Friday, May 8, 2009

Baked Brie and Mushrooms — 'Nuff Said

If you want to get on the invite list for all your friends' dinner parties, bring this appetizer. It's super easy to make, but will nonetheless make you look like a rock-star chef.

My mom-in-law, who happens to be an amazing chef, dropped her head to her hands and said, "I don't know that I'll ever be able to cook for you again."

She was kidding. I hope.

Their dish, photo by José Picayo, Bon Appétit, March 2009:

They totally glammed-up this photo - first, WAY more mushrooms are required and second, who leaves the thyme whole like that?

My dish, no glam:

Equipment needed:
  • Foil
  • Sharp chef's knife
  • Small sauce pan
  • Medium sauté pan
  • Spatula
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (you should be able to find these in any grocery store produce section)
  • 2/3 cup dry red wine (use a good one for this recipe, not cooking wine)
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 6 ounces crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot (about 1 large)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (SEE? Chopped)
  • 1 13- to 14-ounce Brie (about 5 inches in diameter; can also make a smaller one for two people and reduce mushrooms)
  • 1 baguette, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (I've tried wheat and traditional white — both worked well)
What to do:

Rinse dried porcini mushrooms. Combine with red wine in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and let soak for about 20 minutes. Strain the mushrooms, reserving the wine sauce. Roughly chop the porcini and set aside.

Melt butter in medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the crimini and shiitake mushrooms with a little salt and pepper. Sauté until brown, stirring. Add shallot and stir until soft. Add chopped porcini and strained wine. Boil until almost dry. Stir in chopped thyme and a little more salt and pepper.

Tear two large sheets of foil and mold into a make-shift bowl, about two inches larger than the Brie wheel. Unwrap the Brie. Using a sharp chef's knife cut off the top rind (note: you can eat brie rind — don't cut it all off; it will fall apart if you do). Place Brie in the foil bowl and mound the mushroom mixture on top.

**Note: if you're taking this to a friend's house or not ready to serve it right away, STOP RIGHT HERE. Cover it and store in the fridge until you're ready to serve it, but bring to room temperature before continuing.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Put the Brie-mushroom bowl on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, until Brie just begins to melt (if you poke it with your finger, it will be soft and deliciously squishy).

Transfer the heavenly dish to a platter, and serve hot with warm baguette slices.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople

The printing house where I worked in Frankfurt, Germany, in the mid-90s had a cafeteria run by an older Turkish woman (I cannot for the life of me remember her name, but I remember her food). She was an amazing cook and introduced me to all sorts of food a naïve girl from the Southern Arizona desert otherwise may never have encountered.

Wednesdays were my favorite lunch days. Our cafeteria chef made what she simply called "Aubergine," which means "eggplant" in German. It was a magical stuffed-eggplant dish.

At that time in my life, I was just on the brink of my adventurous culinary journey, so I didn't have the experience to figure out exactly how she made it (and she would never tell). Hence, I've never quite been able to re-create it. Until page 7 of the May issue of Saveur. Right there on the contents page was a photo of that very dish — Karniyarik, as it turns out, which literally translates from Turkish to English as "split belly" (perhaps why she called it "eggplant").

Of course, I leapt into action and made the dish immediately. The recipe was perfect — it even used enough garlic; that never happens. The only thing I would suggest perhaps is adding another fresh tomato or two into the stuffing mixture. Also, I couldn't find Japanese eggplants, and the Chinese eggplants were too skinny for stuffing. I used small, plump baby eggplants, and it worked perfectly.

This recipe is quick (you could make it on a week night if you didn't go to the gym after work) and fabulously delicious. Even if you're not a huge fan of lamb, give this one a try. It's very accessible.

Their dish (May 2009, Saveur, photo by Andre Baranowski):

My dish:

Equipment needed:
  • large skillet
  • chopping tools of your choice
  • large chef knife to halve the eggplants
  • 9" x 13" glass baking dish

  • Canola oil, for frying (because it can get really, really hot without smoking)
  • 6 plump Japanese eggplants, ends trimmed
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1⁄2 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped mint leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

What to do:
  • Add about 1/2-inch canola oil to a large skillet. Heat until shiny and very hot. Add three eggplants (whole with ends trimmed, don't halve them yet), turning every few moments and cook until just soft (about 8 minutes - be very careful not to over cook). Transfer eggplants to paper towel to drain and cool; repeat with the remaining three eggplants. Discard this oil and wipe out skillet.
  • Melt the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground lamb and break into small pieces and brown. Add the tomato paste, cinnamon, garlic, onions and peppers. Stir and cook until onions are soft. Stir in the parsely and mint until wilted and season with salt and pepper.
  • Eggplants should be cool enough to handle by now.
  • Heat oven to 475°. Cut eggplants in half to make 12 pieces. Cut a small incision down the middle of each piece to make a pocket (use fingers to gently pull apart), being very careful not to cut through to the skin or rip the eggplant. Season each with salt and pepper and spoon lamb mixture into pockets, pressing lightly.
  • Place stuffed eggplants in the 9" x 13" baking dish and bake until hot (5 to 15 minutes, depending on how long the eggplants cooled).
And, violà! Turkish heaven.