In With The New

These are a few of my favorite things...

These are a few of my favorite things...

I’m ending the year with a moment of revelation. I had sidled up to the dessert table at a holiday party, and was licking my chops, surveying the goods. Suddenly I became aware of two women working at the same task and leaned in to hear the whispers between them:

Woman 1: “Everything looks so good!”

Woman 2: (Gasping) “Look at those cookies!”

Woman 1: “Will you share one with me?”

“Will you share one with me?” That’s what caused my moment of revelation—enough that my attention was momentarily diverted from the sugar wafting into my nostrils like a soothing opiate. I realized that this was not the first time I had heard that question while standing before a mountain of sweets. I’ve heard it waiting in line for cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery. I’ve heard it while surveying 31 flavors of ice cream, and then again at the party a few days ago.

This reminds me of a friend who is a playwright. He gets a lot of comments about his work. Comments from the people who help him actually get his plays on stage. Comments from the directors who help him shape the story and bring it alive.  Comments from the actors who speak with a supposed inside knowledge of what their character may or may not really do. Comments from friends like me who make suggestions veiled as silly questions.

I assume though, that his most valuable feedback comes from eavesdropping on audience members in the lobby during intermission. There, he hears truths that people can’t or won’t speak to his face.

That’s what I was doing when I was listening to the two women next to me at the dessert table: eavesdropping, and what I took away was that people want smaller, less intimidating goodies.

Hmmmm. Is this my resolution for 2010? Have I started the “tiny foods” movement? Hardly. But out of respect for a world where people live in a seemingly never ending state of “on-a-diet” I am here to declare that you can have your tiny cake and eat it too.

Here’s my theory: Make everything smaller in size and larger in flavor. Each bite should be a punch in the mouth. A chocolate jab to the right? An upper cut of cheese? Okay, okay, I’m painfully straining the boxing metaphor. Mind you, I’m not counting calories here; this is merely an exercise in taking the intimidation out of the stuff you’ve been told not to eat. I think you get my drift: small bite / big flavor = sated with less.

With New Year’s Eve only minutes away, I propose to use the last night of the aughts and the first morning of the teens as a laboratory to prove my theory.

Ines Rosales and Serrano

Ines Rosales and Serrano Ham

My first choice? Easy. A few months ago I wrote about pairing Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas with Serrano Ham. I’ll be breaking the tortas into bite sized shards and wrapping them with paper thin slices of the ham. The tortas are a touch sweeter and a great deal crunchier than the usual melon that accompanies Serrano ham or Prosciutto, and less slippery too. To remove anything intimidating from the mix I’ll carefully peel the fat from the ham. Heresy to purists, I know, but still delicious.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens? Forget those. Gougères are one of my favorite things. For the uninitiated, Gougères are classic French cheese puffs. I’ve decreased the bass and increased the treble: mine are button sized, and instead of the usual sweet, nutty gruyere cheese I found a Double Gloucester cheddar that is almost unbearably sharp—and bearably inexpensive. The sharpness of the cheese will be muted by the rich, eggy pastry; they’re small but they have big, big mouth feel.



Gougères are made from pate á choux—cream puff pastry. Intimidated? Don’t be. Using a Kitchen Aid stand mixer these are so easy to make it’s silly. The added bonus is that if you don’t add the cheese you can use the same recipe to make your own éclairs, cream puffs, and profiteroles. (Ahhh, profiteroles! Another favorite. Watch for an entire blog posting about those soon.)

Don’t forget dessert! Feel free to make those micro cupcakes, but those won’t tempt me. I need chocolate, and will be filling a large bowl with button sized chocolate chip cookies. I’ll be using the plain old Toll House cookie recipe but to give these minis some added punch, I’ll be adding half again as many chocolate chips as the recipe calls for, and adding a jolt by sprinkling an ever so light dusting of instant espresso powder over the teaspoon-sized cookies just before putting them in the oven.

Asiago Bread and Eggs

Asiago Cocktail Bread and Eggs

If you’re the type who will be staying up to greet the first dawn of the new decade allow me to recommend Asiago Cocktail Bread. Adding this to your repertoire gives you a yeast-less recipe that can work triple-duty tasks. Toast skinny slices of this cheese infused bread, and you end up with biscotti that can be dipped into glasses of red wine. A smear of onion dip (or just caramelized onions) on the biscotti and you have a no stress hors d’oeuvre that can be piled on a tray. Best of all, skip the toasting step and give folks greeting the dawn a little breakfast nibble by topping thin slices of the bread with a bit of scrambled egg. The untoasted slices give the gratifying starchiness of biscuits, minus the heaviness. (These are really good for those who the sunrise may find a bit “over-bubbly-ed.”)

If you’re wondering which bubbly to buy without breaking the bank, don’t overlook Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine. Sweeter than most champagnes but much less expensive, Prosecco is very approachable—more so, I think, than the equally inexpensive but much drier Spanish Cava. That’s just my preference. I’m a lightweight and will spend most of the night drinking a non-alcoholic bubbly so you are allowed to take my opinion with a (very small) grain of salt.

Hey: see you next year!



Click here for the recipe for Gougères and click here for the recipe for Asiago Cocktail Bread.

In case you missed it, read my original posting about Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas. More about this next week…

Write to me at the email address below with any thoughts you may have. I’ll be happy to hear from you.

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