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The Kitchen Shrink is back!

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but I recall doling out in my last “Kitchen Shrink” column some safe grocery shopping tips in response to the emerging pandemic. Well, after a long 18-month hiatus it’s great to be back in your kitchens, cookbooks, and hearts, continuing to dispense culinary advice as the pandemic persists with a pit bull-vice-grip.

Catharine Kaufman
Catharine Kaufman
(Courtesy)

Alas, our psyches, lifestyles, shopping and eating habits, and home dynamics have become completely derailed from this ordeal. In particular, many of us have converted our kitchens into gustatory playgrounds and labs, sanctuaries, home economics rooms for students of all ages, and psychotherapy offices. But there is a silver lining in this thundercloud. Congratulations baby!

We have become smarter and self-protective, letting our fingers do the shopping by ordering groceries online, and delivered to our doorsteps, along with buying larger quantities so we don’t have to shop as frequently. We have become more mindful and efficient in our meal preparations, amping up herbs and spices, especially for family members who lost their sense of taste or smell, and making larger portions for leftovers. We’ve become intrepid culinary explorers culturing sourdough starters, and crafting homemade pastas.

We’ve contributed to world health by baking enough banana bread to cure hypokalemia (low potassium levels) globally. And finally, we’ve become creative mixologists concocting exotic quarantinis to share with our socially-distanced cronies.

Now after slogging in the kitchen for umpteen months, making thousands of meals for a full house— pheew — most of us are suffering from culinary fatigue. As autumn breezes in let’s whip up some easy and sassy comfort foods with a healthy oomph for our sanity and immunity.

Mushrooms of all manners will soon become your best friend this fall. These formidable fungi are good for your gut, heart, circulation, and respiratory system, while they sharpen the brain, calm the nerves, temper inflammation, put the skids on aging, and ratchet up energy levels and immunity.

Mushrooms are one of the few foods that provide Vitamins D, B, and amino acids, the latter endowing them with umami — known as the fifth flavor beyond the core four (sweet, sour, bitter, salty), that joyfully awakens the taste buds. Whether meaty king trumpets best sliced and sautéed like scallops, woodsy chestnuts and shiitakes enlivening stews, sauces, and soups, a bouquet of baby beeches topping salads or sandwiches, or earthy lion’s mane, the most potent medicinal mushroom with a flaky crab-like texture that can be blended with mayo and capers, and formed into “seafood” patties.

Grill a whole beefy Portobello as a burger change-up, or a pair of bellos as a burger bun. Whip up a hearty pot of plant-based Bolognese with a mound of mighty mushrooms in a marinara sauce tossed with tubular pasta (recipe below), or layered between tender lasagna noodles and bubbling mozzarella for an easy, comforting feast.

One-pot meals a-go-go will also become fall favorites as these delicious, easy to prepare multi-cultural dishes save on clean-up, and can even be made ahead and enjoyed later. Tagines are savory slow-cooked Moroccan stews of chicken, lamb, beef, or fish blended with vegetables, dried fruits, preserved lemons, and exotic, immune-boosting herbs and spices, including turmeric, saffron, ginger and coriander, simmered in cooking vessels reminiscent of the Tin Man’s hat from “The Wizard of Oz.”

This allows heat to circulate evenly (whether placed on the outdoor grill or stove-top), braising meats to a delicate tenderness. The shallow dish below the dome is conveniently used for both cooking and serving.

For a pescavore’s paradise indulge in a robust Italian cioppino chock full of firm fish like halibut and Chinook salmon, and armored crustaceans, such as, Dungeness crab and spot prawns swimming in a tomato and red wine base, flavored with immune-enhancing garlic, Mediterranean herbs, and fresh fennel. Ladle the brothy seafood stew over pasta or rice for an aromatic delight.

A quick-and-dirty vegan dish called Grenadier Marche provides a carbo-loaded treat blending pasta with boiled potatoes, caramelized onions, and broccoli florets tossed in a golden turmeric-based olive oil sauce. This concoction that fortified the Austro-Hungarian troops during the Napoleonic wars bears the name of these marching Grenadiers.

Other one-pot wonders deserving honorable mention include autumn-inspired risotto with roasted butternut squash and warm spices, zesty chicken paprikash, robust lamb ragu, vegetarian coconut cream curry, barbecue turkey meatloaf, and my family’s treasured recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls. My grandma, who survived the Spanish flu of 1918, fortified the family with her Old World holishkls, a mixture of ground beef, rice and raisins, enveloped in steamed cabbage leaves, and simmered in a sweet and sour tomato sauce.

Now I’d like to share my sassy ‘shroom recipe for a dose of healthy comfort when we need it most (see below).

Mushroom Bolognese
Mushroom Bolognese
(Catharine Kaufman)

Recipe: Mighty Mushroom Bolognese

Ingredients:

• 28-ounces mixed mushrooms (button, crimini, shiitake, trumpet, Portobello, your choice)

• 2 garlic cloves

• 2 carrots

• 2 celery ribs, chopped

• 1 parsnip

• 1 red onion, quartered

• 1 can (28-ounces) chopped tomatoes

• 1/3-cup tomato paste

• 1/3-cup dry red wine

• 1/3-cup shredded Parmesan

• 1-teaspoon honey

• 1/3-cup virgin olive oil

• 1 handful each fresh Italian parsley and basil, chopped

• Sea salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

• 1-pound pappardelle noodles, or rigatoni

Method:

• In blender or processor, coarsely chop carrots, parsnip, celery, garlic, onion, and mushrooms.

• Heat oil in large saucepan on low. Add chopped mixture. Sauté until tender. Add remaining ingredients. Blend well. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

• Boil a large pot of salted water. Cook pasta al dente. Toss with sauce.

• Buon appetito!


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