Tuesday, September 22, 2009
A Sinful Dish: Baked Cucumbers with Creamed Mushrooms
I'm late to the game on something I promised you. And I hope you'll forgive me.
We got quite a number of requests for the baked cucumber recipe after we completed our Julie/Julia Challenge in August. Unfortunately, I hadn't taken many photos of the dish the first time we made it, so I didn't really have anything worthy of a blog post. Since the dish was so delicious, and we had fresh cucumbers in the garden, I figured we'd simply give it another try.
Well, guess what? I forgot all about my promise.
Fortunately, as of last week, we still had cucumbers in the garden. I also happened to have a pint of fresh cream on hand. I was roasting a chicken for dinner, and I figured the baked cucumbers would be the perfect side dish. Since there were only the two of us, I cut the recipe back by a bit and used only two cucumbers (I'm recording my halved recipe here; the recipe can be doubled). On the up side, that means the full dish is worth quite a few less calories. On the downside, it still ends up to be pretty sinful. And, if you're anything like me, you'll compound the problem with sins of omission and revision.
Sin #1: Technically, the recipe calls for English cucumbers, but I believe firmly in using what's on hand, so we settled for your typical garden variety cucs. I also took some other liberties with the recipe (which I'll divulge). Sacrilige? Maybe -- but it's the nature of my cooking beast. I can't seem to follow a recipe to save my life.
First -- you'll need two cucumbers. The original recipe called for six. That'a alotta cucumbers.
Julia Child's recipe requires peeled cucumbers.
Sin #2: If disobeying the recipe early on makes my sin even greater, I'll take the stripes for it. The truth is, I very seldom peel anything. But, I wasn't a complete heretic: I met her halfway on this one. I do think that peeled cucumbers tend to drain more efficiently -- and they also make for a more tender bite overall. But, I think the bit of peel left on the cucumbers adds a pleasant bit of color. And I really don't think it impacts the finished product in a negative way.
I did manage to follow some of the instructions. I de-seeded the cucumbers with a spoon, and then proceeded to cut them up into 3/8 inch thick matchsticks.
Of course, shortly thereafter sin #3 ensued. The recipe calls for green onions. I didn't have any on hand, so I substituted 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions (and added them a step earlier). I realize the flavor isn't quite the same (and 1/4 cup is quite a bit more onion flavor than the original recipe calls for); but, I promise you it wasn't a disaster. And again -- a splash of color never hurts.
I salted the cucumbers and onions with just over 1/2 tsp of salt, sprinkled them with 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar and 1/16 tsp sugar, and left them to drain for about an hour or so in a colander. When the time was up, I painstakingly dried them on paper towels.
Sin #4: Yeah, I was bad to the environment. Paper towels do a great job, but I should have used one of my white flour sack towels. Ah, well, you live and learn.
Sin #5: Sheer laziness.
Rather than melting my butter the old fashioned way, I decided to cheat a bit. I put two pats of butter (about 1 1/2 T) into my glass baking dish and placed it into the oven as it preheated to 375ºF.
By the time the oven was preheated... voila! I had my melted butter. I'd like to think that Julia would be proud of my resourcefulness. But, one never really knows.
I tossed the dried cucumbers in the butter and then added about a tablespoon of freshly chopped basil to the mix. Julia calls for 1/2 tsp of basil (or dill) for her entire recipe. Since I wouldn't consider overseasoning anything with basil to be a sin, I'm not counting this among my transgressions.
I placed the baking dish in the preheated oven, and let it go for about an hour, tossing the cucumbers a couple of times during the baking process -- just like the recipe said. See! I'm really a very good girl at heart!
Meanwhile, I gently sauteed about 6 oz of mushrooms in a dry skillet. I did it for a skoche longer than Julia said I should, but I'm not sure that really mattered a whole lot. After all, caramelization is flavor, right?
When the mushrooms were sufficiently cooked (by my standards) I added a mixture of 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1/2 tsp cornstarch (which I mixed first with 1/2 tsp of water). I let it come to a bubble, and then simmered it for about 5 minutes, until it was perfectly thickened.
When the cucumbers came out of the oven, I folded the creamed mushrooms into the cucumbers. And that was that!
I can't say this is the most attractive dish I've ever made. But, it's definitely got things going for it in the flavor department. Both the cucumbers and mushrooms are quite concentrated in their flavor -- and they really complement one another. The cucumbers have, somehow, remained crisp while the onions have wilted and begun to break down. Everything is accented nicely by the suggestion of white wine vinegar, which also serves to cut the richness of the cream. And, of course, there's the basil... which really makes almost anything better.
We were surprised by the dish the first time. And equally pleased with it on the second (and significanly revised) go-round. It made a great side dish for chicken -- and I could also see it performing nicely alongside a roast or some wine braised tempeh.
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