Friday, March 28, 2014

Something for the Kids... or the Resident Chocoholic
What’s cooking? Moon Pies

You know, sometimes you just need some chocolate. I’d been feeling that way for at least two weeks, and normally, I’d have been in the kitchen making something to satisfy that craving long before now. But once you make something, there it is. And then someone has to eat it. Which wouldn’t be a problem – after all, I did say I needed some chocolate – but you do generally end up with more than is really a healthy portion, unless you’re hosting dinner guests or the local Boy Scout troop.

I have had just enough other stuff going on in my life that company wasn’t a possibility; but some neighborhood friends were having a small party, so I offered to take dessert. And then as I looked around for what to make, I spotted an article in Garden & Gun that completely sucked me in. (Side note: The Kitchen Goddess is anything but a gun advocate. I often imagine how dangerous it would have been for my family if I’d ever had a gun in the house. But Garden & Gun is more about food and flowers than firearms – I can alliterate with the best of them – and a lot about Southern living. So I subscribe.)

The story featured a chef, David Guas, now in Arlington but originally from New Orleans, who makes his own moon pies at Mardi Gras time. Apparently, moon pies – graham cracker cookie sandwiches with marshmallow filling, and dipped in chocolate (!) – are a big deal for Mardi Gras, and historically a big Southern treat with RC Cola. So I’ll start with a confession: I was born and raised in the South by Southern women, and I have never had a moon pie, and I never really liked RC Cola. Or Dr. Pepper, for that matter. Heresy, I know – must be my Yankee father.

But these moon pies looked soooo yummy. They also looked a bit like a project, and as you all know, I love a project, especially if it takes place in the kitchen.

It turns out that they really are yummy, in a sort of messy way. Great kid fare. And if the guests at the party I took them to are any gauge, also great man fare. It’s only the ladies who are focusing on their weight and don’t like to get chocolate on their hands who shy away from this dessert. They should loosen up.

But first, a few notes on the process and my suggestions, which are reflected in the recipe that follows:

Step 1 – The graham cookies, which I decided to make a bit thinner than Chef showed. His were ¼-inch thick, but when I rolled the dough out to that thickness, it looked like slabs of sidewalk. So I rolled mine slightly thinner, and would roll them even thinner – like ⅛-inch thick – next time. Don’t get me wrong – they tasted great, very graham-y, better texture and more flavorful than graham crackers. I just think I’d prefer a more equal marshmallow/cookie ratio per bite.

Step 2 – The marshmallow filling. I’d never made marshmallows, but it seemed easy enough, and it was fun. The toughest part is waiting until the candy thermometer moves from 220º to 240º, which always seems like forever. Chef Guas recommends starting to whip the egg whites when the syrup reaches 200º, but if you have a KitchenAid or other stand mixer – which I definitely recommend, and not only for this recipe – you can start when it hits 220º. I also extended the whipping time by about 2 minutes after the syrup went in, because they hadn’t set up as firmly as I’d hoped at the end of 10 minutes. Twelve minutes seemed about right. This part of the recipe will be laborious in the extreme if you don’t have a good stand mixer.

Step 3 – Assembling the sandwiches. Well,... I noticed that the weight of the cookies seemed to be smooshing down the filling, so I decided to pile the filling on some of the cookies and let it chill a few minutes before adding the tops. Big mistake. It turns out that the chill sets the filling so firmly that you can’t get the top cookie to stay down. I had a few moments of hilarity while I tried putting the tops on those and setting a sheet pan on top to force them down, but they bounced back like Jack-in-the-Boxes (Jacks-in-the-Box?). Eek!! When I stirred the marshmallow around by hand for just a minute or two longer in the mixing bowl, it firmed up and worked fine.

Step 4 – Dipping. Chef Guas suggested using two forks in a sort of Emergency Room paddle formation to dip the sandwiches into the chocolate. Ha ha ha ha ha. It works, but don’t dip and then say to yourself, “I’ll just twist it around the other way to make sure the chocolate coats it.” Because that’s when you’ll drop it back into the chocolate and enjoy a little bit of cursing. So if the kids are going to be around while you do this part, just watch your language. It doesn’t hurt to drop them back into the melted chocolate – it just adds to the time. And I’ll try tongs next time.

Yes, there will be a next time. I don’t want to scare anyone off from doing this recipe. Actually, once you get the cookies done, you might have a great time with the kids or grandkids putting together the rest of it. And the Kitchen Goddess has already suffered through all the mistakes for you. Make it an after-school affair or a weekend project. Have fun!

Mardi Gras Moon Pies

Adapted from Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery in Arlington, VA, from Garden & Gun magazine

Makes 18-20.

For the cookies:

6 ounces unsalted butter
¼ cup brown sugar (light or dark)
¼ cup dark molasses
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ cups graham cracker crumbs, ground fine (put them in a ziplock bag and wale away on them with a rolling pin)
¾  teaspoon kosher salt
½  teaspoon baking powder
½  teaspoon baking soda
¼  teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons whole milk, plus one teaspoon

Using a stand mixer fitted with a flat beater (or paddle, as it might be called), combine butter, brown sugar, molasses and vanilla until smooth.

In a separate bowl, using a fork, stir together the dry ingredients, being sure to mix well the flour and graham crumbs.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar, and mix on low speed while dribbling in the milk. It should be a fairly stiff dough, but even so, you may need to add another teaspoon of milk if the dough isn’t coming together.

Press dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least one hour. Kitchen Goddess note: I left my dough to chill for several hours, and it was rock-hard when I took it out. A few minutes on the kitchen counter softened it up enough to work.

Preheat the oven to 325º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the dough to a ⅛-inch thickness (thicker if you feel like it) and stamp out rounds with a 2½-inch cutter. (The Kitchen Goddess gathers together the scraps and re-rolls for a second batch. She can’t stand to throw away good dough.) Bake the cookies 10-12 minutes, long enough to get them medium-crisp. Transfer the cookies to baking racks to cool.

For the marshmallow:

4 teaspoons powdered gelatin
½ cup cold water, plus ¼ cup water at room temperature
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 tablespoons honey (clover or wildflower)
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 large egg whites

Special equipment: candy thermometer.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and reserve. Put the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk and set aside. (Egg whites whip better at room temperature.)

In a small saucepan, combine the room-temperature water, corn syrup, honey and sugar over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to bring the mixture to a simmer, and continue to simmer until it reaches 240º on a candy thermometer.

When the temperature of the syrup mixture reaches 220º, begin to whip the egg whites on high until they hold firm peaks but are not stiff. If they reach this stage before the syrup reaches 240º, stop the mixer until the syrup is ready.

Once the sugar syrup reaches 240º, remove it from the heat, and whisk in the gelatin. Now, while the egg whites are whipping on high, carefully drizzle the hot syrup down the inside of the bowl into the egg whites. Continue whipping for an additional 10-12 minutes, until the mixture stiffens and becomes opaque.

Notice the little indentation where I scooped a bit out with a spoon to test. This is just ready.

Assembling the sandwiches:

Spray a large spoon (like a tablespoon) with nonstick cooking spray. Turn over half the cookies, and spoon 2-3 tablespoons of marshmallow onto each. Let the marshmallow set for a minute, then gently lay the remaining cookies on top of the marshmallow, pressing down gently to get the marshmallow to spread to the edge. Chill the sandwiches in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

For the chocolate coating:

1 pound bittersweet chocolate (60–70% cacao)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or canola oil

While the cookie sandwiches are chilling, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a small saucepan of simmering water. Stir the chocolate until it melts, then remove the bowl from the heat and let it cool slightly. When the chocolate has cooled slightly but is still warm, whisk the oil into it in a slow stream. Cool the chocolate to room temperature before dipping the cookie sandwiches.

Don't forget to spray the rack with cooking spray.

Coat a wire rack with cooking spray, and set it in a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Kitchen Goddess note: That cooking spray is critical, as you will otherwise find your moon pies sticking to the rack. I know this. Using a couple of forks or a pair of tongs, gently dip the chilled sandwiches into the chocolate and set onto the rack to rest. Move the pan to a cool place – not the fridge – to let the coating harden for at least a couple of hours.

Moon Pies can be kept in an airtight container, layered between sheets of parchment, at room temperature, for 4-5 days.

Kitchen Goddess Bonus  – The Kitchen Goddess had so much marshmallow filling left over that she couldn’t bring herself to throw it out. So she made marshmallows, which were also fun.

You will need:
• an appropriate-sized metal pan
• ¼ cup corn starch
• ¼ cup powdered sugar

Cover the pan with foil and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Mix the powdered sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl, and sprinkle a generous dusting of the mix over the entire pan.

Pour the marshmallow filling into the pan, and use a spatula to spread it evenly. The Kitchen Goddess also drizzled the leftover chocolate coating (Waste not, want not!) over the marshmallow.
Let the marshmallow set at room temperature for several hours or overnight.

The foil is another thing the Kitchen Goddess forgot. And was sorry.
Dust a work surface generously with more of the sugar/starch, then lift the marshmallow block from the pan using the foil, and flip it over onto the work surface. Peel off the foil, and dust the top of the marshmallow block with more of the sugar/starch.

Spray a large chef’s knife with cooking spray and cut the block into squares of whatever size you like. Dredge the cut sides of the marshmallows in the remaining sugar/starch. The marshmallows can be stored up to a week in an airtight container. You may have to re-dip them in sugar/starch if they get sticky.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Here Fishy, Fishy!
What’s cooking? A Meal in Minutes: Best Broiled Fish and Roasted Fingerlings

Happy Spring!!

I don’t know about you, but Daylight Savings Time throws me completely off my internal “time to cook” clock. It’s light so late, and Austin is in the far western part of the Central Time Zone, so at 6pm, I feel like it might be time for a mid-afternoon nap. Or maybe a walk. For sure, it doesn’t feel like time to cook dinner.

On the other hand, my husband looks at the clock, and when it says 7pm, he thinks it’s time to eat. Not time to start cooking – time to eat. And because he’s generally a patient sort when it comes to my kitchen quirks, we often solve the time dilemma with something like pizza.

So we’re at that time of year – Spring Forward! – when pizza shows up really more than it should. As much as I like the many variations on toppings that can make tonight’s dinner seem completely different from last night’s, we do reach a point when I yearn for a normal meal.

Thankfully, the Kitchen Goddess has come to the rescue with a truly wonderful meal that can – literally – be accomplished from start to finish in less than an hour. And it’s Lent-friendly. (This will be #2 of my fish-Friday preparations.) The other wonderful thing about this combo is that fish and potatoes just really go together. I don’t know why, they just do. Of course, you have to start with the ingredients being already in your house. If you have to go to the grocery store at 7pm, I can’t help you.

Let me say from the get-go that I know there’s a fair amount of fat here – at least a tablespoon per person. The Kitchen Goddess loves real butter. She recently bought a couple of pounds of that Kerrygold Irish Butter – on sale at Costco over St. Paddy’s Day – which has an even higher fat content than US butters. But the rest of the meal is relatively low-calorie, and if you use butter (waaaay better than margarine) and olive oil (really good for you), you’ll just swoon at the taste this delivers. Moreover, most of the meal gets cooked in the oven, so less mess for the stovetop.

Kitchen Goddess note about fingerling potatoes: These little spuds aren’t always available, but when you see some, grab some. The skins are delicate, papery, and ultra thin – no need to peel. And the insides are creamier – also lower in starch – than any other potatoes you can find. For this recipe, I used a mix of white, deep purple, and red fingerlings, just for the color; the tastes are the same. If you can’t find fingerling potatoes, use the smallest baby red-skinned or white-skinned potatoes you can find, and cut them into pieces no bigger than your thumb.

The fish technique here is adapted from marvelous Mark Bittman’s book and app, How to Cook Everything; the fingerling recipe is adapted from Tyler Florence, whose TV show, Tyler’s Ultimate, airs at 10am eastern time on the Food Network.

Meal in Minutes: Best Broiled Fish and Roasted Fingerlings

Serves 4.

For the potatoes:
1¼ pounds fingerling potatoes, rinsed and patted dry
, skins on
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh sage
3 sprigs fresh thyme
6 large cloves garlic, skins on
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the fish:
1½ pounds white fish fillet (cod, flounder, grouper, tilapia, haddock, etc.)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
optional garnishes: lemon wedges, parsley

Start by heating your oven to 500º. Look over your collection of fingerlings, and if any are markedly larger than the others, cut them in half. The goal is to have the potatoes all generally the same size, for roasting purposes.

Put the potatoes in a bowl, along with the olive oil and garlic, and toss to coat well. Strip the leaves from the herb stalks and toss with the potatoes and garlic. Pour all into a quarter sheet pan (any small baking pan with sides), and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Put the potatoes and garlic into the oven, and immediately turn it down to 425º. Bake for 20-25 minutes, shaking the pan about halfway through.

While the potatoes are roasting, pat the fish dry with paper towels, and set aside. Put the butter and oil into a large, cast-iron skillet or other heavy skillet that can go into the oven.

Kitchen Goddess note: If you have a green vegetable, prepare it while the potatoes are roasting.   Because I wanted these sugar snap peas crunchy, I actually sautéed them while the fish was cooking.

When the potatoes are ready (easily pierced with a fork), remove them from the oven and cover the pan with foil. While the fish is cooking, squeeze the roasted garlic out of its skins and stir it around with the potatoes.

Turn the oven to broil and move the top rack to be about 4 inches from the heat. Put the skillet with the butter and oil in the oven on that top rack until the butter is completely melted and sizzling (2-3 minutes). Remove the skillet from the oven and place the fish in it. Using a spoon, drizzle some of the melted butter/oil on top of the fish, and sprinkle with paprika and salt/pepper.

Return the skillet with the fish to the oven and broil 2 minutes for thin fillets, 3-4 minutes for thick fillets. The fish should flake easily with a fork when it’s done. Garnish if you want with lemon wedges or parsley.

* * *

And that’s all, folks. Dinner complete in less than an hour. Maybe even less than 45 minutes if you’re good. Take note that the herbs, after baking in the oil with the garlic, taste simply amazing on their own.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Must Be the Season of the Fish
What’s cooking? Simple Salmon Cakes and Joy’s Tartar Sauce

Well, folks, it’s Lent. The season of denial that leads to character building. Maybe that’s my problem, because the minute I decide I’m not going to have a particular food, about five seconds later, I start obsessing over it. Ways to cook it, what to serve it with,... One year, I tried eliminating chocolate from my diet, and within hours, ... well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. Maybe I can hope that, having worked on my character all these years, I can stop building and just do some routine maintenance: spackling, re-grouting, touch-up painting,... and that’s just on my physical appearance. Let’s face it: about the only things I’m good at denying myself are the ones I’m not crazy about in the first place, and I know that backdoor approach isn’t really the point.

But everyone eats fish during Lent. The Pope says no meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday until Easter. So even though I’m not Catholic, that sounds like a good thing. Fish is great for you, and I’ve got a few really good ways to prepare it. One of which, for salmon cakes, I will share with you today! (The rest will be coming later in Lent. The waiting is a character-building thing I will help you with.)

The recipe for salmon cakes came to me in one of the regular emails I get from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen, which is somehow the same and yet somehow different from Cook’s Illustrated. Whatever. I get these missives because I pay for them, which I wouldn’t do if it were just the recipes, as I find most of the dishes a bit boring and underseasoned. But the people at ATK/Cook’s have some good thoughts about cooking processes and various cooking equipment, and they test their ideas until someone cries “uncle!” So they’re a reliable resource, if a bit tyrannical in their instructions. (When I read that I should pat the salmon mixture “into disk measuring 2¾ inches in diameter and 1 inch high,” I got an uncomfortable sensation of being part of Stalin’s kitchen staff.)

Nevertheless, I must say that these salmon cakes looked and tasted terrific. I’ve started having what I call “Guinea Pig Dinners,” for which I invite good friends – people who know me well and won’t mind if I’m wearing my sweats when they arrive – and warn them that I’m trying out recipes. So it could happen – though it hasn’t so far – that we have to order pizza in the end. The salmon cakes starred as the entrée for my latest Guinea Pig Dinner, and were a huge hit.

They key here is to start with good, fresh salmon. Find out which days your grocer gets his fish delivered and go then. You can buy some today and not cook it until tomorrow, but don’t hang onto it for two days unless it’s been flash frozen. And ask the fishmonger if you can smell it – as with chicken, good, fresh fish will not smell like anything. If it smells fishy, buy something else.

The second key is to use a food processor and process the salmon just enough to reduce it to pieces about ¼-inch square and generally uniform in size. Think steak tartare, only with salmon – the best isn’t made from ground beef, but with beef cut into tiny dice. Which gives the cakes a texture you don’t often find with fish cakes: meaty and not gummy, tender and moist inside and crispy outside, with a hint of the parsley and other ingredients of the mix. Because they cooked quickly and don’t have a lot of breading, they also soak up little of the oil. I cooked 11 cakes (two batches) in ½ cup of oil and had at least half of it left in the pan.

Kitchen Goddess note about preparing the salmon: If you buy a salmon fillet with the skin on, buy more than you need. I needed 1½ pounds of salmon, so I bought 1¾ pounds with the skin on. You’ll want to remove not only the skin but the thin, gray layer of muscle just underneath the skin. It’s not hard – just takes a little work. A tip from YouTube: start at the tail end of the fillet and use a paper towel to hold onto the skin (which is slippery) as you slice between the skin and the flesh. Or do what the Kitchen Goddess plans to do, and see if the fishmonger won’t do it for you. Be sure to smile nicely when you ask.

What I particularly liked about this recipe was that I could do the labor-intensive part – cutting up the salmon and mixing it with the other ingredients – ahead of time. Then when we were ready to eat, it took almost no time to scoop the mixture into patties, coat the cakes in panko (no egg mixture – another plus!), and sauté them. I could probably have formed the patties ahead as well, but that part took no more than a couple of minutes. For maximum crispness, you don’t want the panko crust to go onto the raw patties until the very last minute.

Lemon wedges are a nice accompaniment, but I served mine with my friend Joy’s tartar sauce, which is hands down the best I’ve ever had. Tart and fresh, with only a hint of sweetness from the mayo, it’s almost good enough to eat on its own.

Simple Salmon Cakes

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.

Makes about 11 cakes.

6 tablespoons plus 2 cups panko bread crumbs
4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large scallion, thinly sliced
1 large shallot, minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1¼ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 skinless salmon fillet (about 1¾ pounds)
½ cup vegetable oil

Combine 6 tablespoons panko with the parsley, mayonnaise, lemon juice, scallion, shallot, mustard, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a large bowl.

Cut the salmon into 1-inch cubes and divide them into two batches. Pulse each batch in a food processor until coarsely chopped into ¼-inch pieces. (You’ll need 3-4 pulses of about 2 seconds each.) Transfer the processed salmon to the bowl with the other ingredients and gently combine them until the mix is uniform. At this point, you may cover the bowl and refrigerate it until you are ready to cook the fish. Or you can do the next step and refrigerate the unbreaded cakes.

Place remaining 2 cups of panko in a shallow bowl. Using a ⅓-cup measure, scoop a level amount of the salmon mixture into a patty and set it on a baking sheet; repeat until all the mixture is used.

One at a time, transfer each cake to the bowl of panko and gently coat it in the crumbs while patting it into a disk about an inch high. Return the coated cakes to the baking sheet.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Carefully place the cakes into the skillet and let them cook undisturbed for 2 minutes, at which point they should be golden brown. Using two spatulas to maneuver the cakes, flip them to the other side and sauté another 2 minutes until the second side is also golden brown. Remove the cakes to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. If you have too many cakes for a single batch, place an aluminum foil tent over the first batch while the second batch cooks.

Serve immediately, accompanied by lemon wedges and/or tartar sauce.

Kitchen Goddess notes on the tartar sauce: (1) Make the tartar sauce at least an hour and a half before you serve it, so that the flavors can bloom. (2) For the herbs, I don’t think there’s any comparison between the flavor of fresh parsley and dried, so treat yourself to a bunch of parsley. Rinse it off, spin it dry, roll it in paper towels, and stuff it into a zip-lock bag, and it’ll last at least a week. FYI, the Kitchen Goddess always has fresh parsley in the crisper. Tarragon is another thing altogether, so if you have some growing in your garden or you bought some for another reason, by all means use fresh. But I wouldn’t buy any just to get a single tablespoon of the stuff, in which case dried tarragon is fine. (3) The sauce will keep for at least a week in the fridge, so you may want to double it to have available for next Friday’s fish.

Joy’s Tartar Sauce

Makes about 1½ cups.

1 cup mayonnaise, light or regular
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped (or a rounded teaspoon of dried tarragon)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream (or half-and-half)
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1-2 tablespoons minced scallion
1 tablespoon capers, drained, plus ½ teaspoon of the juice
2-3 tablespoons dill pickle relish
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Whine and Some Cheese
What’s cooking? Fromage Fort

So, did we all have fun watching the Oscars Monday night? I thought the clothing – men’s and women’s – was generally a higher caliber than what we’ve seen in some years, and while not all the hair was outstanding, none of the big stars sported any truly weird looks. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The hair and the dresses and the tuxes? Frankly, I thought Ellen looked better than many of them. That electric blue velvet jacket was gorgeous.

But it seemed to me that the overriding lesson of the night was that beauty is a special quality shared in many ways by many people, and that while age may change your looks, it doesn’t diminish your beauty unless you try to stop those changes from happening. When you try to subvert Mother Nature, she gets very angry. So angry, in fact, that she turns you into a toad.

Kim Novak was the most frightening. She’s 81, and if she’d just let life show itself on her face, she’d have had a visage somewhere between Dame Judi Dench (79) and Dame Angela Landsbury (88). I look at those two British Dames and say to myself, “Don’t they look great?!” Novak, on the other hand, reminded me eerily of a cross between Jack Nicholson’s and Heath Ledger’s make-up as The Joker.

Then there are Liza Minelli (67) and Goldie Hawn (68). They’re actually the same ages as Sally Field (67) and Bette Midler (68), both of whom looked wonderful. Poor Liza has lots of other problems, so I won’t dwell on what she’s done to her face, but I can hardly recognize Goldie – she should have stopped a few surgeries ago.

We all – and that includes me – look at ourselves in the mirror and fantasize about a little tuck here, a little lift there. But I hope we can focus less on the wrinkles and be proud of our looks – in our ability to smile with all our facial muscles, in the happiness, sadness, humor, and compassion that make themselves evident on our faces, and that every now and then – maybe today – someone will look at us and say, “Doesn’t she look great?!”

* * *

So the Oscars were fun, but I have something even more fun, and you don’t have to wait for the Academy Awards to enjoy it. It’s Fromage Fort. No, it’s not a game where you build a structure out of cheese and hide under it. It’s a French cheese spread – the name means “strong cheese” – and it’s a time-honored way that French households make use of leftover bits of cheese. (This is, in fact, a recipe I meant to give you along with the Gourmet Mac ‘n Cheese, but the Kitchen Goddess sometimes thinks her brain is a bit like Swiss cheese. So she forgot.)

In much the same way that my Gourmet Mac ‘n Cheese got its magic from a glorious mix of different types of cheese, Fromage Fort turns your leftovers into a smooth, creamy spread that can be the basis of an hors d’oeuvre when served with crackers, toasted slices of baguette, or red bell pepper scoops. The Kitchen Goddess has also served it melted on thick slices of French bread alongside a cup of soup for lunch, and has mixed it into scrambled eggs for a perky start to the day. She even wrapped 4-5 ounces of ground meat around a dollop of the stuff for a grilled Fromage Fort burger. Let your imagination run wild!

Fromage Fort stores nicely in the fridge or even in the freezer if you need, and I find that a small jar of it makes a very nice hostess gift or a thank-you of any kind.

The basic recipe for Fromage Fort uses 4-6 different cheeses, some dry white wine, and a bit of garlic. The most fun comes in improvising – I’ve made two completely different batches and have loved both. You can add various herbs – fresh is best – like thyme, chives, parsley, dill, or even spring onion. Get inspired, or don’t – the basic recipe is plenty good on its own.

The one thing to watch for is that you don’t have too many salty cheeses. As with a cheese board at a party, try to effect a mix of creamy and hard, fresh and aged, sharp and mellow, to give you the best flavor.

So here you go. From start to finish, Fromage Fort will take you about 15 minutes to make. Aren’t you glad the Kitchen Goddess is your friend?

Fromage Fort

Makes about 2½ cups.

1 pound assorted bits of cheese at room temperature (4-6 different types is best)
1 clove garlic
½ cup white wine
grind of fresh pepper
Optional: 2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (e.g., thyme, chives, dill, parsley – one or more)

Remove hard or inedible rinds from the cheeses (before you weigh them). Cut soft and firm cheeses into half-inch dice; grate the hard cheeses. Load all ingredients – the cheeses plus the garlic, the wine, the pepper and herbs (if using) – into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are fairly well mixed, then process the mixture until smooth, about 1 minute.

Serve immediately or store in glass jars for up to two weeks in the fridge or a month in the freezer. The flavors will mellow as your Fromage Fort ages.