1.02.2012

The Unbearable Lite-ness of Eating

Sadly, our diets must return, and this post should be titled, "The Unbearableness of Eating Lite-ly."  No, we aren't in awful shape and we have generally been fairly good boys, but if Santa had been making his list based on our diets, we definitely might have come under the "naughty" category this year. An example: I am writing this on Christmas day and we just finished a lovely herb and cheese soufflé, butter lettuce salad and some nice wine in the garden for lunch.

While this meal is not bad, it simply isn't what the doctor ordered. Perhaps just having a salad would have been better? Some restraint must be shown or we will be out shopping the post-holiday sales, looking for pants with larger waistbands, longer belts or anything that we can wear that doesn't bind at the waist. Muumuus come to mind but they might not be the best thing for the office.

I did make one concession with the soufflé today - I used 1% milk rather than whole and  that does make a difference in the calorie count. But there are certain things I cannot and will not give up: butter (no margarine, thank you), cheese (no lite versions here, either), and eggs (isn't "egg substitute" an oxymoron???).

[Please forgive me this aside: I want to add here that I truly dislike the ubiquitous use of the word "lite" found in our grocery stores these days. It often misleads consumers into buying a product that may well have fewer calories but, in so many cases, exchanges those calories for something much more unhealthy. Artificial sweeteners come to mind first, but there are many other additives about which we need be aware. Please, dear readers, check your labels and make sure you know what you are buying and - more important - what you are eating!]

This soufflé recipe is my little go-to miracle for a last minute, easy to make supper that has all the comforts that go with the word "Mom" and, at the same time, all the sophistication of the French table. The recipe is  based on Jacques Pépin's mother's recipe printed in his autobiography entitled, "The Apprentice." I would call this soufflé a "country" version as it isn't fancy at all.

As I can never leave any recipe untouched, I have added my own minor edits and additions to this soufflé but must say that Jacques' mother was a genius. I have avoided soufflés for years because they are fussy, mercurial, time-consuming, kitchen-messing conglomerations that generally fall prior to guest viewing, and then we all end up with a dry, styrofoam-y texture that just spells f-a-i-l-u-r-e. Jacques' mother's recipe, however, takes away all the stress. No whites are beaten till stiff. No need for last minute fussing while guests wonder to where you have disappeared. No dry texture. While it might not rise four inches above the mold, it is indescribably delicious, has a melt-in-your-mouth texture, and - above all - is a very forgiving recipe from beginning to end.

My changes? Nothing radical. Jacques' mother calls for 5 extra large eggs; I use 6 large eggs. Her version calls for Swiss cheese; I always use Gruyère. As I mentioned, I changed from whole milk to 1% milk. Finally, her version has a mere couple tablespoons of chopped chives; I add about 3/4 cup mixed chopped herbs - usually a mixture of tarragon, chives, parsley, heavy on the tarragon.

This soufflé recipe has never let me down. It can be prepared in advance, making for easy entertaining. Here, I am reminded of Susan's recent post on The ModernTrobadors. She writes of Adam Gopnik's new book, The Table Comes First, and uses a quote from Mr. Gopnik  about having things ready for guests:

And we pray, too, that [our friends] will have finished cooking before we arrive, so that the horrible hour in the kitchen, as they fuss and mix, is one that we are spared.  Even with a glass of wine in hand, it is hard to watch another cookand when they have the food still in plastic wrapits too much.  (p. 85)

I have been asked for this recipe many times and am happy to share, with the sincere suggestion that everyone read Jacques' book, as it is a wonderful memoir with quite a few delicious recipes thrown in for good measure.

The ceramic soufflé dish I used was, once again, made by our very talented friend Lila. I asked if she would be willing to create a soufflé dish for me that replicated my standard-issue, fluted (and cracked) dish and she came to dinner one evening with armloads of them! I chose two and love how they make the soufflé look when presented at the table. Thanks, Lila!

Bon appétit from me and Jacques' mom!

~ David

Country Cheese and Herb Soufflé

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons flour
2 cups 1% milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
6 large eggs
3/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (1/4 cup each tarragon, chives and parsley)
6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter a soufflé dish and set aside.

Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2  minutes to cook the flour. All at once add the milk and whisk vigorously over the heat until mixture has the consistency of thickened cream - about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt and pepper. Set aside and let cool 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk eggs till well-blended. Add the chopped herbs and whisk well to evenly distribute the herbs.

Add the egg mixture to the white sauce and whisk to blend.  Using a wooden spoon, fold in the grated cheese and pour mixture in the prepared soufflé dish. (Here is my favorite part of the recipe: you can now let this sit for 1-2 hours before baking it! All the mess can be gone by the time your guests arrive! Talk about a forgiving recipe!)

Bake soufflé in the center of the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown, cracking slightly on top and bubbling around the edges.

Serves 4 as a main course.

9 comments:

  1. What happy memories of my first dinner at your home, dear friends--and of your generosity in sharing the recipe after. Now I can savor that eveningonce more, illustrated by your photographs to supplement the sensory images wafting through my memory....A delightful start to the new year!

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  2. What a great recipe and fun post! I have Jacques' autobiography on my self and loved it - will run right now and pull it off the shelf for a souffle for dinner tonight! Thanks David!!

    Happy New Year to you and Mark xoxo
    Karin

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  3. Michael - that was a delightful evening! May there be many more!

    Thanks, Karin! I highly recommend adding the tarragon - it makes such a difference!

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  4. a fun post! And I love the lightness of that souffle!

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  5. Thanks, Anh! A great way to start the New Year!

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  6. That lovely souffle looks familiar! i recall you making that for us--in our house--and we LOVED it! It looked very easy--no fussing and mixing and certainly no plastic wrap--but its inflated size was very impressive! It sounds particularly good during our spate of blustery days.

    And I must tell you that your title is very clever!

    Always fun to read your posts, filled with wonderful ideas, interesting background information, and oh-so thoughtful suggestions...like muumuus when we've gone over the top during the holidays: I can go out of the house again!

    But, in the mean time, I am happy reading your recipes!Thanks so much!

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  7. Susan - I remember making that for you when we were staying at your home and were there to greet you when you returned from Provence! We had the soufflé and the moules ravigotte - both from the Pépin book!

    Glad you like the title, too!

    Bring on 2012 and bring on the muumuus!

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  8. Looks YUMMY, per usual! Can't wait to try it. My husband and I each went grocery shopping, unbeknownst to the other. We now have three dozen eggs in our fridge needing to be used. Now I know how I will use them.

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  9. Thanks, Kirsten! The day I made this we were gifted almost two dozen fresh eggs from a friend - and I, too, had just bought a dozen! So many eggs, so few soufflé opportunities!

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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