Mushrooms and Truffles

If I had to pick one of my favorite winter dishes…and by winter I mean that goofy season in St. Louis falling in the months of February, March and the first part of April….I pick mushrooms with truffles. Yes, yes…truffles are spendy…but worth every shiny nickel. My two favorite truffle mushroom dishes are from right here in St. Louis. The first being at Moxy. Chef Brenner did this amazing starter with polenta, various types of mushrooms and truffles. Geez…it was good and rich enough to have as a main course. Sadly, I haven’t seen it on the menu in a while. It was great with a glass of Malbec (or two). Triangles of grilled polenta made with a rich meaty mushroom stock covered in a fantastic mound of perfectly sauteed wild mushrooms spiked with truffle oil. Made for some good eats.

Last night, we didn’t feel like cooking. And lucky for us our favorite restaurant is in walking distance…almost in our driveway. So, we braved the unploughed back alley of Benton Park and moseyed on over to Niche for dinner. We were the only ones in the joint. Lucky for us. (eventually 2 more tables arrived). Given the state of our fair city, servers were unable to make it in. Lo and behold, Brian the bartender. Brian stepped up to the plate and not only worked the bar but served all the tables…and he did it amazingly well!!! It was a great night to dine at Niche. Quiet, relaxed and terribly fun.

Simon had the tasting menu and I had the prie fixe. The chef’s tasting menu is just too much for me on a Tuesday night. Si is a big boy and can handle it! We both started with the cauliflower soup-served two ways. I had the traditional soup, served with warm apples and walnuts. It had a deep earthy curry undertone. Rich and velvety. I could have just had that for dinner. Satiating and scrumptious. Simon was served the soup aerated with crispy bacon and apples. It was just as good. Anything with bacon, right?

I can go through the tasting menu, but I’m not. See Bill Burge’s review at STLBites . Spot on as usual.

What I want to talk about was my dinner. The tarragon gnocchi with wild mushrooms, truffled, greens, parsnips and sweet potatoes.

First off, if you have never had gnocchi at Niche, do your self a favor and go. The very first time I went to Niche was within the first few days Gerard opened the door. I hadn’t even met Simon yet. I just finished a gut rehab at our Benton Park house and G had finished the restaurant. I remember being so excited when I went looking at the house, seeing the posted occupancy permit and liquor license in what is now Niche. I didn’t know what or who was going in there at the time. All I knew is that having a restaurant/wine bar in my back yard was a plus…signed on the house that day. A dear friend and I stopped in for a light dinner. He had the gnocchi. He is just about a finicky as they come with regards to food. He knows what’s good and what he likes. Niche gnocchi was put on that list that evening. Never had he tasted gnocchi so light and tender…full of flavor. Little puffs of amazing-ness.

Last night, I ordered the gnocchi thinking I would re-live that night. I didn’t. What I was served was a gastronomic wonder in it’s own right. (too strong of words???…nah) The gnocchi were made with a bit of chickpea flour and had a golden brown crust. They were studded with fragrant tarragon, served with a medley of wild mushrooms (morels, trumpets, oyster, hen of the woods were some I think i recognized in between shoveling it in), truffles and a rich truffled oil sauce. Jumbled up in the mix were some greens and tiny diced parsnips…maybe a turnip…I can’t remember. All I know is that those gnocchi and mushrooms made the favorite dish list at Niche.

I ordered the chocolate cake with Tahitian vanilla ice cream and Simon got the coconut kulfi. Lucky for me Simon doesn’t like tropical flavors and I do…so we did the old switch-a-roo and everyone went home happy.

Gooey Butter Cookies: The perfect breakfast

Yes. I eat cookies for breakfast. Some may say that it’s unhealthy….but I figure in what it is lacking in nutritional value, I make up for in spiritual/emotional health.

Simon and I are lucky enough to live within a hop, skip and a jump away from Veruca Bakeshop. Imagine the joy on my husbands face when he realized he could eat red velvet cake for breakfast–EVERYDAY!! At first, that is exactly what we did. Then….the jeans got a little tight. Opps. Well, mine did anyway. The love of my life can ‘fit it into his program’. I, however, could not. So, I started out on my ‘program’. I could have bakery for breakfast if I worked out. I didn’t fare so well the past two weeks. But, I managed to shed 4lbs. I do not attribute it to no bakery…I attribute it to just being more mindful of what I am shoving in my mouth. It is working.

With that said, I made the decision to indulge this dreary Monday morning with a cup of hot coffee and a treat from Veruca. Needless to say, Si was super happy. So, with our little bakery money stash, we popped in to see our dear friend and get some goodies.

Low and behold, the gooey butter cookie. We have been discussing this creation for quite some time and since I went on my bakery hiatus…I haven’t had the chance to give these little gooey butter babies a whirl.

One word: Heavenly. They are best served chilled according to the baker…and I think he’s right. They are delicious little buttery nuggets of happiness. Each one is dusted in powder sugar and has the inexplicably nostalgic St. Louis-style gooey butter cake texture and flavor: yet, somehow elevated to perfection. I have never tasted a gooey butter cookie so wonderful. I gobbled them up before we were out of Benton Park. Savor? Nah…gobbled.

Do yourself a favor. Go to Veruca. Get some gooey butter cookies…and the red velvet cake (Simon’s standard breakfast)….and some snack cakes and whatever else Matthew Rice has on display that day. I am also a huge fan of the homemade candy bars: pecans, coconut and…well, just good stuff.

The coffee is Chauvin. It’s a steal at $1.50 for a large…always hot and fresh. He also does a couple signature drinks as well. ( I recommend the hot chocolate if coffee is not your speed).

I can’t say enough great things about Veruca. Handmade goodies made by Matthew Rice, amazing prices, phenomenally creative and utterly, mouthwatering delicious.