Sautéed Mushrooms

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I happen to adore mushrooms. But I remember the days when they appalled me, mostly because they tasted like dirt. Unfortunately, my mother picked a lot of mushrooms in her foraging days, and I missed out on all of that!

Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m now a proud mushroom lover. For the blog I’ve topped a warmed brie with sautéed mushrooms, prepared crepes filled with mushroom duxelles, added mushrooms to a savory bread pudding, and topped toasts with creamy mushrooms. They obviously can be used in so many ways.

Although I’m not much of a steak eater myself, I will enjoy one with my husband when I plan on topping the filet mignons with sautéed mushrooms. There is just something magical in that combination.

So much can be done with sautéed mushrooms, by using wine or cognac, bacon grease or duck fat, herbs, spices, demi-glace… and when you enjoy a perfectly cooked steak topped with perfectly cooked mushrooms you feel like you’re dining in a 5-star restaurant.


I buy whole mushrooms and peel them with a small knife before slicing. I don’t trust the pre-sliced variety.

Here’s what I do.

Sautéed Mushrooms
Enough for four steaks

4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper
2 – 3 shallots, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons cognac
1/2 cup flavorful broth mixed with
1 teaspoon beef demi-glace and warmed
1 – 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
Salt to taste

Place 3 tablespoons of butter in a hot skillet or wok over high heat. Add the mushroom slices and season with the garlic pepper. Stirring or flipping frequently, sauté them until browned. Using this high heat technique, much less fat is required and more browning occurs.

Remove the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside. This step can be done way ahead of cooking the steaks.

Meanwhile, prepare the steaks and place them on a rack to rest. Cover lightly with foil.

Add the remaining butter to the cast-iron skillet that the steaks were cooked in, and sauté the shallots gently, adjusting the heat accordingly. You don’t want too much caramelization.

Return the mushrooms to the skillet, along with any juices that might be in the bowl. Then over fairly high heat add the cognac and flambé the mushrooms. Shake the skillet gently until the flames subside.


At this point add the broth and demi-glace mixture. Stir well and let reduce a bit.

The mushrooms should be nice and glazed. Add the parsley, thyme, and season with white pepper, if using, and salt.

Serve immediately over filet mignons or your choice of steak.

You can use part wine and part stock if you prefer, and if you prefer garlic over shallots, use them, just don’t sauté them for more than 30 seconds.

If you don’t like the liquid, you can always quickly remove the mushrooms, add a little Wondra flour, and make a quick “gravy” with a whisk. I prefer the broth.

Furthermore, a little heavy cream or creme fraiche can be added for extra decadence!

Enjoy.

Stéphane’s Calamari in Red Sauce

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When I first met Stéphane, it was April of 2014. My daughter and I visited him for an action-packed four days in southwestern France.

If you’re not familiar with Stéphane Gabart, he is the author of My French Heaven, the beautiful blog that emanates his love for all things food, wine, and France. You immediately grasp his passion and joie de vivre through his stunning photography.

His business, which he has secretly told me is more fun than work, is called Your French Heaven, because one can basically customize a visit. In our case, my daughter and I went mostly, not surprisingly, for the food experience.

We visited a different farmers’ market every day, so that he could cook fabulous meals for us. Can you imagine! Four farmers’ markets in close proximity to your home?!! Not to mention bakeries and patisseries!

Because my daughter is a pescatarian, we ate a lot of seafood, which was wonderful!

Of course Stéphane also had the perfect wines, champagnes, Lillet, and Sauternes.

And bread and cheese, of course.

I’d include photos of the countryside we visited, along with castles, villages, fortresses, vineyards, and even a brocante, because we did do much more than eat, but I need to keep this post about Stéphane and the calamari he prepared one evening for my daughter and I. These are photos from that visit. I’ve never had calamari quite like it.

It’s calamari rings, sautéed, flambéed, then cooked in a red sauce until the sauce is deep and rich. The sunshine beaming down on the calamari just make them glow!

Here’s the recipe, as generously emailed to me by Stéphane.

Calamari Rings in Red Sauce

Sear bacon, shallots and onions in a cast iron pot.

In another skillet, sauté the calamari in olive oil. Flambé with cognac.

You then dump your seafood in the pot and add your bouquet garni. Add 125g of tomato paste for each pound of fish.

Darken the sauce on medium heat and wet it as you go along with a big glass of white wine.

When your sauce is dark enough, you add fish stock to level. Let the whole thing boil on low heat for a good 2 hours, adding liquid as needed.

When the sauce has reduced enough, add some garlic, a pinch of paprika and some cayenne pepper.

Let it all simmer very slowly for about 15 minutes and adjust your seasoning.

Then thicken your sauce with a bit of white roux.

And voila!

I made this calamari dish for Christmas eve, served with white rice.

It was exquisite.

Merci, mon ami!

 

 

Crispy Beet Risotto

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My husband and I were dining with friends in Colorado recently, at a restaurant called Justice Snow’s in Aspen. It was quite bustling and busy, which means that for me, it was loud and everyone had to yell to be heard.

I was very excited about the menu, however, and without hesitation I ordered trout. Our friend ordered the roasted chicken served with crispy beet risotto, english peas, charred turnips, carrots, spiced yogurt, and ver jus.

While enjoying our cocktails, we talked at length about how the beets were prepared “crispy” in the risotto, but all of our profound thoughts were put to rest when he got his meal. The beet risotto was made crispy by frying it like a cake. Fortunately I got to taste it, and I knew then I wanted to make it at home.

It was especially tempting to recreate because I’ve never used beets in a risotto, and I thought I’d used about all vegetables, from carrots to pumpkin to zucchini and tomato. It’s probably because my husband doesn’t eat beets, and he’s the big risotto eater in our family.
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So here’s what I did. If you need a more complete risotto tutorial, check our my mushroom risotto. It’s similar to this one because it uses bits of things as well as special liquid – in this case – beet juice.
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Crispy Beet Risotto

Whole beets from a can, about 5-6 small
Reserved beet juice, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely choppped
1 1/4 cup risotto rice, like arborio or carnaroli
White or red wine, about 1/3 cup
Chicken Broth, about 1 cup
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan
Salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste
Olive oil, for frying

Drain the whole beets and save the juice.

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Then finely chop the beets into bits and set aside.

Begin the risotto by heating the olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for a few minutes, then add the rice.

Stir well until all of the rice grains are coated with oil. Add the wine and stir until the wine is absorbed. Adjust the heat so there’s simmmering but no burning. Then gradually add 1/4 cup or so of chicken broth and stir until it’s absorbed, and repeat with the remaining broth.

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At this point, add amount of beet juice that suits you; I used about 1/4 cup.

After a few minutes, add the beet bits.

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Continue to stir gently. Once just about alll of the liquid is absorbed, add the cream and cheese. Stir to combine, then set the risotto to cool slightly.

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The cakes can be made free-form, but I used a 3 1/2″ ring. Smaller cakes would be really pretty for a dinner party, because they could be re-heated.

Heat a little olive oil (or butter) to a flat skillet. Add some risotto to fill the ring and cook over fairly high heat to get the risotto crispy.

Gently turn over the risotto cake and brown/crisp the other side. This was much more difficult than I anticipated. Although I used a small amount of cheese in this risotto, it was probably still too much and created some sticking in the skillet.

I served the risotto cake with a filet of salmon and roasted Brussels sprouts, just for the spectacular colors!

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Just for fun I added a little Mexican crema to the risotto cake, and sprinkled some chopped chives on top.


In spite of my problems cooking the cakes, they cut into bite-sized pieces nicely, and were delicious.
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If you don’t want to bother making the cakes, I can honestly state that this is one of the best risottos I’ve ever made! And it’s not overwhelmingly beety.

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note: In my memory of our friend’s crispy beet risotto, I think the risotto “cake” was white, with bits of beets. What the chef probably did was omit the beet juice, and add the beet bits at the very last minute before crispig the cakes. Personally, I don’t mind the bright magenta color, and the beet juice probably added more flavor. But if you don’t want hot fuschia risotto cakes, do leave out the beet juice and use some more broth instead.

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Risotto with Bacon and Peas

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When I prepare meat, it’s usually for my husband.  I don’t dislike meat, I just prefer avocados, and fish.  I even eat tofu.  On a special occasion I will certainly enjoy a good filet with my guy, but it’s just too heavy for me.

So this lovely spring risotto with peas and a little bacon is a perfect meal for me.  For my husband it’s a side dish!

But however you eat it, it’s  a great risotto.  Make sure you use a really good bacon.
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Risotto with Bacon and Peas

8 ounces bacon, diced
3 shallots, diced
1 1/2 cups risotto rice, like arborio or carnaroli
White wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Heavy cream
8 ounces frozen petite peas, thawed
5-6 ounces grated Parmesan

Cook the bacon over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet.

When it’s cooked, spoon it out of the bacon grease using a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.

Pour about 2 tablespoons of the hot grease into a pot to make the risotto. Add the shallots and sauté them in the bacon grease until soft, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice until every grain is coated with the grease. Stir for about a minute.

Then add a big splash of wine and stir the rice until the wine is absorbed. Then proceed with adding a little of the broth at a time, always stirring until it gets absorbed by the rice.

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After adding all of the stock, add a little cream a few times and stir well.

After about 30 minutes, the risotto should be cooked and stop absorbing liquid. At this point stir in the peas, bacon and Parmesan. Stir gently to combine and let heat through.

 

Serve immediately. You can always serve extra Parmesan as well.

I used no seasoning in this risotto to let the flavors shine. But you should taste it for salt and pepper definitely.

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I added a tarragon sprig from my plant that has fortunately returned to my garden this spring.

If you want seasoning, I would recommend nutmeg or white pepper. Or both!
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Now doesn’t this look like a perfect spring meal?! With a little white wine of course!

Je ne sais quoi

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I’m sure you’ve heard the French expression “je ne sais quoi,” that something you just can’t put your finger on, that something not easily described. That is the country of France to me – my favorite European country.

Experiencing French culture requires an open-mind and adventurous spirit. And if you need help to embrace everything French, you need to visit Stéphane Gabart of My French Heaven, who lives in Libourne, outside of Bordeaux. His business is customizing culinary tours in France. And that includes him cooking for you in his lovely home!

I have two posts on my blog about visiting Stéphane with my daughter in 2014, here and here. Because of my wonderful experience last year, I knew I would be visiting Stéphane again. And I did.

Last month, my girlfriend Gabriella and I visited Stéphane for 8 fun-filled days. My friend had been to Paris, but she’d never experienced French villages, which is to me quintessential France. The hamlets with the cobble-stoned alleyways, the little bakeries, tucked-away restaurants, and the farmers’ markets. Oh, and also the vineyards and the chateaux and the castles.


What I love about having Stéphane as a personal guide and chef is that you can plan exactly what you want to do and eat. Days spent with Stéphane are called his foodie days. You plan what you want to eat, go to the market with him, and then watch him do all the work! You can choose half days as well, but if you did, you’d miss out on Stéphane’s great humor and joie de vivre.

But your visit doesn’t have to only be about food. For one thing, there are Stéphane’s artistic photography skills. Whether you’re passionate about photography, or only own an iPhone, I can attest that his expertise is inspirational. Look at his blog and you’ll see what I mean.

And, there is sightseeing, of course. You can travel with him to any area of your choice. My husband and I have already booked a trip with Stéphane to Provence. My husband is my favorite traveling partner, but he has hesitated coming with me to visit Stéphane because he thought Stéphane and I would force him to eat foie gras and snails! But the trips are custom-designed for exactly what you want to experience!

Gabriella and I spent a day in Cap Ferret and Arcachon on the Atlantic coast, and also a few days in the Dordogne region. To show you the variety of our daily activities, check out our travel itinerary here!

So why do I love France, you ask? Je ne sais quoi!

I mean, we have doors in the USA also.


And we have roses.


We have cheese.

There’s produce at our stores and markets.

And of course we have food…

Obviously I’m being tongue-in-cheek here. I’m not trying to compare what we have in the states to France, because there is no comparison. It’s not that only good food and wine is available in France. But to walk into an abbey from 4 A.D., to visit a village built in the 14th century, and to gaze upon a chateau from the 15th century – such as Chateau Filolie in the featured photo – is to experience what I love about Europe. The food and wine only add to the experience!

Merci, Stéphane! (that is obviously my look of pure bliss!)
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Growing Up Foodie

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With my grandmother at her home in Charmes-la-Côte, France

With my grandmother at her home in Charmes-la-Côte, France

Growing up, I lived an interesting foodie life, without realizing it. I didn’t love much of anything in the early years; it took years to cultivate my taste buds. But compared to other American youngsters, the gastronomic history of my life is fairly unique.

One reason why my upbringing was different than others born in the 50’s is that my mother is French. She came to the U.S. a couple of years before I was born, bringing with her a cultured palate, kitchen savvy, and a great knowledge of growing and harvesting.

During my early years, when we lived in Carmel, California, my mother taught French to American students for some extra money. One student rewarded her with a giant, hardback Betty Crocker cookbook. I doubt she opened it up more than once. Understandably, she didn’t have much of an appreciation for American cooking or for its measurement system. This was at a time when Americans were making some major changes in the way they prepared and presented food. This was also the beginning of the frozen dinner and fast food phase, which fortunately my mother never embraced.

Being that my mother is a bit on the stubborn side, she did not change her ways. She cooked how she was taught to cook, and how she wanted to feed us. Being that it was California, fresh produce was fortunately abundant, and my mother’s garden flourished.

I remember fresh artichokes, avocados, persimmons, and pomegranates at a young age. And I picked oranges, lemons, and kumquats right off of our trees.

Plus, Carmel had a wonderful deli called Mediterranean Market right on Ocean Avenue, and so we never lacked for various charcuterie, German sausages, and stinky cheeses.

Then we moved to north central California. Occasional day trips to San Francisco piqued my mother’s curiosity about Asian cuisines. She loved Chinatown, and would bring home Chinese candies that were gelatinous cubes wrapped in plastic. When you put them in your mouth, the plastic would dissolve! There were also pastel-colored plastic chips, that when deep fried, would bubble up similar to Cheetos, except that they were fishy. And, addicting.

But her fascination with all things Asian was why my mother got a little crazy when we moved to Seattle, Washington. Somehow she became good friends with Mrs. Chin, who had a grocery store at the famous Pike’s Place market. (I loved going to Mrs. Chin’s place because it was right next door to a German deli where I’d always get a slice of black forest cake.)

Mrs. Chin was tiny, adorably chubby, and I couldn’t understand a word she said. But she and my mother were two peas in a pod.

Soon after moving to Seattle my mother became a certified scuba diver. So she and Mrs. Chin struck up a deal. In exchange for cooking lessons, my mother supplied Mrs. Chin with sea cucumbers. They are a Chinese delicacy, so this was quite a coup for Mrs. Chin.

My mother and I both tasted one once. The texture was that of a shoe sole, but I don’t remember the flavor. Figuring as I was about ten or so, I probably spat it out and made a big fuss. But I remember that my Mom was not very fond of it, either. Here’s a picture of one on the sea floor. They’re not very attractive.

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So my mother collected these sea animals in the Puget Sound for Mrs. Chin, and took cooking lessons. Mind you, these lessons were not about stir-frying meat and vegetables and putting them all together over rice with a little soy sauce. This was intense, authentic Chinese cooking.

Mrs. Chin had published a cookbook, as well. My mother collected woks, spoons, bowls, sieves, steamers, cleavers… but then we moved again.

We left the Northwest and moved to the Northeast – Long Island, to be specific. We lived in a somewhat rural area across the bay from Cold Spring Harbor. The beach was pretty there on one end, but of course to my mother, it was an opportunity to catch fish and shellfish on the walled end of the bay. She built her own crab trap, of course.

One day, Mom came home with a giant eel. By this time I was about 13, and I was mortified just seeing it. Without thinking, my mother chopped the head off and stuck the neck of the eel in a vice grip. Mind you, it was still wiggling. I’m pretty sure it was about 6 feet long, without its head. My mother propped one foot on the counter next to the vice grip, and with pliers, proceeded to skin this monstrous thing. And, we had eel for dinner. Tasted like chicken.

During the summer months on Long Island my mother foraged the nearby river and local hills for anything edible. We called her our “Euell Gibbons,” who probably no one remembers except Americans my age or older.

My mother picked different species of mushrooms for fabulous omelets, harvested watercress from the river for salads, made shakes from wild strawberries, picked dandelions for making wine, and countless other things – some of which I’ve probably blocked from my memory. She also stirred up interesting herbal concoctions that cured everything from rashes to stomach aches.

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The worst experience for me, however, was when she cooked Tiger Lilies – yes, the flower. This was one of her Asian dishes. I can still remember the texture of them. To this day, I can’t look at Tiger Lilies. I won’t even plant them. And, I’ve never had a zucchini blossom as a result. I know, they’re a delicacy, but so were tiger lilies, supposedly. That’s the last weird thing my mother ever cooked. (My husband has a different story to tell!)

Interspersed throughout my formative years were times I spent in France. My food memories from there are vivid. I loved “Les Petits Suisses,” and the fabulous bread and real butter. I remember the sweetness of just picked cherries and Mirabelles and the smell of wild onions in the woods. I remember walking to the little shops with my grandmother – first buying bread, then buying cream and cheese, then buying chocolate. It was the daily ritual.

The French unpasteurized milk from back in the day also had an impact on me – it’s one of the reasons why I love canned evaporated milk – they smell exactly the same. It’s probably also why I fell in love with cafe au lait.

The first beer I ever drank was in France. (I was older then.) It was called Champigneule, or something like that. I later learned it was the Budweiser of French beer, but I had it with a crusty baguette with le jambon et beurre, while waiting for a train, and it was delicious. It was years before I drank a beer again. Needless to say I didn’t attend college keg parties. But American beer just didn’t taste the same. Just like that incredible wine that you have on a picnic, that doesn’t taste as good in your dining room a week later. Someone I knew once called this “experiential wine.” It’s not just the flavor of the wine you’re tasting, but the whole experience. That was my beer.

Speaking of wine, I also drank my first glass of wine in France. My mother never kept beer and wine from us, it’s just that no one was a big drinker in my family. I personally didn’t like the taste of anything alcoholic.

My mother used to make Baba au Rum, and Crepes Suzettes, which are incredible French desserts, but I couldn’t eat them. She also loved to make brandied fruit in her Rumtopf pot and serve it over ice cream, but that also was too strong for me.

But it was during dinner at my mother’s family home in France where I had my first glass of wine! I announced that it was very good, and my aunt got mad because I had accidentally drunk the everyday wine – le vin du maison – instead of the wine for guests. I can’t even imagine how good that must have been! I still remember the meal. There was a first course, a choice of meat and fish entrée, followed by the salad, and then the cheese platter. The meal lasted what seemed like days to me. Now I treasure leisurely meals, of course!

When I was in high school we moved west to Utah. My mother once again kicked into high gear, resurrecting her love of all things Chinese. Our kitchen smelled like an Asian grocery store, and my mother began testing all of her Chinese culinary expertise on us. Me, with my yet undeveloped palate, my sister with a more sophisticated palate but much less patience as she was older, and my step-father who wanted nothing more than to leave the table and not talk to anyone.

But what I got to experience were unforgettable dishes. Wintermelon soup, steamed buns with pork filling, whole cooked fish with vegetables, chicken in fermented black bean sauce, and so much more.

The Chinese hot pot nights were really fun. My mother had a heat-proof table custom made just so we could hot pot! A hot pot is essentially an angel food cake pan over a bed of coals. The seasoned broth goes into the angel food pan, and the hole in the middle serves as the chimney for the coals. This thing got hot. Here’s a picture of one.

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My mother would put out serving platters of thinly sliced meats, fish, and seafood. There were whisked eggs, veggies, green onions, and sauces. You used special bamboo tongs to collect what you want to eat and place it in a sieve, then place the sieve in the boiling broth. You’d put what you wanted into the bowl of broth in front of you, like some egg and a sauce, then empty the sieve into your bowl. You would add more goodies, season more, eat, and do it all over again. It was like fondue, only Chinese.

During these years when I was still at home, my mother would also cook a different country’s cuisine often. She explored Indian food, Ethiopian food, even Russian food. I thought everyone ate Coulibiac and Doro Wat, and Rojan Josh.

At 17 I went off to college, and had to make my way feeding myself. It would be way easier to say that my French mother had taught me how to cook, but she really didn’t. I knew how to make crepes, I’d helped make brioche and croissants, and I knew how to clean shrimp, but that’s about all. My mother always chased us out of the kitchen while she was cooking. She needed to concentrate.

The most important thing I learned from my mother, however, is that no matter what you’re cooking, use the best, freshest, and highest-quality ingredients. My mother never ever took shortcuts. There was no onion dip powder, cake mix, no bottled or canned this or that. This probably explains why I have to make everything from scratch.

Once I got married, I taught myself how to cook. Without realizing it at the time, all of the years of being introduced to different foods from around the world definitely benefited me. I knew what good food tasted like, even if I hadn’t cooked it yet. And I was familiar with a lot of non-traditional ingredients.

I’m not nearly the cook my mother once was. I don’t have the patience, for one thing, and I don’t have the artistic flair. She was also a perfectionist in the kitchen. My mother would never add a tomato to a salad without first peeling it. And if I have company, I’d much rather throw something together before-hand and have fun with my guests than be in the kitchen fretting. That’s just me.

But looking back at my childhood at all of my foodie experiences, and at all of our travels, I lived quite a food-rich life. It’s no wonder I am and always will be obsessed with great food. But I must honor my mother for introducing me to all of that lovely food along the way, and for all of her hard work in the kitchen. All of my experiences growing up inspired me to be the best home cook I could be.

Gougère Tart

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You’ve all probably heard of gougères – those fabulous bite-sized, savory choux puffs that are a Burgundian French classic.

The problem is, I’ve never been able to make these for a get-together of any kind at my house, or when I catered either, because they’re really only good just out of the oven. Similar to a soufflé, they will deflate, so they’re not as pretty, and even if they’re kept warm, the texture will change.

I present to you another gougères option, more easily served as a first course or even as part of a lunch; thin slices can be served as hors d’oeuvres as well.


This version utilizes the same dough and cheese, but it’s a whole tart, and not individual puffs. There’s no outside crust that dries out, and the inside stays nice and moist. The dough will deflate a little after the tart is out of the oven, but the tart itself maintains its integrity, so you can let it cool a little, slice and serve.

If you’ve never made a choux dough before, don’t worry. It’s not as involved as making something like a dough for croissants. All you need is a strong arm, in fact, because there is a lot of stirring involved. I’m pretty sure you can make the dough in a stand mixer, but I make it the old-fashioned way.

My husband actually remembers the last time I made this tart, which proves how memorable it is. And I hadn’t come across the recipe till recently. You can see by the stains how many times I used it. I’d love to credit the source, but I looked online and found nothing. I think it’s funny on the recipe card that I actually changed the ingredient amounts not just once, but twice. But there’s no mention of the pan I used. Since I wasn’t sure which column was the one to follow, I went with the numbers on the very left.

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As with classically-shaped gougères, the secret to this gougère tart is the cheese. Really good Gruyère – diced as well as grated for this tart.

Gougère Tart

3/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup, or approximately 5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon butter
1 cup white flour
4 eggs, at room temperature, broken into a small bowl
7 ounces diced Gruyère
2 1/2 ounces grated Gruyère
1 egg mixed with 1/8 teaspoon of salt

Turn the oven to 375 degrees.

Generously butter a 10″ tart pan; a pan with a removable bottom is not necessary.
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Have all of your ingredients on hand, and read the recipe through before you begin.
Begin by melting the butter into the milk in a medium saucepan.
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Add the flour, and vigorously stir the mixture for about one minute over the lowest possible heat.

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It will look similar to a roux – kind of crumbly.
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Let the pan cool slightly, then beat in one egg at a time, beating vigorously. There should be no heat involved any more.
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By the time the second egg is added and incorporated, you can see the dough getting smoother.

When you add the fourth egg, don’t beat it in completely. Then add 2/3 of the diced Gruyère and stir to just combine.

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Plop the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth. Then coat the top with the egg wash.

Add the remaining diced cheese as well as the grated, and place the tart in the oven; I put my pan on a baking sheet for easier handling.

Bake for 35 minutes. You will see it rise in the oven as it puffs up.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. It should be set enough to slice easily after just about 5 minutes. The tart is cheesy, but it’s also bready.

I enjoyed my slice without even a green salad on the side. Mostly because I couldn’t wait. But it would be fabulous with a salad of tomatoes or spring greens, and it would certainly be delicious served as a first course, just a matter of minutes out of the oven.

This gougère tart would pair perfectly with a light fruity red, or a pinot grigio. No white that is too tart or too oaky.

Beef Cheeks

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So what are beef cheeks?

You know how some people say that if you don’t want to know the answer to a question.. don’t ask?

Well, beef cheeks are just that – cheeks from cows’ heads. Or would that be faces?

Surprisingly, the other day at the grocery store, I came across beef cheeks, and I’d never cooked them before. I’ve had them at restaurants – I think most often as an hors d’oeuvre. So it was time to try them out as a main course.

They’re a very tough piece of meat, so braising was the only way to go. So here’s what I did.

Wine-Braised Beef Cheeks

Beef cheeks, about 3 pounds
1 bottle of good red wine – you’ll be using it in the braising liquid
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely sliced
A few bay leaves
Sprig of rosemary
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons paprika paste
Salt, to taste

Place the cheeks in a large, non-reactive bowl. add the wine, onion, rosemary, and garlic. Then cover everything with the bottle of wine. Refrigerate overnight, for at least 12 hours.

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The next day, remove the cheeks and lay them on paper towels to dry. Pour the marinade through a sieve and set it aside; discard the onion and other goodies.
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Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Cut up the cheeks into workable pieces, then season them on both sides with salt and pepper. Brown the cheeks, about 2 minutes on both sides, without crowding them.
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Set the browned cheeks on a plate, and continue with the remaining pieces. Then lower the heat to medium and add the onion, celery, and carrot. Saute the vegetables for 5 minutes.

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Stir in the garlic and saute for just a minute. Then add the remaining marinade, and the beef broth. Reduce the mixture by about half.

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When the liquid has reduced, stir in the tomato paste and the paprika paste.

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Return the cheeks to the pot, including any liquid that might have accumulated on the plate, and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer the cheeks for about 2 1/2 hours. Turn the pieces over about halfway through the cooking time – especially if they’re not completely submerged in the liquid.

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Remove the lid from the pot, and let everything cool down. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the cheeks and slice them thinly. You can strain the liquid in the pot to remove the aromatics, but I left them as is. Place the cheek slices in the liquid and heat slowly until heated through. Taste the liquid and add salt, if necessary.

I served the cheek slices on top of cheesy polenta, topped with some of the braising liquid. Alternatively, you could also strain the braising liquid and make more of a gravy with it, but I preferred a more rustic presentation.
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If you need a recipe for making polenta, which are also grits (they’re both cornmeal), there’s a recipe here and one here.

The combination was really fantastic. And I enjoyed beef cheeks as a main course. They’re almost like beef tongue, but much softer. They were also very inexpensive.

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Claret Cup

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Recently I was talking to my husband and mentioned that I thought it was silly for food bloggers to post about smoothies. I mean, you really don’t need a recipe for a smoothie, and besides – it’s just a drink.

And then he reminded me that I post cocktails on my blog. Touché! But, in my defense – they’re cocktails. They’re important. We don’t drink smoothies when it’s five o’clock somewhere.

So this recipe is for a cocktail called a Claret Cup I’m using from this Gourmet compendium cookbook.
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I googled the name claret cup because I had a feeling it was a very old-fashioned drink, and indeed it is. It was fashionable in England in the 1800’s, in fact. Furthermore, according to this fabulous website, called The Art of Drink, there is a “striking resemblance” to Pimm’s Cup, which I made here on my blog.

The drink eventually made it to the U.S., then died down in popularity. Maybe I’ll start a new trend?

The recipe in the Best of Gourmet cookbook calls for 2 bottles of wine. Specifically, claret. Since I was only making the drink for two, I opted for 2 cups of wine, and adjusted the recipe accordingly. I hope. Unfortunately, unless I make the punch for a crowd, I’ll never quite know what it’s supposed to taste like.

I chose a Shiraz, but tasted it on its own and was not impressed. If you don’t like inferior wine, don’t buy this Layer Cake Shiraz.

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Claret Cup

2 cups red wine, preferably from the Bordeaux region of France
1 1/2 ounces orange liqueur
1 1/2 ounces crème de cassis
1 ounce ruby port (the original recipe listed tawny port)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sweetened lime juice, purchased
Bubbly water

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In a small pitcher, pour in the red wine. Then add the orange liqueur and crème de cassis. Measure the port and add that to the wine mixture.
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Then stir in the lemon juice and sweetened lime juice. Stir and taste. You could always add some superfine sugar if you think it’s not sweet enough, or a little more port.

Pour some into and glass and top with bubbly water of your choice. San Pellegrino comes to mind, but I used bubbly water made from my Sodastream machine. I used about 2/3 wine mixture and 1/3 bubbly water.
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Serve with a slice of lemon.
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Alternatively, chill the wine mixture and the bubbly water first, and then serve cold, or forget the bubbly water and just serve this over ice. It would be very refreshing this way.

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verdict: This claret cup is very different in flavor from a Pimm’s cup, but there are some sweet and fruity similarities. Using this recipe exactly, I thought it came out really well – more like a sangria – because it’s essentially sweetened wine. You could really play with the liqueurs and make it more raspberry using Chambord, or make it more orange using Grand Marnier or another orange liqueur. But this drink is good. I seriously wouldn’t make it as a punch, just because of the spillage potential of this really red drink!