Cheese


For a long time C had a habit of bringing me back a cookbook whenever he had a conference in what might conceivably be called a ‘food’ city.   Usually he would have a fabulous meal at a local restaurant and then, if the restaurant had a cookbook, he would kindly bring one back for me.  Once he returned home, he would inevitably recount his wonderful meal and I would attempt to control my food jealously.  I suppose he thought that giving me cookbooks from these restaurants would alleviate some of this jealously, but in truth it only made it worse.  And when he came home from New Orleans a few years back with a cookbook from Commander’s Palace, I knew I would just have to tag along at his next trip to the city, because it was clear that this restaurant was not to be missed.

Long story short – I did accompany C on his next trip to New Orleans and we had a fabulous meal at Commander’s Palace – it was how we celebrated our move to Nashville.  And once I had experienced that wonderful restaurant – and all the wonderful foods they prepare there – I realized I was ready to fully explore my Commander’s Palace cookbook.   Before I explored too long though, I found a recipe that would go on to become one of my favorite comfort foods – Cauliflower and Brie Soup.

I’ve never been a big cauliflower fan – I always found it sort of bland.  But in this soup,  when it’s combined with onions, celery and garlic, it has a wonderful savory sweetness.  And the addition of brie – well that is pure genius.  Some of the brie melts seamlessly into the soup, some stays in a semi-solid state and then proceeds to melt in your mouth.  The brie is a perfect addition to a soup that is mainly vegetables.

Once you add some heavy cream – or half and half if you’re watching calories – the finished soup is creamy beyond belief.  The fact that it’s also savory and has a hint of sweetness is all part of why this is one of my favorite soups.  There really is nothing better on a cold, rainy autumn day.  And every time I eat it I think of New Orleans and Commander’s Palace  – and mentally plan my next trip.

Cauliflower and Brie Soup

From Commander’s Kitchen by Ti Adelaide Martin and James Shannon

Ingredients:

2 heads of cauliflower cleaned and trimmed

10 T. butter

2 medium onions, peeled and diced

1 head of garlic, cloves peeled

1 medium bunch of celery, diced

Kosher salt and pepper

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock

2 T.  AP flour

8 ounces Brie Cheese, cut into a medium dice

1/4 c. heavy cream

Directions:

Clean the cauliflower by removing the leaves, coring, and cutting into large florets.

Melt 8 T. of butter in a large soup pot.  Add the onion, garlic and celery, cover and cook over medium heat to “sweat”, stirring occasionally until they are tender, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in cauliflower, cover and cook for 5 -7 minutes.

Combine the cauliflower and stock and puree with a hand mixer, a blender or food processor.  Melt the remaining 2 T. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat stirring constantly and add the flour.  Cook until the roux smells nutty and is the consistency of wet sand.  Do not brown it.  Whisk into the soup and bring to a simmer.

Add the brie, a few pieces at a time, and blend until the cheese has melted into the soup.  Add the cream and adjust the seasoning to taste.

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Over a year ago, C and I took a trip to Sao Paolo, Brazil for our friends’ wedding.  Before heading out, another friend who had grown  up in Brazil gave us the low down on what to expect.  Along with the usual traveler admonishments that inevitably come with foreign travel, she told us to be sure to try Pao de Queijo – Brazilian Cheese Breads.  She told us they were wonderful and addictive, but to be honest, they sounded a bit odd.  All the same, we promised to try them.  Once we made it to Sao Paolo, they were everywhere – on street carts, at the dinner table, at the airport – and they were, as promised, delicious.  We fast became addicted and in the end literally spent our last bit of Brazilian money at the airport, while waiting for our plane, buying up all the ‘cheese breads’ we could find.

Back in the U.S. we just couldn’t forget about those Brazilian cheese breads.  I looked for an easy recipe, but every one I found called for tapioca flour.  That should have been my cue to look for tapioca flour, but instead I kept putting it off, and putting it off, until I forgot about it.  In fact, if I hadn’t picked up Ingrid Hoffmann’s  Simply Delicioso from the library, those cheese breads might have been lost to my memory.  Instead as I was flipping through the cookbook, I saw her recipe for Yucca Buns and realized that this was the recipe I was looking for.

Apparently these sort of cheese breads are found all over Latin America.  They’re called Chipas in Argentina, Arepas in Colombia, and Pan de Yuca is Ecuador.  These breads are sort of tough to describe.  They are crisp on the outside and doughy/cheesy/chewy on the inside.  Made with tapioca flour – which makes them gluten free – the dough has a texture unlike anything I’ve seen, almost like play-do.  In the end tapioca flour wasn’t that hard to find; it was just in the natural food section of the grocery store rather than the normal baking section – hidden in plain sight.

All in all they are fairly easy to make – tapioca flour, baking powder, egg yolks, a bit of heavy cream and, of course, cheese.  The recipe I used suggested Oaxaca cheese, which I did not have and which I did not feel like driving to find.  Instead I used a mixture of 1 1/3 cups of mozzarella  and 2/3  cup cheddar.  The buns turned out great – cheesy and chewy. I had added a bit of garlic powder, so there was a garlicky flavor that went well with all that cheesiness.  They weren’t as spectacular as what we had in Brazil – foods you eat on great vacations are never as good when you try them at home – but they were a pretty good substitute.  I’m sure we’ll make them again and again all the while dreaming of Brazil.  As they say in Portuguese, Bom Apetite!

Yucca Buns

Adapted from Simply Delicioso by Ingrid Hoffmann

Ingredients:

1 cup tapioca flour, plus extra for kneading

1 teaspoon baking powder

(I added a few shakes of garlic powder as well)

2 cups Oaxaca cheese or other fresh white cheese, such as mozzarella, finely grated

2 large egg yolks

2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream, if necessary

Directions:

reheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil, and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.Combine the tapioca flour and baking powder together in a large bowl. Stir in the cheese and egg yolks. Mix until the dough forms a ball. Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out. Knead the dough with your hands until the dough is smooth, even-textured, and not sticky. If the dough doesn’t come together or seems too stiff, then add cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it comes together and feels supple.

Divide the dough into 10 even pieces and with your hands, roll each into a ball. Shape the balls into ovals and place them 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the rolls are pale gold (not browned), about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes and serve while still warm.

Greek Salad with Orzo and Black-Eyed Peas

Have I cooked dinner all week? No. Do I come home, eat pizza, and lie on the sofa watching Seinfeld? Yes, yes, and yes. I am a poor excuse for a girl who fancies herself as a foodie. It’s been a lazy week, but I have the perfect lazy, summertime recipe to share with you. This salad is a no-cook (except for the orzo) dish that completely blew my expectations out of the water. When I first saw it, I immediately wanted to try it, but I thought it was going to be your average pasta salad — tasty but nothing especially stellar. I was wrong.

Sliced English Cucumber

The salad has quickly become our new favorite dish. It makes for the perfect dinner on steamy summer nights. I don’t know about you but I’m not much in the mood to stand over a hot stove this time of the year. Plus it’s light and the perfect depository for all of those lovely vegetables you bring home from the farmers’ market wondering what to do with them.

It gets better.

The salad (minus the romaine) keeps beautifully overnight. What was a delicious dinner one night becomes the perfect lunch for the next day. The flavors mingle together to become one very tasty dish.

Chopped Heirloom Tomatoes

Given how easy this is to toss together, I have no excuse for my couch potato ways. And it’s done long before the pizza guy can deliver the goods.

Greek Salad with Orzo and Black-Eyed Peas
Adapted from Gourmet, August 2008

3/4 cup orzo
1 (15 oz) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 large tomato, diced (1 cup)
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp red-wine vinegar
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise, cored, and diced (1 cup)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, slivered
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp finely chopped oregano
2 to 3 cups coarsely chopped romaine
1/2 lb feta, crumbled (1 cup)
4 to 8 peperoncini

1. Cook orzo according to package instructions. Drain in a sieve and rinse under cold water until cool. Drain well.
2. Toss all ingredients together except romaine, feta, and peperoncini. Marinate for approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Place mixture over romaine and top with feta and peperoncini.

As far back as I can remember eating, I have been eating grits.  I know it sounds strange for a born and raised Californian to say she has been eating grits her entire life, but I take it as a sign that I was destined to spend a part of my life living in the South.  Grits in my house growing up were almost always prepared simply (just boiled in water) and then served with lots of butter.  Occasionally my grandmother would bake them, or fry them, but the majority of the time, I would just smother my grits in butter and devour them.  Of course, I never realized that I was missing out one of the more fabulous ways to eat grits…with Shrimp.


Had I known this when I was younger, I would have made a point of eating shrimp and grits at every meal.  I guess in the long run, it was a good thing I had to wait to learn of the glories of Shrimp and Grits.  You know, good things come to those who wait.  Boy did it last week when we had shrimp and grits with Crawfish and Pork Andouille Sausage!

One might call it excessive.  One might call it gratuitious.  I call it the perfect early Saturday morning breakfast.  A pound of leftover shrimp, a half pound of sausage, leftover diced onion from the previous nights dinner, a green pepper, a little shredded cheese, a sprinkle of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, and of course GRITS!  Now if you are not sausage fan, you can always substitute a couple slices of bacon.  It was just what I needed to get the morning off to the right start.

Shrimp and Grits
Serves 6

1 Cup Stone Ground Grits
4 Cups Water
3 Tbsp Butter

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 pound of Andouille Sausage split in half, then sliced
1 pound of Shrimp, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 of a large Vidalia Onion, diced
1 Green Pepper, diced
1 Tbsp Unsalted Butter

Salt and Pepper, to Taste

1. In a saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the grits. Return the grits to a boil and then reduced the heat to simmer. Stir frequently until they reach your desired consistency. I usually cook them until the water is absorbed and they are thickened. Add 3 Tbsp of butter and stir to combine.

2. In a separate pan, melt 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the onions and green peppers and saute for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. In another pan add the remaining Tbsp of olive oil and saute the sausage for 10 minutes. Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside. Reserve some of the grease from the sausage

4. Using some of the reserved grease, saute the shrimp until pink.

5. To assemble, fill the bowls with Grits, then onions and peppers, shrimp, and sausage. If you so choose (and I always do) top with Tony’s and shredded cheese.

Goat Cheese Ice Cream Topped with Pecans and Honey

I longed for an ice cream maker for years, and last November I finally made the purchase. It was shiny and red and on sale. The sale was for good reason — who wants ice cream in November? Well I didn’t really so the ice cream maker waited in its box while I perused countless ice cream recipes searching for the perfect inaugural batch. It wasn’t long before I found David Lebovitz’s recipe for goat cheese ice cream. Goat cheese ice cream? S was skeptical. Gosh, I was skeptical. But the idea of it was intriguing. It could be a hit or a flop. So we patiently waited days, weeks, months to try it.

A View from the Top

While the first batch was spinning in its frozen canister, S and I excitedly waited nearby with spoons in hand. Lebovitz mentions that the ice cream tastes like cheesecake. And sure enough, the ice cream smelled just like cheesecake as it was churning. At last the ice cream was ready and we tried the first spoonful. Sadly, it was terrible. It tasted a bit sour and a bit too goat cheesy. But I was not discouraged. I knew I needed to find a milder, higher quality goat cheese and use a bit less of it.

Goat Cheese Ice Cream

The search was on for a good goat cheese. Once again the Matthews farmers’ market came to the rescue. There I discovered a locally produced goat cheese from a farm in Waxhaw, North Carolina called Bosky Acres. Their goat cheese has the most pleasant flavor. It’s mild, delicate, and tangy — not at all sour.

Back into the kitchen I went to try again. This time I used the Bosky Acres goat cheese and only half of the amount called for by Lebovitz. Again, we waited for the machine to work its magic, and this time that first spoonful was perfect. It really does taste like cheesecake with a hint of tangy goat cheese. Topped with honey and pecans, this goat cheese ice cream makes for a delicious not-too-sweet dessert. The moral of this kitchen tale: patience is a virtue and if at first you don’t succeed, always try, try again.

Freshly Churned

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Makes About 3 Cups
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
6 large egg yolks

1. Warm the milk and sugar in a medium saucepan. While the milk is warming, crumble the goat cheese into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.
2. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
3. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the goat cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese is melted, then stir until cool over an ice bath.
4. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Mound of Basil

Mound of Basil

Doesn’t it feel like summer has arrived when the farmers’ market is full of basil, tomatoes, corn, and squash? A few Saturdays ago, S and I headed to the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market (more on that in a second) at the absurd hour of 7 o’clock am, and I swear you could smell the basil in the air. It’s minty fresh fragrance lured me into taking home a bagful. The smell of basil makes me want to fire up the grill, invite some friends over, and sit around the table sharing stories until the sun has sunk below the horizon and the mosquito bites start to itch. Aaah, summertime.

Joy of Cooking

Joy of Cooking

At home later I wondered what I was going to do with all that basil. There were a lot of possibilities but in the end we settled on pesto. It took all of 5 minutes to make it. Grating the Parmesan cheese was the most time consuming step (especially after a few nibbles of the grated cheese). A few whizzes of the food processor and we had a beautifully verdant pesto ready for the freezer.

Parmesan

Parmesan

We mixed our freshly made pesto in penne for a light and fresh dinner. The rest we froze to save for a cold winter’s night. It will be the perfect reminder of summer.

Now for a few words on the aforementioned Matthews Community Farmers’ Market — I’ve been to A LOT of farmers’ markets in my day, and I have to say that this one is among the best. It’s all local producers so when you buy that tomato or ear of corn you can feel proud knowing that you are supporting local farmers (having grown up on a farm, I can tell you how important this is). Also, you are buying your food only hours after it was harvested. It’s about as fresh as you can get unless you grow it yourself. You can get everything from eggs to peppers to the best goat cheese all in one stop. The farmers’ market is also open throughout the summer and winter. I’m looking forward to a whole year of fresh produce. Its quaint, small-town location and early morning hours (the opening bell rings at 7:15) add to its charm. Check out their website and sign up for the newsletter. It’s the best way to start the weekend.

Pesto Sauce
Joy of Cooking

1. Combine in a food processor and process to a rough paste:
2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
With the machine running slowly add:
1/2 cup olive oil, or as needed
If the pesto seems dry (it should be a thick paste), add a little more olive oil. Season to taste with:
Salt and black pepper
Use immediately, or pour a very thin film of olive oil over the top, cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Apple Tart Served with Honey and Shaved Manchego Cheese

I love apples. I say this knowing full well that it is not yet apple season. Apple season is half about the apples and half about the return of the crisp chill to the air and the wonderful smell of leaves burning. Even down here in Nashville, where fall doesn’t really arrive until October, the signs of apple season are remarkably similar to my home town of Rochester. So here I am in the middle of a steamy southern summer and I’m craving apples. And not just apples but apples in pastry.

I know it’s bad. I know I should be craving peach cobbler or strawberry shortcake or something that is in season. But I’m not – and grocery stores carry apples year round for a reason. And as I stared at those grocery stores apples, I started thinking…. Over a year ago, I developed an original recipe to enter my very first cooking contest. I never did hear from Southern Living so I can only assume that my Rustic Apple Tart with Manchego Cheese Short Crust was not up to snuff for their contest, but C asks for it regularly so I figured I would throw eating locally out the window and appease not only my husband but my cravings as well.

The key ingredient to this recipe – aside from the apples and Manchego cheese – is the honey. If you like apples and cheese you can find any number of recipes for pastries that bring them together. In my opinion, the addition of the honey into the short crust – and as a garnish – ties together the tartness of the apples and the salty cheesiness of the Manchego with a sweetness that is not overpowering.

I know it’s not humble to say, since I wrote this recipe, but I love this dish. That said, I love just about anything with apples, but this time the Apple Tart with Manchego Cheese Short Crust assuaged my apple pastry craving. And already my thoughts are turning to those wonderfully ripe peaches I see at the farmers market – maybe peach cobbler will be my next craving….

Apple Tart with Manchego Cheese Short Crust

1/4 – 1/2 c. of ice water

1 T. of Honey

2 and ¼ c. All Purpose Flour

1/2 c. finely shredded Manchego Cheese

1 T. Domino Sugar

1 t. Salt

3/4 c. butter

1 egg yolk

3 Granny Smith Apples

1 T. Sugar

1. T. Butter

Cinnamon & Nutmeg (optional)

Honey

Shaved Manchego Cheese

Making the Manchego Cheese Short Crust

Add 1 T. of honey to a 1/2 a cup of ice water and stir vigorously until dissolved. Set aside.

Combine the 2 1/4 c. of AP Flour with 1/2 c. of finely shredded Manchego cheese and pulse until smooth. Add the T. sugar and t. of salt and pulse to combine. Either in the food processor or in a separate bowl add the cold butter and combine until crumbly. Toss in a lightly beaten egg yolk. Then slowly add the honey water until the crust begins to come together being careful not to add too much water. Gather the dough together in a ball and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a half hour.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel, core and slice 3 Granny Smith apples. After dough has refrigerated for a half hour, place the dough on a floured work surface and roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness into a rough circle. Transfer the dough to a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Pile as many of the apple slices as possible into the center of the dough, leaving several inches around the edge of the dough. Sprinkle the apples with a T. of sugar. Fold up the edges of the dough onto the apples. Dot the exposed apples with a T. of butter. Place in the 375 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden. If you like cinnamon or nutmeg you can sprinkle a dash of the spices over the top of the exposed apples.

Let cool for a half an hour if served warm or longer if served cold. To serve – slice wedges from the tart and drizzle liberally with honey and shave thin slices of Manchego Cheese as a garnish.

 

 

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