116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The last few weeks have been especially sobering. Illness and death close to home, war in the daily news.
At times when I need a break from the reality of today, I’ve been reminiscing and anticipating, and this has surfaced in my cooking.
It’s so easy to get in a rut and prepare the same thing every week. One of my previous broken record suppers involved kale and roasted butternut squash. I don’t know how long that lasted but as I recall, we used to eat a lot of kale, which I think was initiated by an abundance in the Community Supported Agriculture box. Often a repeating supper trend is broken by a change in season but I think kale and squash lasted quite a while.
I recently was reminded of a mushroom popover pie that I made weekly for months on end. Months. That was more than 10 years ago when we lived in Michigan. I don’t remember when or why I stopped because it was immensely satisfying, quick to prepare and provided leftovers for lunch the next day. I’m glad it’s back in rotation.
It’s like a Dutch baby pancake flipped upside down. Instead of topping the pancake with a mixture of sauteed shiitake and button mushrooms, you pour the pancake batter over the sauteed mushrooms in a cast iron skillet. As it bakes, the mixture puffs and rises impressively.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely minced onion
8 ounces fresh white button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon thyme
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet over low heat. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the mushrooms, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, thyme and a generous amount of black pepper, and cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid the mushrooms give off evaporates and the mushrooms are becoming golden brown around the edges.
Meanwhile, combine the eggs, milk, flour and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, in a blender and whip them into a smooth batter. (If you don’t have a blender, whisk all of this together in a medium-sized bowl. It’s fine if the mixture has a few lumps.) Set this aside until the mushrooms are done cooking.
When the mushrooms are ready, transfer them to a bowl, then thoroughly wash and dry the pan, and return it to the stove. Add the other tablespoon of butter, then turn on the heat to low — just until the butter melts and begins to foam. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and swirl to coat the bottom with butter. (Be sure to get the corners.) Add the mushrooms, spreading them into a fairly even layer, and then pour in the batter.
Bake in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it becomes dry on top, and feels solid when touched lightly with a fingertip. The edges will have shrunk from the sides of the pan and become quite brown. Remove from oven and serve hot or warm, cut into wedges.
Source: Mollie Katzen
And then as I was contemplating food that puffs in the oven, I thought of cream puffs from days gone by. Huge ones, each the size of large grapefruit, filled with sweet vanilla custard and sold by the thousands at the Ohio State Fair.
I remembered smaller cream puffs, too, ones I baked and then filled with chicken salad and served at a party.
The pastry for cream puffs is known as pate a choux in French. It’s really just a few steps away and a slightly different ingredient ratio from the aforementioned puffy pancake. Eggs, milk, butter, flour.
Choux dough is fun to make because the dough is first cooked in a saucepan before it’s baked. There’s a point in the process where you think something has gone terribly wrong because the dough seems to seize up. But, as you add the eggs and keep stirring, it comes together.
The recipe I’m sharing is not for sweet-filled cream puffs, but for gougeres, a cheesy version of choux dough. The recipe is from cookbook author Dorie Greenspan for whom gougeres are her signature snack. Dorie keeps them in the freezer and reheats for a nibble when guests arrive.
And then my thoughts rested on the anticipation of warm, puffy, cheesy bites shared with good company in the brighter, warmer days of spring and summer.
1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs and one egg white, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated cheese, such as Gruyere or Cheddar
2/3 cup lightly toasted finely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter and salt to boil over high heat. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low and quickly start stirring energetically with a sturdy spatula or heavy whisk. The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring — with vigor — another 2 minutes or so to dry the dough.
Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or into a large bowl if you are mixing by hand.) Let the dough sit for 1 minute. Add the eggs and egg white one by one and beat until the dough is thick and shiny. Make sure each egg is completely incorporated before you add the next. The dough may look like it’s falling apart, but by the time the egg white goes in, the dough will come together again. Beat in the mustard, then cheese and nuts.
Using about 2 teaspoons of dough for each gougere, drop the dough from a spoon onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of puff space between each mound of dough. You also can use a cookie scoop to shape the dough.
Put the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes until they’re puffed and golden.
Storing: The best way to store gougeres is to shape the dough, freeze the mounds on a baking sheet, and then when they’re solid, lift them off the sheet and pack them airtight in plastic bags. Bake them straight from the freezer — no need to defrost — although they may need a few extra minutes in the oven. Leftover puffs can be kept overnight and reheated in a 350 degrees oven, or they can be frozen and reheated before serving.
Source: Dorie Greenspan
Little Gougere Tea Sandwiches
Gougeres can be made into tiny sandwiches for tea time or as a party appetizer. Wait until they’re almost cool, then slice gently with a serrated knife.
Apple: Slice one apple into very thin pieces. Toss in 1 tablespoon of sugar. Saute in 2 tablespoons of butter for about 5 to 7 minutes until the apple begins to brown slightly. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid and let it finish cooking. Sprinkle with a few grains of salt. Spoon one teaspoon between slices of gougere. Garnish with basil or thyme.
Tuna or chicken salad: Make your favorite recipe. Tuck one or two teaspoons of salad between slices of gougere, garnishing with parsley or basil.