Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Life is Gouda

    I had to get my cheesy joke out of the way in the title (Get it. Cheesy. That one was like a two for one in the joke department!) otherwise it'd be haunting me throughout this entire posting, begging to be used, insisting I tell you how gouda this meal was and other similar uses, but do not fret, panic, or remain flabbergasted: the joke shall be laid to rest.

doesn't that look gouda?

    The question is already on your mind, "why gouda?" I know these things because this morning I drove by a business running a 'psychic special: $10 readings' so I figured anyone can assert their opinion about things and say they know what's in your mind. That'll be $10 please.


    To answer your burning question, I must tell you about my weekend. This weekend I went to two weddings for two of my dear friends (Congratulations to Yvette and John and also Kirstin and Kurt!!) and while the ceremonies are always lovely and the dresses are breathtaking, my favorite part is naturally the food. What caught my attention most of all was not the meal itself at one of these, it was a simple cheese and cracker appetizer. How wonderfully simple and amazingly delicious. This is where the gouda comes in: if I had my way I would have eaten my weight in this delicious cheese, but the amount of wine I would have had to consume to make this socially acceptable would have been ridiculous thus I decided to forego the aforemetioned plan.

    At home on Monday, I wanted to make a simple yet fabulous dinner that included this food of the gods, so as I racked my brain to figure how I could use gouda as a star ingredient, I had to think of what paired best with it. After a short brainstorming session, I went back to one of my favorite meals as a kid: ham and cheese. I like to think of this as my Grown-up Ham and Gouda Croissant. This meal really was a great dinner but could also easily be used as hors d'oeuvres at any party.  Here's the plan of action:

Grown-up Ham and Gouda Croissant

makes 8 croissants
prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes

One roll of Croissants
    (like the Pillsbury pop-open kind in the grocery store next to the dinner rolls)

1/4 lb. of thinly sliced ham, about 6 slices

Gouda cheese, thin slices or chunks

and that's all: 3 ingredients. I'll get to the rest of the meal in a moment (please take note of the fancy tied asparagus bundle with if you can see it through the hollandaise) but for now, the croissants.

Preheat the oven to 375º

1. Put parchment paper on your cookie sheet. If you don't have parchment paper, don't try to substitute anything else. This is one of my favorite kitchen tools because it makes clean up THE EASIEST THING IN THE WORLD. Unroll the croissants so they are long triangles and lay them on the cookie sheet.
parchment paper also hides discolored pans.

2. Slice ham to fit on croissant and put on as much as fits your taste (or budget.) Very few people ever say "Oh my stars! I just can't eat this it's just TOO MEATY." Except of course vegetarians, which of course should do this recipe without the meat, because cheese makes everything better. Even croissants.

3. Lay your pieces of cheese parallel to the butt end of your roll. This makes the process of rolling it much easier.

did anyone else eat Ham and Cheese loaf as a child?
I promise this tastes better than that.

4. Roll them up (but not too tight) going from the fat end to the tip.

ready for the oven!

Throw them in the oven and remove them when the croissants are a beautiful golden brown, about 15-18 minutes.

WASN'T THAT EASY? I did that on a Monday night and it was easy prep and easy clean-up with great flavor.

"but Dan, the rest of it looks sophisticated and elegant. How do I do side dishes like that?" said the imaginary comment I got in my inbox as I was typing this. I already said this was a Monday night kind of meal, so they weren't hard at all! The only plan-ahead is boiling the damn potatoes. They may say it only takes 20 minutes to get them "fork tender when pierced" but I swear it was closer to 25 or 30... anyway, here's the rest.

Roasted Asparagus with Hollandaise

Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes (WITH THE CROISSANTS! TWO FOR ONE!)

The bottom of the asparagus hard and white, so you always have to discard that part as it's nearly inedible. The best way to figure out where the cut should happen is take a spear that is average sized and bend it to feel where it goes from hard to soft and breaks. Line up the rest of the spears and slice them at the same place. If you still see white on the bottom of one, take it out and cut it a little shorter until all you see is green.

Step 1: put asparagus on baking sheet. I think 6 spears per person is a decent serving size.
Step 2: drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Step 3: put in oven with croissants.

And the hollandaise? People are scared of it but it's super easy and takes just a little over 5 minutes. It's also an easy way to impress guests and trick people in to thinking you're a good cook if you add hollandaise. I told Dustin last night how lucky he is to have a boyfriend that can make a hollandaise and he believed me. Sucker. Here's how easy it is.

2 egg yolks from room temperature eggs. Didn't plan ahead? Just soak them in warm water for 5 minutes like I did.
1 stick of butter, 6tbsp melted, 2 tbsp cold
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cold water
salt and white pepper
a wire whisk

1. Gently heat the yolks until they're smooth but thick AND I MEAN GENTLY. MEDIUM AT THE HIGHEST. If you go too quickly you'll scramble the yolks and then it'll taste like you're having a lemony asparagus omelet. The thought of it made me want to vomit too. That should take about 2 minutes

2. Whisk in 1 tbsp cold butter and let it melt in to the warm yolks. They're absorbing the buttery goodness and holding it in suspension in a delicious way every time you add butter which is why we can't do it too quickly.

3. Add lemon juice and cold water, whisk until combined and let warm as it thickens. The cold ingredients keep it from heating up too fast, so just go with it. And don't stop whisking.

4. In a gentle trickle, add the 6 tbsp of melted butter. You don't have to see each individual drop, but again to help the yolks hold the butter correctly you can't go too quickly. Season it to taste with the salt and white pepper (that just helps it hold its color... you can definitely use black pepper if you like the look of it or just don't have white pepper). If you like it with a little kick like I do, after it's plated put a dash of Cayenne Pepper on the top.

And finally: boil potatoes until they're "fork tender when pierced." drain. in that warm pan you just cooked potatoes in, add 2tbsp of butter and let it melt, add the potatoes back in and generously coat, add  chopped scallions, salt, and pepper and serve!

    This menu was made for 2 people, so you might need more if you're cooking for more (that's enough hollandaise for about 4 people, realistically) but there's an easy Monday night meal. And I still have 3/4 block of gouda, so be prepared for a couple more recipes with it.

Gouda Luck!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Let's get it started with BLT pizza.

Hi. My name is Dan.

    Now that we have that out of the way, I want to talk about bacon. Specifically, bacon festivals. This weekend in Keystone, CO there is a bacon festival happening that was advertised running Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but apparently starting Friday means that a band performs, you call that an "opening reception," and suddenly you can advertise a third day. "That's only cool if the band was wearing bacon outfits, or were bacon themselves," one of my best friends Julia texted after I shared my distaste for their false advertising.

    Which reminds me, I can't write about food without talking about my two best friends in the whole world, Leanna and Julia. Whenever I make something, I love having them in the kitchen to either keep me on track or to help out!

Leanna and Julia, everyone.


    With my distress over the bacon festival rearing its ugly head, something needed to be done to redress the situation so the wonderful Leanna and I decided to have our own bacon festival. Close your eyes for a moment and picture pans upon pans of bacon cooking away, experimenting with all of the different flavors bacon can offer, combining it with different meats, vegetables, even wrapping seafood in it, pouring syrup on it, but not dipping it in chocolate or putting it on any type of cupcake because BACON AND CUPCAKES DON'T BELONG TOGETHER I DON'T CARE HOW TRENDY IT IS RIGHT NOW. 

    Our makeshift bacon festival was nothing like that, as we're both a little chubby and that much bacon certainly won't help us fix that. We did decide that, to honor our fatty friend Sir Bacon of Hogsmeade, we would make a BLT pizza. Comfort food transformed. Bacon realized for its true potential, cradled in warm melted cheese with a juicy tomato and cool refreshing lettuce over it. Here's what we did:

BLT Pizza

don't discriminate against square pizza

1 pizza dough
    (I prefer to just get it from Whole Foods... seriously it's $2.99 and you get to skip the dough making.
        If you're a purist, however, i'll include my favorite pizza dough recipe after this)
2 large, ripe tomatoes
    (I would say two at minimum. If your best friends are Liza Minelli and a tomato, 3 might be better.)
1 pound of bacon
    (I used thick sliced applewood smoked and it was DELICIOUS)
8oz of grated mozzarella cheese
about 10 large leaves of Romaine lettuce, chopped
olive oil
pecorino romano (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 475º

2. Dice tomatoes and put them in a colander and drain. Sprinkle them liberally with salt and let them sit for about 15 minutes. The salt will help draw out some of the excess moisture (and flavor them!) so that you don't end up with a soggy pizza crust. No one likes a soggy pizza crust.

3. Fry the bacon up in a pan. Medium-medium high heat, flip it once, pretty easy stuff. Once it's cooked, crumble it in to small pieces.

4. Roll out pizza dough. If you've done this before, go to step 5. If you haven't, ask yourself why. Go deep in to your psyche and analyze your childhood. Now add to the comments any angst this makes you feel, specifically if it stirs up feelings about your parents, and i'll include a full Freudian analysis on my next post. Ok, i'm kidding. I don't think my mom ever let my sister or me roll the dough out either because it'd probably end up looking like some sort of lumpy uneven space blob. LET ME GET BACK ON TRACK. If you've never done this before, flour is your best friend. Sprinkle your work surface with flour. Sprinkle your hands with flour. Sprinkle your rolling pin with flour. What's that? You don't have a rolling pin? Don't worry, you can use a wine bottle. I've also found a bottle of Grey Goose works well, too. Roll outwards from the center, then toward you. Rotate the pizza dough, then do it again. BUT DAN, YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO TOSS PIZZA DOUGH IN THE AIR! You can if you want to look cool, but i always end up poking a hole in the dough or getting covered in flour when I throw it in the air. Once it's at the desired shape, go to step 2!

5. Lightly spread olive oil on the surface you're going to be cooking the pizza on. If you have a pizza stone, congratulations on being fancy. I personally use a cookie sheet. Transfer your dough to the surface and let's get to building a pizza.

6. Put the tomatoes on the crust. Yes, just like that, you're doing great. I prefer to go from the outside and work my way in, but you can do it however you'd like. Just make sure you leave room for crust to rise on the outside.

7. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese liberally over the tomatoes. If you have the pecorino on hand, put that on there too. It's one of those things that makes life worth living.


    Learning opportunity to impress your friends at parties: If you are a fan of Italian food (or of cheese, I suppose) one of the best ways to dress up any dish is to put some finely grated Pecorino cheese on it. Pecorino, made from sheep's milk, is a uniquely Italian cheese with a flavor unique to each area. There is Pecorino Romano from Rome, Pecorino Toscano from Tuscany, and Sicily and Sardinia make their own varieties too. It really takes it up a notch both in flavor and in classiness. Use this if you're trying to impress someone on a date.

8. Remember that crumbled bacon? Put it on top of the cheese.

9. Lightly brush olive oil over the outside crust and season lightly with salt and pepper. Go ahead and put it in the oven now for 15 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown.

Once you put it in, clean up all the flour you probably made a mess with rolling out the dough. This is also a good time to chop your lettuce; this is when Leanna and I picked lettuce out of my garden out back. Wash it, dry it, chop it. Add lettuce once the pizza is out and has cooled for about 5 minutes, slice, and enjoy!

For those who wanted the pizza dough recipe, I didn't forget about you. This is just straight out of The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook which has been one of my bibles in my exploration of food. This is word for word out of their book:

2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup semolina flour
1 tbsp salt
3-4 cups unbleached all purpose flour

To make the dough, in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let stand until foamy, about 4 minutes. Add the olive oil, semolina flour, and 1 tbsp salt; mix until creamy. Add the all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and knead with the dough hook until the dough is smooth but not sticky, about 10 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball, put in a lightly oiled bowl, and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough, and knead briefly, cover with the towel again and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

as mentioned earlier, Liza Minnelli and a tomato.