Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bacon, Corn and Cheddar Gougeres (cheese puffs)

This recipe has become a staple on our holiday and major
 celebration menus. The kids love them A LOT - adults devour them too.
 

6 slices flavorful bacon (hickory smoked or applewood)
2 ears of fresh corn
1 cup water
1 stick butter (1/4 pound) - if unsalted, add 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups grated extra sharp Cheddar
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tablespoons chopped chives

  1. Cook bacon, cool, chop into 1/4 inch pieces.
  2. Scrape kernels from corn and sauté in a small amount of leftover bacon fat until slightly browned. For the best technique on cutting corn, see the article here,
  3. Preheat over to 375 degrees.
  4. In a large sauce pan combine water and butter, heat until butter melts.
  5. Remove pan from heat and add flour, mix until thoroughly combined. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
  6.  Add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each egg into the batter before adding the next. Critical method: use a fork to mix the egg into the batter. A whisk is too flexible and a wooden spoon doesn't incorporate the egg into the mixture fast enough.
  7. Add bacon, cheeses, chives and a generous grinding of fresh black pepper.
  8. Use two teaspoons to place mounds of the mixture onto 2 baking pans lined with a silicon mats. The batter yields about 40 pieces.
  9. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until gougeres are lightly browned on the bottom and golden atop.

Alternately, you can put the batter into a gallon sized ziplock bag. The dough holds well for a day or two in the fridge. Snip a corner of the zip lock bag and squeeze batter out the tip, like a pastry bag.

Tips:
  • Use a fork for mixing the dough.
  • Use high quality, extra sharp cheddar. This recipe will be bland if you don't.
  • Use high quality Parmigiano. Same thing - it will be bland otherwise.
  • Frozen corn can be substituted for fresh with minimal loss of flavor.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Secret Ingredient for Turkey Soup

Turkey Soup with Ancini de Pepe Pasta
Notice the stray tarragon leaf that escaped
from the bundle of herbs.


A few years ago I hit upon the idea to add some depth to historically bland day-after-Thanksgiving turkey soup. A generous dose of Spanish sherry added a nice undertone.

This year there was no sherry in the house, so Marsala wine was used. Terrific. It's worth going so far as to now call either of these a secret ingredient.

Here's a link to the original recipe:  Leftover Turkey Soup.

These are some of the other choices / techniques which helped make this year's version a success:

  • Use chopped fresh fennel in addition to onion, celery and carrots.
  • All my rich stock was used up on Thanksgiving day, so this stock was make simply from simmering the turkey carcass for a few hours, then adding onion, celery and carrot for the last hour. Strain and reserve just the liquid.  
  • About 2/3 cup of Marsala - more than original recipe calls for. 
  • Ancini de pepe pasta - little balls the same size as peppercorns. Cook separately, and under cook by about two minutes from the suggested cooking time - about 6 minutes total for mine. 
  • A bouquet garni of fresh tarragon and thyme - removed before serving. 

A bouquet garni is simply a small bundle of herbs, tied together with kitchen twine, which allows one to remove the herbs easily. If dried spices or seeds are used, the ingredients can be put into small cheesecloth bags made especially for this purpose. 






Monday, June 25, 2012

Gently Seasoned Lamb Burgers + Minty Cucumber Yogurt



Sometimes it's too hot to cook outside. This weekend after a Saturday swim meet, followed by a late afternoon at the pool; then Sunday golf in 100+ heat index - there were not going to be burgers on the grill.

Yet most methods for indoor grilling / broiling are ineffective, or messy or both - accompanied by average or below average result, such as lack of that char that is the whole point of grilling.

So if you're committed to indoor cooking, and know it's going to be a little "softer", why not soften up the ingredients too.

Lamb burgers are not unusual, but typically are loaded up with herbs, spices and garlic, especially to match the intensiveness of high-heat grilling.

In this recipe, I soften up the burgers by using very few seasonings, and soften up the lamb by mixing 50/50 lamb and pork. THEN, we let the vegetables and Tzatziki (cucumber yogurt sauce) take over to set the cool, fresh tone.

I also like theo crispiness of grilled Chiabatta rolls. That adds back in a little of the traditional outdoor grilling style.

The burgers are on the very small side - which allows them to be cooked quickly in a ridged grill pan, get browned, but also not make an incredible indoor mess. Each burger was served on half a grilled Chiabatta rolled, cut diagonally into a triangle.


Gently Seasoned Lamb Burgers

4 crusty Chiabatta rolls
2-3 plum tomatoes
1 large cucumber
A few handfuls of mixed greens
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground pork
1.5 teaspoons garlic, very finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: Add one medjool date, finely chopped, for each patty, prior to cooking. 

  1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a ridged grill pan over medium high heat.
  2. Slice Chiabatta rolls and grill cut side down until lightly browned. Flip and allow outside to be heated slightly - a few seconds or so is all. Cut rolls diagonally. 
  3. Slice tomatos, cucumbers and rinse greens. 
  4. Combine remaining ingredients to form 9 or 10 small balls. Gently press each ball into a small patty. 
  5. Over medium high heat, grill 4 or 5 patties at a time, up to 4 minutes per side. Reduce heat slightly once there is some good brown color on the patty. 


Minty Cucumber Yogurt Sauce - Tzatziki

1/2 cup of cucumber, mostly peeled, cut into very small pieces
2/3 cup of plain greek yogurt
6-8 leaves of fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
Juice of half a small lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients. If you have time, salt the cucumber pieces and let drain in a strainer for 20-30 minutes.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's Not Too Late to Plant an Herb Garden


The Only Shortcut To Becoming a Great Home Cook

I've published this article a couple times in the past - and continue to share it annually, since this is truly the singular best advice I can give anyone who has an even passing interest in cooking. . 

There is only one shortcut to good cooking. It's fast. It's easy. It's inexpensive. Anyone can use this shortcut, even a child.

       Use Fresh Herbs

You may say to yourself, "Of course that's true. I use fresh herbs whenever I cook nice or fancy." Or this might be news to you. You could also argue that fresh herbs are expensive and don't last long. Usually you only need a few sprigs and the rest goes to waste. So it's really just a way of buying your way to being a better cook.

In some sense this is right. A bag like this one costs $2.79 at my local store.


Yet, a plant like this costs $2.49 at a garden center and will last months, even if you just leave it in the original pot and water it once in a while. If you plant it in a garden, it may last for years. My main thyme plant is ten years old now.  


And finally, an herb garden like this can support your kitchen for a decade, with only occassional replanting of perennials, and inexpensive plantings of annuals.

Here's what you need to know about fresh herbs:
  • Simply using fresh herbs where they are called for in a recipe will dramatically increase the flavor of a dish.
  • Using fresh herbs where dried are specified is typically done by increasing from teaspoon quantities to tablespoon quantities.
  • Buy potted herbs at a garden center - even if you only use them for cooking and never plant them. The small container plant will stay alive in your kitchen or on your back porch for months. And it will KEEP GROWING, funny how they do that. This way you won't continually replace expensive store bought herbs.
  • Plant an herb garden. In the south, rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, marjoram all survive the winter. Chives, parsley, mint and cilantro do well in pots all year. Some annuals (cilantro) need to avoid the extreme southern heat, but are ideal in a garden in the north. Basil does well everywhere in the warm seasons. A bay tree (which might start as a twig) in an attractive pot can be taken in during a northern winter. I haven't bought bay leaves for 10 years now. Herb gardens need little attention, as most herbs thrive in bad soil, so it's a very simple gardening proposition.
I promised you a shortcut, and now it sounds like you have to plant a garden. Not really. You can simply grab a package of fresh herbs from the store, or pick up a simple plant and use it tonight in the kitchen. 

One of the best ways to use fresh herbs is on pasta. A mix of two or three finely chopped herbs, along with some olive oil, good Parmesan and salt and fresh ground pepper make a surprisingly sophisticated dish, with lots of flavor. Last night I used thyme, tarragon and mint. It was delicious.  

2012 Herb Garden
Now includes sorrel (far left)
and Mexican tarragon (brownish at 1:00 position)
There's a whole lotta fresh oregano behind the rosemary plant,
back  in the raised brick garden


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cooking Gift Sets: No, Says the Grinch

[ Here's a popular article from last year's holiday postings. Tom ]

Who Hash Gift Set, $49.99.
Includes one can Who Hash produced by hash artisans
from rural Whoville and one inexpensive can opener. 


I'm not a big fan of cooking gift sets. Especially Any Gift Set That Includes a Food Product. The quality of the food and gadgets is likely poor and the price likely high. In one catalog alone I saw gift sets for:
  • Paella
  • Pizza
  • Whoopie Pies
  • Donuts
  • Ebelskivers
  • Fondue
  • Cupcakes
  • Grilling with BBQ Rub
  • Moroccan Tagine
  • ....and my favorite, the Himalayan Salt Block set
None really looked like a fair value to me. The sets included gadgets you probably wouldn't use, the quality looked questionable, prices high-ish. Bah.


Grinch with 3x larger heart.
No gift sets - just plates, knife, fork and roast beast. 

Yet, in appreciating that the Grinch himself opened up to new possibilities and embraced the positives of Christmas in Whoville, I too, can open up with a positive ending to my Grinchy ramblings today.

Months ago you may have read my thoughts on the Kitchen Tools You Can't Live Without. It's a pretty short list of essentials that every good cook should have. Picking a few items from that list, and a few others we rely on, here's a very short list of favorite kitchen tools. Most are easily found even during last minute shopping, or might be worth exchanging for if there were some impractical cooking items in your stocking.



Keeping a knife sharp is far more important that what you paid for it.


Less expensive than Pam, better taste from your own choice of oil.

How well does a rounded spoon scrape a pot / pan?


Easy to clean up, replaces many blender and food processor tasks
Better than a mesh strainer, a key for sauces, large capacity,
easy to clean, and can double as a regular strainer / colander.

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