Category Archives: Cheese Dishes

Fresh Fig Chutney

I wasn’t kidding when I wrote last week that it was a struggle to figure out what to do with the pre-fixed quantity of figs that I had to buy at the store. On the other hand, it also gave me a chance to go through the recipes I’ve pulled from various sources and to cross a few of them off of my list.

I’ve been a long-time reader of BBC Good Food magazine. Recently, I discovered a new addition to their family: Olive magazine. This publication is trying to be a bit more hip and fresh and target an audience that has traveled and is a bit more exploratory in their tastes. I have found their recipes to be colorful and easy to follow and a bit more refined than that of their “big sister” magazine (searching via the BBC Good Food site is easier to do).


One of the weekly challenges I, and I suspect most of us, have is not just to use up fresh, seasonal produce prior to it going bad, but also to come up with ways to use it to make interesting meals during the weeknight. This recipe helped me solve that dilemma along with the question of what to with the leftover figs. It made a nice, uncomplicated dinner at the end of a long day, and this chutney could also go well with grilled lamb or beef.

Buon appetito!

Pears with Cheese and Truffles

Still not completely healed from dental surgery, I’ve been trying to come up with some more creative ways to get food into my system without expending too much effort or getting bored. This whole experience has given me a greater respect for those who cannot have certain foods or have dietary limitations. I have generally been fortunate not to have those.

Because I’m still not supposed to bite into anything at this point and the pears I had bought before having this procedure done were getting so ripe that they dripped juice when I cut into them, I needed to find a way to eat them soon. [Having memories from my childhood of the aroma of fermenting rotting pears (my parents still have a pear tree in their back yard), I am adept at picking up the point at which they become inedible.] Chewing the peel would, at this stage, still be kind of difficult. Baking them seemed to be a good way to work around these two issues.

When I lived in Italy, I had a friend who adored truffles, mushrooms and anything of that variety. He would gather up folks to make a trek outside the town were I lived to this restaurant that specialized in showcasing these foods each fall when they were in peak season. It was here that I first had white creamy cheese studded with black flecks of truffles. The marriage of dairy and fungus was heavenly to my tastebuds and senses, and it just melted in my mouth.

This was an extraordinary food memory I filed away along with others from my time in Europe. Then, a few years ago, at a wine and cheese catch-up evening with a few friends who’d also spent time in Italy, I was reintroduced to this combo. I fell in love all over again.  Fortunately, this time, I was able to get a name and tracked down this particular cheese at a gourmet shop. Sottocenere(meaning under ashes) has a dark, black coating, a white interior, and flecks of truffles embedded throughout. For this dish, I wasn’t able to locate it, so I found a substitute at my local Italian market.My sister-in-law recently shared with me that she can’t eat certain fruits unless they are cooked and peeled. Her body can’t digest the peel. Combined with my own recent mastication challenges, I decided to see if I could create a dish that might bring together two things that are each favorites of mine in their own right, but which, at this point, are difficult for me to enjoy.
Pears with Cheese and Truffles

Prep time: 20-30 minutes
Serving size: 2 people

Ingredients: 
1 ripe Pear, peeled and very thinly sliced (I used a Bartlett)
2 oz. soft Italian cheese with truffles, very thinly sliced (I used cacciota a la tartufoemon)
Sliver of butter
Arugula for serving, optional (in the UK arugula=rocket)
Toasted bread, for serving, optional
Truffle oil, very optional
Assembly:
Very lightly butter bottom of a ceramic baking dish. Arrange one layer of the sliced pears in the dish. Place one layer of the cheese on top of the pears. Continue to alternate layering pears followed by cheese until finished with both, ending with the cheese layer.
Bake in pre-heated 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Centigrade, Gas Mark 2) for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the pears are soft. One sign that the dish is finished is if it is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is slightly golden.
Remove dish from oven and allow it to cool for a few minutes before serving. Serve with a salad of arugula and crusty bread. If feeling extra decadent, drizzle the pears & cheese with truffle oil for some additional earthy flavor.

Buon appetito!

Post Dental Surgery – Cauliflower and Gorgonzola Soup

“Granola. That’s the food of death.” Those were words I had never expected to hear in my life. Having just come out of dental surgery a few moments earlier, however, I was getting the lowdown on what I could and couldn’t eat for the next few weeks while my gums heal. Thusly, I was told on no uncertain terms to steer clear of my usual yogurt-and-granola breakfast combo, at least until I’d seen the dentist again. Where did that leave me?

“Soft foods,” he said, “soft foods for at least the next two, in your case, I’d say, three days. And no biting into anything or chewing on the side of the mouth where I worked.” Ggrreeaaatt. So, what was I going to eat? How was I going to eat?Did he not know how hard this was going to be? I’m not exactly a fan of mushy things; I want food to have texture and taste. I have vivid memories of the Cream of Wheat that they tried to serve us at summer camp being turned out of its serving dish like a Jello mold. (Maybe it’s a consistency thing, as I’m not fond of gelatin things or stuff in aspic either.)
I started the next day with eggs, then a lunch of “don’t-shoot-me-I’m-not-a-deer” orange mac & cheese from the company cafeteria – for all my food snobbiness, I will still eat this – and ended with dinner of oatmeal with slices of a very ripe banana. This is a far, far cry from my normal day’s eatings.
By the second day, I was a bit light-headed (too many carbs and too few calories with the painkillers and antibiotics I was taking) and [shock] a bit turned off to eating in general. This was probably due to the fact that my teeth were hurting, and I didn’t even feel like cooking for myself.

After picking the egg salad off of a breakfast sandwich and tearing a croissant into little pieces to try to melt it in my mouth (see, this is what years of dissolving communion hosts in one’s mouth have done), I was starting to think that this eating thing was getting to be too much of a chore. After a lunch of the same oatmeal-and-banana combo from the dinner the night before, I was sure of that.

With the temperatures finally turning to winter and my inability to really chew my food, I decided to try a recipe recommended on Slashfood (www.slashfood.com) for some culinary respite and relief. Last week they showcased Cauliflower and Gorgonzola soup made by Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks (www.101cookbooks.com/archives/001549.html).
Here’s my effort at this recipe:
During cooking
Blending it smooth
Uummm….lunch
I definitely used the chicken broth option, so as to get some more protein into my system and provide some defense against the cold. Being a big fan of robust cheeses, I used the full cup of Gorgonzola. The cauliflower just needs something that strong to match its blandness.
Kitchen Witch Tip:
To blend the soup during the final steps, I used probably one of the few pieces of heavy machinery that I own (aside from the ice cream maker and food processor), one of the best inventions ever as a time-saver and water-conserver: my hand blender. If you make soups or sauces that need pureeing, this is the gadget for you.
It saves the time, mess and effort of pouring hot, chunky liquid into blender to make it smooth, only to have to pour it back into the same pot to heat it up for serving. With a little practice and control, you can easily avoid splattering (as with an electric hand mixer). Part of the trick is to remember to allow the ingredients to cool down before blending them.
Buon appetito!

Croque Monsieur/Madame

Croque Monsieur

I knew from the first minute I woke up this morning that it was raining outside. I could hear the sloshy sound of cars traveling on the streets, water spitting out from under their wheels. What a great excuse to lie around in bed all day. Then, my stomach started to grumble a little. Obviously, it had other ideas for what I should be doing at that moment. I threw back my fluffy duvet and rolled myself out of bed, literally. I knew that I really had too much to do today to waste all of it sleeping.

Stumbling to the kitchen, still a bit bleary-eyed, I opened the fridge. Hmm, let’s see, there’s ham, cheese, milk, butter, eggs, and I know I have bread in the freezer. Inspired by something that was on the company cafeteria’s menu last week, I realized I had on hand the ingredients to make Croque Monsieur. Although bit unorthodox for breakfast, this is one of my favorite all-time, top-5 sandwiches. Toast (how could one go wrong with that?), ham, melted cheese, and béchamel, then lightly grilled. Add an Orangina, and one could almost feel as though it was lunchtime in Paris.

Croque Madame

So, I was cheating just a bit to be eating this in the morning. To make it more brunch-y, when I was done cooking, I made a huge cappuccino, poured a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and fried an egg to make it into a Croque Madame.

Croque Monsieur/Madame

Prep Time: 45 minutes (with making béchamel)
Serves: 4 people
Ingredients:
8 slices white bread, crusts removed (can save for another use)
8 slices ham, thinly cut
1 1/2 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
1 cup Béchamel (see recipe below)
Assembly:
The first thing to do is to prep the sandwich. Toast the bread. Place a slice of ham on one of the pieces of toast. Place 2 Tbsp of the grated cheese on the ham. Add another slice of ham on top of the cheese. Put the other piece of toast on top. Set aside.
The next step is to make the béchamel (explicit directions and photos below). Add the rest of the shredded cheese to the hot white sauce. Preheat oven to 400o Farenheit (200o Centigrade, Gas Mark 6).
Butter the outside of each sandwich. Place them on a baking sheet. Spoon one-quarter of the béchamel-gruyère mixture on each sandwich, spreading it out to the completely coat the top of the bread. Put baking sheet under the broiler for 4-5 minutes, watching carefully to make sure that they do not burn. When golden brown, remove from oven.
Look at the results. Enjoy!  [If making the Croque Madame version, fry an egg and add it on top after removing the Croque Monsieur from the oven.]

A classic white sauce or béchamel is one of the building blocks of any culinary repertoire. It is incredibly versatile. I think I’ve been making this in one form or another since I was in my early teens. I can remember my mom making this when I was a child, whether as a base for macaroni and cheese (pre the blue boxed version) or for that Lenten staple in our household – Tuna Tettrazini.
Béchamel (classic white sauce)
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes
Serves: 4 people for recipe above
Ingredients: 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk (do not use low-fat or skim)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper (white is preferable but not mandatory)
1 tsp dry ground mustard
Assembly:
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour and let cook for 2-3 minutes until it is completely incorporated into the butter, and the mixture is very light golden brown, do not let it get too dark. This is a roux (see photo).
Roux (flour and butter mixed together)
Gradually add the milk, at first one tablespoon at a time. Whisk into the roux. Let all the milk get absorbed into the butter-flour mixture. It will start to resemble the paste that you used in elementary (primary) school. Please don’t do what I did and let it stick to the bottom of the pan (this is not a tragedy but it will leave darker brown flakes in the final dish). Using a non-stick pan is not necessary, but paying attention to it is.
A paste-like consistency
Then, continue to add more milk, still one tablespoon at a time. Whisk constantly. As it is soaked up into the roux after each addition, it slowly becomes creamier and smoother. At this stage, it looks like a purée.
Purée-like
At this point, it is possible to start adding the milk in slightly greater amounts, until all the milk has been added. Continue to stir thoroughly after each addition of milk or the sauce will develop lumps. After all the milk has been added, continue to whisk mixture and let cook for 2-3 minutes more until it starts to bubble. Remove from the heat.
Add salt and pepper. Taste. For this recipe with the Croque Monsieur/Madame, I added the dry ground mustard. For other recipes, nutmeg or no extra seasoning is preferable.
The finished product

If the mixture seems too thick (remember for this version it will go on top of a sandwich and be grilled), you can add more milk to thin it out. If you do decided to do this, you will need to add the additional liquid by tablespoons again and completely incorporate so that your sauce does not fall apart.

This is how much this recipe makes; plenty for a few sandwiches!

Buon appetito!

More Toasts – Trio of Bruschette

Bruschetta tipica
Peperonata con mozzarella e pesto
Gorgonzola con miele
A few folks have given me feedback and their opinions about my last post. Most haven’t posted them to the blog so I’ll summarize. As I suspected, one half of the couple in my family who favors what I’ll term as “pasty bread” – so light as not to really be classified as Toast, per se – wrote back about her preference. We did agree about the whole jam and butter thing, though.

Two folks were on the side to try to convince me to buy a toaster oven. While I will acknowledge a greater degree of flexibility for making cheesy, melty things than with a toaster, I think I’ll just stick with the oven in that regard. Toaster ovens were actually banned, along with hot plates, from my university because they are a fire hazard due to the open heating element.Someone did actually set off a dorm smoke alarm when I was there – not me, just for the record – so I don’t really have a great memory of these appliances. Besides, in my wee NYC apartment kitchen we have room for only one major, counter-occupying device and the microwave trumps the toaster oven. So, the toaster is what we’re sticking with for the moment.

However, for the past few weeks, I feel as though we’ve been at a standoff, the toaster and I. It is now playing games with me. The plastic level has done summersaults only once. The latest thing is that it isn’t really toasting. It comes out that pale shade that others favor.
Then, that means I have to double-toast it, which is extra crispy-crunchy, not my ideal texture, but edible. Then, of course, I turned it way up and it charred one of the last pieces of good, farmer’s market bread that I had left. Arrggghhhh!!! Can’t win. Kitchen equipment is not supposed to be this aggravating!
So, for the moment, I’ve decided to go off toast, at least with the toaster. I’m going to use the broiler instead. It’s a bit trickier to get it to just the right shade of golden brown, but I’m up for the challenge. Besides, that way, I don’t have to face my reflexes being assaulted every morning by that wayward lever.
As I was on my toast kick, it made me pull out a few recipes that I had tucked away. With the weather getting warmer, a dinner of various small things, complemented by toasted bread, would make a great entertaining idea (as when a friend of mine and I took some of these things to visit another friend of ours who had just had her first child) or just a wonderful meal al fresco.
Peperonata (my version omits tomatoes and onions usually found in it)
Prep Time: 30-45 minutes
Serving Size: 6-8 adults as appetizer, depending upon size of peppers
Ingredients:
2 Red Peppers, cored, deseeded, and cut into quarters
2 Yellow Peppers, cored, deseeded, and cut into quarters
2 Tbsp extra virgin Olive Oil
1/2 tsp aged Balsamic Vinegar
2 small cloves Garlic, minced finely or crushed in a garlic press
1 tsp dried or fresh Oregano
Assembly:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C, Gas Mark 6). Place peppers in one layer on baking sheet. Place in broiler. Let cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the skin of the peppers is black in some places. You need to watch them carefully to make sure that they do not burn.
This is the trick to peeling the peppers. As soon as you pull them out of the oven, place in a plastic bag and tie the bag shut. Let sit for 15-20 minutes. This will steam the skin off of the peppers and enable you to peel them more easily.
Untie the bag. The peppers will be soft and pliable. Make a slit at the darkest part of the skin. It should have started to lift away from the pepper itself. Start peeling at this point, towards the edges. Making sure not to leave any of the skin behind. Cut the peeled peppers into strips about 1/4-inch wide.
In a bowl, mix together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and oregano. Add peppers and stir until they are coated with the olive oil mixture. Serve with grilled or toasted bread.
Special Shout-Out: Entertaining Tip
This goes out to my friend Rob, who asked about getting away from his usual proscuitto e melone appetizer:  On large white plate or platter, pepperonta in three or four around the cheese (depending upon how many people you are serving).
In between these, mound thinly sliced proscuitto. Slice small cherry tomatoes in half (if you can find garden-ripe red and yellow ones of various sizes, these would look the nicest) and dot around the rim of the plate in alternating colors.
Place a basket of grilled or toasted bread on the table you’ve brought into your gorgeous English garden and serve to your guests. Drinks of choice would be a lightly chilled, light Italian red wine, bellinis or proscecco. Your guests are sure to swoon over it.
As your main then, you can opt to serve something as simple as a lightly dressed mesclun salad and pasta with pesto. Dessert can be fresh seasonal fruit accompanied by freshly whipped cream. There! Not a melon in sight.
Buon appetito!