The Humble Fungus

The Humble Fungus

You’ve seen them in the produce section, those over-sized, imposing mushrooms that are earthy tan colored. These fungi have black gills on their underside and a thick woody stem. They might not be all that appealing in their native state, but boy are they great grilled, roasted and stuffed! It gets even better when you find out that these Portobello mushrooms are a natural source of vitamin D.

Because they are so meaty, you can substitute Portobello mushrooms in many meat dishes, and lots of good cooks do this all the time. But, when you make the mushroom the actual star of your meal, you can adapt a whole new attitude! Here’s a recipe that I played around with this week. Let me know what you think.

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

With Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, Pancetta & Toasted Breadcrumbs

Serves 4 for a Veggie Main or 8 as an Appy

30 Minute Cuisine

The goat cheese is remarkable in this appy! The goat cheese is remarkable in this appy!

Spending quality time in the Farmer’s market naturally leads to veggie forward main meals. This is one of these. There’s nothing better than meaty mushrooms, with a tangy, crunchy filling! You can serve these mushrooms as a first course, or as a late-night snack. The flavors are fantastic – everyone is a mushroom lover after tasting this dish!

1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus 2 more for sauce

1 (3.5-ounce) julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained but save 2 tablespoons of the oil

4 ounces pancetta, finely diced

4 large garlic cloves, minced, about 2 tablespoons

¼ cup Marsala wine

Juice of ½ medium lemon, about 2 tablespoons

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

8 Portobello mushrooms, stem and gills removed

8 ounces goat cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350°. Mix the bread crumbs with 2 tablespoons melted butter in a small bowl. Spread the crumbs onto a baking sheet. Toast the buttered crumbs until they begin to crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes into a skillet over medium high heat. And the pancetta and cook until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta to a platter lined with paper towels.

Add the sun-dried tomatoes to the skillet. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the wine and simmer until most of the wine has disappeared, about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the lemon juice. Season with some of the salt, crushed red pepper and parsley. Turn off the heat and swirl in 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir in the parsley.

Heat a grill pan on high heat. Brush the mushrooms with olive oil on both sides. Season with salt and pepper. Grill the mushrooms, turning once, until they are just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes total. Add the goat cheese into the cap of the mushrooms, turn off the heat and cover with aluminum foil to allow the cheese to melt. Transfer the mushrooms to a platter. Spoon the sun-dried tomatoes over the cheese, into the mushroom caps. Top with pancetta and toasted breadcrumbs.

A Fresh Baked Compromise

A Fresh Baked Compromise

Standing at the farmer’s market last Saturday, I found myself caught between two stalls. The first held six-dollar bags of yellow or white peaches. The second held a bin full of paper wrapped, fried hand pies. I admit, I was hungry and those pies are really inviting – especially when the guy next to you forks over a couple of bills, peels down the paper and takes that first crunchy, flaky bite. Stare, stare…. Drool, drool.

And then I remembered about this new product I wanted to experiment with. It’s Wewalka, European-style fresh bakery dough. I had previously tried the pizza crust, and loved the simplicity of rolling out pizza dough that was already on parchment paper. You simply lift the dough onto a baking sheet and build your pizza.

With fresh bakery dough stored in my fridge, I opted for the bag of fresh peaches and made my way home. Later that evening, my pal, Jenny (the one who cans her own marmalade) decided to make fried peach hand pies. Talk about a perfect compromise!

From family to family, here in the South, there is debate about how to make a traditional hand pie. There is agreement that the original pies were made with dried fruits, reconstituted to avoid a leaky, wet filling. Today, when fresh is best, the wet filling problem is solved by adding a generous amount of thickener to freshen the fruit and control the filling to dough ratio. Hand pies are primarily deep fried in a fryer or large pot of boiling oil on the stove, but they can also be fried in a cast iron skillet and even baked! The dough is usually lighter than pie dough… more like a rolled biscuit dough because it holds up better in the fryer.

Jenny and I absorbed all the hand pie info we could find, and decided to modify a peach pie recipe for the filling using our prepared puff pastry dough. Well, I’m telling you, the results were well worth the investigation! Our hand pies were puffy, golden, crisp and a perfect ratio of crust to fruit filling.

My pies looked like a puffy, jelly doughnut and smelled like hot beignets. But they tasted and satisfied like a pie. We topped them with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon, and served them with vanilla ice cream.

I wouldn’t hesitate to make these hand pies with any fruit you like, or a combination of fruits and fresh herbs. Truth is, I wouldn’t hesitate to make these pies. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Handy Fried Peach Pies

Serves 8

30 Minute Cuisine

Fried hand pies are a Southern favorite. Using prepared dough helps jump start the process, making this dish as easy as … well, as easy as pie!

5 to 6 ripe, fresh peaches, peeled and diced, about 5 cups

⅔ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Juice of ½ small lemon, about 1 tablespoon

⅓ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 (13.2 ounce) packages refrigerated puff pastry dough

Vegetable oil for frying

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Place the diced peaches into a bowl. Add the sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice and flour. Stir and let sit while you prepare the dough.

Cut 4-inch rounds from the pastry dough. Cut as many as you can, about 8 per sheet.

Heat vegetable oil to 375°. If you are using a large pot, pour the oil ⅓ way up the side of the pot, and use a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature. Remember the oil will bubble up the sides of the pot when you add the pies.

Place one round of pastry dough onto your work surface. Use a slotted spoon to place 1 to 2 spoonfuls of peach filling into the center of the dough. Leave a border around the edge. (You want the peaches, not much of the liquid.) Take another round of dough, and place it on the top of the filling. Use a fork to crimp the edges together. Repeat with the remaining rounds.

Gently place the pies into the hot oi. Cook until golden on one side. Use a slotted spoon or wire basket to carefully flip the pies to cook until golden on the second side. This whole process will only take a couple of minutes. Transfer the pies to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and a bit more cinnamon.

After Market Leftovers

You are going to have extra scraps of dough, and perhaps some extra peaches left over. Tear the dough into scraps and fry them up! Sprinkle with sugar and set them in a bowl. I guarantee you, they will be gone before you turn around…. But if not, store them in an airtight container. They will stay crisp for several days!

Same goes for extra peaches. Place them into a pot and add maple syrup. Heat the peaches in the syrup until bubbling, about 5 minutes. Pour the hot maple/peach syrup over pancakes, waffles or French toast.

Bowled Over and Over and Over

Bowled Over and Over and Over

A Chicken Marsala Bowl with savory veggies :) A Chicken Marsala Bowl with savory veggies 🙂

It’s the newest rage. Healthy, veggie-filled, great-grained, protein-topped bowls. You can find entire websites dedicated to de-constructing dishes like beef burritos into a bowl of rice and beans, Pico de Gallo, sliced avocado, shredded lettuce, topped with shredded spicy beef and fresh cilantro. It’s a Fun way to transform a favorite dish and it’s even more fun when you create your own.

You know I must plunge into a new trend, transforming a weeknight standard into an elevated “bowl”. I used one of my go-to chicken dishes and the veggies I picked up this week at the farmer’s market. There is no standard when you create your bowl. It’s just your imagination, your palate and your smile that pulls it off! Give this bowl a try and then let me know when you create one of your own!!

Here’s a little preview of what’s going in this magnificent bowl of yours! Enjoy!

Carrots roasted to a char taste AMAZING! Use them to top any bowl creation. Carrots roasted to a char taste AMAZING! Use them to top any bowl creation. Mmmmm....chicken thighs simmering in a savory sauce...need I say more?

Mmmmm….chicken thighs simmering in a savory sauce…need I say more? Oh, kale yeah! Make your bowl standout with a deliciously textured super food! 

Oh, kale yeah! Make your bowl standout with a deliciously textured super food! Yummy Japanese eggplant Yummy Japanese eggplant

Chicken Marsala Bowl

With Orzo, Sautéed Kale, Curried Eggplant and Roasted Carrots

Serves 4

30 Minute Cuisine

Lots of different flavors poured into one big bowl full of insanity.

For Chicken:

4 large chicken thighs (or 8 smaller thighs)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 teaspoon onion powder

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the veggies

½ large onion, thinly sliced

1 cup Marsala wine

1 cup homemade beef stock, or prepared low sodium broth

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

For Veggies:

8 whole carrots

1 pound kale, about 4 cups, torn

4 small Japanese eggplants, sliced into 1-inch rounds (substitute with 1 small eggplant)

2 tablespoons ground curry powder

2 cups orzo cooked according to package directions

Season the chicken with some of the salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon onion powder. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a deep sauté pan over medium high heat. Place the chicken into the pan, skin side down. Cook until golden, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn and cook on the second side until golden, about 5 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a platter. Add the onion to the pan and cook until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the Marsala wine and simmer until most of the wine disappears. Pour in the beef stock and stir in the mustard. Place the chicken back into the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes more.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the carrots onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the carrots, turning once until they are well browned, about 20 minutes.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kale (in batches) and cook until wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant to the pan. Season with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons curry powder. Cook until the eggplant is soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Keep warm.

To assemble the bowls, divide the cooked orzo and place equal portions into the bottom of 4 pasta-size bowls. Top some of the orzo with kale. Top the rest of the orzo with curried eggplant. Lay two roasted carrots atop the veggies. Place the chicken on top of the carrots and spoon the Marsala wine over all.

Over Pumpkin Everything? There’s Always Apple Butter Cake!

Over Pumpkin Everything? There’s Always Apple Butter Cake!

Every October, there’s things you gotta do, places you gotta visit, and most definitely stuff you gotta eat! If you’ve got pumpkin fatigue, that’s good, because the autumnal dessert I’m all excited about, is an apple butter cake. This dish has a beautiful back story; it’s from one of my favorite fall festivals up in the North Carolina mountains.

The annual Valle Country Fair is held in October in a little town called Valle Crucis. Featured is their home churned apple butter – a jar of which you’ll see in this blog’s photos. You MUST arrive early, stand in line and ask politely for more than one jar per customer. Like my company name, WORTH IT, it’s definitely worth it to do so. The apple butter is sooooo good… the smell of spiced, simmering apples wafts for counties! I was indeed the early bird this year and managed to grab an extra jar before the crowds drifted in. This cake is my ode to apple butter.


Apple Butter Cake

With Cream Cheese Frosting

Serves a crowd

60 Minute Cuisine

For the cake pictured here:

3 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 ½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, 2 sticks

1 cup brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 ½ cups apple butter


For the frosting you’ll be tempted to eat before it’s ready:


2 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 cups cream cheese, room temperature, 2 8-ounces packages

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, 1 stick

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 to 2 tablespoons milk (as need to thin frosting)

1 cup walnuts, chopped

When the frosting is all whipped up, it looks like this:

Here are the baking instructions – I hope there’s room on a counter top that looks like mine, in the delicious wake of making apple butter cake!

Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat two 9 x 9-inch (you can certainly change the size of the pan if you choose) cake pans with vegetable oil spray. Place a layer of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan and coat the paper.

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Use an electric mixer to combine 1 cup butter with both brown and granulated sugars until fluffy. Mix in the eggs. Pour in 1/3 of the flour mixture followed by ½ cup of the apple butter. Mix well and continue alternating ingredients until all the flour and apple butter are mixed into the batter. Spread the batter into the two pans. Bake until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully invert the cakes onto a rack. Remove the parchment paper and cool the cakes completely.

Use an electric mixer to combine confectioners’ sugar with the cream cheese, ½ cup butter and the vanilla until smooth and creamy. You can mix in a teaspoon or two of milk to get the consistency that you prefer for frosting. Place one cake onto your serving platter. Slather the cake with frosting. Top with the remaining cake. Cover the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top of the cake with chopped walnuts.

Farmers Market Tip

Mark your calendar for a fall excursion and plan to visit the Valle Country Fair. All the proceeds of the fair go to local charities. Check it out at . Look for this jar of awesomeness:


Cook’s Tip

If you are feeling like a “Top Chef Baker”, you can make this a four layer cake! The simplest way to separate each cake into two halves is to take a piece of thread and wrap it around the cake horizontally keeping the tread in the middle of each side of the cake. Now, simple pull each end of the thread toward you and you have split the cake in half. Now spread on that frosting and keep layering.





Farm Fresh

Farm Fresh

It’s that time again. Spring and early summer produce just plucked from the ground is making its way to the farmers’ stands in open-air markets. When you go, you’ll find lots of leafy veggies: lettuces, collards, kale, and chard. Sweet spring onions, a favorite of mine, abound. Now is also the time to gather up lots of fresh herbs and transfer them to your herb garden for summer growth.

This week my purchases included a fresh chicken and a dozen duck eggs. Not only are these eggs fabulous scrambled for a breakfast bonanza, but they also have magical properties when you use them for your baked goods. They have a higher fat content than chicken eggs that produce cakes and cupcakes that rise higher with a fluffier texture. Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver recommends using duck eggs for gluten-free baking, “What your baked good loses in structure by omitting gluten can be partially gained back with the denser albumen .”

Every Saturday I head to the Watauga Farmer’s Market in Boone, North Carolina. It’s an explosion of fresh food with a smattering of local musicians, crafts, and children’s activities. Where is your favorite farmers’ market?