Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gougère

I have France on the brain this week, or more precisely, French food. It started with an extraordinary lunch at one of my new favorite restaurants, Maximilien. I went with my best girlfriend, Constance. We are lucky enough to work within walking distance of this wonderful place, and it's becoming somewhat of an addiction. Max's, as we now so familiarly call it, is located in Pike Place Market. It has not only some of the best food I've ever tasted, but an absolutely gorgeous view of Elliott Bay. I cannot recommend the experience highly enough.

On our most recent visit I had the Tarte Flambée Paysanne, and have not stopped thinking about it since. When the waiter placed it on the table before me Constance said, "that puts any pizza to shame." No doubt. It may have been round and had cheese on top, but I've never tasted any pizza like this.

The pastry crust was tender and crispy, just substantial enough to hold up to its toppings. Those ingredients made up one of the most blissful combinations I've ever tasted; créme fraîche, thinly sliced ham, potatoes, goat cheese and herbs. It was mind-blowing, life-changing, make-your-toes-curl, delicious.

Have you ever eaten something that was so good it almost made you weep? That's what I'm talking about. If you're local, go there. If you're not, come visit and I'll take you.

So that's what I had on my mind this week...cooking, French food, and Constance; my faithful friend and dining companion. It all came together as I was thinking of what recipe I wanted to make for this post. I came across an old favorite in the search, Gougère. Constance gave this recipe to me at my wedding shower several years ago, and I've always loved it.


Gougère, or Gougères, is a savory, cheesy, French pastry. It is crisp on the outside, delicate on the inside. It has a somewhat eggy, cheesy, toothy texture within; which is lightened by airy bubbles under its crust. It's relatively easy to make, and smells divine while baking. Your house will smell like a giant cheese puff. I recommend investing in a decent quality cheese for this recipe. I used a French Gruyère and it had a wonderfully nutty, slightly sweet flavor.

Ingredients

1 c water
1/2 c unsalted butter
1 t salt
1 and 1/2 c flour
4 eggs
4-6 oz shredded cheese (gruyère, gouda, bleu etc...)



Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a large baking sheet, or cover baking sheet with buttered parchment, or use a buttered glass pie dish. All options work, but glass seems to work best.

1) Put butter, water and salt in a medium-large saucepan and heat, stirring frequently until butter is melted and mixture comes to a boil.



2) Remove pan from heat and stir in flour, stirring constantly until dough forms and comes away easily from sides of pan (a minute or so).


3) Beat in eggs, one at a time.


Then beat in the cheese.


4) Placed heaped spoonfuls of mixture on baking sheet, one against the other, in the shape of a ring (or a wonky sort of triangle like I accidentally did, whatever). You may sprinkle a bit more cheese on top before baking if you wish.



5) Bake Gougère at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, or until puffed and brown; adjusting as needed for your oven temperature, and the size of your pastry. Just watch toward the end of cooking so you don't over-bake.

6) Remove from oven and serve immediately, or when cool. I cooled mine on a wire rack to avoid losing any crispiness on the bottom crust as it cooled. You can store in a plastic bag for a few days in the fridge. Reheat at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes.



This pastry had a deeply golden brown and crunchy crust. The interior was crêpe-like, airy, and most definitely cheesy. I found the Gougère got better as it cooled and the inside of the pastry had a chance to expel all of the warm, moist air within. The only thing I might do differently next time is reduce the heat in my oven to 375 after 15-20 minutes, as I either have a hot-oven, or need to invest in a better baking sheet. The bottom got just a teeny bit browner than I would have liked. Either way, I don't think the Gougère will last long enough to mourn this potential error on my part. It is cheesy, buttery and delicious. My husband/official taster keeps telling me I'm over-thinking it, and it was great. He's usually right, so I'm going with that.


I found myself a bit obsessed with these cheesy little devils...

I emailed Constance to see if there was a way I could improve on my technique. As always, she had the answer. Smart best friends are good like that.

For the next batch I baked the Gougère at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then turned the oven to 375 for 20 minutes more; for a total of 40 minutes cooking time. This batch was delicate, with a crispy crust, and was not overly browned or crunchy on the bottom. Whee!

Gougère with gouda - compared with gruyère, this batch had a creamier texture and flavor, but less piquancy. They browned beautifully in the glass pie dish. Glass definitely has its advantages for this recipe, as I found myself prone to over-browning them, and the Gougère cooked in glass had the best bottom-crust of all.


Gougère with bleu cheese, piped onto the baking sheet using a plastic bag with the end snipped off. Pipe them about 1 1/2 T in size. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 375 and bake 15-20 minutes more until golden brown. Watch them so the bottoms don't over-brown! I have to say I LOVE the bite-size version of this pastry, and can't help but think of all the wonderful fillings you could pipe into them...

Another day, another post. Enjoy.


P.S. Thank you Constance for the wonderful recipe. Thank you for being a perfect lunch companion, with a love of food that more than matches my own. Most of all, thank you for 10+ years of friendship. I don't know what I would have done without you. See you next week at Max's.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Muhammara - Leftovers

Yesterday was sort of a long day. It was Monday, which no one likes. It was busy at work. That's ultimately a good thing, but can leave one tired. The commute felt like drudgery; all the people on the bus looked gray, and irritated, and congested from allergies brought on by a tease of spring. It was Monday, that's all. I had "a case of the Mondays."

So, I come home from work and I'm lazy; not super hungry, but hungry enough that I need to eat something. I'm staring in the fridge trying to come up with some sort of inspiration from the very basic ingredients therein; milk, eggs, soda, beer, several varieties of mustard... At one point I figured I could just have a beer and forget about dinner altogether, but then an idea came to me.

Don't get me wrong, I mean, I still had the beer...

I made Muhammara this weekend, you may have seen the previous post. It was AWESOME! However, I had already eaten a decent amount of it and wasn't necessarily in the mood to have it again. And then I thought, heat it up. Yeah, heat it up, put some leftover feta cheese on top, that could be good. Well you know what, it was. All I did was put the leftover dip in an oven-proof container and heated it up at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Then I put some feta on top and broiled it.

It was the first time I'd tried this, the next time I might turn the broiler to low as the cheese got a bit dark on top. However, it was really really good and although the flavors were obviously similar, it was warm, and comforting, and very tasty. The pictures aren't the best quality as they were taken at night with the meager light available in our apartment, but they will show you enough to illustrate the point.

If you have made Muhammara, and you have leftovers, this is a super easy way to re-use them AND feel like you're having something different, all at the same time. Or you could just serve it hot to start! Either way, it was good. Here's hoping Friday comes soon for all of us. Mondays suck.















Pita chips are good.















Broiling cheese. Got me there.















Leftover beans, olives, carrot sticks.















Warm, roasted-peppery, nutty, cheesy. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Muhammara



Muhammara is an intensely flavorful Middle Eastern dip, made with roasted red bell peppers and toasted walnuts. I first tasted this delicious concoction at the 74th Street Ale House in Seattle and fell in love at first bite. Roasted red peppers lend a sweet and smoky flavor that melds beautifully with the toasty-ness of the ground nuts. The walnuts give the dip its body and texture, which I find somewhat similar to hummus. When the peppers and nuts are mixed with a healthy hit of garlic and some lemon juice, the result is a spread that is light, yet hearty, sweet-smoky, and leaves you wanting more. Muhammara is ridiculously healthy compared to so many dips, and is also vegetarian, so this recipe is great for sharing. It's a big hit at parties, and is also perfect for a light lunch when served with toasted pita chips, olives, and feta cheese. Hungry yet? Yeah, me too.

I first attempted Muhammara at home about 10 years ago by searching online for ideas. I haven't made it recently, and found my notes somewhat lacking, so began with a complete revamp of the recipe. If you look online, many versions call for roasted red peppers out of a jar. I considered going that route, but am so glad I didn't. It took about 25 minutes to roast the peppers in the oven, but the flavor was very much worth it, as well as the smell of them blackening under the broiler. I just parked a stool by the oven door and kept an eye on them, turning the peppers with tongs about every 5 minutes. It was fun to watch them start to blister, then blacken, then split, sputter, and pop as their juices caramelized along their skins. I recommend taking the time for this step, as I've tasted peppers out of a jar and they are great in a pinch, but no where near as flavorful as these.

The other modification I made after tasting the first batch, as the pictures below will illustrate. That first taste was goooood. The flavors of the peppers, nuts and garlic came through perfectly, but the dip was too light in texture and didn't have the heft I was seeking. I put it back in the food processor with garbanzo beans and feta cheese and was delighted with the results. All the flavor and texture I wanted was now there, the only remaining challenge was to stop eating it before the pita was toasted. I hope you give Muhammara a try, and have the same chance I did to enjoy its complex, smoky, and nutty flavors. We're working our way through it as I type, and it is truly delicious.

Ingredients

2 heaping cups of lightly toasted walnuts
4 red bell peppers (about 2 lbs) roasted and peeled
1, 15.5 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
4 oz feta cheese
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled (I used 3 and loved it, but that may be too much for some)
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 T + 2t apple cider vinegar
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 t honey
1/4 t ground cumin
salt, pepper and cayenne to taste

Serve with pita chips, feta cheese, olives, whatever you choose.

Directions

Walnuts: spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Check them half way through, and give the pan a shake. Keep your eye on them toward the end of the cooking process to ensure they don't burn. They should be lightly toasted and browned when done.


Peppers: wash and remove any labels. Put peppers on a rimmed baking sheet and place as close to the broiler as you can, my peppers were on the large side so I used the 2nd shelf in the oven. Turn broiler to high and turn peppers about every 5 minutes so they cook evenly. Their skins will turn black, blister and split.




Once the peppers are evenly blackened, about 25 minutes, remove to a plastic bowl that you can cover very tightly with a lid, or foil or plastic wrap. Put the hot peppers in the bowl and cover immediately. Do not disturb for at least 20 minutes. The peppers will steam in the bowl, releasing their skins and making peeling a snap.



After 20 minutes remove peppers to cutting board. Set up a sieve over a bowl and peel and seed the peppers over the sieve to preserve as much of their juices as possible. At the end I had about 1/2 cup of dark, rich, smoky liquid that I added to the dip.





Now that you've done most of the work...



Place toasted walnuts and garlic in food processor. Pulse until finely ground.





Add garbanzo beans and pulse until combined (my pictures will indicate the addition of garbanzo beans after the first batch as mentioned above).



Add remaining ingredients and pulse until combined.




Empty into bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. Muhammara will keep several days in the fridge in an airtight container.



To Serve

Garnish Muhammara with chopped parsley, garbanzo beans and feta crumbles. Serve with Kalamata olives, crudites, feta cheese and toasted pita chips.

Pita chips: brush pita bread with olive oil on both sides and cut to desired size. I used a pizza cutter and it worked beautifully. Cook on baking sheet at 400 degrees for 5 minutes, flip, cook 3 minutes more until golden brown and crisp.


Enjoy!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cheesecake



I love cheesecake. Truthfully, I don't think I've ever met a cake I didn't like. Cake is good. Let's talk about cake...

Cake, like beer or wine, is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy (thanks Ben). Cake makes people happy. You go to a funeral, what is everybody doing afterward? They're eating cake, that's right, it makes you feel better. Cake is there at your birthday, cake is there at your wedding, cake is there for you, man. Let's give it up for cake, m'kay?

And yes, Valentine's Day. Whatever you think of the holiday, good or bad, there is something we can all get out of it. If it happens to be cake, well then, we did OK! You can skip the fancy dinner reservation (too crowded) and the long-stem roses (I like Gerber Daisies better anyway) and just concentrate your efforts on what really matters. Let us all eat cake, and smile, and bask in the love of those with whom we eat said cake, whomever they are.

CAKE!!!

And a note on the particulars, let's be clear and set a precedent in this here blog...this is not an original recipe. Sometimes they will be, like the Minestrone, but sometimes not. This recipe is off the back of the Philly cream cheese package, ta-da! Baking is not like soup-making, baking is chemistry. It's exact. When you find a good recipe for cake or pastry or pie, don't feel like you have to change it, I don't anyway. Sometimes it's perfect just the way it is. I think the best way to make this kind of recipe your own is in the topping. So that's where I've focused my creative energy for this entry.

As I mentioned in the Minestrone post I spent some time working in restaurants before my office life. One of these restaurants had a way of serving cheesecake I'd never seen before and I've always wanted to try it. They would drizzle a shot of raspberry liqueur over the top right before serving, table-side. I'm telling you, the people ate this up! As I was thinking about cheesecake this memory came to me and I thought how delicious that would be and how much you all might like it, so that's our inspiration for today.

A Little Diversion...

My search for this liqueur turned out to be almost as much fun as making this recipe. It took me a while to remember what the hell it was called! See, I'm a whisky girl, so liqueur or dessert wine wasn't really my thing, UNTIL NOW! After wracking my brain I remembered that it was called Chambord. As I was out shopping for the ingredients for this cheesecake I found myself in the wine department of our local grocery store...

And so, we have these really ANNOYING liquor laws in Washington state and you can't by liquor in the grocery store, only beer and wine. After growing up in the Midwest with giant grocery store aisles full of booze this still chaps my ass after 13 years of living here (Seattle, I love you intensely, but this is lame). Anyway, I ended up asking the Wine Guy if they happened to sell Chambord because I had worked all day and didn't really want to make a separate trip to the liquor store. Call me lazy, whatever, but until you have experienced Seattle rush hour traffic you can just shut it. ;)

They didn't sell Chambord (which is wonderful, try it sometime), but I ended up having the most wonderful conversation with the Wine Guy. I told him what I was looking for and how I was going to use it, and I'm telling you his eyes lit UP and he proceeded to regale me for the next 10 minutes with stories of how perfect Pacific Rim Framboise would be for my purpose. He was persuasive.

Wine Guy said I would open the bottle and be hit upside the head by the intoxicating raspberry aroma. He was right. We have had to exercise some serious self control to not drink this stuff up before the cheesecake was dressed. He also shared a few other gems such as: put a tablespoon in the bottom of your champagne glass before adding the bubbly, or take your martini glass and dip it in the wine before pressing in sugar to coat the rim for a beautiful and tasty cocktail. I think it was one of the most enjoyable customer service experiences I have ever had and I can't thank that Wine Guy enough.

And so, on to the cake.

Ingredients

Crust:
1 c graham cracker crumbs (put crackers in plastic bag and run over them with a rolling pin for less than a minute until you have a good crumb. Your crust will have a better texture by taking this step than if you use pre-made crumbs)
3 T sugar
3 T melted unsalted butter
1/2 t salt (updated after tasting, 1t salt was just a bit too much)

Filling:
5, 8 oz packages Philly cream cheese, softened
1 c sugar
3 T flour
1 T vanilla (use real vanilla, can use up to 2T if you want a stronger vanilla flavor)
3 eggs
1 c sour cream

Topping:
12 oz container fresh raspberries
2 c Raspberry Dessert Wine or Liqueur, I'm using Pacific Rim Framboise

Directions

Crust:
Mix crumbs, sugar, butter and salt together. Press into bottom of 9" spring form pan. Bake @ 350 degrees for 10 minutes.






Filling:
In stand mixer/Kitchen Aid mix softened cream cheese on low speed for a minute until it's getting smooth. Add sugar, flour and vanilla on medium speed until well blended.





Lift the mixing paddle and scrape sides and bottom of mixing bowl to release any lumps. Mix a bit longer until no lumps are present.

Add eggs one at a time, mixing on low after each addition.



Slowly blend in the sour cream. Scrape bottom of bowl again to ensure no lumps. Using a clean spatula scrape the filling into the par-baked crust.













Bain-marie: the key to a perfect cheesecake is the bain-marie, or water bath. With this method the cake pan is placed within a larger pan, and surrounded by warm water for the duration of the cooking process. The gentle heat of the water regulates the oven temperature and will result in a more evenly baked and visually pleasing cheesecake; hopefully without a big crack through the center. For this recipe using a spring form pan you will want to wrap the outside of the pan very thoroughly and carefully with aluminum foil so that no water creeps into your cake through the seam. If you were using a regular pie plate or cake pan you could simply set it in the warm water bath. The water should come 1/2 to 3/4 up the side of your cake pan.



Bake at 350 degrees in bain-marie for approximately 65-70 minutes, or until the center is almost set. Cake will be lightly brown, a bit firm when jiggled, the top will be slightly puffed up, and the sides will just begin to pull away from the edges of the pan.





5 minutes after removing cake from oven, carefully run a knife around the inside rim of the pan to loosen the cake.



Cool for at least 30 minutes before trying to remove from pan. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight before serving. (Note: I refrigerated mine overnight in the pan and then ran a knife under hot water, ran the knife around the inside of the pan, and removed the ring approximately 24 hours later.)

Removing a cake from a spring form pan: set cake in its pan on top of a coffee mug or inverted bowl, the object here is to lift it up from the counter. Release the spring on the pan and let the ring fall to the counter top, helping to loosen the cake with a knife as needed.




Lift the cake on it's base and place on your serving dish, or slice and plate.


Topping:
Add the 2 c Framboise to a small pan. Cook on medium-high until reduced to 1/2 c. (I've doubled the quantity that I made for the 2 of us at home so that you would have enough glaze/berries for an entire cake...)






Drizzle Framboise on a plate, place a slice of cheesecake on top. Drop fresh raspberries around the plate. Drizzle a bit more Framboise over top of cake and berries. Note: you could just as easily pour the Framboise straight on top of the cake, but I was going for a slightly thicker consistency. It's entirely up to you. Frankly, this dessert wine is so good that you could just drink it on the side and serve the cake with berries alone.


Author not responsible for fits of ecstasy which will ensue post-taste. Make this for someone you love.

Happy Valentine's Day
xoxo