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Basic Duxelles

•½ cup butter

•2 tablespoons coarsely chopped onion

•2 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped

•1 pound fresh mushrooms

•½ teaspoon salt

•¼ teaspoon white pepper

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. While the butter is melting, place the onions, shallots and about one third of the mushrooms in the workbowl of a food processor. Finely mince the mixture by using the "pulse" or "on-off" button on the processor. Scrape the minced mushrooms into the pot with the melting butter and repeat the mincing process with remaining mushrooms, adding them to the pot when they are minced.

Stir the minced mushrooms with the butter, thoroughly coating them and continue to saute, stirring frequently, until all of the liquid that is released from the mushrooms has evaporated (about 15 to 20 minutes).

Once the mushrooms have darkened slightly, add salt and pepper to taste. Yields about 2½ cups.

Note: For a quick and delectable hors d'oeuvre, spoon duxelles into a bowl and surround with crostini or a fine, lightly-flavored cracker. It's wonderful.

Duxelles will keep refrigerated for slightly over one week, or frozen for about 6 months. Before using, you may want to reheat gently over low heat or in the microwave to soften.

Tomato Duxelles Variation: To the basic recipe, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste and a ½ teaspoon of sugar (if necessary, to offset the acid in the tomatoes).

Garlic Duxelles Variation: Saute about 1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic along with the onions during the preparation of the basic recipe.

Herbed Duxelles: Stir in about 1½ tablespoons of finely chopped fresh herbs. Basil is a wonderful herb to use, as is fresh dill or savory. However, a combination can also be wonderful, and one of my favorites is a mixture of parsley, thyme and just a tiny pinch of marjoram (the total measurement shouldn't be over 1½ tablespoons).

Cream Duxelles: Add ½ cup heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche (or sour cream) at the very end of the process and cook down slightly to evaporate and thicken a bit.

Quick Chicken Saute with Duxelles: Place boned and skinned chicken breasts between two sheets of waxed paper or in a plastic bag and gently pound each one at its thickest portion with the flat side of a rolling pin or wooden mallet until it is of relatively even thickness. Lightly season the breasts with salt and pepper, then saute in a small amount of butter or olive oil until beautifully golden on both sides. Before serving, spoon about 2 tablespoons of warm duxelles over each breast. If desired, deglaze the pan with about ¼ cup of white wine or water, stirring and scraping up all the cooked-on bits of food. Serve with these pan juices and garlic mashed potatoes.

Couscous with Duxelles

Makes 6 servings

•1 cup duxelles (see basic duxelles recipe)

•6 slices bacon, diced and fried

•3 cups couscous (see note below)

•3 cups boiling chicken broth

In medium-sized saucepan, re-heat duxelles over medium heat to soften. Stir in bacon and couscous and remove from heat. Pour on the boiling chicken broth, stir to coat all of the grains and cover. Let the couscous stand, covered, for 6 minutes. When ready to serve, fluff lightly with fork. It's a wonderful side dish to poultry, lamb — even meatloaf.

Note: Use the "instant" variety, which is available in most well-stocked grocery stores.

Mushroom Spread with Cream Cheese & Prosciutto

This is a very delectable variation on duxelles (see previous recipes). If you take it along on a wine touring expedition this fall, chances are you will be in close proximity to some wonderful pinot noir, and just know that this dish goes fabulously with it.

•2 tablespoons olive oil

•2 tablespoons minced shallot

•1 pound mushrooms, minced (I use my food processor)

•¼ cup Madeira (or dry sherry)

•½ cup whipping cream

•2 ounces cream cheese

•1 egg yolks, room temperature

•2 tablespoons finely minced prosciutto or Black Forest ham

•1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

•¾ teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

•¼ teaspoon nutmeg

•4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

•Fresh and crusty baguette, cut into ¼- to ½-inch thick slices

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over low heat. Add shallot and stir constantly until translucent. Add mushrooms and cook over low heat until mushrooms become dark in color and begin to separate into small individual pieces, about 20 minutes; stir often to prevent sticking. Add Madeira and continue cooking over low heat until it evaporates, approximately 45 minutes. Add cream and cook until absorbed. Add cream cheese and stir until melted. Stir in egg yolk, prosciutto, lemon juice, thyme, salt, pepper, nutmeg and the Parmesan cheese.

Spoon mixture into 1 or more crocks, cover surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The duxelles will become firm, so it travels well to your picnic.

Zesty Mushroom and Feta Cheese Gratin

Makes 8 to 10 servings

This wonderful make-ahead mushroom casserole never ceases to induce a round of raves whenever I serve it. It’s a great brunch or light supper dish. I also recommend it for autumn picnics, especially during the Thanksgiving weekend wine touring.

•1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

•2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

•2 tablespoons butter (if avoiding butter, substitute 2 additional tablespoons olive oil)

•1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (more to taste)

•About ¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

•2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

•Salt and white pepper to taste

•8 ounces traditional feta cheese, drained and crumbled

•8 ounces shredded extra-sharp Cheddar (I use Tillamook)

•1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

•6 eggs

•2 cups half-and-half

•Scant ½ teaspoon salt

•Pinch of white pepper

In a very large skillet, saute the mushrooms in the olive oil over medium-high heat until the mushrooms have released their liquid, then continue cooking until the liquid has reduced and the mushrooms are getting very golden brown, shaking and stirring them so that they all get evenly cooked.

Drizzle on the Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco and continue stirring, scraping, and sauteeing until the Worcestershire sauce has been reduced and the mushrooms are even more golden. Add the balsamic vinegar and continue to saute and stir until the vinegar has reduced and the mushrooms are very brown. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Spread the sauteed mushrooms over the bottom of an 11-by-17-inch baking pan. This will only make a shallow layer. Sprinkle on the feta cheese, shredded Cheddar, and Parmesan. With your fingers, toss some of the mushrooms with the cheese, so portions of the cheeses are snuggled down within and beneath the mushroom layer.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, salt and pepper. Ladle enough of this custard mixture over the mushrooms and cheese so that it evenly covers them, with pieces of mushroom and cheese poking out the top (in other words, don't completely cover the mushrooms with the custard - you may have some custard left over).

You can prepare the gratin up to this point and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

Bake the mixture in a 400-degree oven until the top is golden and the custard tests firm when pressed with your finger, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven.

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