It was an almost 6 hour drive home – it started to snow early in the morning and the highway (we take the Icefields Parkway shortcut to Calgary) was open but in poor condition; snowy, slushy and icy and you could rarely distinguish between the road, mountains and sky; it was actually a relief to our eyes to come upon a patch of brown gravel after all that white and shades of grey.
Anyway. We got home around 7, unloaded the car, turned up the furnace, put on a pot of oatmeal for W, attempted to unpack the way too much stuff we brought with us to Jasper, and Mike went to pick up Lou. Then we discovered we had no Internet connection, so I spent most of the next hour on the phone with Shaw trying to diagnose the problem, and another hour unplugging and restarting the computer and my laptop, which said it was connected but wouldn’t connect. At around 11 I conceded defeat – what else is there to do on a Sunday night? And planned to get up early and seek out a location with wireless interenet access. Fortunately, this morning it connected. Phew.
We packed some snacks (tiny Danish, bagels, fruit and banana bread from the buffet, some ham and cheese that was left in the fridge in our room, and mushroom empanadas from Emily and Elizabeth’s demos) for the car ride home, having already been more than sated at the Farewell Brunch, the Grandmother of all buffets. (During which they give away tons of prizes, like Kitchen Aid mixers and food processors and trips, including one back to Christmas in November next year.) So we sort of nibbled our way home and didn’t really need dinner when we got there.
So here is Emily & Elizabeth’s Mushroom Empanada recipe. It gave me an idea on the way home – because you know I think about food constantly, particularly when in the car for hours driving through a mountain pass with a sleeping W and white-knuckled M – Mincemeat Empanadas. Hey? Instead of mince tarts. Just fill them with mincemeat instead of the mushroom filling. I’ll let you know how they turn out.
2 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, finely chopped or 1 shallot, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ tsp each dried thyme and sage leaves or 1 ½ tsp fresh
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ cups cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
1 ½ cups white button mushrooms, finely chopped
1/3 cup white wine
½ cup cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat; fry onion, garlic, thyme, sage, pepper and salt, stirring occasionally until onion is tender, about 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add cremini and white mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has been evaporated and mushrooms have browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in wine; scrape up brown bits from bottom of pan. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Let cool to room temperature. (Make-ahead: refrigerate in airtight container for up to 1 day.)
Pastry: In large bowl, beat cream cheese with butter until blended. Add flour, stirring until dough begins to form; knead lightly in bowl until smooth. Divide dough in half and flatten into discs; wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days. On lightly floured surface, roll out each disc into 10 inch circle. With 2 ½ inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles, re-rolling scraps only once to get as many as possible.
Working with 6 circles at a time, brush edge lightly with egg. Place 1 teaspoon filling in centre of each; fold dough over filling, pinching edges or pressing edges with a fork to seal. Place on ungreased rimless baking sheets. (Make-ahead: freeze on baking sheet. Layer frozen empanadas with waxed paper in airtight container and freeze for up to 2 weeks. Bake from frozen.) Brush tops with egg. Bake in centre of 400°F oven until light golden, about 12-15 minutes. Makes about 40.
Wild Mushroom Empanadas: You can replace ½ cup of either of the mushrooms with fresh wild mushrooms such as morels. Or, re-hydrate a 14 g package of porcini mushrooms or morels, straining and saving the liquid to use instead of the wine, or for a soup or sauce. You can also replace the white button mushrooms with finely chopped fresh exotic mushrooms such as shiitake (caps only) or oyster.
I have become hopelessly addicted to the JPL’s hot chocolate this week, which is put out in the lobby in silver tureens with bowls of mini marshmallows, whipped cream and chocolate shavings alongside. The hot chocolate itself is the Real Thing: chocolate shavings with warmed milk (likely whole, possibly some cream too) poured over. This is the way all of us should make hot chocolate – not with those nasty packets of mix, which are mostly high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated palm oil. (Yes there are some organic varieties that are better, but you know what I’m talking about). With them they served baskets of sandy rectangular sugar cookies – almost shortbread but not quite as heavy – coated in sugar to make them crunchy on the outside. We loved them. I was going to bug the chef again for the recipe, but their texture brought me back to a cookie I used to make years ago (like 15 or so) out of my Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook I bought at a used book store. They are called Marion’s Sugar Cookies and are made with a cup of margarine and a cup of Wesson oil, but I enthusiastically recommend butter and canola oil. (So really, these have a better ratio of healthy fats compared to other sugar cookies. In fact, I suspect they would do well with half whole wheat flour, which would add a nutty flavour but not weigh them down too much.) The dough is rolled into balls and then flattened with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, coating them on the outside with sugar. They have a lighter, sandier texture than traditional cookies or shortbread – it was one of my favourite recipes before I started in on the low fat cookies. I haven’t made them in at least a decade, but I’m so making them again as soon as possible.
Marion’s Sugar Cookies
adapted from The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook. This makes a large batch; it can easily be halved. (These are round cookies, and the ones at JPL were rectangular; if you like you can shape the dough into a slab and then chill or freeze and slice it, or some such, to make them rectangular instead of round.)
1 cup sugar
1 cup icing (confectioners’) sugar
1 cup butter, at room temp.
1 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla
additional sugar for baking
In a large bowl, beat both sugars with the butter and oil until light. Add the eggs and beat for another minute. Add the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and vanilla and beat just until you have a smooth dough. Wrap or cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll the chilled dough into walnut-sized balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. To flatten the cookies, use a water glass with a textured bottom or a meat pounder (or use a flat-bottomed glass – it’s OK); dip the bottom of the glass in water and then into sugar, and flatten the cookies with the bottom of the glass, dipping again in sugar as you need to. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until pale golden around the edges; cool on a wire rack.
Makes about 6 dozen cookies.