Eating better food for less and other tales from a no-moneymoon

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gougeres Means "Being Neighborly"

As we roll along in the no-moneymoon, I've learned that even when you're not feeling your shiniest, you can still share what you do have. What we have is the rental of a kind relative's apartment...with a terrace. Don't hate us. Blame the apartment fairy* and a market that no one wants to sell in.

And here is what you need of an evening for some fine terrace sitting: hearty nibbles. Dainty is all well and good when there's dinner on the stove or a roast in the oven. But for an extended terrace sit with friends, watching the sun go down and turn the landmark building to the east a lovely shade of orange, I try to make 2-3 heavier items and the like to go with the inevitable bottle of wine.

No matter how charming and elegant that may seem, I'm still me -- trying to stick to a budget, inserting veggies wherever possible to be "healthy" and making use of the ingredients I have on hand. The good news is that even some fancier nibbles are pretty thrifty. So here's what we shared with a lovely neighbor the other night:

Gougeres (aka cheesy poofs)
I used this Alain Ducasse recipe and would definitely add a little more cheese next time. Bonus, these were frozen from a previous entertaining venture and quickly reheated at 350F for 25 minutes. Perfect.

Potato & Leek Croquettes
4 small - medium red potatoes
1 large leek
3 Tablespoons olive oil, plus some more for frying
1 egg
Black pepper, lots of it, Salt, too

People make croquettes with leftover mashed potatoes, but since I loathe mashed potatoes, I have to start from scratch. That's where the microwave comes in to play. Wash and prick the potatoes with a fork, lay them on a paper towel in the micro and nuke 'em for about 5 minutes until they are very soft and the skin looks wrinkly. Set aside until cool enough to handle and then peel off the skin and cut them into 1-inch cubes

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized saute pan heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Wash and slice the leek (I always put them into a bowl of cold water to let the grit fall to the bottom of the bowl -- this really works!) and then saute until very soft. Turn off the heat and turn your attention back to those potatoes.

Start mashing the potato cubes. Then add in the leeks and all their cooking oil. Mash some more. Add lots of black pepper and salt (you have to season this a lot.) When the mixture is well mashed add in the egg. If the mixture looks like it isn't holding together you can add another Tablespoon of olive oil. I did, but it would depend on the potatoes I think. You could also add a little flour to boost the binding. I didn't.

In the same saute pan where you fried the leeks, heat some olive oil until hot but not smoking. Make little patties with the potato mixture and slide into the oil. Fry until browned on one side then flip to finish cooking. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Roast Pepper Nibbles
1-2 red, yellow or orange peppers, roasted
1 Tablespoon capers
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
Black pepper and salt
1 onion bagel

Sometimes I find big bargains and recently I lucked into an assortment of sweet peppers on their last legs. Not ok for a grocery shelf or a salad, but totally fine as roasted (and skinned) peppers. These had been adding some zest to our dining last week, so I had them on hand. Here's how to make them from scratch: Turn oven up to 420F. Wash peppers and remove any soft spots. Place on a baking sheet and roast until the skin turns brown-black in patches and looks wrinkly, about 30 minutes. While still piping hot, use an oven mitt or tongs to place them in a brown paper bag. I *never* have brown paper bags, but I do have parchment, so I make a packet with that and it works fine. This is to steam the skins so they are easier to pull off. I let them sit until they are pretty much cooled. Not worth a burned finger tip!

With the skins off, you can put these in to the fridge with some olive oil and they keep nicely for about a week. To make nibble topping, take about 1-2 peppers and chop finely then mix with olive oil, rice wine vinegar and salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, make a little delivery system for it: bagel chips. I hate to pay for those expensive mini toasts, even though they are delicious! So I've come up with this solution. I slice an onion bagel cross-wise and continue slicing to produce coin-sized rounds. You can get about 20-25 thin slices from one bagel, and the weird triangles you are left with are a nice treat for the cook--eat them before you drink that wine and you prevent tipsy hostess syndrome. Bake at 350F for 5-8 minutes on a baking sheet. No oil needed and they are perfectly tasty and crispy. And better than baguette, these are truly bite-sized nibbles.

The only ingredients purchased for this fun evening: Gruyere, wine and one bagel.

*Don't believe in the apartment fairy? Ever visited a rent-controlled classic six on Central Park West? Apartment fairy. It happens but once in a lifetime, so put keys under your pillow and see what happens.

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