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!

Brussels Sprouts Recipe—the German Way

The perfect winter cabbage

The perfect winter cabbage

The last days of winter inspire me to cook one my favorite winter vegetables one last time before the big thaw. Brussels sprouts are healthy, tasty, and affordable—a nice combo, right? I like Brussles sprouts (or, in the singular, Brussels sprout) in almost any configuration, but the German way is one of my favorites. Kudos go to my mom on this one; she cooked them for me during my last visit home. That great dinner, which included roasted duck breast, is what had me working this recipe as soon as I got back to New York. This recipe is yet another one that’s in the “easy” category, so it finds a nice spot on my weeknight dinner roster.

Brussels Sprouts cleaning A basket full of Brussels Sprouts goodness

To start: I clean the outer leaves and cut a thin slice off the bottom of each sprout, making sure the whole thing still stays together. Then I drop these tasty little morsels in a single layer into a sauté pan, fill the pan so as to cover the sprouts half way, add a couple tablespoons of butter, and salt and pepper.

So what is the ‘German’ part of this recipe? Good question. It’s in the last little secret ingredient so often used in German cooking (shhh!): a tablespoon of sugar. Together with the butter, it gives the little cabbage heads an unbelievably soft, buttery, I-want-more taste. Try this one—I think you will be favorably surprised.

Brussels Sprouts, Butter, Sugar, Salt and Peper

Almost done

Almost done

Cook the sprouts on a medium flame. If you got the water level right at the beginning, all the extra water is now evaporating, leaving the butter-sugar mixture to glaze the Brussels sprouts perfectly. The photo above shows the sprouts almost done. If you think the water is completely evaporated before the sprouts are done, just add a little more water. The reverse situation does not work so well (obviously 😉 ), so don’t overdue it. Just another minute of cooking should be adequate. When done, they should not fall apart, but they will be soft inside.

Brussels Sprouts Recipe: the German way Weeknight dinner Recipe: Brussels Sprouts and pan-roasted chicken tighs

I enjoy these Brussels sprouts with simple pan-roasted chicken thighs (our go-to protein during the week: must. build. muscles).

I hope you will try this Brussels sprout recipe, doing it the German way.

Guten Appetit!

Shaved Fennel and Orange Salad

Orange and Fennel Salad Fennel and orange salad

This salad is a healthy winner during the last days of winter. And so simple to create!

Shave the fennel bulbs with the help of a mandoline slicer, as thinly as you can. Cut your oranges into supremes. This requires a little technique, but the result looks very professional. Check out my video that demonstrates this useful technique.

Our vinaigrette is a simple mixture of orange juice, a little champagne vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a dap of Dijon mustard. Some thinly sliced red onion and a few parsley leaves round out this salad nicely.

See pictures above for a nice presentation suggestion.

Enjoy this healthy treat right between winter and spring… maybe it’ll help bring spring to us quicker.

Fillets of orange