Monday, October 29, 2012

Wild (or not-so-wild) Mushroom Paté

Look, even foie gras just isn't that photogenic.

Hello from Hurricane Sandy headquarters! Okay, not headquarters exactly, nor hindquarters. Midquarters? We are all home, playing hooky, with big plans to watch the second half of Hair--which is as good, if not better, than I remember—if we still have power (the fact that Michael is right now braving the wind to bring home red wine and amaretto is great consolation for the fact that I didn't marry Treat Williams like I meant to). Otherwise (and, probably, additionallywise) we’re going to play Seafarers and Power Grid, which we’ve chosen for their thematic relevance to the situation at hand. I hope you’re all safe and dry and enjoying the silveriest lining of a day off. Unless you’re in, like, California. And then whatever. You’re in California.

Does the parsley help? Or is it like Walter Matthau in a Prada dress?
I’m posting this recipe today because I have been going crazy picking the oyster mushrooms that are growing on a stump at Birdy’s school. I sneak out there all furtive-like, since I don’t want the children to see me. “Hey kids! Wild mushrooms are for picking and eating! What’s the worst that could happen?” The mushrooms are so big and plentiful that it seems silly to eat anything else right now.

But this is one of those recipes that I have been making for so long that I can’t believe I’ve never shared it with you before. (I haven’t, right?) It’s one of my holiday standards: I make it for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it is an oft-requested recipe (in fact, years ago, I had to reverse-request it, because Michael’s brother Keith has written it down, and I hadn’t) thanks to its unctuous, savory deliciousness. Plus, it’s vegetarian, which is always nice at the holidays, even though one year I (oops!) cooked the mushrooms in chicken fat and forgot to tell the relevant people. Sorry!

Stay safe and cozy and happy.

 Wild (or not-so-wild) Mushroom Paté

I am lifting that title from my friend Sally’s recipe for roasted mushrooms in the forthcoming winter issue of ChopChop. Can I plug ChopChop again here? The fun cooking magazine for families? I edit it, and it’s just fantastic—and would make a great holiday gift for anyone on your list. Subscribe here!

4 tablespoons butter, divided (Divided. By what? You’ll see!)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
Dried or fresh marjoram or thyme (1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh, a big pinch dried)
Kosher salt
3/4-1 pound sliced fresh mushrooms, any kind, wild or tame, in any combination
½ cup walnuts, toasted at 350 until fragrant but not burnt, 5-10 minutes
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
3 ounces Neufchatel cheese (cream cheese is an okay substitution—but Neufchatel is a lot like it, made by Philadelphia even, but just with fewer glunky stabilizing agents)
Black pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Sauté  the onion with the herbs and a large pinch of salt until it is fully soft and quite brown, around ten to fifteen minutes. Scrape the onion into a food processor fitted with the steel blade.

In the same pan, assuming it’s not gone black anywhere, melt the rest of the butter over high heat and sauté the mushrooms, with a large pinch of salt, until they are tender and nicely browning, around ten to fifteen minutes. Mushrooms are funny: first they’ll give up a lot of juice, and seem like they’re steaming—but persist with the high heat. The juice will cook off and then the mushrooms will start to dry out a bit and brown up, which is what you want. Splash in the sherry vinegar, stir it as it sputters and steams, then scrape the mushrooms into the food processor.

Add the walnuts and cheese to the food processor, along with another large pinch of salt and significant grinding of black pepper, then process until nearly smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Taste the mixture for salt and vinegar. It should be very well seasoned and will likely need more salt: add it, along with more vinegar (a half teaspoon at a time) until it tastes perfect.

Serve with bread or crackers.

Friday, October 19, 2012

this and that

Birdy and I sat in the sunshine and painted. Heaven.
A few things:

1) This novel. It is so good, it's kind of insane. I kept looking at the author photo on the back: she's like, 15 years old, and it's her first novel, and the book reads like it was written by someone at the end of their long life. In a good way, even though friends of mine just laughed at me when I said, "It's about this old guy? And his orchard? Not just picking fruit, though." "Wow!" they said. "Excitement!" What it's like, a little bit, is Little House on the Prairie for grown-ups, and at first I read it fast, in great gulping streaks, like I was famished--until I realized how good it was, and that I was going to finish it too quickly, and then I slowed way down and rationed it. I envy you not having read it yet is all I can say.

2) I have a veggie-recipe piece in this month's FamilyFun magazine. Don't look at the photo, though, because I am vain of my hair, which seems to have been put up with the instructions, "See if you can make her look like a pinhead." Success!

3) I am the new Modern Manners columnist for Real Simple magazine! So any bad behavior on Ben and Birdy stays on Ben and Birdy, if you know what I'm saying, and what I'm saying is: Don't out me as a person with bad  manners. (Salad fork? Napkin? Wuh?) It's not really that kind of manners, don't worry. And there are some *excellent* questions in this month's issue. Juicy.

4) Ben is turning 13 in a week. What the?

5) Thank you for your kindness at the start of the week. That's all. Just thank you.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Misery Bars

What is wrong with me? After all these years, do I really need to struggle against patience and fill with regret like I’m a bucket under a leaky ceiling and it’s a flash flood? It’s so much better these days, it is. Capable, older children; more and deeper rest; easier daily rhythms. But, oh, a day that starts with a flash of unkindness—like lightning that illuminates the gentle face of misplaced trust—that is not a good day.

If you are on your way out the door, on a Monday school morning, and someone asks you to hold up a granola bar so that she can photograph it, and this is a favor to that person, that person who made the granola bar and is therefore responsible for its crumbling, and that granola bar breaks in half and falls to the floor, should sharp words be flung at you like knives outlining your sleepy baffledness? I said two hands. Also, should there be a sharp addendum about your boots, and why you aren’t wearing them, even though the granola-bar photographer has reminded you at least a dozen times to wear your boots today? Your bright face will fall. And when, ultimately, you end up in her lap, in tears, do you feel like the lamb lying down with the lion, only not in a good way? I don’t know.  

I am quick to apologize, and that’s about all I can say for myself today. But I would like to find those hidden pockets of meanness and dynamite them.

Does it make you feel weird about the granola bars? Does it make you wonder, a) Will they cause misery in your own family? and, b) will they fall apart? I don’t believe they’ll make you unhappy, but you should cut the bars in half again, because they’re more stable as squares than oblongs. That’s what I do—and, in fact, if I had shown you the actual bars as I make them, instead of trying to get all Nature’s Valley on you, the whole scene could have been avoided.


These are the granola bars I’m making these days. They’re chewy and sweet and absolutely delicious—but they’ve got enough salt and tartness and crisped-rice to keep them from being ooey-gooey cloying. I’m making them instead of the Raw Energy Bars that I’ve been making for years because this is what Ben is grabbing as he heads out the door, and these just have a little more going on as a daily breakfast. Still, they’ve got a million ingredients, and if that’s annoying to you, you can either skip some of them (the rice cereal, seeds, almond extract, chocolate chips, and citric acid are easy omissions) or make the energy bars instead. Why, of all the moments, did I pick now to buy rice cereal and rice syrup? I really couldn’t say. If I wanted to poison everyone with arsenic, surely there are easier methods.


Chewy Cherry Granola Bars
Makes lots

I am using the good bones of this recipe, but then I am adding dates, crisped-rice cereal, and chia seeds instead of sesame (mostly because I like the way they get stuck in my teeth and then swell up into slippery pearls). Also, I upped the extracts and nixed the cinnamon, because that’s how I roll. And I added chocolate chips, because ditto. Citric acid is something I find handy to keep around because it adds tartness without adding any other flavor or any more liquid; obviously, you could leave it out. I also want to mention that I realize that these are expensive to make. But, they pack a serious nutritional punch--all those whole foods and energy-filled nuts and seeds--and so, to me, they feel like a justifiable expense. Plus, they're still much cheaper than buying the equivalent bars in the store.

1 cup whole almonds
1 cup pecan halves or pieces
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup (+) crisped-brown-rice cereal (I use the Whole Foods brand)
2 tablespoons chia, flax, or sesame seeds
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1/8 teaspoon citric acid (optional)
3/4 cup dried cherries (ideally tart ones)
½ cup pitted dates
½ cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup brown rice syrup or honey (spray your measuring cup with oil before measuring anything sticky—that’s a real Heloise’s hint!)
¼ cup coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Line a 9- by 12-inch baking pan (or a smaller one, for thicker bars) with parchment paper, with enough hanging over the side to cover the bars when they’re in the pan.

Put 1/2 cup each of almonds, pecans, and oats in a food processor (I bet a blender would work fine for this). Process until finely ground, then pour it into a large bowl. Roughly chop the remaining pecans and almonds (I do this in the food processor too), then add them to the bowl. Add the remaining oats along with the crisped-rice cereal, seeds, salt, and citric acid, then mix well.

Put the cherries and dates in the food processor with two tablespoons of the dry mixture, and pulse until they are coarsely chopped (the dry mixture keeps them from clumping together). Add the chocolate chips, pulse a couple more times (this will just barely break up the chips) and dump this mixture into the bowl. Stir very well.

Combine rice syrup or honey with the coconut oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the mixture melts and then foams, then cook it for 15 seconds longer. Stir in the extracts, then pour it over the oat mixture and mix thoroughly.

Pour the granola mixture into the prepared pan, and press it very, very firmly with your own oiled hands or with an oiled square of parchment paper. something with a flat bottom (may need to spray it with non-stick spray.) Wrap the overhanging parchment paper up over the bars and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

Pull the entire block of chilled granola mixture out of the pan, then cut them into bars (and, since they can be a little crumbly, you might want to cut the bars in half again into squares). Either wrap them individually in parchment or plastic wrap, or else store all the bars in a large airtight container. Either way, keep them in the fridge.
Wake me when you're done assembling the ingredients.
But then there's no actual cooking involved, which is kind of nice.
Just be sure to press them down hard. Or else the bars will be crumbly. And you'll speak sharply into the pink and open face of your dear person.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Chewy Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies (with chocolate)

Well, hello there, dear friends! Last night's debate gave me hives. Today is my birthday. And while oatmeal cookies might not seem super-festive, trust me: they are good. Maybe not birthday good. But chewy, delicious, and packed with wildly wholesome ingredients that add to, rather than diminish, their decadence (I promise there's nothing dusty or powdery about them).

Also, don't you love that I'm posting what might literally be my first-ever public recipe with raisins in it, even though I'm not actually the Raisin Ambassador? What is wrong with me? Besides the pathological compulsion to be a good kid, I mean. Maybe nothing.
Craney celebrates people in his own unique way.

But back to my birthday for a second: I could not help noticing this in my Google browsing history today: "origami scallop." 

That's a sure sign that Ben has been working on a card for me. But when I looked at the images, I could see that he must have been sorely disappointed: it was all ruffle-edged scallop shells--when I'm certain that what he was searching for was something more along the lines of what you'd get, fried, in a scallop roll. I can't wait to see what he came up with. Mum's the word, on the snooping.

Chewy Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies (with chocolate)
Makes 3 cookie-sheets' worth 

These are adapted from Smitten, who herself adapted them from the Quaker canister. The coconut oil is my addition: it makes the cookies that much chewier and just slightly fragrant, in a way that we all love, plus it's wicked healthy. I'm going to try them with all coconut oil next time, but feel free to use all butter, as per the original recipe. The spelt is me too, natch. As, um, are the chocolate chips. I make these pretty small for lunchbox treats, but you could biggen them up a little--just increase the cooking time to compensate.

¼ cup butter, softened

¼ cup coconut oil
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 large egg

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup spelt flour 
or a mix of spelt and whole-wheat (or, sigh, white flour)
½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups rolled oats

¾ cup raisins

¾ cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup pecan (or walnut) pieces, toasted @ 350 for 4 minutes

Heat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, coconut oil and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla, and mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir this into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the oats, raisins, chocolate chips, and pecans.

Space cookies two inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet (I use my handy spring-loaded cookie scoop). Bake them for 10 to 12 minutes, taking them out when golden at the edges but still a little undercooked-looking on top. (Try not to overbake them, or you will lose the chew, and then what's the point, really?) Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for five minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool.