Parmesan Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse

Parmesan Crisps - Apetizer If you are planning a cocktail party and are in need of a sure-fire appetizer hit, these delicious Parmesan Crips with Goat Cheese Mousse should do the trick. Everybody will love the crunchy parmesan wafers crackling in their mouths while trying to get to the cool, savory mousse of goat cheese, herbs, and tiny morsels of shallot. It’s a big mouthful mess, but rewarding to eat. Here’s what you need:

For the Parmesan Crisps

1 chunk of Parmesan (say, one pound)

Parmesan Cheese That’s it! It couldn’t be easier to make these crisps—they are almost embarrassingly easy to make, like boiling water. Yes, that easy. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grind the Parmesan chunk with your grinder or KitchenAid. On a non-stick silicone pad arrange neat circles of ground parmesan. I use a round cookie cutter to make the circles pretty precise. While you could just distribute the Parmesan into little uneven hills on your half-sheet pan, such imprecision is just not allowed in this German’s kitchen. So it’s cookie cutter uniformity for me. Bake the cheese until it is bubbly and the familiar yellow starts to turn a little darker. You don’t want to burn the cheese, but if you take them out too early they will not be quite crisp enough.

(On a second thought, this was a little more complicated then boiling water.)

Let them cool and protect them from kitchen scavengers…

Ground Parmesan Circles Happy Parmesan Crisps

Stack of Parmesan Crisp Goodness

 

For the Goat Cheese Mousse

Enough about the crisps, let’s move our focus to the goat cheese mousse. You need:

1 log of fresh goat cheese
8 oz of sour cream
1 finely chopped shallot
1/2 cup of neatly cut chives
1/2 cup of neatly copped parsley
Salt and pepper
Maybe a little lemon juice or white vinegar, to taste

Mixing these ingredients is easier when they are all at room temperature. I use a fork, and work the thing until I have a fairly smooth result. Tasting and adjusting the seasoning is critical here. Salt and pepper of course;  maybe a little more salt (sorry Dr. Lefkowitz). And the acidity needs to be right. Don’t add so much that your batter tastes like a salad dressing. So, maybe just a teaspoon of lemon. Keep mixing, tasting… The acid, by the way, helps break the richness of the fat in the mousse. (You see, acidity is your friend!)

Put the mousse into a freezer bag and into the refrigerator. We want to cool the mousse there for a few hours, in order to give it just the right amount of ‘piping viscosity’.

Herbs and Shallots The making of a perfect Goat-Cheese Mousse The Assembly

About 30 minutes before your guests arrive you should arrange your assembly line. Cut a corner of your freezer bag and pipe a little circle of mousse onto your crisp. Neatly, please. A few carefully placed chive pieces completes your masterpiece. Now onto the next 49 pieces…

I have made these crisps a million times. The opportunities for variation are endless. So, sometimes the mousse is more of a cream cheese-and-milk something, simply because that’s what was in the fridge. Sometimes I feel like adding tiny flecks of red bell pepper and some paprika for seasoning. My left brain (or is it the right?) appreciates the creative challenge.

Credit for this wonderful appetizer goes to Thomas Keller. He published a much more sophisticated approach in the French Laundry Cookbook.

Guten Appetit!

Perfect Parmesan Crisps with Gout-Cheese Mousse

 

Poached Pears with Creme Anglaise and Almond Brittle

Poached Pears with Creme Anglaise and Almond Brittle

Fruit-based desserts rank high for me as a delicious ending to an elegant dinner with friends. They satisfy my sweet tooth while not being too filling. And as a figment of my imagination I believe they are good for you. This recipe for Poached Pears with Creme Anglaise and Almond Brittle is easy to prepare in advance, looks elegant on the plate, and is actually quite low in fat, since I prepare my Creme Anglaise with fat-free milk. Let’s get started:

Poached Pears

You need:

Half a pear per person, peeled and core removed (if you serve only a 1-to-2 courses before dessert and/or have hungry eaters, you can of course do a full pear per person).
A stick of cinnamon
3 pieces of star anise
4 or 5 cloves
3/4 cup of sugar
1 bottle of red wine

It’s easier than you think to poach pears. Dump all ingredients in a pot. Ensure that the pears are covered by liquid, but just barely—add a little more wine if you need to. Simmer at a low bubble for about 30 minutes. You want the pears soft but not so soft that they fall apart. I poke a knife in them at the end of the cooking time to check—you might need a little bit more cooking if you feel resistance from your poke, etc. The key to success here is, a) to choose the right pears and, b) to choose an appropriate red wine. Pear-wise I go with the firmer type, like a Bartlett, but have had success with others as well. So maybe just go with what looks best (but firm) at the store. Wine-wise you will want to use one that would enjoy drinking, so don’t go too low-rent. Then again, a $100 burgundy would be a little extravagant. I picked a Cote du Rhone for about $15. Yes, it seems pricey (well, maybe not in NYC!),  but I will try to reuse the cooking liquid as a base for a fruit soup within a few days.

Poached Pears in red wine

Once the pears are cooked I turn off the heat and let the fruit cool, leaving it in the cooking liquid. Your kitchen now should smell of wonderful wintery spices: cinnamon, star anise and clove… Leave the pears in the liquid until you are ready to serve them.

Almond Brittle

Glorious Almond Brittle You need:

1 1/2 cups of slivered almonds
1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of heavy cream

In order to create the brittle you need to first cook the caramel. For this I first put a little water in a heavy-bottomed pot, just enough to coat the bottom. This somehow helps to create a smooth caramel without crystallization. In goes the sugar. Melt the sugar on medium heat until you achieve the right golden brown color. If the caramel is too light you will miss out on flavor; if it is overdone you will taste charcoal. Neither is desirable! As soon as you detect the right color, take the pot off the heat and add the heavy cream, in one big swoop. You will cause a slightly frightening bubbling in the pan. The heavy cream is necessary; without it the caramel would harden to a glass-like consistency that would not be pleasant to eat. Experiment over time with the amount of cream: too much and you create a more toffee-like consistency, too little will create a hard caramel. Regardless of amount, make sure you stir well to achieve a smooth texture.

Pour the caramel onto a half-sheet pan. I use a silicone mat (like a Silpat) in the pan, which prevents the caramel from sticking. If you don’t have a Silpat (you really should have one…), spray the pan with a non-stick spray to achieve the same effect. While your caramel is still a hot liquid, sprinkle the almonds in. Done is the brittle—it is that easy! I put the sheet pan in the freezer to ensure the brittle is crisp and easy to break when I plate the dessert.

Creme Anglaise

You need:

1 vanilla pod
1/2 cup of sugar
2 cups of skim milk (ideally a super creamy type, like Skim Plus from Parmelat)
1 or 2 egg yolks

Creme Anglaise is a classic dessert sauce. You can find recipes for it everywhere. I try to save some calories here (for summer is coming…), while not sacrificing the wholesome, creamy sauce texture. Cut the vanilla pod lengthwise and scape out the seeds. Pod and seeds go into a pot with the milk and the sugar. Bring to a simmer (avoid rapid cooking of the milk) and let the vanilla steep for 10 mins in the milk. In a heat-proof bowl mix the egg yolks with a little of the hot milk mixture. This is called tempering the eggs and it avoids shocking the egg yolks, which you’d do if you were to just drop them into the hot milk. The egg yolk/milk mixture goes into the pot. Now starts the part where you need to pay attention to the cooking. You want to slowly heat the mixture and constantly stir. At some point you will see that the milk is thickening. When it has the desired texture, take it off the heat and pour into a heat-proof bowl. I like to strain the sauce while pouring. This way you get the vanilla pod out and any tiny pieces of hardened egg that formed in the cooking process. (If you really overheat, the mixture will curdle and create… a very sweet scrambled egg. If this happens, you either have to start over or grab a store-bought equivalent. I recommend the former—besides the superior taste, practice makes perfect!)

Poached Pears with Creme Anglaise and Almond Brittle

How will we serve this multi-component dessert? Generally speaking, I think that perfecting the art of the dinner party necessitates that you develop a routine, effective plating method. You want to create beautiful plates but you need to perform this relatively quickly, so that neither the food gets cold nor are your guests kept waiting for too long. At this point in the dinner, however, they may well be reasonably alcoholized (I should probably just say ‘hydrated’), which means you’ll have a little more time to be precise with your plating. As you can see, I put all my plates in a row and do mass production, one component at a time. First I slice the pears, leaving each half together at the top of the pear. This way they get that fan-look. The sauce goes on next. Last is the piece of brittle.

My most recent attempt at Poached Pears with Creme Anglaise and Almond Brittle was a full and memorable success. Even the die-hard chocolate-only dessert fans loved them. You gotta try this recipe.

Guten Apetit!

Pan-roasted Red Snapper with Lemongrass-Shallot Sauce and Peas—the Healthy Way

 

Here’s a perfect—and healthy—weeknight dinner. The sauce will take about 20 minutes (so long as you are a good chopper). You’ll need 5 to 8 minutes to pan-roast the fish. In parallel you’ll anglaise the peas. So in under 30 minutes you’ll be sitting at the dinner table.

The sauce is what makes this meal a true winner. The lemongrass adds a wonderful perfume, nicely balanced by the acidity of the wine and sour cream. The original recipe called for some heavy cream, but at the last minute I substituted the cream with non-fat sour cream and the results worked beautifully. The resulting reduced calorie count puts this dinner in the healthy category (although the Speedo test is still far off). Here is want you need to make snapper for two:

3 to 4 oz of red snapper fillet per person (I bought a single big fillet)
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

Sauce:
1 clove of garlic, finely diced (about a tablespoon)
2 stems of lemon grass, core finely diced (about a tablespoon)
1 small shallot, finely diced (about two tablespoons)
2 tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup of non-fat sour cream
1/2 cup clam juice
2/3 cup of dry wine (I love Gruener Veltiner for this)

1.5 to 2 cups of frozen peas
5 stems of mint, leaves cut into a chiffonade (roll like a cigar and then cut in thin strips)
Salt and pepper

Boil the peas in a salted pot of water for 3 minutes. Cool in ice water to set the green color; drain in collander.

For the sauce: in the butter and at medium heat, sauté the diced garlic, lemon grass, and shallots, being careful not to brown them. This should only take a few minutes. Add the wine and the clam juice and, at high heat, reduce until you have about 1/3 cup of liquid. Puree this in a blender with the non-fat sour cream and then return to the cleanly-wiped sauce pan. Salt and pepper to taste and keep warm.

Pan-sear the seasoned red snapper fillets in a hot pan with the grapeseed oil. I really like to sauté fish with this oil, because it is tasteless and has a high smoke point. This means you’ll be tasting the nicely browned delicious fish and not burned oil.

While sautéing the fish, I reheat the peas with a tiny bit of butter.

Assemble your plates using the sliced mint leaves. See pictures above for a suggested presentation.

Enjoy your light and healthy spring dinner!

p.s. The February 2014 Food and Wine featured the fat- and calorie-rich version of this recipe which also looks really good. And hey, Speedo season’s still a long way off.

Pea Soup with Fresh Mint

Pea Soup with Mint Ingredients for Pea Soup with Fresh Mintimageimageimage

This soup is a staple in our home. Mint and peas are classic companions and this soup is easy to cook. You need only three ingredients: Leeks, peas (I always use frozen ones), and a bundle of fresh mint. And I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure it’s good for you—healthy and light with only a small amount of butter. This one offers a pleasingly big burst of flavor.

Sometimes for a cocktail party I will serve the soup in cups (see pictures below). This offers my guests a welcomed break from the very expected snacks (still not a doctor here, but I believe these may not be as good for you) and crudité.

Pea Soup with Fresh Mint
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 6 to 8
Ingredients
  • 2 standard packages of frozen petit peas
  • 3 leeks, thoroughly cleaned and chopped
  • 1 bunch of mint
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Over medium heat melt the butter and sauté the chopped leeks until soft, right before they start to brown. Medium heat works much better than high heat, as this allows the leeks to soften slowly and develop their sugars. This step should take about 5 to 7 minutes. Season as you go with salt and pepper.
  2. Now add a quart of water and bring to a boil. Cook at a lazy bubble for 15 to 20 minutes. (This soup actually tastes better when cooked with water instead of adding chicken or vegetable stock. You will better taste the intense pea and mint flavors—a very clean flavor profile.)
  3. Now turn the heat to high and dump the peas into the pot. The frozen peas will drop the temperature in the pot dramatically. On high head, bring the soup to a boil as fast as possible. Once it’s boiling, cook for 3 to 4 minutes, and continue to season. Preserve the appealing bright green color of the soup by not overcooking. You may want to add a little more water if the soup feels too thick.
  4. The whole thing now goes into the blender. Drop a handful of mint leaves into the mix. Carefully blend until super smooth, then return to the cleaned pot. Bring to a boil one more time. This step will cook the starch out of the pulverized peas, bonding all the flavors in this super creamy delight together in the process. And make sure you notice: there’s not a single drop of cream responsible for this soup’s super creaminess.

imageimageimage

My favorite way to garnish the soup is with a chiffonade of mint leaves. Simply roll up a bunch of mint leaves like a cigar and slice it into very thin strips. But as you can see, this soup looks delicious even without any garnish.

You can find a similar recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, The French Culinary Institute’s Salute to Health Cooking.