Yes, by golly, today I am no longer a quarter of a century old. Today, I am officially 26, and in celebration of that, I thought I'd try my hand at a souffle.
I remember well my childhood viewing of Sabrina, in which Audrey Hepburn goes to culinary school in Paris and pulls out a deflated souffle, its bubble burst and folded in on itself. Even as a tyke, I thought, "That shit can't be easy."
And yet I pulled out the contents of my kitchen cabinets and set to work. First, I needed the recipe and in my old green veggie cookbook, purchased for $2 off the clearance shelves of Half-Priced Books on Mayfield, the Cook's Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Cooking. In the special occasion section was the culprit I was after, on page 236:
Warning: Will require the use of most of the pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils you own. Works best if you have a live-in significant other who offers to wash the dishes for you.
Spinach and Wild Mushroom Souffle
What you need:
8 oz fresh spinach or 4 oz. frozen chopped spinach
4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1 garlic clove, crushed
6 oz. assorted wild mushrooms such as porcini, cremini, oyster, and portobello
1 c. milk
3 T four
6 eggs, separated
pinch of nutmeg
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
An oven preheated to 375.
1. In preparation for my birthday quest, I had purchased a 9 oz. bag of fresh spinach from my grocer's produce section. Just last weekend, we had stopped in at the Bed, Bath, and Beyond while in Toledo for a weekend Michigan visit and used a buy $15 get $5 off your total order coupon to purchase a tea ball, a cheese slicer, a set of plastic cooking spoons, and a vegetable steamer. The steamer looks like an alien space helmet and unfolds itself outward to make an odd, hole-filled metal platter that sits over the top of a pan. With that, I was able to steam my fresh spinach to my heart's content, which I did in small batches. I tried for a larger one and ended up with the whole steamer contraption collapsing in on itself into the boiling water beneath it, and Art complained overmuch that I had probably "scarred the hell" out of his saucepan. So, little batches. After steaming, I placed the spinach into a sieve-style strainer. When I had all of the spinach steamed, I ran it under cool water and then pressed out the access water with the back of a new plastic cooking spoon against the grating of the strainer. Then I chopped it with a very large and hazardous kitchen knife.
2. Melt the butter in a med-sized saucepan. Then add the garlic and mushrooms, cooking over low heat until softened. I used a mix of oyster, cremini, shittake, and baby bella. Then turn up the heat and evaporate the juices. I had some trouble with this one and called in Art as a reinforcement, who declared "What juices?" When the mushrooms are dry (if they were ever wet), add the spinach. Our spinach was still very wet so we left it in there to evaporate awhile before transferring the mushroom-spinach mix to a bowl. It said to cover and keep warm, so I plopped the veggie steamer over the top.
3. Measure 3 T out of the 1 c. of milk and put the 3 T in a bowl. Then bring the rest of the milk to a boil in a saucepan. Stir flour and egg yolks in to the cold milk in the bowl and stir the heck out of it with a fork until well blended. Stir the boiling milk into the bowl with the flour, etc and then put all of that back in the saucepan. When it thickens, add the spinach mixture to the pan. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
4. Butter a 4-cup souffle dish, especially the sides and sprinkle with a little parmesan. Or if, like me, you don't have a 4-cup anything, especially a souffle dish, use a 6-cup stoneware casserole dish instead. If you have a circle one, it will really look about the same as a souffle dish anyway.
5. Beat egg whites until stiff. This can take awhile. And god help you if you don't have a mixer to do it for you. Luckily, I do. Bring the spinach mix back to a boil and add a brand new plastic baking spoon full of beaten egg white to the mixture. Then fold the spinach mix into the egg white bowl. I have some experience with folding in this manner, as I have helped my mother make many a no-bake cheese cake, but of you are unaware: folding in baking means, essentially taking the spoon down one side of the bowl, then under the contents, then up the opposite side in easy, slow motions until everything is all mixed together but nice and airy.
6. Turn the mixture into the souffle dish and spread level. It will look a lot like ricotta cheese jello with flecks of green and brown. It even jiggles. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top and bake 25 minutes until golden brown and puffed. Serve immediately before souffle deflates.
Our oven is sort of high, so I baked it for 22 minutes. The result: a successful souffle, albeit, a little less puffed out than it was supposed to be due to being baked in a 6-cup instead of a 4-cup container. As soon as I cut into it to distribute pieces, the whole thing sort of caved in. I assume that's the deflate part. The pieces looked like odd slices of pie and were extremely fluffy and moist. The outside of the souffle tastes like the batter of a fried something or other and the inside tastes oddly similar to fake egg but with a hint of bitterness from the spinach and a slight crunch and earthy taste from the mushrooms.
As we sat there, eating our souffle, we felt very proud of ourselves, especially when Garet tried some and shouted, "I like it!" and asked for more. (He ate around the mushrooms.) For dessert, Art made me a homemade dark chocolate raspberry two layer cake with a white gonache drizzling over it. Not too shabby for a birthday dinner, if I do say so myself.