The Radically Casual Art of Cooking

Chef Amy Thielen

The Radically Casual Art of Cooking

You can buy Amy’s book “Company” here:

Recipes featured today:

homemade Boursin with grilled bread

Every region of France claims a slightly different version of this herbed fresh cheese spread, made from the fragments of the previous night’s cheese plate. In Lyon, it’s called cervelle de canut, but lately mine takes more direct inspiration from the box of Boursin found in the “finer cheeses” section of my local grocery store.

Now’s the time to make use of all of the orphaned cheese in your cheese bin, those mystery lumps mummified in yards of looped plastic wrap. Unfurl them, and lop off the old dry sides. Plop some soft goat cheese in a bowl, add sour cream or crème fraîche, paddle until soft, and then start grating in your stash of cheeses, adding shallots, chives, garlic, and a splash of Cognac as you go. The booze brings the competing cheeses together into one coordinated Gaelic unit.

Once after a lard-​rendering project, in a brazen act of decadence, I threw a few tablespoons of crushed pork cracklings into this spread. The granular pork detonated on the tongue like Pop Rocks. If you happen to have a plastic bag of frozen pork cracklings left over from a lard-​rendering project—​and I know you do—​it will be a truly meaningful addition.

Makes 1½ cups

3½ ounces fresh goat cheese, softened

½ cup sour cream or crème fraîche

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1 garlic clove, finely grated

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme

1 packed cup finely grated miscellaneous semi-​hard cheeses (aged cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan, blue, whatever you have)

Grated zest of ¼ lemon

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

2 teaspoons Cognac or whiskey

2 tablespoons crushed pork or duck cracklings (optional; see headnote)

Put the goat cheese in a wide mixing bowl and paddle with a sturdy rubber spatula until soft and smooth. Add the sour cream and mix until combined, then add the shallots, garlic, thyme, grated cheeses, lemon zest, salt, and pepper, and paddle everything together. Taste for seasoning, then stir in the Cognac and cracklings, if using. (The Boursin can be made up to a day in advance, covered, and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature, at least an hour, before serving.)

Transfer the Boursin to a small serving bowl, smooth the top with a butter knife, and serve with crusty bread.

Coffee with Chartreuse and Smoked Almond Praline

Is serving coffee at the conclusion of dinner a stroke of class or a hint to leave? I lean toward thinking coffee is a buzzkill, maybe because the orders around my table usually call for decaf, but I can get behind a sweet chocolate-​and-​booze-​spiked coffee dessert like this one.

A post-​ski drink should be strong, so I spike mine with Chartreuse, a potent French herbal liqueur, but skip the candy shenanigans.

There are two kinds of Chartreuse, both of which have been made by Carthusian monks in the Chartreuse Mountains since the eighteenth century. Green Chartreuse is high octane and ridiculously expensive. Yellow Chartreuse is sweeter and more affordable. Both are made from a proprietary mix of wild herbs and roots foraged from the subalpine forest and, like any secret recipe, both taste rare and mysterious. Feel free to substitute your preferred liquor—​bourbon is never a bad idea—​or to skip the alcohol altogether.

The smoked almond praline and chocolate syrup are useful base recipes. The chocolate syrup keeps for months in the refrigerator. Store it on the door, where it can be easily found when someone wants to make a glass of chocolate milk.

Just once, make the almond praline with Barsy’s almonds, which come by their subtle smoke honestly, over a bed of hickory wood. But even a packet of liquid-​smoked almonds bought at the gas station will make good almond praline.

For each drink

¾ cup hot strong black coffee (pour-​over or French-​press)

3 tablespoons Chocolate Syrup (recipe follows)

1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Chartreuse

3 tablespoons Whipped Cream (page 281) for garnish

2 teaspoons finely chopped Smoked Almond Praline (recipe follows) for garnish

Brew a pot of black coffee, at extra strength, or prepare shots of espresso for each drink. Fill each mug with ¾ cup hot black coffee. Then add the chocolate syrup and Chartreuse and stir to mix. Garnish each mug with a generous lid of whipped cream and a heavy dusting of chopped almond praline.

Chocolate Syrup: You can make the syrup ahead of time; it keeps well in the fridge for months.

Makes 3½ cups

1½ cups water

13 cup Lyle’s Golden syrup or light corn syrup

1½ cups sugar

½ cup Dutch-​process cocoa

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Combine the water, corn syrup, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook gently, whisking, until the sugar crystals dissolve, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the chopped chocolate, and let stand for 3 minutes to melt.

Starting from the center, gently whisk the mixture in a whirlpool motion to incorporate the chocolate and then stir until completely smooth. Let the syrup cool, then pour it into a clean class jar. Keep it at room temperature for a few hours, until needed, or cap tightly and refrigerate for up to 3 months. The syrup will thicken slightly when cold, but it should remain pourable.

Smoked Almond Praline:

Makes about ½ cup

3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon butter

½ cup smoked almonds

Prepare a nonstick surface for the caramelized nuts to land on—​i.e., a silicone baking mat or an oil-​rubbed baking sheet.

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the sugar across its surface and shake the pan to even it out. Cook undisturbed until the sugar melts and progresses from clear to light brown to dark walnut. Add the butter and toss in the almonds. Stir in just a few quick strokes to coat the nuts with caramel and immediately pour the caramelized almonds onto the waiting liner or baking sheet. With a silicone spatula, corral any leftover caramel in the pan onto the almonds, and spread them out to cool for at least 30 minutes. Don’t touch them until cool, or the caramel will stick to your fingers and burn.

Transfer the almond brittle to your cutting board and finely chop, leaving a few pieces the size of corn kernels but reducing most of it to smaller particles. Store the smoked almond brittle in a covered container at room temperature for up to a week (the praline will seize into a sticky clump if refrigerated).