Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist


Roasted Chicken – The Feast That Keeps on Giving – Part II

Divine Chicken Divan

Last week, I roasted one 6-pound, $7 chicken and created 4 separate dishes and 16 meals, beginning with the roasted chicken, the ensuing stock, a Chicken and Dumpling Soup made from the stock  a luscious Chicken Divan casserole, and four substantial chicken sandwiches enhanced with a homemade Nutty Whole Grain Bread. That’s going the distance in the economical and no waste cooking department, which was, and for the long-haul is, my most intense cooking ambition these days. Along with keeping things delicious, of course.

Here’s the original post for the roast for easy reference:

Roasted Chicken – The Feast That Keeps on Giving

It was cold last week and like most of us in the snowy, Northern Hemisphere, I was in the mood for some soothing, creamy, savory comfort food.  Chicken Divan, something a Facebook friend aptly described as ‘legacy fare,’ came to mind. Named after the restaurant where it was created in the Chatham Hotel in New York City, divan is a French word meaning ‘meeting place’ or ‘grand hall.’ In addition to being descriptive, like all French words, it sounds prettier than many English words and its base is a mother sauce, a Bechamel turned cheesy, also known as a Mornay sauce. Classically, it’s prepared with broccoli and mushrooms, but I kept broccoli out of the equation (mostly because I didn’t have any to use) and beefed up the mushroom ratio with dried porcini macerated in warm, dry vermouth which was later added to the Mornay. The end result was stunning and doubles as brunch (I served it to friends as such with a side of roasted asparagus), lunch, dinner or a midnight snack.

A word on bread crumbs and mushroom feet:

Unless you are one of the rare few that seldom has a nub of baguette or left-over bread hanging around, there is no reason to ever buy bread crumbs at the grocery. Store the bread bits and pieces in the freezer and crumble them in the food processor as you’re ready to use them, as in the topping for this casserole. Same goes for most types of cheeses (except soft cheeses), which I freeze and use in forgiving dishes such as a casserole or omelet frequently. In cooking school, we were taught not to use the feet of mushrooms in dishes, except in stock, but I disagree. Except for some very tough mushroom types, such as shitake, they are perfectly palatable. With all mushrooms (except morels which are another story), clean them simply by rubbing them down with a damp paper towel or clean kitchen towel to remove excess dirt.

Divine Chicken Divan

Divine Chicken Divan

(Makes 10 generous portions)

1 ounce dried wild porcini

1/2 cup extra dry white vermouth

3/4 cup chicken stock (from roasted chicken – see link above – or best quality commercial chicken stock)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

8 ounces, or 2 1/2 cups crimini mushrooms, halved and thinly sliced, feet-on

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the Mornay:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose

2 cups whole milk

Reserved strained liquid from the porcini mushrooms

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

2 cups grated Gruyere cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Compiling the casserole:

Shredded meat from the 1 chicken breast and one leg/thigh from the roasted chicken, skin and bones removed – approximately three cups

5 scallions, finely chopped

1 1/4 bread crumbs

2 tablespoons butter, halved

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Place the porcini, vermouth, and chicken stock in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, cook 3 minutes and set aside, at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, stir to coat, and cook over medium low heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the chopped crimini, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir to coat and saute until softened, five minutes. Set aside. Meanwhile, strain the liquid from the porcini through a coffee filter into a small bowl and set aside. Coarsely chop the porcini and add to the mushrooms in the saute pan and set aside.

Prepare the Mornay.  Melt the two tablespoons butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir to combine with a wooden spoon. Cook 1 minute, or until blond and barely bubbling. Add the milk, reserved strained porcini liquid, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer over medium low heat. Cook, stirring, five minutes or until thickened. Season with the nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses until melted.

To compile the casserole, use 1 tablespoon of the butter to rub down the sides and edges of a 4-quart casserole dish.  Arrange the shredded chicken meat on the bottom. Scatter with the chopped scallions and reserved mushrooms in the saute pan. Pour the warm Mornay sauce evenly over the top. Separately, melt remaining tablespoon of butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and toast lightly, stirring to coat. Top the casserole evenly with the browned bread crumbs.  Bake 30 to 40 minutes until golden, fragrant and bubbling. (Note: Can prepare/compile ahead, refrigerate overnight, and bake just before serving. Also, reheats well in oven or microwave after baked).

Happy cooking! Look for the Nutty Whole Grain Bread and Chicken and Dumpling Soup recipe next week. In the meantime, please remember to keep this upcoming cookbook writing retreat and Folly Beach spring wellness vacation in mind and by all means, tell  your friends about it. We still have spots open. Beckie and I would love to see you there! It’s going to be delicious, fun, and educational.

Cracking the Cookbook Code. Writing, Cooking, Marketing, Photography + Wellness Retreat




Rounding the Bechamel Bend

It has been a busy week of testing and tasting in my little kitchen, faithful dog Tann Mann by my side. On the menu? The wonderful, versatile world of bechamel as I seek conclusion of the bechamel chapter in the latest book project.

It’s been good news all around, as it should be for anyone working with this creamy, mild sauce. Firstly, it’s pretty difficult to err preparing a bechamel, a simple blend of butter, flour, shallot, milk and/or cream. Secondly, it’s really fun to come up with flavor pairings to embellish and enhance the bechamel base.

Frequently, people ask me how I come up with recipe ideas. It can be ideas from friends, a long walk with a head full of recipe ruminations, or a tasty restaurant feast. But, more often than not, it begins with a simple product, usually a vegetable, to get me started. This is the first flavor layer that hopefully will yield a perfect flavor and texture symphony that bursts in happy mouths and souls.

And, so it was product inspiration that got me started this past week. At the market, I came across a bin full of spectacular shitakes and some beautiful, fresh asparagus. The asparagus got me thinking about citrus, specifically orange, and a mild onion flavor and bright color, the kind that chives offer with panache. Thus, the asparagus gratin I made with an orange/chive bechamel.  This recipe needed a little tweaking however, because the walnut topping I opted for, turned out to be too much. A little back to the drawing board, and we hit the mark. Besides,  Tann Mann appreciated a few walnut treats.

But, it was the shitakes that formed the first flavor layer that ultimately combined with morels, portobello, leeks and more to yield a lovely lasagna that my friendly neighbor taste testers deemed “Wonder bar,” “Perfect – don’t change a thing,” and “divine.” Yeah – I’ll take it! This does not happen every day,  and it’s very welcome when it does.

I happened to have a chunk of fragrant, creamy Port Salut cheese in the fridge, so this was whisked into the bechamel base, transforming it into a variation on the sauce theme, called a Mornay. Fresh thyme, leeks and the sweet richness of Marsala brought it all together. It’s a little bit time consuming and a little bit rich, but with a small side salad, it’s still the perfect meal for early summer. Also, it can be completely assembled a full day ahead, refrigerated and baked off in a brief 30 minutes, as guests enjoy an aperitif and easy company.

Wild Mushroom & Leek Lasagna with Marsala & Thyme Mornay



Wild Mushroom & Leek Lasagna with Marsala and Thyme Mornay Sauce

(Serves 8 to 10)

1/2 ounce dried morels

1 cup dry Marsala

4 TBS Olive Oil

2 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, quartered and finely diced

6 cups thinly sliced shitake mushrooms

3 cups portobello mushrooms, cut into 1/4″ cubes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup dry Marsala wine

3 TBS white wine (suggest Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio)

For the pasta:

One pound dry lasagna

Water to cover

Several tablespoons salt

3 TBS Olive Oil

For the cheese filling/toppings:

2 cups ricotta cheese

1/2 cup fresh mozzarella Perline (tiny cheese balls) or grated fresh mozzarella

1 cup grated Parmesan

For the Mornay:

4 TBS unsalted butter

1 shallot, finely chopped

4 TBS All Purpose flour

2 cups skim milk

1 1/2 cups Half & Half

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

reserved Marsala from the morels

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 cup Port Salut cheese, coarsely chopped (or substitute Fontina)

Combine the morels with 1 cup dry Marsala in a small, non-reactive bowl.  Heat on high for 1 minute in the microwave. Set aside to re-hydrate the mushrooms, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high. Add the leeks, stirring, cooking until just softened, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the shitakes and portobello mushrooms, stirring to coat and soften. Season these lightly with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the mushrooms (they will look like a LOT at first), have softened, about 7 minutes. Increase heat to high. Add the 1/2 cup Marsala and cook until the wine has reduced to nothing. Repeat with the white wine.  Meanwhile, using your hands, squeeze the Marsala out of the reserved morels, and finely chop the morels. Add these to the mushroom mixture, stirring to combine. Reserve the Marsala soaking liquid for the sauce.  Turn off the heat and set the sauteed mushroom/leek mixture aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water up to a rapid boil. Season generously with salt. Add the lasagna all at once, and cook to package directions. The goal is to cook the pasta to al dente. Count on about 8 to 9 minutes, depending on the brand used. Drain the pasta once it’s cooked and set aside.

While that’s happening, measure out and prep the ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan, and have it ready for the lasagna assembly. Preheat oven to 375 and lightly oil or butter a lasagna pan or large, rectangular casserole pan.

Prepare the Mornay. In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and sweat to cook down for about three minutes. Add the flour, whisking to combine. Cook through for another three minutes. Add the cold skim milk and cold Half & Half, streaming in as you whisk. Increase heat to medium high, whisking the entire time. Once the sauce has come to just below a boil, it will thicken to a thin pudding consistency. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the reserved Marsala from the morels, thyme, nutmeg, and Port Salut cheese. Continue to whisk until the cheese is fully melted and incorporated. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Time to compile the lasagna!

Pour 1 cup of the Mornay onto the bottom of the pan and spread with a spatula to evenly distribute.  Top with a layer of  slightly over-lapped lasagna noodles (you will need about 5 or 6 for each layers, loosing broken pieces to fill any gaps in the corners, etc). Top that with 2 cups of the mushroom/leek mixture, spreading with a spatula to evenly distribute. Top with 1 cup of ricotta, spread to even with a spatula. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of the grated Parmesan. Top with another cup of Mornay, spread to distribute. Repeat with another layer of lasagna, remaining mushroom mixture, another cup of ricotta, and another cup of Mornay. Finish with another layer of lasagna and a thin coating of the remaining Mornay sauce.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes, until heated through and bubbling. Remove the foil, and add a layer of the remaining Parmesan and mozzarella, scattered across the top. Cover with foil and return to bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake a final 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to stand 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve with sprigs of fresh thyme and a fresh green salad.

Bon appetit!

Cracking the Cookbook Code Retreat

Join me and blogger, chef and author Beckie Carrico Hemmerling March 29 – April 1, 2019 for Cracking the Cookbook Code, Writing, Cooking, Marketing, Photography + Wellness Retreat. Limited to only 8 people, we will have a blissful few days in a beautiful, relaxing setting with like-minded souls, eating delicious food and having a wonderful time. Click for details.

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