Friday, January 30, 2009

Wild Mushroom Soup & Savory Bread Pudding (and another dinner party)

As soon as I vowed to stop entertaining or at least to slow down--life had other plans. For the past five weeks, without fail, every weekend has found Steve and I preparing for another dinner party. Six months of casual "we should have dinner some time" mentions turned into firm plans with dates needing to be set. The good thing is we got to see friends we haven't seen in a long while, and over the course of several long, unhurried evenings, we really caught up.

I've been experimenting with healthier meals--as my confidence grows as a cook, I find that I am going outside my comfort zone of roasts and heavy sauces. Last Saturday, I even experimented with a vegetarian menu. It was incredibly satisfying--even to me, the committed carnivore.

Amy Richards
and Peter Sloan (and their two young kids Webber and Beckett), whom I had invited to my first dinner party, have since become close friends. (And all because I invited them to dinner that first night). I was happy to see them and catch up on Amy's latest adventures (as I write this, she is on her way to Moscow to take part of a feminist conference, along with Gloria Steinem) and discover some new wines with Peter, who works in the wine business. The evening went by quickly--and the kids drop off asleep one by one (except for Webber, who was still up at midnight, when we finally pulled ourselves away from our conversation and said goodnight). The whole thing felt very easy.

I woke up the next morning feeling very full of friendship and life--and convinced that the whole dinner party project, even with the tiredness and extra pounds, might be worth the dark circles and my ever-present muffin-top. I am seeming to find the balance--by going to bed early the rest of the week, by going to the gym, taking vitamins and incorporating some healthier ingredients into the menus. Plus, I took on another writing project, which for me, after a bit of a writer's block, is as nourishing as a big bowl of chicken soup.

Anyway, enough chatter. On with the recipes!

The Menu

Piave Cheese, Speck, Baguette

Wild Mushroom Soup (recipe follows)

Savory Bread Pudding with Swiss Chard (recipe follows)



Wild Mushroom Soup
(adapted from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook)

This soup is incredibly creamy and flavorfull--and for such a simple recipe its deceptively sophisticated. It's amazing what 6 tablespoons of butter can do! For a lighter version, cut the butter back to 3 tablespoons and drizzle olive oil on top of the soup right before you serve it.

6 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, thinly sliced
10 ounces button mushrooms (one grocery store package)
3-4 dried porcine mushrooms soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
4 cups chicken stock (water )
1 sprig of flat parsley
Salt and pepper
A couple light pours of high-quality sherry

Melt 2 tbsp of butter into a large sauce pan. Add the onions and cook for a little while, until the onions are translucent. While onions saute, wipe down mushrooms with a damp paper towel, then quickly slice them up. Add to the onions along with the rest of the butter. Drain and chop porcines, and add them to the pot as well. Saute on medium heat for about ten minues. Then add chicken broth or water, parsley and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for about one hour.

Remove parsley and puree soup with a handblender. Adjust salt and pepper and add sherry. Enjoy hot, along with some good bread.

Savory Bread Pudding with Swiss Chard
(adpated from the NY Times "Recipes for Health")
Surrounded by a plethora of exceptional bakeries, we tend to buy a lovely loaf of freshly-baked baguette most days of the week--unlike most of my friends, I have not forgone bread, at least not yet. (Favorites bakeries include Amy's Bread, Blue Ribbon and Grand Daisy for their stirato and cauliflower pizza). But we don't always eat it up right away. Enter the savory bread pudding. I simply save the stale bread and use whatever veggies, herbs and cheeses I have on-hand. Utterly delicious.

For this recipe, I use both the stem and the leaves of the swiss chard. The stems, it turns out, crunchy and quite tasty, with an almost sweet flavor. Sauteed in olive oil and garlic creates a lovely texture for the pudding.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, 2 chopped, 1 left whole
1 large bunch swiss chard, cleaned well. Stem and leaves seperated and chopped rather small.
1/2 pound stale bread, sliced about 1/2 inch thick
2 ounces Gruyère, grated (1/2 cup)
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/4 cup)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt2 cups low-fat milk

Preheat oven to 350.

Add 1 tbsp of the olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic to a large skillet over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add swiss chard stems and saute for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the chopped swiss chard and cook until chard is wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off heat and set aside.

Oil or butter a two-quart baking dish or gratin.

Rub bread slices with whole garlic clove.

Place half of the bread slices in the baking dish and top with half of the stems and greens mixture. Then top with half the thyme and rosemary. Top with half of the cheeses. Repeat the layers.

Beat together eggs and milk. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few twists of the pepper mill, then pour over the bread and greens. Place in the oven, and bake 40 to 50 minutes. Serve hot.

Serves four.

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