I love variations on themes. I also like walking into my kitchen, looking at what there is, and creating something from that. It makes me feel useful, somehow. I mean, if I were a cavewoman, I wouldn’t sit there thinking, Damn, I could use a Trader Joe’s right about now. No. Okay, maybe a little. But then, I’d look around, gather some stuff from the field, maybe whack a hapless creature over the head (sorry, vegetarian people), and make something over my open fire with all of that. Something good.

And maybe afterwards, I’d hit a cute caveman over the head with a club and drag him off to my cave (furnishings by Crate & Barrel, naturally). Ah, the good life.

I wanted to make a simple dinner but didn’t want to go grocery shopping. I have had the lavender + thyme combination in my head since the incredible chicken recipe from the last post. I had mushrooms in the fridge. I had leftover herbs. And– check it out– I had some of the sauce leftover from the chicken, rich and gelatinous. I was in business.

If you’re new to making roux-based sauce, this is a great time to learn. I know there are lots of fussy rules that people will throw at you where roux is concerned, but I’m going to make it super-easy. First of all, why should you know how to make a roux? Because:

  1. With a basic roux, you can make endless fancy sauces and they will all be cheaper and yummier and healthier than anything that comes in a jar. Also: dead easy to make.
  2. Said sauces will be luscious and creamy– even with no cream added! Huzzah!
  3. When you’re stuck with something kinda watery and you want to thicken it, a basic roux will be your gallant knight. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t pick a delicious, gallant knight over some watery wannabe? …um, you get the idea.

So get out that butter, and get to work. These mushrooms are yummy.

Ingredients

Mushrooms, sliced (I used crimini; use what makes you happy): 1 lb
Onion, half of a large one, finely minced (I used a standard yellow one)
Butter, unsalted: 2T
Olive oil or unsalted butter: 2T
Thyme: 10 – 15 sprigs (reserve 3 – 5 for garnish)
Food-grade Lavender: 5 – 8 sprigs (reserve 3 – 4 for garnish)
All-purpose flour: 2T
Stock (chicken or vegetable, preferably homemade) [See Note, at end]

Method

  1. Sauté the mushrooms in deliciousness: Melt 2T of butter (or heat olive oil, if using) over medium-high heat. Let the butter brown a bit. Toss in the onion, stir, and then let them sit till they start getting brown, stirring only occasionally. When they’ve browned, add your mushrooms and herbs, stir to combine. When the mushrooms are barely done (just a few minutes), take them off the heat and put them in a bowl. Covered, uncovered; whatever makes you happy.
  2. Make the roux: In the same pan, melt 2T of butter. When it starts to brown, add in 2T flour (not more!), stirring to combine. Keep a close watch so it doesn’t burn; let it cook to a light brown color (like cafe au lait, or peanuts) and keep stirring. See picture at end of post.
  3. Make the sauce: Very slowly pour in the chicken stock, stirring briskly to prevent lumps. I like to pour in a bit, stirring till it’s incorporated, then pour some more, till I get a consistency I like. Keep in mind that this sauce will thicken a bit on standing.
  4. Combine: Add the mushrooms back in, with any accumulated liquid. Stir to combine. Taste; add salt to taste, and more herbs if you like. You can stir in more stock to make the sauce a bit thinner. Cover and cook through.
  5. Serve: Remove the herbs and discard. Transfer mushrooms and sauce to serving bowl. Arrange fresh lavender and thyme as garnish. Serve with brown rice and red wine. We had the delightful 7 Deadly Zins tonight.


Notes:

  • No stock? No problem. Throw into a pot a chopped up onion and some chopped carrots. Cover with water, boil; let simmer for as long as you have. There: quick vegetable stock. Don’t have these? Fine, use milk. Or water. Or hell, Coke. No, no– don’t use Coke. Good heavens.
  • Riffs on the recipe: Use more onions if you like. Change the sauce:mushroom ratio if you like. Adjust the herbs to your taste. Substitute these herbs with basil, if you want to. Add some frozen peas 3 – 4 minutes before the mushrooms are done, to add color and flavor.
  • To make more sauce, just melt extra butter and add extra flour. But the ratio should always be 1:1. If you burn the roux, start from scratch in a clean pan.
  • If you don’t let the roux cook too dark, and thin the sauce with milk and add some Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese, you get an easy white sauce for pasta or veggies. Add basil, oregano, thyme, salt and black pepper to flavor it.
  • Instead of mushrooms, try this sauce with chicken, or tofu.
  • Experiment! Live a little.
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