A long while ago, although perhaps not quite as far back as ancient Greece (despite the title), I discovered a unique dip recipe on food.com. I made it, tweaked it to my taste/texture preferences, and brought it to a party. It got so many compliments that I started to taking it to all the parties. And when I say parties, I mean church potlucks, moms night outs, baby showers, etc. Despite being an introvert, I am, as it turns out, a total partier, in the best sense of the word. I love food and I like people. Sometimes. The people always want to know WHAT IS IN THIS DIP? Before trying it, they are wary of the bright yellow color ("Is it French's mustard?" Heck no, but that has its place, like on a hot dog). I tell them the key ingredients and they either eagerly take the plunge or move right along. Once they've tasted it, they want the full recipe for this magical concoction that sweeps you away to the terrace of a villa overlooking the serene, sparkling Mediterranean sea, with all those pretty, deep blue-domed white buildings and pastel cottages decorating the coastline.
Curry Garlic Feta Dip
4 oz feta cheese
4 oz cottage cheese
4 oz cream cheese
1/4 C sour cream
1/4 C mayonnaise
2 garlic cloves
1 t yellow curry powder
1/2 t dried dill weed
1/4 t dried oregano (optional)
1/8 t ground black pepper (optional)
Blend all ingredients in a food processor (I like the Ninja) or blender until smooth. Taste and see if it needs any more curry or dill. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours. Serve with crackers, veggies, sweet potato fritters (that was an accidental discovery at a party - love it when two potluck dishes find each other and fall in love!), whatever you like...
I'm not much of a breakfast person, unless it's savory (eggs, bacon, etc.), but as a child, one of my favorite treats was going to my grandparents' house and having my Jewish grandpa make his famous cottage cheese pancakes. I still remember the ritual of my grandma getting out my vinyl Mickey Mouse bib, him mixing jam with sour cream (topping), and setting a plate of heaven in front of me. I've recreated his recipe many times over, but recently having discovered the goodness of gluten-free flour as well as my new favorite tool - the Ninja (blender) - I've been experimenting again. The other day I came up with what I think (and the rest of the family agrees) is the best recipe yet, so enjoy...
2 cups cottage cheese (small curd, 4%)
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (tapioca, potato, rice blend)
1/2 cup almond meal (from Trader Joe's)
1 T baking powder
vanilla extract, to taste
coconut oil (for frying)
1. Put all ingredients in your blender and whizz. Adjust amounts of flour (they're approximate) to get a thick, moist, pourable consistency.
2. Cook by the heaping tablespoon over medium heat with a tablespoon of oil per batch (I used a non-stick pan, so I reduced the oil and the heat with each batch).
When I got out the red onions at at 1pm to make egg salad (my 3rd attempt), I noticed they were going moldy...so I consulted the slow cooker French onion soup recipe I had pinned to Pinterest, sliced the onions (4) and put them in the crockpot with 1/4 cup butter, 4 cups beef broth, and a splash of worcestershire sauce. Then we had to leave for piano lessons, so I (yet again) didn't have time to make the egg salad (I need the colored eggshells for a mosaic project - also from Pinterest - I'm leading in our co-op art class next week. I also need to use up the lox from Costco whose expiration date was last week).
When we got back home, I thought my husband must have made something really savory for lunch (he had come home right when we were leaving) until I remembered I was cooking soup. About four o'clock it occurred to me to beef it up - literally - with that leftover uncooked slab of pot roast I had saved in the freezer. So I defrosted the meat in the microwave, put it in the soup, and turned it up to high. At 6:15, I pulled the meat out, cut it into smaller pieces, and put it back in. I tasted the broth and decided it needed more flavor, so I added a half cup of red wine and another cup of beef broth, as well as more worcestershire and a good shake of granulated garlic (it's my go-to ingredient). I turned it back down to low.
No gruyere in the house (never is) nor any oven safe soup bowls (been meaning to get some for over a decade), so I got the sliced sourdough out of the freezer, defrosted four large slices in the microwave, meanwhile grated sharp white cheddar and mozzarella (in the form of multiple string cheese sticks) into a gallon ziploc bag (yet another Pinterest find, but I think it may have originated with Cooks Illustrated - it all blurs together after the last million websites or so). I lined a cookie sheet with foil, put the bread (each slice cut in half) on it, and sprinkled the cheese evenly on all the pieces. I stuck it in the broiler and then grated a bunch more cheese which I put at the bottom of each soup bowl. When the cheese toast was done, I ladled the soup into the bowls, floated a toast in each bowl, and topped with the rest of the grated cheese.
With freshly ground pepper, a glass of the aforementioned wine (the soup gave me an excuse to open the bottle), and the oohs and ahs of the whole family (at least in the beginning until my picky ten year-old began to complain of soggy bread), including raves from my husband who deemed it restaurant quality (he used to work in some posh ones), I sat down to a very enjoyable dinner I hadn't expected to make. And that is why I will never be someone who menu plans ;)
Kale Artichoke Salad for Two
(picture next time!)
4 cups of Tuscan / Dinosaur Kale (preferably), chopped
1 cup artichoke hearts, water packed, halved
2 (or more) cloves of garlic, crushed
4-6 anchovies (canned kind), diced finely
3 T grated parmesan
3 T olive oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 T melted butter
1 t lemon juice
1 t Dijon mustard
1 t honey
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 t pepper
cooked chicken strips (optional)
1. Using your hands, "massage" salt into kale to release its natural liquid and "soften" it.
2. Add oil, vinegar, garlic, and artichoke hearts. Combine well.
3. Stir in anchovies, lemon juice, honey, and dijon mustard.
4. Top with cheese, pepper, and chicken (if using).
5. Pour in the butter and mix well.
I go grocery shopping every two weeks (going just twice a month helps me stick to our $500 food budget): once at Costco and once at Trader Joe's. TJs is always my favorite. Towards the end of the previous millenium, I worked at the first Trader Joe's in Northern California. It was across the street from my high school, so I answered the call when they came to my hometown (San Rafael), because the idea of being a "cheese girl" sounded glorious. Nor was I disappointed when I landed that position - cutting, wrapping, slicing, tasting, and giving out samples of cheeses from all over the world - that was just over 20 years ago, and if it weren't for the physical aspect (I mean that two ways: mopping floors and putting on pounds), I probably could have done that for forever, but it was actually the rigors of my junior year that forced me into an early retirement from my dream job - turns out working until 10pm isn't such a good fit with learning chemistry, advanced algebra, etc.
Alas, the cheese shop is no more, but thankfully the cheese hasn't moved, so every month is is a trip down memory lane...or should I say aisle (better yet, Ile, as in Ile de France). This past week's excursion was especially exciting because it's the start of the holiday season. Which means more selection of two of my favorite things: cheese and chocolate. My husband is reading Sugar Nation, which I reserved for him at the library after he started reading a copy of the much older Sugar Blues that we found at a thrift shop. I'm kinda wishing we had held off on the sugar research until after Christmas, because it's kind of a downer, what with all the seasonal coffees and baked goods closing in on us. On the other hand (can you hear the music from Fiddler on the Roof?), maybe it will help us to be a little more restrained. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, chocolate and cheese. So I passed on the former and went a little nuts with the latter...so without further ado, here are the new (or new to me) items I tried and have, of course, already tasted, and now will unsuccessfully attempt to make them last throughout the month (especially the cheese):
Tintern Creamy Cheddar with Chives & Shallots ($8.99/lb)
Creamy Toscano Cheese Soaked in Syrah ($7.99/lb)
Port Salut Semi-Soft Cheese ($9.49/lb)
Decaf Candy Cane Green Tea ($1.99)
Dark Morello Cherries from Germany ($2.29)
I made my own "Cherry Garcia" with these sour cherries + other TJs ingredients: Midnight Moo (chocolate syrup), chocolate chips, vanilla ice cream and a splash of brandy (optional).
In honor of National Cheese Lover's Day (which for me is really every day), here's the recipe for my favorite fondue at The Melting Pot (one of the few chain restaurants I like).
(from The Melting Pot Cookbook & Club Fondue email newsletter)
1 ½ cups (6 ounces) shredded Butterkase cheese
1 ½ cups (6 ounces) shredded Fontina cheese
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup white wine
¼ cup dry sherry
2 teaspoons chopped shallots
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ cup crumbled Blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
Toss the Butterkase and Fontina cheese with the flour in a bowl. Place a metal bowl over a saucepan filled with 2 inches of water. You may also use a conventional double boiler. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and pour the white wine and sherry into the bowl. Stir in the shallots using a fork. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Add half the cheese blend and cook until the cheese is melted, stirring constantly. Add the remaining cheese blend in a small amount at a time, stirring constantly in a circular motion after each addition until the cheese is melted. Fold in the pepper and Blue cheese. Pour into a warm fondue pot and keep warm over low heat. Garnish with the scallions.
I confess to watching one reality show: Hell's Kitchen. Every summer my foodie husband and I eagerly await the next episode. Currently we are down to the final four chefs, so it seemed like the right time to share the recipe for Gordon Ramsay's Baked New York Cheesecake (it's all over the web, but that links to my favorite cooking site), which I recently made for a family gathering. It was devoured by everyone, ages 3 to 69, and I got compliments all around.
I tweaked it just slightly: I added cinnamon and sugar to the crust, omitted the sultanas and lemon juice that were supposed to be folded into the batter, made a topping (sour cream + whipped cream + sugar + vanilla) and covered it with blueberries, rather than just dusting it with powdered sugar.
Two techniques that worked beautifully: covering the bottom of the springform pan with foil (kept it from sticking) and keeping it in the oven for an hour after it was done (kept it from cracking).
Almost everything we plant in earthboxes seems to sprout up in giant quantities that dwarf our little sun drenched patio that's half kids' play area and half growing things -- all sorts of peppers, Japanese eggplant, chives...but as for the tomatoes, I'm convinced it is the gardener's heart of love to please his wife that makes them grow: first the sweet 100s, then the heirlooms, and now the romas. Tender tomatoes, fresh herbs, and roses that bloom even in December are the perfect minimalist answer to my garden yearnings. Not to mention a handsome gardener who repeatedly says "As you wish..." without using any words.
A few of my favorite ways to eat fresh tomatoes (besides straight up with salt):
Pa Amb Tomaquet (excellent even with subpar tomatoes)
Simple Tomato Sandwich
Simple Tomato & Avocado Salad
Insalata Caprese (sometimes we add anchovies)
La Madeleine's Tomato-Basil Soup
Tomato Pasta (my recipe)
No Cook Puttanesca Sauce with Linguine
Tomato Eggplant Casserole
This is for the purists, the cheese lovers, the low carbers, and those with an affinity for the national dish of Hawaii.
It all started the day before Christmas Eve when in the midst of a heated argument, my husband decided to fry a piece of cheese. It angered me because not only was it ludicrous, it meant another pan to wash. I wish I could say that I took a bite and it melted away all my hostility, but the truth is, he ate it himself and I shouted at him, saying “That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen!”
A few days ago he placed a piece of fried cheddar cheese beside my laptop. I devoured it and was immediately shamed. He reveled in his redemption and now we are on a cheese frying marathon. Yesterday he fried some parmesan and that was even better than the cheddar. Today, while he’s at work, I decided to try it myself, and ended up creating several recipes.
Basic Fried Cheese
1 slice of medium thick cheese (even thicker might be okay, just not thin)
1 non-stick pan (this is crucial, though if I were brave, I’d try cast iron)
Heat non-stick pan to medium and cook cheese till the edges start to harden and it’s ready to flip. Turn it over and cook till firm. There’s a lot of wiggle factor here–I still haven’t mastered it, if the pan is too hot, you’ll just end up with spatula goo, which does eventually harden into the real thing which is quite tasty. My problem is that once I hear the cheese sizzling, see the oil flowing out of it, and smell the cheesy aroma, I can’t wait to eat it, so I prematurely attempt to flip it. Parmesan (since it’s harder) is easier to do than Cheddar–I think it’s tastier too.
Spam and Cheese Pancakes – Spamkes
Grate spam and cheese (cheddar and/or jack work well), smash into pancakes and fry in non-stick pan on medium heat. Flip after a few minutes. Pretty much the same procedure as the basic fried cheese recipe. Dipping these in yellow mustard is also good.
Cheese and Bacon Bit Pancakes
Smash grated cheese (I used Monterey Jack cheese) and real bacon bits (not the artificial kind) and follow same procedure as above.