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a Beekman cooking challenge

Last night I made a second recipe from my new favorite cookbook:

The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook: Heirloom fruits and vegetables, and more than 100 heritage recipes to inspire every generationThe Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook: Heirloom fruits and vegetables, and more than 100 heritage recipes to inspire every generation by Brent Ridge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love that this book is divided by season. I also love that it only has 100+ recipes in it. I never feel overwhelmed when flipping through it, and I always come away thinking of the many recipes I am looking forward to making. These heritage recipes are not only simple, but they use real, healthy ingredients; you won’t find corn syrup or other modern industrial ingredients. The color pictures are beautiful, and they’ve even included some recipe cards for you to write your own family’s heirloom recipes.

I’ve decided, as an homage to Julie and Julia, I am going to challenge myself to make all of these recipes in the next year. No, I don’t have my sights set on a book or a movie directed by the talented Nora Ephron at the end of this rainbow. I just really love this cookbook and don’t want to forget about its existence, as I often do of such books. Thus, the project.

There are two main reasons I think my goal will be more fun to achieve than Julie Powell’s: 1) I don’t have to make meat jelly, and 2) rather than completing the recipes from first page to last, I plan to make the recipes in each season according to what appeals to us first. The most challenging recipes will probably be the desserts, which I will likely save for milestone events (i.e. birthdays and anniversaries) and holidays. Of course, I will blog along the way.

Today I’m sharing the recipe we made last night, mac and cheese with mushrooms and kale. I am not, however, planning to share the rest of the recipes from the book, as that would involve some serious copyright infringement, and besides, if you want to make them, you should get your own copy! More about food writing and copyright information is available here if you’re interested.

We ate our meal alongside a viewing of The Trip on Netflix streaming. We were tipped off by my mom that it’s part of NPR/Bob Mondello’s Top 10 Movies of 2011. It’s a mockumentary about a duo of actors who travel the northern English countryside, eating in five-star restaurants and annoying each other along the way. We loved it, but I should add as a caveat that we may have appreciated it more than most, having lived in the UK and always wanted to see the Lake Country. Oh, and we also adore restrained, dry British humor.

Okay, on to the main course. I am always in search of new vegetarian recipes, but I must admit I was skeptical about one involving mushrooms. You see, ever since I was a kid I hated mushrooms or…the texture of them. I’ve always loved mushroom broth and cream of mushroom soup. If I close my eyes, I can vividly remember a notorious bland side of wilty, over-cooked mushrooms I was served by a boyfriend’s parents once, which I dutifully scarfed down and hid revulsion as much as possible.

I’d like to think my culinary tastes have evolved greatly since then. I’ve always wanted to like mushrooms, so yesterday I decided to give them another chance. Nasty rehydration process aside (more on that below), I am happily surprised to report I now am a mushroom-lover. This recipe was a great, hearty one to try as my first toe in the water. Cheese makes everything better. Notes are included in the ingredients below in italics, and I adapted the recipe to suit our taste and my cooking preferences.

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Beekman macaroni and cheese with mushrooms and kale
serves 4

3/4 lb. kale, stems cut from leaves (about 5 1/2 c.) [I used a TJ’s bag of chopped kale
8 oz. cavatappi
1/2 oz. (1/2 c.) dried porcini, rinsed [I used TJ’s dried mixed mushrooms
3 Tbs. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 lb. cremini mushrooms, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. rubbed sage
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. milk
1 1/2 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. (10 oz.) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 Tbs. butter
1/2 c. breadcrumbs

Boil salted water in a large pot and cook the kale in it for 5 minutes. I happen to think this recipe might be healthier if the kale is sauteed, and I plan to try that next time so will update this recipe if I get good results. Keeping the water in the pot, transfer the kale to a colander and shock in cold water, then drain and squeeze out any liquid in a towel. If using whole kale leaves, chop them now.

Boil pasta in kale water according to package directions. Drain.

Meanwhile, combine the dried porcini with 1 cup warm water and steep 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, lift the mushrooms from their soaking liquid, leaving the grit behind [This is literally one of the most disgusting-feeling things I’ve ever done. Ick]. Pour the mushroom-soaking liquid through a paper towel-lined sieve into a bowl. Reserve the liquid. Coarsely chop the mushrooms.

Assortment of chopped mushrooms
I deemed these inedible. Too slimy/ugly. I can barely look at them.

These are the edible ones. I’m assuming they’re mostly porcini.

Preheat the oven to 350 degF.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook 2 min. Add the mushrooms, thyme, and sage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have wilted and released their juices, about 5 min.

Stir in the flour and cook for 2 min. Add the mushroom liquid, milk, paprika, cayenne pepper, mustard, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, about 5 min. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese until melted. Add the pasta and kale and toss to coat.

Transfer the mixture to a 9×13-inch glass baking dish, or if you are making the meal for two, you can divide it into two 8×8 or 9×9 dishes and freeze one, unbaked and well-wrapped, for a later date. I did.

Melt the butter in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, add the breadcrumbs and toss to coat. Scatter the buttered crumbs over the mac and cheese. Bake for 30 min, or until the sauce is bubbling, and the top is crunchy and golden brown.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of Real Food WednesdaysThere are some great recipes there this week, including borscht, which I think we’ll try for the first time since we are recent beet converts.