Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Heavens to Betsy and Sakes Alive! Today I've expanded my culinary repertoire. Today. I made pate choux for the very first time. What's pate choux you ask? It's that heavenly substance that acts as the backbone to eclairs, cream puffs and profiteroles. In my naivete I thought it was culinary magic - stuff requiring the special chef's secret handshake - to make. Today, I've discovered that handshake and it's just a technique and a little exercise in chemistry. And it's not nearly as impossible as I thought it would be. Follow me on my journey, if you will....

The journey begins shortly after Christmas. A lovely friend visited from Seattle and brought with her incredibly generous gifts: Coffee of the Gods and the French Laundry-ad Hoc at Home cookbook collection. These came with one caveat: I was to make Gruyere Gougeres. *gasp!* Those require the making of choux. Something I've never ever considered doing before. However I was up for the challenge...especially given I've been waiting for an excuse since seeing Alton Brown do it.

However I did not head forth alone. No, I enlisted the help of some old friends: Joy of Cooking and Larousse Gastronomique. What food nerd house would be complete without both of them? Certainly not mine. I researched the recipes and saw that all choux recipes are nearly the same, with minor diviations. Not completely unexpected. And somewhat reassuring.

So armed with knowledge and books in front of me I began to build my ingredients.

  • 1 cup water
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter (I cut them into ~1 teaspoon slices to make melting easier)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups finely grated gruyere
Next I preheated the oven to 450F and placed parchment paper over my cookie sheets. I only own one silpat, and it looks like parchment paper is more convenient for this recipe.

Following the instructions I placed the water, butter, salt and sugar in an 8 quart saucepan then gently heated the mixture until the butter melted. According to Larousse, if everything is heated before the fat melts, bad things happen.

After the butter melt I turned up the heat to bring it to a boil. At the moment of boil I dumped in all the flour at once and mixed with a wooden spoon. It's important to not use a metal spoon or other mixing implement because metal conducts heat and you want this mixture to cool quickly.

Almost immediately the mixture formed a ball. Following instructions I mixed the ball around in the pan for 2 minutes at the lowest heat setting on my stove.

I then transfered the ball to my stand mixer (losing just a bit to the dog/floor in the process) and mixed on low for about a minute to cool the mixture. Larousse states that the mixture must be cool or the eggs will cook prematurely leading to bad things. After about a minute I added the eggs, one at a time until incorporated. Then kicked up the mixer to high and let it go about 2-5 minutes, until I got a thick paste that formed a peak that falls over at the top. Next I added 3/4 a cup of the gruyere to the paste and mixed with a silicon spatula.

Next I employed the services of a regular old 1 gallon freezer bag. That's right, it's even the store brand. Copying what I saw chefs on the food network doing I opened the bag and folded the edges over my hand. Then, using the silicon spatula, I scooped the paste into the bag, working the paste to one of the bottom corners and "burping" the air out the top.

When all the paste was in the bag I sealed the top (forcing most of the air out) and continued to work the paste to one of the bottom corners.

Then I snipped the corner with kitchen shears, leaving an opening about the size of the end of my pinkie.

Next I piped out a little dollop, about the size of a pingpong ball onto the parchment paper. Each had kind of a hat on them which I tamped down using a finger (clean!) dipped in cold water. I then put a generous pinch of the remaining gruyere cheese on the top of each. I placed the cookie sheet in the oven at 450F and let it bake for 8 minutes (until they rise and don't fall on their own).

Then I decreased the oven temperature to 350F and baked for 22 minutes, until "golden brown and delicious."

When they come out of the oven the puffs are cool enough to handle [warning: the pan will NOT be cool enough to handle]. When you pop one open you should have a large hole in the middle and the exterior should be light and crispy. This recipe is slightly on the salty side, but I think it's also because I was expecting something a bit sweeter. It is, however, delicious and addictive. I ate 8 of the first dozen without even thinking about it. *blush*

The recipe states these make 4 dozen. I've already passed 4 doz and am expecting nearly a 5th. It's obvious, but I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you to reheat the oven to 450F before beginning to bake the next sheet worth of puffs.

FWIW, we can't keep more than about a half dozen of these at a time because we keep eating them out of the oven. Joy of Cooking recommends pairing them with champagne, but they go quite well with inexpensive table wine or even a glass of milk. Enjoy!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Those Black Eye Peas They Tasted All Right To Me.... ;-)

There are just certain songs that stick in my head at the weirdest moments. Like Goodbye Earl while I'm making Blackeye Peas for New Years Day.

This was, of course, my first attempt at making blackeye peas. All previous times I've eaten them involved restaurants that serve steaks the size of large plates and deep fried pickles. Usually blackeye peas are somewhat bland, resembling something akin to cardboard. However it was New Years Day and I was already feeling like making something for dinner at home, so I did an internet search. This is the highest rated recipe that came up on the first page of google. Hrm...interesting...so of course I modified it.

The modified recipe follows, but bear in mind at it's base it's still the allrecipes recipe. I believe the modifications make this a far more awesome recipe. Far from flavorless, just the right amount of spicy, and more than nomtastic. :-) I've been enjoying the leftovers.

  • 1 pound dry black eye peas
  • Approx. 1 pound pre-cooked ham steaks (I used 2 at about 0.5 lbs each), cut into quarter inch cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can of crushed red tomatoes
  • 4 Hatch peppers, roasted, skinned, seeded and diced*

Place the peas in an 8 quart sauce pot and add enough water to fill the pot about half to three quarters full. Add everything else to the pot and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat, covered, 2 1/2 to 3 hours until the peas are soft.

* If you don't have a stash of frozen roasted and skinned Hatch peppers like we do, you can substitute Anaheim pepper or jalapenos, if you want extra heat. Roast the peppers over the flame of a gas stove or under the broiler of an electric oven, turning as the skin blackens, until all sides of the pepper are roasted. Then put the peppers in a paper bag to steam 5-10 min, until cool enough to handle with bare hands. Scrape the blackened skin off the peppers and discard. Then slice each pepper lengthwise and chop off the stem. Scrape the seeds and veins out with a knife blade. Then dice the peppers and add them the recipe above.

Image source (found via google image search).