Author Archives for Have Fork, Will Travel

About Have Fork, Will Travel

Office by day, home cook/baker by night, maker of many things. Food groupie always. Life is too short for bad food.

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

2 portobello mushroom caps, stems and gills removed
3/4 cup prepared dressing, or enough to fill both (leftover stuffing/dressing works wonderfully)
1/4 cup shredded cheese (I love using a colby cheddar mix), plus more for topping
1 green onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (optional, but recommended)
Salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning, if desired

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine stuffing and cheese in a small bowl. Add additional seasoning if needed. Keep in mind that the cheese will add additional salt as it melts.

Brush the tops (curved side) of mushrooms with olive oil and place in a baking dish, top side down. Lightly brush the bottom edges the cap (now facing up) with the oil.

Fill the caps with the stuffing and cheese mixture, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake uncovered for 10-12 minutes until mushroom is tender.

What are you thankful for?

It is hard to believe that the end of the year is right around the corner. As someone who has been working (mostly) remotely, all of the days feel like they run together. There isn’t a demarcation between work and home like when I leave for campus during the week. There are good things to working from home that I really enjoy. Today I was able to test/troubleshoot a recipe for someone to see if there was an issue, and it timed out well during my breaks and lunch time. The election is over (and no more campaign ads for awhile!), and the vaccine for Covid-19 looks promising. Positive steps for sure.

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on

November is a little sad as it gets closer to Thanksgiving. My mom passed away just before the holiday several years ago, and I miss making some of the dishes for her that she enjoyed. You have never met anyone that loved potatoes as much as my mom did. She would literally do a dance of happiness when I made her a batch. If you haven’t made potato salad for the holiday, give it a try. You can make it a day or two ahead of time, and it will be even better than if you made it that morning. The key to less stress for family gatherings is to plan ahead, and try to make some of the dishes a day or more in advance. In this year of the pandemic, the gatherings might be smaller or virtual, but you can still catch up and visit over food.

The cooler days and longer nights are great times to reflect on the year. What are you thankful for in 2020? Friends, family, finding a new job or staying employed? Did you learn a new skill or talent, or were you finally able to complete something you’ve been putting off? Me? I’m still trying to get all of my cookbooks cataloged and sorted. That will be my main goal over the Christmas/Winter break from the university. I am thankful for my family’s health, that my kids are doing well, that my husband is so supportive of my cooking adventure (he gets to taste all the food), and I have a good position at the college. I am really enjoying learning how to stage and film food videos at home for the local library, and might try to upload some on YouTube beginning next year. I just need to get a cabinet moved to the wall first (surprisingly, it is not an easy task to find someone to do it).

When life is getting stressing and down, try to find something positive. It is difficult for many people to stay isolated, but a little patience and prevention now will pay off. If you can, go for a walk outside. Bake or cook something, and share with a neighbor or family member. Grab a coloring book and color. Make a list of the good things that happened this year, and set your sights on something new and different for 2021. Then work towards it. You might just surprise yourself with all the terrific things you can accomplish.

One last thing, and this is a big one. Remember, life is too short for bad food.

Strawberry Buttermilk Pie

The first time I heard about buttermilk pie, I was very skeptical. It sounded too strange for this California girl. I was looking for something different to enter into the local fair that year, so I decided to give it a try. I was very glad I did. The flavor is reminiscent of a cheesecake. For the skeptics out there, just give it a try. This version has fresh strawberries, though you can use frozen if that is what you have. Just make sure to thaw and drain first.

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 9-inch pie shell (unbaked) or 8 4-inch mini pie shells
10-16 strawberries, cut in quarters
2-3 teaspoons of cornstarch

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and flour. Add the softened butter and cream the mixture. Once combined and fluffy, add in buttermilk, eggs, salt, and vanilla. Carefully pour the mixture into the pie or tart shells.

Sprinkle the cornstarch over the strawberry pieces to lightly coat, and divide evenly among the tart shells. If using one 9-inch shell, spread the strawberries evenly in the custard.

Bake at 350F degrees for 20-25 minutes (or 30 for a 9-in pie), or until filling is set. Remove from oven and let cool. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Variations: swirl a teaspoon of your favorite jam in the buttermilk custard in each tart shell; substitute other berries for the strawberries; garnish with toasted coconut or candied nuts.

Basic Sourdough Bread

This is a basic sourdough bread that is pretty simple, but keep in mind good sourdough takes time. Sourdough starters are living things, and they work best when fed and watered on a regular basis. You can use stoneware or cast iron casserole dishes for baking, or even heavy baking sheets for the base.

2 1/2 cups flour (unbleached bread flour, preferably), plus more for dusting
3/4 cup sourdough starter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Vegetable or olive oil
Parchment paper

In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flour, 3/4 cup room-temperature water, and the starter. Mix on medium speed for about 12 minutes, or until the dough is smooth. You may need to add more water, but only add a tablespoon at a time. Add the salt and mix for 1 full minute.

If you want to mix it by hand, I recommend using a good wood spoon to mix everything in the order above then turning out to a lightly floured board and knead for 5-10 minutes. You can also knead it for 2-3 minutes, let it rest for 5, then repeat 1-2 times.

Grease a large bowl with the olive or vegetable oil and transfer the dough to the bowl. Lightly flour the top of the dough and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise for about 1 1/2 hours, or until it’s almost doubled in size.

A fun alternative to using plastic wrap is a new, unused shower cap. They are easy to clean, and I find that the dough sticks to them less than plastic wrap. Shower caps are also more eco-friendly since you can wash and reuse them.

Punch down the dough to get some of the bubbles out, fold it a few times (like folding a letter), return it to the bowl, cover it, and let it rise again for another hour. If you poke the dough with a knuckle, the hole should almost completely fill in but have a slight dent. At that point, the dough is ready to be shaped.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide it into two or equal parts. Shape each part into a round or oval.

For each loaf, line a small bowl or banneton (proofing basket) with a clean kitchen towel, dust the towel liberally with flour, add the dough, cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap, and let it rise in there.

Let the dough proof for 1 1/2 hours, or until it springs back when you gently poke it, then proceed to the next step. You can also place your bread in the fridge overnight. Lightly flour the tops of the loaves and cover loosely with plastic wrap or shower cap.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the parchment paper to fit the bottom of the baking dish. If you are using a baking stone and dome, let the dome heat up inside the oven. If you are using a cast iron dutch oven, put the container in the oven when the temperature is around 250F. When the oven and dome/container are hot, place a piece of parchment paper on top of dough in the bowl. Gently flip over and remove the bowl and towel. Brush off any excess flour. With a sharp knife or razor blade, cut one, two or three lines about 1 1/2 inches deep across the top of the loaf. Place the lid on the baking dish and put back in the oven. If you have a large oven, you can bake both loaves at the same time. Otherwise, bake one, let the oven reheat for 5-10 minutes, then bake the second one.

Bake for about 20 minutes with the lid on, or until the bread is a deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap on the bottom. Remove the lid or dome, and set inside the oven (if you bake two loaves at a time, you’ll have to set them somewhere heatproof to cool. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 25 minutes, then turn the oven off and crack the door. Let the bread sit in the oven 15 minutes.

Keep in mind, the larger the loaf the longer the first part of the baking time. If you make one large loaf, increase the time at 450F to 25-30 minutes.

Remove the bread from the oven to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

**optional – lightly sprinkle the top of the loaf before baking with coarse salt, poppy seeds, or chopped nuts.

Halloween time is here!

Happy October everyone! I hope life finds you doing well. It hard to believe we are at the tail end of the year already. Fall is my favorite time of year, and Halloween is my favorite holiday. Since I am working mostly remotely I don’t know if I’ll dress up or not, but you never know. Halloween is also my wedding anniversary. When we got married, I had to specify on the invitations that only the wedding party would be in costume (wedding dress, tux, etc.). In fact, before my wedding, I had never seen my brother in a tux. He walked me down the aisle, and my mom was there to see me marry my best friend. Ten years later, we are still going strong.

I just found out that Food Network was doing a Worst Cooks Halloween redemption. You know what that means……BINGO! Click below for this weeks cards. Just a reminder, I am not affiliated with Food Network or the show, and I have no idea what is on the show until everyone else. Pick a card (or several) and play along.

Chocolate Spice Pinwheels

Fall is in the air, and for some people that means pumpkin spice everything. While I do enjoy the pumpkin spice blend, it can wear out its welcome fairly quickly. The trick when using it is to use a light hand. You can always add a little more in, but you cannot undo if you put too much in a dish.

Chocolate spice pinwheels

I have a wide range of ingredients in my home pantry, and have developed a fondness for playing with flavors. This cookie evolved out of a shortbread recipe that I like; I added two types of cocoa and pumpkin pie spice blend. My suggestion is to add the amount of spice in the recipe, taste the dough, and add a little more (not more than 1/2 teaspoon at a time) until you get the level you like.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour*
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons cocoa
3 tablespoons black cocoa**

Whisk together flour, spices, and salt. Set aside.

In a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and mix until combined. Add the flour/spice mixture a third at a time and beat until well combined. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl now and then.

Split the dough equally into three bowls. Add the cocoa to one and the black cocoa to another. Mix well.

Carefully roll out the one of doughs into a rectangle on a piece of parchment or wax paper until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Take one of the other doughs and roll it out the same way. It should be the same size as the first dough. Carefully flip the second dough on top of the first. Reuse the parchment/wax paper and repeat with the remaining dough.

Gently press down on the stacked doughs to make sure there are no air bubbles, and get the edges lined up. Starting with the long edge closest to you, carefully start rolling the dough into a log. One way is to pick up the edge of the paper and use that to guide the dough. It also helps keep you from getting as sticky.

Once you have the dough rolled into a long loaf, carefully wrap with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, heat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone sheet. You can bake the cookies without either of these, but it does make for easier cleanup if you use them.

Remove the dough log from the refrigerator and slice about 1/4 inch thick. Place on prepared baking sheet about 1 1/2-2 inches apart, and bake for 8-10 minutes (or until the lighter dough is golden brown).

Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. If you use two pieces of parchment paper, you can just slide the whole thing onto a rack and use the second sheet to get the next batch in the oven.

* You can use any nut flour in this recipe instead of the almond flour. If you don’t have any, or have a nut allergy, you can use all-purpose flour for the full amount.

**If you don’t have two types of cocoa, you can use powdered peanut butter for one of them. You can also split the dough into two bowls instead of three and increase the cocoa to 5 teaspoons.

Who makes these rules?

One of the interesting things that has happened this year is the enormous increase in people baking bread. I am baking at the same level, and I don’t limit myself to just a few things. I will admit that I am fairly new to the pasta scene; I only started a few years ago. One thing that I love to make up to this point is gnocchi. I like to eat it too. Each batch gets a little better, and I am getting braver about experimenting with adding different herbs and spices from my pantry.

I don’t know why baking bread has taken over as the primary thing to make with bread. Pies, pastries, and pasta provide a way to make something delicious while getting to play with your food. Seriously. Have you ever rolled out a pie crust or cut biscuits? Pie crust is a little tricky, and I haven’t quite gotten mine to where I can quit obsessing over them. Cakes are easy peasy, and you can always make cupcakes if you want less mess for serving. The main thing is to quit worrying about getting flour on the counter, and just make something. That was the hardest part of learning to make pasta. I now don’t worry about the amount of flour used to keep the pasta from sticking together, and it is lots of fun to form shapes.

When I am working on repetitive tasks like making gnocchi, my mind ponders random things. Like, who makes the rules about not playing with your food? I bet that person(s) has never made bread, pasta, or even colored outside the lines. Sometimes you have to do that. I am a firm believer that everyone should do something creative every day. It doesn’t have to be good; in fact, it can turn out completely horrible. The point is to make something. Get a coloring book, a tub or two of Play-doh, or even just sing out loud in your car. Loudly, if the song is one you love.

We learn a lot when we make things, and it nourishes the soul in ways that you can’t always put into words. I craft and make things almost as much as I cook and bake. Sometimes the process doesn’t go the way I was expecting (like regular hot glue doesn’t stick for long to metal), and now and then I wind up with something amazing. With each project, I put a little bit of myself into it, and I give myself permission to fail (and also to succeed). I’ve learned more by the “fails” and “almosts” than if things turned out spectacularly every time.

Which brings me back to pasta and bread. I’ve been baking and cooking since I was very young. My parents were very supportive, and didn’t tell me until I was in my late 20s that they flushed my early attempts to fix them breakfast in bed. To be fair, I was about 7 or 8 years old and just learning my way around the kitchen. But they were never negative, and my dad taught me how to cook. Because of that, I am not afraid to try new things. Pasta seemed scary to make at first, but each batch is better than the one before it. My sourdough baking is the same way. I don’t always get the loaf dialed in (weather and humidity are a thing!) but the results are tasty, and I can always turn it into breadcrumbs or a panzanella salad.

If at first you don’t succeed, dust the flour off and try again.

If you need help getting started learning how to be creative, this is a great place to start. Felicia Day is truly delightful both in person and in her writing. I hope you check it out.

(This is a personal recommendation, I do not receive any remuneration for any purchases. She really is that nice in person!)

Potato Chickpea Stew

We have been doing pretty well at not gaining the Quarantine 15, but eating healthier is always a good idea. We have started swapping out a few meals during the week to vegetarian/plant-based, and with recipes like this potato chickpea stew we don’t miss the meat at all. It is easily adaptable for what you have on hand, and you can add the protein of your choice (or not).

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 carrots
1 stalk celery
4 medium potatoes
1 red or orange bell pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon 5-spice mix
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup onion
1 can chickpeas, drained
2 cups vegetable broth
4 tablespoons raisins
1/2 cup cashew pieces
3 cups spinach or kale leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 small lemon, cut in half
1 tablespoon peanut or almond butter (optional)

In a small dry pan, cook the cashew pieces over low heat for 2-3 minutes until smelling toasted. Remove from heat and put in a small bowl.

Wash and dice the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes, and cut the bell pepper, carrots, and celery into bite-sized pieces. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrot, potato, celery, garam masala, 5-spice, and cumin. Saute for 2 minutes, then add the bell pepper, garlic and onion.

Add the vegetable broth to the skillet and bring to a boil. Let boil for 3 minutes, then stir in the drained chickpeas and raisins. Place the lemon halves in the pan. Cover and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer 15-20 minutes (until the potatoes are tender). Gently stir in the peanut or almond butter, and turn to low. Cook for 5 more minutes.

Stir in the spinach or kale and let the leaves wilt for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the cilantro leaves and top with the toasted cashews.

This is good by itself, but you could also serve it over rice, or with buttered naan or garlic bread on the side.

Easy peanut butter cookies

Did you ever get the craving for something sweet to snack on that was easy to make with only a few ingredients? This one is for you! I love cookies and coffee as a quick mid-morning snack when I’m at work. Just one or two cookies will tide me over until lunchtime. You can change it up by adding shredded coconut, raisins, or chocolate chips.

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Mix together the peanut butter(s), sugar, brown sugar, salt, and baking soda until well combined. Add in the vanilla extract, egg and flour, and beat until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips, cover the bowl, and chill the dough in the refrigerator for an hour.

Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone sheet.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Form the dough into small balls about the size of a walnut, then shape into an oval. Gently pinch the middle of the oval together so that it has a rough peanut shape. Use a fork to make the crisscross marks gently on the cookies. If the dough sticks to the fork, dip the tines in cold water first.

Place on prepared baking sheet about two inches apart, and bake for 10-12 minutes. If you like softer cookies, take them out at about 10 minutes. If you want to put frosting in the middle to sandwich them, leave them in closer to 12 minutes.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before moving to a rack to finish cooling. Store in a covered container.

You can leave out the chocolate chips, or add in other goodies to your liking.

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