Archive for December, 2010

Oh, hello!

Do you have more get-togethers coming up?

Do you have to make something?

Might I suggest these?

Chevre-stuffed mushrooms
makes 30

Do-ahead:  These can be stuffed ahead of time and will keep in the fridge for a day or two before being baked and served.

30 medium-sized cremini or button mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed, with the stems removed and finely chopped
2 tsp. olive oil
1 shallot, diced fine
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
EITHER: 1/4 cup fine bread or cracker crumbs, OR 4 extra mushrooms, finely chopped
[This is to accomodate those who can’t eat wheat. Or those who don’t have bread or cracker crumbs.]
1 small log (140 g) soft chevre

1.  In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the rosemary, salt and pepper, and finely chopped mushroom stem (and chopped mushrooms, if not using bread crumbs). Cook until the mushroom is lightly browned and has let off a good deal of moisture – it will have reduced in bulk considerably. If using breadcrumbs, mix them in now, along with about two-thirds of the chevre. Season to taste.

2. Stuff the mushrooms, using your fingers or a small teaspoon to gently pack the stuffing so that it’s level. Top each mushroom with a tiny dab of the leftover chevre, and arrange the mushrooms on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

3. Bake the mushrooms for approximately 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. When the mushrooms are cooked through, turn on the broiler and broil the mushrooms for a few minutes until the tops are attractively browned.

Serve warm.


Read Full Post »

[Ed. note: Why yes, that  bowl of soup is sitting on an armchair. It happened to be the brightest spot in my apartment at that given moment. Here in the dark Canadian winter, you take sunlight anyway you can get it. ] 

This week presents particular challenges to our digestive systems. We’re just recovering from a weekend in which holiday parties reached a feverish pitch. You’ve likely indulged in a good deal of tasty treats that were thrust your way, or just happened to be lying around, generously placed there just for you. But you know there’s more significant eating yet to come in the very near future. And you know what that means?

You need to pace yourself.

After all, you probably have just a couple of working days before the world shuts down for a little while. Slow workdays in which you will probably be too close to the plate of cookies or candy that seem to have take up permanent residence much too near to your desk. You need a lunch (or dinner) to help create some balance.  A bowl of soup, perhaps. Something easy to make. Something sustaining. Something with fibre. Something with  – dare I say it? – bacon.

I know, I know. Bacon, by rights, has no place in a healthy dish, but hear me out.  The lentils and greens are what make you feel better about yourself, but lentils usually need a lot of help to taste good. To compensate for an otherwise earthy, bland taste, you need something strong and flavourful. In this case I’ve used a fairly lean prosciutto to minimize the bacon fat, but in a pinch you could use pancetta or regular bacon.

Also, I bet you already have everything you need to make this soup on hand.

Lentil and prosciutto soup
serves 4 to 6

1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup (3 oz.) prosciutto or pancetta, cut 1/2″ thick and diced
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch dried chili flakes 
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 large carrot, diced
1 or 2 ribs of celery, diced
1 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups chopped kale, swiss chard or spinach
salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat and saute the prosciutto (or pancetta or bacon) until slightly browned and some fat is rendered. If you’re using fatty bacon, now would be a good time to pour off some of the grease before you proceed, ;eaving some fat in the pan.

Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic, chili flakes and tomato paste; mix well and cook one or two minutes until some of the tomato paste starts to caramelize in the pan. Add the celery, carrot, lentils and stock; bringt to a boil and let simmer until the lentils and vegetables are cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.   Just before serving, add the greens and season to taste.

With a salad, bread and a hunk of cheese, it makes a perfect winter meal.

Read Full Post »

Postscript: The Loot

 Well, the party was fun. We ate, drank, caught up and cooed at each other’s  babies. And as the afternoon wore on and people decided it was time to go, we all lined up in front of the many piles of cookie packages and took our shares. It felt like grown-up trick-or-treating.

Behold, the loot!

Top: Coconut stars, almond-chocolate shortbread crescents

Second row:  Vanilla-raisin biscotti, snickerdoodles, chocolate-sprinkled shortbread, apricot nuggets

Third row: Chewy ginger cookie, white chocolate-dried fruit cookie, After-Eight cookie

Bottom: chocolate-almond shortbread

There may or may not have been chocolate-dipped potato chips as well, but we have no photographic evidence. Ahem.

Susan, thank you so much for organizing this exchange every year. Thanks to you, I have a freezer full of cookies! Now cue the willpower.

Read Full Post »

I have just packed up 12 dozen cookies for my annual cookie exchange. And since every bag is topped up with a couple extra, it’s actually more. So I just baked approximately 200 cookies.

Ahhh. Let me just pause here a minute, and take a sip of my well-deserved glass of wine.

Except I didn’t bake 200 cookies. This year, I got it in my crazy head that I wanted to make sandwich cookies. So really, I baked 400. But let me back up a second.

Tomorrow is my friend Susan’s annual cookie party, wherein a dozen or so friends get together for snacks, wine, catching up, and supplying one another with a festive season’s worth of baked goods. We each bake up huge batches of one cookie, divvy them up among us, and then go home with a bunch of different kinds of cookie. You can bring them to family gatherings, pack up a fancy selection to give as gifts, and you can have a stockpile of cookies in the freezer for when a sugar craving takes you. It’s genius!

It’s the kind of community-building thing I love to be a part of. It ensures that I see these friends at least once a year, and it reminds me that many people working together can achieve greater things than we can do on our own. I also love the baking.  My mom did cookie exchanges when I was a kid, and a lot of my Christmas memories are tied up in those weekend afternoons spent with her rolling out cookies by the hundreds, watching snow collect in the pine trees outside the kitchen window.

As a tradition, the cookie exchange is a pretty worthy one to establish and nurture, but there are a couple of key elements to making it work.

1. Involve only friends who like to bake, and are excellent cooks. You want people who will enjoy the work, and who will make cookies that you want to eat.

2. Kids can help, but they don’t get creative control. Meaning: nothing with mismatched sprinkles, neon icing or botched/unrecognizable cutout shapes. This may sound fairly hardline, but seriously, I put a lot of thought and care into the cookies I make every year and hope for some nice grownup cookies in return.

3. The cookies should be delicious, but not labour-intensive. Case in point, icebox cookies. You shape the dough into a log, chill it, and just slice and bake. And as long as the cookie is super delicious – such as the tart and shortbready Lime Meltaways – you’re still giving people something really nice.

This year, in deciding what cookie to make, I found myself daydreaming about a chocolate-mint combination. I wanted something that would approximate the After Eight mint in cookie form. This meant a sandwich cookie, but decided that I could justify the extra work as long as I stayed with the icebox cookie format.

It took me a while to find the right recipe. I tried the chocolate variation of Smitten Kitchen’s icebox cookies, but I couldn’t get it chocolatey enough. Plus, it was too shortbready and crumbly to support a filling. I ended up tweaking a recipe from the hilariously retro Betty Crocker Cooky Book, which yielded a nice solid, crispy cookie. I bumped up the flavour with both melted chocolate and cocoa, plus a hefty dose of peppermint extract. For the filling, I took my guidance from the cream cheese mints of my youth, only used less icing sugar.

Combined, the dark chocolate cookie and the rich minty icing are a cookie I’m quite proud of. Not quite an After Eight mint in cookie form, but pretty close.

After Eight Cookies
makes about 8 dozen filled cookies

Cookie dough:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup softened butter
1 cup white sugar
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. peppermint extract

4 oz. cream cheese (This is half a rectangular package of Philly; I use full-fat.)
2 cups sifted icing sugar
1 tsp. peppermint extract

1. Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. In a stand mixer (or mixing by hand), cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is well-incorporated, fluffy and creamy. Add the vanilla, peppermint and melted chocolate, and mix completely, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure the egg is evenly distributed (but don’t beat so much that it’s completely incorporated). Add the dry ingredients in three instalments, scraping down the sides of the bowl each time.  Remove the dough from the mixing bowl, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill it for about 1/2 hour in the fridge.

2. Divide the dough into four equal pieces, and roll each into a log about one and a half inches in diameter. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least two hours.

Tip!  Want to ensure that your cookies will be nice and round? Keep a few paper towel cardboard rolls on hand, and slip the dough inside these to chill. They help the dough keep its shape as it chills.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the dough into 1/8″ slices and arrange on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake 5 to 8 minutes, removing from the oven when the bottoms are just slightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack.

4. To make the icing, mix the cream cheese in a stand mixer (or a bowl, by hand) until fluffy. Add the peppermint extract, then the icing sugar in three installments, scraping down the sides of the bowl. This can be made ahead of time, and keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days.

5. When the cookies are completely cool,  sandwich them in pairs with a generous dab of icing. 

These cookies can be kept frozen but will keep well for a few days at room temperature.

Read Full Post »

Since we’ve moved farther away from our favourite butcher and grocery store where we can buy meat that we feel better about eating (hormone free, free run, etc), I’m thinking about eating less meat. It’s better for us, after all. Health-wise, planet-wise, money-wise, what’s not to like? 

While I’m not a vegetarian, I spent much of my twenties living and sharing food with vegetarians, which meant that I ate veg at home, and meat when I was at work. And while we eat a fair bit of meat here at Last Muffin Standing, I tend to have much more fun cooking vegetables or veg-oriented dishes. Meat is meat any day of the year, but changing your cooking with the seasons is much more interesting. It keeps me in tune with the passage of time. It helps me celebrate the colder weather when I would much rather have the days be longer and brighter.

This recipe came from a desire to eat less meat, but also a craving for something that had the earthy fall flavours of leeks and mushrooms. Also, the combination of creamy pasta, mushrooms and cheese is infinitely appealing as the days get colder and darker. Comfort food, as it were.

America’s Test Kitchen had sent a mushroom lasagna recipe in a recent newsletter, but I found it finicky. I wanted something relatively simple but with a few refined touches. So the bechamel sauce became a white-wine-leek sauce. Next time I make this I might switch up the parmesan for asiago or add some tarragon to the sauce, but this dish is already pretty fabulous on its own. You could halve this recipe to make one small lasagna, but really, why make one when you can make two and freeze one for later? Alternatively, if feeding a crowd, you can make it all in one large baking dish.

Mushroom and leek lasagna
makes 2 8×8 lasagnas*; each serves 4 generously and 6 more virtuously
* I use tin foil pans for for these.

2 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced
olive oil for sauteeing
salt and pepper to taste
approximately 12 oven-ready dried lasagna noodles [these may look too small to adequately fill the pan, but they will expand as they cook.]
1/4 cup butter
2 medium-sized leeks, washed thoroughly and sliced thin
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white wine
6 cups whole milk
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
salt to taste
1 cup freshly grated parmesan

1. Working in batches, saute the mushrooms in a large skillet until golden brown and season with salt and pepper as you go. Set the cooked mushrooms aside in a bowl as you get the other ingredients ready. [Tip: if the mushrooms let off moisture as they cool, add those juices into the leek sauce for extra mushroomy flavour. ]

2. In a large saucepan or heavy-bottomed stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the leeks until softened, then sprinkle the flour over and mix well to incorporate. Cook the floured leeks a minute or two, then add the white wine. Stirring with a whisk to get rid of any lumps, add the milk and turn down the heat to low. Cook the sauce, whisking occasionally, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the minced garlic, nutmeg, white pepper and salt.

3. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. To assemble the lasagnas, ladle about 1 cup of sauce into the bottom of each baking pan. Set down one layer of noodles and one layer of mushrooms (about 1/4 of the sauteed mushrooms for each pan) and cover with sauce. Repeat with another layer of noodles, the remaining mushrooms, and sauce. Finally, top with one more layer of noodles and sauce to cover, then sprinkle the grated parmesan on top.

5. Bake the lasagnas uncovered for 45 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked through in the centre and the cheese is golden brown on the top. Before serving, let it rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. If you want to freeze them, let them cool completely and then wrap in a couple of layers of plastic wrap. To reheat, let it thaw completely and warm it in a low oven (about 325 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least 40 minutes.

Read Full Post »