Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Case of the Cursed Champignons

Bad luck? A curse? You decide...

When we last left our heroine, she had recently enjoyed a wonderful dinner at a Chicago hot spot and returned home determined to recreate the amazing appetizers in her own kitchen. She blogged about the dining experience, asked for recipe input from all of you, and set out on a weekend shopping trip to purchase ingredients for Voul-au-vent des Champignons. Mmm…mushrooms, puff pastry, cognac…

Saturday afternoon she was ready to start cooking when….

Dum, dum, dum…(dramatic music)

Her oven stopped working! The appliance repair guy wasn’t available until Monday—far too late for our heroine to lovingly prepare, photograph, and blog about the dish she’d envisioned without feeling terribly rushed.

What will our heroine do? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, a word from our sponsor:
Congratulations to Ellen, last week’s winner. Our next lucky reader and winner of a $25 gift certificate to Williams-Sonoma will be announced this week, right here, on this
Mystery Lover’s Kitchen station…


Sorry, I couldn’t resist the dramatic intro ;-) but that was how the weekend unfolded for me. I spent Saturday morning at my local Farmers’ Market picking out fresh mushrooms, parsley and shallots, planning to make and serve my mushroom appetizer that evening. Fortunately (?) I had something else to heat up first, and that’s when I discovered my oven malfunction.

Oh no! What to do?

Improvise, of course.

I decided that I could probably still make the appetizer but eliminate the puff pastry. I headed back out, this time to the grocery store (the Farmers’ Market was closed by then), to find an acceptable substitute. Unfortunately much of the fresh bakery was picked over, but I came home with six mini croissants. About as close to puff pastry as I could get at that point.

The recipe

Many thanks to Avery/Daryl whose Facebook friend Patricia Winton provided a basic plan of attack. I changed things up a bit. Patricia’s recipe called for Tabasco, but Cognac (based on all your suggestions) seemed like a better choice.

4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 ½ cups fresh mushrooms.
2 tablespoons flour (all purpose)
1 cup heavy cream or a mixture of cream
Salt to taste
Dash of Cognac
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
(I didn’t have fresh thyme, but I did have a little container of dried thyme Krista Davis gave me when she signed THE DIVA RUNS OUT OF THYME for me. Came in handy!)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or to taste (oops, I skipped this step!)

Melt the butter over moderate flame
Sir in the shallots and cook for about a minute.
Add the mushrooms and cook until softened.
Stir in the flour and cook for about a minute until the raw taste has gone.
Slowly stir in the cream
Cook until thick.
Add salt, Cognac, parsley, thyme and lemon juice. Stir

As I mentioned, I served this mixture over sliced (and microwave-warmed) croissants and served them to the family (those of us home this week). The verdict: Mixed.

We all loved the mushroom mixture and Curt and I decided it was pretty darned close to the taste of the appetizer from Marche. But we all agreed that the croissant base left a *lot* to be desired. Just looking at it reminded Curt of chipped beef on toast—not very appetizing. Had it been baked in puff pastry, I think the appetizer would have been much more successful.
Because I only used two croissants, and I had mixture left over, we used it as a side for another meal over the weekend. This makes an awesome sauce.
A couple of changes for next time:
I would use a little extra butter
I think 2 tablespoons of flour was too much. The mixture was just a tiny bit too thick. Maybe just 1 tablespoon of flour next time.
I used baby portabello mushrooms. They were great, but I’m eager to try this again with different varieties.


The curse continues! When I inserted my camera's memory card into my computer to transfer these pictures, I was standing up instead of sitting down. Shouldn't have made a difference, right? But I was in a hurry and not being careful. I accidentally inserted the memory card into the wrong slot. It slid it too far, too fast. I couldn't get it out. Poking a pencil into my computer didn't seem like a good idea, but I tried anyway. No luck - I just pushed the memory card further in. Then I had a brainstorm - tweezers! I hear you gasping. Don't worry - I shut the computer down first and I cut all power. I realized there might still be a charge left inside, so I did tread carefully, using a rubber jar opener to hold the metal tweezers. Are you picturing this? LOL

I finally got the memory card unstuck enough to be able to tilt my computer tower forward and gently shake it out. Seriously. I swear this project is cursed!!

I hope you try anyway and have better luck than I did! Let me know how your versions turn out.


Julie's White House Chef Mystery series features State of the Onion, Hail to the Chef, and Eggsecutive Orders (coming in January). All from Berkley Prime Crime. Sign up for Julie’s newsletter on her website at http://www.juliehyzy.com/

***Reminder: Don't forget to enter to win our Mystery Lovers' Kitchen contest again this week. The prize is a $25 gift certificate to the Williams-Sonoma kitchenware and gourmet food store. Just sign in to this blog and leave a comment or send an "Enter me!" e-mail with your first name and state to MysteryLoversKitchen@gmail.com We announce the winners right here every week.


  1. Way to improvise, Julie! This looks awesome. I love mushrooms.


  2. What a day you've had. But good for you - you came out on top with a beautiful recipe. I use thyme in a lot of things and keep it handy.

    When you get a chance, drop by my kitchen. I have something for the Mystery Ladies.

  3. I enjoyed state of the onion. you are a great write of mystery.

    Ellen in Fl.

  4. Isn't everything better with a little more butter?

    Where on earth do you find a variety of mushrooms? Our groceries around here have the usual white things and a few shitakes, period. Forget the farmers markets. I wanted to include locally picked (Massachusetts) wild mushrooms in my third orchard series book, which takes place around September 1, and I couldn't find any references to what might be available then.

    And isn't it grand that Mastering the Art of French Cooking has made the NYT best-seller list? Go, Julia! (and Julie--I'm waiting for the next White House Chef book)

  5. Julie, what a great dramatic experiment. Thanks for sharing the saga.


  6. Thanks Elizabeth and Avery! Improvising is always interesting!

    Ellen - thank you so much for your kind words. I'm so happy to know you enjoyed State of the Onion. I have a lot of fun writing for Ollie and the gang.

    Sam - My Carolina Kitchen is a beautiful site. Thanks for tagging us. I'll be in touch soon!

    Sheila - LOL - I've been lucky with the selection of mushrooms out here. But when my husband did my grocery shopping for Christmas dinner (long story) he came home saying he never wanted to hear the words "Porcini mushrooms" again. He couldn't find them anywhere. He and I went back together and there they were. Fortunately he got over his bias and thoroughly enjoyed the sauce ;-)
    I think it's great that Julia Child is on the NYT list - woo-hoo! And thanks for the kind words.

  7. OMG, Julie, You had me ROTF laughing with your memory card story because not long ago I was taking photos of a freshly baked blueberry pie. Hands were slick, camera dropped, right on my toe - (of course I was wearing flip-flops and feet were unprotected). YOW! Never got the photo and the camera was toast. You are not alone in your Foodie photography trials.

    Yummy recipe - I'm a mushroom lover too and will try this for sure (with your final suggestions in mind...)

    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    "Where coffee and crime are always brewing - and digital cameras sometimes fall..."

  8. It was the mushrooms that did it. They are evil and cause bad luck and itching.

  9. Julie, what an adventure. I'm glad that the recipe worked for you, and totally agree that the croissants were probably a distant second. Nothing beats puff pastry!

    You might try marsala or madeira next time, too.

    Patricia Winton

  10. Well, you've certainly got more persistence and patience than I do. I'd have discovered the non-functional oven and said, "Never mind!" No idea what I would have done with the mushrooms and wine that were already purchased.

  11. What a great post! I'm sorry you ran into so many problems, but it made for a super story. Don't we all have days like that?

  12. Oh, Cleo, your poor foot! Not to mention your camera. I'm so sorry!

    ThatBrunette,,, I take it you don't care for mushrooms? Don't worry. I'm about to try the soup appetizer next. No mushrooms in that one.

    Patricia! Thank you for sending such a fabulous recipe to Daryl/Avery. We found that the leftover mushroom sauce was absolutely amazing on beef brisket. Ooh... yum!

    Shel - Thanks for your note. I know exactly what you mean. For a minute there I considered giving up. But this turned out to be a lot of fun.

    Thanks Krista. I've tried to train my family to remember that when they're in the midst of aggravation, they might very well have a great story to tell later. So hang in there ;-)