Precursor… I just got off working my ass off for 6 hrs so I’m totally skipping out on Michael Juicebag (because juice bag is something you can say in front of kids… unlike douche bag.) Anyway, today’s guest post is brought to you by Brigantia.
No AC? Bake a Casserole!
Why I thought it would be a good idea to participate in this thing the week my air conditioning went out is beyond me. Sometimes my brain doesn’t work the way God intended and She sits up there eating popcorn and laughing, I’m sure. I used my iPhone® to take all the pictures and, as you’ll see, some turned out much better than others. Next time I’ll borrow the camera from work and take my bad photos with a high-quality piece of equipment.
The first difficult part of this task was finding a recipe that 1] was vegetarian (like me!), 2] looked tasty and 3] looked like something my cooking skills could handle. Usually this points me in the direction of desserts, but Chef Symon isn’t much for the sweets and cakes, it seems. I narrowed his recipes to the vegetarian ones (though some sill had shrimp and other fish; I never understood why meat was murder but fish was justifiable homicide) and then sorted by user rating to find the ones people liked most.
Apparently people don’t generally like his recipes. Now that I’ve made one, I understand them completely. I think he must have slept with the head of programming or something to get his Iron Chef gig. I mean, he’s hardly ever on that show, he got bounced around to some of their other shows for a while but is never a regular, and he’s bald. Bald can be sexy (see Timothy Olyphant in “Hitman” or any Jason Statham movie), but the more I see of him and his food the more it becomes a point of anger.
So I settled on the Mushroom Casserole and went to the grocery store.
All Mushrooms Are Basically The Same, Right?
The recipe calls for 3 pounds of porcini mushrooms so, having never worked with those before and dreading the quantity a little, I headed to the produce department to look for a helpful person. I was informed that porcinis are only in season sometime in September, but I could buy them dried and reconstitute them myself. I am a lazy cook, so I asked if he could suggest some substitutes and he offered that the crimini are flavorful and better to use than the regular white mushrooms. Crimini mushrooms are $4.99 a pound while sliced white mushrooms are $2.99. The recipe calls for 3 freaking pounds, so I got 1 pound of crimini and 2 pounds of the other. Not only am I lazy, I’m also cheap. Everything else on the list was pretty standard, so I picked up the rest (as well as ingredients for some gazpacho which I intend to make shortly) and headed home to the kitchen.
Two Sticks of Butter and Heavy Cream – Michael Symon or Paula Deen?
I had the brilliant idea to put all the ingredients on plates and then divide them by four so, when I went to make the layers, everything would be pre-measured and easy – just like on TV! I quickly discovered that three pounds of sliced mushrooms is a LOT of mushrooms.
Even using the casserole dish to hold some, I had a whole Jenga® thing going on my mushroom plate. You’ll notice that the recipe doesn’t say what size casserole dish to put this in. How was I going to get four layers of mushrooms and stuff in there? I was beginning to be concerned.
The leeks worked out much better in my plating plan, except that there aren’t that many of them. When I bought the pound of leeks, I forgot that you only use the white and slightly green parts and throw away all the stuff at the top. This was going to be a little light in the leeks, but I thought that if I broke up the rings and spread them around well it would still work. Once everything was chopped and ready to go, I started making the layers.
Layer one complete. Concern became worry. He didn’t say how to put the butter in the dish and I now, officially, disliked the recipe instructions (or lack thereof). Since melting the butter and portioning it out seemed like too much work, I diced the sticks and dotted the top of the layer like I was baking a pie – which this kind of turns out to be. I remembered that I would need the oven to be hot at some point, so I turned that on. Did I mention that my AC went out a week ago? I thought I was in the oven already.
Looks pretty full, doesn’t it? Layer two – the Crimini Layer – only added to my worry. I think porcini mushrooms must be smaller and would fit better. But 3 pounds is 3 pounds no matter what, right? The next two times I added mushrooms, I pressed down on everything to try and squeeze things enough to get the rest to fit. I also remembered to add salt and pepper to the layers from here on. I think the heat was getting to me.
After 4 layers of mushrooms, leeks, butter, cream, parsley, salt and pepper, this is what I got. From this angle, you can’t see the mushroom dome I’d created. Again with that Jenga® feeling – not quite panic, but a deep sense of dread for an impending tragedy. But everything fit in the dish (in the loosest sense of the word) so I felt I could be slightly optimistic about it.
The bread crumbs went on and the thing went in the oven for 20 minutes. A good cook, at this point, would clean up her area, do dishes and dash off a note to the canasta club about their next get-together. I did manage to wipe down the stovetop, but I hadn’t been on Facebook all day and I needed to sit and fan myself for a bit. When the timer went off, I fairly skipped the 5 feet back to the kitchen in breathless anticipation.
Huh. I expected the mushrooms to condense more so that the bread crumbs would be further down into the liquid. After 20 minutes, they hadn’t and the “crust” looked more like “sand.” I smashed things down with a spatula and put it back in for another 10 minutes just to see. I took another picture, but there wasn’t any apparent difference so I’ll spare you the download. At this point I decided it was as done as it was going to get, so I let it cool some, grabbed a bowl and did a taste test.
When I see “casserole,” I expect something a little less soupy. The mushrooms weren’t as tender as I thought they’d be after so long in the oven, but the flavor was good. It just wasn’t appealing to look at or dig into – definitely not something to take to a potluck or family dinner. What to do?
Is It Soup Yet?
Since it was halfway to soup already, I decided to throw the whole thing into a pot and use my immersion blender to take it the last few steps. I love my blender! It lets me feel all manly because I get to use a power tool in the kitchen.
Now I had a cream of mushroom soup that was easy to eat, flavorful and looked like the name I had given it. I was happy. The next day, the breadcrumbs had absorbed a lot of the liquid and I was left with what looked like a big bowl of mushroom paté instead of soup. If I get ambitious, I’ll put it back in the pot and add vegetable stock, milk or white wine to thin it out into a more proper soup.
Chef Michael Symon seems like a hack. Maybe he only gives his junk recipes to Food Network and saves the good ones for his restaurants, but I doubt it. I think he threatens to show the Iron Chef judges pictures of him doing unspeakable things with the secret ingredient and his bunghole and that’s the only way he wins. Add that he can’t seem to write a complete set of instructions for making his dishes, and I can say that I can skip over anything with his name on it in the future.
I bailed on y’all this week so I put Shiningstar’s recipe in for the FNCCC “main post” this week. You can check it out here.