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summer wonders

Recipe: crab porcini mac and cheese

July and August meld together for me as one long hot month. I tend to put my head down and muddle through with a lot of ice water, watermelon, and popsicles. But August 1 always stands out as it is Kris’ birthday. She would have turned 54 on Saturday. I arranged flowers, made somen noodle soup, and called my mother to cheer her up.

miss you, love you

Our big excitement was getting out to see comet Neowise in mid-July. Skies were touch and go in the evenings thanks to a sudden influx of moisture and clouds over Colorado. But mountain weather keeps you on your toes and we were able to see the comet with the unaided eye! I photographed it from various locations with decent dark skies. I hope many of you were able to get out to view the comet, but if not, here are a couple of my captures.

close-up of comet neowise and two distinct tails (the white dust tail and the blue ion tail)

neowise reflected in the lake as it set behind the mountains

Did I mention it was hot? It’s still hot and it’s getting hotter this week. On those days that we didn’t venture out on the trails to let the pups wade through cold mountain streams, we thought they might enjoy some baby pool time. We hadn’t pulled the pool out in 5 years (since Neva was a wee pup and peed in the pool) and were curious to see how Yuki reacted to this concept. She seemed leery of it at first, then fascinated, then took to jumping in and out of the pool with an occasional pause to quench her thirst (from the pool). It was like a giant water dish she could stand in and simultaneously take a swig from.

what the hecc?

a moment of blissful stillness

When we hiked into the high country, we sought out solitude, views, wildflowers, wildlife, and swimming holes. With so many putting their typical summer activities on hold due to the pandemic, our mountain trails have been inundated with throngs of people – plenty of whom aren’t wearing masks or respecting physical distance. Instead of dealing with that idiocy, we’ve been frequenting the lesser known local trails and tackling home tasks that have been on the to-do list forever. Our guest room is now a second office since no one should visit us while the pandemic is ongoing.

yuki side-eye and a view

mountain meadows sprinkled with color

magenta paintbrush


lounging moose

neva dives in while yuki looks on

And it looks as if it might be porcini season. Even the mushrooms appear to be uncertain about this year. I can’t really blame them as much of the state is in drought and last year’s astounding flush is a tough act to follow.

found this early bolter all alone

Still, if there are any porcini to be found and foraged, I have lots of recipes for them. I made this crab porcini macaroni and cheese last summer with my abundant haul. This rich and decadent dish goes a long way, which means you might get to enjoy the leftovers the following day. Use whatever pasta shape you like. Macaroni works, of course, but I happen to like small shells, penne, or pipe rigate (pictured below), too. I realize fresh porcini can be difficult to find, so you can substitute whatever edible mushroom you like.

pepper, milk, cheddar, bread crumbs, salt, gruyère, pasta, butter, flour

crab legs, fresh thyme, fresh porcini

Shred the cheeses, clean and dice your mushrooms, boil the pasta, chop the thyme, and shell the crab if needed. Here I’ve used snow crab legs, but I have also made this with lump blue crab, and the original recipe calls for Dungeness crab. Prepare your mushrooms by sautéing them in butter. Even though I don’t wash my porcini in water (I brush them clean and wipe them with a damp paper towel), the mushrooms still have a high water content such that a lot of liquid is released when they are cooked. You can reduce the liquid by tossing the mushrooms into a hot pan and dry sautéing them until most of the water evaporates, then adding butter to brown the mushrooms. Or you can melt the butter in the pan first, then add the mushrooms. The water gets released as you sauté and will eventually simmer away. Both methods work.

shredded, diced, chopped, and shelled

sauté the mushrooms

cooked mushrooms, bite-size chunks of crab, pasta cooked al dente

Now on to the béchamel sauce. Warm the milk in a small saucepan and keep it warmed on low heat while you melt the butter in a large pot (I used the pot that the pasta was boiled in). When the butter begins to foam, whisk the flour into the hot butter and keep stirring it over medium or medium-low heat for a couple of minutes to make a white roux. Pour the hot milk into the roux in a slow stream while whisking constantly. If you add the milk all at once, the sauce becomes lumpy and it is hard to work the lumps out. Stir and cook the sauce for another 2 minutes until it becomes smooth and thick. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheeses and seasonings until incorporated, then add the crab, mushrooms, and pasta.

stir flour into the melted butter

whisk the milk into the roux

stir the cheeses and seasonings into the sauce

add the crab, porcini, and pasta

At this point, you can pour all of the mac and cheese into a medium baking dish (9×9-inch works) or divide it among smaller oven-proof ramekins for individual servings. Whichever way you do it, if the vessels are filled to the rims, then do yourself a favor and set them on a baking sheet to catch sauce as it bubbles over. I line my baking sheet with foil for ease of clean up. Top the mac and cheese with bread crumbs and fresh thyme, then bake for 30-35 minutes at 375°F or until the tops become golden and bubbly.

sprinkle bread crumbs on top

let’s bake!

golden tops

Some summer days it feels way too hot to turn the oven on or cook anything over a hot stove. But this – this would be worth it. Creamy, funky, buttery, rich, cheesy, and oh so satisfying – this is dinner party worthy fare. Seeing as we’re in a pandemic, maybe just keep it all to yourself (or yourselves). It works as a side dish, main attraction, or midnight indulgence. I won’t judge.

serve hot and with love

Crab Porcini Mac and Cheese
[print recipe]
from La Crema

2 tbsps unsalted butter
10.5 oz. fresh porcini mushrooms, large dice
sea salt
1/2 lb. uncooked pasta (elbow macaroni or short pasta)
2 cups whole milk
3 tbsps unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
pinch ground nutmeg
1 lb. cooked crab meat
1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs
2 tsps fresh thyme, chopped

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the butter begins to bubble, add the diced porcini and sauté. The mushrooms will give up some liquid. Let the liquid boil off and continue to sauté until the mushrooms just start to brown. Remove from pan and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and boil for 6-8 minutes until al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk on low heat. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in the pot you used to cook the pasta. When the butter begins to bubble, whisk the flour into the butter and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir for about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the mixture and cook for 1-2 minutes until it is thickened and smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in the cheeses, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the crab, cooked porcini, and the pasta.

Pour the mac and cheese into an 8×8-inch or similarly sized baking dish or divvy among smaller baking ramekins. Sprinkle the tops with bread crumbs and fresh thyme. I set the dish or ramekins on a foil-lined baking sheet to catch any overflow during baking. Bake 30-35 minutes until the tops are browned and bubbling. Serve hot. Serves 4-6.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

fresh porcini mushroom pasta corn and porcini fritters italian marinated porcini mushrooms mac and cheese (two ways)

11 nibbles at “summer wonders”

  1. Jill Hyde says:

    Oh those wildflowers are spectacular! And absolutely love the capture of Neva mid-dive! Pandemic and heat, we could lose our minds, huh?

  2. Kristin says:

    Lovely, lovely photos! I am going to have to start checking for crab at Costco. We’re very much stuck at home because my husband had a bike accident last month and broke his pelvis, so we are really appreciating treats right now. We had to scrap our Tetons camping trip for this year. Because he has suffered so much, I will even just put mushrooms in half of the mac & cheese so he doesn’t have to pick them out.

  3. Jon says:

    Nice photos of the comet. Might you give some particulars on camera, lenses, exposures and technique? As for the crab porcini mac and cheese, wow, does that look tasty! How fortunate to have picked your own porcini mushrooms!

  4. Miss B says:

    Beautiful pics as always! I wanted to give you an update. I asked which harnesses your dogs wear on one of your last posts since my dog was in the market for a new one. I took your advice and got my girl the same model in huckleberry blue. It’s working out great. It seems comfortable for her, and she looks super cute in it too. Thanks for your input!

  5. Pam says:

    Oh my this is one for the records and seems as how one eats with their eyes first, I say again, Oh my. Thanks for sharing.

  6. R.C. says:

    Wonderful photos and dish as always! Does your area have wildflowers throughout the warm seasons? Looks completely magical!

  7. Carole says:

    I’d gladly forgo my keto eating for some of that mac and cheese.

  8. Chef V says:

    Jen, you truly live in a beautiful environment! I haven’t visited the site in a while and what a nice surprise! I’m not a mac n cheese fan, but this looks delightful. The addition of the porcini’s and crab, WHOA. This is a keeper.

  9. Kristin says:

    Made the mac & cheese tonight, and it is delicious! Couldn’t find porcini, but I was happy with my cremini. I think the aroma and flavor of the thyme seemed to cut the richness a bit somehow, though it was still darn rich! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Collette says:

    I know I’m late to the party (perpetually), but I really needed your photos today. They are so lovely that they’re magical. Thank you.

  11. jenyu says:

    Jill – Thankful the wildflowers could bring a much needed distraction during this wacky year.

    Kristin – Oh, the poor man! Ugh, I don’t know how long it takes to heal, but I hope he is much better now. Fingers crossed you can make your trip next year. xoxo

    Jon – Sorry for the very late reply. I am just now catching up (because I realized how lame I would be if the calendar flipped to 2021 and I hadn’t answered these comments!). I was shooting the comet with the Nikon Z7 on tripod in an area with dark skies (minimal light pollution). The lens is a Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 with FTZ adapter. The first shot was 155mm focal length, 25600 ISO, 2s exposure and f4.0. The second shot was 70mm focal length, 25600 ISO, f4.0, 4s exposure. Hope that helps!

    Miss B – So happy to hear that. We like this harness for Yuki. I’m jealous you got the huckleberry! I wanted to, but Yuki’s harness is still in good shape, so I’ll have to wait :)

    Pam – xo

    R.C. – Both of our home mountains have abundant wildflowers in the high country starting around mid July though September. Different species come up at different times throughout our short summer and the lower elevations get started a month or more sooner than the alpine wildflowers. It is indeed magical!

    Carole – :)

    Chef V – I think anything with porcini and crab has GOT to be good, right? :)

    Kristin – Sounds lovely, and yes, it IS rich – I can only eat a little at a time (with a lot of Tabasco!).

    Collette – *hugs*

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