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Blue Brie with Red Onion Marmalade

December 31, 2012

I’d like to thank everyone who has been reading my blog, left a comment or stumbled upon this cheese haven accidentally. As my last post for 2012, I thought I would give you a super hands-off party appetizer; I love anything that can cook while I’m putting the finishing touches on my hair and makeup. (Don’t worry, I’m not leaving my stove unattended, it’s just a really small apartment.)

My friend Nora took a trip to Ireland to watch Notre Dame play Navy in football and since then has been raving about a sandwich she ate there: a baguette filled with blue brie and red onion marmalade. It sounded like nothing special to me, but the sweet marmalade really complements the tangy blue brie.

Party time.

Party time.

Blue brie is exactly what it sounds like: creamy brie cheese with blue viens throughout the interior. It’s more brie than blue though, so it’s pretty mild with a somewhat sharp aftertaste. The blue brie Nora had in Ireland was probably Wicklow Blue, but I couldn’t get any here in the US so I substituted with Saga Blue Brie. The Saga is very mild and tasty, but there are definitely other kinds that I’d love to try like the Cambozola Black Label when it’s back in stock at Murray’s.

Blue brie has a great tangy flavor and melts easily.

Blue brie has a great tangy flavor and melts easily.

We decided to turn the sandwich into easy appetizers; I love bringing something to a party that you can prep at home and assemble quickly when you arrive.

Totally up to you, but I like putting the warm marmalade on top of the cheese to make it a little bit melty.

Totally up to you, but I like putting the warm marmalade on top of the cheese to make it a little bit melty.

Red Onion Marmalade
Makes about 3/4 cup marmalade, or enough for 2 sandwiches

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
S&P
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus more
2 tablespoons red wine

Cook’s Note: If you’re in a rush (or want the marmalade to be a bit sweet), speed up the caramelization process by adding a few tablespoons of sugar to the onions.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the onions and some salt and pepper. Cook over a low heat until the onions soften, about 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and wine. Cover the pan and continue cooking until the onions break down and caramelize, about an hour. Check on the onions around the half-hour mark; if they are looking dry, add up to 4 tablespoons of water or balsamic vinegar depending how tangy you want the marmalade to be. Cover the pan and continue cooking until the marmalade reaches your ideal consistency (I like mine a bit chunky). Check the seasoning. You can serve the marmalade warm or cold, but I prefer it warm to help melt the cheese you pair it with.

First going into the pan.

First going into the pan.

About 20 minutes into the cooking process.

About 20 minutes into the cooking process.

Just about there.

Just about there.

Woo! Looking tasty.

Woo! Looking tasty.

Parm-Crusted Squash Over Quinoa

December 10, 2012

The weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year are dangerous food-wise and getting dressed has become a battle of willpower between my jeans and me. I tried dieting once, but by day three I was salivating over hallucinations of pasta with cream sauce; some people just aren’t meant to diet. So although I know that giving up all of my favorite foods won’t be happening anytime soon, I am trying to lighten up a little bit while still satisfying my cheesy cravings.

This roasted squash with quinoa can be a full meal or eaten as a side dish.

This roasted squash with quinoa can be a full meal or eaten as a side dish.

For this recipe I used the giant Italian squash from my dad’s garden, but you can use whatever type of squash you’re in the mood for.

Giant Italian squash.

Giant Italian squash.

Parm-Crusted Squash Over Quinoa
Yield: 4 dinner portions (6 to 8 sides)

1 pound squash, such as butternut or kabocha, cubed into bite-size pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/2 bunch parlsey, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large bowl, season the squash with salt and pepper. (Keep in mind that the Parm will most likely add a fair amount of salty taste, so don’t overdo it.) Add the olive oil to coat the squash. Then add the Parm and lemon zest. Sprinkle in some pepper flakes, if desired. Mix well.

Move the squash to a sheet tray and place in the oven. Cook until the Parm turns golden brown and the squash is cooked through, about 20 minutes. When the squash is cooked, let cool a bit and scrape it off the sheet pan but don’t forget the little browned crunchy bits of Parm, they are the best part!

Crunchy bits of Parm aka gold for your mouth.

Crunchy bits of Parm aka gold for your mouth.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the quinoa and cook partially covered until the liquid has evaporated and you can see the little tails on all of the seeds, about 15 minutes.

Season the quinoa with salt and pepper. Add in the lemon juice to taste. Then mix in the parsley. Transfer the quinoa to a serving plate and top with the roasted squash.

I'm hopping on the Meatless Monday train.

I’m hopping on the Meatless Monday train.

Chasing Away the Hurricane Blues with Baked Ziti

November 3, 2012

This past Monday night Hurricane Sandy hit and I lost power and hot water. A completely different experience than the joke that was Hurricane Irene. Although I know I’m lucky compared to most (no damage to my building and I got power back early this morning) it has still been a trying few days. My high points have been getting a steak sandwich outside of The Old Homestead Steakhouse in Chelsea and walking to midtown New York Sports Clubs for showers.

No cheese, but it definitely lifted my dark mood.

I was sitting in the dark, mourning the loss of a pint of  Spiced Caramel Biscuit Haagen Daz to my thawing freezer and generally just feeling sorry for myself, when I thought of something that always makes me less miserable: baked ziti. And although I couldn’t make any  (my lovely convection oven/microwave combo needs some electricity to function), it reminded me that everyone else could use some cheering up too. Seriously, there’s nothing more comforting than a pot of red sauce simmering on the stovetop.

But, my baked ziti comes with a story: Some people have nonnas, some have bubbes and others have grams or abuelas; I had Grandma M (Min) and Grandma G (Gertie). A trip to either  house would involve overindulging; Grandma M would spoil my sister and me with trips to Ben’s Best kosher deli in Queens and bowls of ice cream, while Grandma G’s house usually involved homemade Italian dinners and a trip to Staten Island’s famous Ralph’s Italian Ices. I feel like this is a good time to give you some options for Sandy relief donations to either NYC as a whole or Staten Island (one of the hardest hit areas) specifically.

Long before Nadia G hit TVs, Grandma G’s kitchen was my Italian cooking school. And although Grandma G sadly passed away, my father has been cooking her recipes for years, keeping her memory alive. This Italian-American classic has been done a million ways, but the addition of eggs to the ricotta makes it super smooth, rich and (clearly) my favorite.

Baked Ziti
4 to 6 servings

Note: This recipe is great for parties; to double the recipe, just add another pound of pasta and another 28-ounce can of tomatoes for the sauce (all of the other ingredients can stay the same).

A few simple ingredients is all it takes.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
One 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 pounds ricotta
3 to 4 eggs, scrambled
1 pound whole wheat ziti
1 pound fresh mozzarella

Although my power did not make it through the storm, my basil plant did.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Start with the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pan over medium heat. Add the chile flakes and garlic. Cook until it smells good, but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Crush the tomatoes with your hands or with a potato masher. Reduce the heat to low and carefully add the crushed tomatoes. Simmer covered for 25 minutes. Add half the basil and season with salt and pepper, simmer 5 more minutes.

A storm of sauce is brewing.

While the sauce simmers, in a large bowl mix the Parm, ricotta, eggs, the remaining chopped basil and some salt and pepper. Put aside.

Now it’s time for the pasta. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta shy of al dente, about 6 minutes, and drain thoroughly.

Time to start the layering. Place a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking pan. Then put down a layer of noodles (about 1/3 of the total noodles), a thick layer of ricotta, a layer of mozz (about half) and a layer of sauce. Repeat until you run out of ingredients (about 2 or 3 layers total), ending with a layer of sauce.

Almost there.

Bake, covered with foil, for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until browned at the edges, about 15 minutes more.

Finished product. Now go eat up!

So go out, volunteer or donate to help those affected by Sandy and make some baked ziti.

Game Day Guac

October 1, 2012

Guac brings me to a happy place. It’s salty, spicy and even a little healthy (not counting the 3 billion chips I end up eating with it). This dip is the center of attention at every party and is a game day staple, so everyone should have a go-to recipe. My only issue with this dip’s beautiful simplicity? Lack of cheese.

So fresh!

In my guac, I add a bit of queso fresco. Similar to feta, queso fresco crumbles easily and is mild in flavor. It complements just about everything and is a great hunk of cheese to have on hand. Crumbled in, melted on or eaten by itself, queso fresco is something you should try if you haven’t already.

Guacamole
Serves 4 as an appetizer

3 ripe avocados, halved, seeded and scooped
Juice of 1 lime, plus more to finish
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon chile powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 vine-ripe tomatoes, seeded, cored and finely diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled or finely diced
Salt
Veggies or tortilla chips, for serving

Mash the avocados with a potato masher. Pour the lime juice over the avocados and incorporate to prevent oxidation (browning) of your dip. Add the cilantro, cayenne, chile, cumin, garlic, tomatoes, onions and cheese, mix to combine. Let the guac sit at room temp for about an hour. Taste, then season with some salt and a little bit of lime. Serve the guac with your favorite dipping tools, like veggies or tortilla chips.

Dig in!

It’s so easy, you’ll be able to make it in time for the game tonight!

I’ve Got the Beet

September 5, 2012

As you can tell from my lack of posts, I had a fantastic summer: lots of fresh seafood down the shore, summer BBQs and sneaking goodies from the canteen during a visit to my old summer stomping grounds, Camp Towanda. Don’t be too jealous.

I’m going to pretend that it’s still summer for as long as I can, so here is a quintessential beet and herb goat cheese summer salad.

This beet salad is great on the go!

Don’t let beets intimidate you; they look dirty and scary on the outside, but, when cooked, they’re pink and sweet on the inside. But before you start cooking anything, make sure you have a pair of plastic gloves and an apron ready to go– beets can get messy and will definitely turn your hands a lovely shade of magenta if you don’t wear gloves.

Yield: 4 servings

Beet and Herb Goat Cheese Summer Salad

4 medium (6 or 7 small) red beets
7 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus extra for drizzling
8 ounces soft goat cheese, room temp
3 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
S&P
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 shallot, finely chopped
Baby spinach

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash the beets thoroughly. Drizzle oil over the beets and either wrap each beet individually in tin foil, or set all in a baking dish with a little bit of water at the bottom and cover the dish with foil. Cook in the oven until tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl, mash the cheese with a fork. Add 2 teaspoons sage and one teaspoon of thyme. Add enough oil to make the mixture creamy, about 1 tablespoon. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Using plastic wrap, roll the cheese into a log. Refrigerate until firm.

When the beets are tender (you can poke a fork into each easily), allow them to cool to touch. Once cooled, put on your plastic gloves and apron. Rub the skin off with your hands, or an old towel that you don’t mind turning a permanent shade of pink.

Cut the beets into quarter-inch slices.

For the vinaigrette: In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, shallots, pinch each of sage and thyme and some salt and pepper. Let stand at room temp for a bit to mix the flavors.

To serve,  slice the goat cheese into quarter-inch rounds. Place the beets and cheese on a bed of baby spinach. Dress with the vinaigrette and garnish with some sage and thyme.

Go make this salad and I’ll keep imagining that I’m on the beach.

Labs make the best pillows.

Meadowkaas: Get it While it’s Gouda!

June 15, 2012

Meadowkaas is a springtime gouda, that is only available during three months of the year, when the cows in Holland get to eat the first of the springtime grass. It is aged for four weeks and has a wax shell.

Meadowkaas is a gouda choice for a spring cheese spread.

I found Meadowkaas at Whole Foods Union Square ($7.99/lb) and was pleasantly surprised with the creamy, mild and nutty flavor of this semi-soft cheese. It’s definitely a snack-able cheese– I’ve been munching tasting and recording notes on it for about 15 minutes now (purely research) and the only thing I have to warn you about is the salty aftertaste.

And there you have it kids: Meadowkaas.

Meadowkaas, like other gouda, melts easily- I would definitely try it on a burger at your next BBQ or in a creamy pasta sauce with lots of mushrooms and maybe some asparagus. I’ve started drooling again; excuse me as I start brainstorming a Meadowkaas-centered dinner.

Word of advice: taking pics on your fire escape is a good idea until the cheese falls onto the sidewalk from four floors up. Woops.

Give Me My Gougères

June 14, 2012

My apartment (and probably my whole building for that matter) smells like the inside of one of Murray’s cheese caves, and I’m not quite sure I can handle it. Gougères are to blame.

I couldn’t resist, they’re addictive!

I am making these cheese puffs for a friend’s housewarming party and I’m going a bit crazy from the overwhelming distinct, sharp smell of aged gruyere baking in my oven. The positive side to this situation is that, to make sure I have the correct baking time, I have to taste a gougère about every 5 minutes– I tend to overdo things.

But I digress, gougères are made from the same base pastry recipe as eclairs, pâte à choux, which gets its signature hollow center from the cooking process– it is the only pastry dough to be cooked twice, once on the stove top and then again in the oven. (I’m fairly certain all of my chefs from culinary school will sigh in relief, knowing that I did actually learn something.) The main difference between gougères and eclairs, aside from shape, is that gougères are savory and made with cheese and the eclairs are sweet and filled with pastry cream. We all know which ones I prefer– if you don’t, please take a look at the top of the page, where it says the name of this blog.

I love making gougères for parties- they are easy to travel with and taste great warm or room temp. The best part is that everyone at the party will give you way more credit than you deserve for these; gougères look way more delicate and complicated than they really are.

Warning: You will definitely eat too many of these. Your stomachache is not my problem, we’ve all been there.

Gougères

Makes about 36

1 c, 1 T water
1 stick (½ c) unsalted butter
1 t salt
5 oz (about 1 c) AP Flour
4 to 5 large eggs, room temp
1 c (about 2.5 oz) finely grated aged gruyere

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Combine water, butter and salt in a pan over med-high heat. Bring just to a boil (it shouldn’t be boiling, just about to). Remove pan from heat, use a wooden spoon to beat in the flour.
  3. Return to medium heat and beat in the flour for 30 seconds, the mixture will thicken and dry out. Lower the heat and continue cooking until the mixture is dry, about 4 minutes.

    Drying out the dough.

  4. Transfer the dough into a bowl. Add one egg, using the wooden spoon mix it until completely incorporated into the dough. Continue adding the eggs, one at a time. Stop adding eggs when the dough is smooth and shiny. (At that point you should be able to form a ribbon with the dough when you pull your spoon out of the bowl.)

    Don’t worry if it looks like your dough will never come together, it will– I pinky swear!

  5. Mix in all of the cheese except 2T worth.
  6. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag (or a plastic bag with a hole cut in the corner).
  7. Pipe the dough into rounds about 1 ¼” wide (about 1 rounded T each) onto sheet trays lined with parchment paper. Leave at 1” in between puffs, because they will expand quite a bit.
  8. Top each puff with a pinch of cheese.

    Happy little piles of dough ready to go in the oven!

  9. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the puffs are golden brown and completely dry in the middle. I usually leave mine in the oven for 5-10 minutes after I turn off the heat to make sure they all are completely dry.

    Your gougères should all puff up in the oven and be almost completely hollow in the center.

These guys are fantastic as an appetizer on their own, but they also make for a great vehicle for almost anything:

  • this Emeril recipe for ham mousse
  • a dollop of creme fraiche or cream cheese with a sliver of lox and capers on top
  • on that same note, finely chop some herbs and mix with cream cheese and some lemon juice
  • stack some prosciutto and shaved gruyere or parmesan cheese
  • goat cheese and lemon curd with baby arugula