Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Sauce? A Soup? Shroomy!

We found sliced sliced button mushrooms on sale at the supermarket: $1.99 for a half-pound package. We thought it would make for a great opportunity to make mushroom sauce over the weekend. A little something to dress pasta with. We even used some leftovers on top of an omelet.

The taste? Mad about Mushrooms. Even though it is creamy, it is a lean dish - we make it with 1% milk (it's in
the fridge - and yes, despite our boozy, Devil-may-care way, we do try to eat healthy).

For that flavorful punch, we start out with some Jimmy Dean sausage. Every so often, when we are cruising the aisles of the supermarket late at night, we'll swing by the refrigerated section with the meats and check out the Jimmy Dean. If we need a little comfort, we'll add some to the shopping basket. When we get home, we chill it, then slice it in 1-oz coins that get put in Ziploc bags and stored in the freezer. Jimmy Dean sausage is a good thing to have in the freezer.

Is this a cream gravy with mushrooms? A deliriously thick cream of mushroom soup? We will leave that up to you, dear reader.

A note on the spices: we have pimenton - Spanish smoked paprika -in the cupboard and love to use it whenever we can. This is not required. One ought to use a heavy hand with the pepper here - we learned this from our Dear Sister and her cream gravy.

Mad About the Mushroom (makes about two cups)

2 ounces Jimmy Dean Sausage, cut into wee pieces
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, run through a garlic press
1 teaspoon olive oil

8 ounces sliced mushrooms (any can be used, but white button mushrooms work quite well)

2 teaspoons pimenton
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large bay leaf

1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 ounce cognac or brandy

1 1/2 cups 1% milk

Ground black pepper and salt, to taste.

In a skillet: cook the sausage over medium-high heat, until it browns, about three minutes. Add the oil and onion and cook until onions are soft - another three to five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 15-30 seconds.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the mushrooms. Strew the seasonings on top. Now would be a good time for a glass of wine and clean up the kitchen: this is going to take a long time.

On Television, as in cookbooks, this step is handled with gentle editing, a commercial break, or a simple line like "cook the mushrooms until they give off their moisture and reduce to practically nothing." Mushrooms, like spinach, have an insane amount of moisture in them. When you, dear reader, add the mushrooms to the pan, they will do nothing. They may even - depending on the size of the pan, form a small mountain threatening fungal avalanches over the stove top. Unlike spinach, which deflates almost instantly, these mushrooms will take a good long while. It will do no good to start fussing or trying to stir them after right after they've been added to the pan.

After the dishes are on the drainboard, pour yourself another glass of wine. Stir the mushrooms around, getting the softer, deflated ones up from the bottom and giving the raw ones up top a chance. Is there a letter you need to write?

In time, the mushrooms will start to get uniformly brown. They will start to throw off their moisture. At this point, sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and raise the heat. Cook the mushrooms until the flour is no longer white. Add the cognac and, while it boils away, use your spoon to scrape up any brown bits that have started to adhere to the bottom of the skillet.

Add the milk. When everything starts to simmer, reduce the heat to medium again. Cook until everything starts to thicken. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta, or eat with a spoon. It keeps well, covered in the fridge, for about a week.

Welcome to Cooking for One, While Drunk

Cooking is a wonderful thing. Cocktails are quite nice, as well. And enjoying one's own company? Why not?

I wish I could take credit for the title of this little blog, but I can't: it's not my joke. But that has never stood in the way of me drinking and cooking.


Monday, January 1, 2007

It's a New Year - This One's for Luck

Hoppin' John is something I make to start the new year. Since I only make it once a year, the recipe has taken some time to develop - this year it turned out great. Last year it was greasy and disgusting.

I was knocking around ideas all year of how to render out the fat without getting rid of the flavor. The obvious solution finally came to me: just whittle off the rind of fat and use the rest.

The first year I decided to make Hoppin' John, the idea struck me on New Year's Eve. Brilliant. Because I was the only person in town who thinks of this, right? Since there were no ham hocks at the supermarket, I settled for some ham shank. While the hocks are traditional, the about 4 ounces of ham shank work brilliantly - since there is no fat to speak of. It does give you all the flavor, but the silky-gelatinous sauce created by the bone of the ham hock shouldn't be missed.

To start: soak 1/2 bag (8-oz) of black-eyed peas in cold water overnight. As always, it is a good idea to pick though the beans to make sure there aren't any small rocks in there.

1 small onion, minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves

1 ham hock, trimmed of fat
About 4 cups of cold water

Ground black pepper and hot sauce to taste

- Sweat the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic, bay leaves, and ham hock.

- Add cold water to cover the ham hock (in a 3-quart saucepan this took about 4 cups of water). Add ground pepper and about a tablespoon of hot sauce.

- Simmer the ham hock, partially covered over very low heat, until the meat falls from the bone - this will take about 2-3 hours. Skim any fat from the surface.

- Drain the beans and add to the pot, cook, over low heat, for about an hour until the beans are cooked.

- Taste for seasoning: add salt, if necessary, and more hot sauce.

Serve with rice.