Oh yes, it's yet another sampling from Peggy Fallon's book Great Party Dips.
You know, the book I'm giving away to some lucky random entrant in the giveaway?
This wild mushroom concoction was actually the first recipe that caught my eye, but because the recipe instructs that you chill it for at least 4 hours, it wasn't the first one I made. I wanted faster results.
Anyway. The recipe calls for an assortment of wild mushrooms, but Ms. Fallon points out that if all you have available are crimini mushrooms, then just use them. I bought some mixed wild mushrooms, some baby bella, and I still had a package of Hen of the Woods mushrooms in my fridge that our friend John had foraged some time ago so I made sure to include them as well.
In total, you need a pound of mushrooms. I used a bit more because I wanted to use a few nice looking mushrooms as decoration, as you can see in the photo at the top of this post.
The rest of the ingredients include a half cup of walnuts…
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (though if you wanted to, you could sub olive oil instead. But for flavor purposes, I think butter works best with mushrooms. Just my two cents.)
A quarter of a cup of chopped shallots…
Half a teaspoon of dried thyme leaves (or one and a half teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme)
Half a teaspoon of salt, (sorry, no picture. I'm trying to break my slightly dotty habit of photographing EVERY single ingredient. Part of the recovery process is to gradually eliminate one more ingredient with each successive recipe I post. Eventually there won't even be words either. Just post titles. It's not easy. I'm just taking it one day at a time.)
2 tablespoons of cognac or brandy…
A teaspoon of soy sauce…
And four ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into four pieces.
Okay, now once you've got everything assembled it's time to start cooking.
The directions tell you to toast the walnuts on a pan in a 325 degree oven, but I did mine in a cast iron skillet on top of the stove. Whatever works for you. You want them to be "lightly browned and fragrant." Just don't let them burn – they don't taste quite so good if that happens.
Next up, the mushrooms. Ms. Fallon's directions say to chop up the mushrooms first, before cooking. I didn't - I kind of skipped over that part. I'd say chop them, though. They cook faster and release more of their liquid that way. You don't want them watery.
Anyway, melt the butter – yes, all of it – in a large skillet over medium heat. Then add in the mushrooms, shallots, thyme, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, "until the shallots have softened and the mushroom liquid has almost all evaporated, about 7 minutes." If I had chopped my mushrooms, they'd have cooked more quickly.
At this point, add in the soy sauce and the cognac and cook a little longer. Shut off the heat and let the mushrooms cool a bit.
Now, I just want to interrupt myself a bit and note that this mushroom prep is pretty similar to a duxelle, which is basically a mixture of finely chopped mushrooms and shallots and herbs and wine or sherry (sherry goes nicely with mushrooms), cooked slowly for a long time, until the moisture has cooked off and you have a very fragrant, thick, soft mass of sublime mushroomy deliciousness. It's most famously used as part of the filling for Beef Wellington, but you can use it in anything you want – stuffings, in omelets, spread on toast, or just eaten with a spoon.
Back to the dip.
When the mushrooms have cooled a bit, place them and the walnuts in a food processor and "pulse until finely chopped." (OH! WAIT! Before you do this, remove a selection of nice looking mushroom slices – THIS must be why, subconsciously, I didn't chop the mushrooms before cooking. I knew I'd need some of them whole – and set aside for later.)
At this point you add in the cream cheese and process until the mixture is mostly smooth but still has some texture left from bits of walnut and mushroom.
Scrape the whole thing into a bowl and chill for at least four hours, or you could, as Ms. Fallon suggests, line a loaf pan or other mold with plastic wrap, press the pate in, cover and refrigerate. Later, you can unmold it onto a bed of lettuce or whatever strikes your fancy. The recipe makes about two and a half cups of pate.
I was poking around in my pantry trying to decide what to use for the pate mold. I have an assortment of loaf pans, cake pans, ring molds, etc…but what I finally decided to use were four little ice cream bowls I bought last spring or summer. I think the bright colors appealed to me – a nice contrast to the mushroom color. And the shape is nice, too.
I lined each bowl with plastic, and then – remember those nice mushroom slices I told you to set aside? Here's why. I arranged a couple of mushrooms at the bottom of each bowl before spooning in the mushroom mixture. Brown/gray pate needs something to fancy it up, no matter how good it tastes.
As you fill your mold(s)/loaf pan/etc, smooth the top and cover with plastic, and then place in the fridge for at least (per Ms. Fallon) four hours.
When you're ready to unmold, simply pull back the plastic, place an inverted plate over the unwrapped side, and flip the whole thing over in one graceful motion. Gently pull the mold or loaf pan off, remove the plastic, and – voila! – a pretty little mold of mushroom pate.
I brought the first one to dinner at Joe, and Emily's house (our nephew and his fiance) on Saturday. Our kids had been there all day while Bill and I had our taxes done and then enjoyed some fabulous sushi at Sakura in Providence, and then we were invited back to Joe and Em's for dinner. I brought a bowl of the pate and a baguette. All the adults liked it, anyway. Alex, as expected, refused to try it. (Mushrooms (ick) + dip (ick) = NO WAY!) Julia tried it but didn't really like it either. She likes mushrooms, but maybe the slight flavor of the cognac and soy sauce spoiled it for her. Who knows.
I gave another bowl to our friends across the street. And we had the other two.
Now – a sort of update to all of this – the recipe is in the "cold dips and spreads" section of the book, but I was thinking last night that it would probably taste good warm, too. So I nuked a bowl of it (plastic wrap removed first) for a minute or so on 70% power, stirred it up a bit to even out the temperature, and tried it. And I have to say I like this better warm. Bill did, too. And I think if I ever make it – or something similar – again, I'll serve it warm.
But don't go by what I say – make a batch and try it for yourself – try it cold, try it warm, and see which way you prefer. Either way, it's very tasty!