Month: March 2017

What’s That Floating in My Soup?

With the late-winter surge Mother Nature just served us, it seems as though we are going to have to tough it out another week or so before we really get to warmer spring temperatures. A steaming bowl of hot soup has always been comforting against the cold of winter, and this seemed like just the right time to heat some up.

It is not always practical to cook just for two people so it is not unusual to find extra containers of soup or stock in my freezer. Rummaging around this time, I found extra containers of roasted garlic soup. This soup has the consistency of velvety bisque and was inspired by a recipe I read about years ago and later found in my copy of chef Susan Spicer’s book Crescent City Cooking. Over the years I have prepared this soup many times, adjusting here and there, ending up with the recipe I posted on the blog back in December 2014 in a piece entitled Garlic Is Good for Everything, where I offered a few suggestions on ways to garnish the soup, creating different presentations and flavors. But this time I was looking to do something different and make a heartier meal around the soup. Additionally, I didn’t care to go out to the market again in the cold, so the challenge was to make the meal using what I had on hand.

Inspired by a short piece I read entitled “Gambas a la Plancha” (Shrimp on the Griddle) from a back issue of Saveur magazine, and another about Barbecue Shrimp found in the latest issue of The Local Palate magazine, I knew the bag of Alaskan spot prawns in my freezer were going to be put to good use.

Along with a powdered version of harissa, the spicy condiment enjoyed throughout northern Africa, I decided to garnish the soup with spice-rubbed, shell-on shrimp seared in a hot grill pan. To round out the shrimp preparation, I coated the shrimp with garlic jam before liberally dusting them with the harissa. To finish the dish, I referred to a very old recipe from my archives that I call a hybrid aioli prepared with olive oil-braised fennel, placing a dollop on the shrimp as they are floated in the soup.

To summarize what you would be working with here, the soup recipe as noted can be found in the blog archives, then the harissa, garlic jam, the shrimp, and the fennel aioli are featured in this post.

Harissa is a chili-based condiment used widely in Tunisian, Algerian, and Moroccan cooking to name a few. It can be used as a cooking spice but more generally it’s a finishing condiment at the table, adding a little heat to punctuate dishes such as soups, couscous, and stews. Commercially prepared harissa can be found in specialty food shops that feature oils, olives, preserved lemons, spices, and dried herbs, although it is just as easy to make your own. There are many different recipes to reference in cookbooks and online as there seems to be no one “master” recipe. The mix generally includes one or more types of toasted dried chilies, coriander, cumin, caraway, and salt, ground into a powder. Garlic and olive oil can be incorporated into the mix that results in a paste form of the condiment.

The garlic jam is just what it sounds like—a roasted spread—that I have on hand all the time. It is quite easy to make, and has many uses such as a coating for most anything to be seared, roasted, or grilled; as an ingredient to punctuate a salad dressing; as a sauce for grilled or roasted vegetables; or simply the base for toasted garlic bread.

Using one full head of garlic and a full head of elephant garlic, slice approximately ¼ inch off the top of the head of regular garlic and leave both garlics unpeeled. Place in an ovenproof baking dish, coat with olive oil, cover with foil, and roast in a preheated 325-degree oven for an hour or until very soft when pierced with the point of a knife.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel and cut the root end off the elephant garlic, squeeze the soft garlic from the smaller cut cloves, adding all along with the roasting oil into the work bowl of a food processor. Along with the roasted garlic add a ¼ section of finely minced preserved lemon, finely minced parsley leaves with tender stems, and a pinch each of salt, pepper, and red chili flakes to taste. Process, slowly adding olive oil through the feed tube, as necessary, until a smooth emulsion is formed. The jam can be stored in the refrigerator, in jars, topped by olive oil for many weeks as long as after each use the remainder is again topped off with olive oil. Or it can be frozen indefinitely.


Olive Oil-Braised Fennel Aioli

1 large fennel bulb and stalks, set fronds aside
3 large garlic cloves
1 cup olive oil
Juice from ½ lemon
1 tablespoon dry white wine or white vermouth
1 teaspoon toasted and finely ground fennel seeds
2 egg yolks

Chop the fennel and garlic cloves. Sauté over medium heat in the olive oil until lightly caramelized and very soft.

When cool, place the fennel and all the sauté oil in the work bowl of a food processor along with the lemon juice, wine or vermouth, fennel seeds, egg yolks; salt and pepper to taste.

Process slowly until mixed, then raise the speed and process until a smooth emulsion is formed. Scrape down the sides as necessary to make sure all the fennel gets pureed and then check the seasoning, correcting as needed. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Fennel aioli



In this recipe Alaskan spot prawns are used. These large crustaceans are taken from southeastern Alaskan waters, sustainably harvested, flash frozen and shipped.

A pound generally contains an average of 10 prawns or less and, if sourced with the heads intact and a roe sac attached to the females, makes for a more dramatic presentation and flavor. If these Alaskan prawns cannot be found, then colossal shrimp (U8) will work just as well.

8 to 10 Alaskan spot prawns or colossal shrimp
Garlic jam
Harissa powder mix


Once the prawns are thawed in the refrigerator overnight, cut the shell down the length of the back but do not remove the shell.

Run the prawns under cool water, using your thumb to remove any particles or veins under the cut shells. Use paper towels to dry the prawns and place them on a large platter. Coat the prawns with garlic jam and olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle the coated prawns with the harissa powder mix on both sides. Place the platter in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

Seasoned prawns

To replicate the a la plancha cooking approach, heat a cast iron pan or a grill pan over high heat, adding 4 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the prawns, shells and all (the shells keep the meat moist, and since they are slit it will be easier to remove them when eating). Shake the pan continuously cooking the prawns until the shells begin to char in places, about 3 to 4 minutes before turning the prawns over and searing for another 2 minutes on the second side.

Seared a la plancha

To serve, place 2 or 3 prawns in a large soup dish, ladle the garlic soup around, and top the prawns with a tablespoon of the fennel aioli and a few fennel fronds.


Any extra prawns can be used in a frittata paired with spinach or shredded into a risotto. They certainly won’t go to waste!

Along with the bowl of hot garlic soup, the harissa coating the prawns will raise the temperature of the room a degree or two more helping you ward off this last of the winter cold.

Eat well. Be well.
We can simply treat food as nothing more than fuel or instead enjoy and appreciate its every quality.










Mushrooms—Super Food or an Alice-in-Wonderland Moment?

For as long as I can remember mushrooms have been in some way part of my diet. As a child of the ’50s I ate canned mushrooms—but not for long! My palate was expanded when at first I discovered the white button variety and later the forged wild varieties, which reinforced my love of funghi.

What I have come to know about mushrooms is that they are good for you in many ways, having been used for food and medicine for thousands of years. Much has been written about the immune-strengthening properties of mushrooms and the added health benefits they provide. This is an on-going process, but having faced cancer twice and learning that mushrooms are playing an increasing role in cancer immunology, I have doubled down on my consumption in an effort to try and integrate mushrooms in some way in my meals every week. Influenced by one article I read, published by the Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, entitled “Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology,” it is my belief that even small changes can help, such as increasing my consumption of mushrooms, for example. Meanwhile, I will only know about the personal benefits of my increased mushroom consumption over time, and since this is a food and cooking-centric blog my goal is to share with you what new culinary discoveries I make about mushrooms along the way to increase your appreciation and expand your palates.

As an ingredient, mushrooms have been included in a number of recipes I have already posted on this blog and three in particular have featured mushrooms as the main ingredient. In January 2015 I introduced my version of the grilled portobello sandwich; in June 2015 in a post entitled The Meal, one course was a Wild Mushroom Stew; and in October 2015 I shared with you my Ronnie Scott’s Mushroom story. Of particular interest regarding the mushroom stew, in addition to being a side vegetable as described in the post, leftovers can be repurposed to sauce pasta or if processed into a duxelles, the puree is a flavorful addition to a risotto dish.

With this post I want to share a couple of recipe variations for stuffed mushrooms that can be served either as a side vegetable or as a main course.

First a few mushroom thoughts:

Mushrooms can be sourced fresh, dried, and in some cases, frozen. Mushrooms can be loosely organized into two groups, cultivated or foraged (wild). The cultivated can include varieties often found in the produce section of your grocery store; for example, white button, cremini, portobello, oyster, shiitake, and royal trumpet. The foraged or wild mushrooms can include varieties such as, porcini, morels, chanterelle, yellow foot, hen of the woods, hedgehog, and black trumpet. As the name implies, foraged would entail gathering the mushrooms in the wild yourself. My recommendation, if you intend to forage, is to partner with someone who is experienced to guide you so that you don’t have an Alice-in-Wonderland moment yourself! Or, at first, perhaps take the less engaging but less risky approach and find a good purveyor of wild mushrooms and purchase from them. Fresh, wild mushrooms are delicious and, unlike cultivated varieties, are more interesting because they have a complex depth of flavor, so whatever approach you choose to source them do give them a try.

There are as many ways to prepare and enjoy mushrooms as there are mushroom varieties to enjoy!

Piled atop bruschetta, grilled, sautéed, gratineed; a ragu over pasta, or to flavor a risotto; in a frittata or omelet, stocks, bisques, or soups; in braised dishes or stuffings, pates or terrines; or powdered to be used as a spice or a coating—you get the idea!

Two preparations I like to make from time to time are marinated mushrooms, a flavorful antipasti dish, or a grilled mushroom salsa served warm over brie, chevre, ricotta, or taleggio. I will share those two recipes as a follow-on to this post, so for now let’s stuff and bake some mushrooms.

When it comes to stuffed mushrooms, choose more mature varieties with larger caps since they are easier to work with than the smaller tighter caps and they have developed more flavor which pairs well with a full-flavored stuffing served as a starter course, a side vegetable, or even as the main dish. Portobello, cremini, or large white button mushrooms are the obvious go-to varieties for stuffing, although larger porcini, if you can source them, are a very flavorful mushroom to stuff.

The following is a recipe that can be adapted to any of the four varieties I mentioned and can be varied by adding:

  • different cheeses
  • different sausage meats
  • greens such as spinach or Swiss chard
  • minced nuts such as almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts
  • crabmeat or shrimp

Suffice to say, when it comes to stuffing, the mushroom is a blank canvas.


Baked Stuffed Mushrooms

8 to 10 medium portobello mushrooms (approx. 4 inches across), or 12 large white white or cremini mushrooms (approx. 3 inches across)
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups warm water
2 cups bread crumbs (made from dried bread slices, crusts removed)
1 cup whole milk or Half & Half
1 medium onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ preserved lemon, minced
12 oz baby spinach, rough chopped
1 large egg
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ cup grated aged pecorino
6 tablespoons minced mixed herbs, (parsley, sage, thyme)
White wine or vermouth
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Optional additional ingredients:
Minced scallions, green and white parts
Lemon zest and juice
Swiss chard, blanched, finely chopped, and stems finely minced
Roasted peppers, chopped capers, chopped olives

asiago, cheddar (sharp), feta, gruyère, Jarlsberg, ricotta salata

basil, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano

Andouille sausage, chorizo sausage, fennel pork sausage, lamb sausage, tasso ham

Crabmeat, shrimp, anchovy fillets

Nuts (finely chopped):
almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts

Mix and match these additional optional ingredients with the base recipe to customize the stuffing to your personal taste.


Prepare the mushrooms. Carefully remove the stems so as not to damage the caps. Clean the caps with a lightly dampened cloth or use a sponge. If the stems are not damaged, blemished, or overly dirty, clean and mince them to be added to the sauté for the base stuffing mix.

If using portobello mushrooms, I recommend using a spoon to carefully remove the dark brown gills from the underside. These gills can trap grit and dirt, tend to stain the stuffing once cooked, and once removed allow for a deeper area to stuff. This is not a mandatory step but makes for a nicer presentation.

Gills before and after

Place the dried porcini mushrooms in 2 cups of warm water and set aside for 30 minutes to reconstitute. Once the porcini have softened, remove them from the soaking liquid, rinse, squeeze dry, mince, and set aside. Strain the soaking liquid and set that aside.

Cut the dried bread into cubes and pulse in a food processor until a coarse crumb is achieved. Place the bread crumbs in a bowl, pour the milk or Half & Half over along with 3 to 4 tablespoons of the strained porcini soaking liquid and allow the bread to absorb the liquids.

In a large sauté pan heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the minced onion, garlic, mushroom stems if using, the preserved lemon, and minced porcini, along with 3 to 4 tablespoons of the strained porcini soaking liquid. Cook, stirring often, until most all the liquid has cooked off and the onion has softened.

Add the spinach, stir to combine, and remove from the heat, setting aside to cool.

Squeeze all the liquid from the soaking bread crumbs and place them in a large work bowl.

To the egg, add 2 tablespoons of the milk or Half & Half and lightly beat then add to the bread.

Next add the sautéed ingredients to the bread along with the grated cheeses, the minced herbs, 1 to 2 tablespoons of white wine or vermouth, and salt and pepper to taste.

Fresh herb mix

Using a fork, thoroughly mix and combine all the ingredients into a smooth stuffing mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Ready for stuffing

Stuff the mushroom caps with enough stuffing to softly mound each cap. Sprinkle the tops with finely ground dried bread crumbs and some extra grated cheese. Place the stuffed caps in an oiled roasting pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle olive oil over the tops and pour the remaining strained porcini soaking liquid around.

Stuffed, ready for the oven

Place the roasting pan in the middle of the preheated oven and bake uncovered for 30 minutes until most of the liquid cooks off, the mushrooms are tender when pierced with a knife point, and the tops are brown and crispy.

Ready to serve

Serve warm as a side vegetable or as the main dish accompanied by a side salad.

Stuffed mushrooms were a popular passed-appetizer 30-plus years ago at cocktail parties, but perhaps preparing them as a standalone side vegetable or a main course will inspire you to be creative in the kitchen and include more mushrooms in your diet. I do hope you give them a try.


Be well. Eat well.

So pour yourself a glass of wine, select some music to accompany, relax, cook, and enjoy … Peace!