Nosh: Grilled Radicchio

Oh, hooray for summer and the joys of grilling!  Hooray for being outside, coaxing heat from charcoal, giving food that’s easy to prepare that dense, smoky flavor!

Only…

I don’t really know how to work a grill.  Propane, charcoal, it’s all sort of a mystery to me (as it seems to be with most people, as I’ve been on the receiving end of an uncomfortable amount of burnt burgers and pink chicken, but I digress).  Besides, being outside and willfully surrounding myself with things that smell like food, when I am already a bug magnet, only makes slightly more sense to me than willfully cutting my hand and taking a swim off the Great Barrier Reef.

But I really like the flavor you get from some good grill action.  Let’s hear it for indoor grill pans!

Yay! Summer food, without the bugs!

Anyway.  Whether you choose to grill outdoors or in, this is a super-easy recipe that will take you maybe…maybe…ten minutes from start to finish, if you’ve got your pan heated/coals going.  I’m not even going to post a formal recipe; just, you know.  Do this stuff:

First, buy a head of radicchio.  You know what that is, right?  Also called “Italian chicory”?  It’s that beautiful purple lettuce that’s got a lovely bitter bite to it, and always surprises people when one or two of its leaves end up in a “mixed lettuce” bag-o-salad.  The whole heads are usually in the freakfoods section of your produce department, somewhere near the horseradish root and the jars of kimchi. Buy a head whose leaves are nice and tight.  Then take it home, wash it, and hack it in quarters.  Leave the core in place for this, since it will help hold the leaves together during grilling.  Give the quarters a little dab of olive oil and a shot of some salt and pepper.

Salted, peppered, and ready for action.

Next: Put it on the grill cut side down.  You want your surface to be relatively hot and ready to impart some char pretty quickly (you don’t want the lettuce to entirely wilt, it should have some snap) so make sure your heat is medium-high-ish (depending on your stove or other cooking apparatus, of course).   Grill one side for about two minutes, then the other.

Grilling underway.

If you really want to get crazy, grill the back as well for another minute or two.  That’s what I do; I can’t be held back.

Then: take it out of the pan, top it with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, some fresh parsley and a few shaves of whatever hard cheese you have handy.   I used Pecorino Romano, it was rich and salty and a perfect complement to the bitter leaves, tangy vinegar and freshness from the parsley.

Voila!

Note: you get those beautiful curls of Pecorino by going at your cheese with a vegetable peeler.

And there you have it–an easy-peasy, maybe ten minutes worth of work, delicious, fresh, warm lettuce summer salad.  Which, if you have a stovetop grill pan, you can enjoy all year long.

Feast!

Nosh: Buckwheat Crêpes with Grilled Vegetables

It’s summertime!  Well, sort of.  It’s early June, and while I know technically, summer doesn’t start this year until June 20th, but…technicalities, schmechnicalities.  I have made the switch to no socks/flip-flops only, and the air conditioners are in the windows.  It’s summer.

Come on, people, you know this game!  What do we do in the summer with our food?  We grill it and stuff it in crêpes!  What do we grill?  Vegetables!

*arooo?  humina whaaaa?*

Here is where I confess that I am secretly part communist (though many of you could argue that that isn’t quite the secret I might imagine it to be):  I’m actually not a huge fan of grilled meat.  I don’t know…maybe I’ve had one too many scorched mystery meat burgers or questionably-cooked bits of chicken to allow myself to let go of my outdoorsy-style food issues.  Face it, people: watching Grill It! With Bobby Flay can only do so much to help a situation.  Any situation.  And French food usually equals win, particularly when the food in question are delicate, totally nommy, superthin pancakes whose ingredients can be manhandled so they can be sweet or savory, dinner or dessert.

I’ve mentioned my love for the food item that can multitask.  So not kidding.  So, so not kidding.

I like buckwheat crêpes because they’re deceptively hearty, even though they’re thin and delicate and lovely.  You just can’t eat a ton of them, unless you join some kind of belly buster competition…though the food of choice for events such as those tend to be hot dogs rather than vegetable-stuffed crêpes so chances run pretty high that this won’t make your list of problems to address.  Not gonna lie, they take a while to complete–the batter has to rest, and each crepe has to be individually cooked–but they’re delicious and so worth it in the end.

First up: Batter!

Batter: Just this and a pinch of salt.

Mix your ingredients.  Much to my surprise and chagrin, I actually really like and always use Rachael Ray’s recipe, which you can find here.  I know it’s de rigueur to pick on The Rach and for a long time I didn’t do any picking because I used to kind of like her.  But then I saw her recipe for Late Night Bacon and could barely control my rage.  She’s getting paid a bajillion dollars (or is it a kabillion?) to post a recipe stoners have instinctively figured out since the invention of the microwave?  For shame, Rach.  For shame.

You don’t have to mix the ingredients in any particular order.  However, you do want to make sure the melted butter is still melty, but has cooled enough, so it doesn’t “cook” the eggs when they make contact, lest you have scrambled egg bits in your crêpe.  You want smoooooooth, not lumpy.  And really quite thin.  I used buckwheat honey here because nyah, I had it, though it can often be a little too pungent to cook with on a regular basis.  If you don’t want to buy buckwheat honey, regular honey is just fine.

Thin batter, as demonstrated by my lovely assistant George.

Next?  This goes in the fridge.  Cover it and stick it in there and forget about it for at least an hour, and longer if you can.  While it’s chilling and doing its thing, start working on your vegetables.

The beauty of a summer vegetable crepe is you can, really, use ANY vegetables you’d like.  Do you want to use corn?  Use corn!  Asparagus?  Sounds great!  Tomatoes?  Yum.  Yesterday, I used onions, yellow squash, green beans, and okra.  Cleaned, prepped, and on the grill.  In the interests of full disclosure, most veggies were tossed with garlic oil, salt, and pepper.  The okra was also tossed with a little bit of smoked paprika, but you can totally leave that off if you neither have it nor care for it.

Then grill your veggies.  I cooked them while the batter set up, and figured I could toss them in the microwave if I felt they needed to be reheated.  This is pretty straightforward: grill = on, veggies = on top of that.  I have a cast iron stove top grill that stretches over two burners, partly so I can still grill in the winter and partly because I’m the girl mosquitos love the most, so standing outside in the early evening surrounded by food smells is like a horror movie for me.

Yellow squash, grilled green beans. Believe the hype.

Red onion and okra, getting tastier by the second.

A word about okra, for you haters in the room…yes, when you cut it, it produces a mucilage, which is another word for glue.  I understand this triggers the innate fear that once it gets on your fingers you’ll get stuck to the kitchen countertops, where you will perish, sad and alone.  Blah blah blah, whatever.  It can be a little slimy, this is true.  It also tastes incredibly “green” and fresh and delicious, and is a welcome addition to my table whenever possible.  And cornmeal-okra fritters are so good they’ll knock you out.  Go for it.  But I digress.  Back to dinner.

Next up: Crêpes!

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but you don’t need any fancy crêpe pans or batter spreaders or anything.  This is what you need:

All you need.

I like to use my cast-iron pan for this but any flat, reasonably large (10″ or wider) pan will do.  Measure out your scant (as in, not quite full) quarter-cup of batter, grease up the bottom of your pan (you can use olive oil if you don’t prefer butter, like I did), and go for it.  Roll the pan with your wrist, in a circle, so you even distribute the batter in a thin, even layer.

First one side…

Notice how it’s starting to bubble up a little and get sort of crispish around the edges?  It’s getting ready to turn.  So gently…gently…get your standard-issue, nothing spendy pancake turner underneath your crêpe and give it a mighty flip.

…and then t’other.

Repeat until your batter is all cooked up and you’ve got a beauteous stack of deliciousness, just waiting to be filled with more nommy things.  Lay each crêpe down on a piece of waxed paper so they don’t stick together, and then just peel off the wax paper as you eat to get to the tender crêpey goodness underneath.

Stack full of happy.

Before I carry on even more poetically about the majesty that inherently resides in a crêpe, I’ll just move on to how it’s finished.  Which, really, is pretty simple.

Stuff it full of food.

Here’s the finished product, served with a lovely tossed salad and some braised shallots.  It’s on a bed of DIY ricotta cheese which I just made for the first time with organic whole milk, and I’ll never make it with non-organic milk again because it was just that much better. When you make this, be ready to feast, because you won’t want to stop eating.

All components, coming together in perfect, creamy, crunchy, savory harmony.

 It’s more time-consuming than difficult, people, and they’re so very, very good.  Give them a try.  And no matter what you do…Enjoy!

Nosh: Sweet Potato, Red Onion and Fontina Tart

I was going to start this blog with the sentence, “I love a meal that is complete with perhaps the addition of a salad.”  But who am I kidding?  That’s maybe the fussiest thing I’ve ever said about food.  Ever.  I love a meal and it can be any kind, though I do seem to have a particular adoration for tarts.  What’s not to love?  The word is derived from a word that means cake, and yet they look sort of like pie, and you can pretty much put anything you want in them.  You want sweet?  OK.  Savory?  Fine!  Summery?  Done.  Hearty?  You got it!  And if there is one thing I unequivocally love without guilt or repentance, it’s a dish that is inherently mixy-matchy.

Today I bring you something hearty.  Sure, this is probably more seasonally appropriate in the winter and right now everyone’s looking to asparagus and okra, but you know what?  The fresh herb crust kicks ass, and delicious is delicious at any time of year.  With that in mind, I now present the sweet potato, red onion and fontina tart.  Complete with occasionally manoodled pictures.  🙂  Because I can’t help myself, that’s why.

First, make your crust, the preparatory phases for which (for some godforsaken reason) I don’t have any pictures.  Go figure.  Get it mixed and shaped into a disc and in the fridge, so it can chill while you prep your sweet potatoes.  For said potatoes: nothing fancy, folks.  Just peel them, slice them about a quarter-inch thick and toss them with oil, salt and pepper.  Be careful not to slice them too thick because they won’t cook properly and frankly, there is little that causes me more disappointment than an undercooked sweet potato.  It holds so much promise of deliciousness, but never delivers.  Don’t give me a sad.  Cook your potatoes.

Oil/salt/pepper, ready to roast.

And so, put them in a 425° oven for ten minutes, then take them out and set them aside (and drop the oven temp to 375°).  They can cool, that’s fine.  You need to get your dough and cheese ready.

Mmmmm, cheese.  Earthy, melty, nutty fontina cheese.  Did I digress?  Yes?  Too bad.

Lay out a piece of parchment and roll out your dough.  I do recommend putting it on parchment and not just rolling it onto a floured tabletop, because then it becomes just so easy to pick up the whole thing and slide it onto your baking tray.  So.  Roll it out, roughly into a 15″ circle.

So it looks more square than round. So what?

Consider this to be a piece of evidence, as though you were in court.  When looking at exhibit A, bear this is mind.  It is indeed kind of squareish, not round, and can hardly be called “beautiful”.  This is OK, because you’ll fold it all over and nobody will ever care.  Exhibit A is also way more flecked than you might imagine considering the amount of herbs the recipe calls for.  That is because I probably used twice as much fresh herbery.  Further, it specifically says to use rosemary and/or thyme, both of which are delicious for sure, but I’ve also used parsley and oregano.  Do you have an herb garden?  What’s growing there?  Use that.  (Though I would probably stay away from both basil and cilantro, simply because they’re so delicate I don’t know that their flavor would withstand the cooking time.  And mint in this would just be weird…but maybe…I might think about mint with this and a little ricotta and spinach and lemon.  See?  Tarts.  They make me get all tangent-like.)  Exhibit A demonstrates to the jury that tarts can be easier than one might think.

Next, CHEESE!  Share the goodness that is fontina!

The thing is, you don’t get too crazy with said cheese. You put on just enough to create a tasty, somewhat gooey, super-nommy bed.

And then start in with your veggies.  Leave some room so you can fold over the edges when you’re done (but they won’t fold all the way into the middle, so don’t plan for that) and lay down your first ring of sweet potatoes.

See? Leave a good inch, inch and a half of dough around the edges.

Next, put down your layer of red onions, which are cut to roughly the same thickness as the sweet potatoes.  You won’t traumatize me nearly as much if you cut these thicker than the potatoes and they don’t cook as thoroughly, but 1) things cook together better when they’re roughly the same size and 2) why wouldn’t you want the onions to get as caramelized and sweet as possible?  You’re not thinking straight.  Do you feel quite well?

Layer of onions, with a distorted focus. Because it is that dreamy.

Then put on your next layer of taters, and keep going until you get to the middle.  You can have fun with it, build it into a rosette.  Because it just looks frigging nice, mmmmkay?  Though I may have gone a little over the top making this picture look like an old-timey photo, but you know what?

It makes me happy. I don’t apologize.

Top it with the rest of the cheese and some fresh chives, and then carefully-but-don’t-sweat-it, fold over the edges of the crust.  Like I said, you won’t come anywhere near the middle.  Don’t worry.  Just anticipate.

This is sooooo ready for baking.

Bake it for fifty minutes and let it cool for ten.  At the end of it, you’ve got a fantastic, hearty, healthy vegetarian entree.  Which really is perfect with a salad, and I don’t care if that sounds fussy or not.

And now we see not what we’ve already had, but what can still be ours. Mmmmm.

Nosh: Carrot Risotto

Carrot risotto?  Carrot?  Risotto?  Carrot???

Yeah, dig it.

After getting back from Italy, I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that I’m like a little girl who just discovered something.  Remember, girls, when you were six and decided you loved horses?  And then you had to have horse bedsheets and would draw horses all over your textbook covers and thought the name “Wildfire” was totally awesomely cool and you’d read everything you could get your hands on about horses and would watch horsie-TV and didn’t care about what happened to Bonnie Blue Butler because she was a spoiled prig but cried because Rhett shot her pony?

maybe that was just me…

So now I’m immersed in at-home Italian.  I’m watching movies and trying to remember the Italian names for things, and I’m pondering the ways in which I can make the outside of my house look maintained and swanky but maybe a little beat up (a la Venice).  I’ve also been furiously searching the internet for Italian dishes to make at home, even though it’s not like I need any more random recipes hanging around my kitchen.  I was kind of on the hunt for some kind of fava bean risotto somethingorother, but I wasn’t in the mood for asparagus and I didn’t feel like reinventing a recipe as I went along and every single recipe I came across called for fava and asparagus, fava and asparagus.  I understand the inclination to put spring vegetables together, but meh, I wasn’t having it.  My crazed, currently obsessive search for risotto led me to this recipe and I gave it a resounding hell, yes!  In the interests of full disclosure, I did stick almost entirely to the recipe except, I didn’t have fresh thyme so I used dried, and put it in when I sauteed the vegetables.  The wine I used was a nice, crisp Orvieto and even though the recipe doesn’t call for it, you should top each serving with a little–not much, just enough for contrast and interest–finely chopped fresh parsley.  You won’t regret it.

Anyway.  To the carrots!

Bonus! They're orange, so they're tres retro.

The recipe calls for six medium carrots but for some reason my store was only selling monsters; four did nicely.  Now.  Cut them all into a relatively small dice.

Remember, planks then sticks then dice. Easy and uniform.

And how hard have I been working?

Hard enough to turn my hand orange, that's how hard.

Saute the carrots in some butter and a tablespoon of oil until they are caramelized.  I almost never measure out my oil by the tablespoon but as I am newly the proud owner of the cutest measuring spoons in all of creation, I had to use them.

I want to pinch all their tummies.

Yes, so, saute.  The carrots do take a while to caramelize, so make sure you give yourself ample time for this recipe.  But once they start to get all glisteny and take on spots of brown…

In all seriousness, these make me swoon a little when I look at them.

…divide them.  One half goes in a blender, one half is set aside for later use.  The portion in the blender gets…wait for it…blended!..with hot water into a nice, loose puree (the texture should be somewhere between paste and and a thick soup), and then also, but much more temporarily, set aside.

Risotto, for those who have never cooked it (and frankly, for those who have), can be a bit of a pain in the ass.  You need to use a rice with a high starch content that can absorb a lot of liquid and will also retain some kind of “al dente” quality, because who wants a plate of dried out yet gooey mush-rice?  Not this girl.  Arborio is probably the risotto rice that’s most readily available–hell, I can easily find it in the wilds of central PA–but I understand you can also make a lovely risotto with carnaroli or vialone.  Some day, I’ll try them all.

The starch content of the rice is particularly important for risotto because drawing it out of the rice is what gives the dish its creamy quality.  So what you’ve got to do to get this going is…well, of course get some onions and garlic, and my errant thyme, cooking in a pan with a little more butter and oil, and once they’re nicely softened, add the rice.  You want to saute that until two things happen: one, the rice will start to turn somewhat more translucent, and you only see a small spot of solid white in the middle of the grain, and two, the rice will start to exude some of its starch; you’ll see trails of it when you push the rice back in the pan.

See? Small opaque spots in the middle of the grains of rice, trails of starch in the pan. Perfect! This is ready for the next step.

The recipe says this should take about a minute, I say it should take a little longer.  Just wait until it’s ready, and then stir in your wine and, after about a minute, the carrot puree.

Funky!

Yeah, it looks a little bit, at first, like you dumped a jar of baby food on your rice.  Get over it.  Soon it will be deliciously savory and you will thank the heavens that this made its way to your kitchen.  But first…

Remember all that talk of “exuding starch” so the risotto can have a “creamy quality”?  Well.  This is when that magic happens…but it doesn’t happen quickly, or on its own.  You need a pot of warm stock and some patience, and you pour the stock in a little at a time, and you stir, and stir, and stir.  As the stock is absorbed, the starch will come out of the rice and you’ll have a lovely pot full of deliciousness.  It should probably take about twenty more minutes, so if you have a risotto stirrer, now’s the time to bust it out.  It should look something like this:

*ba-dum CHING*

Yes, yes, yes.  It certainly helps to have a boyfriend whose OCD manifests in an uncontrollable desire to stir things on the stovetop.  Anyway.  Keep stirring away until the rice is done; theoretically, you’ll also have used up all your cooking liquid as well but the determinant is whether your rice is ready.  You may need more liquid, you may need less, but you want a nice, loose, creamy risotto that isn’t super-sticky or looks dry or gooey.

So so SOOO almost ready to eat.

Mix in your cheese and then adjust for seasonings.  You shouldn’t season your risotto with salt too heavily when you start cooking, since you’re going to incorporate cheese into the dish.  Pre-seasoned risotto could turn inedibly salty if you go overboard early.  Just wait and see how it tastes at the end.  And then put it on your dish, garnish with a little more cheese and some parsley, and…

Yes.

If this isn’t a happy, sunshiny-looking dish, I don’t know what is.  Maybe it’s not exactly “traditional” Italian food (I confess, I’m a little intimidated by the idea of making cacio e pepeit’s only three ingredients, what if I screw it up?  There’s no recipe rescue to be found in that case…), but it is a celebration of rice and cheese, and it’s straightforward ingredients that are cooked in a way that maximizes their inherent deliciousness.  And that?  Is pretty Italian indeed.  Enjoy!

Nosh: Goat Cheese and Mushroom Tortas (sort of)

There I was, with a barrel full of homemade goat cheese, a hungry vegetarian and a need for dinner.  What to do, what to do?  And then I saw it, in Food & Wine magazine: Rick Bayless’s mushroom and goat cheese tortas.

For those of you who don’t know, Rick Bayless is the gringo king of Mexican cuisine.  He was born into a family of Oklahoma barbecue restaurateurs, but thanks to love and college made a multi-year trek through Mexico which resulted in a cookbook that revolutionized the North American concept of Mexican cooking.  So who am I to quibble with a recipe of his?  This is the man who, according to the people who reviewed his book, single-handedly changed a national perspective on an ethnic cuisine, and this is no small feat.  Just make the recipe the way that God and Rick Bayless intended, and go on with my dinner, right?  Right!

Only…

You see, I get that Mexican tortas are traditionally supposed to be sandwiches, on beautiful, crusty bolillo rolls, but I didn’t want a sandwich.  I didn’t want all that bread for dinner; I eat enough carbs in the pasta I will never give up, and I can guarantee you I had some sort of sandwichey thing at some point in the day.  Blah blah blah whatever, it all comes down to this: I didn’t want to prepare it on a sandwich roll and (we’ve heard this from me before, haven’t we?) I have no respect for the integrity of a recipe.  And I had a red bell pepper and a poblano that I had to put to good use before they went off, and can you cook peppers without onions, in any cuisine?  No, friends.  I think not.

Delicious interlopers!

I did make the mushrooms almost entirely as directed, and thanks to Rick Bayless’s genius, they were amazing.  Take a ton of ‘shrooms which should ideally all be fresh, but this is central PA and my access to things like oyster mushrooms are limited.  I rehydrated a bunch of dried oyster mushrooms I had in my pantry and will use the now-frozen mushroom broth in a vegetarian onion soup, but I digress…

Mushrooms!

And cut them in thin slices.  They go into a baking dish with the garlic-lime confit you’ve already roasted (two heads of peeled garlic, a half-cup of oil, one quarter cup of lime juice and some salt, 325°, one hour, and hallelujah) though in the spirit of full disclosure, I tell you now I didn’t put all the oil from the confit into the mushrooms; it just seemed like a little too much.  I reserved about half of it and turned it into a lovely roasted garlic citrus vinaigrette with the simple addition of a little mustard and the juice from a clementine.  Score!

Anyway, mushrooms and confit go into a 400° oven for ten minutes covered and 35 minutes not, and when they’re done mix in the cilantro at the end.  You’ll get something that looks a little like this…or hopefully, a lot like this…

This is an example of what Rick Bayless can teach you.

And then put it all together.  A little goat cheese, a little salsa, some baby arugula, my errant peppers and onions and these glorious, glorious mushrooms.

Feast.

Adventures in Cheesemaking: Chèvre

Have I mentioned that my boyfriend got me the book Artisan Cheese Making at Home?  Or perhaps more accurately, my boyfriend bought himself the book Artisan Cheese Making at Home, wrapped it in Christmas paper, put my name on it and waited for me to take the bait.

That Machiavellian bastard.  His plan, it is working.

It all started with the recipe I posted on here earlier, for peperonata with DIY ricotta.  The peperonata was one thing–it was a good thing, I was actually just looking at this post and thinking we need to make this again, some time soon.  But making homemade cheese was a revelation to me; all I thought, as I ate beautiful, creamy, delicious cheese that I coaxed out of a pot full of hot milk and lemon juice, was, “Holy crap, I want to do this again!”

And so it has been done.  I am working my way slowly but surely through the book, and it’s written so cheesemakin’ newbies like me can start at the beginning with easy recipes and move forward to progressively more difficult cheeses.

I’ve worked my way up to goat cheese.  Chèvre, if you will.  Apparently, chèvre simply means “goat” in French, and the word has come

Meaningful, but utterly inedible.

to mean the entirety of goat cheeses.  If you want goat meat you should ask for chevon, not to be confused with Chevron, which is of course either a military insignia or a global petro-monster.  Either way, one shouldn’t eat a chevron.

It’s been a delicious journey, I wouldn’t want to ruin that.

But  this is the first time I’ve worked with anything that required more than a few hours’ attention and an actual starter culture  that I had to purchase from a cheese supply shop.  On the interwebs, since I don’t have one nearby (that I know about…anyone?  Anyone?  Anybody?).  Goat’s milk is pretty readily available at Ard’s and I’ve only checked into this on an extremely superficial level at this point, but I’ve heard tell there’s some goat dairies out in Mifflinburg, so I may have to get on the goat trail and girl-detective my way to figuring out what’s out there.  But anyway.

The thing about making cheese that’s kind of a bummer is, it’s viciously boring to photograph.  Even if it sounds vaguely exciting in a “livin’ on the edge” sort of way because the goat’s milk you bought…wait for it…is raw and needs to be pasteurized.  Girls, hold on to your boyfriends…

Ooh, look! It's pasteurizing like crazy!

That’s almost as exciting as it gets.  Ooh, look, the temperature is really accurate!  Oh, snap, the starter culture is rehydrating like nobody’s business, yo!

Of course, you could have to incubate your cheese.  Chèvre has to develop at a relatively low temperature for a relatively long time–between 72° and 78° for twelve hours (according to this cookbook; I have seen other recipes with different temps and incubation times, but I’m not cooking with them).  The author says that leaving the pot wrapped on the stove with the overhead light from the stove hood on should be sufficient for my purposes.  Great, right?  Only I don’t have a stove hood.  I have a rustic kitchen designed and built in 1935 and covered in knotty pine paneling.  It’s awesome, and I’m not cutting into a centimeter of it to put in a hood.  So what does a cheeseteuse do in these situations?  A cheeseteuse, dears, will improvise.

Talk, will you? Talk, I say!

(Dig my paneling.)

So there you have it.  There is my cheese incubator.  For TWELVE HOURS, that light shone on my pot of cheese, packed with goat’s milk and C20G powdered mesophilic starter.  Meso=middle and philic=friendly, so this is bacteria that thrives in mild temperatures; one could conceivably argue that I am also mesophilic, since I am also happiest when the temperature is somewhere between  72° and 78° and having lived through cold northeast winters and Texas summers, I can attest that this is entirely true.  Anyway.  At six this morning–after being woken up by the boyfriend, whose first words to me were, “Hey, don’t you have to check on the cheese?”–I unplugged my interrogation lamp, and unwrapped my pot, and pulled off the lid, and…

Curds!

Beautiful, glorious curds!  Look, looklook!  You can really see along the top of the pot how the curds have pulled away from the whey!  And they came out with the ultra-thick, yogurty texture they were supposed to have!  Oh, frabjous joy, oh happy day!

While the photos of the draining cheese promise to be nearly as exciting as the photos of pasteurizing milk, there was one more obstacle that had to be overcome–that of a cat who has taken to claiming the countertops as his own.

Sammy is relentless in his supervision of the household.

This recipe calls for the cheese to drain at room temperature for at least six and up to twelve hours.  I may indulgently joke about Sammy owning the house and everything in it but in all reality, the last thing I wanted was for the cat to stick his nose into my cheese, and there’s no way I could monitor the countertops for the entirety of the six-to-twelve-hour drain time.  And yet, it couldn’t go in the fridge.  And yet, I couldn’t just cover it because you want the air to circulate around it so it drains evenly and isn’t kept in an improperly humid environment.  I feel like I keep channeling my high school drama teacher, so with all due respect, Mrs. Horvath, I will say once again: Improvise!

Dat's right, kitty. Call me when you've got some thumbs.

Colander #1, meet colander #2.  Kitty, here is the pitard in which you are hoist.  Checkmate.

Once it’s drained–and you should check the bowl and make sure it’s actually draining and your cheese isn’t sitting in a reservoir of whey, and maybe even flip it once for even draining–then you scoop it into a dish with a cover and tuck in.  Tomorrow’s post will be all about what we ate this with, but for tonight, I will leave you with these…

Hello, beautiful.

Come here often?

Oh. I see you're here with someone.

To be continued…

Nosh: Spicy Cheese Gougères

Cheese puffs!  And not in an Eric Cartman, “I love Cheesy-Poofs” kind of way.

No.

No, indeed, my friends.  I am talking about tastetastic cheese puffs, crusty steamy poofy pastry wrapped around delicious cheese, baked until golden and godlike and perfect.  Am I carrying on?  Too bad.  I know serious noms when I eat them.

As this recipe is from an actual book rather than an online source, I have transcribed the recipe and put it into PDF format for all y’all.  Spicy Cheese Gougères, from Holiday Cookies and Other Festive Treats by Linda Collister.  Who doesn’t like festive treats?  You’re welcome.

After I made these I did a little poking around on the interwebs, and it seems they’re incredibly versatile.  If you want to flavor them with something else–thyme and muenster, cheddar and mustard, whatever and whatever–then go for it!  That is by far my favorite sort of recipe, one that gives you permission to have your way with it.  So sure, if you’re in the mood (or need to use) X cheese and have complimentary Y spice on hand?  Go to, by all means.  There is also a pretty serious contingent that insists the dough needs to be made with a combination of milk and water, so that’s next on my agenda for things I need to try.  But for today, the above recipe is what I had, and what I will continue to work with.

Recommended: Have all of your ingredients pre-measured and ready to roll.  Much, much easier to manage.  The recipe’s not difficult, but you do have things that take some time to do, like dicing your cheese.  You’ve got to take it from this

Yes, Lord Alton Brown, I hear and obey, Master.

To this

Call a friend and catch up while you do this, in order to pass the time.

And who wants to rush when you’ve got buttery water boiling on the stove?  Not this girl.  Take my word for it, do yourself that favor and prep.  Hire a sous chef if you must, but do it.

Anyway, butter, salt, pepper flakes…I couldn’t resist adding a little shot of black pepper too…into the pool!

Once the butter melts? Boil it up!

Don’t let it boil too long; you just want to get the water and butter to become friends.  And then?  Add the flour.

I am always grateful when a recipe tells you something is going to look terrible at some point in the cooking process, because who wants to look at their future food and have a <blech> moment?  When the recipe says, “Don’t worry that the mixture looks a mess,”

.

You've got your work cut out for you.

The author wasn’t kidding.  But it doesn’t take long for it to go from icky sludge to beautiful shiny dough, so just keep stirring and before you know it, you’ll have this.

Just a little bit more heat, eggs and some cheese and it's GO time!

Don’t add the eggs before the dough has cooled because you don’t want to cook them with the heat of the dough.  It won’t take long; browse a Sunday circular and artfully leave hints for presents scattered about the house.  By the time you’re done with that, the dough will be ready for the eggs to get beaten in (not in a gang sort of way, so please put all knuckle-enhancing devices to the side) one at a time and once that’s done, the cheese goes in.  Yay!

I admit, it took me a minute to comprehend what the author meant when the recipe said, “Using two teaspoons, spoon the mixture into small heaps…”.  And then when I took the two teaspoons I though, oh, duh, right.  One for scooping out of the mixing bowl, and the other for scraping from the spoon onto the baking tray, so you don’t get it all over yourself.  Very tidy, a civilized way to scoop out a civilized nosh.  A little topper of grated cheese brings it on home.

Full disclosure: I noticed that pesky extra 1/8 oz of cheese after I took this picture. In order to correct my mistake, I ate it. Mmm, delicious mistake...

Now?  These bundles of happy are destined for the oven.  I had them in for about thirteen or fourteen minutes and rotated them once halfway through because my oven doesn’t heat particularly evenly, but then…

Yesss.

Victory is mine.  Give someone some of these and a bottle of wine for the holidays?  You’ll have minions in no time.  Enjoy!

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