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…

French Onion Soup

French Onion SoupBon aperitif!
For the most part, I don’t use a lot of alcohol in the recipes I make. Except for wine. And beer. OK, maybe I just don’t use the hard stuff a lot with the exception of the occasional tequila lime shrimp (or chicken). All kidding aside, I do tend to leave alcohol out of certain recipes if I think they don’t really need it. For example, I leave the booze out of my tiramisu because I think the flavor competes too much with the coffee. Blasphemy, I know.

There are some recipes, though, where that alcohol flavor is a must. Beef and Guinness Stew is one. Coq au Vin is another. (I mean, it’s in the name. You can’t leave it out.) And, of course, desserts too numerous to count, that can either be lit on fire or not. (I see you Bananas Foster Bread Pudding).

Sometimes, you just gotta add a little pick-me-up to whatever your making. A splash of white wine in your Chicken Pot Pie gravy makes a world of difference without overpowering everything else. And having a little glass for yourself while you cook is a lovely reward for your hard work. I confess to having a bit more reward than usual lately. I have found it a little bit harder in recent days to leave the happy bubble that is my kitchen but, alas, we must soldier on.

If there is one recipe that requires the addition of alcohol to make it right, it is French Onion Soup. Not only do the flavors of wine and Cognac give the soup it’s distinctive flavor, it’s just so French.

With the weather actually feeling a bit fall-like this week, I am planning on making Julia Child’s version this weekend. It is quintessentially French and Julia would definitely be okay with a little wine for you as well as the soup…

French Onion Soup
Adapted from Julia Child and the Food Network
Yields 4 servings Read more…

Fresh Fruit & Mascarpone Tart

Fresh Fruit & Mascarpone Tart

Tart of the Matter
When you think of mascarpone cheese what comes to mind? OK, wait. I’m being presumptuous. Does anyone else actually ponder mascarpone cheese? Or is that just me? On second thought, don’t answer that. Let me just live in my happy little bubble where everyone spends significant time considering the wonders of spreadable Italian cheeses…

I love mascarpone cheese. It’s essentially Italy’s cream cheese and I actually like it better than the tried and true Philly cream cheese because it’s got a fresher more mild flavor than the American version. Don’t get me wrong I’m still here for a good cream cheese frosting and you don’t get that with mascarpone. You do however get fantastic things like tiramisu with mascarpone and you can swap out your whipped cream for a dollop of mascarpone next time you find yourself with a bowl of fresh summer berries.

To quote Forest Gump, “Fresh fruits and mascarpone go together like peas and carrots.”

For your tart you can use peaches or plums with raspberries or blueberries. Any combination will work. Strawberries are always insanely good when paired with a little mascarpone. Even better if they come together in a tart. Lately I have enjoyed a mix of all of ‘em.

This recipe for a Fresh Fruit & Mascarpone Tart below is what I call a good start. It’s a basic recipe that can be adapted to suit your own taste. You can play with the crust. Personally, I like to make it with a graham cracker crust or r you could go this route with a rye crust. Our recipe uses a traditional Pâté Sucrée (French sweet pastry) crust.

This is definitely a dessert best prepared and served on the weekend as it doesn’t hold up too well overnight.

Fresh Fruit & Mascarpone Tart
Yields 6 servings Read more…

Mussels Dijonnaise for Bastille Day

Mussels Dijonnaise for Bastille DayVive la France!
Today is Bastille Day and we are thinking about dining al fresco on some delicious and simple-to-prepare French Bistro fare this evening. Mussels Dijonnaise or Steamed Mussels in Mustard Sauce can be made on a weeknight and paired with a toss salad with a nice Read more…