And after the gift buying and the gift wrapping comes the gift exchanging. Which is when someone either comes to your house or you go to theirs. Now I’ll admit that it doesn’t have to go that way – I’ve been known to drop my gifts off on someone’s front porch – but it’s a lot more fun to gather together this time of year, exchange wishes for all good things, and congratulate ourselves on having made it to a new page on the calendar.
This sort of hosting doesn’t necessarily mean giving people a meal, but you want to have something to go with that glass of wine or champagne. Those people shouldn’t be heading back out onto the road without something to muffle the alcohol. So the Kitchen Goddess has three treats you can make – ahead of time! – and have your friends and relatives thinking that you, too, must have Kitchen Royalty in your blood.
✸ Spiced Plum Soup – Note the absence of a temperature descriptor in the name of this item. That’s because you can serve it hot or cold. Either way, it’s elegant and equally delicious. And you can make it days ahead. You only want to give your guests a small serving, as this soup also has alcohol in it. In fact, it starts with a full bottle of red wine, but the alcohol from that cooks away; the smidge of alcohol from the Cointreau (or other orange liqueur) does not. This soup looks and tastes more holiday-spirited than any other item in my repertoire. Sophisticated, simple, and sublime. It’s the little black dress of holiday hors d’oeuvres.
✸ Gougères are traditional cheese puffs, usually made with either Emmenthal, Comté or Gruyère cheese. The great French chef, Daniel Boulud, makes his with Parmiggiano-Reggiano, which I think gives you license to use whichever cheese you prefer. And you there in the back of the room, shaking your head that you’ve never made French pastries and don’t intend to start now? Get a grip – these are easy to do. The Kitchen Goddess would not steer you wrong. You can make these delicacies and freeze them raw or cooked, so you’ll always want some in your freezer. The Kitchen Goddess served them in lieu of rolls at Thanksgiving – so chic. They’re unbelievably light and airy – barely crunchy on the outside, mildly eggy on the inside. Your guests will devour these little luxuries, so have plenty on hand.
Kitchen Goddess note: If those ideas don’t float your boat, take a look at a couple of past Kitchen Goddess hits that can be made ahead and are also sure to please.
✸ Those leftover bits of cheese hiding in your deli drawer? Put them to work in a batch of Fromage Fort – an anything-goes cheese spread that just needs about 20 minutes to come to room temperature.
✸ Any kind of pesto is great to have on hand, and they all freeze really well. But for the festive season, the Kitchen Goddess likes Artichoke Pesto, which will also last at least several days in the fridge. Of course, you’ll have to keep yourself from noshing on it, but that’s the risk you take...
Spiced Plum Soup
Adapted from The Silver Palate Basics Cookbook.
Serves 8-10 as a first course; 25-30 as 2-3-ounce “tastes.”
4 16-ounce cans of plums in syrup
1 750-milliliter bottle of Pinot Noir
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup triple sec (Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur)
grated zest of 2 lemons
Garnish: crème fraîche, light sour cream, Greek yogurt, or some combination thereof; mint sprigs
Drain the plums, reserving the liquid. Use your fingers to remove the pits, then transfer the pitted plums to a medium saucepan and add back the canned syrup.
Stir in the wine, spices, and sugar, and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer the mixture, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
Transfer the soup to a blender and purée 1-2 minutes, until quite smooth. If you worry that any bits of plum remain unblended, strain the mixture through a sieve.
Add the liqueur and lemon zest and stir well. Refrigerate – if serving cold. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche, light sour cream, Greek yogurt, or some combination thereof, and a sprig of mint (if you have it).
Serving suggestions: To up the elegance factor, the Kitchen Goddess likes to serve this soup as a first course in balloon wine glasses. When it’s an hors d’oeuvre, she passes it in 2-ounce shot glasses on a tray.
Kitchen Goddess note: And now... It’s not hard to make gougères. Maybe you’ll be nervous the first time. The KG was – the first time. The second time? Piece of cake... er, pastry. But it takes the KG a long time to explain because she really wants you to be successful at it. So be patient, read this recipe all the way through, and give it a try.
Parmesan GougèresAdapted from Daniel Boulud’s Cooking in New York City.
Makes 6-7 dozen.
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into eighths, then each of those into quarters
1 cup cold water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
1½ cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour, sifted
6 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon paprika
dash of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons milk
special equipment: wooden spoon, pastry brush, baker’s parchment
Preheat the oven to 400º. Move a rack to the center of the oven. Cut parchment paper to fit two half-sheet rimmed baking pans.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the water, salt, and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, immediately remove the mixture from the heat and add the flour all at once, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth. Return the pan over high heat and continue stirring vigorously for about 2 minutes as the dough cooks. (This 2 minutes is the hardest part; try to find someone who will relieve you in the vigorous stirring after one minute.) After 2 minutes, the dough should come together in a smooth mass and the bottom of the pot will be coated with a thin crust.
Transfer the dough to a standing mixer with a paddle attachment. Beat at medium-low speed, adding the eggs one at a time (!), and beating well after each is added. Stir in the grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, nutmeg, and paprika, and add a dash of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Kitchen Goddess note: For any pastry, the most important element is the ratio of flour to moisture. I find that the trickiness factor is almost eliminated if (1) you can find a scale and get the exact amount of flour measured, and (2) use large eggs – not medium, not extra-large. And for this pastry dough, it’s important to be sure that each egg is fully incorporated into the batter before adding the next one. At first, the batter will tend to separate and look curdled as each egg is added. Relax and keep beating – it’ll come back together.
You have three choices for forming the gougères: (1) If you have a pastry bag and are accomplished at using it, pipe the dough into ¾ round mounds, using a ½-inch round tip. (2) If you want to pipe it but don’t have a pastry bag, spoon the dough into a zip-lock baggie with a half-inch corner cut. Or (3), go the Kitchen Goddess way – because piping is not a KG talent – using 2 spoons. Use the first spoon to dig out a blob of dough about the size of a walnut; take the second spoon to roll the blob gently onto the baking sheet (covered with parchment, of course!). In all cases, your aim is to get little ball-shaped mounds about ¾ inch in diameter, set 2 inches apart. Then with wet fingertips, lightly smooth away any points on the tops of the mounds. Before putting the pans in the oven, brush the tops with milk and sprinkle on additional grated cheese.
Bake in the center of the oven at 400º for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375º and bake another 20 minutes. The little puffs will get over-brown if given the chance, so until you know how your oven performs, keep an eye out for the last 5 minutes. The gougères are done when they are puffed and golden brown. Transfer the finished puffs to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.
|Yes, these are small sheet pans. The KG uses them because they allow her to bake her gougères a dozen at a time and thereby keep a constant supply of warm puffs emerging from the kitchen.|
The best way to store gougères is to form the raw mounds on a baking sheet and stick the sheet into the freezer. Once the dough is frozen solid, lift the mounds off the sheet and pack them airtight in plastic bags. And there’s no need to thaw them before baking; just add an extra couple of minutes in the oven.
If you have leftovers, lay them out on a baking sheet; cover the sheet with plastic wrap and freeze until the gougères are firm. Store the frozen gougères in sturdy plastic bags, where they’ll keep for several months. Reheat them at 350º on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 6-8 minutes.
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, December 2004.
Makes about 1½ cups.
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups water
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 leek, rinsed well and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 lemon, sliced
6 ounces king salmon filet
2 ounces crème fraîche (can substitute sour cream, light sour cream, or a crème fraîche/sour cream combo)
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 mounded teaspoon capers, drained
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine the wine and water in a deep skillet with a lid. Add the celery, onion, leek, peppercorns, bay leaf, and lemon. Simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes.
Add the salmon, cover the pot, remove it from the heat and let it stand for 10-15 minutes.
Remove the salmon from the marinade and chill it in the refrigerator. Discard the marinade.
Transfer the salmon and remaining ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve with a basket of crostini or crackers, or pipe into trimmed endive leaves with a garnish of dill sprig.
CrostiniAnd in case you are curious as to how the KG makes her crostini, here you go:
Slice a baguette of French bread in pieces about ⅜ inch wide. (The Kitchen Goddess likes to slice hers at an angle to the loaf, but that’s just for show. No one – least of all her husband, who is frequently tasked with the slicing – knows why.) Place them on a large, rimmed sheet pan, and run them under the broiler for about 1 minute. Turn them over and run them under the broiler for about 30 seconds. Take a large clove of raw garlic and rub it lightly across the surface of the half-cooked side, then lightly brush olive oil across that side as well. Return the crostini to the broiler for 25-30 seconds, depending on how dark you like them to be. Let them cool, then store in large zip-lock plastic bags. They should keep for at least a week.
Happy holidays, everyone!