Friday, February 20, 2015

Mushroom Cappuccino and a Winter Break

I know many of you are suffering the winter blahs, especially those of you buried under snow in the Northeast. So I thought I’d give you a break from all of the whiteness with a few photos from my trip on the Carnival Magic to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed going on a cruise. Most of you know from past posts that I love winter! I've never felt the need to escape to warmer climates. Plus, Kansas has had a pretty mild winter so far, with temps in the 50s, 60s, and some 70s…until this week, when it has been more winter-like.

I was envious of my friends in New England getting snow while we barely had a flake. (Though I think even a snow lover like me would be saying enough at this point.) However, I know my feelings about winter are not shared by most.

My favorite part of the cruise was the food--of course. It was amazing! Lucky for us, the wonderful Magic culinary crew shared their recipes. Many upcoming posts will feature my favorite dishes from the trip.

To start, I wanted to share this Mushroom Cappuccino recipe to warm up those chilly winter nights. How good is this recipe? I normally don’t care for mushrooms, but I loved this dish. I tasted it at a cooking demonstration at the Magic's Prime Steakhouse. My eyes closed at the deliciousness, and I could hear "Mmmm" from most of the attendees, myself included.

The cappuccino aspect comes from the creamy layer that forms on top of the soup, much like its namesake espresso drink. On the ship, it was served with a garlic toast and a topping of unsweetened whipped cream.

Mushroom Cappuccino
Adapted from a recipe courtesy of the Carnival Magic Prime Steakhouse restaurant
Serves 4

2 ounces clarified butter (see note below)
5 tablespoons finely diced onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 pound chopped assorted mushrooms
2 pints chicken or vegetable stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 pint cream
Salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste
A few drops of truffle oil, optional
1 teaspoon chopped parsley

In a large sauce pan, saute the onions in the butter until they start to become translucent. Add the garlic, and then add the mushrooms. Pour in the stock and add the thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the mushrooms are tender.

After the mushrooms are cooked, pour the mixture into a blender and puree until smooth. Then pour through a chinois or fine-mesh strainer to remove any large bits. Return the mixture to the pan and add the cream and, if using, a few drops of truffle oil. Adjust the seasonings and consistency, adding more stock if the mixture is too thick. Ladle the soup into serving dishes and top with a sprinkle of chopped parsley.
Note: To clarify butter, melt butter and use only the clear yellow liquid, leaving behind the milky residue.

Disclaimer: While the crew and employees of Carnival Cruise Lines and the Magic were very hospitable and accommodating during my time on board, I paid for the trip myself. I’m not being paid by Carnival to make this or any upcoming posts with recipes from the cruise. All of the opinions and experiences are my own. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Ever since I first tasted Pastitsio while writing about a Greek festival in Manchester, New Hampshire years ago, I've wanted to make this dish. Also known as Greek lasagna, Pastitsio gets its name from the Italian dish pasticcio, a savory pie with a pastry crust. The Greek version excludes the crust. It has layers of pasta (penne or ziti) mixed with cheese and egg, with a layer of meat sauce in between, and a creamy cheese béchamel layer on top.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to try the recipe when a church group came to my apartment for lunch. I like to keep food gatherings simple and relaxed, so I tripled my Lasagna for Two recipe for one dish, and made this Pastitsio recipe for the other. Along with the casseroles, I served warm, crusty bread and Ina Garten’s Celery and Parmesan Salad.

The Pastitsio was a hit! Everyone seemed intrigued by the touch of cinnamon in the meat sauce and the difference between it and the more common lasagna. They all insisted it would be a good idea to post the recipe here.  

Every Pastitsio recipe has its little differences. Some use ground lamb, though I stuck with beef. I even came across some without cinnamon, though to me it is that flavor which makes this dish delicious. Others have more tomato in the meat sauce than others. I went with a less-saucy version, based on a recipe I got from one of the cooks at the Greek festival.

This dish takes some time to put together, but the results are worth it. Also, you can make it a day ahead and reheat it just before serving.


Serves 8 to 10

For the pasta layer:
1 pound penne or ziti pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
4 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups grated Romano cheese
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the meat sauce:
1 tablespoon  unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 pounds ground beef
1 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
2 tablespoons dry red wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the béchamel:
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
5 tablespoons flour
2 cups hot milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese

1/4 cup grated Romano cheese, for top

To make the pasta: Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt and oil. Add the pasta and boil until pasta is just done, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water. Place the drained pasta into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and flour. Stir the egg mixture in with the pasta. Add the cheese and melted butter. Stir to combine. Set aside.  

To make the meat sauce: In a large skillet over medium-high, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute until soft. Add the garlic and cook for just about 30 seconds, and then add the ground beef. Cook until beef is brown. Strain off any excess grease. Add the remaining ingredients and cook until sauce is thick, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

To make the béchamel: In a heavy sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and cook until the mixture thickens and just begins to bubble, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat. Slowly whisk 1 cup of the mixture into the beaten eggs. Then whisk the egg mixture back into the remaining cream sauce. Whisk in the remaining ingredients. Set aside.

To assemble: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with non-stick spray. Layer half of the pasta mixture on the bottom. Pour the meat mixture over the top and spread out evenly. Add the remaining pasta over the meat mixture, and then pour the béchamel sauce over the top and spread out evenly. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

To reheat the next day, cover the dish tightly with foil and place into a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes, or until the center is hot.