Mushroom and leek stuffing recipe

When I married my husband over 17 years ago (gasp!), I was more than excited to start hosting some of the holidays at our new home.  But I soon realized that my husband’s traditions were slightly different from the ones I grew up with, especially on Thanksgiving.  What?  No first course of pasta with marinara sauce?  Strange, I thought, but I could adapt!  My mother-in-law kindly shared with me the way things were done on the West Coast.  She liked to serve everyone a salad to start and plate the main dinner for each person in the kitchen.  Turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing were all givens, and their stuffing of choice was Pepperidge Farm.  No problem!

My husband and I have hosted every Thanksgiving since 1996 and enjoy the comfort that develops when you do something over and over again.   I have since incorporated my own traditions like buffet – easier and much less waste – and soup to start.  About 6 years ago I decided to examine the ingredients on the seemingly innocuous bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing.  Holy crap.  I couldn’t believe the garbage that went into breadcrumbs!  One thing I knew for certain was that Pepperidge Farm was uninvited to Thanksgiving…forever!

Actually, if it were up to me, I would drop stuffing from the menu altogether.  I really don’t get it.  With ALL the delicious food on the Thanksgiving table, many of the dishes starchy, we’re going to eat gussied up bread, a food we already overeat on every other day of the year??  I was trying to explain to my husband that mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash are all starches, as is the obligatory cornbread.  We should balance out the meal with additional vegetables, like Brussels sprouts!  “You’re taking this health food thing a little too far.  The stuffing stays!”

Although I like to think of myself as the dictator of my kitchen empire, the director of Thanksgiving, I’m really a democratic leader.  I figured my only option was to create a delicious, higher quality stuffing that looked like Pepperidge Farm and tasted enough like it, but even better.  So here’s my take on a good classic stuffing that’s not too gourmet, in fact tastes very close to our old preservative-laden standby.    I usually make two for our dinner, one with mushrooms to suit me and one without for my hubby.

I’ve tried this stuffing with whole grain breads like whole wheat or spelt, but truthfully it tastes a little “wheat-y.”  There was a fantastic bread I used to buy from Whole Foods called Miche, which was a sourdough bread made of a blend of whole wheat and white flours.  That was about as whole grain as my family could take on Thanksgiving.  Truth be told,  I prefer to go down in our family history as the benevolent one who said, “ let them eat stuffing!”

5.0 from 1 reviews
Mushroom and Leek Stuffing
Serves: 8-10 (although I make 2 for 24 people on Thanksgiving and it is plenty)
  • 1 ½ pounds rustic whole wheat or white bread, hard crust removed
  • 6 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ pound shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed and discarded, caps sliced
  • ½ pound cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, quartered
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage or poultry seasoning or 2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or 3 teaspoons if using unsalted stock
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3-4 cups chicken, turkey or vegetable stock (depending on if you like it wet or dry)
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small dice (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place bread in a food processor and process into large crumbs or cut into ½-inch dice. (I like to do a combination.) You should have 10 cups. Spread bread over 2 large shallow baking pans and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until completely dry, about 25 minutes. Transfer bread to a large bowl.
  3. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees and grease a 13x9-inch baking dish.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, celery, onion, leeks, and garlic, and sauté, stirring occasionally until softened, 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in thyme, sage, parsley, salt and pepper. Add vegetables to bread, tossing to combine.
  6. Pour chicken broth over the bread mixture, tossing to coat evenly.
  7. Spread stuffing in a baking dish, dot with butter and cover tightly with foil. Bake in upper third of oven until heated through, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake stuffing until top is browned, 10 – 15 minutes more. Stuffing can also be baked in a well-greased 12-cup muffin tin.
Bread crumbs can be prepared several days in advance.
Vegetables can be chopped the day before.
Entire casserole can be prepared up to the point of baking the day before and refrigerated or frozen and then thawed and baked according to the directions.


Spring Green Minestrone

Spring Green Minestrone | Pamela Salzman

Spring Green Minestrone | Pamela Salzman

I had the best day on Saturday.  Where did I go?  Nowhere!  What did I do?  Nothing!  When was the last time you said you had the best time doing nothing?  I know!  Sometimes I feel like my life is like a runaway train. And although I enjoy its active pace, I wish I took more time to sloooooow down.  This past Saturday was going to be more of the same — squeezing in a workout, a big farmer’s market shop for my classes, watching Mr. Picky’s soccer and baseball games, and chauffeurring the girls here and there.  But the universe gave me a big gift in the form of a torrential rain storm and everything was canceled.  Thank you, thank you!

Mr. Picky stayed in his pajamas until 1:00 in the afternoon.  I read more of the newspaper than just the front page.  Daughter #1 and her adorable friend who spent the night would have normally met friends in town for breakfast, but hung around with us instead.  They played as much One Direction music as we could take, baked a cake, and photographed every move for their 2,000 Facebook “friends” to enjoy.  One thing for sure, I knew I would be making soup.  I had an extra bunch of asparagus from Friday’s class, white beans and peas in the freezer, and a small bag of spinach.  I had the makings of one of my favorites, Spring Green Minestrone.  This is the soup I make whenever Spring rolls around.  As much as I love hearty, chunky soups and stews, I like to leave those to the winter.  Lighter, fresher soups appeal to me now, but ones which still have the ability to warm me up.  And the combination of white beans and peas amounts to a complete protein, so I feel satisfied enough to eat this as a meal.  But it’s all that GREEN that really makes me feel nourished.

The ingredients in this soup look like they couldn’t amount to anything special — there’s no secret ingredient, no flavor boosters.  I’m even surprised when it turns out delicious.  And the recipe is so dead simple, you have no excuse NOT to make your vegetable stock from scratch.  This soup was one of the first cooked vegetable dishes that Mr. Picky actually ate a normal portion of.  Saturday was no different.   He dropped a piece of sourdough toast in his soup and ate every last pea.  My husband poured the usual Pecorino in his.  As for me, I embraced my bowl of springtime au naturel — perfect in its simplicity and which I ate really slooowly.  I needed to make this special day last.  Because although I heard it would rain again on Sunday, I knew that the chances of that happening were about as good as my kids getting a Coke with their lunch.  And sure enough, Sunday’s sunshine came with places to be and things to do, but I got back on the train rejuvenated and restored and ready for it all.

Spring Green Minestrone | Pamela Salzman


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5.0 from 1 reviews
Spring Green Minestrone
Serves: 6
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 leeks, washed well, white and light green parts sliced thinly
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen green peas
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 6 cups vegetable stock or light chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 ½ cups cooked white beans, such as Cannellini or Great Northern, or 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt (more if your stock is unsalted)
  • 4 ounces baby spinach leaves
  1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another 2 minutes.
  2. Add the asparagus, peas and parsley and toss to coat with the oil, leeks and garlic. Pour in the stock, white beans, and sea salt. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered until the asparagus is just tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the spinach leaves and taste for seasoning. Don't be disappointed, but that's all you have to do!
If you make your own stock, use the tops of your leeks and the woody ends from the asparagus that you might be inclined to compost or throw away.



Artichoke and spinach barley “risotto” recipe

Artichoke and Spinach Barley "Risotto" | Pamela Salzman

Artichoke and Spinach Barley "Risotto" | Pamela Salzman

When I invited some friends over for dinner last Friday night, it seemed like a great idea.  After I finished teaching a class and picking up the kids from school, I would have a few hours to get the house organized and prepare a proper meal before our guests arrived at 6:30.  You know what they say about best laid plans.  My husband didn’t make it home in time to take Mr. Picky to baseball practice.  My girls each needed a ride here and there and then baseball practice was cut short because it was too dark to see the ball.  So my uninterrupted time in the kitchen turned into Pamela’s taxi service.  Has this ever happened to you?

It’s a very good thing that barley risotto was on the menu.  Traditional risotto is one of my favorite comfort foods, but it definitely requires a bit of babysitting.  Maybe I had a hunch that Friday would not be the night to stir a pot of rice on and off for 20 minutes, because I planned for a version of risotto which I could pop in the oven and say “see ya later.”  Barley takes the place of the classic arborio rice in this dish.  Like arborio rice, barley releases that nice starchiness which is essential to make the risotto creamy and rich.  Barley also packs a nice bit of protein and soluble fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol levels and support digestive health, but is missing from white rice.  Unfortunately, barley does contain gluten and is not appropriate for people who are gluten-intolerant.

This risotto almost parallels nature’s transition from winter to spring.  It is hearty with the barley being a bit nutty and chewy, but the leeks, artichokes and lemon help keep everything tasting light and fresh.  I am a huge fan of leeks and how grassy and mild they taste.  If you don’t have leeks, feel free to use shallots or onions.  I am not embarrassed to admit that I don’t enjoy trimming artichokes, so I keep frozen or water-packed artichoke hearts in the kitchen at all times.  Or adapt your favorite risotto recipe to use barley instead.

There’s something about risotto which is like a warm blanket, encouraging you to slow down and relax for a bit.  After a long week and a busy afternoon of shuttling children to and fro, it was so nice to sit down to a civilized dinner with friends.  It didn’t even matter that the house never got organized.

Artichoke and Spinach Barley "Risotto" | Pamela Salzman

5.0 from 1 reviews
Artichoke and Spinach Barley "Risotto"
Serves: 6 as a side dish
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and green parts (about 2 medium leeks), washed well
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Sea salt
  • 1 cup barley, semi-pearled or hulled (do NOT rinse)
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 3 ½ cups chicken stock or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
  • 6 oz. artichoke hearts (frozen or water-packed is fine), quartered
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large handfuls of spinach
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium ovenproof pot or Dutch oven, melt 2 Tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and sprinkle with sea salt. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the barley and the lemon zest and stir to combine. Add the wine, raise the heat, and simmer, uncovered, until the wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add all the stock, the artichokes and 1 teaspoon sea salt (add more to taste if your stock is unsalted), and bring to a boil.
  4. Cover the pot with a lid and transfer it to the oven. Say "see ya later!" Bake for about 1 hour, until the barley is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Remove the pot from the oven and uncover it. If it seems too liquidy, place over low heat and simmer a couple of minutes to reduce the liquid to your liking. I like it it a little looser than a pilaf. Otherwise, stir in the Parmesan, 1 Tablespoon butter, lemon juice, black pepper to taste and the raw spinach. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately. To reheat leftovers, add a little hot water in a saucepan or add enough stock to change it into a soup.





Artichoke and Spinach Barley "Risotto" | Pamela Salzman