Monday, September 27, 2010

Cheese Freeze – Gougeres!

So when I actually had money to spend, being in NYC, delivery for anything is just a given. Take out, Dry Cleaning, Laundry, Drug Store (inlc. sundries), and most of all groceries. I tell you, I had quite the pampered life for a little while.

There is one major On-line grocer in NYC that I was very loyal to, until I lost my job and to be honest, a few of my orders that included fresh herbs were a bit disappointing and I had started to order less and less from them. However, what I did and still do trust with them is their Meat, Fish, Cheese and Bakery departments. They offer a lot of options and the quality is fantastic. I just wish their fresh produce was better and more consistent.

Another major positive for this on-line delivery grocer is they have amazing and I do mean amazing “ready to cook” meals from great restaurateurs around the city and also offer great local frozen options from bakers and artisanal retailers. As for general groceries, they do lack a bit with new items, but they do have what you need overall.

Most specifically for this post, it’s about a product I ordered when it was available, frozen Gougeres, made from a cheese/restaurant retailer called Artisinal Cheese. They were expensive ($10) and if I remember correctly, only 15 per box. Regardless of the expense they were such a lovely treat, popping one or two in my mouth were just so heavenly.

Not until I was broke and craving gougeres, was I thinking about how to make them on my own and store them in the freezer (hey, I am single, most recipes call for 30-40 gougeres…Cooking isn’t the issue, but eating them all for myself, the quantity is a bit too much in one sitting). I want the convenience of taking out what I need when I want it.

I looked up various recipes and found only 3 that seemed to be most authentic from the frozen version I became accustom to. One from Jacques Pepin for Food & Wine Mag, the other from Epicurious and the final from Artisinal Cheese via Fresh Direct (my on-line grocer).

After reading these recipes, it actually brought me back to my early teen days when I wanted to make homemade éclairs and cream puffs. The trick is to understand how to make a Choux, which is a no more than a thick doughy roux if you think about it. My Mom encouraged me to figure out how to make these sweet treats and with her help, I knew at a young age how to make such sweet gastric delights.

Because I had previous knowledge and understanding of how to make“choux” dough, following and making the gougere recipe was a simple task and really, really quick to put together. The trick this time was not only to make the cheese puff treats, but to freeze them prior to cooking, like the frozen packages I bought from FD, then figure out the actual cook time from a frozen status as it will differ from the recipes.

The following recipe I used as a test, yields about 30-40-1 inch radius (or a tad less than half a dollar size) gougeres. One thing I did not like about this recipe is that there was way too much paprika. My next attempt, I will use less. Although, my hat is off to Jacques Pepin, as he is my male French chef hero and regardless of the overwhelming paprika, these came out delicious!

Before I list the recipe I used and other recipes to consider using, I want to give you explicit instructions to “pre-freeze” and store these treats, so that when you are ready to serve, you can just pop them in the oven when you are ready.

When you make any of the gougere recipes I have provided, if you decide to freeze instead of cooking immediately, make sure you have enough room in your freezer to accommodate a sheet pan (mine is 13x17).

When you complete your choux dough, pipe onto your sheet pan (with a parchment lining) as per the recipe instructions (NOTE: you can pipe them closer together to fit more on the pan if you are not baking them immediately). But rather than putting in the oven, immediately put in the freezer for about 2 hours. Once frozen, remove the frozen choux from the sheet pan to a proper freezer bag.

When ready to cook, preheat your oven to 400 degrees, place your frozen gougeres approximately 2 inches apart and bake for 20-25 minutes. However, and this is important!!!! After 5-10 minutes in the oven, sprinkle Fluer de Sel and additional cheese on top. Continue cooking until golden brown. Remember, each oven temp is different, so it is ultimately up to you to decide when these treats are done.

Pour votre santé et profitez-en! (To your health and enjoy!)

Recipe 1:
The Recipe I used in the Pics Above.
Recipe 2:
Recipe 3: (Below)


From "Artisanal Cooking" by Terrance Brennan and Andrew Friedman
Makes 55 Gougères
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons course sea salt
  • 2 pinches cayenne
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted with 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons grated Gruyère (from about 4 ounces cheese)
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the butter, 1/4 cup milk, water, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, and the cayenne in a 2-quart saucepot and set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then add the sifted flour and baking powder. Remove from heat. Stir well with a wooden spoon and return to the heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the dough pulls away from the side of the pot, approximately 4 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat again and transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add 3/4 cup of the cheese and paddle on low, until just warm, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the eggs to the mixer, 1 at a time. Continue to mix the dough until smooth and shiny, about 10 minutes. The mixture should be cool.
  3. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a #6 tip.
  4. Pipe the dough into 1-inch rounds, each about 1/2-inch high. Allow about 1/4-inch of space between each gougère. Each tray should fit about 28 gougères.
  5. Brush the top of each gougère with the remaining 2 tablespoons milk and sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère and some sea salt.
  6. Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Turn the trays around and continue to bake until the gougères take on a deep, golden-brown color, approximately 7 minutes more. Serve hot from the oven or keep the gougères, loosely covered, at room temperature for up to 2 hours, then reheat at 400°F for 2 1/2 minutes.
  7. Bake until golden brown, approximately 7 to 10 minutes.
  8. Serve hot from the oven or keep the gougères, loosely covered, at room temperature for up to 2 hours and reheat in a 400°F oven for 2 1/2 minutes.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mish Mash My Spaghetti Made a Splash!

Long about a Saturday Night…a couple of glub, glubs relaxin’ drinking some beer, thinkin’ ‘bout food. Well I looked in my cupboard and put my face in the fridge, I scratched my head and I grabbed all the leftover stuff and then I made a Mish Mash of my Spaghetti splash and well, I had a blast!
Ok, that opening statement is probably lame and geeky, but it’s been in my head for about a few weeks now and just had to start this post with it. It actually explains why I seem so giddy right now. Not only do I have a mash of a recipe for you, but I am also informing those who actually do follow me, that I finally, after 2 years ( I won’t say long, as time has gone by very quickly for me, even if I wasn’t productive) have a JOB! Yes, I finally have a job with a very prominent organization.
I don’t know if I can legally state the company name, but what I can tell you is that they are a Fortune 500 Company, they are currently listed as one of the best companies to work for in 2010, they are also listed as one of the best companies to start a career in (this is especially noted for those upcoming youngungs).
The company I am working for is one of the most respected tax & accounting firms out there. The fact that I can now put their name on my resume will open tons of doors. No matter, because the division/folks I work with after just a week, are most incredible and I am truly excited to learn more from them.
Back to the Mash…I started this blog to keep me busy while I was out of work. However I found that I truly enjoy posting my cooking/baking efforts for all those who are interested in these antics of mine. So, I do promise that I will continue to update this blog with every effort. Though the postings may not be as consistent as they have been; so, for those who do follow, please keep checking in. I really do appreciate your loyalty.
Today is a new day, as I am officially going to coin the phrase “Mish Mash Eats” AKA “MME” or the Eats can be substituted for Pasta which would be “MMP”. So unlike “EVOO” or other crazy culinary coined phrases, from some well know celebrity chefs/cooks, are in some ways just bogus to us regular folk who are just trying to make a meal out of nothing. MME, MMP or MM(any other major addition),is much easier because the acronym includes anything and everything you might have in your kitchen that is edible.
MME is just that, a Mish Mash of Eats left over in your pantry, fridge or freezer to create a satisfactory meal concoction. You just have to be open on how you utilize the ingredients. MME does not mean throw all that you have in a pot and hope it will be tasty or even edible. MME does have to have some compromise to the taste buds and work well with the all the other ingredients.
Now the MME I have for you is of singular left over stuff and not “leftovers” from a previously prepared meal. My leftovers in this instance are the bottom of the jar kind, with a half a box of Pasta, which would now make this meal an MMP.
I occasionally come up with odd MME’s that eventually are really tasty, but I will admit that all my MME’s are very fattening and without frying, probably have the same fat and calories as if you ate a burger with cheese. But in my case, I only have enough for one serving anyway and no leftovers to temp me even more. So those watching the waistline, should not be offended or disgusted, but rather take the “technique/method/idea” and make a healthier MME (or MMS –Mish Mash Salad) to make you feel better.

So here are my ingredients for my MME/MMP – these are all approximate measurements…use your eye on what you have left. If you have less of what is listed, use it anyway. This is all about using the bottom of the jar, not about exact measurements.
Mish Mash Pasta 
  • Any Pasta – About 1-2 servings Left in the box
  • Ricotta – about 1/8th Cup
  • Capers – about 1 tbls
  • Sour cream – about 2-3 tbls
  • Salsa – about ½ jar
  • Basil – about 4-5 Leaves-Chopped
  • Parm Cheese – I always purchase whole Parm Cheese to grate on Demand…If you buy the “jar” or pre-grated crap, use the little you have left.
  • Gorganzola – I had this on hand from another recipe…I used only a portion of what I had, as it is a strong cheese, but what it does if used properly with an MME gives a bit more flavor, like adding S&P to taste. When mixed with other milder cheeses, it will enhance those flavors.
  • Half and Half – about 1-2 tbls.
  • Garlic – I always have this on hand and never try to run out…so for me, 5-6 large cloves minced work. Eyeball it depending on how much pasta you are actually cooking. 5-6 cloves of Garlic for ½ lb of pasta is good for me!
  • Oil…I Only use Extra Virgin Olive Oil for 99% of my cooking. But if you only have corn/canola or other oil, that will still work. Just keep in mind that some oils are stronger than others. A sesame or flavored Oil may be too much, but what would I know…it’s your taste buds. 
So now to prepare this MME: This time I am going rogue on my previous instruction template and explain more about the method/technique. Look, in some ways there is no right or wrong way to put an MME together. But there are times where you still have to be somewhat methodical about it.
In this MME/MMP case, it’s really about how the above ingredients fit into what you eventually want, which ultimately becomes and “Alfredo” or “White Sauce”. There lies the actual technique. If you know how to make a “white sauce”, then you can figure out how to incorporate all of the ingredients above. If you don’t know how to make a “white sauce”, it’s pretty easy.
Many of those who think they can’t cook or even are afraid, already have applied master cooking techniques without even realizing it. For instance, has anyone ever made homemade Mac & Cheese? The base of the Cheese mixture is what is called a “white sauce”. The real “white sauce” is essentially and even mixture of Butter (maybe even oil), Flour and milk. Butter, Flour and Milk can be substituted for any other “like” ingredient.
So, how do you make a “white sauce” (which is an actual culinary requirement) and then make it your own variation with all the bottom of the jar ingredients or even follow a proper “white sauce” recipe?
Here’s my hacked method for quick and easy white sauce:
  1. Take a sauce pan over medium heat
  2. Add butter and/or Oil until melted/hot.
  3. Add Garlic (in this recipe) and sautee for just a few moments. You don’t want the garlic to burn.
  4. Add Flour and whisk immediately
  5. Add Dairy: Half and Half & Sour Cream – Heat until sauce thickens. (note: this may thicken quickly if it’s a small serving)
  6. Add Cheese to melt
--The above is your Quick and Easy White/Cheese Sauce--
  1. Add Salsa or Tomato Sauce
  2. Heat until slightly thickened again. It won’t get as thick as earlier.
  3. Transfer your cooked pasta to sauce pan and mix.
  4. Add Ricotta, Capers and Herbs to Pasta and mix again.
  5. Don’t forget to S&P to taste! 
There you have it…MMP-Mish Mash Pasta!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mac Attack!

So, ok, I eat a lot of pasta, as there is definitely a pattern in most of my posts. This post is no different, but I hope in this case, it will give you ideas on “Food to Go” or “Fast Food” for the whole family. It’s all about making something ahead of time, portioning it out and storing it for those meals to take to work, a snack for the kids after coming home from school or even late night eats.

I don’t think I have ever met anyone who doesn’t love one of the greatest comfort foods of all time, Mac & Cheese. Yeah, yeah, it’s not the healthiest food around, but if it’s in moderation, like all other things in life, indulging yourself every once in a while shouldn’t make you feel guilty.

About twice a year I make myself a “family sized” batch of homemade Mac & Cheese. I have this great recipe I found in Saveur Magazine many years ago and never looked at another recipe again (well that’s not entirely true).

Now you may be asking, since I am single why make so much for myself?

Well, the main reason is that I know that I can portion it and then store each portion in the freezer for when I have that cheesy craving in about 5 minutes. If I decide to take a portion to work, it will thaw by lunch time and I can nuke it for just 2-3 minutes.

That’s less time than if you made a box of the store bought “blue box” or a family sized portion of the frozen “orange box”! The only major difference is that you took one day out of a 6 month timeframe to prepare the dish that can last you several. And I must say, it still only takes about 40 minutes to prep and cook all together.

That is the great reward for planning out meals. BTW Did you all even know that you can freeze your Homemade Mac & Cheese? A 9X11 or 8X11 baking dish will yield about 8 to 10 servings and lasts me about 3, 4 or even 5 months. For Snack portions you may even get 12-14 servings! That’s why I only make 2 batches a year! But those with family members of 4 or more, I would suggest making 2-3 batches of Mac & Cheese, so then you will have plenty in the freezer for all that get the craving. If packaged properly in the freezer, it’s there for the taking in individual servings!

So here is my favorite Mac & Cheese recipe I always turn to…Obviously, you can omit the spicy spice and substitute whole milk for 2% or Heavy Cream to Half & Half or Light Cream. Try different cheeses like Gruyere, Emmentaler, mix different cheeses like Parmesan and Cheddar or Gorgonzola and Emmentaler, Gruyere or Cheddar, whatever your cheese taste buds desire.

So, in the recipe, you want to get Ditalini for the “Tube” Pasta, but it was not available for me at the time, so I used Conchigliette (baby shell pasta). If either types of pasta are not available, you can always use the good ole Elbow Macaroni standby or any other small pasta that the cheese sauce will stick to. Half sized rigatoni or even small penne will work too. But don’t go with the smallest of small pastas like Orzo or Farfamille as that would be way too dense and not work.

I also added some thinly sliced tomato on top, as this was a childhood favorite memory when my father/mother baked homemade Mac & Cheese for the fam. As the "tomato thief", I love that addition to my mac, the tomato adds a nice sweetness that you don’t expect with each bite.

So from the oven:

SAVEUR Macaroni and Cheese
This grown-up version of a childhood favorite is a great way to satisfy that deep-seated yearning for melted cheese.
  • 8 tbsp. butter
  • 6 tbsp. flour
  • 1⁄2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 3⁄4 cups hot milk
  • 4 cups grated cheddar
  • 1 lb. short macaroni, cooked
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh bread crumbs 
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Melt 6 tbsp. butter in a medium stainless-steel saucepan over low heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes (flour mixture must foam as it cooks, or sauce will taste of raw flour). Stir in cayenne and season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk in hot milk, 1/2 cup at a time, and cook, stirring, until sauce thickens. Reduce heat to low and stir in 2 cups of cheese. Cook, stirring, until cheese melts, about 2 minutes.
  2. Combine pasta and sauce in a large bowl, and season with salt. Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese over the bottom of a buttered 8" × 11" baking dish. Place one-third of the pasta in the baking dish, top with 1/2 cup of cheese, then repeat, layering pasta and cheese, ending with cheese, making three layers in all.
  3. Pour cream over assembled macaroni and cheese. Melt remaining butter in a skillet. Add bread crumbs, coat with melted butter, and sprinkle over macaroni and cheese. Bake until crust is golden, about 30 minutes. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving. 
IMPORTANT - Freezer Storage Options:

FULL BATCH OPTION: You can freeze the entire batch, but if you do, DO NOT BAKE!  Freeze pre-cooked!!!  When ready, take out for cooking, if in Glass/Pyrex, let the glass come to room temperature, if in metal, it is ok to put directly in oven.  Bake for approximately 40-50 minutes at 400 degrees, not 350 as stated above.

PORTION OPTION:  After baking, cool as per the original instructions, then put in refridgerator for 4 to 24 hours to set.  Then portion out the Batch and seal each serving in individual freezer bags.  If you have one of those vaccuum pack devices, even better!  When ready to eat, take a serving/portion and nuke for approx 5 minutes, even if frozen solid.  If the portions are smaller then I would say about 3 minutes in the nuke machine.  Nuke timing will depend on your Nuke Model.

I hope I have given you some ideas on planning and storage for at least one of the best comfort foods out there.  So, even for all of us that are single, it's ok to make a family batch of food, as long as you can portion and store it properly in the freezer for later eats!  Planning will save you time!!!