Sunday, August 17, 2008

Goat Cheese Terrine

Roasting red peppers is one of the easiest and most exciting tricks the home cook can pull; and because it is so flashy and fiery, it's a great way to impress a guest or two. It's magical to watch the bright red peppers turn pitch black. This recipe for a goat cheese terrine is simple, and the techniques required to assemble it can be easily mastered by any home cook that is willing to put in the time. I have already mentioned the first technique, roasting the red peppers.

The recipe is very simple:

1 long log of fresh goat's cheese; 3 or 4 red peppers; a small jar of cornichons (tiny pickles); olive oil, salt and pepper.

You also need:

Plastic wrap; a small loaf pan (mine is approximately 3" high x 6" long x 2" wide); some towels, paper or otherwise; something heavy like a brick; and some aluminum foil to wrap the brick.

This is what a roasting pepper looks like:

Once your pepper is entirely black, and I really mean entirely black, pull it off the burner with your fingers if you are tough, or with tongs if you are not so tough, and wrap it up in a towel. See, while the pepper was roasting, moisture inside the pepper turned into steam, and so the roasted pepper is something like a balloon. Then, when you wrap it in that towel, that steam slowly escapes as the balloon cools and deflates, and the deflating action helps to loosen the blackened skin. Whoo, that's a load. Anyway, let the pepper cool for ten minutes or so; unwrap it, and then, gingerly, start pulling off the blackened skin with your fingers. (Note: if roasting peppers seems like too much work, go ahead and buy them in a jar.)

Next, trim off the tops and bottoms of each pepper, and make one slice down the pepper, from stem-end to tip. After this you can unfold your pepper and begin removing the seeds and ribs. If you have never removed the ribs from a roasted pepper, you simply turn your knife side-ways and slide it just under the rib. It's sort of like opening a letter. Done.

OK, your peppers are roasted. and ribbed. Now it's time to line your terrine with them.

This is what that looks like:
This is actually the trickiest part of the whole deal. If you haven't fully blotted those skins dry, you will drive yourself absolutely buggy as they continually side down the sides of your mold. Also, note this: I've lined the mold with my plastic wrap first. This will be important later on.

Moving forward: The goat cheese mousse is terribly easy to make. Squeeze your log of goat's cheese into a mixing bowl (oops, forgot to mention the mixing bowl) pour some olive oil onto it (about a quarter cup or so), and let it warm up to room temperature. Then, once the cheese is soft, hit it with some ground black pepper and a couple dashes of salt. As you are salting it, be sure to taste it along the way. Remember, you can always add more salt, but only god can remove it.

Good, now all the elements are in place, and the hardest part is over. It's time to put your fingers in the pickle jar and pull out a bunch of slender little cornichons. Just like the pepper skins, but for a different reason, you should pat your little pickles dry with a towel. Excellent. It's time to start layering.

Start with a layer of your mousse. Put down a fairly thick layer, at least as thick as your pickles, and spread however feels comfortable to you. I use my fingers and a spoon. Then, as shown here, lay some of your cornichons into the creamy bed, where they will dream sweet, briny dreams. Continue this layering process until the entire terrine is full, and even a teeny bit over full.

One little warning: notice how I left some extra pepper hanging over the sides? It's very important. Eventually those peppers will encase the whole cosmic wonder. If you have any pepper skins left over, save them! It's very tempting to put them in your mouth and nibble yourself into a little preview bliss, but absolutely don't do that. Satisfy yourself with some extra mousse, a pickle, and a cracker.

OK, setting time.

Remember the heavy object I mentioned earlier? It was a brick, but you can use any heavy thing you like. I used a hard-back copy of John Berryman's, "Dream Songs." I wrapped it up in foil and now it's in my refrigerator, weighing down my terrine, and chilling out. On top of that, I actually put my spare change can (approximately thirty dollars). But I digress.

Once you have surrounded the cheese with the peppers, pull up the sides of the plastic wrap, and fold them tightly over your terrine. Your foil wrapped brick will go on top of this, and the whole thing will set in the refrigerator over night. The next morning, pull it out, turn it upside down and free it from the terrine mold, then slice it like you would a loaf of bread. You will be sure to ooh and ahh. I promise. However, if you don't believe me, come back to this blog tomorrow and see for yourself. I will post a nice picture of my sliced goat cheese terrine with cornichons.


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