Sunday Dinner: Chicken in Mushroom Sauce and Spinach Souffle

When we began planning for this weekend's meal, we realized it was the first weekend in at least four months that we'd be together in our apartment with no plans or guests. Now,  obviously we like to entertain but we were pretty psyched for our own little Sunday Dinner Date Night. When it's just the two of us we don't have to worry about how the food turns out or when dinner is ready, so we can take our time with more risky dishes. And if the kitchen gets a little messier because we're busy enjoying our newest local alcohol discovery, Breukelen Distillery Whiskey, then so be it.

It's truly autumn now - we're feeling and smelling it in the air, and seeing it in the warm light - and we were craving a hearty fall meal. Jake, an amateur mycologist, was especially craving mushrooms and because of the late summer rain they were in abundance. Silka had her eyes on the dark, crisp spinach flowing into the market stands and we both wanted to try something new.

We started with a spinach souffle, and from there started brainstorming what kind of mushroomy protein would go with it. Friday evening and Saturday morning  were spent pouring through our favorite cookbooks and we finally decided on chicken with a creamy mushroom sauce. Since both are fairly rich dishes, a green salad was the only addition we needed. 

On Saturday afternoon, we were off to the Market to get the goods with our friend Sara Mills, of Pomme Designs and Always Hungry. Both Bulich Mushroom Farm and Violet Hill Farm had an array of earthy mushrooms - crimini, hen of the woods, maitake, and porcini - and we got a little of each. From our buddies at Flying Pigs Farm we bought a beautiful plump chicken and a carton of eggs and we stopped by Migliorelli Farm for some crisp spinach. For our salad greens we went to one of our favorite greens farm, Windfall Farm and we ended with some truly amazing nutty Tuscan-style cheeses from Dancing Ewe Farm.

While marketting, we gave Sara a little tour of our favorite meat and dairy stands. You can read her lovely post about it here: "On Tour".

Chicken Parts in Mushroom Sauce

+ 1 whole chicken cut into 8 pieces
+ 4 small leeks, removing the dark green stems and cutting up the pale bulb into ¼ inch slices
+ 1 ½ lbs of mushrooms - we used porcini, crimini, and hen of the woods
+ ½ cup of ground dried mushrooms - you can buy dried mushrooms or dry them yourself
+ 1 cup of dry, earthy white wine (Burgundy or Arneis)
+ 1 cup of hot water
+ 2 tablespoons of olive oil or chicken schmaltz
+ 3 tablespoons of butter
+ 2 tablespoons of cream
+ A variety of herbs tied in a bundle around a clove of garlic - we used sage and thyme
+ salt and pepper 

1. In a large heavy-duty pan, drop the olive oil (or chicken schmaltz) and turn the burner to medium-high. As the pan is warming, pat the chicken dry with with a paper towel and generously salt the skin side. 
2. When the pan is hot brown the chicken parts in small batches- a minute or so on each side. (When browning, be careful not to crowd the pan or the ingredients won't brown properly.) Reserve the bowned chicken parts on a plate.
3. When all the chicken parts have been browned, saute the leeks in the same pan until they soften and become translucent. Meanwhile, combine the wine, hot water and ground dried mushrooms* in a separate bowl.
4. When the leeks are cooked put the chicken pieces back in the pan, skin side up, and add the liquid. Cover the pan partially, turning to a medium heat and keeping it at a slow simmer. 
5. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour. When the chicken is done - check with a thermometer (the meat should be 165 degrees) or cut into a piece and see - take the chicken pieces out and arrange on a platter. 
6. Turn the heat back up to medium-high and add the butter and sliced mushrooms**, stirring and reducing for about 10 minutes. When reduced, remove from heat and stir in cream. Pour over chicken and serve.

* If you want to make your own dried mushrooms, take ½ lbs of mushrooms and slice them thickly (1/4 inch thick). Put them on a baking sheet, careful not to overlap them, and put in the oven at 200 degrees. Check on them occasionally to make sure they don't burn. After about an hour, remove from oven and grind in a spice grinder (or a coffee grinder), in a mortar, or with a knife.

** If you wanted to be super fancy, you could pre-saute the mushrooms while the chicken is cooking, using another pan and a little butter. It probably would make this dish better but it's more work and more dishes to clean. And to be honest, we didn't do that and our mushroom sauce was awesome!

Spinach Souffle
From Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything

+ 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, plus butter for the dish
+ ¼ cup AP flour
+ 1½ cups milk, warmed until hot to the touch (about a minute in an average microwave)
+ 6 eggs, separated
+ Salt and freshly ground black pepper
+ Dash of cayenne or ½ teaspoon dry mustard
+ ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
+ 2 tablespoons minced onion
+ 1 spinach, cooked, drained and chopped or pureed

1. Use a bit of the butter to grease a 2‐quart soufflé or other deep baking dish. (Hold off on this step if you're not going to bake the soufflés until later.)
2. Put the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium‐low heat. When the foam subsides, stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture darkens, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low and whisk in the milk, a bit at a time, until the mixture is thick. Let cool for a few minutes, then beat in the egg yolks, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cayenne or mustard, onion, spinach and cheeses. (At this point, you may cover the mixture tightly and refrigerate for a couple of hours; bring back to room temperature before continuing.)
3. About an hour before you're ready to cook, heat the oven to 375°F. Use an electric or hand mixer or whisk to beat the egg whites until fairly stiff. Stir about a third into the sauce to lighten it, then gently—and not overly thoroughly—fold in the remaining whites, using a rubber spatula or your hand. Transfer to the prepared dish and bake until the top is brown, the sides are firm, and the center is still quite moist, about 30 minutes. Use a thin skewer to check the interior; if it is still quite wet, bake for another 5 minutes. If it is just a bit moist, the soufflé is done. Serve immediately.

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