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…

Dark Chocolate Toffee

Dark Chocolate ToffeeCookie Palooza
It’s Cookie Palooza this weekend. For those of you who may be confused, Cookie Palooza is the weekend that my daughter and I make an insane amount of holiday cookies and other treats to give to our family and friends. This year my sister is joining in on the fun so I am expecting any number of crazy shenanigans and a whole lotta sprinkles. (Don’t worry. My sister and her family have been in our pod since Day 1).

There will be Gingerbread Men with scarves (my sister), there will be Macarons (my daughter) and there will be Toffee and Caramels (me) as well as an explosion of other cookies from Swedish Ginger Cookies to home made Cranberry Orange Biscotti  (I like the dried cranberries and some grated orange peel to make them more festive.)

Cookie Palooza could not happen if I didn’t have decent cookie sheets. Of course, everyone’s definition of decent will be different. Some bakers prefer the double-layer cookie sheets that allow the air in the pocket between to heat up. Others like the heavy duty rimless sheets that allow your cookies to slide right off. Personally, I like my heavy duty half sheet pans they’re just so versatile. You can make drop cookies or bar cookies and of course, you can make an excellent dinner. At an average of $20 for a quality cookie sheet, they also make a useful and cost-conscious holiday gift for your favorite baker. And if you really want to treat them, pre-cut parchment sheets can be life changing.

While my family has already enjoyed the first batch of our traditional ginger cookies, (You can’t trim the tree without ginger cookies.) what they are really waiting for is the toffee I make every year. It’s melt-in-your-mouth happiness and must be kept under lock and key if you want to have it around for more than an afternoon.

With the latest stay at home order in full swing, now is the perfect time to plan a Cookie Palooza of your own…

Dark Chocolate Toffee Recipe
Yields 24 pieces
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

This toffee is a lot like a Heath Bar—both tasty candy and delicious crumbled over ice cream and other desserts. Read more…

The Cheese Plate

The Cheese PlateThankful
Thanksgiving is a day dedicated to celebrating the blessings in our lives. It is not about tangible gifts but rather the gifts that cannot be seen. Thanksgiving is about spending quality time with friends and family to appreciate all that is good and to reconnect while seated at a table for a feast to remind ourselves what is the most precious.

The circumstances surrounding this year’s celebration have not changed the basic premise of the holiday. We will still celebrate and give thanks for all that we have but this year we celebrate friends, family, and the other blessings in our lives by not getting together. We are showing how much we care about the families we were born into and the families we choose by staying safe at home so that next year we can all come together to gather around the same table in good health.

This reality is not what we would choose, nor what we would prefer, but it is the right thing to do. So whether you’re a party of four, or two, or one for turkey this year, take heart that your are not alone. We are all in this together and together we will all get through it. So raise a glass to toast those whom you are missing at your table and to the hope that at this time next year, we will all be together around the table again.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from your family at Piedmont Grocery.

The Cheese Plate
A cheese plate is an easy appetizer to throw together and with some simple rules of thumb, you can create one that is delicious and varied. Cheese plates can be artful, with lots of room for improvisation. 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…