Gruyere Cheese "Puffs": The Perfect Party Appetizer

I must share a confession: I judge a restaurant by its bread. I'm not proud of it, but over the years I've found it's a necessary evil. Bread is like a restaurant's first impression. Or better yet, first date. In most restaurants, the bread shows up before one has a chance to lock eyes with the waiter, order a cocktail, or even take a sip from the water glass that somehow flew out of the busboy's hands and onto the table. Whether it's a whole roll or a sliced baguette, bread should be fresh and warm to the touch, crusty on the outside and steamy on the inside, and emitting a wonderfully yeasty aroma. Bonus points if the bread is made in house, served with a pat of butter sprinkled with flakes of sea salt, or if it is not bread at all, but rather a gougère.

Meet the Gougère
A gou-what, you might say? A gougère is simply a fancy-schmancy name for a still-steaming, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, cheese puff. Say it with me: cheese puff. If an old-fashioned biscuit got busy with a cheese soufflé, it would have a gougère baby. On the inside it's creamy and steamy, but on the outside it's a baked, cheesy, crunchy shell of goodness. Unfortunately, there's only one restaurant in L.A. that I know of -- hello, Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao -- that serves gougères before its meals, but neither my wallet nor my cholesterol level can handles weekly dinners there. So instead, I tested a homemade gougère recipe. And guess what? It turned out fantastic so I want to share it with you, too. It's perfect for holiday party appetizers or pre-dinner bread. Enjoy!

Gruyere Gougères
Recipe adapted from Food & Wine Magazine
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese
  • Sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper

Make the gruyeres: Preheat the oven to 400°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine the milk with the water, butter and salt; bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Add the flour all at once with the Piment d'Espelette and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the flour is thoroughly incorporated. Reduce the heat to low, return the saucepan to the burner and cook the gougère dough, stirring constantly, until the dough pulls away from the side of the pan, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of grated Gruyere cheese and stir until cheese it melted and incorporated into dough.

Bring milk, water, salt & butter to a boil

Add flour and stir, stir, stir (!) until the dough pulls in from sides of pan
Remove the saucepan from the heat and let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until the dough cools slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring briskly between additions to thoroughly incorporate each egg. Important note: a wooden spoon is crucial here. If you don't own one, use the wooden handle of a spatula.

Add eggs, one at a time, until dough is smooth and sticky
Drop three-tablespoon mounds of dough onto the baking sheets, two inches apart. Top each round with one tablespoon of Gruyere cheese; sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

Drop mounds of dough two inches apart on parchment paper

Top each mound with grated cheese, salt and pepper
Bake the gougères for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350° and bake for 30 minutes longer, switching the baking sheets halfway through, until the gougères are puffed and browned. Turn off the oven, propping the door ajar with a wooden spoon. Let the gougères rest in the oven for about 30 minutes longer, until crisp on the outside but still steamy within. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make ahead: The gougères can be frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost in a 350° oven for about 8 minutes.

Bake gougères according to instructions above

The finished product! Homemade gougères


Happy One Year Anniversary to Pardon My Crumbs!

It's Pardon My Crumbs' one year anniversary! I can barely believe an entire year has gone by. Writing this blog has been such a wonderful experience and I've loved every minute of sharing my foodie adventures, baking mishaps, restaurant reviews and cooking exploits with you. Throughout all the past year's ups and downs, I took great comfort in the fact that I could walk determinedly into my tiny kitchen and whip up something big, something delicious and something that you would look forward to trying. I especially loved taking all the photos, documenting each recipe step-by-step so you would know that you're on the right track. As Pardon My Crumbs got rolling, I was so excited to receive all the emails and kudos from friends, family and perhaps most importantly, readers new to the blog who can identify with my story and love for food. One year later, I'm just as excited to read and respond to your emails, answer your questions, give tips and advice and let you know that I get confused in the kitchen and have terrible mishaps, too (Tartine's Morning Buns, anyone?) So I just want to say thanks for reading, trying my recipes, sharing your feedback, sending me inspiration and requests, and for being patient during months when I wasn't able to post as much as I wanted to. And please continue to do so, so we can continue to build this blog together. :)

In honor of Pardon My Crumbs' one-year anniversary, here are some of my favorite "Greatest Hits" recipes, ranging from savory to sweet, breakfast to dinner, baby shower desserts to poker night bites. Did I miss any? I'd love to know what are some of your favorite Pardon My Crumbs posts? Let me know by commenting below or emailing me at Christie@PardonMyCrumbs.com. And here's to another year!


How To Make The Perfect Meatball Sandwich

Meatball sandwiches are like philly cheesesteak sandwiches; everyone has a favorite preparation, topping and sandwich joint that they staunchly love. My favorite meatball sandwich comes from Potbelly Sandwich Works, a place that started in the midwest but sadly, hasn't made it's way to Los Angeles (sad face). Their bread is fantastic; hot with a flaky crust, and their meatballs are juicy, tender and full of great tomato, herb and beef flavors. Top it off with a layer of melted Provolone cheese and more bubbling marinara sauce and you've got yourself a serious winner.

The crazy thing is that for the five years since I've been back in L.A., I've pretty much pouted and just missed this sandwich without doing anything about it. My options are pretty limited as I can't have one shipped in -- freshness would be a slight issue -- and I'm not exactly in a position to franchise a store. So I did the next best thing: I made my own. A flip through last month's Bon Appetit confirmed my decision as I turned straight to a section entitled, "Finally Found: The Perfect Meatball."

The Perfect Meatball Sandwich
The recipe was so good that I found myself eating the meatballs out of the pan and literally slurping the sauce with a spoon. For real. But once I forced myself to regain my composure, I made a pretty kick-ass meatball sandwich topped with diced onions, Italian parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. It's not Potbelly's, but it will definitely do. Here's the recipe.

(Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

Sauce Ingredients:
  • 2 28-ounce cans diced or crushed tomatoes in juice, drained, juice reserved
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 medium onions, peeled, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) salt
Meatball Ingredients:
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French or country-style bread
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 8 ounces ground beef (15% fat)
  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • 1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)
To make the sauce: Combine tomatoes with juice, butter, onions, and salt in large wide pot. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season sauce with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat.

To make the meatballs: Combine breadcrumbs and milk in small bowl; stir until breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Let stand 10 minutes. Place beef and pork in large bowl and break up into small chunks. Add 1 cup ground Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper. Whisk eggs to blend in small bowl; whisk in garlic. Add to meat mixture. Using hands, squeeze milk from breadcrumbs, reserving milk. Add breadcrumbs to meat mixture. Using hands, quickly and gently mix meat mixture just until all ingredients are evenly combined (do not overmix). Chill mixture at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Combine the meatball ingredients and chill
Moisten hands with some of reserved milk from breadcrumbs, then roll meat mixture between palms into golf-ball-size balls, occasionally moistening hands with milk as needed and arranging meatballs in single layer in sauce in pot. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Note: The meatballs and sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead.

Arrange meatballs in single layer in simmering tomato sauce

Cover with sauce (turn over if necessary) and let cook through, about 15-20 minutes.
While meatballs are cooking, assemble the sandwich ingredients. Cut off a 5-inch section from a fresh loaf of French bread. Slice three-fourths of the way through the bread, leaving the two "sides" connected (this is so the meatballs rest on the bread and don't fall through the other side). Dice two teaspoons of sweet onion and fresh Italian parsley. When the meatballs are finished cooking, arrange five meatballs and some extra ladle of sauce inside the bread. Sprinkle the meatballs with the onion, parsley and grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately (with extra napkins!).

Slice French bread, dice onion and Italian parsley

Arrange five meatballs between bread; top with onions, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
The great news is that this recipe yields a lot of meatballs, which you can also use for spaghetti and meatballs the next day. Or you can just reheat the meatballs and eat them alone. Yep, they're that good. Either way, you're gonna love them.

Got leftovers? Make spaghetti & meatballs!


A Taco + Mezcal Tour of Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Bryan and I just returned from a trip to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, to celebrate the wedding of two good friends. Having never been to "Zihuat" -- my last trip to Mexico was a questionable visit to even more questionable Tiajuana bars during college -- I had no idea what to expect. Turns out the small town sits right between a picturesque bay and lush, green hills, appealing to both sun (and infinity pool) worshippers as well as tourists looking for more "authentic" Mexican experiences (read: food). Not being one to turn down authentic Mexican cuisine, I was into the idea of going into town but admittedly nervous about turning the wrong way down a deserted street or running into a less-than-friendly Federale with a penchant for false arrests. What can I say? I'm paranoid, especially about unfamiliar international places.

Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Lucky for us, our friends Kyle & Catie had previously honeymooned in Zihuatanejo and led seven of us on an expedition into town to sample two of Zihuatanjeo's finest: tacos and tequila. More specifically, mezcal, a distilled drink made from the maguey plant (similar to agave) with a strong, smoky flavor. Almost five hours, four stops, nearly twenty mezcal shots and countless pastor, bacon, asada and fish tacos later, we made our way back to the hotel with a decent buzz, full tummies, smiles on our faces and memories to last a lifetime. Or at least until we go back. In the meantime, enjoy our taco and tequila tour.

Tacos, anyone?
Our first (read: warm up) stop was La Sirena Gorda, translated to mean "The Fat Mermaid." Kyle, the leader of our pack and taco crawl mascot, wore a La Sirena Gorda t-shirt he had purchased during his and Catie's honeymoon. To say he was enthusiastic doesn't do justice. The restaurant -- the walls of which are packed with painted and sculpted artistic interpretations of the "Fat Mermaid" -- is basically a covered patio with an interior bar. We sat down and another couple -- actually, the only other people in the restaurant -- raved about the fish and lobster tacos. We ordered a round of margaritas, beers, a few mezcal shots and guacamole, which came with a homemade habanero pepper salsa. That's what got the fire started. More beer and a round of fish tacos later, we were ready to start our search for Zihuatanejo's mezcal bar and Los Braseros restaurant.

La Sirena Gorda: The Fat Mermaid

Clockwise from top left: Kyle, La Sirena Gorda's #1 fan; tomatillo salsa & pico de gallo; the interior bar; guacamole.
After about 3o minutes of walking (I'm hesitant to use the word aimlessly because Kyle certainly knew where he wanted to go), we found the mezcal bar. Is that it's official name? I have no idea, because we simply refer to it as "the mezcal bar." I think it's better that way. We sat down, were firmly instructed by Kyle not to order "actual food" (after all, we were headed for tacos next)and ordered a round of Mezcal shots and beers. That's when things got awesome. The waitress brought over each of our beers -- Pacifico, Modelo, Victoria -- in individual coozies. She then presented each of us with a TINY terra cotta mug filled to the brim with smoky Mezcal. Since tiny things are always cuter than their larger counterparts, these miniature mugs won the award for cutest shot glasses ever. It also won the award for the cheapest, considering each shot was only $1. Armed with that knowledge and some chips, pickled peppers and spicy salsa, we said cheers with a loud "Salud!" and drained our tiny mezcal mugs, pinky fingers proudly in the air.

Clockwise from top left: A group "cheers;" our tiny mezcal mugs; homemade salsa and pickled peppers; taking a break from the mezcal.
The waitress magically reappeared at our table, this time with a glass jug of clearly homemade mezcal, asking "Uno mas?" or "One more?" Hoping the homemade Mezcal wouldn't kill us -- and figuring it was probably too late anyway -- we said, "Si!" The waitress literally filled our mugs until they overflowed. We had a strategic group discussion about whether to shoot or sip the wonderful mezcal and smartly decided to sip it, giving our bodies time to absorb the booze and our waitress the message that we didn't need another immediate refill.

Clockwise from top left: our beer coozies and mezcal mug; our waitress pouring us homemade mezcal.
We took our time with our drinks and exclaimed that we were all ready for some tacos. We paid the $20 bill -- thank you, peso to dollar conversion rate -- and walked a few doors down to the main destination of the day: Los Braseros restaurant. Kyle took charge with the menus, ordering no less than five plates of combo carne asada, bacon, carnitas and pastor tacos, each served with folded piping hot homemade tortillas. While we waited, we sipped our beers and dug into the salsa selection: a variety of ranchero and tomatillo salsa served warm with limes, pico de gallo and chips.

Clockwise from top left: Los Braseros Mexican Food Restaurant; salsa tray; our practically licked clean plates of tacos; Los Braseros' huge menu.
The tacos arrived and I can only describe them as amazing. Diced chunks of beef, pork, bacon and chicken cooked in various combinations, covered with melted cheese and plated with the aforementioned blazing hot tortillas. [Side note: there's nothing better than a homemade, just-pressed tortilla. Seriously.] Someone remarked that it was our first quiet moment of the day, and we all responded by nodding with full mouths and looking back down at the tacos clenched between our fingers, dripping salsa and meat juice. That's right, meat juice.

One of Los Braseros many taco combinations
Once we cleared our plates and gave Kyle the honor of having the last taco, we made our way outside... to Los Braseros' taco stand. As though we hadn't stuffed ourselves enough, we found ourselves standing in front of Los Braseros' pièce de résistance: a sidewalk taco stand with a giant rotating spit and two chefs selling tacos for thirty cents a piece. There was no way we were going to pass up thirty cent tacos. I know, it sounds sketchy: being on a random street in deep Mexico and being excited to order questionable tacos. But look at the chefs: they were clearly organized, their workstation sanitary and they were totally proud of their work.

Clockwise from top left: Kyle posing in front of his favorite thirty cent taco stand; the chef proudly making and presenting his tacos to us.
We ordered a plate of four tacos and watched as the chef organized four piles of two tortillas each on a plate. He then picked up a machete-sized knife and began to quickly yet gently slice the meat (I'm still unclear as to the origin or type of the "meat") into the tortillas. He then cut a small chunk of pineapple, also rotating at the top of the spit, and caught the tiny piece as it dropped about two feet into each tortilla. He sprinkled on chopped onion and cilantro and repeated the process three more times. Then it was our turn. We dug in and they were great: the tortillas were warm, the rotisserie meat was moist and the cilantro and onion gave the tacos some earthiness and bite. They were easily better than most tacos we get at wanna-be tacos stands at home.

The thirty-cent tacos.
With that, we checked our watches and knew the sun would be setting soon. We decided to head back to the hotel, taking a long walk along the beach with the last of our beers. We were all so happy: our faces flush from the sun, humidity and mezcal; our tummies full of chips, salsa and tacos; and our next step being a dip in the infinity pool at the resort. Life was good.


Thanksgiving Cooking Classes: Just In Case You Need A Refresher Course

Thanksgiving is barely two weeks away, which means it's time to get out your roasting pans, gravy separators, oversized serving platters and a hefty dose of Xanax, because extended family will soon be knocking down your door. Lucky for me I've got a super small family so the drama is limited to some gravy-straining issues and mandatory vegan options, but others I know are not so fortunate. Both my mom and I know how stressful it can be to cook a rockin' holiday spread for eight (much less eighteen) that satiates everyone's appetite and dietary restrictions. So to help you out -- and prevent your Aunt Betty from complaining about watered-down gravy or dried out turkey -- I've put together a list of local holiday-themed cooking classes that will help you get the job done. And if you're lucky, maybe even a kudo or two.

Source: Flickr/brianblevins

Every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. until Thanksgiving (Nov. 9, 16 and 23) Breadbar Century City gives its lunchtime patrons a 15-minute complimentary crash course in turkey carving, helping them get the perfect sliced turkey breast, thigh, and wing. Each demonstration is open to the public, although you might want to spring for Breadbar's Turkey Special lunch ($14.95) with roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Just don't plan on going back to work.

On Thursday, Nov. 11 from 7-9 p.m., M Café's chef Lee Gross shares his favorite macrobiotic holiday recipes M Café de Chaya Beverly Hills. For $35 per person (including dinner, beverage, and recipes), Gross will show participants how to make spiced butternut bisque, maple-glazed acorn squash with Brussels sprouts and chestnuts, and pan-braised seitan with herbed gravy. Space is limited, so RSVP in advance by emailing Amy Harmon at Amy@mcafedechaya.com.

On Saturday, Nov. 13 from 2-4 p.m. Napa Valley Grille's executive chef Joseph Gillard shows home cooks the techniques and tricks behind cooking a fantastic Turkey Day dinner. The class is $20 and includes chef Gillard's demonstration, light hors d'oeuvres and pours of California wine. Call (310) 824-3322 for reservations.

From Nov. 15, 16 and 17, The Original Farmer's Market Sur La Table location hosts Bon Appetit: Thanksgiving Table, a cooking class that walks you through the basics behind preparing a complete Thanksgiving Day meal made from Bon Appetit recipes, including butternut squash soup with cider cream; roast turkey with port gravy; sourdough stuffing with sausage, apples, and golden raisins; mashed potatoes; maple-glazed yams with pecan topping; cranberry and blood orange relish; and pumpkin pie. Classes are $79 each. Spots are limited; make your reservation at Sur La Table's website.

Don't have time to attend a cooking class? Finding expert advice on how to cook a 20-pound bird, how to make the perfect creamed spinach, or what wines to pair with your personal holiday feast is as easy as opening a new browser window. Head to The Grill on the Alley's website, where executive chef John Sola is now answering holiday-related cooking questions on his "Ask Chef Sola" blog. Submit questions by filling out the form here.


Eat My Blog Charity Bake Sale Is Back on Dec. 4!

Eat My Blog -- a charity bake sale featuring loads and loads of homemade treats from Los Angeles food bloggers -- is back! On Saturday, Dec. 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tender Greens in West Hollywood (8759 Santa Monica Boulevard) will host the event on their outdoor patio, where Eat My Blog will feature over 2,000 baked goods from 50+ bakers, including smoked salt toffee, candy cane marshmallows, curry macarons, and bacon caramel popcorn. And for the first time ever, there will be catnip cookies and dog biscuits for sale as well! All items will be priced between $1 to $4.

Not only will you (and your pooch) get a chance to taste some seriously delightful desserts, 100% of the sale proceeds benefit the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. Last June, I donated triple fudge walnut brownies, vanilla almond and coconut cupcakes (check them out below) to Eat My Blog and it was a wonderful experience. I'm looking forward to doing it again and hope to see you all out there! And please stop by and say hello!

Coconut Cupcakes

Vanilla Almond Cupcakes

Triple Fudge Walnut Brownies

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