Cheddar Gougeres

These little cheese puffs are one of the recipes that we'll be making on Friday at the French Nibbles & Hors D'hoeurves class. Made from choux paste, there is a generous amount of old cheddar added at the end. Traditional gougeres are usually made with Gruyere or Comte, but I see no reason not to use whatever you have on hand, so long as it is a hard cheese with lots of flavour.

There are so many great French appetizers and this is the perfect place to start. 

Cheddar Gougeres

1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups aged cheddar, grated

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside until needed.
Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the flour all at once and stir together immediately with a wooden spoon. Lower the heat to low and continue stirring vigorously for about 2 minutes. The dough will be very smooth.
Place the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each one in completely before adding the next one. Beat in the grated cheese. Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon of dough per gougere onto the prepared baking sheets, for each one, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Place the baking sheets in the oven and immediately turn down the heat on the oven to 375 F. Bake for 12 minutes, rotate the pans, and bake for another 12-15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with your favourite aperitif.


Poached Egg on Fried Polenta

Maybe I should have had a nice green salad for lunch. But some days, leafy greens are just too hard to wash... So for a day when comfort is my top priority, it is hardly surprising that I reached for a farm fresh egg from my friend Marc. 

I stopped in at Marc's house yesterday. Marc lives in the middle of a busy town with his wife, my friend Marguerite, and his beautiful brown chicken, Joanne. Joanne has lived in Marc's backyard for about a year now and she is a VERY happy hen. She has an elaborate home, two compost piles to root around in, and enough space for her to be extremely "free-run" - all in the small area of a townhouse backyard. With a lot of ingenuity, Marc has created a little oasis that come the summer, will also be full of tomato plants, blackberries, and a prolific pear tree. 

While we were out admiring Joanne, Marc checked her roost and gave me the honours of picking up a slightly warm egg. I somehow got the egg home without incident and the results were my lunch today. Another fun note about Joanne - she doesn't mind traveling. Joanne drove (in her crate, in the back seat) 3+ hours for Thanksgiving last year. Although I imagine Marc being quite content to cart Joanne around for family get-togethers, the whole business of egg laying in the backseat quite possibly put his wife over the edge!

Along with my poached egg, I fried some leftover polenta in a little olive oil. The edges of the polenta get nice and crispy and the soft yolk soaks into each piece. A sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground pepper topped it off. And a good cup of tea. Happiness. 

Serves a crowd.

The cheeses in this recipe are just a suggestion. I would use whatever combination you have handy. Polenta can act like bread or it can replace potatoes. It is a jack-of-many-trades.

6 cups water
1 tsp. fine sea salt
2 cups stone ground polenta (I used Bob's Red Mill corn grits)
3 Tbsp. butter
1 cup grated aged cheddar
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish. Set aside until needed. 
Heat the water and salt to a boil in a large stock pot. Stir in the polenta and continue stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Cook for about 25-30 minutes, until the mixture is very thick. Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the butter and cheeses. Spread evenly in the prepared pan and serve immediately or cover and refrigerate. Once the polenta is cool, it can be sliced and fried in olive oil till crispy. The insides will be nice and creamy. Will keep for up to 5 days.

Here is my ritual for making poached eggs (taken from "The Good Egg Blog"). 
Bring a small saucepan of water to a gentle boil. Add a splash of white vinegar. Crack one very fresh egg into a ramekin and slowly let the egg slip into the boiling water. If you are cooking more than one, repeat this step. I don't like to poach more than two at a time in a small pan. Don't let the water boil too vigorously once you have added the egg. A gentle boil is good. If the egg seems to be stuck on the bottom of the pan, carefully nudge it off the bottom of the pan with a spoon. For a medium egg, it usually takes around 3 minutes or so to cook. When the egg is cooked to your liking, remove from the water and drain on a piece of paper towel. Dry well. Place on the toast of your choice and mash with a fork. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy!


Chocolate Silk Icing

For my friend Allana's (see note below) 40th birthday party on Saturday, I made cupcakes. As per usual, I obsessed over the flavours, the icings, the timing, and the transport of the little cakes, amongst other slightly less important details like - what to wear... By Friday I had my list narrowed down to two.

1. Chocolate cupcakes (made from the Double Double Chocolate Cake from The Harrow Fair Cookbook) with their tops cut off and a small scoop taken out, filled with white chocolate/peanut butter mousse, tops replaced and a swirl of mousse to finish it off. YUM.

2. Red velvet cupcakes with a fluffy white icing. These aren't my favourite, but I wouldn't turn them down if I was desperate for a sugar fix.

My kitchen bakery was in full swing by Saturday afternoon. My family and some friends were out on a garbage hike around town (which I had bowed out of). I knew when the gang got back to the house there would be a lot of disappointed faces when they were told that the finished cupcakes were off limits. So I whipped up a batch of yellow cupcakes and made this chocolate silk icing to go with them. They turned out to be my favourite ones.

This is the most beautiful chocolate icing I have ever made - and that is saying something! Do not refrigerate this icing unless you like your cupcakes with hard caps on. I would also suggest not making this when you are really hungry....

Chocolate Silk Icing 
(adapted from The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread by Amy Scherber & Toy Kim Dupree)

3 cups bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chocolate (chips are fine)
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 pound butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Set the chocolate aside to cool. Sift the sugar and cocoa powder together in a separate bowl.
Cream the butter at medium speed for about 2 minutes in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar mixture and continue to mix of low-medium speed until the sugar and cocoa are well incorporated. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla and mix again on medium speed until it is smooth and a good spreading consistency. The icing can be used immediately or stored in an airtight container at room temperature, but it should be used within 3 days.

** For more information about Allana Harkin, read her blog on babble.com called "Eating Over The Sink". It is laugh out loud funny!


Fresh Mango Sorbet

The mangoes that I used for this sorbet are called "ataulfo" and they come from Mexico. The case I bought are perfectly ripe and sweet, nothing at all like those big green-red things that are supermarket staples. I bought mine at a Thai grocery store and the woman told me that they sell about 100 cases of those mangoes a week when they are in season. She said that they started arriving the beginning of March and that restaurants in the area buy many cases while they are so perfect, cutting them up and freezing them to use for the rest of the year. Sounds like a good endorsement to me!

The "ataulfo" is not to be confused with the "alphonso" from India. According to my sources, the majority of the crop from India is bought and canned to be sold throughout the year. My Thai grocer doesn't carry the cans of alphonso mangoes, but I will continue to keep my eyes peeled. My impression is that they have no equal in the world of mangoes.

Fresh Mango Sorbet

4 cups ripe Ataulfo mangos, peeled and diced
1 cup berry sugar (or to taste)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups water

Check to be sure that your ice cream maker is ready to go.
Place the mangoes in a food processor with the sugar and lemon juice. Add the water and process until smooth. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if needed. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve to remove any bits. Freeze the sorbet according the manufacturer's directions.
Serve small serving garnished with fresh mango and berries.

*I served the sorbet on meringues for a gluten-free, dairy-free dessert for company.