Orzo and Fontina Casserole

I saw Giada de Laurentis making this side dish, and I thought it looked delicious.  It is part of her steak house dinner menu, and since I had a plan to have people over for a steak dinner, this seemed pretty appropriate.  The list of ingredients is one that makes one swoon regardless of what is done with them; butter, onion, mushrooms, fontina cheese, green peas, mozzarella, and orzo pasta. Do I need to continue?  I thought not.

I changed a few things in this recipe.  I used whole wheat orzo, only 1 tablespoon of butter, added extra mushrooms (10 oz.) and extra peas (about 1 1/2 cups) and used 1/2 2% milk and 1/2 cream to make the full 1/2 cup required.  I also was unable to purchase Marsala wine on a Sunday in Texas, so I used a white wine instead.  Texas, our Texas!  All hail the mighty State!

I really do like that Texas doesn’t sell hard liquor on Sundays, even though it was an inconvenience.  

I am sure the flavor is quite good with the marsala wine, but it was really quite good without it as well, so no worries my fellow Texas foodies.  No need to spend $12.99 0n a bottle of marsala when an $8.99 bottle of white wine will do.  Cheap?  Yes, I am cheap.

I don’t have any good pics of this dish, but it’s image does not do it justice.  It is a casserole, and who can think of a casserole who photographs well?  Nobody!  So, it tastes good and it looks like mush…so what?

Here is the food network pic and the recipe I used.  Try it!  



4 cups chicken broth

1 pound whole wheat orzo pasta

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

10 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1 cup white wine

1/4 cup 2% milk and 1/2 cup cream

4 ounces shredded fontina cheese (about 1 cup)

4 ounces diced fresh mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)

1 amd 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 teaspoon dried thyme


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with butter or Pam.


Bring the chicken broth to a boil over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the orzo and cook until almost tender, about 7 minutes. Pour the orzo and the broth into a large bowl. Set aside.


Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute until the mushrooms are beginning to turn golden around the edges, about 7 minutes. Add the Marsala. Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and cook until the Marsala has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the mushroom mixture to the orzo in the large bowl. Add the cream, fontina, mozzarella, peas, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.


In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and dried thyme. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture on top of the pasta. Bake until golden, about 25 minutes.


Everyone liked this dish.  This recipe works well with a simple main dish like grilled steak.  I am not a fan of battling flavors.  Keep your menu simple.  If you have a dish that is complex, don’t make your guests choose which part of the meal is the best.  It is hard to compare good simple dishes with good complex dishes, so don’t make your guests tastebuds go crazy.  Make the meal enjoyable.

A Swedish Fika and a German Tourist Town

There is no excuse for not having posted in almost a month.  But I have been so very busy!  I have been cooking and baking and traveling and building compost bins and planting rosemary and starting an herb garden and watching classic movies and reading books and tutoring for the past 27 days.  Well, I guess there are excuses afterall.  


I spent the first weekend of April in central Texas to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday.  It was quite a success.  I have never seen my mom so surprised and pleased and beside herself with happiness!  All my sisters were there, Aunt Susan, Aunt Laurie and my cousin Ruthie came from California to surprise my mom.  My mom’s Dad and wife Marj were there, also from Cali, and my cousin Julie came from Denver.  With my sister Lisa coming in from NYC, we had a lot of the nation represented.  It was great.

My trip began with a drive to Austin from Amarillo, an 8 hour trip, with a puppy who got carsick.  Woohoo!  After the first two vomitting episodes (within the first two hours) she slept the remainder of the trip.

My sisters got to my parents house on Friday.  The party was Saturday afternoon.  The theme for the party was a Swedish Fika which is basically a coffee party with cookies, breads and a cake.  

One thing we knew we wanted was a princess cake, or Prinsesstårta.  This is a Swedish cake swelling with whipped cream, sponge cake and jam, all covered in light green marzipan exterior, powdered with confectioner’s sugar.  A pink rose is placed on top.  Unfortunately, not many bakeries have this on their menus.  We didn’t feel quite experienced enough to make these cakes ourselves.  However, a few years ago we took a Swedish baking class at Central Market in Austin.  They made this cake at the class, so we contacted Central Market and they agreed to specially bake the princess cakes.  They were beautiful and delicious.  It is a rich dessert not for the faint of heart or those counting calories.  Special thanks to Central Market.  They did a tremendous job.

Traditionally, Swedes serve 7 different kinds of treats at a Fika.  We had 7 sweets and also a tray of herring, cheeses, meats and bread.  

The 7 Sweet Treats



Rosemary Pecan Shortbread Cookies (top)


Lemon Almond Pound Cake (middle)


Lingonberry Jam Bars (bottom)





Cardmom Braid cardamombraid

Fruit fruit 

Cupcakes from Be My Cupcake in Round Rock, Texas cupcakes

Princess Cake cake1

Here is the tray of savory treats!  meatplate

Pickled herring is a food thing I just do not understand.  Smoked fish I love.  This stuff though, I am just not a fan.

My Aunt Susan has a talent for writing songs and she has done this for many family weddings, birthdays and aniversaries.  She takes a familiar tune and writes lyrics about the couple or person being honored.  Here we are singing a song for my mom to the tune of “Wouldn’t it be Lovely” from My Fair Lady.  Susan changed the title to “Isn’t Becky Lovely”.  I had this song in my head for days afterward.


Here is the birthday girl with here sisters, Susan and Laurie.


The birthday girl, sweet husband Dennis and the daughters.


The next day the ladies went to Fredericksburg to shop, eat dinner and stay the night at a Bed & Breakfast.

Shopping downtown. shopfredThis PETA acronym stands for People Eating Tasty Animals.  

The B&B is called the Hoffman Haus.  My mom and sisters stayed in the Basse House.  It is the largest and sleeps 6 people, has a full kitchen and a litte living room in the center.  


None of these pictures do the place justice, but let me just say that it was perfectly lovely.  The weather was wonderful, our room was incredibly comfortable with a slightly rustic feel.  Many of the walls of the house are exposed stone.  There are wood floors and comfy furniture.  I sunk it to the bed and couldn’t move for about 10 minutes.  easter-094easter-092bb

Breafkast, a piece of spinach quiche, sausage, fruit and a lemon cranberry muffin, was delivered to our doorstep in wooden picnic baskets.  I will go back here if I ever get the chance.

We ate dinner on Sunday at The Nest.  The restaurant is an old house so our table of 10 had our own little room.  All the food was wonderful.  

French Onion Soupimg_9007








Field green salad with goat cheese, pear slices and pecans img_9011








Roasted Quail with a port demi-glace over grilled vegetables and polenta









Profiteroles and coffee ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce









It was such a treat to see my mom so happy.  We might have outdone ourselves on this party though, so we will have a hard time pleasing her for the next big birthday!