As much as I enjoy the pride that comes from highly crafty cooking projects, from hand-making pasta and pie crust and pizza dough, it’s just too dang much work most days. It’s not that I’m ready to abandon my stove and commit to microwave dinners. But I am constantly on the lookout for meals that can be thrown together in just a few minutes with minimal chopping, mincing, grating, or cooking time.
Sometimes, those recipes are as close as the back of a package of pasta I bought on a whim. And this one quickly became a household favorite.
A while back, I made a batch of potstickers that ruled over all other potstickers I had eaten. They were savory and rich and perfect, and as a result I dedicate time each year to can Ginger Apple Chutney, the driving force behind them.
As far as Brad is concerned, they are the only potstickers worth eating – why even bother, he asks? I, on the other hand, have yet to find a filling for these fried little dumplings that I don’t like, so I occasionally play with alternatives. This is, currently, my favorite alternative.
If the Pork & Ginger Apple potstickers taste like autumn, these ones taste like spring. The ingredients are fairly simple: crisp green onions and peas accompanied by sautéed spinach and mushrooms. The bright flavors of the onions and peas are balanced out by the dark, earthy spinach and, my favorite, mushrooms sautéed in butter and soy sauce.
Have you noticed that onion and mushroom pizzas are all the rage these days? It seems that every pizza parlour around now features a caramelized onion pizza topped with mushrooms and pungent gorgonzola cheese. And who can blame them? The rich, sultry flavors of these three ingredients make for an surprising and exciting change from red- or white-sauced pizzas.
But we’re not here to talk about pizza. In fact, it was the glut of all these pizzas popping up on menus that made me wonder how the same flavors would work when painted on a different canvas… say, perhaps, a knot of whole wheat pasta?
Caramelized onions are, in my book, one of life’s greatest pleasures. From topping crostinis to starring in homemade onion dip, they enrich almost everything they encounter. I’ve been known to eat them plain, with no cares about the odorific consequences that might ensue. As I expected, they make an excellent base for this pasta sauce.
I’ve grown tired, lately, of regular pasta sauce. Not of pasta, mind you. I crave that all the time. But these days, every time I sit down to make or order a pasta dish, I try to find something that is not marinara or alfredo.
While traipsing about the internet, I ran across a recipe for chicken marsala, which I’ve eaten at restaurants but never cooked myself. The thick, tangy brown sauce, full of mushrooms and drizzled over chicken, looked wonderfully decadent, and I started wondering how it would taste on pasta. It seemed it might be just the breath of fresh pasta-sauce-air that I was looking for.
For those of you out there who love chicken marsala, you won’t be surprised to hear that this dish starts with a large pile of mushrooms. You can use any variety you like, but I love using creminis. Even though they ultimately get drowned in brown sauce, they’re just so dang pretty when you clean and chop them up, aren’t they?
And the other half of chicken marsala? The chicken, of course! Chicken breasts are sliced in half to create thin, fast-cooking filets. I dredged mine in a mixture of flour and parmesan cheese to create a golden-brown, slightly crunchy coating.
This is, I think, the first Easter for which I have not dyed any eggs. Not one cup of pigment-stained vinegar has graced my kitchen counter, nor one hard-boiled egg.
But this quiche?
Possibly my new favorite way to celebrate the humble egg.
Previously, I’ve really only eaten quiche in miniature form at catered gatherings and parties, but had never really considered the possibility of making them myself. Or if I had, I became rapidly intimated by the idea of a homemade crust (I’d never actually made one before this). But oh! What a new world lies ahead now that I have quiche AND pie crust in my culinary arsenal!
There are things I daydream about. Sometimes, they are kitchen things.
In these kitchen daydreams, the sauce pan I need is never at the back of the cabinet. All my spice bottles are the same shape, same size, same color, and they’re all labeled in the same font. Sunshine floods across my countertops and splashes to the floor, filling the room with light. My knives are always sharp, but I never cut my fingers. Avocados grow locally. Also cashews and cocoa beans and grapefruits.
Some dreams stay that way. But other dreams? Pasta-and-mushrooms-tossed-in-sun-dried-tomato-cream-sauce dreams? Oh yeah. They’re COMING TRUE.
I used to be a mushroom hater. Didn’t want them on pizza, in stir fries, on cheeseburgers, or anywhere else.
But one night during my sophomore year in college, Brad made a batch of stuffed mushrooms. To be sure, it might not have been the best timing to be learning to eat mushrooms stuffed with rich filling: I think it was 1am before a 6am flight across the country for several week or something. But I was hooked!
Mushrooms are so mysterious. Yes, the plain little button mushrooms I used in this recipe are pretty basic, but truly, mushrooms flourish in uncountable shapes, sizes, flavors, and potency. They burst out of the ground sometimes for only a few days and often won’t do so until a perfect balance of moisture, nutrients, and and temperature occurs.
I’d love to learn the art of picking wild mushrooms. Some family friends of ours go every summer, high into the mountains, and return with buckets full of brilliantly-colored mushrooms for cooking, drying, and preserving. What a way to eat locally, to pick something wild and then eat it for dinner! It’s a hobby, though, that I would only want to do with an expert. The mushrooms we can eat are earthy, delightfully squashy, and a dimensional addition to many dishes. But the ones that we can’t eat can, well, kill you.
Perhaps another day I’ll be brave enough to pick wild mushrooms myself. This day, though, I picked my mushrooms straight from the produce section.