish is using whatever that’s available and experiencing something new each time. The only things I don’t change are the proportions for the white sauce and cheese. Using the Silver Palate recipe for Macaroni with Quattro Formaggi as a template I’ve been able to create my own take on their recipe by adding dijon mustard and different types of cheeses and ingredients. My latest creation had mostly provolone,some gorgonzola, asiago, and fontina cheese. I also threw in some strips of fried prosciutto, sun dried tomatoes and a handful of spinach leaves. I topped it with a mixture of parmesan and asiago cheese.Try this recipe and then try putting in your own combination of cheeses and ingredients to make your own Magical Mystical Mac N’Cheese. 

Magical Mystical Mac N’Cheese

1 lb. penne marcaroni
5 Tablsp. butter
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
1 3/4 cups of assorted cheeeses ( provolone, gorgonzola,fontina, mozzarella, asiago)
1/2 cup fried strips of prosciutto or ham
1/2 cup strips of sun dried tomatoes
handful of spinach leaves
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. of salt
1/2 cup of parmesan and/or asiago cheeses

Boil penne until al dente. Drain and set aside.
In an oven proof pan or casserole dish make a white sauce by melting butter over medium heat until bubbling. Whisk in flour and continue to whisk for 1-2 minutes. Add milk and whisk over medium heat until it gets to a consistency of cream. Add nutmeg, dijon mustard,black and red pepper flakes. Add chopped up cheeses and continue to whisk until all is melted. Add prosciutto,sun dried tomatoes and spinach.Taste and adjust with salt as needed. Mix in penne and cover with parmesan/asiago cheeses. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees 



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A whole lotta mushrooms !Soup's on !A fully loaded bowl of soup Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s a holiday that focuses on counting our blessings. I’m blessed with having abundance in my life. I have a large loving family consisting of a wonderful husband,a son,daughter,
grandson,mother,five siblings with their children and grandchildren. Thanksgiving dinner with my family usually means having 30-35 family members taking up every conceivable seating space in the house. Everyone contributes to this meal and there’s always enough leftovers to take home. It’s a heart-filling sight to experience and I revel in this pleasure.

Riding on this high and wanting to share the abundance of this dinner with my friends, I started a tradition years ago. I asked folks to bring over leftovers from their Thanksgiving dinner to share with each other. Over the years it morphed into a Day After Thanksgiving hike and supper.

Every year we start with a leisurely walk to work off all the yummy food eaten the night before. Since we’re blessed with an abundance of forests, wetlands and seashore to choose from, it’s a different place each year. There’s lots of time to talk, laugh,bird watch and take in nature. Cheese, bread, sandwiches or whatever anyone wants to bring is shared on the trail.

Afterwards we gather at my home for a supper consisting of whatever folks have brought and a turkey mushroom barley soup I’ve made from the leftover turkey carcass,stock, meat scraps and veggies. Someone starts up a fire while others set out the food that’s shown up. When the rich earthy aroma of the soup floods the kitchen I call out,”Soups on”. We gather together and someone makes a toast to the soup and our shared gratitude for the abundance in our lives. Life is good.

Turkey mushroom barley soup

Enriched turkey broth

1 turkey carcass
leftover turkey stock or chicken stock to cover carcass
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion-quartered
2 carrots-cut into chunks
2 stalks of celery- cut into rough chunks
1 medium parsnip- cut into chunks
2 Tablsp. butter
1 medium onion-diced
3 carrots- cut into 1/2 inch rounds
2 stalks celery- cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 parsnips- cut into 1/2 inch rounds
3/4 pound of cremini mushrooms- 1/2 inch pieces
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried or fresh thyme
1 cup barley*
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 cup + leftover turkey meat
Optional: 2-3 Tablsp.sherry
1. Strip meat from turkey carcass. Cut into 1 inch pieces and
set aside.
2. Put carcass in large stock pot and cover with broth to almost
cover turkey. Add bay leaves with chunked carrots,celery and
parsnip. Wash and break stems off mushrooms and add to pot.
Save the caps for later.
3. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Strain turkey and vegetables and discard. Save the broth for soup.
5. Cut mushroom caps into chunks, dice remaining onion, carrots,
celery stalks and parsnip. Saute vegetables in butter until soft.
Add thyme and black pepper.
6. Add the turkey broth and bring to boil. Simmer for 25 minutes.
7. Turn heat up to a gentle boil and slowly add barley. Stir and
simmer soup for 30-40 minutes until the barley is soft. Add
parsley and turkey meat. Taste and adjust with salt and more
pepper as needed.
8. Add sherry to taste and simmer for 5 minutes.

* You can increase barley to 1 1/2 cups if you want the soup to be
dense with barley.

Yield: Approximately 30-(2 cup)servings

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I’m Back !!! I’ve officially retired from teaching in the classroom. After twenty years teaching kids with learning needs it was time to strike out and spend more time on following my other bliss, writing, cooking, creating new recipes. So many projects, so little time and as I entered my 65th year of life I wanted to make sure I got a couple of these projects done before……… So first on the list was to make a list, prioritize and set goals. Got my private practice as a Learning specialist started. Next was to self publish my book “Tasting Life” a collection of food stories, poems and recipes.** Shameless promoting but that’s what old ladies can get away with these days. Got that done. Now finally, I have the time to work on completing my cookbook and attending to my neglected blog.

In preparation for retirement Larry and I talked about what I wanted to gain from this decision. One major thing was to get healthier, lose weight, exercise more and have the time to complete my writing projects. As my income would be greatly reduced, we planned how we could live on a smaller budget yet still continue to cook and eat delicious meals as well as entertain our friends. We both agreed that we didn’t want to feel deprived when it came to eating. So we started cooking differently and found that we were able save money, eat more healthfully and continue to enjoy delicious meals. I found to my delight that not only was I losing weight but also I was wasting less food in the process. So here’s one thing I’ve learned so far.

Budget and health tip number one. Eat less meat. As a child in a Chinese household, meat was never the main item on the table but was used to accompany vegetables in stir fries. If we did have a roasted chicken, pork or beef we only ate a few pieces alongside the variety of other dishes with vegetables on the table. Back then I was much slimmer and healthier. Over the years after leaving my mother’s kitchen I ate more meat, less vegetables and subsequently gained more weight. Now I’m back to cooking in the style of my mother and I’m finally losing weight and feeling way healthier. Last week I bought a whole roasted chicken from Costco for $4.99. I used just one breast from this roast and made this Southeast Asian chopped salad. Now I’ve got enough leftover meat and bones to make a chicken pot pie for four people, chicken hash for two and enough for curried chicken salad for both of us for lunch. Hmmm, maybe I’ll make some empanadas instead……..

South East Asian chopped chicken salad- 2 large servings

3 cups- sliced romaine lettuce ( 1 inch strips)
handful of arugula
1/2 cup – red onion – sliced thinly
1- medium carrot- cut into julienne slices
3/4 cup cubed cucumbers
1 1/2-2 cups fresh mango*- cut up into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup – chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp.- black pepper
3 Tablespoons FRESH lime juice
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 cup-roasted chicken- cubed into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped or crushed roasted (unsalted) peanuts

1. In a large salad bowl, toss lettuce,arugula, onion, carrots and cucumbers together.
2. Peel mango with vegetable peeler. Cut sides and then cube. Cut off any extra meat off seed and use as well.
2. Add the cut up mango pieces with cilantro to salad .
3. Sprinkle lime juice and black pepper over the mango pieces.
3. Sprinkle soy sauce, fish sauce over mango, salad and toss together.
4. Add chicken, peanuts and toss again.

* I prefer to use the Hayden or Tommy Atkins mangoes. They are firmer than the Manilla type of mangoes and have more meat.
** “Tasting Life” will be available through Amazon in late September.

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Chicken pot pie

I’ve been staying at my daughter Stacey’s house this summer so that I can babysit my grandson. Being a teacher has a wonderful perk. It’s called summer vacation ! It’s been grand. I enjoy making dinner for her and her husband and often times my husband Larry joins us.

It was the end of the month and I was watching my pennies so I could stay on budget until my next paycheck arrived. What could I make that would feed the four of us for the least amount of money? I asked Marcus, her husband, if he had ever eaten a homemade chicken pot pie. His answer was “No” but then he started telling me about eating freshly baked frozen meat pies from the market. His beautiful big eyes rolled with pleasure describing this experience. I’ve witnessed numerous reactions like his at the mere mention of eating these delectable pies. There is this incredible anticipation waiting for it to come out of the oven and then a feeling of awe when breaking into that hot flaky crust and seeing the steam rise from the chicken with all that yummy gravy. Even though those pies were store bought and frozen and the filling was scant, it was the gravy with those bits of meat, carrots and peas housed in hot crust that made us swoon. In our house we served each pie with a scoop of rice so we could capture every drop of that savory gravy.

Over the years I’ve made my own pie with freshly cut up chicken. However lately, I’ve been using the meat from an already roasted store bought chicken. It’s been saving me time AND money. Starting with one roasted chicken weighing about 5 pounds I’ve found that I can make a number of dishes that serve 8-12 people using different parts of the bird. Individual sized frozen pies cost about $2.50 apiece.
I can make two 9 inch deep dish chicken potpies that will serve 6-8 generously with enough breast meat left over to make curried chicken salad for 3-4 sandwiches for the cost of one bird. My local Costco store sells freshly roasted chicken for $4.99 apiece. Now THAT’S a bargain. My pies also have lots more meat and veggies than the store bought ones. So,not only was I making a better pie but I was also saving a substantial amount of money.

In preparation for making my pie I walked down to my local produce stand to pick up the vegetables needed for it. Luckily I found a bag of cremini mushrooms on sale for just $1 a bag. I looked through the bag to make sure they were not slimy. They were marked down because the caps were open. Otherwise they looked fresh and without any brown spots. Since I was planning to use them that night they would be fine. There are bargains to be found on day old shelves at good produce stands as long as you are selective in your choice and use whatever you buy within a few days.

I typically make my own pie crust but the local market had ready made piecrust on sale so I bought them instead. Each box had two pie shells so I bought two boxes. I knew that even if I had bought fresh mushrooms and made my own crust I would still be within budget but I’ve been taking advantage of every opportunity to save money and when a bargain stares me in my face, why ignore it ?

Back home I stripped the chicken down to its bone. The dark meat from the thighs, drumsticks and back were set aside for the pie. The breast meat would be used for chicken salad and the bones to make a stock for the gravy. I made a pot of my “Pumped up chicken stock”* and set it over the stove to boil and simmer for 30 minutes while I prepped the vegetables. I also saved the jelled chicken juices that were at the bottom of the container that the chicken was in. I would use that to enhance the gravy.

I sauteed mushrooms with thyme and garlic and set them aside. Then I sauteed onions, carrots and celery and set them aside as well. In a large stock pot I made a roux with butter and flour, making sure that the flour was cooked thoroughly and added the drained chicken stock. After whisking it till it had bubbled and simmered into a rich gravy I added the vegetables and simmered them together for a few more minutes. Checking to see if the texture of the sauce was about as thick as heavy cream I added the chicken pieces and simmered everything for 2 minutes. I wanted to keep the pieces as whole as possible so I didn’t cook it for long. I tasted a spoonful to see if it needed more salt or pepper. Satisfied with the taste and texture I added the peas without cooking it any further and put the filling aside to cool off while I prepared the pie crust.

Very gently I unrolled each pie crust and placed it on a lightly floured surface. Though not necessary, I like to roll out store bought dough a little bit so that I make sure each piece will hang at least 1 inch over the edge of the pan. With the bottom crust for the pies laid out I ladled the COOLED filling into each pie, making sure the proportions were evenly distributed. I laid the top crust over the filling so that the top edge met the bottom edge and crimped them together. I like to roll the sealed edges a bit forward to make a kind of roped effect but one could also use a fork and press the edges together. That done, I made three V shaped vent holes in the center of each pie to let the steam out and brushed the tops with an egg wash.

The pies were placed on preheated cookie sheets. My brother Mervyn, who once owned a wonderful bakery in San Francisco, taught me that cool technique. This practically insures a crisp bottom crust unless you put in hot filling on a raw dough which I once did. So make sure your filling is cooled off before you ladle it into the pie. Then into the oven the pies went for 30-35 minutes and VOILA ! Two crusty steaming and most aromatic homemade chicken potpies, gravy bubbling through the top were now ready to be devoured !

Hearing the oohing and aahing sounds while eating those pies I felt a warm satisfaction of having made a delicious meal while saving money.

Here is a less long winded recipe for Chicken potpie. Happy eating and saving money!

Chicken Pot Pie makes two 9-inch pies

1 Tablespoon butter
2 ½ cups sliced mushrooms- cremini or button
½ tsp. thyme
½ tsp. black pepper
2 Tablespoons butter
1-cup onion chopped
½ cup celery cut into ½ inch pieces
2 carrots cut into ½ inch pieces
¼ cup butter
6 Tablespoons Flour
3 cups Pumped up chicken broth*
Jelled chicken juices-optional**
2 ½ cups cooked chicken cut into 2 inch pieces
½ cup fresh or defrosted frozen peas

4 uncooked piecrusts

Directions: Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

1. Sauté mushrooms in butter until soft and juices are released.
2. Add thyme and black pepper. Sauté for 1 minute longer. Set aside.
3. Sauté onions and cook until soft and yellow. Add carrots and celery and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
4. Melt butter and add flour to make a roux.
5. Over medium high heat, whisk the flour and fat together until it is bubbly.
6. Add the chicken stock and continue whisking until the mixture is smooth and thickened to a heavy cream consistency.
Add jelled chicken juices. Let this gravy simmer for 3-4 minutes.
7. Lower heat and add vegetables except for peas and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
8. Add the cooked chicken pieces. Simmer for JUST 2 minutes. Do not overcook.
9. Add peas, taste and adjust with salt and pepper as needed. Set aside and COOL THOROUGHLY before putting in piecrust.
10. Ladle equal amounts of filling into prepared pie shells. Place the top crust over the filling.
11. Seal edges together and crimp together with fingers or fork tines.
12. Cut 3 V shaped vent holes in center of each pie crust and brush with egg wash made from one scrambled raw egg and 2
Tablespoons water.
13. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 425 degrees or until top is browned.

Serve with rice to sop up all the gravy.

*See prior blog posting for recipe- regular chicken broth can be used.
** juices from roasted chicken that have collected at bottom of container or
roasting pan.

chicken pot pie

chicken pot pie

Pie with a scoop of rice-Yum!

Pie with a scoop of rice-Yum!


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