Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

I Could Call Them Gougére...

...because I started out with a simple Pate aux Choux recipe. But with cheddar cheese and chipotle, ya gotta call 'em cheese puffs.

If you are hosting a party this holiday season or need something to bring to that New Year's Eve fete that is sure to impress, try these yummy treats!  It's easy and kind of addictive.

Chipotle Cheddar Cheese Puffs

Using a good, sharp cheddar (and not that orange block) really makes these suckers shine.  Smoky, cheesy goodness!

1 cup water
1 stick butter
2 tsp Chipotle powder
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
4 eggs
6 oz sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425˚.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a stock pot, bring water, butter, Chipotle and salt to a boil.  Lower heat.  Dump in the flour in one fell swoop, and stir in one direction with a wooden spoon.  DON'T PANIC!  It's going to look like a hot mess for a little bit.  Just keep stirring.  Quickly a dough ball will form.  Stir for a little bit longer to dry out the dough just a bit.  Transfer to a bowl.

Keep stirring and add the eggs one at a time.  AGAIN, DON'T PANIC! It's going to look weird until the egg is fully incorporated.  Just keep stirring!  Once the eggs are incorporated, add cheese.  And keep stirring until fully combined.  Transfer the sticky dough to a pastry bag or a large freezer bag (and cut a tiny slit in one of the corners).    Pipe dough onto the parchment line sheets in little golf ball sized globs.  The trick here is to pipe in a circular motion so the dough piles on top of itself.  Damp your finger and push down any curly Qs to prevent burning.

Pop them in the oven for 10 minutes.  Turn oven down to 350˚ and bake for 30 minutes.  DO NOT PEAK!  You want to keep the oven nice and hot, so resist the temptation to open it.  After 30 minutes, you can check them.  The puffs should be firm and slightly crispy.  You may need to cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, depending on how humid it is that day.  Cool and enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

That Forgotten Christmas Present

A couple of weeks ago, I was sorting through my ever growing collection of pots and pans attempting to thin out the crowd, when I stumbled upon a long forgotten gift.

Last year, my brother-in-illegal and his wife gave J and me a panini press. And we have never used it.

It's basically a grill pan with a heavy weight you use to mash on the sandwich.  Kind of a useless piece of cookware taking up space.  I mean, if I was industrious, I would just use my grill pan and mash on it with a skillet.  But, I took it out for a test drive and I love it! You can turn any sandwich into a delicious, flat work of art.  And it is another toy you can use when you play with your food.

So, if you are looking for a gift for that foodie friend or family member this year, consider the panini press.  'Tis fun for all ages.

Mediterranean Veggie Panini

This is just one I particularly enjoyed.  But play around with it!  You have a panini press for god's sake!

Roasted Red Peppers
Grilled and Marinated Zucchini
Sliced Red Onion
Oil Cured Olives
Pepadew Peppers
Fresh Mozzerella
Pesto Mayonnaise
Ciabatta Bread

Slice open the bread and slather that bad lad with the pesto mayonnaise (equal parts pesto and mayo).  Layer ingredients on and transfer to your preheated panini press.  Press that sucker and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Last Minute Gifts

'Tis the season to put off shopping.  So if you are stumped as to what to get that kitchen improviser in your life, might I suggest the following.

A holiday shopping hint:  check out a restaurant supply store.  You will be surprised how much cheaper this stuff is!

Salt Cellar

A handy dandy container that allows you easy access to that go to flavor enhancer while cooking.  I have no idea how I survived without one.


Love this thing!

Cuisinart Mini Food Processor

This has been a staple in my kitchen for years.  I use it to make pesto, vinaigrettes, and anything I need to whir up in a hurry.  Love Love Love this.


Ever wonder how to make those waffle fries?  Julienne veggies?  Make waf-fer thin slices?  Look no further!  These things a fabulous, but they are a bit dangerous as the blades are super sharp.  Best not get this for Little Timmy, unless Timmy is a bit more experienced in the kitchen.

Gourmet Today by Ruth Reichl

This is my absolute favorite cookbook.  Hands down.  Ever.  Period.  Over a thousand recipes compiled by the culinary genius behind the now defunct Gourmet magazine. (I still miss it so.)

The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

This book by the Silver Palate ladies is an absolute classic.  Try the Chicken Marbella.  Who knew that prunes and olives could taste so good together?

And of course...

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

It doesn't get more classic than this.

Merry Merry and Happy Happy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

To All My Hebrew Brothahs and Sistahs...Challah!

For the commemoration of the millennium, a group of friends and I took a road trip from Chicago to Woodstock, NY to ring in the New Year.  We were a rag tag group of not necessarily petite sized gay men, crammed into a Ford Jimmy truckin' across the country singing along to Macy Gray and discussing the merits of music by Moby.

When we arrived at our destination, a beautiful wooded retreat, we were welcomed with hugs, food, and libations from the parents of one of my dearest friends.  We survived a 12 hour journey, all limbs intact and still enjoying each others company.  The weekend was a debaucherous haze filled with laughter, hikes to frozen waterfalls, and tons of food.

One evening, Evelyn, our host's octogenarian mother who resided in an adjoining apartment, invited us, as any good Jewish woman would, over for scotch and chopped liver.  She was a short, sturdy woman with a quick wit and recipes filled with tradition. Now this midwestern boy was at that time no connoisseur of chopped liver, but I graciously accepted the grey mass on a toast point and chowed down.  It was an interesting bite to say the least; it tasted like...well, like liver.  The conversation was even more interesting that evening as Evelyn pontificated on a variety of topics with some Old World wisdom and attitude, quite often drawing forth riotous laughter and dropped jaws. Evelyn blissfully drank her scotch and nibbled on her chicken liver. It was a night to remember.

Sadly, Evelyn is no longer with us, and I don't see those dear friends nearly as often as I would like, but the memories remain fresh in my mind. So, 0n the first night of Chanukah, or as my friends call it, Chaka Khan, I offer up a spin on Evelyn's chopped liver.  Or as I like to call it Country Style Chicken and Fig Paté.

Happy Chaka Khan, y'all.

Country Style Chicken and Fig Paté 
It's tough to make chopped liver pretty...
(or Fancy Chopped Liver)

The figs add a delightful sweetness to the liver, taking away a bit of that offal taste, and the walnuts provide an unexpected crunch.

1 lb chicken livers
1 small shallot, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup dried mission figs, diced
1/4 cup cognac
3 Tbl Pernod
3 Tbl heavy cream
2 Tbl stone ground mustard
1 Tbl capers, drained 
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped parsley
thyme bundle
1 bay leaf
milk, for soaking chicken livers

Carefully drain and rinse chicken livers.  Remove any "extra goodness" and place in a glass bowl. Cover livers with milk and soak for at least 15 minutes.

Heat 2 Tbl olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add onions, shallot, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.  Cook for roughly five minutes until soft.  Add thyme bundle, bay, and figs, and cook for an additional five minutes until figs begin to soften and plump.  Deglaze pan with cognac, reserving 2 Tbl, scraping up bits with a wooden spoon.  Allow the cognac to reduce by half, and add Pernod.

Drain chicken livers and add to the pan.  Season with salt and pepper and allow those little suckers to brown up (roughly 15 minutes).  Add the remaining 2 Tbl of cognac and allow to reduce once more.

Transfer mixture to a food processor, discarding thyme and bay.  Add mustard, cream, capers, walnuts,and parsley.  Pulse mixture until smooth, yet still a bit chunky.  Transfer to a bowl and cover surface with plastic wrap.  Chill for at least one hour.

Serve with crostini, radishes, and apples and a lovely white wine (or scotch).