Sauteed Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms

That's a mouthful!

Last weekend I had some good friends over for a good meal all centered around this amazing pizza that I received as a gift.  I wanted appetizers that would typically accompany a pizza, but I wanted them to be fancier.  The night before my dinner party I had deep fried mushrooms at a local college pub, which inspired these puppies.  And, if I dare say so myself, they were delicious.

Sauteed Spinach and Cheese...eh, you know the rest...
Make enough for 8 guests


18 small portabella mushrooms
1 lb of baby spinach
1/2 of a small yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of grated cheese (mozzarella, parmesan, asiago. Think soft and hard.)
Olive oil


Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat.  Add the finely chopped onions and sprinkle with a touch of salt and pepper.  Let the onions cook for 5 minutes or until they begin to become a bit translucent, stirring occasionally.  Add the minced garlic and cook for a minute.  Then add the entire pound of washed baby spinach.  Sprinkle with more salt and pepper.  Toss to coat with olive oil.  Add a bit more olive oil if there is not enough liquid in the pan, you don't want the spinach to stick.  Cover and let the spinach saute and reduce until you have about 1 1/2 cups of cooked spinach.  Put the spinach in a bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

While the spinach is cooling, prepare the portabella caps.  Remove the stem from each cap and clean the caps thoroughly.  Place the caps upside down on a large baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (the recycled kind).  Drizzle a few drops of olive oil on each cap.

Add the grated cheese to the cooled spinach and give it a good toss to mix.  Fill each mushroom cap with about a tablespoon of the mixture. 

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly.


Use a damp towel to remove any dirt from a mushroom cap.  This will help prevent the mushroom from absorbing too much water.  Mushrooms will absorb a large amount of water if rinsed directly under the tap.  This may result in soggy mushrooms after baking.

Make sure the sauteed spinach is cooled before you add the cheese.  You don't want the cheese to melt before you put the mushrooms in the oven.


Dinner Party. Success!

My friend brought me a Chicago-style pizza from Chicago.  That's right, from Chicago!

First, let me explain that she had to call in the order and collect the frozen pizza on her way to the airport.  Then she had to carry the pizza (which, I kid you not, weighs at least 50 lbs.) onto the plane with her because you can't check a pizza and pick it up at baggage claim.  She handed it over to me a day and a half later still frozen and so amazing. 

I had never seen a Chicago-style, stuffed crust, cheese pizza before and can I just say, "Wow!"  It was 3 inches thick!  I also had no idea that the pizza was not just stuffed crust, it was a stuffed pizza.  Think about a huge apple pie, now change the pie crust to pizza crust and the fruit filling to pounds of mozzarella cheese, smother it in marinara sauce and, ta-da, a stuffed Chicago-style pizza.  You've never seen a stuffed pizza before either? Check it out!  Giordano's has been rated as some of the best pizza by The New York Times, so this was a serious pizza.

I wanted to share with the dedicated delivery lady and some other folks who I thought might appreciate a special treat, so I decided to have an impromptu dinner party.  I went for a three (it ended up being more like five) course dinner with some jazzed-up appetizer classics and the pizza as the center piece.

Early afternoon shopping left my sister (also known as my favorite sous-chef) and I inspired to get a little festive.  We purchased a bouquet of warm red, orange and yellow daisies and sweet little pumpkins to act as center pieces for the night.  

Then we got to cooking.  I wanted everything to be ready to pop in the oven when the time came so I could enjoy my friends and have a tidy house to boot.  It took me about 2 hours to prep, but I had the dishes done and food ready to go just in time for my first guests to arrive.

After everyone had their drink of choice in hand, we started with some garlic bread that was brought by friend.  It was, of course, an instant classic.  Next came the sauteed spinach and cheese stuffed portabella mushrooms, then the baked zucchini sticks with two different dipping sauces.  Finally the guest of honor, my dear cheese pizza, and a lovely salad made the final touches on dinner.  My roommate was kind enough to fix us all some chocolate mouse for dessert, a perfectly light way to finish off a very rich meal.

As everyone departed stuffed to the brim, I reflected on the night, my amazing friends, and a damn good meal.  Dinner party.  Success! 

Recipes to follow.  This post is already ridiculously long...


Oh, boy! Sweet potatoes!

It is getting to be fall!  You know how I know?  I got sweet potatoes this week in my organic produce basket.  I feel like most people don't know the difference between a yam and a sweet potato.  If you care to find out you should visit this link.  All you really need to know is that you are most likely eating a sweet potato because yams are harder to come by.

There are so many ways to enjoy sweet potatoes!  You can bake 'em, boil 'em, mash 'em, and smash 'em.  They also do lovely as fries.  This simple recipe is quick, easy, and really tasty!

Sweet Potato Fries 
Serves 4


1 lb of sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon of crushed dried garlic
1 teaspoon of crushed dried onion
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wash and peel the sweet potatoes.  Slice them into roughly 2-3 inch long wedges and don't make them too chunky or they will take a really long time to bake.  In a mixing bowl, toss the sweet potato wedges, garlic, onion, pepper, sea salt, and olive oil until the potatoes are well coated.  

Spread onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the fries are tender.  Give them a toss about half way though the baking time for even cooking.


Did you know that they make recycled aluminum foil?  Well they do, and if you're like me then you use foil frequently to improve cooking and cleanup.  Do mother earth a favor and used recycled materials if possible.


Lamb Burgers!

So, you don't like lamb?  Well, I think you're just silly.  Lamb is an amazing red meat.  It is best enjoyed cooked medium-rare to avoid letting the meat get too "gamey".  One of the restaurants I've work in used to have the most amazing lamb burger on the menu.  It dripped with goat cheese and kalamata olive tapenade.  Oh, it was so good.  Then, as usual, they changed their menu and I was left wishing I could have just one more bite. 

My solution was, of course, to make my own lamb burger and satisfy my craving or the super savory meat enjoyed by millions world wide.  I guess what I'm trying to say is don't be afraid of lamb.  Everyone else eats it, why shouldn't you?

Lamb Burgers
Makes 4 good sized burgers


1 lb of organic ground lamb meat
1 small red onion
1 teaspoon of crushed dried garlic
1 egg
1/4 cup of plain bread crumbs


I, of course, began with frozen lamb meat.  I wish so bad that I had a grocery store near by that sold quality meat and I could go there nightly and pick out my meal, but the closest one is 20 minutes away and I'm too lazy for that.  For tips on defrosting meat see the Tips section of my blog entry Summer Meatloaf.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the ground lamb, finely chopped red onion, garlic, lightly beaten egg and bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl.  Roll up your sleeves and mix with your hands.  This will help mix everything together thoroughly without the meat getting tough.

Form the mixture into 4 patties and set aside.  Warm a small amount of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.   Sear the patties on each side for a minute or so, or until the they are golden brown.  Transfer to a baking sheet and pop 'em in the oven for 3 minutes on each side.  After you take them out of the oven, let them rest for a few minutes to help keep them moist.

You can top the burger with whatever you please.  Personally, I like a toasted bun, curry ketchup, olive hummus, garlic mint cheese spread, a soft cheese like goat cheese, and lettuce.  

I served the lamb burgers with a hearty helping of collard greens and a light pasta salad my mom made.  For cooking suggestions for collard greens see, What in the heck do you do with kale?



When you think lamb, think Mediterranean.  Lamb pairs well with olives, mint, yogurt, flat breads, feta, cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes. 

You can make the burger patties a bit smaller, my mom would never approve of a 1/4 lb burger, but it's easier to control how well the meat is cooked with a larger burger.  A small burger is really easy to over cook.

I did not make my own hummus or cheese spread.  The good people at Whole Foods helped out with that one.  I believe cooking is 80 percent great, fresh produce.  20 percent fun pantry items.


What in the heck do you do with kale?

I cut out the middle man, grocery stores I mean, by buying my produce directly from a company called Basket Case Organics.  I love this company for a number of reasons...

One, they deliver a basket full to the brim with beautiful, organic produce to my front door.  
Two, it is very competitively priced.  
Three, it is a local company that I am happy to support.
Four, everything is seasonal and it forces me to cook outside my comfort zone.

Recently, one of the items included in my basket was red kale.  For those of you who don't know what kale is, it is a very fibrous, bitter, green, leafy vegetable.  What in the heck do you do with kale?  Well, I wasn't sure exactly.  So, like many great thinkers before me, my solution was to have few glasses of cava, followed by a few glasses of wine.  Then, right on cue, it struck me!  Saute the kale with butter and anchovy paste and stuff it in a pork chop, of course!

Kale-stuffed Pork Chops with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Makes enough for 2 servings


4 cups of uncooked kale
3 - 4 tablespoons of butter
1/4 teaspoon of anchovy paste
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup of shredded mozzarella
2 thick pork chops
4 medium sized potatoes
2 green onions
2 tablespoons of sour cream
1/4 cup of milk
1 cup of chicken stalk
4-5 tablespoons of flour
Salt and pepper to taste, on everything.


Begin with the kale.  The first step is to remove the red/purple stem of the kale.  Basically, this will not cook down, so it's best to remove it.  Roughly chop the kale.  Over medium-low heat in a large saute or fry pan begin to melt 3 tablespoons of butter.  As it begins to melt, add the anchovy paste and mix butter and paste to blend.  Immediately add the kale and a good pinch of salt.  Give it a good toss to coat.  Cover and let the sauteing begin.  You will want to let the kale reduce to about a cup, stirring frequently.  About 1 - 2 minutes before you are going to pull the kale from the heat, add another tablespoon of butter and the finely minced garlic.

Once the kale is done, in a large sauce pan bring salted water to a boil.  Add the potatoes, diced, and cook until tender.  When they potatoes are done, drain from the water and set aside until you are ready to mash them.  Keep them covered so they stay hot, it makes for easier mashing.

Meanwhile, begin stuffing the pork chops.  To make the stuffing, remove the kale from the pan mix with the mozzarella cheese in a small bowl and set to the side.  Save the pan on the stove as you will use it later.  Make a 2-3 inch cut in the side of each pork chop.  The incision you create should not cut the pork chop completely in half, but rather create a little pocket with about a quarter inch of the pork chop intact on all sides except where the opening is.  Turn the pork chops on their sides with the pocket facing up.  Stuff them with the kale and mozzarella mixture. Secure the opening with toothpicks.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Warm a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in the same saute pan you used for the kale. Sear the pork chops on each side for until nice and golden brown.  Transfer the pork chops to a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 10 - 15 minutes or until cooked through.

While the pork chops are in the oven, finish the mashed potatoes and the gravy.  

As promised, I learned how to make gravy using drippings (after my mom laughed at me when I created a make-shift carmelized onions and crimini mushroom gravy).  So here it goes.  Begin by warming the saute pan from the kale and pork chops over medium heat.  When it gets toasty, add the chicken stalk while whisking to get all of the deliciousness off the bottom of the pan.  Bring the mixture to a light boil.  Once boiling, add one tablespoon of flour at a time every few minutes until the gravy reaches the desired consistency and thickness.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Run the gravy through a strainer and into a bowl to remove any large bits.  Set aside.

Make the potatoes by mashing them together with the finely chopped green onions and sour cream.  Warm the milk and add a little bit at a time until you reach a desired constancy. Some people like chunkier mashed potatoes, and some like creamier mashed potatoes.  It's all a matter of preference.

Assemble your plate with a pork chop, a hearty helping of mashed potatoes, and cover in gravy.  Oh, don't you feel gourmet!


Obviously, since I had a few drinks in me, I didn't run out and buy my pork chops fresh.  I pulled them out of the freezer.  For tips on how to best defrost meat, see my blog entry Summer Meatloaf.

I love anchovy paste!  People tend to think anchovy paste is gross, but they are relying on preconceived notions and are quite mistaken.  When mixed with some butter, the paste provides a fantastic salty, savory quality you'll be hard pressed to find any other way.  You can keep a tube on hand in the fridge for quite a while.  I would suggest anchovy paste for any green veggie that you are not sure what to do with, like collard greens, chard, Brussels sprouts, etc.


Summer Meatloaf

I know I'm ready for the change of seasons because it rained this weekend and I was more than happy to pop on my slippers and favorite cozy sweater.  I can also tell I'm ready because my food cravings are changing.  I'm ready to spend hours cooking comfort foods.  Every time I start to think about what I'm going to make for my next meal, warm, hearty dishes my mom would make for me as a child come to mind.

The other night, I got an inkling for meatloaf.  While it rained this weekend, the night I decided to make said meatloaf it was 85 degrees outside.  I had never made a meatloaf before.  Had I known better, I would have made the decision to start defrosting the beef much earlier than 7:30.  Needless to say, it took hours!  It was totally worth it, and I don't mind eating late, so it all worked out in the end.

Since I had no idea what I was doing, I also had no idea how to make a gravy out of the drippings.  Later, when I recalled this adventure to my mom, she very gently laughed at me and then explained how it's done.  That's later though - I'll explain in an upcoming blog post when I put it to good use.

For now, I'll just get to it.  Here is my take on meatloaf!

Garden Meatloaf with Caramelized Onions and Mushroom Gravy over Pasta
(See, I told you I was into comfort food lately.)
Makes one 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf


1 16 oz box of organic Casarecce pasta
1 lb organic grass-fed ground beef
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 stalk of celery
1 small yellow onion
2 green onions
3 cloves of garlic
2-3 tablespoons curry ketchup
1 egg
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

3-4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 large yellow onion
5-6 crimini mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
2 cups of chicken stalk
3-4 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper to taste


Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Begin by finely chopping the celery, yellow and green onion, and garlic.  Place in a big mixing bowl with the breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper.  Give it a good toss.  

Add the ground beef, curry ketchup, lightly beaten egg, and olive oil.  Roll up your sleeves and dig in.  Mixing with your hands will provide the best manner of combining everything without over-mixing, which will make the meat tough.  Transfer to the loaf pan and place in the oven.  It will take about an hour to cook.

Next begin the gravy, and yes, right away.  Caramelizing onions can take 30 - 45 minutes.  Start with 3 tablespoons of butter in a small sauce pan on medium-low heat.  Let it get all melty and enjoy the smell for a minute.  Add the onion, roughly sliced or copped and sprinkle with a few generous pinches of sea salt. 

Cover and wait, stirring every few minutes.  The onions will begin to release their juices after 5-10 minutes.  Then they will slowly reduce, turn a lovely caramel color and sweeten over the next 20-30 minutes.  The onions should never reach more than a slight simmer in the pan, cooking them slowly is the key.  When the onions are done, remove them from the pan and set aside, leaving any liquid behind.

Add another tablespoon of butter to the same pan and the roughly chopped crimini mushrooms.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper and let the reduce over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.  When the mushrooms are cooked, remove them from the pan and set aside, again leaving any liquid behind.

Add the chicken stalk to the pan and whisk to mix with the reserved liquids from the onions and mushrooms.  Turn the heat up to medium and let the mixture come to a gentle boil.  Once it begins to boil, add the flour 1 tablespoon at at time until the desired consistency is reached.  Give the gravy a few minutes between flour additions to thicken a bit so you don't add too much.

Once the desired thickness is reached, add the cooked onions and mushrooms.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, in a large sauce pan, bring salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook as directed on the package.

When everything is done, layer the noodles, meatloaf, and gravy.  Head outside to enjoy the late summer breezes and eat a well-deserved meal!


Many people get frustrated by meat.  It goes bad too quickly in the fridge, but is a pain to defrost from the freezer without ruining it.  Here is a tip from the pro's - and no I don't think I'm a pro, this is how health and food safety classes teach employees to defrost meat in restaurants - hot water.  It takes longer than defrosting something in the microwave, but it preserves the quality of the meat much better.  You won't end up with weird, rubbery pieces.  Place the frozen meat in a plastic, sealable bag.  Fill the sink, or a bowl, with very hot water and place the bag in the water.  Change out the water as it cools until the meat is defrosted.  It can take anywhere from 20 min - 1 hour depending on the amount and thickness of the meat, so think about this step early on.

I would start the water for the noodles after the onions are done caramelizing.  This way meatloaf, gravy, and noodles should all come out at about the same time.

Curry ketchup!  What is curry ketchup?  Only the most amazing ketchup ever!  It is exactly what it sounds like, a blend of curry and ketchup, but the result is delicious.  It is sweet, tangy, and savory all a the same time.  You can pick up curry ketchup at most grocery stores and German-style markets.  Seriously, you are going to love this stuff.