I moved to New York from Maui when I was 18 years old. I had never even been to the East coast to visit. I had a scholarship to attend college at a school just outside of the city, so I just moved here. For the first many years that you live in New York, you are indebted to those New Yorkers who love to recommend their favourite spots. Your ballet teacher who tells you about all of the best cafes near the upper west side apartment that you are cat sitting in over spring break; the manager at the clothing store where you work who directs toward the cities best truffles and mexican food; a co-worker who gives you a complete list of the finest culinary establishments in Chinatown. These people are very important. They help you to create a personal map of the city, and its that map that eventually makes this HUGE place feel like home. I am happy to say that I am now a New Yorker who loves to recommend my favourite spots. It makes me so happy when someone asks me if I know a good shoe cobbler, or where to buy a gown for a ball, or where to take their parents for dinner, or for quirky first date ideas.
The first person who did this for me was just sophomore at my school my freshman year. She was not even from NYC and reflecting on the quality of the list of recommendations that she gave me, I am impressed by how much she got out and discovered in her first year at college. She told me to go eat at Kiev which is gone now, but was for many years Veselka’s competition for best Ukrainian diner in the east village (the award actually goes to the National Ukrainian Home). She recommended Cafe Yaffa, which is still open all night and is dressed just as an all night cafe would if that all night cafe was a drag queen. She recommended that I go see a show at PS 122, a defunct public school turned avant guard performance space. There were many other good recommendations on her list, but the one that I have been thinking about lately is The House of Blini.
The House of Blini was a tiny russian restaurant on East 86th street. My friend suggested that it was worth it to splurge on special lunch there after a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She told me to order the house specialty, which was the mushroom blini casserole.The hostess at the House of Blini was a middle-aged, blond Russian woman who greeted lunch guests in a glittering black gown and four-inch stiletto heels. At 18 thought that she was very eccentric, but I have since travelled to Russia and have lived for many years now not to far from Brighton Beach (where many Russians live in NYC). I now know that Russian woman are extravagantly feminine and glamourous. I ordered the mushroom blini casserole and it was as extravagantly delicious as the hostess was glittery. I ate there every time I went to the museum until the place closed down in the late nineties.
I made Ethiopian bread recently that turned out more like a blini and it made me want to recreate the House of Blini mushroom blini casserole. What I have made is more of an homage than an exact recreation. I am reasonably feminine and glamourous….but I am not wearing a glittering ball gown as I write this. I don’t even know if this is a casserole…maybe its more of a savory layer cake or a savory blini and mushroom blintz…but I do know that it is delicious and I also know that you should serve it with Hot Borcht!
LAYERED WILD MUSHROOM AND BLINI CASSEROLE
So, I had meant to learn how to make blini with buckwheat flour which is both traditional and gluten-free. I bought a bag of buckwheat flour, but I seem to have misplaced it….a bit of a feat considering that my kitchen is very small and very organized. ANYWAY I decided to go ahead and make it using the Ethiopian teff bread recipe from yumuniverse.com that had inspired me to make this casserole in the first place. I just made the blini smaller and adjust the cooking time.
- 1 and 1/2 cup Teff flour
- 2 cup water
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- oil for the pan
- 1/4 tsp salt (I liked more salt myself)
- Combine the water and the teff flour in a large clean bowl. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it sit undisturbed on a counter for 24 hours. I think that for this recipe you could skip the fermentation time if you wish, but the blini won’t have little bubbled.
- After 24 hours it will have fermented a bit. Add 1/2 tsp baking powder and a 1/4 teaspoon of salt and stir to combine. It will deflate.
- Heat a bit of oil in a very large skillet over medium heat.
- Pour 1/3 cup batter into the hot skillet
- Cover the skillet and let the bread steam, undisturbed for 4 minutes. Check to see if it is done. It should be dry and the edges should begin to curl. Remove the finished blini to a warm dinner plate and repeat with the remaining batter!
- 2 pounds red onions peeled, quartered and sliced
- 2 and 1/2 Tb olive oil
- 2 and 1/2 Tb butter
- 1 oz dried wild mushrooms (porcini, chanterelle, morels or a combination)
- 1/2 lb fresh white mushrooms
- 1/2 lb fresh oyster mushrooms (or more white mushrooms)
- 2 cloves garlic
- pinch dry thyme or a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- pinch of cayenne
- celery salt
- black pepper
- dry wild mushroom powder (if you’ve got it…and you can get it here)
- 1/2 cup Marsala or red wine
- 8 oz chevre goat cheese
- In a large skillet, heat one Tablespoon of olive oil and one Tablespoon of butter. Add onions and salt and cook over low heat stirring frequently for one hour. The onions should become a dark brown, caramelized marmalade.
- Meanwhile soak the dry wild mushrooms in about a cup and half of very hot water for 30 minutes. When they are soft, remove them from the liquid, chop them and set aside. Strain the liquid through a mesh sieve and to remove grit . Save the mushroom liquid for later.
- While the dry mushrooms are softening, clean and slice the fresh mushrooms. It is best not to run water over mushrooms to clean them. Mushrooms are designed to absorb liquid. They will absorb the water along with whatever bacteria you were trying to rinse off. Wipe the mushrooms with a paper towel instead.
- In another very large skillet, heat the remaining butter and oil. Add the garlic, followed by the mushrooms and salt.
- When the mushrooms release their liquid, add the softened, chopped dry mushrooms along with the cayenne, thyme, black pepper, celery salt and mushroom powder to taste.
- When the mushrooms begin to sizzle and brown, add the Marsala or red wine.
- When the wine reduces by half, add the strained mushroom soaking liquid.
- When the mushroom liquid reduced by half, add the caramelized onions and simmer over low heat until the sauce is thick.
- Crumble in the chevre goat cheese and stir it until it has melted and combined with the sauce.
I have served this three ways. The simplest is to spoon some of the filling onto the blini, roll it up and eat it. The prettiest presentation is to stack them up as you see in the photos here. The tastiest is to layer the blini and the mushroom filling into a casserole, top it with melty cheese and bake it. It is VERY good with Hot Borcht.