Chicken mushroom noodle gratin

For a few years, three friends and I regularly attended cooking classes held at The Seasonal Kitchen. Dick and Ginger Howell gave -- and still give -- cooking classes in their inviting kitchen in Pittsford. Dick and Ginger are informative yet comedic, their recipes delicious yet approachable. Alas, the schedule demands of school-age kids brought our time at the Seasonal Kitchen to a halt, but I'm glad to see that Dick and Ginger are still going strong.

All of still use their recipes in regular rotation, and this one is a favorite. (The picture doesn't do it justice but I'm not about to delay dinner for a photo shoot.) It's a yummy way to use up leftover chicken or turkey, and is nice enough to serve to company. My friend, Marie, assembles the whole thing ahead of time and pops it into the oven for company. I'm afraid of mushy noodles, so I get all the components ready (cut-up chicken, cooked noodles, sauteed mushrooms) ahead of time, and then I make the sauce and assemble it all right before it goes in the oven.

A couple of tips:
1. The dry noodles will not look like enough when you measure it out (see the colander to the right), but it does work out just right. When you increase the noodles, you lose the creaminess of the sauce and throw the ratio off.
2. Be sure to undercook the noodles by a couple of minutes because they will continue to cook while baking.

Chicken (or Turkey) Mushroom Noodle Gratin

1 stick butter (3 Tablespoons for the mushrooms/3 for the sauce/2 on top)
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms thinly sliced
4 Tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken stock (or poaching liquid from the chicken)
1 c. heavy cream
salt, white pepper to taste
1 T. rice vinegar or cider vinegar -- or use Madeira wine
3 c. chicken or turkey which has been poached in chicken stock and seasoned with salt and pepper (OR leftover cooked chicken or turkey), and torn into 2 x 1 inch pieces 
1/4 lb. wide egg noodles cooked 2 minutes less than directions for al dente and drained (do not increase amount of noodles - even if it looks skimpy)
1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan
2 T. fresh bread crumbs

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, until they have absorbed the butter and wilted, but not browned. Remove them, juice and all, to a small bowl.

Melt 3 more tablespoons butter in the same pan and add the flour, stirring constantly for several minutes, until thoroughly amalgamated. Do not brown. Gradually add the chicken stock and cream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook until smooth and thick about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and vinegar.

Bail out 1 cup of sauce and add it to 2 tablespoons of the parmesan cheese. Add this mixture to the cooked, drained noodles.

Fold the chicken and mushrooms into the remaining sauce.

Butter a 1 1/2 or 2 quart casserole and place half of the noodles on the bottom. Cover with half of the chicken mixture, then spread with the rest of the chicken mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese, mixed with the bread crumbs. Dot with bits of the remaining butter.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes. (It will be a bit soupy but will thicken as it sets.)

Molasses Cookies, Cut-Out Cookies, and keeping it simple.

The days after Christmas often find me exhausted, sick and overwhelmed by the mess. This year, I'm healthy, rested and feeling peaceful.

My secret was to simplify. I did not buy a single Christmas magazine; I do not need more ideas to complicate the season. I did not put out all of my Christmas decorations.

I made major changes to my baking. So that I wouldn't be tempted to eat treats throughout December, I did not bake cookies until December 22. On that day, my husband, sons, and I baked cookies together, which I hope is a start of a tradition. They each picked a favorite cookie, and I picked a couple of sentimental favorites. The final result: five batches of cookies, pictured above.

I have to credit my mother-in-law for the concept. She decided to cut back to three varieties years ago, and asked each family member to pick a favorite, and those are what she's baked ever since.

At some point, my younger son asked, "don't you usually make more kinds of cookies?"

"Yep," I replied, "are there any you miss?"

He paused to think for a minute. Finally he replied, "nope."

So here's what we made. From the top going clockwise, we made my friend Marie's Cut-Out Cookies (recipe below), molasses cookies (recipe below), peanut butter blossomsScotcheroos, and my Grandma's oatmeal raspberry bars.

I'm sure I'll want to bake different varieties in future years, but I will no longer feel pressured to do so. I now realize that for me to enjoy Christmas -- and to enable others do so -- I need to look out for my own sanity and well being first.

Marie's Cut-Out Cookies
This makes a relatively soft, thick cookie. It's a large batch -- according to Marie, it yields 4-5 dozen cookies.

4 cups flour
1 cup softened butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 beaten eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cut softened butter into flour, pastry style. Add salt. (Marie does this in the bowl of her stand mixer and uses the stand mixer for the rest of the additions to the flour mixture.)

In a separate bowl, combine eggs and sugar. Beat well.

In a third bowl, combine milk, vanilla and soda.

Add egg mixture and milk mixture alternately to flour mixture. Mix well.

Roll out to 1/4" (thicker than most cut-outs). Cut into desired shapes and place on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes (check after 7 minutes. The bottoms should be a very light golden brown. When cool, frost with frosting below.


1/2 stick softened butter
1 lb confectioners sugar
Lemon or orange flavoring

Beat butter and sugar with enough milk to create a spreadable, but not drippy frosting. Blend in a few drops of flavoring.

Marie's nutrition calculations for 1 cookie: 162 calories; 2.6 grams fat; 52.4 grams sodium, 32.3 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 2.6 grams protein. 4 Weight Watchers Points Plus.

Kristen's Molasses Cookies

1 1/2 cups oil
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 cups flour

Combine oil, sugar, molasses and eggs in one bowl. Combine the rest of the ingredients in another bowl. Then mix together both mixtures -- I find this works best in my 6-quart Kitchenaid mixer. Chill at least 1 hour.

Form into balls -- I used the smallest Pampered Chef cookie scoop, then roll in granulated sugar. Place on greased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes -- don't let get too brown. THIS IS  IMPORTANT: remove immediately and cool on your counter (not cooling rack). Once cool, store in airtight containers.

Sugar Snap Pea and Radish Salad

One of the challenges and rewards of being a member of the Wickham Farms CSA (I am also director of marketing at the farm) is finding a way to cook with ingredients that I wouldn't ordinarily purchase.

Take radishes, for example.

During the first two weeks of the CSA, I had visitors at my house who happily gobbled up my radishes. This week, though, I'm on my own. I found that tossing the radishes in a sweet vinaigrette and pairing them with a sweeter veggie tamed their strong flavor. Even my teenage son ate a large bowl of the salad -- in fact, I had to quickly grab this picture before he devoured it.
Sugar Snap Pea and Radish Salad

1 lb sugar snap peas, trimmed of stems and the string that runs along the top of the pod
5 Easter egg radishes or large red radishes, cut into matchsticks
¼ cup chives, thinly sliced
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons granulated sugar (or more or less to taste)
2 Tablespoons walnut or canola oil

Blanch the sugar snap peas in boiling water for one minute. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.

In a medium serving bowl, combine the sugar snap peas, radishes and chives. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, and oil until the sugar dissolves. Pour over the salad and serve.

Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes

I made a good, simple dish for dinner tonight. I ended up cooking it too long due to a crazy schedule, but it still was quite tasty. (That skin on top that looks burnt was actually crispy and yummy). The dish came together quickly, but it has to bake for an hour, so plan accordingly.

Nigella Lawson, who created the original recipe I tinkered with, suggests chopping the leftover chicken, chorizo and potatoes and using it in a quesadilla. I may try that.

Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes

Adapted from the fabulous Nigella Lawson (original recipe here)
This can be doubled easily -- just rotate pans bottom to top.

1 Tablespoon olive oil
6 chicken thighs (bone in, with skin -- trim off extra skin and fat)
Salt and pepper
1/2 pound small white-skinned potatoes, halved or quartered
1 onion, cut into eighths
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 orange
1/2 pound chorizo sausages, sliced (I used chicken chorizo, but I'm sure the regular would be even better)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Put the oil in the bottom of a shallow roasting pans. Rub the skin of the chicken in the oil, then turn skin side up. Season well with salt and pepper.

Nestle the potatoes and onions among the thighs, then sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Grate the orange zest over the contents of the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes in the center of the oven. After 30 minutes, baste with the juices, then add the chorizo and juice the half of an orange over the contents.

When done cooking, transfer the chicken mixture to a large serving platter and serve.

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

At this time of year, I’m usually excited about moving on to light spring flavors, but the constant snow has me firmly stuck in my winter repertoire. When the snow falls, I crave baking, so I recently made a batch of my favorite oatmeal cookies for a friend who was under the weather. Cranberries are a tasty substitute for the usual raisins, although any dried fruit could be substituted.

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies
From Martha Stewart

Makes 3 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk
2 large eggs
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup dried cranberries

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the vanilla, milk, and eggs. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with both sugars, and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low, gradually add milk mixture, and beat well. Add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Remove bowl from the electric mixer, and stir in the oats and cranberries. Place dough in the refrigerator until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside. Shape 2 tablespoons of dough into a ball; place on one of the prepared sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing 3 inches apart. Press with the bottom of a glass to flatten dough into 2-inch-diameter rounds.

Bake until golden but still soft in center, 16 to 18 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove from oven; transfer with parchment to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

This post also appears in my blog on

Brownie batter dip: so wrong but so yummy.

On Super Bowl Sunday, I was busy running errands and got a text from my 15-year-old son:
"What should I make for the party? Dessert or dip?"
My delighted response:
"Whatever you want!"

This is what he made to take to our friends' Super Bowl party. I never would have thought this list of ingredients would end up tasting as yummy as it did. Throughout the party, I saw kids scooping from the bowl, but there was still a bit left at the end of the evening. It's not something I'd make on a regular basis -- it's not exactly light and healthy -- but it's something different and easy for a party with kids in attendance.

Brownie Batter Dip
Adapted from Chef in Training

8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2-3 cups powdered sugar
5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
5 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. milk
Mini chocolate chips, for garnish
Dippers: Nilla wafers, graham crackers, pretzels

In a stand mixer, whisk together the cream cheese and the butter. Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, and 1 Tablespoon milk. Add the flour, cocoa powder, vanilla, brown sugar, and 1 more Tablespoon of milk if needed. Whisk until all smooth. Add remaining powdered sugar and milk alternately until dip reaches your desired consistency.

Serve with dippers of your choice, such as Nilla wafers, graham crackers and pretzels. Feeds a lot of hungry party goers!  

A version of this post also appears in my blog on Flavors of Rochester.

Strawberry Footballs for Super Bowl

It’s almost Super Bowl Sunday and — I’ll be honest — I’m looking forward to the food and the company at my friends’ annual Super Bowl party more than I’m looking forward to the actual game. (I like football, but I’m a born and bred Bears fan.)
Everyone takes a dish to the party. Some people have their specialties — one of the guys makes a tasty pepperoni stuffed bread — but I tend to make something different each year. Last year I took these cutesy strawberries dipped to look like footballs. They were a bit fussy to make, but I enjoy doing this kind of thing. Here’s how I made them.  

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Footballs
Fresh strawberries, green leaves still attached

Chocolate candy making wafers — milk or dark (You can use real chocolate, but the wafers tend to be more forgiving.) You’ll about 6 ounces of chocolate for every pound of strawberries.
A bit of Crisco shortening (oil will do if you don’t have Crisco)
A few white candy making wafers

Wash your strawberries and dry them off with paper towels. They must be dry for the chocolate coating to stick well.

Melt the chocolate wafers in the microwave with a bit of shortening. (The shortening makes the coating easier to work with. I use a couple of teaspoons for a bowl of chocolate wafers.) Melt the chocolate 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each 30-second interval.

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Holding onto the green leaves, dip the strawberries in the chocolate, leaving a bit of red strawberry showing near the leaves. Lightly scrape one side of the strawberry against the side of the bowl — the scraped side will be the bottom when you put the strawberries on the wax paper. This will keep the chocolate from pooling on the wax paper. Once you’ve dipped all of your strawberries, put them in the fridge until they are dry to the touch.

Melt your white candy making wafers with a bit of shortening as above. You won’t need much of the white.

Pipe the white laces as shown in the picture. The easiest way to do this is to use a small squeeze bottle that you find in the candy making supplies. If you don’t have one, just put the melted mixture in a plastic baggie and snip off a little corner. I found it easiest to pipe the vertical lines and pop the strawberries in the fridge for a few minutes until it dried before piping the shorter horizontal lines. (If the chocolate mixture gets too thick or hardens during this process, you can remelt it in the microwave.)

You can make these a few hours in advance, but it’s best to serve them the day they are made.

I'll miss Elegant Expressions.

Today I met some old friends for lunch. They asked me to pick a spot in Penfield, and I chose Elegant Expressions.

The pretty purple building on Five Mile Line Road is a great place to go to with the girls, because it serves things like quiche and chicken salad on croissant -- not to mention wonderful desserts.

Much to my dismay, when we arrived we saw that Elegant Expressions has closed. A sweetly worded note hung on the window.

"I would like to thank everyone for all of your support over the years," it said. "I tried my best to run Elegant Expressions without Sue. I gave it my best shot and now it is time to close."

The answering machine message says that the bakery is up for sale.