Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Fungus Among Us, or Soviet Mushrooms and French Liaisons MUSHROOM STROGANOFF IN PUFF PASTRY

 Well while I was away in Chucktown (aka Charleston SC.) I had a number of revelations. One was that the foods that we as Americans like to eat the most had their beginnings in cultures far from own own. ( Duh! Forrest ) And secondly, that the original recipes hold in them some clue as to why they are still popular with us today.

 Growing up in a household that contained 2 cultural heritages namely my Father's southern heritage and my Mother's Norwegian and Austrian Heritage I had exposure to plenty of different cultural foods. Holidays were celebrated, birthdays and special year times were all marked by foods which reminded us of where we came from and helped us carry on the traditions of the past and the people who taught us about them. I mean I am sure that everyone remembers one special meal or food that we had growing up which reminds us of the person(s) associated with that food or dish. And in a broader sense the foods we remember from our heritage remind us who we are and where we came from. But, they also give us something to carry into tomorrow and share with the next generation to come.

 So it is with me. I have certain foods that remind me of special people in my past. My mother's Mother was one of those people and she provided me with a plethora of dishes which remind me of her. Some of the things that she would cook would definitely be considered terrible for you today, like fried boloney sandwiches with onions, but they are things I will never forget!!

So how do I get from this line of thinking to Soviets? Well it's not really Soviets but Russians I am talking about. And while there are many dishes which may symbolize Russian Cuisine in our minds there is only one that my Grandmother cooked on a regular basis. And while it is no longer the high end dish it once was it is singularly a great example of a dish which has it's roots in the past but has become a staple on the American dinner table. I am talking beef, mushrooms and noodles Ya'll, Yes! Beef Stroganoff!

Now Beef Stroganoff is a dish that has a rich culinary history. It is traditionally thought that the Russian Diplomat Count Pavel Stroganoff and his chef created this dish around the turn of the century in St. Petersburg. A dish which in turn became a very big hit at the dinner parties of the day. It was after all a beef steak dish which was served in a rich sour cream sauce over egg noodles. At the time it was seen as very elegant. Even Betty Crocker in her 1941 cookbook had beef stroganoff as a recipe and became a favorite of home "gourmet" cooks of the "50's".  These versions were a  far cry from the Hamburger Helper variety so many middle Americans have some to know today. Truth be told there is some doubt as to the origin of the dish. As said, the Count is credited, but a recipe for this same dish  appeared as early as 1871 in a Russian Culinary publication. So who exactly created this dish is a mystery. It is however to note that while we associated Beef Stroganoff with a sour cream sauce the original recipe called it a "beef in Mustard sauce dish" which was then enriched with sour cream! Still there is Hamburger Helper tainting my view of this dish. Oh Wait duh! Here is a perfect example of how culinary history gives only the base for the foods we enjoy en masse these days.

What is my twist on all of this? Well nothing earth shattering. Nothing New. Just a simple and hopefully interesting twist in the Stroganoff composition. Take out the Beef. That's right take it out, who need it! The noble mushroom can stand on it's own. In fact if you put the right combination of mushrooms into the mix with the right amount of truffle oil you might have something really special. But wait there's more, why stop at the beef, let's take the noodles away as well, and add another element a vessel if you will, to carry this might mushroom mixture, Puff Pastry!! Yes a French twist and a good one. A Puff pastry shell, like a little bowl to hold all the meaty mushroom goodness. Now you have something that sort of resembles the dish ( like Hamburger helper ) but is not at all the dish ( like........... um.... Hamburger Helper ) but will be a favorite of you and yours. Give it a try. You will like it!

Mushroom Stroganoff with Pastry Cups

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 pound brown Cremini or Baby Bella Mushrooms
1 package 2 oz to 4 oz dried morel mushrooms reconstituted in 1 1/2 cups water ( reserve broth)
1 package 2 oz to 4 oz dried chanterelle mushrooms reconstituted in 1 1/2 cups water ( reserve broth)
2 tablespoons dried porcini mushroom powder
2 cups reserved mushroom broth
1/2 cup red wine
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons dijon Mustard
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 package frozen Puff pastry Cups ( Pepperidge Farm is the one I use)
1 tablespoon Fresh parsley chopped fine


Bake Puff pastry shells according to directions and cool

Saute onions in the olive oil till soft then add  Fresh mushrooms when almost cooked add dried mushrooms and fresh thyme, season to taste and add the wine and cook till wine is absorbed and all liquid is reduced
Hold warm.

In a separate pot melt butter and add flour cook till a golden brown paste appears
Slowly add the mushroom broth and stir till thickened over med heat
add porcini powder  and mustard and dried tarragon, season to taste and reduce heat to hold warm.

Combine the mushroom mixture with the sauce
Add sour cream, nutmeg and cognac and heat through.

To serve

Place puff shell in the bottom of a flat soup bowl or deep plate
Spoon mixture into and around the shell
Sprinkle with the parsley, serve immediately

Enjoy the ooh's and ahh's!

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