stuffed mushrooms with sun-dried tomatoes

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I’ve started my annual football season tradition of planning to eat snacks on Sundays instead of a full dinner, which will invariably last two weeks before I forget all about it and go back to planning a meal and then whining that “I don’t feel like cooking, I just wanna relax!” My life is so hard.

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But it can be tricky to come up with snacks that are really good but not so filling that I can’t graze on them for a while. (Translation: I’d like to be eating cheese and bread and sausage and mayonnaise-based dips and chips and cookies and, you know, tasty delicious things like that. But I also want my pants to fit.)

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Stuffed mushrooms are a good example of something that seems like it should be fairly healthy, but on closer inspection, is often full of cheese, and not just any cheese, but that most-delicious and fattening of examples – cream cheese.

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Fortunately, this recipe keeps it light by skipping the cheese, flavoring the filling with just shallots, parsley, and sun-dried tomatoes, with bread crumbs used for bulk and just a sprinkle of parmesan grated on top for an accent.

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Even though it was just Dave and I watching football together on a Sunday afternoon, and we had a few other snacks, I made the full recipe. But it turns out these stuffed mushrooms aren’t the type of snack that you graze on throughout an afternoon, because they were so darn good that we snarfed them up immediately. And since they’re not very filling, you can eat a bunch of them and still have plenty of room for some hummus!

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One year ago: Roasted Carrots

Printer Friendly Recipe
Mushrooms Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
(adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

The only minor change I’ll make to this recipe, to bring it from really damn good to perfect, is to sprinkle the inside of the mushrooms with a bit of salt before roasting them the first time. Not so much to eliminate more liquid, but just to season them. (Even Dave agreed with this, and he isn’t as salt-crazy as I am.)

Makes 18

½ ounce sun-dried tomatoes (about 5)
2 tablespoons olive oil
18 white mushrooms, caps reserved, stems pulled out and chopped fine
½ cup finely chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
⅓ cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 large egg yolk, beaten lightly
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, washed well, spun dry, and minced
½ teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. If your tomatoes are packed in oil, rinse them before chopping them finely. If they’re not packed in oil, soak them in a small bowl in hot water to cover for 5 minutes. Reserving 1 tablespoon soaking liquid, drain tomatoes well and chop fine.

3. Lay mushroom caps, stems removed, face down on baking sheet either lightly sprayed with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. Bake them approximately 10 minutes, or until their liquid puddles underneath. Remove from the oven. Carefully pour off liquid that has gathered in the bottom of the pan, and then again, carefully, turn mushroom caps over so they are ready to be filled.

4. In a small skillet heat oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and cook chopped mushrooms stems, shallots and garlic, stirring until shallots are softened. In a bowl stir together mushrooms mixture, bread crumbs, tomatoes, reserved soaking liquid, yolk, parsley, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mound stuffing in reserved mushroom caps and arrange caps in a lightly greased shallow baking dish, or the same parchment-lined pan you’ve roasted your mushrooms in. Sprinkle mushrooms with Parmesan and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes.

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goat cheese, pesto, and sun-dried tomato terrine

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Dave is, it should come as no surprise to me by now, quite a good match for me. I used to wish that he was as excited about food as I was. I’d ask him for meal ideas, I’d demand feedback after trying a new recipe, and I wished he’d cook with me. Invariably, his replies were, respectively, “salmon pesto pasta”, “good”, and “sure, someday.”

Which, actually – is fine by me. Do I really need someone picking apart each dish I make? Or adding even more ideas to an already overstuffed recipes-to-try folder? Or taking up valuable cooking opportunities?

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No, his uncritical, always-appreciative, open-minded attitude toward food is perfect. And when he does get excited by a dish, I know to take note, like when he came home from a work party raving about a goat cheese pesto spread someone had brought.

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What you do is line a bowl with plastic wrap, then spread some softened goat cheese in the bottom. You’re supposed to make the goat cheese spreadable by adding cream, but I used milk and it worked just fine. Over the first layer of goat cheese, you add some pesto, then more goat cheese, then minced sun-dried tomatoes and chopped toasted pine nuts, then more goat cheese. After chilling for a few hours, it inverts nicely, and you pull the plastic wrap off to reveal nice layers.

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Wow, what a great combination of ingredients. The sweetness of the sun-dried tomatoes balances the tart goat cheese, and pesto is always delicious.  I served it with a whole wheat baguette, and we ate, um, a lot of it. It was completely irresistible.

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One year ago: Lavash Crackers and Pesto Goat Cheese Spread (Hi! I like pesto! And goat cheese!)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Goat Cheese, Pesto, and Sun-Dried Tomato Terrine
(from Fine Cooking)

Dave did tell me, too late, that his coworker had advised that one of the tricks to making the terrine look neat was to not overfill the intervening layers. That would have been nice to know before I spooned in a bunch of extra pesto.

My personal preference would have been for one more tomato. Dave didn’t agree.

10 ounces goat cheese
¼ to ½ cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
5 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

1. Line the inside of a 2-cup sharply sloping bowl (about 4 inches across the top) with plastic; let the ends extend over the sides a few inches. In a mixing bowl, mash the goat cheese and ¼ cup of the cream with a fork and season with ¼ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper; add more cream if the cheese hasn’t softened.

2. Spoon about one-third of the cheese into the lined bowl and pack it into an even layer. Spread the pesto almost completely to the sides of the first layer of cheese. Top with another third of the cheese, the sun-dried tomatoes, and all but ½ tablespoon of the pine nuts. Top with the remaining cheese. Pack down, fold the plastic over, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

3. Half an hour before serving, take the bowl out of the refrigerator. Pull on the edges of the plastic to loosen the terrine from the bowl. Invert the terrine onto a plate, drizzle with a little olive oil, and let sit for ½ hour to warm up. Sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts, season liberally with pepper, and serve.

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puff pastry dough

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Remember when I made these? I was like, they’re so easy! Just cut out some puff pastry rounds, top with fruit and sugar, and bake until beautiful and buttery and perfect!

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Um. “Easy” isn’t really my thing when it comes to baking. I am determined to overcomplicate things.

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So I made my own puff pastry dough. I have tried the Pepperidge Farm stuff, years ago, and I don’t remember being particularly impressed. Plus, bleah, hydrogenated fat. I didn’t know where I could buy all-butter puff pastry dough and figured it would be easier to make my own than search for it.

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As it turns out, puff pastry isn’t all that hard to make. The first steps are similar to pie dough. You mix flour, salt, and sugar, then cut in butter. Then, because pie dough isn’t fattening enough on its own, you work a square of butter into the dough.

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The directions for this are a bit tricky, and I think I would have had difficulty without a series of photos to follow. What you do is roll out the dough into a square that’s about twice the size of your square of butter. You place the butter square in the middle of the dough square, with the corners of the butter in the middle of the sides of the dough. (Uh…did you get that?)

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Then take the butter off and roll just the corners of the dough where the butter didn’t overlap. (Uh…did you get that?) You’re creating four flaps from the corners, but the middle, where the butter was, stays thicker. Once you’ve rolled out the flaps, put the butter back in the center of the dough and fold the flaps over. Now you have a nice little packet.

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Roll the whole thing out, then fold it into thirds like a piece of paper going into an envelope. Then do that again. And again. And again and again and again. You’ll want to chill it in between there occasionally, and it sounds like a lot of rolling and folding, but the dough is really easy to work with, and each roll-and-fold takes maybe one minute. (I’ve been making a lot of croissants lately, which also involves rolling-and-folding, but croissant dough is much more difficult to work with due to its elasticity.)

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And then, you’re done. Then it’s just like having the store-bought stuff, except buttery-er. You can make whatever recipe you want, whether it be fruit tarts, pot pie, turnovers, cheese straws…etc… It’s versatile, it’s delicious, and it isn’t as hard as you think.

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One year ago: Chocolate Pudding

Puff Pastry (from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes about 3 pounds

I accidentally added all of the flour into the dough and then didn’t add any flour to the butter package. Everything still went smoothly.

3 cups (14 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup (5 ounces) cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, plus 1 stick (½ cup), cold, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. In a large bowl, combine 2¾ cups (12.85 ounces) all-purpose flour with the cake flour, salt, and sugar. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter pieces (1 stick) until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few larger clumps remaining. Make a well in the center, and pour in 1 cup cold water and the vinegar, gradually drawing the flour mixture over the water, gathering and combining until mixture comes together to form a dough. If the dough is too dry, add more cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Knead gently in the bowl, and form dough into a rough ball. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 40 minutes or up to 2 hours.

2. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour on a sheet of parchment. Lay remaining 4 sticks of butter on top, side by side; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Top with more parchment; pound butter with a rolling pin until it’s about ½ inch thick. Remove top paper, fold butter in half, replace paper; pound butter until it’s about ½ inch thick. Repeat two or three more times until it is pliable. Using a bench scraper, shape butter into a 6-inch square; wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until chilled, about 10 minutes.

3. Lightly dust work surface with flour. Roll out dough to a 9-inch round; place butter package in center. Using a paring knife or bench scraper, lightly score dough to outline butter square. Remove butter; set aside. Starting from each side of marked square, gently roll out dough to form flour flaps, each 4 to 5 inches long; do not touch square. Return butter to center square; fold flaps over butter. Press with your hands to seal.

4. With the rolling pin, gently pound the dough all over in regular intervals until it is about 1 inch thick; this will soften the dough, making it easer to roll. Working in only one directly (lengthwise), gently roll out the dough to a 20-by-9-inch rectangle, squaring corners with the side of the rolling pin or your hands as you go. Using a dry pastry brush, sweep off excess flour. With a short side facing you, fold the rectangle in thirds like a business letter. Turn the dough a quarter-turn clockwise, so the flap faces right, like a book. (This completes the first turn.) Roll out the dough again to a 20-by-9-inch rectangle, rolling in the same lengthwise direction; fold dough again into thirds. (This completes the second turn.) Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.

5. Repeat the rolling, turning, and chilling process for a total of six turns; always start each turn with the opening of the dough to the right. (If at any time, the dough becomes too soft to work with, return it to the refrigerator until firm.) Wrap dough in plastic; refrigerate 3 to 4 hours before using the dough.

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honey yogurt dip

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Dave and I, for better or worse, don’t have the types of jobs that we can just forget about when we leave work at the end of the day. As a result, we often have to work on weekends. One particularly stressful weekend, I decided that we should make weekend working an event, where we set aside a few hours to sit down at the table together and get our work done. And what I really mean when I say ‘event’ is that I want snacks.

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Since we were being industrious and working, it made sense to keep the snacks on the healthy side. Plus they were replacing dinner, so they needed to be nutritionally well-rounded. This fruit dip was exactly what I was looking for – easy, healthy(ish), and finger-food friendly.

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Calling this a recipe may be overstating things a bit – it’s really just yogurt sweetened with honey and enhanced with a pinch of cinnamon. The original recipe recommended vanilla yogurt, but a number of the reviewers indicated that the result was too sweet. Another common complaint was that the dip was too thin. I thought using Greek yogurt would solve both problems at once.

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It was a good change apparently, because the dip was perfect – fresh and light, plus just a little spicy from the cinnamon. It enhanced our fruit without overpowering it. Unfortunately, the dip was a lot more successful than working was for me that weekend – I found myself all too easily distracted. But at least I was eating fruit, right?

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One year ago: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

Yogurt Honey Dip (adapted from Bon Apetit July 1998, but really epicurious.com)

Makes about 1 cup, or 4 servings

I have to admit that I didn’t measure anything when I made this. It’s pretty much a to-taste thing anyway, just keep in mind that the flavor of the cinnamon didn’t really come through until the dip had been chilled for a few hours.

1 (7-ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
3-4 tablespoons honey
1/8-¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix the ingredients together. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Serve with fresh fruit.

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herbed lima bean hummus

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I don’t blame Tuesdays with Dorie for my pants being too tight to button by the end of 2008.  I blame unemployment.   Instead of grabbing my standard healthy snacks and eating them at work because they were the only food available, I would pass over the bananas and carrots at home and fill up on cookie dough instead.

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So one of my goals for 2009, since I’m still working at home a few days per week, is to make those healthy snacks more enticing. For bananas, it’s as simple as eating them with peanut butter or Nutella. The carrots, or whatever other raw vegetable I end up eating, cry out for some sort of dip. But anything based on mayonnaise and/or sour cream just defeats the purpose.

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Fortunately, there’s plenty of bean dips out there to explore. This one, which isn’t like traditional hummus at all, is based on lima beans, a bean that I don’t have much experience with. The cooked lima beans are pureed along with aromatics, herbs and seasonings.

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The original recipe called for the onion and garlic to be boiled along with the beans, but who wants boiled onion? Yuck. I took many of the recipe reviewers’ recommendations to sauté the onions and garlic instead. The recipe also calls for mint and dill, but I didn’t have any and didn’t miss it. Finally, I reduced the olive oil just a bit, since the whole point here is to make a healthy snack.

The resulting dip is a pretty green color with a very nice, sort of sweet, flavor. It made my daily carrot, which I guarantee wouldn’t have gotten eaten otherwise, much more enjoyable, but no less healthy.

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One year ago:  Moo shu

Herbed Lima Bean Hummus (adapted substantially from Gourmet, via epicurious)

Makes about 2 cups

1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving, if desired
½ large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed with side of a large knife
½ teaspoon salt
1 (10-oz) packages frozen baby lima beans
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil in medium skillet. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re just starting to brown around the edges. Add the garlic and salt, stir, then remove from the heat.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring lima beans and 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 6-8 minutes, until tender. Drain.

3. Add onion mixture, beans, and all remaining ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth. Add more oil if the dip seems too thick.

4. Transfer dip to a serving bowl and drizzle with remaining tablespoon oil, if desired. Serve with crudité or toasted pita wedges. (Dip can be covered and stored in refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

asian peanut dip

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I keep my eye out for vegetables dips that aren’t ridiculously unhealthy. The thing is, when I serve some sort of meat that’s finger food, I don’t like to serve a vegetable that requires silverware. The perfect accompaniment is crudité (snobby way of saying vegetables eaten as a snack) with a dip, but most dips are nothing more than seasoned mayonnaise and sour cream. Not that I don’t love mayonnaise and sour cream, but I don’t always want to think of the dip as a treat.

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I’ve found one vegetable dip that’s a little healthier, and now I have another one. When struggling to figure out what to serve with the shrimp tempura recipe I was testing for Cooks Illustrated, I remembered that my friend had recently made this great spicy peanut dip on a camping trip. She got the recipe from Backpacker magazine, but when I searched on the internet, I saw that there were many similar recipes, most just as easy as the one we had the on the trip. There were slight variations between each, and I decided to stick with the Backpacker magazine one because it uses rice vinegar instead of lime juice for its acidity, which I’d really enjoyed.

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(Clearly at the time I didn’t realize I’d blog about this at some point, or I would have taken a more flattering/interesting photo.)

The recipe, designed as it is to be made outdoors on a single-burner backpacking stove, is simple. I’ve tweaked the instructions just slightly, to bring the most flavor out of the red pepper and to tame the bite of the garlic. I also increased the seasoning and decreased the amount of red pepper flakes. It seemed far spicier when I made it at home than it did on the trip, maybe because I heated the flakes in oil first. And of course we didn’t add the scallions when we were camping – who brings scallions on a multi-day canoeing trip?

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Usually, we adapt our favorite meals to be appropriate outdoors. I think this is the first time I’ve adapted a backpacking recipe for home, but this is a great recipe to have. I know peanut butter isn’t exactly a low-fat ingredient, but it’s a heck of a lot healthier than mayonnaise or sour cream, and this dip is just as good as more decadent vegetable dips.

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Asian Peanut Dip (adapted from Backpacker Magazine)

Serves 4

1 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup water
½ cup peanut butter, creamy or chunky
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 scallion, sliced
salt to taste

In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add water, increase heat to high, and bring to boil. When water boils, remove pan from heat and add peanut butter, stirring until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients (saving some scallion slices for garnish, if desired). Return to heat and continue stirring for 2-4 minutes until mixture is thickened. Serve warm or cold with crackers or crudité.

phyllo triangles: crawfish and mushroom fillings

I have had this recipe in my “To Blog” folder for months. It has sat there, ignored, while flashier ideas or more seasonal recipes or better photos or easier stories made other entries come first. In fact, I now have 33 recipes that are ready to be written about, just waiting for me to get up the motivation. I have decided that the only way to get my To Blog folder back under control will be a commitment to publish a blog entry every day for a month – which I could easily do even if I didn’t make one new recipe for the rest of the month.

These crawfish phyllo triangles caught my eye when Jen wrote about them because I remembered really liking crawfish the one time I’d had them before. But it was a few months before I discovered a great fish market nearby where I could actually buy crawfish. I served these with Deb’s mushroom phyllo triangles, thinking that it wouldn’t be much more work to make another filling as long as I was already dealing with phyllo.

I changed the season in the filling recipe, as Jen didn’t seem completely pleased with it. I love Old Bay, which is what she recommended using instead of the paprika in the original recipe. I also left out a few ingredients that didn’t seem really necessary. The recipe is originally from Emeril, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the number of Emeril recipes I’ve made, it’s that they can usually be simplified.


Here’s the most important lesson I learned from this experience: You cannot skimp on the butter used to brush the phyllo layers. I was making these for dinner on a weeknight (um, back when I was unemployed – I’m a little more practical about weeknight dinners now), and it wasn’t until I already had the filling made that I noticed the 2 sticks of butter used to brush the phyllo. I’m okay with splurging once in a while, but I just wasn’t mentally prepared for that.

So I did an internet search and saw that you can spray the sheets with nonstick spray instead of brushing them with butter. I did a hybrid – I gave the sheet a quick spray, and then a light brush with butter.  The problem is that, once baked, the phyllo triangles were clearly missing something. They were a little dry and not as flavorful or crisp as they should have been. Next time I work with phyllo, I’ll be sure to keep in mind that a lot of butter is absolutely necessary to make phyllo as good as it should be.


Despite this (and crawfish tails’ creepy similarity to insect abdomens), both of these fillings made for some tasty snacks. Dave and I liked the crawfish filling more than the mushroom filling, which seemed a little flat in comparison. But hey – at least they were a little healthier than normal. And most importantly, they’re finally out of my To Blog folder.


Crawfish Phyllo Triangles (adapted from Use Real Butter, who adapted it from Louisiana Real & Rustic by Emeril Lagasse)

Makes about 24 triangles

2 tablespoons butter
1 pound crawfish tails, peeled and cooked
1 medium onion, diced small
2 stalks celery, minced
1½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
3 tablespoon parsley, chopped
½ pound phyllo dough sheets, thawed
16 tablespoons (2 sticks), melted

1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter of medium-high heat in 12-inch skillet. Add the onions, celery, salt, and Old Bay and sauté until soft and brown, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the crawfish and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the crawfish tails begin to curl. Remove from heat. Stir in parsley. Let cool.

2. To make each triangle, set one sheet of phyllo on a clean work surface and brush melted butter on half of the sheet lengthwise. Fold the phyllo on its long axis in half. Brush melted butter on half of the phyllo lengthwise again, and fold on the long axis once more. You should have a long narrow strip of phyllo with 4 layers.

3. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on one corner of the strip and begin folding the dough over the filling like a flag. Continue folding until the dough is completely wrapped around the filling. Brush a little butter on the end to seal it down. Repeat with remaining phyllo and filling.

4. Place triangles on a baking sheet so they are not touching one another. Bake at 375F for 18-20 minutes. Serve hot.

Mushroom Strudel (from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from The Complete Mushroom Book, by Antonio Carluccio)

Makes 18 triangles

18 sheets phyllo
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1 pound mixed, fresh, wild and cultivated mushrooms
1 medium onion, minced
3 tablespoons butter
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Leaves from 1 sprig marjoram or thyme
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling, if you wish
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Clear a large work surface for this, big enough for two full sheets of phyllo, your egg wash, parmesan and filling.

2. Make the filling: Make sure the mushrooms are dust- and sand-free, wash if necessary, and trim if need be. Cook the onion in the butter and, when soft, add the mushrooms with the nutmeg. Sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until liquid has been released and has partially evaporated. Add the sherry and evaporate the alcohol by cooking over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, herbs, and some salt and pepper, and let cool. The mixture will be moist.

3. Take one sheet of phyllo at a time from their package; cover the remaining sheets with plastic and then a damp towel, ensuring they are completely covered. Brush one half of the sheet lengthwise with butter. Fold the unbuttered side over the buttered side, carefully, smoothing out any wrinkles and bubbles but not worrying if you can’t get them all. Again, brush one half of this lengthwise with butter, and fold the unbuttered side over it again. You’ll end up with one long column.

4. Dollop a spoonful of the mushroom filling near the end and sprinkle a teaspoon of parmesan over it. Begin folding one bottom corner of the phyllo strip over the filling until it meets the opposite edge, forming a triangle, as if you were folding a flag. Place the triangle seam side down on the baking sheet, brush lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with parmesan.

5. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Serve warm.

lavash crackers (daring bakers)

This is the first Daring Baker recipe that has not only been from a cookbook I own, but was a recipe that I had planned to make soon anyway. Since football season started a few weeks ago, I’ve made Sunday into a snack day instead of serving an actual meal, which gives me a chance to play around with appetizer and dip recipes that I normally can’t (healthily) work into our routine.

The recipe itself was pretty simple. This is a rare recipe for Peter Reinhart in that it doesn’t require a pre-ferment, so the recipe can be completed in one day. The dough was easy to work with. I rolled it out right on my silicone baking mat, and then just moved the mat to a baking pan to bake it, so I never had to transfer just the sheet of dough.

I think Reinhart’s directions on rolling out the dough are off. I rolled the dough out to exactly the dimensions he recommends, but my “crackers” ended up far too thick. Reinhart refers to the rolled-out dough as “paper-thin” at one point, and mine certainly wasn’t. In the future, I’ll roll the dough out possibly twice as thin, so they’re more like crackers and less like little toasts.

I cheated on the dip. After I made it, I saw in the rules that we were supposed to make something that was gluten-free and vegan, but my pesto dip is based on goat cheese. But it’s so good! I have no regrets on breaking the rules if I get something so tasty out of it.

This challenge was a fun one – I always enjoy making yeast breads, and as I said, I’d been interested in this recipe for a while. The hosts this month, Natalie and Shel, also give directions for a gluten-free version, which I may try for my gluten-intolerant grandmother next time I see her. I’m always on the lookout for good gluten-free recipes.

Lavash Crackers (from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

1½ cups (6.75 ounces) unbleached bread flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp instant yeast
1 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
⅓ to ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (3 to 4 ounces) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, sugar, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full ½ cup + 2 tablespoons of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Pesto Goat Cheese Spread (from Gourmet September 2002, but really epicurious.com)

4 ounces soft mild goat cheese at room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
¼ cup pesto

Stir together all ingredients with salt and pepper to taste until smooth.

summer rolls

I am not a collector of cookbooks. I do have one full shelf of about twenty or so, but I’m not one to idly buy any book I get excited about. Unless I’m interested in a very good proportion of the recipes in the book, I won’t buy it.

Unless it’s only three dollars, and every recipe has several pictures, and a surprising number of those recipes look good. I recently found a Thai Cooking Step-by-Step book in the bargain aisle and couldn’t pass it up.

The first recipe, and probably the one I was the most excited about, is for summer rolls, rice paper wrappers rolled around vegetables, rice vermicelli, and shrimp. I checked out a few recipes before making them, but most were similar, so I only slightly adapted the one in the book.

Every recipe included shrimp, rice vermicelli, cilantro and carrots. A few also included cucumber and Boston lettuce, both of which I wanted to include. One added mint, one Thai basil, and one preferred Thai basil but offered mint as an alternative. I haven’t been able to find Thai basil (although I haven’t looked very hard), so I used mint the first time I made these. Dave and I both hated the mint. I skipped the extra herbs entirely the second time, just using cilantro, and we much preferred it that way.

I struggled with what to do with the lettuce. I really wanted it inside the roll, similar to spider rolls. I tried it, but it was so bulky that I couldn’t get the summer rolls to make a tight wrap. Leaving the lettuce on the outside was preferable.

I thought the dipping sauce made from the recipe included in the step-by-step book was too pungent. The second time I made these, I used a recipe from another recently-acquired Asian cookbook (but I thought I didn’t buy many cookbooks?), and it was very good.

Admittedly, this isn’t the quickest recipe to put together. I kept thinking it would be pretty fast, since there’s very little cooking. Of course whenever you have to individually prepare fillings and wrappers, there will be a significant time investment. But for such a healthy and delicious meal, it’s worth it to me.

As per Joelen’s suggestion, I am submitting this entry to her Asian Appetizers event.

Update 9.21.08: I made this again and decided the recipe I originally had here needed a few tweaks.  I reduced the vermicelli from 2 ounces to 1.5 ounces and cut all of the dip ingredients in half.  Also, it only took me 45 minutes to make these, so it’s not quite the “significant time investment” that I originally thought.

Summer Rolls (adapted from Fresh Spring Rolls in Thai Cooking Step-by-Step, from the Confident Cooking Series)

Makes 8 rolls

16 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1.5 ounces rice vermicelli
8 rice paper wrappers
½ medium cucumber, cut into matchsticks
1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
16 Thai basil leaves (optional)
½ cup (0.5 ounces) loosely packed cilantro leaves
8 small leaves Boston lettuce (or 4 large leaves, torn in half)

1. Fill a medium skillet with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the shrimp and cook just until the shrimp are opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the shrimp from the pan using a slotted spoon. Cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. Add the vermicelli to the hot liquid and let set until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the vermicelli from the pan.

2. Place a rice paper wrapper in the hot liquid and leave until softened, about one minute. Remove it from the water and place it on a work surface. Place 4 shrimp halves side-by-side in center of wrapper and top with 2 basil leaves, 1 tablespoon cilantro, a few carrot and cucumber strips, and a small amount of rice noodles.

3. Fold up bottom 2-inch border of wrapper over filling. Fold left, then right edge of wrapper over filling. Roll filling to top edge of wrapper to form tight cylinder.  Lay each roll in a leaf of lettuce and place on a serving platter.  Serve with dipping sauce.

Summer Roll Dipping Sauce (adapted from Nouc Cham in Corinne Trang’s Essentials of Asian Cuisine)

1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.

baba ghanoush, falafel, hummus

Oh my gosh, this was such a great meal. I had something similar at a restaurant a while ago when Dave and I stopped for lunch in Syracuse’s university area. I got the vegetarian combination plate, which included hummus, falafel, baba ganoush, pita, and I think tabbouleh. I was trying to recreate that fantastic meal at home. I forgot to make tabbouleh this time, which was fine because this was plenty of cooking as it was.

I took the easy way out and made all Cooks Illustrated recipes. The hummus is their recently published Restaurant-Style Hummus recipe, which has gotten some great reviews. I thought it was really good, although I don’t know if it was that much better than any other hummus I’ve made. But – then I made it again a few weeks later with beans I cooked myself and Oh.My.God, that was so good. I had no idea it would make that much of a difference.

Other than that lunch in Syracuse, this is the only baba ghanoush I’ve ever had. You’re supposed to grill the eggplant until it’s completely soft and smoky, but grilling isn’t an option for me, so I had to use the oven. I still thought it was really good. It reminds me a lighter, more vegetal hummus.

The falafel was my favorite part of the meal. Shocking, I know, that Dave and I both liked the deep-fried food the best. Also, this was my first experience with dried chickpeas, and I loved them. The same funky shape as canned chickpeas but absolutely hard as rocks.

There’s some overlap between these three items – tahini or chickpeas showed up in everything – but they still have very distinct personalities. Tabbouleh would have been a nice light contrast, so I’ll have to remember that next time. And I can’t wait until next time!

(I’ll talk about the pita in my next post.)

Baba Ghanoush, Oven Method (from Cooks Illustrated July 2001)

CI note: When buying eggplant, select those with shiny, taut, and unbruised skins and an even shape (eggplant with a bulbous shape won’t cook evenly). We prefer to serve baba ghanoush only lightly chilled. If yours is cold, let it stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving. Baba ghanoush does not keep well, so plan to make it the day you want to serve it. Pita bread, black olives, tomato wedges, and cucumber slices are nice accompaniments.

Bridget note: Cooks Illustrated has grilling methods for this recipe as well, but I don’t have a grill, so the oven it was.

Makes 2 cups

2 pounds eggplant (about 2 large globe, 5 medium Italian, or 12 medium Japanese), each poked uniformly over surface with fork to prevent bursting
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small clove garlic , minced
2 tablespoons tahini paste
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil , plus extra for serving
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil, set eggplants on baking sheet and roast, turning every 15 minutes, until eggplants are uniformly soft when pressed with tongs, about 60 minutes for large globe eggplants, 50 minutes for Italian eggplants, and 40 minutes for Japanese eggplants. Cool eggplants on baking sheet 5 minutes.

2. Set small colander over bowl or in sink. Trim top and bottom off each eggplant. Slit eggplants lengthwise and use spoon to scoop hot pulp from skins and place pulp in colander (you should have about 2 cups packed pulp); discard skins. Let pulp drain 3 minutes.

3. Transfer pulp to workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Add lemon juice, garlic, tahini, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; process until mixture has coarse, choppy texture, about eight 1-second pulses. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; transfer to serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap flush with surface of dip, and refrigerate 45 to 60 minutes. To serve, use spoon to make trough in center of dip and spoon olive oil into it; sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Chickpea Fritters-Falafel (from Cooks Illustrated’s The Best International Recipe)

The chickpeas in this recipe must be soaked overnight; you can not substitute canned beans or quick-soaked chickpeas because their texture will result in soggy falafel. A wire spider comes in handy here when cooking the falafel. Serve the falafel in lavash or pita bread with lettuce, pickled vegetables, and chopped tomatoes or cucumbers, or as an hors d’oeuvres with tahini sauce as a dip.

Makes 20 falafel

6 ounces dried chickpeas (1 cup), rinsed, picked over, and soaked overnight in water to cover by an inch
5 scallions, chopped coarse
½ cup packed fresh parsley leaves
½ cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
3 medium garlic cloves (about 1 tablespoon), minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying
1.Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Drain the chickpeas, discarding the soaking liquid. Process all of the ingredients except for the oil in a food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down the bowl as needed. Form the mixture into 1 tablespoon-sized disks, about ½ inch thick and 1 inch wide, and arrange on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (The falafel can be refrigerated at this point for up to 2 hours.)

3. Heat the oil in a 5-quart large Dutch over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. (Use an instant-read thermometer that registers high temperatures or clip a candy/deep-fat thermometer onto the side of the pan.) Fry half of the falafel, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain 375 degrees, until deep brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet using a slotted spoon or wire spider and keep warm in the oven. Return the oil to 375 degrees and repeat with the remaining falafel. Serve immediately with the sauce.

I’m out of town right now, eating truffles and drinking wine. I’ll be back next week to catch up on comments and other blogs!