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Deep Holes and Cheese Puffs

Most of my high school friends got some version of “best dressed” or “most likely to succeed” as a senior superlative in the yearbook.  I was gangly, mediocre at sports, and—I kid you not—

MOST LIKELY TO FALL INTO A DEEP HOLE.

(?!?!)

These superlatives went in guy-girl pairs.  The guy who “won” it with me was the boy I had invited to prom.  Five minutes after we arrived at the dance, which was desert island-themed, he fell into a baby pool “lagoon” in his tuxedo.  We didn’t talk much after that because he was extremely wet, and as a result I may have gyrated to “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” by myself.

We did come together to make one bizarre decision, though.  After we were elected MOST LIKELY TO FALL INTO A DEEP HOLE, we agreed to be photographed inside a deep hole.  It was the first time I’d been in a deep hole, actually, and it was damp and uncomfortable, much like prom.

I suppose most of the tripping and falling I did in high school was not my fault.  Given that the school maintained at least one large hole for the use of its yearbook staff, clearly something was off in the safety department.

Likewise, it is not my fault that I didn’t expect Civil War-era door jambs with rusted nails to be pointed upward in our new back yard.  This is not rural Serbia.

But I did fall onto one recently.  If anyone is to blame for it, it’s Thunder:  This only happened because she warms up for potty training like it’s the poop Olympics.  First, she waddles into the middle of the yard.  She gets the crazy eyes.  She takes a few preparatory laps around the perimeter at a warp-speed scoot.  When she is sufficiently psyched up about it, with her ears pinned back from the centrifugal force she has generated, she peels off and makes for the underbrush.  She emerges a few seconds later and comes bounding toward the house, where I give her a treat–not so much to congratulate her on the potty training, but more because she has survived, against all odds, one more day without running into a tree.

One evening last month, she did not come bounding out of the underbrush, and I had to go foraging around in there for her.  That’s when I stepped on the door jamb, manufactured circa 1850.

Later that evening, when I was adequately hydrogen peroxized and the dog was taking a nap because she had burned 900 calories out there, it occurred to me that I had not had a tetanus booster in nineteen years.

After reading what wikipedia has to say about tetanus, I concluded I was sufficiently screwed to merit a trip to the urgent care clinic.  They agreed to give me a tetanus shot, and things were looking up until the woman who was about to administer it asked for some more contact information.  When I gave her my email address, she said “NOW GMAIL…..IS THAT A DOT COM OR IS IT A DOT NET?” 

And so I began to doubt the wisdom of seeking medical attention from this person.  I asked for antibiotics too, just in case she was giving me a tetanus shot that had been lying around since 1989, when she last got on the internet.  She said I didn’t need antibiotics.  When I mentioned that Robert E Lee’s horse died of tetanus and AHA DID THEY GIVE TRAVELER ANTIBIOTICS, she looked at me blankly and said, verbatim, “holler at me again if it starts to get infected.”

LEAST LIKELY TO BECOME MY PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN, LADY.

Because I am not yet showing signs of lock-jaw, Scott and I are going to a potluck fundraiser to benefit the Boys & Girls Club today.  Their mission is “Inspiring and enabling all young people to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.”  At the very least, I am considering proposing a deep hole-filling committee.

We are bringing these gougères.  A gougère is a baked savory choux pastry.  (Profiteroles would be an example of a sweet choux pastry.)  Imagine an airy, almost hollow, cheesy dinner or brunch puff (it’s nowhere near as dense as a roll) that has the richness of egg and a little butter to it.  It gives way when you bite it.  You can eat lots at a time (eight before 10:30 a.m., in Scott’s case).

I found this basic recipe for Cheddar Gougères in the January, 2011 edition of Food & Wine and adapted it to add spicy ham to one cheddar batch, and blue cheese and walnuts to another batch.  The recipe I used is simpler than the recipe Alain Ducasses contributed to the October 2003 edition of Food & Wine.

The great thing about gougères is that they take about 10 minutes of prep time– no kneading or rising involved.  They are not better if they are underdone.  I underdid a batch of the walnut ones and they were spongy on the inside and not crisp on the outside.  They must be really brown.  If it’s your first time making them, I’d test one off the tray before you pull the whole thing out (they only need a minute of cooling before taking a bite).

Capicola & Cheddar Gougères, and  Blue Cheese & Walnut Gougères

Ingredients:

1 stick of butter

1 c. water

1/2 tsp. salt (I used kosher salt)

1 c. flour

4 eggs

*For capicola & cheddar gougères:

1 c. + 2 tbsp. cheddar, shredded

1/2 c. capicola or proscuitto or salami or just ham

*For blue cheese & walnut gougères:

1 c. crumbled blue cheese

2/3 c. walnuts, toasted

Directions:

Place oven rack on the top rung (this is important- I noticed my gougères  did not puff up as much if I used the lower rungs).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large saucepan or pot, combine the 1 c. water, 1 stick butter, and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Bring to a boil.

Remove from heat.  Add the 1 c. flour and whisk to combine.  The mixture should look like smooth mashed potatoes.

Transfer the mixture to a mixer.  Let it cool for 1-2 minutes (so that you don’t cook the eggs you will add).

Add the 4 eggs one at a time, mixing on medium speed to blend.  The mixture will be the consistency of brownie batter when you’re done.

*For capicola & cheddar gougères: cut the capicola into strips and pulse in the food processor for 10 seconds, or until capicola is in tiny bits.  Add the 1/2 c. capicola and the 1 c. cheddar cheese to the batter.  Mix or stir until batter is evenly combined.

*For blue cheese and walnut gougères: Toast the 2/3 c. walnuts and pulse in the food processor for 10 seconds, or until walnuts are in small bits but not powder.  Add the walnuts and blue cheese to the batter.  Mix or stir until batter is evenly combined.

Using a generous tablespoon, place dollops of batter on a greased cookie sheet at least 1 1/2 inches apart.  (For capicola & cheddar gougères, top the gougères with the remaining 2 tbsp. shredded cheddar.)

Place cookie sheet on top rung of the oven and bake for approximately 22-28 minutes, until gougères are puffed and a deep golden brown.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

T-dog after one of her work-outs

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