Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Weekly Cheese: Tomme Crayeuse

This weeks Weekly Cheese is one of my very favorite: Tomme Crayeuse (tohm cray-YUHZ). It is made from the milk of mountain grazing cows in the Savoie region of France in the Swiss Italian Alps. This buttery, semi-soft, soft-ripened cheese is layered with damp earthy flavors including straw and mushroom in the rind, and a mildly milky but tart almost citrusy center. When eating cheese I like to imagine myself enjoying a food with ancient roots and a long history; I was surprised to learn that this cheese is actually a relatively recent invention. It was developed in the nineties by a French Affineur (an expert in maturing cheese) Max Schmidhauser. He partnered with a cheesemaker in order to make a cheese superior to the areas classic: Tomme de Savoie; and I'm very glad he did. This beautiful cheese has a dusty brownish grey and white rind with bright yellow spots caused by cellulose in the cows diet. The ivory interior is smooth and soft with a slightly crumbly dense center getting a little gooey as you get closer to the rind which is thin and pliable enough to easily slice and delicious to eat.

Reading the process raw milk undergoes to become this delicious cheese gave me a whole new appreciation for the art and craft of making cheese. One secret to this amazing cheese is two stages of aging for a total of about two to three months: the first in a warm moist environment; much like a sauna, the second in an equally moist but cool cave. The first stage loosens and softens the outer crust of the cheese and the second brings out the earthy mushroom flavor and preserves the milky center. This particular combination of techniques creates a moist flavorful wheel or tomme that now competes for popularity with Tomme de Savoie, and in my book is the hands down winner.

I like this cheese best on a good piece of bread, or simple crackers.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Romaine and Artichoke Cobb Salad

This Romaine and Artichoke Cobb Salad is full of bold ingredients with assertive flavors and subtle textures: buttery avocados, rich bacon, sweet tomatoes, fresh floral cilantro, tender artichokes, crisp romaine and tart funky blue cheese vinaigrette. Ingredients that usually play a staring roll work together here to create a bold but balanced salad modeled after the original. A classic Cobb salad features chopped ingredients including bacon, avocado, blue cheese and tomato, and is traditionally made with iceberg lettuce and hard boiled eggs. I swapped in romaine and braised artichokes, and added some fresh cilantro (fresh herbs are amazing on any salad). While my substitutions were simple and easy to imagine, this concept could easily translate to a whole slew of recipes following a few basic principles: chopped ingredients, soft textures, and bold flavors. Try adding or combining poached chicken, tuna, or other chopped meats, corn, mushrooms, lightly steamed veggies like green beans, broccoli, etc, olives, beans, cheese, boiled or roasted potatoes, carrots or beets, and on and on. As a rule of thumb soft and savory ingredients work the best; you don't want any of your ingredients to be sweeter then the tomatoes or crunchier then the lettuce. As you can see this kind of salad is a great way to pack in the flavor and, I have to say, makes it really really easy to eat your vegetables. I few things I would keep in mind: the bacon is necessary, or I should say something must play the roll, and those are mighty big shoes to fill. If your trying to make this dish vegetarian I would try either olives or marinated, pan fried and crumbled tempeh. It is also important that the lettuce is crisp. One of the secrets to this recipe is a roll reversal. Lettuce is usually one of the softest components in a salad, in this case it's crunchy, juicy texture asserts itself, giving the dish the necessary body not supplied by its more glamorous players. This main dish salad is light but loaded; the good stuff in every bight; enlightened with tomatoes, artichokes, crunchy romaine, bracing chili blue cheese vinaigrette, and fresh floral cilantro and more than adequately enriched with avocado and two thick slices of bacon per salad, bacon in every bite, who doesn't like that.

the recipe:

1/4 - 1/3 head romaine lettuce
1/2 - 1 medium tomato
1/4 - 1/3 avocado
2 - 3 baby artichokes
2 thick slices bacon
1-3 tbsp chopped cilantro

4 - 5 tbsp blue cheese
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small clove garlic
1/2 tsp sugar
fresh chili, minced, to taste
salt, to taste

Note: You will probably have extra vinaigrette for an additional salad (or not, I don't judge). Also, I've given a range of amounts for many of the ingredients because this recipe is for a single salad; so make it the way you like it, and enjoy!

Add an inch of generously salted water, a squeeze of lemon juice, a grind of pepper, and a tablespoon of olive oil to a saucepan. Clean and trim baby artichokes (see Saveur's how-to slide show), and add to lemon water. Cover and simmer approximately 20 minutes, checking often to prevent over cooking. Drain and cool. Separate, rinse and cut ribs of romaine into half inch slices, dry thoroughly. Fry slices of bacon, drain on paper towels and crumble or chop into small even pieces. Chop avocados and tomatoes and braised artichokes into small even size pieces. Mince and smash garlic with a pinch of salt and combine with lemon juice, red wine vinegar, sugar, chili, and salt. Crumble in large chunks of blue cheese; whisk vigorously and slowly drizzle in olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Lightly dress chopped romaine with a few tablespoons of vinaigrette and mound on plate. Arrange remaining ingredients over top or along side and top with chopped cilantro and additional blue cheese vinaigrette. Serves 1.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Weekly Cheese: Boucheron

This is the first post, of hopefully many posts, in a new feature I'm calling the "Weekly Cheese". I'm working at a cheese and Charcuterie counter at a small gourmet food market, and am immersed in the delicious world of cheese: "real" cheese. I say real cheese because once you start exploring this diverse and flavorful world, you'll probably never go back to supermarket cheese again. For those of you who have already discovered this world, you know; these cheeses are alive with flavors and textures, and each wheel comes with a story and each cheese a history, some going back hundreds of years. If your cheese experiences are limited to blocks of cheddar and string cheese, find yourself a good cheese counter, and dive in. Don't feel intimidated, just go for it. I recommend tasting at least a few cheeses every time you go, and buy small amounts (a quarter pound is pretty common) of a variety of cheeses. You should really buy only enough cheese to eat in a day or two, and go back for more freshly cut from the wheel or block. Don't be dissuaded by a cheese you dislike; likes and dislikes are necessary to narrow down your choices as you taste your way through the worlds huge variety of cheeses. Some people dislike an entire category of cheese, like sheep's milk, or aged cheeses, or stinky cheeses, these preferences will help you and your cheesemonger to make your first choices. I just caution you to test your preferences periodically. As you expand your palette and try more cheeses that fall out of the norm, you will find yourself able to tolerate more diverse flavors and textures.

For my first Weekly Cheese post, I will start with Boucheron [BOOSH-rawn]; an accessible, very briefly aged (5-10 weeks), soft, pasteurized, goat cheese from the Loire Valley in France. This cheese is a looker, a bright white bloomy rind covers a small forearm length log. Your cheesemonger will, using a wire, slice from this a perfect disk that reveals a beautiful cross section of bright matte white and dove gray. It's visual appeal makes Boucheron a great cheese for a party or cheese board. But its easy-going taste and price make it a great everyday cheese. The middle of this laid back cheese is mild, dense and crumbly like a fresh goat often referred to in the US as a Chevre, but then it gets interesting. As you can see, there is a layer of gooey cheese around the large chalky core, and finally a thin bloomy layer of mold similar to a brie style cheese. This is because of the nature of a "bloomy -rind" or "soft-ripened" cheese, (like brie) which age from the outside in. Thanks to the magic of mold you get two cheeses in one; a creamy, mushroomy, "brie" style, contrasting with a dry and clay-like, mildly tangy fresh goat. Boucheron also plays well with others. It is especially good on salads or with grapes, and compliments just about any bread or cracker. I especially like it with a simple spinach salad.

Finally, I know people don't need much encouragement to talk about cheese, but I ask, if you have tasted Boucheron or are inspired to taste it by this post, contribute to the discussion. Let us know what you think; what are your favorite pairings?, any similar cheeses you would recommend? Where do you get your cheese? any tips on serving or storage? etc....

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Spicy Snap Pea Slaw

First, I would like to start with an apology for the lack of posts in June. My computer died and my blogging future wasn't looking good. Luckily my friend JS lent me his computer and saved the day. So, I thought I would take a sec and give special thanks to JS for the computer, RH for the digital camera, and LB for photography lessons, and a collective thanks to RB and my whole Foodie posse for hundreds of delicious meals and nerdy food conversations. As you can see without all my great friends, this blog would not be possible.

I had an amazing 4th of July; great food, lots of sun, and a surprise - perfect view of the fireworks! I started the day with a trip to the farmers market and breakfast with friends. Then I got sunburned laying in the sun reading (I know Mom), and spent a few hours cooking and hanging out with my friend LB. I made this snap pea slaw, and LB made amazing vegan strawberry coconut ice cream. We brought our creations to RH's for an "Indoor BBQ". RH made BBQ Seitan from scratch, and RB made basil pesto pasta salad. There was also watermelon, cherries, and appetizers. It was all delicious and the company couldn't have been better. We ended the evening on the roof. The New York City fireworks were moved to the Hudson this year, on the other side of Manhattan and we were anticipating an explosion free evening (a fate i wouldn't wish on my worst enemy); we were shocked when the festivities started, and we couldn't have hoped for a better view! All in all, it was a magical summer day in Brooklyn.

This crunchy fresh snap pea slaw is a perfect side for a potluck or picnic because it stays crisp for days, and can be dressed how ever you like to fit with just about any menu or theme. Its also easy to make; the two main ingredients are snap peas and "knife skills", along with some carrots and a sesame dressing.

the recipe:

approx 6 cups snap peas
2 lg. carrots, julienned
1 clove garlic, finely minced
4 tbsp toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp honey (or sugar)
2 tsp minced fresh herbs ( I used mint, parsley, and cilantro)
Sriracha Chili Sauce to taste (or your favorite chili sauce or minced fresh chilies)

Clean snap peas, and snap off both ends, pulling down the side to remove fibrous threads. thinly slice diagonally and combing with julienned carrots in mixing bowl. In smaller bowl, combine remaining ingredients adjusting to taste. Slowly add dressing to vegetables until lightly coated. Serves approximately 6-8.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Red Bean and Spinach Soup

Bean soup is a staple in my house; its simple to make and fun to improvise. If I have some dried beans (which I always do) a few veggies (ditto) and a complimentary starch: rice, pasta, potato, I've got rich satisfying soup. The same basic process can produce nearly unlimited variations just by mixing up the variables. First you've got beans: red beans, black beans, white beans, pink beans, garbanzo beans etc..... and don't forget lentils and split peas. Next, veggies: you've got the classic celery and carrots, also mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, squash, peppers and on and on. Add a complimentary starch, seasonings and flavorings like spices and herbs, meats (bacon and sausages really go well, but any meat will work), olives, flavored oils and vinegars, etc, and you can see the potential for your own versions are endless.

I was inspired to share my bean soup habit by a new stall selling beans at the farmers market. I realize I am disproportionately excited about this, but I am pumped! I love beans, and these beans are the best; super fresh, and right there with my weekly staples every Saturday morning. Now if they would sell coffee beans at my farmers market I might be able to give up shopping indoors all together.

Red Bean and Spinach Soup
the recipe:

canola oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 cup dried red beans, soaked over night or "quick-soaked"
3 - 4 cups spinach, rinsed and stemmed
1 cup ditalini pasta
fresh ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

In large heavy bottomed saucepan or dutch oven saute onion in canola oil over med heat until caramelized, but not dark. (lower heat if necessary to prevent burning) Add garlic and saute one minute. Deglaze pan with wine (pour in wine and scrape up any bits (fond) stuck to the pan). Add soaked beans and water to generously cover. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam or scum from the surface. Reduce heat to low and simmer until beans are tender (1 -3 hours depending on the type and freshness of your beans) skimming surface often and adding water as necessary. Generously salt beans and add pasta. Simmer until pasta is nearly al dente. Add spinach and simmer until pasta is done and spinach is just wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning and serve immediately with extra virgin olive oil and fresh ground black pepper. (If you want to make soup ahead, either wait to add pasta and spinach, or remove from heat before pasta and spinach is fully cooked. The soup will finish cooking when reheated.)

Reading this recipe I'm sure you can see all the ways this very basic recipe can be adapted. First you can throw some diced carrots and celery in with the onion, or maybe some peppers and cilantro, or mushrooms... get creative, it's nearly impossible to mess it up. this first step is also a great time to add bacon or whole or ground spices (there flavor is intensified by a brief saute in hot oil). Next, in goes your beans, this is also a good time to add long simmering flavor enhancers like wine, canned tomatoes, cheese rinds, dried chilies, etc. (Note: using dried beans makes a very rich and flavorful broth. If you don't have time to use dried beans, you could try canned and use some meat or veggie stock.) Once your beans are tender, it's time for vegetables and starches; almost anything goes here, just keep in mind the cooking time for each ingredient. Finally, taste and adjust your seasoning; keep in mind if you haven't added one in earlier steps, you probably want a little bit of some kind of "acidic" flavor to balance it all out. Lemon juice or vinegar works great.

Here is an example of one variation: Chickpea Stew with mushrooms carrots and rice. I flavored this batch of soup with a Parmesan cheese rind. As you can imagine, this soup tastes all together different from the red bean soup, with only a few simple changes. Simply swap out chickpeas for red beans, add minced carrots and mushrooms to your caramelized onions, and cubed carrots and mushrooms instead of spinach, simmer with Parmesan and add a little rice and a squirt of lemon.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rhubarb Ginger Jam

For the first time in my life; I ate jam out of a jar with a spoon. Make this zingy, sweet and tart Ginger Rhubarb Jam and you'll understand. It's rhubarb season, which means my friend RH is making ginger rhubarb jam. I don't know if she was planning on making it a tradition, but it elicits such rave reviews that it has showed up each spring right along with the rhubarb crop. Just when it starts to sound like a jammy fairytale; the bad news: R is moving to Chicago this summer, making this not only an opportunity to make a great jar of jam, but an opportunity to pass on a great recipe, and keep a little bit of my friend right here in Brooklyn. She might be eating deep dish, while I get to savor a Brooklyn slice, but we'll both be eating the same jam every spring.

This jam, like most, is very simple and requires no special equipment. If you make a larger batch, it would be a natural for canning, as rhubarb season is short and a jar of tart rhubarb jam with a warming ginger bite sounds just as good, if not better, in the bitter cold of winter. We made a pretty small and manageable batch, (I don't think R digs the idea of moving jars of jam cross country), great if you want to make enough for you and your friends, or maybe enough to last until the strawberries arrive.

the recipe:

3 lbs rhubarb (discard leaves)
4 cups sugar
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger

Cut rhubarb into 1 inch lengths. Mix with sugar and lemon and let sit for 20 minutes. Add rhubarb mixture and ginger to heavy saucepan. Bring to boil and adjust heat to a gentle boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until gelling point (place a dollop of jam on cold plate. The surface will form a skin when gelled): 45 to 55 minutes. When gelled, skim any scum from the surface, remove from heat and stir to evenly disperse fruit. Ladle into warm jars and store in fridge, or use canning process for self stable storage. Makes about 4 - 5 half pint jars.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cardamom Ice Cream

Yeah! I have a new (to me) ice cream maker, and I love it. So little work for such a delicious result. My very first ice cream experiment involved a custard and some cardamom pods. I was hoping for the best, and the results far exceeded my expectations. The flavor was intense and "exotic" but also familiar: much like a slightly more floral cousin of vanilla. This was all balanced by a rich and eggy custard base.

I have a confession: I am not a chocolate dessert person, (I know many find this blasphemous.) Don't get me wrong chocolate is great, but I actually like vanilla better. Keeping in mind my chocolate disclosure - I have to say, I think this just might be my new favorite ice cream.

I served my cardamon ice cream with sweet ripe cubes of mango. I can't take full credit for the combo as they are two classic Indian ingredients, but the combination was perfect. Both the ice cream and the mango have rich and floral notes, the mango added a nice piny musky complexity that was tamed by the creaminess of whole milk and heavy cream.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, I highly recommend getting one. They are very inexpensive these days, and I imagine it would pay for itself in no time. Not only can you save money, you also have complete control over what goes into your ice cream. I made mine with milk, cream, and eggs from the farmers market, and I could taste it. So fresh and rich and eggy, no store bought ice cream could possibly compete.

the recipe:

2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
6-7 green cardamon pods, slightly crushed

Whisk together sugar and eggs until frothy and lemony yellow. In saucepan, heat milk and cardamom until it simmers. Add milk and cardamom slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly. (This process is called Tempering) Return to pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon: 6-8 minutes. Pour custard through a strainer and cool. Add cream and refrigerate until cold. Process in ice cream maker according to your machines directions.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spaghetti with Ramps

Ramps are here! Those who are not jumping for joy as they read this are probably scratching there heads. To many ramps are unknown. To those who eat seasonally or stalk their local farmers market for the next interesting treasure, this member of the leek family is the first fresh new offering since fall, as well as the beginning of an onslaught of fresh produce that will last nearly until thanksgiving. The very first fruits and veggies of the year are actually foraged: ramps, fiddlehead ferns, stinging nettles, morel mushrooms, rhubarb, and other lesser known wild things. The season for these wild edibles is quite short, in the case of ramps: about three to five weeks.

I decided to make Spaghetti with Ramps, a very common preparation, as my introduction to ramps for the season. I should warn you; I was only briefly introduced but I could taste the garlicky goodness for hours, if not days afterwards. This member of the onion family tastes like a musky mix between garlic and leek, and while mild, relative to a regular onion, the taste (and smell) really linger. I suggest making enough spaghetti for all of your friends: (spread the stink!)

A ramp is a self contained feast. It comes with two flavors (garlic and leek) and three textures: a tender green top (looks a bit like tulip leaves) a thin red stem, and a little white bulb (much like a scallion.) Mother nature knows the ramp will venture forth early and alone, and gives a chef nearly all they need to whip up an easy dish like Spaghetti with Ramps. I simply separated each ramp into its three distinct parts, chopped the bulbs and caramelized them, quickly sauteed the stems followed by the greens and stirred in some lemon juice (or wine), olive oil(or butter) and Spaghetti with some of its cooking liquid. Gave it a stir and ate it with lots of fresh ground black pepper and lemon wedges. If I would have had it on hand (or hadn't been quarantined by rain,) I would have topped it with a generous mound of fluffy shredded Parmesan, or some breadcrumbs sauteed with butter and parsley.


2 tablespoons canola oil
1 bunch ramps, trimmed and cleaned
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or white wine)
4-6 ounces Spaghetti
fresh ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Cut ramps into three separate parts: leafy tops, red stems, and white bulbs. Chop the bulbs and add to large skillet with 1 tablespoon oil and a pinch of salt over medium heat. Saute until gently caramelized, stir occasionally and lower heat if necessary. Remove from pan and reserve. Add additional tablespoon of oil to pan and increase heat to medium-high. Add stems and stir fry until just tender, add greens and season with salt, stir fry until wilted. Reduce heat to medium. Add caramelized bulbs back to the pan along with lemon juice and scrape up any bits stuck to the pan. Meanwhile cook pasta in salted water and drain, reserving a cup of liquid. Add pasta, a few grinds of black pepper, and a 1/2 cup cooking liquid to pan stirring gently until pasta is coated and liquid has mostly reduced. Add more pasta water as necessary to achieve desired consistency. (Keep in mind it will evaporate further as it is plated) Serve on warm plates drizzled with extra virgin olive oil; either with lemon wedges and fresh ground black pepper, or with grated Parmesan, or toasted bread crumbs) Serves 2.