Friday: Gougeres

To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I cooked on Friday.  About 4 1/2 years ago, frustrated with having to plan and prepare every meal every day of the week, I unilaterally declared Fridays to be Pizza and a Movie Night.  I have to admit there was about a one year period where I ended up making my own pizzas because I had made our pizza delivery boy cry (pregnancy and hunger induced rage) and I was too embarrassed to use the pizza company again, but then we moved apartments and just like that, a fresh start and the ability to order pizzas again without the shame. I do, on occasion, still like to cook on Fridays. It’s definitely more enjoyable when it’s something you do because you want to rather than because you have to. Today, it was gougeres, or French cheese puffs. This is my go-to recipe whenever I need to bring something in for a school event. It’s quick and simple, easy to eat, and sounds impressive when you tell people you brought gougeres (make sure to say the French word rather than saying you brought French cheese puffs. Cheese puffs just doesn’t have that same ring to it).

This is another seven ingredient recipe which almost guarantees that I won’t need to make any special trips to the grocery store. It’s also great for using up leftover bits of cheese since you can use pretty much any hard, sharp cheese. I’ve made this with vintage cheddar, manchego, parmeggiano reggiano, emmentaler, gruyere, as well as different combinations of leftover cheeses and they all turn out wonderfully (although my boys definitely didn’t like the manchego version). My favorite cheese to use is gruyere. I love gruyere but find it to be a bit too strong and pungent for some recipes, but somehow it’s just nice and smooth and mellow in these. Again, you’ll find a hundred recipes out there for this, but David Lebovitz’ version is the one I use most. They’re all pretty much the same, but I love his addition of chile powder which gives the puff that extra oomph at the end.

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Gougeres, makes about 30 bite-sized puffs
Adapted from David Lebovitz

1/2 cup water
3 Tbs. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
Big pinch of chile powder, or a few turns of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup flour
2 large eggs
12 chives, finely-minced or 1 to 2 tsp. minced fresh thyme (I used a lavenderless herbs de provence for mine)
3/4 cup grated cheese

Preheat the over to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Heat the water, butter, salt, and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted. Dump all the flour in at once and stir vigorously until everything in the pot starts to come away from the sides of the pot cleanly forming a big ball. Remove from the heat and let rest two minutes. (you want the batter to cool a bit before adding the eggs to ensure that it doesn’t cook them).

Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly and vigorously. The batter will appear lumpy at first — just keep stirring and it will all even out. (At this point, the dough is called pâté à choux, and is the beginning of all sorts of wonderful — profiteroles, eclairs, and beignets just to name a few.)

Add about 3/4 of the grated cheese and the chives or whatever herb you’re using. Stir until well mixed.

Spoon or pipe the dough into mounds onto your prepared baking sheet. The mound should be about the size of a cherry tomato. Make sure they’re evenly spaced. However, they won’t expand too much so you can find quite a few. I can usually fit an entire batch on one sheet. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese and put in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until they’re 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. Serve warm.

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Thursday: Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic and Pommes de Terre

If I had to quickly rattle off a top three list of foods that make me ridiculously happy, I think it would go something like…butter, bacon, and garlic. Which is why Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic is one of my favorite things ever to make. I’ve seen several variations on this traditional French dish, but Smitten Kitchen’s version is my favorite for the following reasons:

  1. It has the simplest ingredient list — seven ingredients and you’re all set.
  2. Everything is cooked on the stove — no oven required.
  3. Because you cook the chicken in parts, it’s easy to just use specific cuts or pare down the recipe.

If you can’t/won’t buy pre-peeled garlic cloves, Martha Stewart has an amazing video on her website featuring a fast way to peel forty cloves of garlic.  Spoiler alert: you put your garlic bulbs in a metal bowl, cover it with another metal bowl, and then shake it like giant maracas for about five minutes until the cloves slip out of their skins.  Seriously, it’s magic.

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I usually serve this with couscous because Noah — my rice-hating boy — will actually eat couscous.  Plus it’s nice to have something to sop up all those lovely, lovely, garlicky pan juices.  I also usually serve this with a green veggie just to break up the monochrome (haricot vert with almonds is great because then I’ll also toss some almonds into the couscous for some extra texture) but I had some extra time today, some leftover beef broth, and another recipe that I’d been meaning to try and so today it was Pommes de Terre a la Boulangere.  Essentially, it’s potato gratin made with broth instead of milk.  The recipe calls for browning the onions for 15 minutes, but in my opinion if you’re going to spend 15 minutes cooking onions, then you might as well take an additional 15 minutes and caramelize the bastards.  If you are unsure how to caramelize onions, there is a great slideshow tutorial here.  And if you really want to nerd out over onions, you can read all about the science behind caramelization here.

 

Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic, serves 4
Source: Smitten Kitchen

Notes: I have made this recipe using all sorts of chicken — cut-up whole chicken; skin on; skin off; chicken breast and legs; breasts only — trust me…it all works. I also occasionally omit the butter and replace it with olive oil in order to lighten the dish up. I usually halve the amount of chicken but will leave the rest of the ingredients intact…because it’s just that good.

1 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
About 40 large garlic cloves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock or canned broth.

1. Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Place a deep, nonreactive skillet or Dutch oven over high heat, and add oil and butter. When fats are hot but not smoking, add chicken pieces skin side down and cook until skin turns an even, golden brown, about 5 minutes. Work in batches, if necessary, and carefully regulate heat to avoid scorching skin. Turn pieces and brown them on other side for an additional 5 minutes.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Bury garlic cloves under chicken to make sure they settle in one layer at bottom of skillet. Saute, shaking or stirring pan frequently, until garlic is lightly browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add wine and stock, scraping bottom of pan.

3. Cover and continue cooking until juices run clear when a thigh is pricked, 10 to 15 minutes more. Serve chicken with garlic and pan juices and, if desired, rice or sauteed potatoes.

Pommes de Terres a la Boulangere, serves 6
Source: French Food at Home

Notes: Four onions may sound like a lot but you’ll need them as they’ll shrink down quite a bit. Like I mentioned earlier, if you have the time I would highly recommend caramelizing the onions. I didn’t have any thyme on hand so I used herbs de provence, but I’m willing to bet that anything in that mixture — marjoram, thyme, oregano, rosemary — would work equally well.

3 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
4 onions, sliced
2 pounds potatoes, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked
2 cups beef stock

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Melt half the butter with the olive oil in a saute pan, and gently fry the onions until soft and lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Spread half the onions in the bottom of a casserole. Lay a layer of sliced potatoes on top, season with salt and pepper, and scatter with thyme leaves. Build another layer of onions, then a final one of potatoes, and finally pour over the stock. Cover the pan with foil, and bake until all the liquid has been absorbed, 2 to 3 hours, removing the foil for the last hour if you like a crisp top.

Wednesday Twofer: Lumpia and Lentil Soup

When you make beef bourguignon on a weeknight, you end up with a lot of time to kill while it’s in the oven. I ended up being really productive last night and used my two hours to prep Wednesday’s dinner — lumpia, also known as Filipino egg rolls — which is one of Noah and Julian’s favorite dishes. I had a batch of lumpia rolled up and ready to fry for dinner but as luck would have it, we experienced a 13 degree drop in temperature overnight — going from a warm 75 degrees to a chilly 62 (don’t laugh Kristin) — making Wednesday perfect soup weather. Also happening on Wednesday — Mark left for Singapore, meaning I could cook whatever I wanted to, and Smitten Kitchen posted a new recipe for lentil soup with sausage, chard and garlic. Quite possibly the best soup-making conditions I would have in a long time.  So despite having dinner all ready to go, I ended up making the soup for me anyway.  The soup had amazing flavor and depth — I could taste every layer of flavor in each bite — and despite being a hearty soup, it never felt heavy.  It also felt like I was eating something healthy — not a bad combination.  I don’t remember feeling this full in a long time.  Definitely a keeper recipe for me.

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Lumpia
makes about 60 3″ eggrolls as an appetizer, or about 4-6 servings as a main course

Note: This is a family recipe so all the amounts are approximate. It’s also a very basic recipe so substitute as you see fit — omit the shrimp, use a different type of ground meat, add a handful of chopped green onions, jicama, and/or water chestnuts…just to name a few examples that my mom has done in the past.

Filling
1 clove garlic
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined, and roughly chopped
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 egg
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. oyster sauce (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Eggroll wrappers (I use 6″ square wrappers), separated
1 egg
Vegetable oil for frying

Using a food processor, process the garlic until chopped. Add carrots and process until carrots are finely chopped. Add shrimp and process again until shrimp is minced. Add the ground pork, egg, soy sauce, oyster sauce (if using), and salt and pepper. Process until everything is well mixed. [If you are adding other ingredients, the general rule is to add ingredients in order of what needs more processing to least amount of processing. Jicama and water chestnuts, for example, don’t need too much processing or else they’ll get mushy so it’s usually best to add them right before the pork rather than at the very beginning.] To check seasoning, take a dime-sized portion of the filling and microwave it until fully cooked (30 seconds is normally enough). Taste it and adjust seasoning accordingly.

To wrap, beat the egg with about 1 Tbs. water. Lay the wrapper down on a flat surface and spoon or pipe a thin line of filling about one inch from the bottom. Roll tightly and use the egg wash to moisten and seal the end. Repeat until all the wrappers are used up.  Egg roll wrappers come in different sizes.  I usually use the 6″ square wrappers and then cut them in half after they’ve been rolled.  If preparing ahead of time, cover the wrapped lumpia in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use.  They also freeze well once they’ve been rolled.

To cook, these are traditionally deep-fried but shallow frying works as well. Pour enough oil in a pan to come up about 1/4″ and heat on medium-high. When the oil is hot and working in batches, add the lumpia, making sure to leave enough room that they aren’t touching each other. Cook until all sides are golden brown (about 3-5 minutes per side). Drain on paper towels and serve. I like to eat these as is, but you can also serve them with a sweet chili and plum sauce or with ketchup.

Lentil soup with sausage, chard and garlic
Serves 6 (I halved the recipe)
Source: Smitten Kitchen, who in turn adapted it from the book Secrets of the Best Chefs by Adam Roberts

Note: To make this vegetarian, she suggests omitting the sausage.  And for a vegan version, skip the sausage and cheese.  Easy as that.

1/2 cup olive oil, divided
4 large links of sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced or diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into half-moons or diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced (reserve half for later in recipe)
Kosher salt
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups water
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups shredded or thinly ribboned Swiss chard leaves or kale
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese to finish

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pot) in a large pot on medium heat. When hot, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about five minutes. Add the onion, celery, carrots, first two garlic cloves, a pinch fo salt, and if you like your soup spicy, a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook with the sausage until the vegetables soften a bit, another 5 minutes. Add the lentils, bay leaves, tomatoes, water, more salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. (It might be necessary to add more water if the soup gets too thick, though we preferred ours on the thick side.)

When the lentils are cooked, add the chard and cook until the leaves are tender, just a few minutes more. Discard the bay leaves.

To finish, divide soup among bowls, then add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 garlic cloves to a small skillet and heat over medium until the garlic softens and hisses. Drizzle this over soup bowls, and top with fresh Romano, passing more at the table. Leftovers will keep for several days in the fridge.

Tuesday: Beef Bourguignon

Guys, this is not a weekday dish!  I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided to cook this on a Tuesday (I think a lot of it had to do with the grocery store being out of everything else) but seriously, save this for a Sunday and preferably when it’s cold outside and not 70 degrees. 

I’d been meaning to try this recipe for months and even though the final outcome was less than satisfactory, the recipe itself is great.  The ingredient list is simple and easy to prep, the 3+ hour cooking time (yes, on a weeknight) was mostly unattended – I prepped the next night’s dinner during the 2 hours this was in the oven – and the final dish had amazing flavor.  I think where I went wrong was the cut of meat that I picked up for the stew meat.  Rump steak apparently is nowhere near as tender as chuck or sirloin and the end result was tasty but incredibly dry. 

It was a disappointing result, especially after so much time spent in the kitchen, but I’m definitely planning on making this one again another day with some better meat. 

Beef Bourguignon, serves 8

Source: French Food at Home

 For the stew

  • 4 pounds boneless stew beef, such as chuck or sirloin tip, cut into large chunks
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and halved
  • 2 onions, peeled and halved
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (750ml) bottle red wine
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 1 bouquet garni (made from bay leaf, parsley stems, and thyme sprigs

For the garnish

  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 6-8 slices bacon, cut into lardons
  • 40 baby onions, peeled
  • 16 ounces mushrooms

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Remove the meat from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature, about 20 minutes. 

Heat the oil in a large casserole.  Working in batches, brown the meat well on all sides, removing as you go.  When the meat is done, cook the carrots and onions in the same pot until tender and lightly golden.  Add the garlic, and cook one minute.  Add the flour and cook, stirring for 2 minutes.  Add the wine and stock.  Add the bouquet garni.  Return the meat to the pot, cover, and transfer to the oven until the meat is very tender, about 2 hours. 

While the meat cooks, prepare the garnish.  Heat the oil in a pan, brown the bacon, and remove.  Add the onion and cook until browned all over, remove.  Finally, brown the mushrooms and remove.  Deglaze the pan with ½ cup water, reduce, and then pour over the garnish.  Set aside. 

When the meat is done, remove it from the pot.  Strain the stock, discarding the vegetables.  Pour the liquid back into the pot, and boil until thick enough to coat a spoon.  Return the meat to the pan and add the garnish.  Cover and simmer until the onions are tender and the flavors have blended, about 10 minutes.  Adjust the seasonings.  Serve.

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Stir Fried Pork with Basil

Stir fried pork with basil, or pad ga-prao, is one of my favorite Thai dishes.  I love the combination of sweet basil and hot chilies.  I order this dish almost every time we go to a Thai restaurant so finding a recipe for it and figuring out how to make it at home was a challenge that I took on enthusiastically.  There are a ton of recipes for it online but the biggest challenge for me was tweaking the basic recipe to make everyone in the family happy.  So far, this version is the winner for us.  It has the right balance of heat — hot enough for me (personally, I love it when food makes you sweat) but not so hot that the kids (with a heat tolerance of: wuss) wouldn’t eat it.  It also has the right amount of fish sauce — detectable but not so much that Mark’s sensitive taste buds are turned off.  For a vegetarian version, you can substitute pre-fried tofu for the pork.

Pad Ga Prao (serves 4)

  • 3 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 4 Tbs. garlic (anywhere from 8-12 cloves)
  • 6-30 small Thai (bird’s eye) chillies [the amount is based on your heat tolerance but 5-6, with half of the seeds removed, is my family’s magic number]
  • 1 lb. ground pork (or chicken or beef) 
  • 4 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 4 tsp. soy sauce
  • 4 Tbs. oyster sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups basil leaves and flowers
  • 1 egg per person (optional)

1.  Thinly slice garlic and set aside.  Thinly slice the chilies, removing some, or all, of the seeds if you’re concerned about the heat.  I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to slice the tops off (the side with the stem), turn the chili cut-side down, and roll it between your fingers until the seeds fall out.  Set the chilies aside with the garlic.

2.  Pick leaves and flowers off the basil.  Discard the stems.  Rinse, dry, and set aside.

3.  Heat the oil in a pan or wok on high heat until very hot.  Add chilies and garlic and stir until browned, about 2 minutes.  (It’s not uncommon to sneeze from the chilies.)

4.  When the garlic is ready, add the pork, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon to make sure it cooks evenly.  Cook 5-8 minutes, or until the meat is no longer red.

5.  Add fish sauce, soy sauce and oyster sauce.  Stir and cook until the sauces are absorbed, about 10 minutes).

6.  When the mixture is dry, add the water and the basil leaves.  Stir until basil is wilted.  Serve on rice.

7.  If you want to top with a fried egg (and really, why wouldn’t you?), add a little more oil to the pan.  When the oil is very hot, crack an egg in the middle.  The egg should bubble up and sizzle.  When the edges are brown (about 2 minutes), flip and brown the other side, just under a minute for an egg that’s still runny on the inside.  Remove, being careful not to break the yolk, and place on top of the dish.  If you can fry more than one egg at a time, then I bow to your superior cooking abilities.  I, however, find it best to just cook the eggs one at a time.

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