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Creamy Sausage and Mushroom Rigatoni for Elle

This has to be one of the most difficult posts I've ever written. I've been working up to this, sitting down and writing about my friend Elle, for more than a week now and it's every bit as hard as I imagined it would be. There is so much I want to say, so much I wish I could still say to her. I only hope I can express here, with my words, what a treasure she was to so many of us.

On January 28th, 2014 this world lost one of it's living angels. She was beautiful inside and out. She was hilarious and clever and sweet and utterly loveable. She was an amazing cook and baker. She was inspiring and encouraging and one knew they could always count on her. She was an amazing mother of 4 children and the love of her husband's life. She was a wonderful Mom to her fur-babies. And she's gone. Too soon. Far too damn soon.

Elle was a young and vibrant 45 years old. Taken from this world suddenly and without warning from a pulmonary embolism. Her light remains bright... so many beautiful memories of her sharp wit and the giggles we shared over the idiots in the school pickup lines, and the way people drove. She had this way of always being able to bring a smile to my face on some of my darkest days... usually with her smart ass sense of humor and the way you knew she truly cared and was concerned for you. Whenever I see a Corgi, I always think of my dear, sweet Elle and they way she loved all the fur-babies of the world. She was just one of those beautiful souls. She was special and one of a kind. And I miss her. More than I can really express. There is simply an empty spot in my heart since she's been gone. I know in time I'll fill that empty spot with all of my memories of her... but for right now, I just feel a little bit sad and a little bit angry at the universe for taking her her too soon.

I met Elle back when I first started my food blog. Sadly, I never got to meet her face to face... we knew each other only through the wonders of the internet... but even though, I counted her as one of my close friends. She held my hand through the hard times and championed me through when I didn't think I was going to make it. She celebrated with me in good times and was always one of the first people there to tell me she was proud of me, happy for me or that I'd done well. She was one of the very first bloggers I connected with and quite honestly, she was one of the people I credit for keeping at it all these years later. She wouldn't let you give up. She was always there with an encouraging word, a cheer to keep pushing on or a swift kick in the ass when you needed it. If you had Elle on your side, there was no way you were going to give in... she would make sure of it.

When word spread that she was no longer with us, the food blogging community sprang into action. There is an auction for Elle's family in the works, there has been a PayPal account started to help her family financially during this incredibly difficult time and finally we've come together to post our remembrances of her by collectively cooking from her blog. At the end of this most, you'll see the recipe I made in honor of her. I took one of her delicious creations and made it my own... because she knew that was just how I roll. I think she would have loved it. The day I made it and shared it with my family, we sat together around the kitchen table and I told them all about the incredible friend she was. There were tears and giggles and it was wonderful. I still have ways to go, in the healing process, but that night started me on the path.

To Elle: I am a believer that once a soul passes on that they can still see and hear our thoughts. I hope you realize how much I adore you and how much I miss you. The world is an angel down since you're gone, but I know that your light and your legacy will live on forever in our hearts and minds. You were and are loved and will not be forgotten. Thank you for all you gave me... your friendship, your caring, your love of food and passion for life. One day you and I will meet again and I have one hell of a hug and about a case of cider to share with you then.

You can see other blogger's posts in honor of Elle by following the hashtag #ElleAPalooza on Facebook and Twitter, by visiting the #ElleAPalooza event page or by visiting the Friends of Elle Facebook page.

You can keep abreast of details on the auction and get info on donating financially to the family through PayPal here:  Friends of Elle

Elle's spectacular food blog can be found here: Elle's New England Kitchen

The recipe I made for #ElleAPalooza was a carnivore's take on her Creamy Mushroom Rigatoni.

We LOVED it! I made the recipe to Elle's specifications but at the end I added some browned and drained Italian sausage and thawed, drained and squeezed frozen chopped spinach along with some grated Parmesan cheese. Filling and simply delicious. The altered recipe would feed 6 easily.

Creamy Sausage Mushroom and Spinach Rigatoni

*1.5 Pounds hot or sweet bulk Italian sausage
*2 small boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed of excess liquid
*2 Tablespoons of olive oil
*2 Tablespoons butter
*2 shallots, finely diced 
*2 cloves garlic, finely minced
*20 ounces sliced Baby Bella Mushrooms
*3 Tablespoons white wine
*2 Tablespoons flour
*1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (if using fresh, use about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
*1 cup chicken broth
*1 cup half and half
*Small handful of fresh parsley
*1 pound rigatoni, cooked
*3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1: Start the water for boiling the pasta.

2: In a skillet, brown Italian sausage. Drain and set aside.

3: In a large pan, heat the oil and butter over medium-medium high heat. When the butter has melted, add the shallots, garlic and mushrooms. Sauté for about 10 minutes or until the liquid has mostly evaporated. If you find that the mushrooms are getting too dark too quickly, turn the pan down to medium heat.

4: Add the wine and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the salt and pepper to the pan and sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms. Stir well to coat the mushrooms. Add the thyme. (If you're using fresh thyme, add it more towards the end, say when you add the half and half.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

5: When the pasta water is boiling, cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

6: Deglaze the pan by adding the broth of your choice, and scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pan with your spoon or spatula. Turn heat to low-ish and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the half and half, get it at a good bubbling simmer and let it go until thickened and somewhat reduced, about 10 minutes, stirring often. (It should be the consistency of a cream soup when it’s done.)

7: Add in the cooked, drained sausage and thawed, drained and squeezed spinach and heat until hot.

8: Stir in the parsley, and then add the cooked noodles to the pan and stir to coat. Spoon into bowls and serve. This is good with some fresh Parmesan grated over the top, too.

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