Grilled Gruyere and Radish Sandwich

2013-05-25_13-16-20_944

My husband is a radish fiend. For three years I have brought them home from the market nearly every weekend that they are available, and he never tires of them. This time of year, Kyle is in radish and greens heaven, and I am constantly trying to find new ways to prepare both. We have always eaten radishes raw, so last week I roasted a bunch of French breakfast radishes with carrots – big win! I highly recommend it. This week, I got home from the market and immediately dumped my purchases out and searched for lunch inspiration.

2013-05-25_11-32-32_580

This week at the South of the James farmers’ market, I picked up Agriberry strawberries, Norma’s Produce baby yellow squash, Norwood Cottage craisin bread, Crumptown Farm Tokyo Bekana (a new-to-me green!), Walnut Hill Farm turnips (with bonus greens – two vegetables for the price of one!), Bella Grove purple radishes, and Broadfork Farm dill. Our cluster of radishes was small and it was calling my name. It was a little cool outside that day, and I thought grilled cheese sounded pretty good. I decided to add some sliced radishes to our grilled cheese sandwiches to provide a little crunch and flavor.

2013-05-25_13-16-37_510

I used some smooth, nutty, Gruyere cheese that I had leftover from last week’s groceries, leftover spinach leaves, and thinly sliced spicy radishes, with a thin spread of Dijon mustard, sandwiched between two slices of Ellwood’s Bakery whole wheat bread, over-buttered and griddled to golden brown in a pan. I wasn’t planning on making these sandwiches for a post, but they turned out so well that I decided to take some photos and share the recipe with you. This is super simple, but a little different, so I thought it felt special. I served with a  bowl of fresh strawberries and iced coffee. If we were having these for dinner, I would definitely serve with a glass of Syrah instead.

Sometimes the recipes you come up with on the fly, with the freshest local ingredients available, are the best ones. So, while you probably don’t need the instructions, I’m giving you a grilled cheese recipe. Enjoy!

Grilled Gruyere and Radish Sandwich

2013-05-25_13-17-48_447

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of bread (I used whole wheat)
  • 1 ounce Gruyere cheese
  • 2 small radishes, sliced
  • 1/4 cup spinach leaves
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • Butter

Preparation:

  1. Heat a medium pan over medium heat. Melt a dab of butter or oil in the pan to coat.
  2. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Stack them with the buttered sides facing each other, On the top slice of bread, spread the Dijon mustard.
  3. On top of the mustard, place the spinach, cheese, and radishes.
  4. When the pan is hot, take the top slice of bread with its toppings and place it buttered side down in the pan. Top with the other slice of bread, butter side up.
  5. Cook for 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Cook From the Books: Buttermilk Fresh Cheese

I made cheese this weekend.

DSCF0060

I have wanted to make cheese for a really long time, and this weekend I finally made it. I am pretty ecstatic about this fact. I find it amusing that I waited a year or two to sufficiently psych myself up for this event, then I went to four different stores before I found one that had cheese cloth, then I wasted about a half an hour putting together my fire pit on the back porch, for the specific purpose of serving fresh cheese by a crackling fire, and then actually making the cheese only took fifteen minutes. So easy!

DSCF0061

While I was lounging around wasting hours of my holiday break, I noticed that my cookbooks do not get enough love. I realized that I have a few cookbooks that I received a year ago as gifts, that I have flipped through and bookmarked pages in, that I have never actually cooked a recipe from. When you get used to looking up and bookmarking recipes online, it is easy to neglect the great resources you have on your bookshelves.

DSCF0059

There are dozens of glossy photos and new recipes that I have marked “for later” and never gotten to, so I am now making an effort to cook from the books more often. Because the modern techniques in the Voltaggio brothers’ VOLT ink are way too intimidating (foams, thermal immersion circulators, and hydrocolloids . . . oh my!), I chose to start with the Lee brothers’ Simple Fresh Southern instead. Voltaggio brothers, I’ll get to you soon enough. With an iSi whipped cream canister. Wait, what?

DSCF0063

People have told me that ricotta and soft cheeses are very easy to make, but I did not really understand how quick and easy they were until I tried it myself. I had witnessed the last few steps of homemade ricotta at my friend Melissa’s apartment once when we were in college, but never jumped in and helped or tried to make my own. Fresh cheese is as simple as this: heat, strain, squeeze, serve. Simple Fresh Southern offers simple directions, helpful photos, and several suggestions for what to do with the final product.

DSCF0067

I mixed whole milk, buttermilk, salt and other seasonings over medium-high heat until curds started to form. I made two batches: one with fresh ground black pepper and another with Herbes de Provence. When the curds and whey were separated, I poured the mixture into a cheese cloth lined colander. Taking the four corners of the cheese cloth together in one hand and twisting the pouch of cheese with the other, I squeezed out the excess whey. When I opened the cheese cloth pouch, delicious soft cheese awaited. The light is terrible in these photos since the sun went down while I was playing with the fire pit, but you can kind of see the result.

DSCF0073

When I considered what to do with the fresh cheese, I was inspired by my Sunday morning walk through Forest Hill Park. It was supposed to be seventy degrees and sunny on Sunday, but it was hard to believe the forecast first thing that morning. The air was cold and damp, and thick fog covered the city.

Resampled_2013-01-13_09-51-15_593

The hot sun was due to come out later, but morning in the park felt cold, wet, dark, and quiet. There was a damp earthiness in the air while I mentally planned meals for the week, and I remember thinking I would have to cook mushrooms to match this mood.

Resampled_2013-01-13_09-53-33_506

I really am not a fan of mushrooms, so I settled on beets. Cool, earthy, beets, golden in color and roasted in the oven, because if the weather can be ambivalent, then so can my dinner. This sandwich showcases the fresh cheese pretty well, so if you plan to make some soft cheese yourself, put this on the menu for the week ahead. We had black pepper buttermilk fresh cheese, sliced roasted golden beets, fresh arugula, and mandarin orange vinaigrette between two slices of toasted multigrain sourdough, and it was perfect.

DSCF0075

See what happens when I cook from the books? I think this is the start of something beautiful (or at least delicious).

Lighten up a Classic Comfort Food: Mexi Mac & Cheese

Sometimes you get a craving for comfort food. You know what kind of food I am talking about – cheesy, creamy, fluffy, delicious, made-with-love-and-an-extra-helping-of-butter comfort food. Everyone has a different food that is the culinary equivalent of a warm embrace. Mine is cheesy mashed potatoes. Yours might be macaroni and cheese, or pork BBQ, or fried pickles. Whatever your comfort food is, it is probably not on the light side. These dishes tend to be indulgences that should be enjoyed in moderation. But I want to have them all the time! So the next best thing to a traditional comfort food is one that has been lightened up a bit so you don’t have to feel so guilty for eating the leftovers a few nights in a row.

For this lightened up version of Mac & Cheese, I used a recipe from Eating Well as  the base, then put my own spin on it. I like to call it Mexi Mac. Not to be confused with Sexy Sax, which is a completely different thing (NSFW?). I loved the addition of cottage cheese. The tart flavor played well with the sweet corn and mild heat of the green chilies. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

Mexi Mac & Cheese (serves 4-6 as an entree and 6-8 as a side dish)

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 3/4 cups low-fat milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat small curd cottage cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups corn, canned (and drained) or frozen (and thawed)
  • 1 can ( 4 ounces) chopped green chilies
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) whole wheat elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a 2 quart or 3 quart baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl.
  3. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, corn, and chilies.
  5. Cook pasta for 4-5 minutes, or until not quite tender (it will continue to cook during baking). Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well.
  6. Add dry mustard, salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
  7. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Have you ever made over a comfort food to be healthier? Now is a good time to do it, while you are sticking to your New Year Resolutions. I think a bowl of this could keep you from falling off the wagon for at least a few days. 😉

Rennet: Animal, Vegetable, Microbial?

The more I learn about food, the more concerns I have about where it came from. Likewise, the more educated I become about animal products, the pickier I get about what I put on my plate. The growing number of food documentaries and the vast information available on the internet gives us the opportunity to be more informed about our food sources than we have ever been in my lifetime, and probably my parents’ lifetime too.

One of the most eye-opening food experiences I have had this year was when I discovered rennet. Rennet is a combination of digestive enzymes that is used in the production of cheese. Many cheese makers use animal-derived rennet, which comes from the stomach lining of a calf. The rennet is a byproduct of veal production. So imagine my surprise when I realized that I was indirectly supporting this practice by consuming cheese. Being anti-veal, I freaked out a little, and temporarily banned cheese from my diet until I could learn more. I discovered that there are three types of rennet: animal, vegetable and microbial. When I reincorporated cheese into my diet, I bought only cheese made with vegetable rennet, which I found at our local market, Ellwood Thompson’s.

click to enlarge

I took it a step further and started questioning where all of my animal products came from, and now I make more informed decisions about those animal products that I eat (typically just dairy and eggs). I don’t always research every food that I put in my body (for example, cream at the coffee shop, and cheese on a take-out sandwich), but I am getting better.

The reason I bring it up today is that when I was perusing the Trader Joe’s website, I found a very helpful guide to rennet that calls out which of their cheeses use animal, vegetable and microbial rennet. I wish more retailers made this information readily available. I thought you might want to check it out, so here is the link.

Trader Joe’s Rennet Guide

TJ’s has several other helpful guides, and I encourage you to check them out on their website. I hope you find this information useful while making your weekly grocery list. If you have any other helpful and reliable online resources for food education, please leave them in the comments for those of us who love to research what we eat!

Happy Hour: Fall Beer Tasting

This week I was lucky enough to whittle my work hours back to 40. I told myself I would use the extra time to do laundry, balance my checkbook, and clean my kitchen floors. You know, do all the things I barely had time to do when I was working 55 hours a week. On my second day of work-hour-normalcy, I sprinted out of the office at 5:15 PM and headed straight to. . . a beer and cheese pairing.

I did not see the laundry room, my bills remained in a pile next to my disheveled wallet and checkbook, and my pudgy cat served as the primary method of crumb retrieval in my kitchen. But I tasted some great beer!

I will achieve work-life balance in my own time.

I attended A Fall Palate at Ellwood Thompson last Tuesday. The class featured fall beers paired with cheeses, which was very interesting because I had never tried pairing cheese with beer before. I tasted some old favorites (Dogfish Head Punkin Ale), new favorites (Ommegang Cup O Kyndes, which Kyle and I had tried ourselves just one week before this class), and some pleasant surprises that I never would have picked up on my own (Crispin Honeycrisp Hard Cider).

Some of the pairings were spot-on while others were less than perfect. My favorite pairings were the last two we tasted:

Rembrandt Aged Gouda with Crispin Honeycrisp Hard Cider

This 18-month aged Gouda was nutty and dry with some crystallization throughout. It was very tasty by itself. When paired with the hard cider, both the beer and the cheese came alive. Alone, this cider was sweet and flat-tasting, but to me and my tasting partner’s surprise, it stood up well to the aged Gouda. We felt like Danish warriors enjoying the spoils of a victorious battle, while chomping on aged cheese and sipping from barrels of mead. Historically accurate or not, we agreed that this scenario closely resembled the pairing experience we found ourselves in at that moment.

Smoked Quickes Farmhouse Cheddar with Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes

This hearty block of cheddar had been aged 12-15 months and then smoked by oak, resulting in a sharp and smoky flavor with delicate crystallization throughout. Kyle and I had tried a bottle of the Cup O Kyndnes the week before the pairing and it was a major hit, so I was happy to see this beer as the finale to the pairing class. Cup O Kyndes pulls together elements of two of my favorite styles of beer: Belgian ales and Scotch ales. This treasure is a Belgian-style Scotch ale, brewed with caramel and smoke malts and flavored with heather tips. It is a spicy, smoky, and smooth dark beer. The combination of the oak smoked cheese and the chimney smoke flavored beer was perfect for a chilly Autumn night. I am in love.

Besides the pairings I already mentioned, I also enjoyed some cheeses (without their boozy complements) and some beers (without their dairy companions). My favorite solo acts were:

Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest – one of my favorite Oktoberfest beers. Simply delicious amber lager that is perfect alone or with a wide range of foods.

Cricket Hill Fall Festivus – nice caramelly, slightly hoppy, self-defined ESB that is probably better described as an amber ale. I was struck by this beer’s versatility; I could serve it at a party and probably please most of my beer-drinking guests. It’s a seasonal that I would like to share.

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale – spicy, refreshing ale that is actually made with pumpkin (unlike most pumpkin beers). I love this brewery, and their version of a pumpkin ale is one of my favorites.

Parrano – a classic Gouda made with Parmesan starter and aged 5 months, which tastes nutty and sweet with a hint of salt from the Parmesan. Interesting cheese, except it overpowered the beer it was paired with (Schneider Edel-Weisse) which was just kind of eh for me. I would like to try the beer alone, and try the cheese in a different pairing. Left me wanting to experiment a little more.

Goats R Us Fresh Chevre – fresh and tangy goat cheese that tasted like sour cream. I had never tasted chevre like this before, and I want to know more! I’m looking forward to getting some of this in my kitchen and playing with it more.

I hope I will get the chance to attend some more classes at Ellwood Thompson in the future. I learned a lot and had a great time. I think that while I get back into the groove of things, a little more social time and a little less laundry is not necessarily a bad thing. After four months of working my butt off, I’m making up for lost time during my favorite season for gathering with friends and family. Cheers to that!

Fresh Pasta Two Ways

Remember how I couldn’t resist the fresh pasta from Bombolini at last weekend’s SOTJ Market?

I did a little search on the internet and discovered that fresh pasta should be used within 3 days so I knew I had to get cooking. This was not the healthiest adventure I’ve had, but it was oh so delicious.

The temperature dropped about 15-20 degrees between Thursday and Saturday. I don’t handle drastic temperature changes very well so I found myself fighting a headache all weekend. When I got cooking on Sunday, I was craving comfort food.

When I used to get migraines as a kid, my Dad always made me cheddar mashed potatoes when I woke up from my headache-induced naps in my cool dark bedroom. A big bowl of starchy cheesy potatoes was all it took to get me feeling like myself again. So it’s no mystery why I crave pasta or potatoes (with a generous dose of cheese) when I am feeling a little under the weather.

With that in mind, I got to work on the stockpile of noodles in my refrigerator. With the pound of dill shells, I cooked a cheesy pasta by making a béchamel sauce with a dash of cayenne and then melting in a combination of colby, cheddar, and monterey jack cheeses. I cooked the pasta in boiling water for two minutes and then added it to the cheese sauce. After seasoning with salt and pepper, I served it alongside swiss chard sauteed with white beans, onion, and fresh heirloom tomatoes, and dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I wanted to make a nice pasta salad to take for lunches at work this week, so with the twist of spinach fettucine, I made cold pasta salad with the following mix-ins:

  • diced green bell pepper
  • white beans
  • diced heirloom tomato
  • diced cucumber
  • garlic
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

It turned out very good, despite it being an unconventional pasta shape for salad. I was even able to share some of the fettucine with some friends to get a second and third opinion. There were second helpings all around so I called it a success. I was happy that my comfort food was able to create a bright spot in someone else’s day.

And now that we are back to highs in the mid-nineties, I am feeling much more like myself. Whether it was the return to normal temperatures or it was the shells and cheese, I will never know. But it’s good to be back!