Archive for the ‘Cheese’ Category

So, how’re things?  What’s that?  Where in the hell have I been?  Uh…

Well, it began with THE LAWN. I’m pleased to report that, aside from a little edging and compost-adding, the garden has grown. As soon as it’s pretty enough to post, it’ll be here in all its glory. My seedlings are still doing really well (thanks, Ikea!), so I can’t wait to put them in the ground now that things have warmed up around here.

Then the project-monster expanded his reach. He crept inside the house, approached the kitchen, and knew he’d found his prey. In reality, Chris gave me the lovely Valentine’s Day present of re-vamping my kitchen – new paint, new grout, new shelves, new butcher block table, new everything. I was tickled pink at the idea and so pleased to see the results, but in between I got a little cranky and impatient. It’s tough to take a girl out of her favorite room for a week and a half!

Anyway, it’s almost all done and beautifully shiny and bright. I’ll be making up for lost time in the days to come!

Before the turmoil, I had been reading Julia Child’s My Life In France, inspired by a book club on The Kitchn. Although I don’t have half the patience or ambition of this amazing woman, I was inspired to get a little French up in this biz.  Enter the soufflé.


Dude!  Souffles aren’t that hard – I had no idea! 

Provencal Goat Cheese and Herb Soufflé (adapted from Epicurious)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 cup crumbled chilled soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet)
1/2 cup (packed) grated Gruyère cheese (about 2 ounces)
8 large egg whites


Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Generously butter one 10-cup soufflé dish or six 1 1/4-cup soufflé dishes (I used six individual soufflé cups and had overflow, so I filled the above dish also.  This makes a lot – invite friends)!  Heat olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and minced garlic. Cook without browning until mixture begins to bubble, whisking constantly, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in whole milk, then white wine. Cook until smooth, thick and beginning to boil, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix egg yolks and salt in small bowl. Add egg yolk mixture all at once to sauce; whisk quickly to blend. Mix in 1 tablespoon basil, 1 tablespoon thyme and 1 teaspoon rosemary. Fold in cold goat cheese and Gruyère cheese (cheeses do not need to melt).

Using electric mixer, beat whites in large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/4 of whites into lukewarm souffl
 base to lighten. Fold in remaining whites. Transfer soufflé mixture to prepared dish. Sprinkle with ground black pepper.

Place soufflé in oven; reduce heat to 375°F. Bake soufflé until puffed, golden and gently set in center, about 35 minutes for large soufflé (or 25 minutes for small soufflés). Using oven mitts, transfer soufflé to platter and serve immediately.  And they mean immediately.  I snapped some pictures before the sagging happened, and it happened so quickly! 


Oh yeah – a rimmed baking sheet is helpful.  Forgot to mention that.  Add some nasturtium-studded salad, and you’ve got a beautiful meal that even Julia would be proud to serve – Bon Appetit!


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Simma down now

These persimmons have found their way into many a salad, but I wanted to try something new to showcase these beautiful orange fruits. Seeing as everything is better with cheese…


Brie topped with persimmon salsa – it was a nice complimentary flavor of the sweet, tart and spicy along with that creamy cheese – it took all my self control to save room for dinner. It’s still persimmon season, so enjoy!

Persimmon Salsa (adapted from Cooking Light)

3 Tbsp thinly sliced onion
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp minced jalapeño
3 ripe Fuyu persimmons (about 1 pound), coarsely chopped (you can peel them if you like, but I don’t mind a little skin to add texture
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions: um, combine. Serve over warmed brie.  Or any meat.  Yum it up.

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As my sister said on her way through the security line at the airport: “I’m not eating again today.  Well, not until I get home”.  As is tradition, we spent the majority of three days being uncomfortably full, and now we’re hoping to take a break from overeating for a few days.   We had a spectacular experience though, and took advantage of our family’s diversity by having Persian cuisine one night, Norwegian the next, and good ol’ American to finish it off.  Pictures to come.

In case you’re not sick of feasting yet, have I got a beautiful meal for you.  This isn’t one of those recipes where your guests will think you’ve spent all day cooking, but in fact it’s just been whipped up last minute.  You’ll actually be putting in some labor time on this one, but it’s well worth it for the right occasion.  Ours was a lovely dinner with lovely friends before we all dispersed for Christmas.  I’d recommend doing it in stages – make the sauce and roast the squash the day before, and you’ll be golden.  I’m not usually too excited by white sauces, but the combination of the sweet, caramelized squash with this rich decadent sauce is too much to pass up.


Roasted Butternut Squash, Rosemary and Garlic Lasagna
adapted from Cooking Light

8 1/4 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (3 pounds or so.  I had a bigger squash, so just added an extra layer to the lasagna to use it up)
 Cooking spray
4 cups fat-free milk, divided
2 Tbsp dried rosemary
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (8-ounce) package no-boil precooked lasagna noodles
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
1/2 cup whipping cream

Arrange butternut squash in a single layer in a large roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Coat squash with cooking spray. Bake at 450° for 25 minutes or until squash is just tender, stirring once. Set aside.

Lower oven temperature to 350°.

Combine 3 1/2 cups milk and rosemary in a medium saucepan and simmer on medium heat 5 minutes or until mixture begins to boil. Let stand 10 minutes. Strain milk through a fine sieve into a bowl; discard rosemary.

Lightly spoon all-purpose flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and remaining 1/2 cup milk, stirring flour mixture with a whisk until well blended to form a slurry.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute or until tender, stirring constantly. Stir in steeped milk, and increase heat to medium-high. Gradually add slurry to pan, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook 15 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Combine milk mixture and squash, tossing gently.

Spread about 1 1/2 cups squash mixture into the bottom of an 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 noodles over squash mixture; top with 2 cups squash mixture and 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat layers once or twice with 3 noodles, 2 cups of squash, and 1/4 cup of cheese. Top with 3 noodles.

Just before your guests are due to arrive, beat whipping cream and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt with mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Spread the whipping cream mixture over noodles; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden. Let stand 10 minutes.

I’ve got another week off from work (eat that, suckas!), so am planning to tend to the winter garden (artichokes are so happy right now, but the beets, chard and turnips have been a little neglected), clean the house, and generally nest, getting ready to start 2008 on the right foot.

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Ah, quinoa.  I love a superfood that tastes good – I crave quinoa whenever I’ve been eating heavy meals with little nutritional value – this adaptation of Comfort Couscous brings me right back to health.  I’ve been attempting to grow quinoa in the garden this year, but haven’t had much success.  It’s a shame, because the flowers are beautiful and the grain output substantial.  Maybe the next plantings will take.

Quinoa Bake with Chard

2 cups water or vegetable broth
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup quinoa

olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 big pinch (1-2 tsp, depending on your spice preference) red pepper flakes
1 small bunch chard, stems separated and cut into 1 inch pieces, leaves coarsely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Combine the water, garlic, salt and pepper in a small saucepan over high heat.  Bring to a rapid boil.  While that’s boiling, rinse your quinoa really well.  Unwashed quinoa can be bitter tasting because it’s coated with saponin, a naturally occuring substance that acts as a pesticide – fascinating plant!  So, put your quinoa in a bowl, cover with cold water and rub between your hands for a few seconds.  Lather, rinse, repeat two more times, just to be on the safe side.  By now your water should be boiling, so add the quinoa, cover and lower the heat to a simmer.  Let it cook for about 12 minutes, until the water has been absorbed.  Your quinoa should be translucent, with quite germ curlicues.  Remove it from the heat and let it rest, covered, for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.  You could stop right here (as may be your want on hot summer days), dress the quinoa with some walnuts, leftover veggies and miso dressing and enjoy a hearty bowl of grains, or you can continue on with me to cheese land.

All still here?  I thought as much.  Preheat the oven to 350°.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, then add the onion and garlic.  Sautee until translucent, then add the red pepper flakes.  I always crush up the flakes a bit in my hand before adding them, since it releases more flavor.  Add the chard stems and saute until they’re almost fully soft.  Add the leaves and a splash of water, then cover to let it all steam for a couple of minutes.  Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, combine the quinoa, egg and chard mixture.  Mix in 1/2 cup of cheese, and taste for salt and pepper.  Spoon into a greased square baking pan (I used 8×8, I think), cover with the remaining cheese and bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is golden and the edges have started to crisp.

The end result is nutty and comforting with a little extra kick from the red pepper flakes.  The edges bring a nice crisp and toasted texture, while the middle retains that creamy quinoa feel, with the grains almost popping in your mouth.  Yum city.


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I’m receiving a massage at home from my friend Tam tonight – we do trades, so after working on her earlier this week, it’s my turn!  I’m pretty darn lucky. 

We’ve been a bit lazy in our kitchen lately, eating takeout and toast, so I’m also craving a homemade meal.  I prepped this dish early so that when I’m sacked out in bliss on the massage table and Chris comes home from work, he can pop it in the oven.  I can’t think of anything better than ending a massage with a baked, cheesy, vegetable-packed dish.  It’s another one of those ultra-adaptable dinners (or side dishes if you want to find some protein) – you can change the veggie, the cheese, the herbs, the grain.  Whatever tickles your boat.  Floats your fancy?  Anyway…


Baked Couscous with Zucchini and Herbs

1 3/4 cup water or stock (divided)

3/4 cup uncooked couscous

grapeseed oil (olive works too)

about 2 cups quartered, sliced zucchini

1 bunch green onions, white and firm greens sliced

3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil

1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano

2 pressed garlic cloves

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (the cheese you choose will largely determine the style of dish – you can try parmesean for a more sophisticated dish.  Cheese you choose, cheese you choose…)

1 egg, lightly beaten

salt and white pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400° if baking right away.  Bring 1 cup of the water or stock to a boil, then slowly stir in the couscous.  Turn off the heat and cover tightly.  Let it stand for 5 minutes, then fluff it with a fork.  Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add a bit of oil.  Add the squash, onions, basil, oregano and garlic and saute until the squash is tender, about 10 minutes.

Combine the couscous, squash mixture, 1/4 cup cheese, beaten egg, 3/4 cup water or stock and salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Transfer this mixture to a greased glass baking dish (I used a round 8″), and cover with the remaining cheese.  Bake at 400° for 35 minutes or until golden.  Yawn, stretch, slowly get up from the massage table, then dig in.  Now that’s relaxing. 


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My, that sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?  I suppose if my house were a restaurant, I would have to come up with a better name for this meal.  The road to this dinner started earlier in the week.  I had everything in place – milk, equipment, instructions, a microwave borrowed from a neighbor, and a hopeful heart – to welcome my second cheesemaking success, this time with mozzarella.  How the best laid plans…

Everything started out so well – the milk was separating, music was playing, I may have been dancing around the kitchen – and then I made my first mistake.  I stirred when I should have left alone.  Because the cheese never really set, I ended up with something in between mozzarella and ricotta – not firm enough to shape into a ball, but not crumbly enough to separate easily.

Imagine my shame in returning the microwave, untouched.  I didn’t even get to knead cheese!  Well, not yet.  I plan to tackle the mozzarella beast yet again this weekend.  In the meantime, I’m left with this ‘tweener cheese.  Waste cheese?  Not on your life.  This stuff is gooooood. 

Creamy, decadent cheesy goodness.  A perfect accompaniment to our dinnertime staple of salad.  It’s funny, I’m not really a salad person.  I tend to crave steamed veggies and warm meals over cold, crisp ones.  This is a CSA development, because I’ve yet to hear another suggestion for using up the heads of lettuce we receive in our box.  With the help of Annie’s Organic Papaya Poppyseed salad dressing, I’m acquiring a certain appreciation for the raw stuff.  When we are faced with an overflowing produce drawer, the salad becomes our vehicle for using everything up – enter the kitchen sink salad.  This one was the grateful recipient of 1/2 an avocado, some ready-to-be-used-or-tossed red onion, a cut up carrot, and some extra tomato.

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It’s a little silly to give you a picture of my mise-en-place when I’m making it up as I go along – I inevidably end up reaching for a new ingredient, adding more or less, and sending Chris to the garden for some fresh herbs.  So just assume that the picture is a starting point. I  had to find a way to showcase my fresh-made ricotta, and you know how I feel about baked pasta, so manicotti with greens it was.


Chard and Ricotta Manicotti

1 package manicotti

about 2 cups ricotta cheese

1 or 2 eggs (depending on how wet your ricotta is)

olive oil

1 large onion or 2 leeks, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

a generous pinch of red pepper flakes

1 bunch chard, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped

diced tomatoes (optional)

2 cups mozzarella, divided

2 cups tomato sauce, divided

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta and an egg until combined.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onions until softened.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute one minute more.  Add the chopped chard and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, or until the greens are wilted and soft.  I added some left-over diced tomatoes that I had sitting around – this is optional, as you’ll have tomatoes on the outside of the dish as well.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Transfer the chard mixture to a cutting board and coarsely chop.  Add the chard mixture and about 1 cup mozzarella to the ricotta mixture and stir to combine.  This will be your pasta filling.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add half of the noodles.  Cook 8-10 minutes, or until not-quite-al-dente (they’ll cook some more in the oven).  Remove with tongs and lay on a towel to dry. 

Grease a 9×13″ pan (or two smaller pans if you’d like to freeze one for later), and spread half of the tomato sauce at the bottom of the pan.

Now comes the dirty part.  If you have a pastry bag or some other fancy tool, you can stay clean, but the rest of us should roll up our sleeves and get to stuffing by hand.  I’ve tried other methods, but nothing beats the tools we were born with.  Stuff each shell with the ricotta mixture, allowing it to spill out both sides of the pasta tube.  Lay the tubes side by side in your prepared dish.  Repeat with the second half of the noodles and ricotta stuffing.  When they’re all layed in, snug as bugs in rugs, cover with the other half of the tomato sauce and mozzarella.  Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.  Invite over the neighbors, cut up some greens for a salad, and feast away!


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Whoa.  What a day of eating that was.  I’m taking a break until at least 10am.  With all the whey left over from my cheesemaking adventure I’ve got some cooking to do, so I figured a good place to start was brunch.  I still have two more jars full, so I’ve got to find some more recipes that use lots of buttermilk.  Any ideas out there?

Anyway, yesterday was the sunniest day we’ve had this month – perfect for a day of relaxing, gardening, and eating!  I made a huge brunch, assuming that one or more of the neighbors would be around to share with us – everyone slept in, so Chris and I were left with a large food challenge, which we gladly accepted.  The smells of light and fluffy ricotta pancakes (to show off my homemade cheese!) with fresh blueberry syrup, egg scramble with garden herbs, rosemary and sea salt buttermilk biscuits, thick-sliced bacon, sliced strawberries and fresh brewed coffee filled the air – what a way to celebrate a day off.


Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

1 cup blueberries

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

2 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk or whey

1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a small saucepan, combine the blueberries and maple syrup and heat over a medium flame.  Cook until the blueberries start to pop, and transfer to a pourable container.

Combine the dry ingredients, then add the wets and stir until just combined.  Y’all can probably take it from here – cook like pancakes.  These don’t take too long, so you’ll want to watch them closely so they don’t get charred.  What a feast, huh?


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I ordered a kit from The Cheese Queen at cheesemaking.com to make my own ricotta and mozzarella cheeses.  Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’m done with the plastic tubs and rubbery flavors of store-bought cheeses.  And as seen in my previous posts, cheese is a staple in this house.  I was shocked at how easy it was to make my own ricotta – I can’t see ever buying it again.  As soon as I can track down a neighbor with a microwave, I’m going to give mozzarella a shot.

Full instructions come with the kit (which I strongly recommend), and are also on the Cheese Queen’s website, but here’s a quick overview of what I did.  It’s so easy.  Pour a gallon of whole milk (just make sure it’s not ultra-pasteurized) into a large, non-reactive pot, stir in 1 tsp cheese salt and 1 tsp citric acid, and bring the mixture to 195°, stirring frequently to make sure the milk doesn’t curdle. 


Because I used a slotted spoon and stirred like the dickens, my ricotta curds were pretty small.  I would imagine that less stirring would give me a thicker curd.  Next time!


When the curds and whey begin to separate, turn off the heat and let the mixture sit untouched for 10 minutes.  Ladle the curds and whey into a colander lined with butter muslin.  Save the whey, as it can be used in place of buttermilk or sour milk in cooking – nothing goes to waste, and the pancakes tomorrow will be heavenly!  If you don’t use the whey in cooking, they say that it’s a good plant food.  Tie the cloth into a bag and hang it for about an hour, or until it drains to the consistency you’re looking for.


Voila!  Ricotta that you can eat with a spoon – so good!  It keeps in the refrigerator for 2 weeks, and can also be frozen, so I divided it.  Some for tomorrow’s ricotta pancakes (made with whey), some for baked pasta later.  Hooray for DIY.


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