Saturday, November 28, 2009

Keeping It Fresh

In a longtime relationship it's all about keeping it fresh. And I'm not talking about that old 70s trick of meeting your significant other at the door in an ensemble consisting of plastic wrap and a martini.

It can be as simple as meeting at a bar after work for a quick drink before coming home for dinner. Or going for a drive and taking along a picnic lunch. Growing up, we had an annual tradition of driving out into the woods in the dead of winter for a picnic in the snow. After having lunch, Mom and Dad would sit in the car and drink coffee or hot chocolate (possibly laced with something warming) while we kids would run around like wild animals, exhausting ourselves so we'd sleep all the way home.

It tends to work that way with food, too, where my habit is to reach into the same old, though perfectly tasty, bag of tricks for appetizers, usually a dip, some favorite olives and a wedge or two of cheese. The other day I ran across a recipe for gougères, a simple snack I used to make in college. They're basically little cheesy clouds of flour, butter, eggs and cheese, and are ideal for those of us who like to make our guests think we sweated for hours.

From David Lebovitz

From Mr. Lebovitz's recipe: "Two things to keep in mind when making these. One is that you should have all the ingredients ready to go before you start. Don't let the water and butter boil away while you grate the cheese. Otherwise you'll lose too much of the water. Second is to let the batter cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs so you don't 'cook' them. Make sure when you stir in the eggs that you do it vigorously, and without stopping. I'm not a fan of extra dishes to wash, but the intrepid can put the dough in a food processor or use an electric mixer to add and mix the eggs in quickly."

1/2 c. water

3 Tbsp. butter, salted or unsalted, cut into cubes

1/4 tsp. salt
Big pinch chile powder, or a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper

1/2 c. flour

2 large eggs

12 chives, finely minced (or 1 to 2 tsp. minced fresh thyme)

3/4 c. grated cheese

Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

Heat the water, butter, salt and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted. Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly to make sure the eggs don't 'cook.' The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out. (You can transfer the mixture to a bowl before adding to eggs to cool the dough, or do this step in a food processor or electric mixer, if you wish.) Add about 3/4 of the grated cheese and the chives, and stir until well-mixed. Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato. Or you can simply use two spoons to scoop out bits of dough and place them on the sheets. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese, the pop the baking sheet in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375° and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until they're completely golden brown. For extra-crispy puffs, five minutes before they're done, poke the side of each puff with a sharp knife to release the steam, and return to the oven to finish baking. Makes about thirty bite-sized puffs.


EcoGrrl said...

great idea for my upcoming solstice party :)

SEH said...

...and they were deeeeelicious!

Kathleen Bauer said...

And seriously easy, too! I used extra-sharp cheddar, but gruyere, a firm fontina or other favorite cheese would be totally fine. Or try a variety!

Giovanna said...

Funny--we just had these the other night...more or less. I used a recipe for anchovy puffs from Lulu's Provencal table. For the proportions of egg, butter, and flour you use, you would add 5 chopped anchovy filets (instead of the cheese) with the final egg. Delicious.