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My Mom's Favorites: Mushrooms and Tarragon

By Luci


Mother’s Day is, for me, a time of remembrance and gratitude. I deliberately journey through my brain remembering all the good times. Family gatherings were a regular highlight of my young life. There were walks in the woods with mom’s running commentary on nature’s workings, excursions to the zoo and museum, and taking in theatre, circuses, opera and whatever interesting events came to town. These were entertainments but much more. They thoroughly shaped my adult life along with encouragement to do good in the world, make a worthwhile career in a gratifying field, be imaginative and venturesome, try new things without being afraid to make mistakes but learn from those mistakes, and always remember that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I am grateful.

And, of course, her cooking. My favorite: fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon buns drenched in vanilla icing. They had an incredibly enticing aroma and a yeasty, sweet taste. A close second: Coconut layer cake with creamy, gooey, crunchy texture. I loved beef, especially if larded with sweet, yummy fat (in modest amounts, of course). Pork came in next. Vegetables and salad were constants because Mom knew they were essential to health. She emphasized fresh ingredients and good ingredients for their taste as well as their health benefits. My cooking reflects her menus along with, thanks to her, my penchant for experimentation, imagination and adventure. I am grateful.


As a gesture to Mom, I cooked up some recipes with two of her favorite ingredients. She loved mushrooms but rarely served them because they were neither a favorite of my father nor of, given our childish tastes, my brother and me. While other family members approved, licorice-tasting tarragon was not to my liking. But I’ve changed. I now adore mushrooms and find tarragon quite a tasty herb. Mom was on the right track.


Many varieties of mushroom exist, all with earthy flavor. Most people find “exotic” mushrooms such as chanterelles, morels, trumpets, hen-of-the-woods, or porcini much tastier than the easy-to-find and inexpensive button or cremini mushrooms. In the following recipes, I used only cremini (baby Bella). As for tarragon, if you cannot find it fresh, use dried, 1/2 the amount given for fresh.


ROASTED MUSHROOMS with TARRAGON and WARM TARRAGON CHEESE DIP

Roasted mushrooms are delicious and versatile. Serve them as an appetizer on their own or as a dipper in a warm cheese or onion dip. You can use them as a side dish in the main course, add them to rice or pasta or toss them in a salad.


Whatever you choose, sprinkle them with fresh tender herbs (e.g., tarragon, basil, chervil) when you take them from the oven. They do shrink to about half their uncooked size so avoid small mushrooms.

I made two dips, one with cheddar cheese and one with white cheeses (gruyere and havarti). I preferred the milder dip with white cheeses; the roasted mushrooms sang more in my mouth and made me want to hold each bite in my mouth to fully savor the deliciousness of the combination.

















Roasted Mushrooms

Ingredients

1 pound cremini, chanterelle or morel mushrooms

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon grated garlic

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon chopped tarragon


Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F.

  2. Wipe the mushrooms. Slice medium size mushrooms in half and large mushrooms in quarters.

  3. Toss mushrooms with olive oil, garlic and salt.

  4. Distribute mushrooms in a single layer on a nonstick baking pan or a pan lined with parchment. Bake for 10 minutes.

  5. Place in warm serving dish and sprinkle with tarragon.


Warm Cheese Dip

Ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup whole milk

12 ounces sharp cheddar or 6 ounces gruyere and 6 ounces havarti

Chopped tarragon, 1-2 tablespoons, depending on your taste


Directions

  1. Shred the cheese on a grater or in a food processor.

  2. Melt butter in pan over medium-low heat. Sprinkle the flour in and whisk continually until mixture is smooth, about 3-5 minutes.

  3. Gradually whisk in milk until mixture has thickened, then stir in the grated cheese (s) and, finally, the tarragon. Keep warm.


TARRAGON/TOMATO CREAM SAUCE

For sautéed mushrooms and chicken, pork, veal or fish

So pretty, so delicious. The sauce is pink, flecked with green. The taste is a symphony of soft licorice with a touch of tang, a bit of pungency, a hint of sweetness and umami that amps it up. The thick sauce tops your choice of protein, prepared as you like it. Serve the mushrooms on the side and pass extra sauce.


Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon chopped shallots

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Salt and pepper to taste


Directions

  1. Melt butter over medium heat and sauté shallots just until soft.

  2. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Add wine and whisk until sauce is smooth.

  3. Stir in tomato paste and then gradually add the cream. Add tarragon and lemon zest. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.


GREEN BEANS with MUSHROOMS, SHALLOTS and TARRAGON

My mom often served green beans with mushrooms, onion or almonds. It was one of my favorite sides. Rather than onion, I now favor shallots, especially along with mushrooms and, sometimes, fresh tarragon.


Ingredients

1 pound green beans, ends trimmed

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 large shallot, in thin lengthwise slices

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

1 tablespoon chopped tarragon

Salt and pepper to taste


Directions

  1. Steam green beans until crisp tender.

  2. Melt butter in large pan over medium heat and sauté shallot slices until soft.

  3. Add mushrooms and cook until they have given up their liquid.

  4. Add green beans to pan and stir until heated.

  5. Place in serving bowl and sprinkle with tarragon.

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