Comfort Food: Baked Penne with Meat, Mushrooms and Cheese

This Friday’s San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine section carried the latest “Pairings” column by Lynne Char Bennett titled “Dry Creek Zinfandel makes a penne-wise partner“. Zinfandel is among our favorite red wines (along with Syrah and Shiraz from Australia’s Barossa appellation) – so the article caught my eye.

Included in Bennett’s column was a recipe for “Baked Penne with Meat & Mushroom Sauce” which we made – with minor variations – tonight.

Her recipe minimizes some of the fat that might otherwise be present – we used 97% lean ground beef, for example, when we cooked it and the mushrooms help extend the flavor along with the herbs that simmer into such a flavorful sauce.

Turns out this recipe was a real family crowd pleaser – we all really liked it, helped ourselves to a couple of servings, etc. We served it along with a simple Caesar salad – yummy! We paired a Ridge 2006 Dusi Ranch Zinfandel with the penne – a great combination!

We’ll certainly be making the baked penne again – and are already looking forward to some left overs tomorrow night!

Christmas Day Roast Pork Loin with Apples/Shallots

For years, we’ve enjoyed a roast pork loin recipe titled “Roast pork loin with roasted apple compote” that was originally published in Barbara Kafka‘s cookbook “Roasting-A Simple Art“.

Much of Kafka’s book involves roasting at high heat – typically 500 degrees – and her recipe of coating the pork loin in mustard, salt and pepper at the start and then roasting with apples at that high temperature has always worked out well for us. Sometimes (depending upon how clean your oven is), roasting at that high a temperature can result in some smoking – so it takes some care.

On this Christmas Day, though, we’re trying some variations – something a bit different.

First, I decided to try brining the pork loin. Not a full 24-hours worth – because, in this case, I decided to brine it at about noon today – so it’ll only have about 5 hours of brining.

Brining is easy – start with a mixture of something like 2/3 cup of salt combined with 2/3 cup of sugar in steaming hot water (we have one of those faucet water heaters – so that’s easy!) along with some pepper. Cool it down (adding ice and some cold water seems to do that nicely) before putting the brine and the pork loin into the plastic freezer bag and putting everything into the refrigerator for a few hours.

Next, I decided to brown the pork loin roast before putting it into the oven. I like the bits of extra flavor that browning meat seems to generate. By browning the roast in our Le Creuset 6-3/4 Quart French Oven, we can brown the meat and roast it in the same pot, minimizing cleanup. After browning and removing the roast, the apples, and shallots are placed into the pot with the roast then placed on top. Cover and into the oven it goes.

We just finished our Christmas dinner – and this dish was a hit! The pork, even with just a few hours of brining, was moist and not dry. The pork was ready earlier – only needing an additional 5 minutes after removing the top from the pot. We let it rest the full 15 minutes before carving – and it was just great. The apple/shallots/mustard/cream compote is the perfect semi-sweet complement to the pork!


  • Brine: 2/3 cup kosher salt, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp pepper
  • 2-1/2 to 3 lb pork loin roast – tied with string
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tart apples (Granny Smith, etc.), halved
  • 4 shallots, peeled
  • 1-2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp mustard


  1. Prepare the brine by mixing sugar and salt with 1 cup of piping hot water. Add pepper. Add ice cubes and 2-3 cups additional water to cool down brine. Place pork loin roast in 1 gallon freezer bag, fill with brine mixture, and seal bag. Place bag in bowl and place into refrigerator until time to cook (no more than 24 hours).
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Remove roast from brine and pat dry all around. Season with salt and pepper (or your favorite rub).
  3. Place French Oven on high heat. Add olive oil, heat until shimmering. Sear the pork loin on all sides. Remove from heat and remove roast to plate.
  4. Place the three halved apples cut side down into French Oven along with the shallots, rosemary and bay leaf. Place the roast on top of the apple mixture, cover the pot and place into the pre-heated oven.
  5. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove the lid and continue roasting until the roast’s internal temperature reaches 140 degrees – perhaps 10-15 minutes more.
  6. Remove French Oven from oven, remove roast to cutting board, cover roast with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 minutes.
  7. Scoop out the apples and shallots into serving bowl. Deglaze the French Oven with a bit of white wine or brandy and add the apples back into the pot. Mix in the cream and the mustard and season to taste.
  8. Carve the pork loin roast and serve with the apples/shallots compote.

Originally posted December 25, 2008.

Christmas Eve Oven-Roasted Tri-Tip Dinner

Update (12/18/19): I’ve updated our tri-tip recipe to use a slow-roasting technique that I find delivers a more tender and flavorful roast. Here’s the updated recipe.

We’ll be hosting Christmas Eve again at our house this year – and we’re handling the just main courses while the rest of the family is bringing salads, side dishes, and desserts!

Last year, we were about to head for Hawaii for another family reunion – and didn’t cook anything! But, this year, we’re back with our favorites again: a combination of honey-baked ham along with our easy Lazy-S easy oven-roasted tri-tips.

We first shared our approach to this Christmas Eve menu back in 2005 – and we’ll be following the same approach this year. The honey-baked ham is basically just a warm up exercise – nothing complicated about preparing it.

For the tri-tips, we’ll have one plain (unmarinated) tri-tip along with a couple of marinated tri-tips. Our favorite local meat market (Bianchini’s Market in Portola Valley) highly recommends their Zinfandel-marinated tri-tips – so we’ll be giving them a try this year. But, the unmarinated version – with just lots of salt and pepper several hours ahead of roasting – is pretty special too!

See the directions here for how we like to prepare the tri-tips (in the morning) and then cook them (in the late afternoon)!

Yum! And, Merry Christmas!

A Time For Winter Pot Roast

It’s been – brrr cold – here over the last couple of days – so a pot roast sounded just perfect for dinner last night. Rather than making our usual Perfect Pot Roast recipe, we ended up trying the super simple pot roast recipe from Elise – and it turned out just perfect. Highly recommended – just be sure you’ve got something to do for the 3-1/2 hours you’re waiting while the aromas are wafting through the house! Yum! I used a Handley 2003 Mendocino County Zinfandel for the red wine and cooked the roast in our small Dutch oven using the smallest of our gas stovetop burners at the lowest possible heat setting as Elise recommends.

Scott’s Lazy Sunday Tri-Tip Caesar Salad

This Sunday dinner is perfect when BBQ season has arrived. This afternoon in Menlo Park was ideal – light up the Weber BBQ (charcoal version) and go! The ingredients are super simple: a Santa Maria-seasoned Tri-Tip from Trader Joe’s (or your favorite alternative) and a package of one of those Caesar Lite pre-packaged salads.

For a 5:30 PM dinner, start this at about 4 PM. You’ll have plenty of time to read the Sunday papers in between while things are happening. Add a bottle of Bogle’s Phantom and you’re truly good to go! Serves 2.

Continue reading “Scott’s Lazy Sunday Tri-Tip Caesar Salad”

Scott’s Favorite Prime Rib

[Update: Christmas 2019 – Be sure the checkout this YouTube video recipe for slow roasting prime rib. This recipe uses the technique of an initial high-heat (500 degrees) roasting followed by literally turning the oven off and letting the roast continue to cook in the cooling oven for two more hours. That lower heat is the key to the magic of slow roasting!]

Earlier this week as part of our holiday get togethers, we had a family group over for dinner and cooked – for the first time in a long time – a prime rib roast. Prime rib is one of those special meals – just right for the holidays with friends and family! It was delicious – accompanied by roasted potatoes, and some spinach.

Elise has a great prime rib recipe over on her Simply Recipes site. We used the 450 degree for 15 minute and 350 for the rest – although we cranked it back up to 450 again for about 5 minutes before taking it out of the oven (a technique mentioned in one of Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa cookbooks).

Everyone reminds you about needing to let the roast rest for 15-20 minutes after you take it out of the oven — so I will remind you here too! 😉

Scott’s ‘Lazy-S’ Easy Oven-Roasted Tri-Tips

Scott’s Lazy-S Oven Roasted Tri-Tip

Update (12/18/19): I’ve added a slow-roasted version of this recipe which makes especially delicious and tender tri-tip! If you’re making tri-tip for the holidays, try this new slow-roasted version for a special treat!

For our large Christmas Eve family get togethers, we like to serve main course meat entrees that are really easy to eat in a buffet style setting – without formal sit down dinner place settings for every guest. Most of our guests will be eating with their plate in their lap, so something lovely like a slow-roasted prime rib just won’t do.

We’ve settled on serving a combination of honey baked ham, just heated to room temperature in a 450 degree oven for little more than 5 minutes, and beef tri-tip roasts. The ham is super easy to prepare, comes basically pre-sliced (spiral cut) and preparation literally requires unwrapping it, putting it briefly in the oven to warm and then choosing which serving platter to use to present it! A couple of choices in gourmet mustards to accompany the ham and that half of the main course is ready to go!

For the tri-tips, we usually get three of them and try different rubs/marinades. My Dad particularly likes his beef plain – so one of the tri-tips will always just be salt and pepper rubbed. The others get a bit more exotic! But the rub’s not the point – the easy preparation in the oven is what these tri-tips are all about.

Doing the tri-tips in the oven sacrifices a bit of the smoky flavor from the Weber BBQ version — but the super-easy preparation and not having guests following me out onto the patio!) makes the oven version perfect for winter-time cooking and entertaining. But you’ll want to do the rubs (or marinades) enough in advance to ensure the beef ends up being very flavorful.

I call these my “Lazy-S” tri-tips – Lazy-S for Lazy Scott! Note: As I’m writing this, it strikes me that beef short ribs might just be another great holiday buffet dish. I mean the kind that have already fallen off the bone after hours of braising! I’ll have to experiment with that sometime – although on a day when I’ve got the energy and dedication required to tend short ribs much of the day!

[June 2008 Update: Looking to BBQ your tri-tip instead of roasting it in the over? See my latest, field-tested (!) recipe for grilling tri-tip on a Weber charcoal BBQ!]

[Christmas 2008 Update: We’ll be making our easy oven-roasted tri-tips again this year for our family Christmas Eve dinner!]


  1. After breakfast on the day you’re entertaining, prepare the tri-tip using whatever rub or marinade you prefer. I like to use coarse sea salt (applied heavily) along with whatever rub I’ve chose. For the plain version my Dad prefers, it’s just the coarse seal salt and some fresh ground pepper. After rubbing/marinading, put each tri-tip into a large Ziplock-style plastic bag, remove as much air as possible, seal it, and put it back in the refrigerator. Have a nice day!
  2. When you’re ready to cook, here’s the drill. Allow an hour from this point to serving.
  3. Take the tri-tips out of the refrigerator and their Ziplock bags and begin letting them warm to room temperature. Place the tri-tips into a suitable oven roasting pan (I prefer to use Pyrex baking dishes because they clean up so readily!) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  4. When the oven’s warmed up to 450 degrees, put the roasts into the oven and roast for 10 minutes at 450 degrees.
  5. Open the oven and cover the tri-tips with aluminum foil. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and roast for 15 minutes.
  6. Open the oven and remove the foil. Continue roasting at 350 degrees for a final 15 minutes.
  7. At this point, the meat has roasted for a total of 40 minutes and should be just right for medium-rare — but you can’t serve it yet. Remove the tri-tips from the oven and re-cover with foil. Let them sit for 15 minutes outside the oven.
  8. Now they’re ready! At 55 minutes from when you started, remove the foil, place a tri-tip on a cutting board and slice 1/4 inch slices diagonally across the grain. Each slice will end up being 1-4 inches in length. Serve on a platter with accompanying sauces – BBQ sauce, steak sauce are good to have along side.That’s it. Enjoy! Serve with a side of Perfect Roasted Potatoes for a special treat! (Note that a second oven may be required for their combined preparation because of the temperature gymnastics used in both recipes!)

(Added: December 26, 2005)

Beef and Onion Stew


This recipe was inspired by the Holiday 2000 Williams-Sonoma Taste magazine.


Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add beef and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or, preferably, overnight.


3 pounds boneless, well-marbled
stew beef, cubed

1/4 cup unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1-1/2 pounds pearl onions or
shallots, peeled

3 celery stalks, peeled and sliced

1 14-1/2-ounce can diced, peeled

1 tablespoon tomato paste


1 cup dry red wine

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 bay leaves

2 cinnamon sticks

4 whole cloves

3 whole allspice berries

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Pinch of nutmeg

Drain beef, reserving marinade. Melt butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and sauté onions and celery until softened, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl.

Add remaining olive oil to pan. Sauté beef, in batches if necessary, until browned, about 10 minutes. Return onions and celery to pan. Add reserved marinade, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper and enough water to just cover beef. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer partially covered, until beef is tender and sauce is thickened, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Yield: 4-6 servings

(Added: January 13, 2002)

Scott’s Perfect Pot Roast

This recipe was inspired by a recipe in the September 26, 2001 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food section on the subject of comfort food in the days post-9/11.

That particular recipe credits Chronicle food writer Robin Davis who says she loves this dish for the aroma that drifts through the house as the meat cooks — and for the leftovers. The cooking aroma does make the long cooking time tolerable. Serve this with some creamy mashed potatoes for a wonderfully soothing comfort meal. Save your leftovers…they’re even better tomorrow!


  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1 2-1/2 to 3 pound chuck roast
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves


  1. Place the mushrooms in a small bowl. Use 1 cup of the hot (preferably boiling) water. Pour over the mushrooms. Let stand for 30 minutes to soften.
  2. Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid, squeezing as much liquid as
    possible back into the bowl. Coarsely chop the mushrooms.[Update: January 2006 – there’s a great tip in the March 2006 issue of Fine Cooking magazine about using a French press coffee maker for rehydrating the porcini mushrooms. Turns out that a small French press is ideal for doing this – and avoids the need for using a filter for the liquid, etc.]
  3. Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or 2 layers of cheesecloth. Set aside.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  5. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes, until translucent.
  6. Reduce heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes, until the onions begin to brown, stirring from time to time.
  7. Add the vinegar and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes, until the onions turn a deep golden brown.
  8. Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits in the pot. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
  9. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the same Dutch oven over high heat. Season the brisket with salt and pepper. Brown well on all sides. Transfer the meat to a platter.
  10. Add the mushroom-soaking liquid to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits.
  11. Return the brisket to the pot, along with the onion-wine mixture, the remaining 3 cups water, the mushrooms, garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil.
  12. Tightly cover the pan. Place in the oven and cook for about 3 hours, until the brisket is very tender.
  13. Transfer the meat to a platter and tent with foil.
  14. Remove the bay leaves from the cooking liquid. Working in batches, puree the cooking liquid in a processor until smooth. Transfer to a large saucepan. Adjust seasoning and rewarm, if necessary.
  15. Cut the brisket across the grain into thin slices. Arrange on a platter.
  16. Spoon the sauce over the meat.

(Added: October 12, 2001)


Scott’s Favorite Slow Roasted Chipotle Pork

Slow Roasted Chipotle Pork

Updated: December 25, 2021 during Covid times! This is our Christmas dinner today!

This is truly one of those 5 minutes to prepare recipes. Basically, coat the pork shoulder roast, throw it in the Dutch oven and then into the real oven for slow roasting. The hard part is done!

Makes really great pork tortillas — or just pork to pile onto your plate. Great with salsa on the side!

I originally came across a version of this recipe in The New Cooks Tour of Sonoma by Michele Anna Jordan. It became a Loftesness family favorite from the first time we tried it!


  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle powder
  • 1 pork shoulder roast, about 3 1/2 lbs
  • 2 dozen small corn tortillas
  • 2 limes, cut in wedges
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro


  1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt and chipotle powder and rub it into the pork, being sure to cover the entire surface of the meat with the mixture.
  2. Put the pork in a clay roaster or other deep roasting pan with a lid, place the covered roaster in the oven, and turn the heat to 275°F.
  3. Cook until the pork falls apart when you press it with the back of a fork, about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Remove it from the oven and let rest, covered, for 15 minutes.
  4. Heat the tortillas on a medium-hot griddle, turning them frequently, until they are warmed through and soft. (Alternatively, heat them on a plate in the microwave). Wrap them in a tea towel and place them in a basket.
  5. Transfer the pork to a large serving platter and use two forks to pull it into chunks.
  6. Add the lime wedges to the platter, place the cilantro in a small serving bowl, and serve immediately, with the tortillas on the side.
  7. To fill the tortillas, set two, one on top of the other, on a plate, spoon some of the pork on top, squeeze a little lime juice over the pork, sprinkle some cilantro on top and fold in half.


We had some romaine lettuce left over from an
earlier salad and found that adding a bit of lettuce to the tortilla filling added a refreshing bit of ‘crunchiness’ to the taste. Yum!

Another good side dish is sautéed peppers and onions (3 sliced bell peppers, 1 sliced yellow onion, olive oil, touch of cumin, and touch of paprika). Goes great in the tortillas! We had this for our Christmas 2021 dinner.

Here’s a link to Elise Bauer’s blog post about a recent Wall St. Journal recipe for Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Melted Apples that we made recently. Also very nice without the heat of the chipotle pepper.

Note that she starts the roasting at 450 degrees uncovered for the first 30 minutes before covering it and reducing the heat to 325 degrees. I find roasting at 275 degrees works well – low and slow makes for fall apart tender pork!