Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

stuffed mushrooms

I looked up at the building I work in today–a gray, gothic monolith of stone, covered in gnarled leafless vines–and I thought, if ever a monster were to choose his home, he’d choose a building like this. On a day like this. Early winter monotone and windy. Dead leaves still clinging to some trees, but mostly empty branches. Few people walking, with the collars upturned on their dark overcoats.

Maybe the holidays come at this time every year so that we’re too busy to notice things changing. Grass dying, streets becoming quieter. We drink a lot of egg nog and let twinkly lights mesmerize us, then we come out on the other side to a quiet, wintry world. Especially for me–I get to go home for a week in LA, then I’ll come back to a transformed Chicago. Frozen tundra.

I like the holidays, despite the dizzying busyness of them. We’ve had one snowy morning so far, and all the lights are up on the houses. I’ve decorated cookies. I’ve shopped for presents and stocking stuffers. I’ve bought my ticket home. I have a promise of egg nog on Saturday (thanks, Joel). I’m adequately entrenched in this holiday business, and I can’t wait for my trip home. I’m even looking forward to the frozen tundra afterward. This has been an incredibly busy and rich and wonderful year, but I’m looking forward to the quieter season.

Until then, it’s that time of year when you need something to bring to holiday parties. Kasia asked me the other day what she should bring to one, and I immediately thought of these mushrooms, which are tasty, easy, and crowd pleasy. She did, and they were a hit.

Truly, you can stuff anything in a mushroom and get away with it, but this combination plays to mushrooms’ strengths. Goat cheese, thyme, mushroom stems, bread crumbs, parmesan. The tanginess of the goat cheese makes these feel lighter than some other iterations of stuffed mushrooms. You could add crab or sausage to this mix, but I think those flavors would overpower the earthiness here. And nothing complements mushrooms more than thyme.

mushrooms

For a big party, you might want to double the recipe.

stuffing mushrooms

Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

1 lb. button or crimini mushrooms, cleaned
1 large clove of garlic
a few sprigs of thyme, destemmed
about a 1/2 c. goat cheese
bread crumbs
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and set aside. Roast the mushroom caps for 10 minutes on a cookie sheet. Drain any water that may have collected in the well of the caps.

(You can use a food processor or chop and mix all by hand for the next steps.) Meanwhile, drop the garlic into a food processor to chop. Add the mushroom stems, the thyme, and process. Then the goat cheese, about 2 tbsp. bread crumbs, and salt and pepper. Process until you have a paste.

Fill the mushroom caps with the paste. Top with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese on each one. Put back in the oven for about 10 or 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Any extra is really good as a pate on a baguette!!

Guest Blogger: Krissy’s Honey Chai-Spice Cake with Caramelized Autumn Fruits

The lovely Krissy is a globe-trotting India-phile, who has spent several summers in the Tamil-speaking region of the country. She wants to share with you some tricks she’s picked up on her adventures there.

honey spice cake

Krissy:

Everything I cook (or eat) lately is somehow inspired by my food experiences in Tamil Nadu, South India, where I lived the past two summers. Whenever I grab a Starbucks latte while rushing to class, I fondly think back to lazing around in the afternoon heat drinking ten-cent “kapi,” which achieves a similar frothy-top effect sans espresso machine by pouring steaming hot milk coffee back and forth—the higher the better (here’s proof!)—between a stainless-steel tumbler and bowl. And whenever I sit down with a plate and fork, I think of the small “mess” restaurants where I’d be served unlimited piles of rice and vegetables on a banana leaf and eat it with my hands. What to do when it’s 40 degrees, blustery, and the grocery stores are filled with pumpkins and squash?

As I was deciding what to bake tonight, I surveyed my meager stock of baking ingredients, which happens to be rather disproportionately represented by Indian options. My eyes fell upon three things in particular: a jar of raw honey that has been absolutely begging to be used up, chai spice (from Milwaukee’s The Spice House, which is certainly worth a visit if you’re ever in that part of the Midwest), and a bunch of cardamom pods (move over, nutmeg!!). I’d never heard of honey cake before, but this recipe I found seemed promising and extremely versatile, so I decided to heat it up with my two Indian ingredients: chai spice and cardamom. The subtle kick of cardamom added a perfect balance to a topping of caramelized autumn fruit, and the chai spice added much-needed diversity to the lonely cinnamon that was carrying the weight of this cake. The cake itself ends up having a pleasant chewy almost caramel-like surface and a moist interior. Since Thanksgiving has just passed, I went for a topping of the autumn classics: caramelized apples, pears, and some cranberries, and I’d highly recommend “cooling it off” with vanilla ice cream! (And maybe pairing it with apple cider?) But I’d imagine you could put any spin on it that you wanted, depending on the season or your mood. Bunches of oats, perhaps?

caramelized fruit

Honey Chai-Spice Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Honey Cake with Caramelized Pears

Unsalted butter, softened, for pan
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
a pinch coarse salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. chai spice
2 large eggs
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. packed light-brown sugar
1/2 c. plus 2 tablespoons best-quality honey
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. vegetable oil
Carmelized Autumn Fruits (recipe to follow)
Freshly whipped cream, or ice cream for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8×8 inch baking pan. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon, and chai spice in a bowl; set aside. Mix eggs and sugars until pale and thick, about 3 minutes.

Whisk together honey, milk, and oil. (For this, I needed to melt down my raw honey.) With mixer on low, add honey mixture to egg mixture; mix until combined, about 1 minute. Add half the flour mixture; mix until smooth. Mix in remaining flour mixture. Pour batter into pan. (The batter may be thinner than you are used to—never fear! It should bake up just right.)

Bake until dark golden brown and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of cake; carefully remove sides of pan. Transfer cake to a platter. Top with fruit. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Caramelized Autumn Fruits

1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar (white or brown)
1 3/4 lbs. red Anjou pears/Apples cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (or 1/4-inch-thick wedges if firm)
Handful cranberries (for color)
1/4 c. best-quality honey
2 green cardamom pods
a few dashes chai spice

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sugar, cardamom pods, and chai spice; cook, stirring, until almost dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. (A note about cardamom pods: often in Indian cooking, you let flavors “seep” into a liquid and you let that liquid flavor the dish. This, as far as I can tell, is what “tempering” means, e.g. adding tempering oil to chutneys. And similarly with Indian sweets, cardamom pods are often thrown whole into the milk to infuse it with a light flavor—this is the method I used here. If you would like a more intense cardamom flavor, you can break the pods open and add the seeds or buy powdered cardamom and add a few pinches.) Add fruit; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and just golden, 12 to 20 minutes. Pour in honey; cook, stirring, until fruit is coated and very soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the cardamom pods before serving.

Ginger-Orange Muffins

ginger orange muffins
Speaking of Matt, he does these cookbooks. Every year, for the last ten years, he and Rachel have culled recipes from their brains, their cookbooks, and their friends and family to create a smorgasbord of vegan (and later, vegetarian) delights.

Now, I’ve been on a muffin kick lately. Aren’t they sort of the perfect breakfast? They are fast and cheap to make, they keep you full until lunch, and you can make them as healthy/sweet/savory as you’d like. I have been trying to swim in the mornings before work, and muffins make it a lot easier to get out the door in a timely manner. So, Matt suggested I try the Ginger-Mandarin Muffins from volume 2 of his cookbooks. According to Matt, the recipe came from Pablito, the farmer who gives them their produce every week. Also according to Matt, “They are mind-blowing.”

And I can attest: mind adequately blown. I made a few substitutions and added coconut–and they were fantastic! I also de-veganized them, as I really like butter (which I’m sure they’ll forgive me for, since they now eat dairy too). I also skipped the glaze at the end, because they are beautifully sweet without it. The results: moist and full of flavor. All the other slowpokes are gonna eat my dust in the pool tomorrow morning!

Ginger Orange Muffins

1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. milk
1/2 shredded coconut
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 navel orange or 2 mandarin oranges
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. flour
optional for the glaze: 2 tbsp. powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Cream butter with the sugar and eggs. Combine with the milk, coconut, ginger, and the orange zest. I used a food processor so that the coconut was pulverized and not in large shreds anymore.

In a separate bowl, sift together the baking soda and flour. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined.

Spoon the batter into greased muffin tins, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

If you’d like to make the glaze, dissolve the powdered sugar with 1/4 c. of the orange juice. When the muffins are finished baking but still warm, drizzle them with the juice mixture.

Guest Blogger: Matt’s Wild Rice, Kabocha, and Vegetable Pilaf

My good friend Matt has been self-publishing a vegetarian/vegan cookbook with his wife, Rachel, every year for Christmas for the last ten years. Needless to say, he is a veritable treasure trove of amazing recipes. Thankfully, all my prodding and pleading has finally led to a guest post! Here he channels the idea of fall (I say “idea” because, you know, he lives in Oakland) into a gorgeous medley of deliciousness.

When not cooking, Matt's being a great dad to Oslo (who's now a wee bit older than in this pic, but just as cute!)

Kate and I have had a long running discussion of just what the order the seasons take out here in Northern California. After much debate, we’ve settled on “Spring, Winter, Indian Summer, Fall.” Given that it was 84 degrees here in the Bay Area last weekend, but just 70 by Tuesday, it feels like Indian Summer is on its way out, and Fall (which runs from November to March), is picking up speed.That means that we’re just starting to get a hint of our fall veggies in our CSA box, and fall means squashes! 

wild rice pilafSquashes are a fun vegetable because they’re so flexible; depending on our mood and the weather, we will use the many kinds of squashes we get to make soups, pupusas, curries or many other kinds of dishes. But sometimes, when you’re first getting reacquainted with your seasonal foods, it’s nice to just keep it simple.

This recipe relies on a roasted kabocha squash, with just a bit of allspice to bring out the earthiness, plus the always-needed salt and pepper. The rice pilaf, we threw together with whatever vegetables we had on hand, and we were lucky enough to get fresh-picked cranberry beans in our box last week as well, which gave the meal more heft.

Wild Rice, Kabocha, and Vegetable Pilaf

1 c. wild rice or wild rice mix
3 c. broth
1 clove garlic, peeled but whole
1 large or two small kabocha squash, seeded and sliced or cubed
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 dozen crimini mushrooms, quartered
1/2 c. peas, frozen or fresh
2 c. cooked white beans (we used cranberry beans, but cannelini or great northern beans would work well too)
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. sage
Allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil or butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a rice cooker or saucepan, combine the rice, broth and whole garlic clove. Cook until the rice is done.

Once the squash is sliced or cubed, lay flat on a lightly oiled baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, pepper and allspice. Bake for 20-30 minutes, turning over or stirring once, until easily pierced with a fork.

While the squash cooks, sauté the onions, garlic and carrots in 1-2 tablespoons of butter or oil, until the onion is translucent. Add the rosemary, thyme and sage and cook for one minute more, while stirring. Add the mushrooms, peas and beans, stir for one minute, then cover and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are cooked. You may want to add a little bit of water or broth to prevent sticking.

Serve immediately, either after combining the rice and vegetables in the skillet, or separately.

Maple-Black-Pepper Pork Chops

This song came on during my commute to work this morning, and it has, thus far, completely made my day.

I realized, as I was bopping along to this, that I actually like my commute. I’ve always been fond of transition spaces–airports, trains, waiting rooms–spaces that have no other function than to hold you while you wait for something to end or something to begin. And that’s essentially what my commute is, especially in the morning. The traffic isn’t too bad, the scenery is varied and interesting, and I have half an hour of just time, maybe the only moment like it in my day. I move from the northside of Chicago to the southside, over a tangle of highways, streets, neighborhoods, buildings, and people.

September itself is a transition; it starts out in summer, but by today, the last of it, it is undeniably not. Not lazy, not gluttonous, not warm. The leaves are starting to change, I’m wearing a jacket every day, the air is crisp. I love the brightness of the light and the chill of the breeze. I love roasting vegetables and picking apples and making pies. But, still–I’m not entirely there yet. I’m still in the transition stage. I look up and see that it’s the last day of September and I think I’ve been driving too fast, moving through the months so quickly. I’m just about ready for this season, but part of me misses summer.

I’m trying, though. I made this the other day, and this recipe is most certainly a fall recipe, with maple as its dominate flavor. It may sound overly sweet, but it’s really not. The shallots, thyme, and black peppercorns round it out. I served this with roasted butternut squash and poured the sauce over the whole shebang. With a light endive salad to add a crispness, this was a perfect fall meal.

Maple Black Pepper Pork Chops

2 bone-in, thick-cut pork chops
1 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 1/2 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 c. maple syrup (Grade B or Dark Amber)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, season the pork chops well with 3/4 tsp of salt. Pour the oil into a large ovenproof skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the chops when the oil is warm, and cook for four or five minutes on each side, until they are well browned.

Flip the chops, then carefully transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook until their internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, just a few minutes, depending on thickness of the chops. Set the chops aside and cover loosely with foil.

Place the skillet back on medium-high heat. Sautee the shallot with thyme and the rest of the salt until the shallot becomes transluscent.

Pour in the vinegar and scrapte the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits. Reduce heat to a simmer, and let reduce for 2 minutes. Then add the maple syrup and crushed black pepper. Return to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes.

Serve the sauce over the chops.

Guest Columnist: Angela’s Cheap-Ass Dinners

My friend Angela knows how to make a mean meal on a few measly dollars, and wants to share her wisdom with you. She’ll be blogging her thrifty, sassy heart out here for us on occasion. Today she brings you: Taco Bowl. This tasty concoction will provide you with a snappy dinner for two and only set you back about $13. Total.

Taco bowls make me think of faux Mexican fast food, a la Taco Bell, or an out-of-touch Midwestern homemaker experimenting with Kraft cheeses and Velveeta. Taco bowls are not authentic Mexican food, and as a staunch supporter of my little neighborhood Mexican grocery store, I feel a bit like I’m letting its super-friendly employees down. But everyone knows the best food is usually a guilty pleasure, and this one happens to be both delicious and cheap. So here’s my recipe for a homemade taco bowl.

Perfect for cranky, crummy Monday nights.

Ingredients:

1 small spanish onion – $0.30
2-3 cloves of garlic – $0.50
olive oil
Cumin powder – $2
2 cans black beans (Goya is best), drained and rinsed – $2
1 can vegetable or chicken stock – $1
1 tablespoon mole – $3/jar
Corn tortillas – $0.33
3 or 4 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
Your favorite salsa – $2
Cilantro – $1
Limes – $1

Makes 2-3 servings.

First, you must make the mole.  In a small pot, heat the 3 parts stock and 1 part mole paste on medium-low heat until the mole is totally dissolved. Taste, and go ahead and add more mole paste if you’d like.  In the meantime dice your onions and mince your garlic, and in a medium pot, sautee both in olive oil until the onions are soft and translucent.  Add as much cumin as you can stand (I love the stuff, so I used about 3 or 4 teaspoons), and let cook over low heat for about a minute.

Add the beans to your onion, garlic and cumin mixture, and stir so that the beans and onions are well mixed.  Add the mole, and stir again. Cover the beans and increase the heat to medium. Let it come to a bubbling boil, stir, cover, and then bring to a low simmer.  Let it simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the beans are softened, increase the heat to medium and uncover it so that most of the excess liquid boils off, 15-20 minutes.  This will make the beans like a thick porridge and not soupy.

Next, heat the canola or vegetable oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat.  Tear your tortillas into 2-3 inch strips or triangles, and add to the oil.  Using tongs, flip the tortillas over so that both sides are a golden brown, and then place them on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.

By this time, your black beans should be thick and mushy, and your tortilla strips should be crispy.  Scoop a helping of the black beans into a bowl, add some tortilla strips on top, and garnish with cilantro, salsa and fresh lime juice.

Greek Cucumber Salad Sandwich

The theme of my summer has been eating outdoors, thanks to this highly useful and necessary purchase I made in July:
This pimped-out cooler makes picnicking a snap, and very quickly became the MVP of the season. My summer, which officially came to a close last week (boo), was filled with a bounty of delicious, simple meals that were packed into the cooler and then unpacked at one of Chicago’s lovely outdoor spaces. I have the good fortune of living a block from Humboldt Park, which is a 207-acre greenspace filled with ponds, baseball fields, gardens, and a weekly impromptu classic-car parade. Pimped-out cooler made it super easy to transform a weeknight dinner into an outdoor excursion, complete with entertainment (baseball and soccer games seem to happen every night of the summer).
picnic at humboldt park
Luckily my partner-in-outdoor-eating agrees that there’s no reason to eat indoors if the weather allows. One day, I came home from work to a packed cooler and a Brandon with a plan. You may know that there’s no quicker way to my heart than to cook for me, but cooking for me AND taking it outdoors is a sure win. So he earned some big points with this delicious picnic, comprised of tangy Greek cucumber salad sandwiches and a crisp white wine.
greek cucumber salad sandwiches
The weather was perfect, with a blue sky and gentle clouds. The sun set behind the baseball field as the kids finished their game.
Maybe it’s cruel to post this summery recipe on a day like today, with gray, cold rain, and no end in sight. But I’m not ready to put pimped-out cooler away for the year yet; consider this an incantation asking the weather to let me squeeze in just a few more picnics. If you get the chance, make these sandwiches and eat them outdoors. They’ll transport  you back to a lazy August afternoon, make you forget about the rain.
Greek Cucumber Salad Sandwich
Adapted from Epicurious.com 

2 1/2 pounds Japanese, Persian, or English hothouse cucumbers
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup labneh (Lebanese yogurt cheese) or Greek-style yogurt
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed well, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 9×7 inch loaves focaccia, halved horizontally, or 8 ciabatta rolls
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If using English cucumbers, split lengthwise and remove seeds (leave other varieties whole). Arrange cucumbers on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, cut side down. Brush with melted butter. Roast cucumbers until crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate; chill until cold.

Cut Japanese or Persian cucumbers lengthwise in half. Cut hothouse cucumber halves lengthwise in half. Slice crosswise into 1/4 inch-thick pieces. Whisk Greek yogurt and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in sliced cucumbers and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season filling to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired.

Brush cut sides of focaccia or rolls with olive oil; place on a baking sheet and toast in a 400° oven until just crispy and lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Divide filling among focaccia bottoms, cover with tops, and cut each into 4 sandwiches (or divide filling among rolls).

picnic sandwich

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