Friday, March 16, 2012

Warm Mushroom Salad

Ina Garten is #39 on Gourmet's list of Women Game-Changers in Food. She is known for using fresh ingredients and de-mystifying recipes so that the average home cook can truly make them. Her circular path to the top of the Food Empire is well-known. She spent years in Washington D.C. as a White House Nuclear Policy Analyst. Somewhere along the way there was a seemingly impulse buy of the Barefoot Contesssa (A gourmet food store) in the Hamptons. (This is one smart woman - not sure how much of an "impulse buy" this truly was!) The Barefoot Contessa led the way to creating recipes for her store. She was mentored by such luminaries as Eli Zabar (from Eli's Manhattan in NYC) and Martha Stewart. Cooking and catering led to cookbooks. Cookbooks led to a cooking show and Garten remains on the map as a mover and a shaker in the food world.

(Ina Garten at a book signing in Chapel Hill, NC 2006; photo from Wikipedia)

I own two of her cookbooks. My husband's side of the family is - numerous! When I have a family gathering 40-45 people of all generations will show up.That is not the time to try out your 12-step recipe! I have found  her recipes add elegance to the proceedings and her food is packed with flavor - because the woman is not afraid of using fat!

It's been written that the ease and success of her recipes is because she is very careful to have the recipes tested by others again and again before she publishes them. I chose Garten's Warm Mushroom Salad from Barefoot in Paris. In the opening paragraph, Garten admits, "It's Italian!"

Mushrooms - you love them or you hate them (especially if you are a child). In this recipe - you love them. There's an early spring brewing around the country. Although in Minnesota - we are skeptical.

"Does this mean it will snow for 8 months next year," asks my daughter.

"Does this mean we will have 100-degree weather all summer," I muse.

A smart person would tell us to turn off our thoughts, get outside and enjoy the early warmth. Think of this March as a gift - instead of worrying what Mother Nature in Minnesota is really planning!

The warm mushroom salad is indeed perfect for spring - it's fresh, a tad meaty (and you can certainly omit the prosciutto to make it vegetarian; all right - you want vegan? Eliminate the cheese, too!) Garten suggested cremini mushrooms for this - I used a mushroom blend. Portobello mushrooms would also be delicious in this. It's hearty enough for a proper lunch. And if I had leftovers - I would be nibbling this for breakfast.

Ina Garten's Warm Mushroom Salad - serves 4
16 ounces cremini mushrooms, wiped clean (use your favorites)
2 tablespoons butter (I used Earth balance and I used less)
4 tablespoons olive oil - divided (I used less)
1 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-cracked pepper
4 bunches (I used 4 cups) fresh arugula - cleaned
8 slices good Italian prosciutto (I used 4)
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (I used a little less but oh do love sherry vinegar!)
Chunk of Parmesan cheese for shaving
8 sun-dried tomatoes - drained and cut into slivers
Italian parsley for scattering

Clean mushrooms by brushing them with a sponge - do not wash or immerse in water. Remove stems and save for another use (I just used them.) Slice the caps 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.

In a large saute pan, melt the butter and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. When all is bubbly add the mushrooms, salt and pepper. Saute 5 minutes over medium heat - stirring.  Lower the heat and saute another 2-3 minutes until cooked.

Arrange arugula on plates - 1 cup for each plate. Drape your prosciutto over the arugula. When the mushrooms are cooked, add the sherry vinegar and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir. Spoon the warm mushrooms on top of the arugula and prosciutto. With a vegetable peeler, shave parmesan on top of all. Sprinkle Italian parsley and sun-dried tomatoes about. Finish with a bit more of the salt and pepper. Serve.

It's perfect. It's spring. It's robins in my backyard, ducks in my front yard and geese flying overhead.

Please check out what the other bloggers are doing for Week 39 of Female Chef Gourmet Game Changers. And if you want to join in the fun, e-mail Mary at  One Perfect Bite. Mary started this delectable journey. 

Susan - The Spice GardenHeather - girlichef,
Miranda - Mangoes and ChutneyJeanette - Healthy Living
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Utah, Birthday, Hockey, Sundance, Moon Cake

This is a tale of a cake. But it's not any cake. Out of the oven it's humble, crackly. But the dense chocolate mousse center proclaims it's worth. It's butter, sugar, chocolate and eggs. It's not for the weight watcher. It is for the joyous celebrator.

I came home from Utah the day before one of the happiest days of my life - my son's birthday. I came home from Utah on the first day of the high school hockey tournament. (I follow baseball, the Olympics and the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament.) I came home from Utah after three days of teaching playwrighting, rehearsing and watching Under a Midsummer Moon capture hearts and mind of. (Whew ... )

I came home from Utah after three days of breathing mountain air and being astonished by the views every time I went outside.

I had a few 12-hour days and one morning off. And that morning - I walked. Every which way. To see - this. Wouldn't you? (The cake is coming... it's insanely rich - you need to take a walk before you eat it. Consider this your walk.)

And inside, I was treated to14 students throwing their considerable talents into my play.. visiting the Viet Nam Era ... the day of the Moon Walk . They costumed themselves; one extraordinary student did a mock-up of a set that astonished - it sits in my work room. When you write a play in a room where you have to periodically scratch the cat's back - you have no expectation that this play written on a keyboard covered with cat fur and pretzel crumbs will take you to Utah! And connect you with more young lives.

I worked on small plays with the school. I was treated to openings of plays in verse, going back in time, in the midst of hardship on a  playground - I was "back with the kids" and everytime I was with the students, it felt like home.

And then there was Sundance... just five minutes of stolen time.

Because of Mindy. I wish I had baked this cake for Mindy - if I am ever in Utah again - with a kitchen - I will. My fearless, enthusiastic director. Mindy Young can bring out talents in students they didn't they had. She can whisper a transition, make it sing, make it shout. She knows her students. And she cares about them in the way a force of nature truly cares about you.

And she wouldn't let me leave Utah without visiting Sundance.

So in-between lunch and a rehearsal, she took me there. 

Lined with trees of all ilks, she let me bask in mountain-glow.

"Imagine this in the autumn, Claudia. Can you see it?"

And then she told me a tale of an Indian maiden and the mountain.

I baked this cake for Matthew. But it's also for Mindy and my Utah cast. And for the two teams that battled it out last night to become 2012 State High School Hockey Champs. My children's alma mater have been to State many times (becoming one of the "teams you love to hate" in the state tournament). But this year - they weren't even seeded.   So it was a surprise when - they were there! The won at the right time. My son texted me the scores to the first game while I was coming home. I broke into a huge smile at the Denver airport and laughed as I read the text- no doubt surprising the tired people sitting next to me. My kid's school had unexpectedly won - easily. And on my first day home, they blew through another game and again won - unexpectedly. I was starting to expect the unexpected.  

Bear with me - the cake is worth waiting for. The story bears telling. In December a young hockey player - Jack Jablonski -  "Jabs" from another school was checked from behind and was paralyzed from the neck down. He is a sophomore. And his excellent school team was heartbroken.  And yes, they made it to the tournament. As did "Jabs" - in a private suite at the Xcel Energy Center - to watch his team. And my kids' alma mater (Hill-Murray) - which ferociously raised funds for "Jabs" (his Dad graduated from Hill) played against Jabs team for the championship. Jabs school - Benilde sported "Jabs" number 13 and the fan base chanted "We love Jabs."   And the Hill students countered with "We do, too." May I state that these are much kinder chants than others I have heard in years past? 

And when Benilde scored the first goal, the cameras of course cut to Jabs in his suite and Jabs arms were cheering - his arms! He wasn't supposed to regain the use of them - and there they were up in the air! In celebration. I hope that euphoria helps to carry him through difficult rehab years ahead. 

And when Benilde outplayed Hill all evening - with one player making all five goals with a final score of 5-1, there was more emotion. When the honorary captain of Hill-Murray came on the ice to accept the 2nd place trophy, there was history. Four years ago Duke Pieper (honorary captain) was a freshman at Hill - on the Varsity hockey team. Bleeding in the brain from a tumor sidetracked his life. Partially paralyzed and with huge physical challenges, Duke proudly held up the 2nd place trophy. In another universe, Duke would have been playing on the ice with his team. I'd like to bake Duke and Jabs and the Benilde and Hill teams this cake.

It emerges from the oven fairy ugly - crackly and then I added to the ugliness with a heavy hand with the cocoa powder (it's been an emotional week). 

But look closely at this baked mousse. Every forkful melts on your mouth. Shivers of goodness fill your being. It's worth a day on the treadmill - being grateful that you can do the treadmill.

Chocolate Mousse Cake - Dorie Greenspan - Around My French Table
I know I've crossed the boundary between Italy and France. What I love about this book - is Dorie has made everything so accessible and every recipe I have made from here - has pleased. I adore French Chocolate mousse - but am always suspect - because of the liberal use of raw eggs. But here the mousse is baked - into a gateau or a tart. And my worries about killing dinner guests subside.

For best results - do this the day before you want to serve it. I love do-aheads. More time with guests.

1/4 pound bittersweet chocolate - coarsely chopped
1/3 cup hot espresso or strong coffee
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (find some decadent, rich stuff - go whole hog)
2/3 cup sugar
2 pinches of salt
4 large eggs - separated
Cocoa powder for dusting (I shouldn't have done that)

Optional;: Whipped cream, ice cream, and I also puddled Stonewall Kitchen's Black Cherry Cognac Sauce - which I heartily recommend.

Place rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter the sides of an 8-inch springform pan (you won't be using the bottom - although in hindsight - you could; but I shall give you Dorie's directions since she knows more than me.).

Melt the chocolate on the top of a pan set over simmering water (don't let water boil up to hit the pan). Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. (I sprayed it.) When the chocolate is smoothly melted, whisk in the coffee. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the butter - 1 tablespoon at a time. Gently whisk in the sugar and a pinch of salt. Then, add the yolks one at a time and softly whisk. It's gorgeous! Winter velvet.

In a stand mixer (or with hand-held mixers) whisk the egg whites with another pinch of salt until firm and glossy. Gingerly whisk about 1/4 of egg white mixture into the chocolate  to lighten it. Then, with a spatula, gently fold the rest of the egg whites into the chocolate.

Put 1/3 of the mixture into the buttered ring of the pan. Cover and refrigerate remaining mousse. (If you're not afraid of raw eggs - take a taste - chocolate bliss). Bake the cake for 15 minutes (in hindsight - I would have baked it 10 minutes - it was .... very well baked). Let the cake cool to room temperature. Then chill the base in the fridge for at least an hour. The unbaked mousse should be chilled for a few hours. (I chilled it for four.)

When ready to continue, again preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scrape the remaining mousse onto the chilled base (still on the baking sheet). Dorie says to bake for 30 minutes - until the top is dry and cracked. I did it for 20 minutes - I really wanted it velvety-smooth. It cracked a bit (note photo) but the end result was cloud-like, melting perfection.

Cool to room temperature and then cover and chill - at least six hours or overnight. I did bring the cake out of the fridge a wee bit early in the day so I could serve it at room temperature. It does beg for a wee bit of whipped cream or ice cream or that Black Cherry Sauce I mentioned.

Thanks for bearing with me - I will resume visiting tomorrow and will strive for shorter posts... at least until my NYC trip.