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…

Focaccia-Style Sheet Pan Pizza

Focaccia-Style Sheet Pan PizzaSmoke Adjustment
Normally, when the temperatures get toasty, I do a lot of grilling. Grilling outside means that the house stays cooler inside. I had planned to write about cooking pizzas on the grill for this week but, circumstances being what they are, grilling isn’t an option.

Once again the Golden State is dealing with horrific fires that have burned thousands of acres, destroyed homes, and taken lives. And, all of that on top of an ongoing pandemic. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting. Not to mention devastating to those who are experiencing it first hand. The air quality just does not lend itself to outside pizza making.  But, I’m still in the mood to make some pizza. So, I have been looking for alternative ways to get my cheese and carb fix.

I found this recipe for Focaccia-Style Sheet Pan Pizza in a recent copy of Milk Street magazine. While it does qualify as pizza, it is not your typical neighborhood delivery type pie. It’s actually got a crust more like focaccia. (Okay, my mouth just started watering at the mention of focaccia…) The dough for this crust is pretty wet, so the trick to making this sheet pan pizza is to not use fresh mozzarella and to top it with ingredients that do not have a lot of moisture to keep the top from getting too soggy. You can try regular pizza sauce—but use it sparingly. Lightly brushing it on with a pastry brush would be ideal. This is what I have had to do because the original recipe called for sliced up cherry tomatoes on top and that is a no go for a few people in my household. You just want enough to give it some tomato flavor without wetting it down. Also, if you want a little more bang for your buck, you can chop up some fresh rosemary to add to the crust dough to give it some tasty fresh flavor.

Focaccia-Style Sheet Pan Pizza Recipe
Yields 4 to 6 servings
Adapted from 177 Milk Street Read more…

No-Knead Rustic Bread

No-Knead Rustic BreadStill We Rise
I struggled with bread making for years. It was only in the last few that I figured it all out. Since then I have mastered a couple of recipes, Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread and Hearty White Sandwich Bread. And, have experimented with others with a decent amount of success. Lately, since I seem to have a little more time on the weekends, I have branched out to make some of the harder stuff. And, by harder I mean those beautiful crusty loaves that you would normally purchase from people who know what they are doing.

The most difficult thing about baking bread right now is finding the flour and even the yeast. I was fortunate to be able to order a 10# bag from the King Arthur website but I had to keep checking to see if they had stock before I got lucky. I will say that we have been able to get some flour in here at the store, though it’s been spotty. (But, it’s getting a little better.) Yeast is a different issue. The good news is thousands of years of bread making on this planet have taught us that you don’t need foil packets of yeast to make bread. It’s in the wild, man…

There have been a number of recipes popping up that require using “wild yeast” which for all intents and purposes means making a “starter”. The most obvious example is a sourdough starter. I have mostly tried to avoid making sourdough during my bread making journey because of the requirement of using a starter. Starters can be labor-intensive. They require daily feeding to keep them active. It can take over your life and become a real chore if you have an active calendar. As my calendar has become less active in recent weeks, I was working up the courage to start the process but I was saved by a friend of mine who not only dropped of a tasty loaf of her rosemary sourdough but some of her starter as well. This is a common practice amongst sourdough bakers. You gotta do something with the “discard” so why not dispense it to your friends? You can only make sourdough waffles so many times…

Because I am unable to share my starter with all of you I am sharing a few recipes for your viewing pleasure. The first is a fairly basic recipe for a rustic sourdough. Please note it does use packaged yeast as well as starter. And here are instructions for how to get your started going. If you are unable to get yeast, I encourage you to do a little research about natural yeast. (The King Arthur Learn section of their website is great.) Yeast from dried fruit is a very old but effective method of baking bread and might be a good option. ( It’s also a great science lesson for your kids.)

The recipe below is a fantastic peasant bread for those who want crusty loaf but aren’t big into sourdough. I made this one last weekend and it was so tasty. Also, remember that these recipes and ideas require time. Good news is, right now, we have that time…

No-Knead Rustic Bread
Adapted from the Food Network
Yields 8 servings Read more…