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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!!

Two Tamarind Dips

Sometimes I just don’t know how we aren’t all crawling around bruised and vulnerable, changed by every face we take in, every body we bump into, every passing breeze. Or maybe it’s just me–a peeled banana, a soft-shelled crab, mostly exposed belly. This has nothing to do with food. I’m just amazed that our amorphous collection of cells congeals into something like a discrete identity, and we forget how fluid and vulnerable we actually are as beings.

Maybe it does have to do with food, in that food is ultimately a social thing. The means of exchange, the way we bump into each other. Meet for drinks, a burger. Make a connection.

I flew to Seattle over the weekend, and, at the airport, spent my time fascinated by faces–completely distanced, taking them in as if they were an alien species. Then, spent time with dear friends and felt the opposite–so connected. They fed me and the sun was shining. It looked like this:

Chicago hasn’t gotten there yet. It’s still gray and cold and the wind likes to blow rain in my face and turn my umbrella inside out. Chicago keeps toying with my emotions: a sunny day, then crushing brutality. This waiting for spring has been awful.

Lest I ramble any longer and not get to the recipe, I present you with these tamarind dips: tangy, bright, springlike. Bring them to a party with crudites or bread or crackers. Socialize, get out of the rain.

Tamarind-Chickpea Dip

5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 c. dried chickpeas
2–3 curry leaves (ok to omit if not available)
2–3 bay leaves
water
1 preserved lemon, rinsed (or zest of one lemon)
1/2 c. cilantro
2 tbsp. Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. silken tofu
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. tamarind
salt and pepper
olive oil (about 1 c.)

Rinse the chickpeas and pick out any that seem discolored. Cover with water in a large pot. Soak for 8 hours or overnight.

Rinse the chickpeas, and then return to pot. Cover amply with water, at least by several inches. Add 3 cloves of garlic, bay leaves, and curry leaves, and bring to a boil. Boil for an hour or two, until they are cooked through. Drain and let cool. Of course, you can just use canned chickpeas if you prefer.

In a food processor, combine chickpeas with all the other ingredients. Drizzle in olive oil as you pulse until it becomes smooth. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Tamarind-Peanut Dip

1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 small cube of fresh ginger, peeled (about the same size as the garlic)
1/2 c. cilantro
3/4 c. peanut butter
1 1/2 tbsp. tamarind
1 red chili pepper
4 tbsp. silken tofu
2 scallions, white part only
salt

Combine all in a food processor until smooth. Adjust salt to taste.

Apple-Onion Tart

All I want to do lately is make. I feel more pull toward cozying up at home these days and making things than I did even in winter. Maybe it’s a last push of hibernating impulse before Chicago gets warm and lovely and I am too busy with barbecues and street festivals to do such things as make bread. Or to even turn my oven on for that matter. But for now, I have this great desire to reduce everything to its essential elements and start from scratch.

There’s one notoriously time-consuming item, however, that I’m happy to buy from the store: puff pastry. Apparently, when making it, you must be in a temperature-controlled room so that the layers of (mmmm) butter don’t melt and run while you’re rolling the dough. And the dough must rest in between layers. That’s the beauty of this concoction: layer upon layer of buttery dough with strata of butter in between.

Truly, what can go wrong when puff pastry is involved? You can throw old tires on it and it’ll still probably come out tasting great. Flakey and gorgeous–like making pies out of croissants. Really, puff pastry is never a bad idea.

Here is a very lovely visual demonstration for making puff pastry from scratch. If you’re up for that kind of thing.

Apple-Onion Tart
2 tablespoons olive oil
medium onions, sliced
red apples (such as Braeburn or Gala), cut into small pieces
kosher salt and black pepper
2 sheets frozen puff pastry (from a 17.3-ounce package), thawed
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
about 1/2 c. blue cheese, crumbled

Heat oven to 400º F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in the apples, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook until just tender, 2 minutes.

Place each sheet of pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. Spread with the crème fraîche, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with the onion mixture and sprinkle blue cheese on top. Bake until the pastry is crisp and browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Cut into pieces before serving.

Spicy Olive Tapenade

I realized yesterday that Labor Day is next Monday. Labor Day, as in summer’s bookend. Labor Day, as in the end of lazy days in the sun and the beginning of  crisp air and fresh starts. New directions, refocusing. Summer was lovely and I’m sad to see it go, but I am ready for a new beginning. Out with the old and in with the new. I have so many things I don’t want to drag into the new season.

It’s been too hot in my kitchen to really cook. Luckily, this recipe requires no cooking. Nada. I’ve been in the mood to simplify things, and this tapenade is as simple as you can get. Mix it together and dip your bread into it. I served it to Josh and Rachel last week while their baby Nora was sleeping in the other room. It’s from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which has yet to disappoint. The sound of the electric fan lulling the baby to sleep, the meager, aging air conditioner turned on to its full blast, a lemony mediterranean dip, and some nice friends swapping stories around the couch. We followed up dinner (lentil salad and rice) with watermelon. What could be more summery than this scenario?

I’m not quite ready to let summer go yet, but I know that fall will usher in its own pleasures, and that feels hopeful enough for now.

Spicy Olive Tapenade
1/2 pound olives, pitted. I used Kalamata
1/4 c. capers, rinsed
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 garlic cloves to taste, finely chopped
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. chopped green peppercorns, drained (I used dried black)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes

Mix it all up in a food processor (or a mortar and pestle if you don’t have one). Adjust oil as needed for desired consistency. Serve with pita points or a crusty baguette. Would be great on sandwiches, too.

Cannellini Bean Dip

Alas, my coworker, cocktail mixmaster, fearless foodie, and good friend Melissa is moving next week to Seattle. Good news for Seattle, bad news for me. We had a going away BBQ with other workmates, and this bean dip was my contribution. I used dried beans, so am going to supply the recipe according to those directions. If you want to use canned beans, just skip the soaking and boiling. I love using dried, though. The whole ritual reminds me of being a kid in my mom’s kitchen, picking through the pintos for her before she made her famous refried beans. Plus, it’s much cheaper than canned and you can control what goes in them.

Cheers, Melissa!

Cannellini Bean Dip

1 c. dried cannellini beans
1 lemon, juiced and zested
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
the leaves from one full sprig of rosemary
salt and pepper
5 tbsp. olive oil

Rinse the dried beans and sort out any hard, disfigured, or discolored ones. Cover with water and let them soak overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the soaked beans then cover them with water in a pot. Do not add salt yet. Bring to a boil and let them cook for about an hour, until soft. Drain and let cool a bit.

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients but the olive oil and begin to pulse. Drizzle in the olive oil until desired consistency. Adjust seasonings to taste.

I served with garlic-rubbed, oven-toasted baguette slices.

Mango-Avocado Salsa

avocados

I could eat avocados everyday. Often, I do. I grew up with an avocado tree in the back yard in the San Fernando Valley, so avocados and I go way back. And in California, they’re easy to come by. Here in Chicago, they’re easy to ignore. They’re hardly ever at all enticing at the supermarket, where they’re either rock solid and weeks from ripening or so over-ripe that they’d smoosh by just looking in their direction. But a ripe one–a somewhat firm globe that gives just slightly to the touch–that’s a thing of beauty. A ripe one is so buttery and creamy, and, with just a little salt, will start to sing sweet love songs to your taste buds. The Barry White of fruit, if you will.

Avocados have gotten a bad rap. They have the good fat, friends. And they are full of 20 essential nutrients, and are good for your heart and cholesterol. If I still lived in California, you know I’d be going to Avocado Fest to celebrate these beauties.

According to Wikipedia, avocados may be an evolutionary anachronism, adapted for an ecological relationship with a now extinct animal (probably the giant ground sloth! or gomphothere). There are no existing animals large enough to eat them whole and pass the seed through their digestive system. If this is true, then the avocado occupies a similar niche to the mango of Asia.

Giant Ground Sloth!

Which brings us to avocado-mango salsa. This is eating pleasure on all fronts: creamy, sweet, spicy, tart. And it’s really easy to throw together. I’ve served it on fish tacos and also just with tortilla chips. I bet you have a few summer picnics left in you, and the manna of the giant ground sloth would no doubt be a big hit!

Mango-Avocado Salsa

1 mango, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch chunks
2 avocados, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch chunks
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 jalapeno
2 limes
salt and pepper
cilantro, chopped

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Bacon Fest 2010: Bacon Jam

bacon, niman ranch, applewood smoked bacon, dry cured

For my birthday this year, I received a lovely package in the mail containing Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon, a book completely devoted to the history, use, and love of bacon. Since then, I’ve been inspired–(downright possessed)–by bacon. Celeste and I have been exchanging bacon tchotchkes on our birthdays for awhile now, but this one really got me to thinking. So on Saturday, I invited a few friends over to eat, drink, and contemplate bacon. The conclusion: bacon is delicious.

I think bacon really gets people’s engines going because it beautifully marries the savory and sweet. You can whip it into a smoky, smoldering frenzy, or you can coax out its sweeter side. Mention bacon to any meat eater and, nine times out of ten, you’ll get declarations of rhapsodic devotion to it. It’s satisfying, versatile, and popping up all over the place lately–vodka, chocolate bars, donuts. Zingerman calls it the olive oil of America in his book, which I completely disagree with (that would be butter, ahem). But it truly, truly is an American culinary icon.

American–or “streaky”–bacon is typically a dry-cured cut of pork belly. British bacon is taken from the back of the pig. I went American all the way (it was 4th of July weekend). The first recipe I decided on was this Chipotle Bacon Jam I found at the Homesick Texan blog. (Thank you, Homesick Texan!) As soon as I came across this, I knew it would be my first course. Below is what happens when you take a pound of bacon and let it simmer in a spicy bath until it becomes a smoky, chorizo-like spread of velvet.

Homesick Texan’s Chipotle Bacon Jam
1 pound of bacon
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sliver of onion (I used more–about half an onion)
1–4 chipotles in adobo (I used 2)
2 tsps. adobo sauce from the chipotle can
2 tsps. ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground Mexican hot chocolate
1 c. brewed coffee
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
black pepper to taste

Cook the bacon until the fat is rendered, but not too crisp. Cut cooked bacon into two-inch-sized pieces. Pour out all but one tbsp. bacon fat.

On medium heat, cook the onion and garlic in the bacon fat for a few minutes. Add the cooked bacon, spices, vinegar, and coffee. Simmer on low for two hours, stirring occasionally. If it starts to get dry, add 1/4 cup of water at a time. I found that I needed to do this ever 20 minutes or so.

After two hours, place bacon jam into a food processor and pulse for two or three seconds until it has a nice, chunky consistency.

I served it with Fuji apple slices, crostini, smoked gouda, and caramelized onions.

From the Ultimate Bacon Resource:

Top 10 Bacon Quotes from Homer Simpson

  1. “(Lisa) “I’m going to become a vegetarian” (Homer) “Does that mean you’re not going to eat any pork?” “Yes” “Bacon?” “Yes Dad” Ham?” “Dad all those meats come from the same animal” “Right Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal!””
  2. “Porkchops and bacon, my two favorite animals.”
  3. “When you’re in my house you shall do as I do and believe who I believe in. So Bart butter your bacon.”
  4. “Is it Bacon Day?”
  5. “Mmmm. Move over, eggs. Bacon just got a new best friend – fudge.”
  6. “Not again! First you took away my Philly Fudgesteak. And then my Bacon Balls. Then my Whatchamachicken. You monster!”
  7. Homer: I’ll have the smiley face breakfast special. Uhh, but could you add a bacon nose? Plus bacon hair, bacon mustache, five o’clock shadow made of bacon bits and a bacon body.
    Waitress: How about I just shove a pig down your throat?
    (Homer looks excited)
    Waitress: I was kidding.
    Homer: Fine, but the bacon man lives in a bacon house!
    Waitress: No he doesn’t!
  8. “[strained] You know that feeling you get when a thousand knives of fire are stabbing you in the heart? I’m having that right now…[normal] Ooh, bacon!”
  9. “Mmm … bacon”
  10. “Mmm … unexplained bacon”