Cowgirl Chef: A simple New Year’s Eve menu

Posted Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Trout rillettes

Makes about 3 cups

Traditionally, this is an old-fashioned spread made with pork, duck or goose, cooked in its own fat. This recipe is a much lighter twist on the same idea, and one that you can make in about 10 minutes — no cooking required.

• 8 ounces smoked trout

• 6 ounces cream cheese, softened

• 2 tablespoons whipping cream

• 2 tablespoons chopped chives, plus more for garnish

• 1 teaspoon rose peppercorns

Mix everything together with a fork and refrigerate for an hour. Serve on crackers or tiny toasts, garnished with wisps of chives.

Nutritional analysis unavailable.

Texas killers

Makes about 9 1/2 dozen small Texas-shaped cookies

I made these spicy, cheesy cookies for my first cooking class in Paris and they were a hit. I often go to parties thrown by friends in Paris who’ll surprise me with a batch — and a coupe de champagne to go along with it.

• 3 cups flour

• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

• 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

• 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons butter, softened

• 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a couple cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together flour, sea salt, sugar and cayenne. In mixer, cream butter, then add cheese. Pour in flour mixture and mix just until it comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board; form two round discs and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for half an hour or until the dough is firm.

3. Roll out the dough and cut into the shape of Texas; place on cookie sheets about 1/2 inch apart. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes or until the tips of the Panhandle just begin to brown. Let cool on the pan.

Cowgirl tip: These cookies freeze beautifully. They’re on the fragile side, so pack them in plastic containers in layers separated by parchment or waxed paper, then pull them straight from the freezer to serve anytime.

Not a Texan? It’s OK. Shape your dough into logs, and slice and bake.

Nutritional analysis per cookie: 34 calories, 2 grams fat, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 6 milligrams cholesterol, 31 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 60 percent of calories from fat.

— from “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent”

Savory palmiers

Makes 3 dozen bite-size palmiers

These will make you feel like you’ve just been to a patisserie in Paris, where the cases are filled with mini-me versions of classic tarts and pastries, especially this time of year. Needless to say, your guests will be impressed.

• 1 (8-ounce) roll frozen all-butter puff pastry, thawed

• 3 to 4 tablespoons store-bought tapenade

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. Carefully unroll pastry onto a flat, lightly floured surface. Using a paring knife and ruler as a guide, slice two pieces of dough 5 inches wide. Spoon 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons tapenade on each piece of dough and spread evenly, all the way to the edges. Instead of rolling just once and making a pinwheel shape, you’ll be rolling into the middle from each side. Do this with both pieces of dough; if the dough has gotten too soft to cut, put the tightly rolled logs into the fridge to firm up.

3. Slice into 1-inch pieces and place on the cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until they puff and lightly brown. Serve right away.

Cowgirl tip: For an alternate filling, use puréed sun-dried tomatoes, or grated Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.

Nutritional analysis per pastry: 39 calories, 3 grams fat, 3 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 16 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 65 percent of calories from fat.

Green chile cheese gougères

Makes about 2 dozen

I’ve taken France’s classic cheese puffs, a favorite pre-dinner snack served with Burgundy wine, and Cowgirlified them, using cheddar instead of Gruyere, and adding chopped green chile.

• 1/2 cup water

• 3 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes

• Pinch sea salt

• 2/3 cup flour

• 2 eggs, lighten beaten

• 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese, plus a bit more for the tops

• 3 tablespoons chopped and roasted Hatch green chile, well drained

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Heat water, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. When the butter melts, dump in all of the flour and stir like crazy with a wooden spoon until the mixture pulls away from the sides and the bottom of the saucepan has a floury crust. You should have a big doughball. Turn off the heat and let this cool for a minute or two.

3. Put dough into a food processor or mixer bowl and add just as much egg mixture as you need to make a dough that’s soft and somewhat tacky to the touch (but not runny). Err on the thick side; you may not need all of the egg mixture.

4. Add cheese and green chile. Mix until combined.

5. Put mixture into a pastry bag and pipe tablespoonfuls of dough onto the cookie sheet. You may also use soup spoons to do this. Be sure to leave a couple inches between each one.

6. Sprinkle the tops with a little more cheese and bake for 8 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 15 additional minutes, or until they’re completely brown. Serve right away.

Cowgirl tip: Make gougères in advance. Either pipe them onto a cookie sheet and keep in the fridge until your guests arrive, then pop them into the oven as folks are hanging up their coats, or bake them, freeze them and reheat for about 5 minutes at 275 degrees.

Nutritional analysis per piece: 47 calories, 3 grams fat, 3 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 25 milligrams cholesterol, 48 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 60 percent of calories from fat.

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

Like many things — twice-a-year sales, monthlong holidays, lunches with wine that stretch far into the afternoon — the French do things differently, and this certainly applies to entertaining.

In Paris, dinner rarely starts before 8 p.m. At a restaurant, you’re hard-pressed to get a reservation before then — I’ve been turned away at 7:30 by empty restaurants waiting for the clock to strike 8. And if it’s a dinner party at a friend’s house, you wouldn’t show up on time anyway, because it’s considered rude.

But just because dinner is served later than we’re used to in the States, that doesn’t mean that nothing happens before then. Au contraire — 7 p.m. is considered the apero hour, which in my experience always means champagne.

That is, champagne with something light to nibble on, of course, because dinner is still a couple hours away.

Naturally, there are parties for this — call it a pre-dinner, pre-party, whatever. No cocktail mixing required. No fretting over what foods might go with which drinks. Champagne parties simply mean popping a cork and putting out a few bites to eat. These are the easiest parties to pull together, as well as some of the most fun and memorable, because they’re at the beginning of the evening, when everyone’s fresh and sparkly and full of anticipation for what might lie ahead.

All of these recipes can be made in advance and either baked or warmed up minutes before guests arrive. Which means that you can join in on the party fun from the very start. It is not uncommon to have a champagne party in France any night of the week. The first one I went to, hosted by the wife of an American diplomat, was on a Sunday. The point here is that champagne needn’t be saved for special occasions; rather, it ought to be enjoyed as much as possible and at every opportunity.

Starting with New Year’s Eve. Now that’s a resolution I can fully embrace.

Bonne année, y’all.

Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25).; @cowgirlchef

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