There’s More Than One Way To Cut The Cheese

Yeah, you thought the holidays were over, but not quite.

Yesterday was a holiday for everyone still experiencing the morning after 21 days post New Year’s Eve.

It was National Cheese Day!

Now there’s a banner day that we can all get behind (there are numerous non-dairy cheese options for our vegan friends).In honor of this cheesy celebration, today’s essay will be all about what Webster calls, “a food consisting of the coagulated, compressed, and usually ripened curd of milk separated from the whey” (I think that last sentence is iron-clad proof that the first person to eat cheese tasted it before hearing the definition).

Like stone tools and in-laws, the origin of cheese predates recorded history.  And, probably derives from a lucky, delicious accident.  The simplest cheese is usually farmer cheese which is young, unripened, and soft.

Yup.  That’s an Amish dude with a camel dairy.

And the number of animals whose milk is made into cheese is much larger than cow, goat, sheep and buffalo.  Folks around the world have used donkeys, horses, camels and yaks.  And a few years ago, the internet blew up over a restaurant serving cheese made from humans—yeah, thanks no.

Goat cheese has become ubiquitous.  Most of the time it’s a crumbly, tangy product that tops salads and livens up beets.

The milk can be made into the same types of cheese as cows.  I asked a goat farmer why we don’t see goat cheddar, or provolone, or Havarti.  He explained since the yield from a goat is so much lower than cows, chèvre (French for goat cheese) gleans a higher, less labor-intensive yield.On any given month, I eat my weight in goat cheese.  I love it on mixed baby greens along with toasted pecans, dried cherries, and shaved onion, very lightly dressed with balsamic dressing.  Toast, a sandwich restaurant in Durham, schmears it on sliced baguette, drizzles on a little honey, and finishes with a sprinkling of freshly cracked black pepper.

Chèvre can be expensive; a tiny nub just large enough for two or three main course salads can run to seven or eight dollars.  Add a few more if you like organic.

I’ve discovered that Costco carries two large logs for $7.  I throw one in the freezer and am very rarely caught cheese-less.You can fry some types of cheese, and I’m not talking breaded, deep-fried awfulness you might find on the appetizer menu at Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag.  This version is sliced and toasted in a dry skillet.  It’s an addictive treat that The Kid has adored for years.

It’s most commonly made from Mexican queso blanco or queso freir.  But halloumi from Cyprus, Greek kefalotyri and kasseri can all be fried.  Children love this, and it makes for party food that is sure to spark conversation.Another cheese that’s out of the ordinary but is becoming a little more common is burrata.  Burrata is the piñata of the cheese world.  A balloon of mozzarella is filled with stracciatella cheese and cream.  Stracciatella is fresh cheese curds which are stretched and shredded.

If you’re especially fascinated with coagulated, compressed milk curds it’s not very hard to make cheese at home.

There are plenty of websites that will give you step-by-step instructions.  You add rennet to milk, heat it, then stretch the resulting curds.  Rennet can be found in gourmet shops and online. But lots of stores like Southern Season and Whole Foods, as well as the interwebs sell kits, with everything you need to make like Little Miss Muffet.

Then you lucky thing, you can make poutine.

I swear, that looks so good to me it’s almost indecent.  

Thanks for your time.

 

Quel delizioso!

Nature loves diversity.

Or, as any self-respecting, pocket protector owning, socially awkward uber-geek knows that put another way, is the statement which forms the basis of Vulcan philosophy; infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

The diverse combination of which I speak today isn’t quite as exotic as the love child of a blue-skinned, antennaed Andorian and a species which looks like nothing so much as an evolved Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Pahkwa-thanh.It’s an egg dish which is a culinary marriage of Italy and France.

In France, there is something called a galette.  There are actually two somethings.  One galette is a free-form pie.  You roll out a large circular shape of short crust pastry.  Rustic is the name of the game here, so you don’t want a flawless geometric circle with clean, perfect edges.You then place the filling on the dough, leaving a two-inch border around the edge.  The edge is folded up and painted with an egg wash.  If it’s a sweet galette, sugar is sprinkled over the whole confection, and it’s baked to golden perfection.  A savory version is made the same way, only sprinkled with salt, pepper, and any herbs or spices desired.

But it’s the other type of galette which is used in our diversity dish.

I like pie, I really do.  My mom makes a pecan pie to break your heart.  Warm apple pie wearing a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream is a well-deserved, delicious classic.  And all Edwards frozen pies are really tasty, but their lemon merengue with vanilla wafer crust is almost a religious experience.Like I said, pie is a gift from the culinary gods, but the second type of galette has to my favorite…it’s taters.  If I had to give up either pie or spuds forever, it would be goodbye pie.

In this galette, waxy potatoes are peeled and sliced about 1/8 inch thin.  Then you melt some butter in a cast iron pan and, starting at the center, lay down slices of potato in a rosette pattern.  Repeat for a total of three layers, seasoning each layer.With a traditional galette, you brown the first side, then place a plate over the skillet, flip it, return it to the pan cooked side up, and brown the bottom.

With this treatment, you flip the potatoes and turn the heat down.  Then for the Italian portion; called a frittata, beat beat up 6 eggs, season them, and stir in some bacon, caramelized onion, lightly steamed broccoli florets, and sundried tomatoes.  Pour it over the spuds and cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until it starts to set around the edges.frittata galetteSprinkle the top with crumbled goat cheese.  Then set the pan in the oven under a low broiler until the frittata is just set, and it’s puffed and very lightly golden.  Remove from oven, slide it onto a serving platter, let it sit for a minute or two, then slice and serve.   It will feed six.  It’s actually good cold, so leftovers make a great lunch the next day.

So, when I was telling The Kid about this recipe, I didn’t explain which kind of galette I was talking about.  And when I got to the part about flipping it, my child got very confused, with visions of an up-ended free-form cherry pie.  But when I explained it was a potato galette the dish got a vote of confidence.

So my lesson is a new twist on a brunch dish.

And The Kid’s advice is if you have a pie, don’t flip it upside down.Thanks for your time.

Groats and goats

I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, but I really wanted to add goat cheese.  Goat cheese, though, can be expensive; especially in an experimental dish where it might end up decorating the inside of a trash can, rather than the inside of me.

But, once again, Trader Joe’s came to my rescue with a nice little nubbin of chevre, for only three bucks.  The same amount sells at Whole Foods for $8.  Joe has a larger piece with vanilla and covered in blueberries that I’m dying to try, but since Petey dislikes goat cheese, and The Kid can’t abide blueberries, I’d be on my own to eat it—and I’m afraid I would, in one gluttonous, glorious sitting.

The “it” I’ve been wanting to make is a bowl of savory oatmeal.

I just read in Food Network magazine that in 2017 babka (a Jewish marbled, sweet yeast bread), and churros will be big this year (I’ve loved churros since a trip to Los Angeles’ Olvera Street in the 70’s). This dish is also having a moment.  Savory oatmeal is big in two catagories; savory porridge and grain bowls.  Both are as trendy as statement sleeves, platform shoes, and Mondrian-like graphics.

But rather than a craving for chic, my desire comes from a very old, very familiar place.

Ever since I was a little girl in pigtails and footy pajamas, I have loved oatmeal.  I’ve eaten it scary, with half a stick of butter and a boatload of corn syrup.  I’ve eaten it smart with a couple drops of agave and some fruit and nuts.  But I’ve eaten it, and eaten it, and eaten it.Except, never in savory form.

A note about the oats.  I used Coach’s Oats, which I buy at Costco.  But you could use slow cooking steel cut or regular rolled.  Mine cooked in five minutes, so they’re considered ‘quick cooked’.  But don’t use instant oats because there won’t be time for the broth you make to flavor the cereal.

Savory goat cheese oats

savory-oats2 servings oats, uncooked

Water for oatmeal according to directions

1 teaspoon chicken base

1 teaspoon umami or tomato paste

½ teaspoon dry thyme

½ teaspoon fresh rosemary chopped finely

2/3 cup sherry

2 tablespoons onion marmalade: Cook one chopped yellow onion in a little fat until amber-colored, season with salt, pepper, and thyme.  Add 1/3 cup sherry and cook until completely evaporated.

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

Olive oil

3 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

Big handful pea shoots

Salt and pepper

Make broth: put water in non-stick saucepan.  Add chicken base, umami, thyme, rosemary, salt & pepper.  Cook on low heat just until it comes to simmer.  Cover, turn off, and let cool.

Heat skillet on medium-high, and add a drizzle of olive oil.  Add mushrooms, season, and cook until they’re caramelized.  Deglaze with 1/3 cup sherry.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen ready to make oats, cook in broth according to directions.  When finished cooking, check for seasoning, stir in onions, mushrooms, and sunflower seeds.  Plate, then top with bits of goat cheese, and a big pile of pea shoots.  Serves two as a side, or one as a main dish.

This recipe is just a template.  You could flavor it in any manner you like.  You can travel around the world in a bowl of oatmeal.

So, you may not get to Milan or Paris for shopping.  But if you make these savory oats, you can be the most fashionable person in your kitchen.Thanks for your time.