Tag Archives: leeks

Creamy Chicken Casserole with Leeks and Mushrooms

I remember researching my baby girl’s first car seat.  I had no clue what I was looking for.  I was focused on patterns that didn’t include teddy bears, perhaps longing for something that might actually match the car instead.  I didn’t know a five point harness from a three point one, and I certainly didn’t know how long I was supposed to keep it rearward facing as opposed to forward facing.  I started to read reviews.  I searched Consumer Reports.  I read mommy blogs to get opinions.  I sorted my Amazon results with the settings “Price:  High to Low,” hoping that if I spent more money, I would stumble onto the seat I was supposed to buy.  Much to my husband’s dismay, I realized the good moms were buying the safe and super expensive Britax seats, so I dropped a whole pile of money down to become part of the club.  And I did this several times over for her and her brother.

I kept her rear facing for longer than anyone thought I should.  I kept her in a five point harness until well past kindergarten, when she complained that her friends thought she was still riding in a baby car seat.  “But it’s actually a booster with a better harness,” I told her.  She didn’t agree.  She rode in a regular booster (LATCH capable, of course) until she was 8.  I finally took the back off when I could see that she clearly wasn’t remotely comfortable any more.  I kept telling myself, “She’s almost as big as her great grandmother.  It’s OK.”

Yet, tomorrow, I will put her on a bus at 6:30 AM for her big third grade field trip.  A bus with a driver I do not know.  A bus with no seat belts that will be barreling down the highway at 65 MPH.  She will wander around museums and theaters with friends and teachers.  She will eat a bagged lunch and buy her own McDonald’s for dinner.  She will carry a wallet and her own money.

But she will also carry her hip pack of allergy medicine.  I will have made sure there are at least three EpiPens with her with directions for symptoms that require flow charts.  I will have briefed the teachers and sent the chaperones long emails that make them think I’m crazy. (I am.)  I will have had thousands of thoughts about how to keep her safe … “Wait. If all the kids need lunches that don’t need to be refrigerated, they will almost all have Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.  Must email teacher about separating her with safe lunches if possible.”  Major red flags will pop up as I walk down grocery store aisles.  “It’s a bus.  What if the person who rode in her seat before her had peanut butter crackers?  What if someone offers her a treat while on a tour?  She knows to say no.  Wait, does she know to say no?”  I will have gone over safety points with her ad nauseum, until her father says, “Kristin, I think she gets it.”

But I just can’t help it.  She’s my baby, even if 9 years have made her more grown-up than infant.  And I can’t be there to keep her safe.  I can’t be around the corner from her school if she needs me.  I can’t watch out for her as she maneuvers in a city, albeit a small one.  I am two hours away if she has an allergy emergency.   I won’t be the one driving.  And there will be no harnesses, side impact protection, or tethers for protection.

As much as I want to “forget” to set the alarm tomorrow morning and keep her home safe with me, I know I can’t.

I will wake up at 5:30 AM and I will put her on that bus.  And I will not rest easy until it pulls back in at 7 PM tomorrow night.

Creamy Chicken Casserole with Leeks and Mushrooms

So the theme here is comfort food, if you didn’t guess that already.  Feel free to use leftover or Rotisserie chicken for a quick weeknight dinner (if you do that, you can get less than a pound).  Also, this is very flexible and could include other herbs, vegetables, or seasonings.  It’s a great dinner with just a simple green salad on the side. Also, you can make this up in advance, just put the crumbs on right before you bake it.

Serves 4

1 pound boneless chicken breast or thighs, cooked and shredded (I poached mine)
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1-2 leeks, well cleaned and chopped
2-3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
1 T butter
1 T olive oil, plus a little additional
1/4 cup of white whole wheat flour (or other flour)
1/2- 3/4 cup of whole wheat cracker crumbs (or breadcrumbs)
1 1/2 cups of 2% milk
1 T brandy
1 T lemon juice
1/2 T chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and Pepper
Cayenne Pepper

1. In a medium saute pan, saute the sliced mushrooms in a bit of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until they are browned and have rendered all their liquid, about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.

2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a medium saucepan, melt 1 T butter and 1 T oil together over medium heat.  Saute the leeks, celery, and garlic for about 5 minutes and then sprinkle in the 1/4 cup of flour.  Stir well to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes to cook the flour a bit.  Whisk in milk, making sure to get any bits of flour incorporated from the edges of the pan.  Cook the sauce for 2-3 more minutes until quite thick, whisking constantly.  Add 1 teaspoon of salt, freshly ground pepper, a dash of cayenne pepper (or to taste), 1 T brandy, 1 T lemon juice, and chopped rosemary.

3.  Add chopped/shredded chicken and sauteed mushrooms to the white sauce and stir to combine.  Place in a shallow baking dish with about 1.5 quart or 1.5 liter capacity.  Cover with cracker or bread crumbs and bake for about 40 minutes until golden and bubbly.



Black Beluga Lentil Salad with Ham and Kale

I have been MIA in the Cuizoo world lately.  Sorry about that.  It’s the strangest thing with this stage of life and motherhood (or maybe parenting older children in general) . . . I feel like I never have a minute to rest, yet I never have anything to show for it.  I’m not closing big deals.  I’m not renovating a house.  I’m not planting a garden.  I’m not traveling.

The things that occupy my days are the same old things.  People ask me what’s new and I struggle.  The driving to and from school and activities? The laundry that needs to be put away again? The twenty minute crying benders over the wrong pair of socks or the lack of cookies? The cooking? The grocery shopping? The loading and emptying of the dishwasher? The cleaning up of toys and clothes from the floor? The piles of junk that stack up in the exact same places?

I spend my days in constant do loops and nothing is ever done.

And because of it, I end up mostly frustrated and bored out of my mind.  Is that honest enough for you?

The spring weather helps.  Activities and schedules are changing a bit.  I have gone back to work ten hours per week.  I’m thinking about heirloom tomatoes and swimming pools.  These are good things.  But, damn if I still don’t feel absolutely unproductive and unrewarded.

And it’s the ultimate “it’s not you, it’s me” thing.  The love I have for my kids and husband is beyond anything I have ever known.  I am so truly fortunate in that and I thank the Baby Jesus for them every day.  My rewards come climb in bed with me early in the morning and write me notes telling me how much they love me.  I know that is enough for now and forever.

But what is it about motherhood that makes you feel like you are in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” silently crying out, simply hoping that the act might break up the monotony and frustration?

Or is that just me?  And beyond, what do you do when you have a leftover ham bone?

Black Beluga Lentil Salad with Ham and Kale

Serve 8-10

3/4 lb. dried Black Beluga Lentils
1 ham bone/ham hock
1 small bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped
1 large leek (or 2 small), trimmed, well washed, and white part thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
1 1/2 cups of cooked ham or prosciutto, chopped
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup of olive oil
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 T dijon mustard
Juice and zest of one lemon
Chopped fresh herbs, if desired (thyme or chives would be nice)

1.  Place lentils and ham bone in a large pot and cover with plenty of water.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes until lentils are tender.  Strain and remove ham bone.  Place lentils in a large bowl.

2.  In a sauté pan, cook chopped kale in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until wilted.  Add 2-3 T of water, reduce heat, cover, and cook about five minutes longer until tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove and place in large bowl with lentils.

3.  In the same pan, sauté chopped leeks for 2-3 minutes in a bit of olive oil until just wilted.  Remove and place in bowl with lentils.

4.  Mix the dressing by combining olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, dijon mustard, juice/zest of lemon, and about 1 t of salt and pepper to taste.

5.  Add chopped carrots, celery, and ham to lentils, leeks, and kale.  Toss with dressing and season to taste with additional salt and pepper and chopped fresh herbs if desired.  Can serve slightly warm or make ahead and chill.

Leek and Porcini Risotto

Good risotto is one of those things that is nearly impossible to get at a restaurant.   Certainly, there are places that do it well.  But if I order it, I am usually disappointed nine times out of ten.  It just doesn’t lend itself well to advance prep and requires lots of stirring while cooking.  And you would think that would make it family unfriendly — but I find it to be the exact opposite.  It is a quick and simple meal (wonderful for a vegetarian night, too) that can be done in under an hour.  And the actual cooking part really only takes about 30 minutes.


The flavorings are tremendously variable.  Any kind of stock will do, you can add seafood or chicken, and you can fool around with the type of wine you use.  I do tons of variations — saffron risotto with shrimp (add saffron to your stock), lemon risotto with lobster and asparagus (add lemon zest and juice to your stock), chicken marsala risotto with mushrooms (add marsala to your stock), or in this case, a mushroom risotto with white wine and leeks.  The base for any of the variations is arborio rice, stock, some shallot or onion, a bit of butter, and some parmesan cheese (if you like).


And risotto is also great for relaxed entertaining — everyone congregates in the kitchen anyway, so you can do your advance prep early and then stir away while you are having cocktails.  (BTW, I have noticed that alcohol is a theme in almost every post that I write.  Hmmm.)  You can easily double this recipe when making it for a larger group. Serve it up with a salad and wait for the accolades.

Leek and Porcini Risotto

Serves 4-6

1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (any type works though)
2 cups of hot water
2 leeks, white parts only, sliced lengthwise and rinsed to remove any sand, and chopped
2-3 shallots, peeled and chopped (or about 4 T of chopped onion and a bit of chopped garlic)
1 cup of white wine
2 cups of water or chicken/vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups of arborio rice (Italian short grain rice)
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1-2 T butter
1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 T Chopped Parsley or Chervil

1.  Soak dried mushrooms in 2 cups of hot water for about 20 minutes until softened.  Meanwhile, prep other ingredients (clean and chop leeks, shallots, grate parmesan, etc.).

2.  When mushrooms are soft, remove mushrooms with a slotted spoon, chop them, and place in a bowl.  Strain mushroom “stock” through a coffee filter into another bowl in order to remove any sediment.  Using this soaking liquid makes the risotto extra “mushroomy,” so if you prefer a lighter flavor (or have mushroom haters), use chicken or vegetable broth instead.  You will be left with about 2 cups of mushroom stock.

3.  Place 2 cups of mushroom stock (or other type of stock) in a medium saucepan with 1 cup of white wine and remaining 2 cups of water or chicken/vegetable stock. (5 cups total)  Season with salt and pepper and bring to just a simmer over low heat — it is important to not make the stock too hot so it doesn’t evaporate too quickly.

4.  In another medium saucepan or a saute pan (preferably with higher sides), heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Add shallot (or onion) and saute for 2 minutes.  Add leeks and cook 2 minutes more.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add arborio rice and saute for about 2-3 minutes in order to coat the rice thoroughly.

5. Add about one cup of the just barely simmering stock and stir.  Reduce heat to medium low.  Continue stirring until most of the stock has evaporated.  Add an additional 1/2 cup of stock and stir until it evaporates.  Keep adding about 1/2 cup of additional stock at a time and stirring until it evaporates. (You can leave the stove, however.  Just make sure you stir it frequently — this activates the starches in the rice making it extra creamy.)

6.  When you have used most of the stock (about 1 cup left out of the five cups), add the chopped mushrooms and the remaining stock.  Continue to stir.

7.  The rice is done when it is creamy, all the stock is mostly absorbed (should be a little “wet”), and the rice is tender (but not mushy).  At this point, add 1/2 cup of parmesan, butter, 1/2 t of salt, pepper to taste, and chopped parsley or chervil.  Taste and season more if necessary.  I like to serve this version with a drizzle of good olive oil, extra fresh herbs, and freshly grated parmesan.