Tag Archives: chevre

How to Make Homemade Croutons

26 Apr

Among the many food items that are not only easy to make at home, but also always, always better when made at home rather than purchased from a store, I’d have to place croutons in the top 5.  It’s not that I eat a lot of croutons, but when I see someone buying a huge bag of dried bread that has been dusted with strange laboratory-conceived flavorings, I just want to stop that person, place a hand on his or her shoulder, and say, “Drop the bag.  There’s a better way.”

I know, I know.  You don’t have a lot of time.  You work a lot, and when you get home, you don’t want to spend a lot of time crouton-ing it up when you would rather be…I don’t even know what to put here, because making croutons at home is just about as effortless as it gets.  Most of the time spent on these croutons is taken up by baking time, and during that baking time you can make a salad to accompany your croutons, slice up a bunch of stuff to pile into a fantastic panzanella with these croutons, or beat together a few eggs and other fillings to fold over these croutons and cook into a frittata.

You can take leftover croutons to work to make a bowl of microwaved soup into something truly special.  If you’re looking for a semi-fancy snack, nibble on some of these croutons, paired with apple slices, and ditch your regular mid-day work snack of over-salted packaged nuts with off-brand M&Ms.  Or just alternate bites of crouton with bites of grape tomato and pretend that you are eating  outside in a Mediterranean garden (instead of inside, under fluorescent lights, while the never ending pitter-pat of keyboard typing plays the soundtrack to your life).  25 minutes, start to finish, and these croutons, with any number of pairings, can be yours.

Last Year: Indian Chicken Kebabs (this is one of my favorite dishes, and it contains one of my favorite stories about being in India)

Big and Crunchy Herb and Chèvre Croutons Recipe

8 ounces rustic bread, cut into large 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large clove of garlic, finely diced and mashed into a paste

4 ounces chèvre

1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh herb of your choice (rosemary, thyme, or tarragon would work well here—I used tarragon and it was divine)

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spray or brush a large baking sheet with a bit of olive oil, then set aside.

Place bread cubes in a large bowl.  In a small saucepan, melt butter with olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic, and allow to cook only slightly, until the garlic becomes fragrant (about 20 seconds).  Remove from heat, then stir in chèvre, herbs, black pepper, and salt.  Stir until the ingredients are combined and the cheese has melted.

Pour the cheese mixture over the bread cubes, and toss to combine evenly, until all the bread is coated.  Place bread cubes in a single layer on prepared baking sheet.  Bake in center of oven for 18-20 minutes, until the croutons are golden brown and crisp.

Eat on a salad, fold into a frittata, make into panzanella, or place on top of soup.  Never buy croutons again.

Beet Greens and Chèvre Quiche

5 Mar

There is often discussion of people possessing “Yankee thrift,” but never do you really hear of people being blessed with (or should I say “saddled with”) West Coast thrift.  I make the distinction here between being blessed and being somewhat cursed, because, not being a Yankee, I possess whatever the West Coast version of nearly unreasonable thrift might be, and sometimes it seems like my propensity for using every part of the buffalo can reveal some fraying at the edges of my reasoning.

Right now our freezer is packed with a bag filled with the green ends of leeks that I plan on turning into vegetable stock.  Also in the freezer is a small container filled with approximately ¼ cup of mushroom broth, because after I used what broth came before that last ¼ cup, it seemed flat-out wrong to waste what was left over.  I have been known to hoard separated egg whites after making ice cream that calls for half a dozen yolks, and then go on a baking spree just to use up those egg whites, and then resort to getting rid of what I have just baked because there is no way possible that the three of us can pack away that many of whatever it was I decided to make in order to “not waste” the egg whites.  Do you see where this is going?  When you save things in order to make things in order to not waste things, but then you have no used for those things, are you not then merely wasting your own time and money in an effort to not waste another product of your time and money?

It’s a slippery slope. However, it can also be a delicious and inventive slope, and that’s where this quiche comes in.  Using a bit of leftover this and that from this and THAT (link), we were rewarded with a lovely—and highly adaptable—dinner.  As noted, I used sautéed beet greens that remained from a previous day’s salad, but any greens you have lying around (spinach, chard, kale) will serve this quiche well.  Chevre adds a wonderfully rich tanginess to the body of the quiche, but, if you don’t have it, a bit of Parmesan, Pecorino Romano or Gruyere would also provide a nice, though very different, flavor profile.  The idea here is to use whatever you have staring at you from the fridge, and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll love the result.

Beet Greens and Chevre Quiche

1 9-inch pie crust (my absolute favorite recipe for flaky pie and tart dough can be found here–the recipes makes enough dough for two single crust pies or tarts, but the unused dough can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and kept in the freezer for two to three weeks)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups lightly packed coarsely chopped beet greens (or other green of your choice), tough stems removed

1 large garlic clove, minced

3 large eggs

1 cup milk

4 ounces crumbled chevre

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Roll out crust and shape into a 9-inch pie pan.  Line the crust with foil and fill with pie weights (or dried beans or pennies).  Bake crust for 15-20 minutes, until the edges appear dry and the bottom of the crust is sizzling.  Remove crust from oven, remove foil and pie weights, then set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add chopped greens and sauté until wilted and reduced in size, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and stir to combine.  Saute, stirring occasionally to keep the garlic from browning, until most of the moisture has been cooked from the greens, about 5 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove greens from heat and set aside to cool slightly.  You should have roughly 1 cup of cooked greens.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, and chevre.  Whisk to combine.  Add cooled sautéed greens and whisk to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the egg mixture into the parbaked crust.  Return to oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the quiche is puffed on top and the middle is set.  If the edges of the crust begin to brown too rapidly during baking, wrap the edges of the crust with a protective layer of aluminum foil.

Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Butternut Squash and Dry-Cured Olive Pizza with Ricotta and Chevre

27 Oct

In 2010, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, and in the course of that happening I nearly lost my mind.

My father was a kid in the Bay Area when the Giants moved to San Francisco, so he’s been a fan since 1958. This means that when the Giants won the World Series, he had experienced 52 long years of fandom void of seeing the Giants win the World Series. I’ve been a Giants fan since birth. Being as though I was born many years after 1958, one might think that the level of suffering I’ve experienced as a long-term Giants fan could somehow be deemed less fraught with pain and melancholy than my father’s, due to the smaller number of years I have lived as a fan. This assumption would be false. It is important to remember that, before 1958, my father experienced many wonderful, innocent years as a child free from the woe and misery caused by a beloved sports team repeatedly jabbing him in the heart, whilst simultaneously punching him in the face. I, however, have been privy to that pain practically since birth, since my life as a Giants fan essentially began as soon as I was released from the calm, baseball-free confines of the womb.  While it’s true that my father has endured a period of suffering that happens to be markedly longer than mine, I, as I know no other life without said suffering, and he does, would have to declare a draw if called upon to quantify whose life was made more woeful by the oft-crushing presence of the San Francisco Giants.

By the time last year’s World Series rolled around, we’d seen the Giants work their way towards the World Series before, and, sadly, we’d seen them lose the World Series before. Before my husband and I were married, he was an unfortunate audience member in the tragic real life play entitled I Watched the Giants Blow the World Series in 2002 (this bit of theater exists on a similar level of horror as I Watched the Giants Get Absolutely Creamed in the World Series in 1989). As he once told someone, he knew I was a fan, but up until then he did not realize the sheer intensity of that fandom. When the Giants are losing, I tend to curse a lot. I also tend to violently turn off the television, leave the room while muttering about how much I hate those bums, then stomp back into the room, turn the television back on, and proceed to let loose with a string of exceptionally unladylike obscenities. This will happen several times in the course of a game. Sometimes the Giants don’t even have to be losing for me to reach that level of unpleasantness. Sometimes they are winning, but are threatening to lose, and that’s enough to set me off on a long tirade of Oh, my god, those lousy bums.

But now, as a mother and a person rapidly settling into my mid-30s, I try to tone things down a bit. I’ve cut out the salty language and the hurling of the remote control, but I seem to have replaced those two things with the type of obsessive superstitions ordinarily reserved for the sort of people who frequent Bingo halls or palm readers. Last year, when San Francisco had made their way through the playoffs and into the World Series, I began to wear an awful lot of black and orange, which happen to be the Giants’ signature colors. Halloween was coming up, so, if anyone asked, I could always fabricate a plausible excuse for my color choices. As time went on, however, and the Giants came closer and closer to winning the World Series, my will began to unravel. First and foremost, I stopped being able to talk about anything other than baseball. Rather than hiding the true reasons behind my sartorial leanings, I instead began to randomly point out to other people that they, too, were wearing the Giants colors. Whether or not I actually knew said people was not of concern to me.  By the end of October, when I would pick up my son from preschool and the other parents would casually ask about our afternoon plans, I had lost the ability to speak in a rational manner or utilize complete sentences.

“The Giants are in the World Series!” I would blurt out, quickly shuffling my son towards the car. “It’s an afternoon game. Early evening. East Coast time. Pregame coverage starts in an hour. Giants are up two games. Can’t talk. We have to go now.  I’MSORRYWEHAVETOGONOTIMETOTALK.”

Throughout the duration of the Series, I also started making game time meals for us that were entirely orange and black.  Things with poppy seeds and cheddar cheese, baby carrots and black beans. I was possessed with the spirit of Giants baseball, and I had sucked everyone else in with me. Sure, my dad was already along for the ride, but when my son began to wake up every day and make an immediate beeline for his Giants cap and baseball glove, I really began to understand what was happening. Much like my dad had passed on the Giants to me, I, too, was setting up my son for a lifetime of agony and despair as a Giants fan.

But not last year.  My son, that lucky little devil, got to see the Giants win the World Series before he had even started kindergarten.  On November 1st, 2010, we all watched the Giants’ Brian Wilson (and his beard) strike out the Texas Rangers’ Nelson Cruz to end Game 5 of the World Series and take home the crown.  As it was repeated by Giants fans all around the country, the torture was over.  My father’s 52 years as a fan, along with my 33, were finally rewarded with the biggest win in baseball.  85 cumulative years of fandom between us, and our souls were finally released from the clutches of sadness.

That was last year. Things, as you might know if you have spent any time around me since about April, did not go so well for the Giants this year. Plagued with injuries and softened by lackluster offense, my memories of the 2011 Giants will not be as filled with excitement as my memories of the fellows of 2010. Since the Texas Rangers are getting their second chance at the World Series title this year, it seems only fitting that I would revisit a little bit of 2010 and recall one of the many orange and black meals I made during the month of October (and one day in November). This pizza, textured and flavorful, was a definite highlight. Chunks of roasted butternut squash atop a layer of creamy, tangy chevre and ricotta cheese. Intense and salty dry-cured olives. It’s the essence of fall on a pizza, or, if you’re a fan of the boys in orange and black, it’s a tip of the cap to the excitement of 2010 and the greatest autumn of my baseball-loving life.

Butternut Squash and Dry-Cured Olive Pizza with Ricotta and Chevre

Pizza dough for 1 pizza (this is my favorite no-fail pizza dough)

1 small butternut squash

2 tablespoons olive oil

2/3 cup ricotta cheese

¼ cup chevre

1/3 cup dry-cured black olives, pits removed if not purchased already pitted

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using a sturdy vegetable peeler or shaver, remove the peel from the squash, then cut it in half and remove the seeds.  Slice the squash into ½-inch chunks.  Place squash chunks on a heavy baking sheet, add the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, then toss to combine.  Roast the squash until it is soft but not falling apart, and the bottoms have just begun to caramelize, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove squash from oven and allow to cool slightly while you prepare the other ingredients.

Turn the oven up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and place an oven rack at the second-lowest level.  Place a heavy baking sheet or pizza stone on the rack while the oven preheats.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta and chevre and set aside.

Using your hands (not a rolling pin, which will force all the air out of the dough and make it tough), coax your pizza dough into an approximate circle of about 12 to 13 inches in diameter.  Place your dough round on a large piece of parchment paper.

Spread the ricotta and chevre mixture over the surface of the dough.  Add 2 cups of roasted butternut squash chunks to the top of the pizza (you can refrigerate any remaining butternut squash chunks).  Sprinkle with olives.

Slide the pizza, still on the parchment, onto a rimless baking sheet, or onto a baking sheet that has been overturned.  Using the rimless or overturned baking sheet, slide the pizza, still on the parchment, onto the baking sheet or pizza stone that has been heating in the oven.  Bake pizza for 8 to 10 minutes, until the edges are dark golden brown and the cheese is just beginning to turn brown in places.

Pizza can be eaten piping hot or slightly cooled.  Enjoyed best when accompanied by the sweet taste of victory.

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