This would be but half the magnificent spread, not including the Cheese Table, which was not, mind you, a slew of cut-your-own cheese wedges and loose grapes but actual cheese-showcasing appetizers.
Of course, don’t be fooled by the small bites; there was still a main course. (I was too stuffed to get near it, but I hear the apple and stuffing-stuffed turkey was delicious.)
Nope, nobody does anything small around there, the guests included. The guest who offered to bring some fruit for dessert brought so much, it needed to be carried in a box that once housed a case of champagne, and there was so much leftover, Alex and I currently have a giant salad bowl filled with fruit in the kitchen (thank you!) and another in the fridge.
But, the Grand Finale, the Dessert to End All Desserts, was from the guest who offered to make a Russian Napoleon, not very different from the ones we are used to except that it’s covered in a lovely crumble of pasty. But, she didn’t just bring this; she brought a centerpiece. The top layer was comprised of lady fingers swaddled in a raspberry cream frosting — each slice of it resembled gorgeous cobblestones — and topped with not just assorted candies, but a white chocolate basket she had crafted from her own mold. We remain awestruck.
I brought my share of contributions, too: truffles, parmesan biscotti, pecan bars (yup, we still have some in the freezer, can we say “my god, please make a half-recipe next time?”), gougeres and stuffed mushrooms.
I made gougères the first time this past summer, and we instantly fell in love. I can’t imagine anything more lovely to go with wine than a choux pastry (the type you would make eclairs or cream puffs with) plus two cups of shredded cheese. I had a little more success the first time, namely because I got lazy this time and shredded the cheese in the food processor, which makes lovely confetti-like pieces, perfect for latkes, a little heavy for something you hope to be eventually light and air-like. Hand-shredding on a box grater seems to be the name of the game with cheese puffs.
Last time, I used a mix of cave-aged gruyere (my favorite) and parmesan but as my mother brought me a wedge of Jarlsberg at Hanukah so big, if you dropped it you might break a toe, this time I replaced a cup of the gruyere with it. No matter, the flavor was just as delicious.
One more “I’d do differently next time”: In a rare use of gray salt, I sprinkled the tops of the puffs with it right before baking. The first time I did this, we ate them right away and it was dreamy and crisp. This time, we ate them the next day and as I should have already learned by now, anything salt-topped left for a day gets a little damp on the outside and drained of moisture on the inside. Next time, if there will be a day between baking an eating, I’ll skip the salt on top.
After I told him I liked my usual stuffed mushroom recipe, but was in the mood for something less earnest and healthful, my bacon and cheese-loving husband found this sinful delight on Epicurious. The filling is so good, it takes restraint not to eat it by the spoonful, so consider yourself warned.
Jacques Pépin, Food & Wine
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese (Emmenthaler or Gruyere)
Coarse salt (fleur de sel or kosher salt) to sprinkle on top
Bring the milk, butter, salt, and cayenne to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the flour all at once, and mix vigorously with a wooden spatula until the mixture forms a ball. Return the pan to the heat and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute to dry the mixture a bit. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor, let cool for 5 minutes, then process for about 5 seconds.
Add the eggs and paprika to the processor bowl, and process for 10 to 15 seconds, until well mixed. Transfer the choux paste to a mixing bowl, and let cool for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a cookie sheet with a reusable nonstick baking mat or parchment paper. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the grated Parmesan cheese, then add the remainder and all the Swiss cheese to the choux paste. Stir just enough to incorporate. Using a tablespoon, scoop out a level tablespoon of the gougère dough, and push it off the spoon onto the cooking mat. Continue making individual gougère, spacing them about 2-inches apart on the sheet. Sprinkle a few grains of coarse salt and a little of the reserved Parmesan cheese on each gougère. Bake for about 30 minutes, until nicely browned and crisp. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature with drinks.
Roasted Mushrooms Stuffed With Feta, Spinach and Bacon
Bon Appetit, October 2001
Makes about 48
8 ounces bacon slices
1 cup chopped onion
1 10-ounce package chopped frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
2 3/4 pounds button mushrooms (about 48; each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter), stemmed
Preheat oven to 375°F. Cook bacon in heavy large skillet until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Coarsely crumble bacon. Discard all but 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons bacon fat (adding olive oil if necessary to equal that amount).
Heat 2 teaspoons reserved bacon fat in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl and cool; mix in bacon, spinach, feta, cream cheese, and crushed red pepper. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper.
Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with foil. Toss mushrooms and reserved 1/4 cup bacon fat in large bowl to coat. Sprinkle mushrooms with salt and pepper. Place mushrooms, rounded side down, in single layer on prepared baking sheets. Bake mushrooms until centers fill with liquid, about 25 minutes. Turn mushrooms over. Bake mushrooms until brown and liquid evaporates, about 20 minutes longer. Turn mushrooms over again. Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon filling into each mushroom cavity. (Filled mushrooms can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake mushrooms until heated through, about 10 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to platter and serve warm.