Gougères

New Year’s Noshing
The Christmas holiday was different. There was no house hopping. No loud boisterous parties.

What wasn’t different? We ate too much. I mean, we ate well, but with all of the focus basically on the food we definitely ate too much. For that reason, New Year’s Eve is going to be on a much smaller scale. Instead of something fabulous like lobster, or *sigh* crab, our plan is to do a bunch of small bites—a variety of appetizer-sized portions that we can set out on the kitchen island and grab as needed.

Appetizers have this way of making things feel festive even when they are not. This is especially true when you are in your sweats sipping champagne on the couch. There are multiple categories of appetizers. You have your dips, your cheese balls, crostini, hot appetizers, crudités and, of course, the Cheese Plate. My plan is to do at least one from each category.

Crostini are a no-brainer because you can pretty much do anything with them. Just slice up a baguette, toast the slices and finish with your favorite toppings. I like using fresh ricotta as a base because it works well with anything. One of my summertime favorites starts with fresh ricotta and some freshly cracked pepper, then I top it with a ripe peach slice and some lightly dressed arugula. It’s December though so I am going to try it using a sweet slice of Honeycrisp apple and see how it goes. A sprinkle of toasted, chopped hazelnuts would take it to another level.

For a dip, I am going to make a hot crab dip for a couple of reasons. The first is because I love crab and the second is because I am impatient and can no longer wait for the fisherman to bring in the crab. So, I will rebel and go with crab meat. I’m planning to try this artichoke version because adding a vegetable automatically makes it healthy, right? And, don’t forget the array of fabulous dips and spreads from our cheese department.  They add great variety to the flavors you serve. As a bonus you can use the same sliced and toasted baguettes to eat the dip.

For the hot appetizers, I am torn—which means I may just end up making both recipes. The first possibility is this recipe for cranberry brie bites. I still have leftovers of both cranberry sauce and brie so it would be an easy way to use those up. All I would need would be some puff pastry from the freezer and we’re good to go. I’m not a fan of walnuts so those will be left out. (Another variation is our recipe for Baked Brie, its easy to make with your choice of savory jam and herbs.)

The second recipe requires a bit more effort, but the result is worth it. If you have never had French Gougères you are missing out. They are essentially cheese puffs that are made everywhere in France and are served with a local aperitif but also go extremely well with champagne—which makes then perfect for New Year’s Eve. I like Dorie Greenspan’s recipe the best. You can use any cheese you prefer like Gruyère, Emmentaler, Gouda or to make things super easy, extra sharp cheddar. The recipe makes approximately 36 Gougères but they go fast so plan accordingly.

I think it goes without saying that we are all looking forward to a new year. I wish you a very happy, very healthy, full of hope and laughter New Year! Bring on 2021!

Gougères Recipe
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan and Epicurious
Yields about 36 gougères

Although you must spoon out these little puffs onto the baking tray as soon as the dough is made, they can be frozen and baked straight from the freezer at a later time (see below). This makes a great do-ahead for a busy day. Read more…

Classic Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Classic Cinnamon Swirl BreadGive It a Whirl
Usually at the end of the year you start to see articles or news stories about what they big trends were in during the past year and what they will be going forward. I have not seen any yet…but if I had to pick a big trend for 2020, it would be bread baking.

The shelter-in-place order in March caught a lot of people off guard and put a huge strain on the food supply chain. On top of that we were bored. So, many people turned to bread making, not only out of necessity, but as a mean to pass the time and, frankly, for some much needed therapy. Suddenly people were sharing sourdough starter and trading baked goods for yeast.

Now that supplies have normalized, there are still several “new” bread makers that have embraced the hobby, but might need some new equipment to take them to the next level. A good bread pan can make a fantastic holiday gift either by itself or filled with something freshly baked and yummy. Quick breads like Banana Bread or a Cranberry Tea Loaf make great gifts—and an even better snack with a hot cup of tea on a chilly afternoon. Decent bread pans can cost $15-$18 depending on how serious you want to be. The fancy ones with different shapes and designs on them are, obviously, a bit more but a good basic loaf pan is always a good piece to have in your kitchen.

For those who want to show off their newfound bread making skills, this Classic Cinnamon Swirl Bread is a perfect choice. (High-end cinnamon would make a great stocking stuffer too!)

It’s an easy enough recipe that a novice bread maker can handle it, but it looks like it is much harder to make. The flavor is divine. I like to toast my slice, but my kids cannot wait that long. They just slice and eat. A double batch of this for Christmas morning would also make some tasty French toast….

Classic Cinnamon Swirl Bread Recipe
Adapted from King Arthur Flours
Yields 1 loaf Read more…

Cranberry Curd Tart

Cranberry Curd TartBird of A Different Feather
Plans for Thanksgiving are different this year. Traditional, over-the-river-and-through-the-woods (or worse, the airport) get-togethers aren’t happening this year. For the vast majority of folks, the Thanksgiving celebration will be a much smaller gathering. And, while it is disappointing that you will not be with loved ones you haven’t seen in a while, there can be a few silver linings as well.

There will only be six of us at my house for Thanksgiving this year which means that I won’t need to make the usual amounts of food to make sure all of the favorite must-haves are on the table. Let’s face it, there are certain side dishes that have to be there (mashed potatoes) but there are always some dishes that only a few people actually eat (creamed onions = bad childhood flashbacks). Not having the usual crowd leaves room to set your imagination free and try something different.

Cranberry sauce is a must-have at my holiday table but there are a number of people who don’t like cranberry sauce, either the canned or fresh version. There are also a number of people who aren’t big fans of pumpkin pie—or pie in general. So, when I saw this recipe for Cranberry Curd Tart I was intrigued and I knew I had to try it out.

True, some may argue that a tart isn’t all that different from a pie. This is sort of true, but not really. At least not to me. In my mind tarts are a totally different experience and if they were exactly the same why give them a different name in the first place? Something to ponder…

If you like a good lemon curd tart, you will enjoy this gorgeous dessert as it has a very similar citrusy tart flavor. It’s also light—which can be a good thing after all of the carbs. The color is ridiculously vibrant and eye-catching especially when placed alongside the neutral colors of turkey and stuffing. This recipe is flexible enough that you could just as easily make smaller tarts to accommodate a smaller crowd.

While it’s definitely a bummer that the usual Turkey Day celebrations are on hold this year, try to have some fun with it. Switch things up. Get dressed up if you want or wear your jammies to the table if you so choose. For that matter you don’t even have to go to the table. Don’t like turkey? Make whatever you want. And for those who don’t want to celebrate at all? Go for it! You be you.

Cranberry Curd Tart
Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated November/December 2020 issue
Yields 8 servings Read more…

Amy’s Apple Crisp

Amy's Apple CrispAn Apple a Day
At the first sign of fall I get a yearning for something apple-y. If I lived back east I would be knee deep in apple cider donuts and spiced fresh cider. But alas, I am not. So when the first of the new apple crop hits the shelves (I’m looking at you Gravensteins) I make an apple crisp.

Usually when the new apple season is upon us, the temps outside are too hot to make turning your oven on seem like a good idea. But, I make an exception for apple crisp. Sometimes a little pain is worth the gain.

There are any number of ways you could make an apple crisp. Personally, I prefer to top mine with an oatmeal crumble. Of course, you can add other fruits besides apples in there too. The last of the summer stone fruits would work. I love adding a handful of raisins. Or, some of the new pears and later in the season, cranberries can add a bright pop of tartness. For the first crisp of the harvest season, I always keep it simple and go with only apples. I will make an exception for cinnamon or a little cardamom as a nice twist.

My recipe is pretty basic, though lately I have been adding some boiled cider to all of my apple recipe for a little added apple kick. This works great for your freshly-picked apples from the garden or market—but also with the ones that have been in your fruit bowls for a day or to longer than they should have.

This is dessert for the soul, especially when served with ice cream. But, the left overs make for a very satisfying breakfast the following morning…what? There’s oats in there. That counts!

Amy’s Apple Crisp
Yields 8 Servings Read more…