Archive for July, 2008
Are you laughing at my cheese?

Laughing SalBefore I begin, I have to stress again that when of the theatre company’s plays are approaching, or being performed, I don’t have as much of a chance to enjoy good cheeses. Although Kathy and I got to go to a couple restaurants this past weekend, there was NO cheese with our meals (GASP!). I’ll blame this partially on the fact that Senegalese and Indian cuisines don’t tend to utilize much cheese.

…and then there are times when where you go to eat does use cheese, but you’re left wishing the proprietors or owners would step up to the plate and give better consideration to the cheese that they do use.

CheeseburgerTo set the scene, Kathy and I had a few non-theatre hours to enjoy on Saturday. We decided to go to the museum of fun, the Playland Not at the Beach, in El Cerrito, California. This interactive museum is an homage to the history and memory of  Playland at the Beach, which was a sea-side amusement park in San Francisco from roughly 1913 until 1972. For more detail about this long-gone park, here’s a Wikipedia article link. Since the museum doesn’t serve food, we decided to get into the spirit of an amusement park by going to Nation’s Giant Hamburger for hot dogs and hamburgers first. This chain of fast-food restaurants seems to only span part of California’s Bay Area, and is noted by locals because it also serves and sells pies. Certainly Nation’s is a huge step up from other larger fast food chains, and is pretty much what you expect of a chain of hamburger & hot dog restaurants.

Would you like cheese on that?Before I proceed; I get it. I understand that a “classic” American cheeseburger is going to use a slice of American Cheese. It is the cheese used with Nation’s other menu items which surprised me. I ordered chili fries to go with my cheeseburger, and Kathy ordered a chili dog. We were both asked if we’d like cheese on our chili. Naturally we said yes, but the fare, and the cheese were different from what I had imagined. Somehow I expected one of two things; either some shredded Cheddar cheese, possibly with a little Monterey Jack mixed in, or some heated “cheese sauce” which comes from a #10-size can (the stuff they put on nachos at places like roller-skating rinks)… what we received? A couple slices of American cheese slapped onto the top of our chili.

I spent the better part of the meal musing to myself about why they were using American cheese slices on the chili. Here’s a few reasons I thought up;

1). It’s most likely much cheaper than any other cheese they could buy.
2). It has a much longer shelf-life than other cheeses, thus less spoilage.
3). Stock a single cheese, and it is easier to approximate the daily amount needed.
4). Some people may come to expect their chili items to use American cheese.
5). The franchise has absolutely no desire to distinguish itself or the quality of their chili-cheese items.

One Cent Amusements

Alright, I’m not on a mission to “bash” American cheese (well, maybe a little bit), but I am left to wonder what the price-point is that causes fast food establishments to not care about the quality of their ingredients.  …and before you even ask, I’ll answer the question; “did you eat it?” Yes, yes I did. Enjoy it? No, not really. Although fine on a cheeseburger from time to time, I determined that American cheese does NOT belong on any chili I’m going to eat.

Making it worth getting through the meal, and the American cheese, was our visit to Playland Not at the Beach Museum of Fun. The strong sense of nostalgia combined with the chance to experience some of the amusements of yesteryear make this museum worth visiting. The many volunteers were not only friendly, but you can tell from their enthusiasm and knowledge that they truly enjoy sharing the collections with the patrons. Part tour, and part hands-on fun, the museum has every last corner cram-packed with things to look at and interact with. Also, with admission, is unlimited “free play” of the numerous pinball machines spaning the decades of pinball history.  Kathy and I easily could have spent another hour or two there, but had to rush back to meet our theatre obligations.

Circus Has Come to Town Jungle Pinball

Do you actually LOVE American cheese? Revile it? Whether you’d like to defend or criticize it, give your two cents in the comment section (bottom right of the post).

 Three Ring Circus Viper Girl Jungle Women of Pinball

“It’s stuff we had!”

Emmenthaler, some Sardinian Pecorino Sardo and a raw-milk ManchegoWhile in college in Chico, California, one of the local papers had written a fun article concerning a chef’s challenge. The newspaper had arranged to have some local established chefs go and prepare meals in people’s homes using only what they found at those homes. If I recall, there were three meals, three chefs and three homes. Specifically; an apartment with two female college roommates, a single working bachelor’s place, and a home of a family with three kids and a stay-at-home mom. The chefs made the best tasting and appropriate meals they could based on ingredients they found in the kitchens, and all three turned out quite well. One of the best parts of article was the surprise of the meal recipients that they had, on-hand, what was needed to make such wonderful meals.

On week nights, when Kathy or I are attempting to make dinners for one another, I often think back to this article. There are certain planned meals and staples that we like to have at home, but often enough you find yourself asking what can be made? When one, or both of us succeed in making an unplanned meal from what is in the kitchen, we proudly exclaim; “It’s stuff we had!”

Prior BakingIt’s tough being creative in the kitchen sometimes, and looking up recipes on-line often yields things that cannot be made due to not having the opportunity to make it to the store. Many of the corner stores in San Francisco, built post the 1906 earthquake, must have been great little stores filled with fresh fruits and vegetables and other staples. Nowadays these stores have mainly become where derelict alcoholics can buy a quart of rye whisky, a “40″ or bubble-gum and Cheetos (don’t ask my why derelict alcoholics like bubble-gum and Cheetos… just roll with it). Point being, the few grocery items at most of these stores now are over-priced and meant to have a very long shelf life. Weekly shopping at larger stores can provide the staples for a week’s worth of home-cooked meals, but unless you plan, and find the time to cook, some of it can/may go bad before you get to use it.

Unlike the chefs I mentioned from the article, I have only a limited capacity for creativity in the kitchen, but enough to know what should work and what won’t. So, last night, I threw together what I am calling an “Oven Raclette“. This dish, however, is not a real Raclette, nor did it utilize the cheese Raclette [I'll cover real Raclette, both the dish and the cheese, in some future post]. It was very tasty though, and I’ll give you the recipe of what I created below.

Another part of last night’s meal was a cheese plate, which Kathy and I had for dessert. While Cheese RemnantsKathy was helping out with costumes for the play this past Sunday, Dorie (our costume designer) suggested taking a break and getting some lunch on 24th Street in San Francisco. Kathy went into yet another one of my favorite cheese stores; the 24th Street Cheese Company. She picked up three cheese remnants for us to enjoy. Most all cheese shops will have a basket of small pieces of cheese, typically priced for quick sale, because they’re either just getting beyond their prime, or it’s all that’s left of much larger pieces. Some may argue that getting these cheeses is a risk, because if it is over-ripe, it’s really not going to taste as it should. It is, however, a good way to randomly try cheeses you haven’t had before, and without buying too much. I’m pleased that 24th Street labels their remnants fairly well, other cheese shops don’t bother, so often the cheese (unless you can identify it) becomes, “mystery cheese.”

The three cheeses you see are a cave-aged Emmenthaler, some Sardinian Pecorino Sardo and a raw-milk Manchego. The stick of butter and quarter are for you to get an idea of the size of the pieces. Of the three, we were most impressed with the Sardinian Pecorino Sardo. It is an Italian sheep-milk cheese which is produced on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea (the island that Italy’s “boot” is kicking). Although related, it is dissimilar to Pecorino Romano by tending to be a bit milder, but ironically also spicier. There are a great many types of Pecorinos, the tastes can vary greatly to subtly. Its worth taking the time to make comparisons if you have the chance at a good cheese shop. 

Cave Aged Emmenthaler Bryce enjoys the cheese dessert Raw-milk Manchego

Enough about our cheese plate dessert, though. Below I’ll give you the recipe of “Oven Raclette” I made. The whole point to the cheese sauce was an excuse to make roasted garlic (OK; also to have more cheese). The cheese used was some more of the wedge of Jarlsberg I have in the fridge, but if you can actually get some Raclette cheese for this recipe, that’d be even better. The “Cheese Sauce” part of the recipe is basically just a simple fondue with roasted garlic added. “It’s stuff we had!”

What’s one of your favorite culinary feats using just stuff you had in the kitchen? Use the comments section at the bottom-right of his post.

PS- as with any recipe, read it twice before starting so that you are able to multi-task steps simultaneously.

Oven Raclette with Roasted Garlic Cheese Sauce

 

Total time: about 2 hours

Active time: about one hour

 

Feeds three adults.

 

Special Equipment Needed: Two small ramekins

 

Ingredients:

·         Two whole Garlic Bulbs

·         1 and 1/3 cup Olive Oil

·         Three Tablespoons Butter

·         1 & ½ pounds new potatoes or small Dutch potatoes

·         1 Bell Pepper (any color)

·         1 large red onion

·         1 Tablespoon Flour

·         1/3 cup chicken stock

·         1/3 pound grated Swiss Cheese (preferably Raclette, but the following can/will also work fine: Gruyère, Emmenthaler, Jarlsberg)

·         Salt & Pepper

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash potatoes, place in pot of water so the water is more than covering the potatoes. Place on stove-top with highest flame. After it comes to a boil, allow to cook for 20 minutes. Remove from stove, empty hot water, fill with cold, then drain and allow to cool further on counter.

 

Meanwhile;

Roast Garlic [if you already have your own favorite way of doing this, do, otherwise, here’s a simple way]

Cut off the top third (non-root side) of the garlic bulbs so that most, if not all of the tops of the cloves are exposed. Place each into a ramekin. Pour olive oil over the bulbs, coating them and filling the ramekin so that about the bottom third of the garlic bulb is submerged. Cover top of ramekins tightly with tin foil. Bake in 400 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove. Don’t burn yourself! Use tongs to take bulbs out of their oil baths, place into a clean bowl to cool. Once cool enough to handle, extract as much of the garlic as you can into another bowl. Dispose of the skins. Set aside bowl of roasted garlic.

 

Lower oven heat to 375 degrees F.

 

Cube the cooked potatoes (roughly ¼ inch cubes). Chop the onion and bell pepper into similar sized pieces.

Heat two tablespoons butter and ¼ cup olive oil over a medium flame in a large non-stick skillet. Once butter has melted, mix in cut potatoes, onion and bell pepper. Mix ingredients well in skillet to coat. Cook, turning/flipping ingredients occasionally for about 20 minutes or until both onion and bell pepper are starting to wilt. Season well with salt & fresh-ground pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to a oven casserole pan, place into oven to bake 25 minutes.

 

As it bakes;

Mash up roasted garlic cloves with a fork, forming a paste. Over medium heat in a medium to small non-stick pan melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add 1 tablespoon of flour, mix together well and continue to stir until pasty mixture starts to brown and bubble. Add 1/3 cup chicken stock. Mix well so that flour/butter mixture blends with the chicken stock. Continue to heat and stir until mixture begins to bubble. Add grated cheese and garlic paste. Continue to stir, mix, and break apart any clumps for even mixing of cheese sauce. Cook until all cheese is melted and is blended.

 

Place servings of potato mixture into bowls, spoon servings of cheese sauce onto potatoes, serve immediately.

Enjoy!

 Potato Medly Skillet Fondue Cheese Sauce Post Bake, Pre-serve

Monday Night Fondue

Nikita desires FondueBetween work (which has been odd and stressful) and the theatre, which has been great, but busy, Kathy could tell I needed something to help reset my mood and mind-frame… She suggested: FONDUE! As discussed in a previous post, fondue is one of my favorite meals with cheese. Kathy said she’d pick up the bread on the way home if I prepared the fondue… I grabbed about half a dozen of the fondue books we own, took stock of the cheeses we had in the fridge and decided to make a Gouda-based Fondue.

We still had a fair amount of Gouda left over from Saturday’s picnic, and I picked out a Gouda recipe from, The Book of Fondues by Lorna Rhodes (Rhodes, Lorna. 1988. The Book of Fondues. HPBooks. New York, New York). Since I didn’t quite have a pound of Gouda, I added a little bit of Jarlsberg to the mix. Jarlsberg has a similar consistency to Gouda, so I knew they’d blend easily. 

Although the various hand-held graters we have around the kitchen are good for some jobs, I start to get lazy if I have to shred a pound or more of cheese. Particularly true if it doesn’t have to do anything besides melt evenly. Thus; a food processor is perfect. I’ve learned my lesson The Book of Fonduesconcerning food processors too; if you can own a good quality one, do. Through years of low-income jobs, I used to own cheap processors bought at Target for around $25. Due primarily to cheese, I’ve burned out the motor on three of those cheap ones in my life. The one we currently own is by far the best one we’ve ever had. IF you plan on using a food processor for cheese, however, remember the following things; the cheese grating blade is OK for softer, domestic, mass-produced cheeses (i.e. domestic Cheddar). If, however, you need to grate a harder semi-soft cheese, or a hard cheese, then you MUST use the blade, and ONLY after you have cut the cheese into small cubes, then use the “pulse” button so that you don’t over-tax the motor. The result on the hard and semi-soft cheeses with this method is kind of a milled meal (see last picture on this posting, below right), not shreds. This is perfect for melting in fondue or sauces, but not as perfect if you need to spread thin layers of shredded cheese into a dish.

Again, for a sort of over-view about making fondue, and how to cut bread for it, look at this previous post.

I’m going to transcribe the recipe below. It’s a thinner (less viscous) fondue than “traditional” or Glarner, and it has a nice sharp tasting edge to it, provided by the gin which plays the role that Kirschwasser plays in the “traditional” fondue recipe. If you like to have your caraway less crunchy, but also want their flavor more integrated into the fondue, do as I do and soak it in the gin along with the cornstarch ahead of time.

Bryce grows a plant out of his head to look like Sideshow BobThe meal greatly improved my outlook on everything, and I feel renewed. Ahhh, cheese!            …what sets you right with the world again? Use the comment section.

 Dutch Fondue

 Ingredients:

1 small onion, halved

1 cup milk

4 cups (1 lb.) shredded Gouda cheese

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3 tablespoons gin

Pepper

 

Instructions:

Measure ingredients. Rub inside of fondue pot with cut side of onion.

 

Add milk and heat until bubbly; then gradually sir in cheese. Continue to heat until cheese melts.

 

Stir in caraway seeds. In a small bowl blend cornstarch with gin. Blend into cheese mixture and cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes or until smooth and creamy. Season with pepper. Suggestion; serve with mushrooms and light cubed rye bread. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

 

Cubed Gouda Caraway & Gin Gouda Meal

Such thing as a Gouda Mime?

Before I begin, you’ll be happy to know that there are NO MIMES in this post. The San Francisco Mime Troupe, however, “mimes” or mimics for the sake of political satire, and has been doing so for nearly forty years. Their plays are presented for free and their writing and production values are very high.

Mime Troupe Stage Top

DylanMartin & LaceyThanks to our friends Martin and Dylan inviting us to meet up for a picnic, we had the chance to spend part of the afternoon this Saturday watching the Mime Troupe at Cedar-Rose Park in Berkeley, California. We were fortunate to have Dylan direct for us last year with the Thunderbird when we presented “Aaah! Rosebud“, as well as enlist her husband Martin, a professional stage-craft carpenter, who was able to do things like construct remote-control curling stones for us. Theatre people “relax” by going to other theatre events. Odd, no? Naturally a picnic in the park was yet another opportunity to eat cheese…

This is my chance to offer a few words of advice concerning cheese and picnics. As you may recall, most cheeses should be served at room temperature when in the home, removing them from the fridge a half hour to an hour prior to serving them. In a picnic situation, however, semi-soft and hard cheeses are likely to sweat and/or begin to melt (separate their liquids from solids) when in the sun. This has an effect of potentially changing the taste of the cheese, but also it can make the cheese appear unappetizing. To avoid this, you’d need to keep the cheeses that you decide to bring both shaded AND cool. If you can, keeping the cheese in containers which are then resting on ice can help, but you also want to choose your cheeses wisely. If the cheeses are harder cheeses, you could potentially pre-slice them before going on the picnic, as long as you can keep then shaded and cool.

Martin's Mother's Fried Chicken RecipeFor this picnic, Kathy and I brought two types of cheese; a Gouda from Holland, and the Stout Cow cheese from Predrozo Dairy, which I wrote about a few posts back (more about Gouda in a few moments). This appetizer went quite well with the excellent foods that Dylan and Martin brought; Martin’s mother’s recipe for excellent potato salad, and her “secret” recipe for some of the best home-made fried chicken Kathy and I have had in a long, long time. Without giving away the actual Italian-Style Deviled Eggsrecipe, it involved one of Kathy’s favorite ingredients; fresh ginger. Kathy made a Moist Walnut Chocolate Cake (from a Chronicle Books publication; “Picnics“), and Kathy asked me to find a Deviled Eggs recipe worth making. Truth is, I’m not a huge Deviled Egg fan, but as soon as I found a recipe which involved both Parmesan and prosciutto, I knew that would be the one we’d make. Found the recipe off the Internet by doing a few choice searches. Ultimately it came from Allrecipes.com, and although I’ll link it here, I’ll also place the recipe below.

GOUDA
Gouda hails from Holland and is pressed cow-milk cheese. Pressed cheeses are ones in which the curds (solid cheese mater) and the whey (the liquid separated from the curds) are separated, and then the curds are gathered into buckets or form-molds which have holes in the bottom to allow for more whey to drain away from the curds. Pressure is then placed upon the curds while they are in Gouda & Stout Cowthe form-molds to accomplish two things; continue to drain away the excess whey, and also to force the curds to bond together to form a shape (such as a “wheel” of cheese). After a specific amount of pressure and time, the formed cheeses are then treated in any number of ways from being put into a “wash” or brine, rubbed with oils, or even given a coating of wax, which is what is typically done with Goudas from Holland. The majority of Gouda imported to the United States has only been aged for about six weeks, and although creamy and delicious, it doesn’t have quite the complexity of flavor offered by Goudas which have been aged longer. For this reason, at the picnic I had paired it with the Predrozo Stout Cow.  Although Stout Cow begins very much like a Gouda, and its curd is pressed into forms, it is soaked in a mixture of Sierra Nevada Stout Beer instead of being covered by wax. It is then aged anywhere from 60 days to six months. It is amazing how different the cheeses taste, although their basic roots are almost the same.

LaceyThe performance by the Mime Troupe of “Red State” was excellent; fun musical political satire about voting and American’s expectations of our government. Although we all enjoyed it, I couldn’t help feel a little as if it was preaching to the choir since we were in the middle of Berkeley, California. The best part was certainly the chance to relax and catch up with Dylan and Martin, and even spend some time with their dog Lacey too. Below is the “Italian Style Deviled Eggs” recipe which we enjoyed. Get a medium to good quality Parmesan for it when you make it; save your best Parmesan for dishes which more predominately feature the cheese.

Do YOU have a favorite deviled egg recipe, or cheese to bring to picnics? Let us know; use the comment section.

Italian-Style Deviled Eggs
Submitted by: Duncan
Rated: 5 out of 5 by 2 members
Prep Time: 40 Minutes
Cook Time: 12 Minutes
Ready In: 1 Hour 2 Minutes
Yields: 12 servings
“This is a delicious and fancy variation of the classic easter appetizer. The prosciutto adds a wonderful saltiness and goes beautifully with the eggs.”
INGREDIENTS:
12 eggs
1/4 cup chopped prosciutto
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
5 green olives, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped red bell
pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
5 dashes hot pepper sauce,
such as Frank’s RedHot
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black
pepper
DIRECTIONS:
1. Place eggs in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Cover and let eggs stand in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water, cool and peel.
2. Slice the eggs in half lengthwise and place the yolks into a bowl and mash with a fork. Set aside some of the Parmesan cheese and chives to use as a garnish. Mix the remaining into the yolks along with the green olives, red bell pepper, Dijon mustard, sour cream, mayonnaise, hot sauce, garlic powder and pepper. Spoon the yolk mixture back into the egg white halves. Garnish with reserved Parmesan cheese and chives.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2008 Allrecipes.com Printed from Allrecipes.com 7/19/2008
Quiche & Caprese

Bryce tries the Chèvre When it takes me a week (or longer) to post, which is rare, you can bet that I am either; A] busy with the theatre, and/or; B] cheese starved (unlikely). This week it has been primarily the theatre. Tickets are starting to sell since “Pride & Succubus” opens on August 7th. Many fantastic fans/audience members think to themselves, “oh, I’m going to see that,” but then find that when they finally get around to getting tickets (during the run of the show), the night they want to go is sold out. BUY TICKETS EARLY to events and plays you hope to see. But enough of that for the moment; onward to cheese…

Although I enjoy fresh goat cheeses, they aren’t always my first choice. Me, I’m attracted to all cheese, but my “comfort food” cheeses are typical cow-milk aged cheeses such as Gruyère. However, there are a LOT of farmstead goat cheeses in California these days, and I’ve recently tried another. From the town of Cottonwood, California comes North Valley Chèvre. They are “new” to the scene having only gone into production last year (2007). North Valley Chèvre has incredible practices regarding sustainability and the care of their animals, all of which you can read about on their website. As to their Chèvre, well… hmm, I feel that it is important and great to buy locally, but considering how many different California Chèvres I have had in the last few months (lots), this one failed to impress me much. This creamery is in its infancy, however, and should be encouraged. Chèvre is/can be a heavenly experience, or it can be like slightly moistened chalk-dust. North Valley’s has a wonderful consistency, but lacked a certain sharpness which I prefer (and again, this can/should be to personal North Valley Chèvre taste). Although fine on its own, Chèvre is a cheese which can help round out flavors and textures when combined with other foods. Briny foods in particular (i.e. olives which are stored/soaked in brine) benefit from the texture of Chèvre, and the two tastes marry quite well.

As to the other two cheeses we had this past Monday night, I can already feel gourmet cheese connoisseurs possibly cringing concerning some mid-to-low-shelf cheeses that I used for the dinner I made for Kathy and myself. Again, if you can always afford to be a cheese snob, go right ahead, but I believe that if you (anyone) can and does raise their cheese palate by trying a variety of cheeses, and purchasing farmstead cheeses when they can, then you’re already fighting the good fight. My advice is simple: always be willing to try cheeses which are unfamiliar to you, and try to buy the best quality that you can.

So what did you use that wasn’t “gourmet”?

We had an inexpensive Gorgonzola, mass produced by the Stella/Saputo cheese company (part of Stella GorgonzolaSaputo’s motto is; “…and dedication to growth.” It’s a corporate kind of thing, not exactly a goal of quality). And some nice cow-milk Mozzarella ”pearls” (small fresh Mozzarella) from Trader Joe’s. Again, neither were by any means bad, and both cheeses more than acceptable for a quick, good, after-work, home cooked meal.

After work on Monday I ran 5K (and hurt like heck the next day; I haven’t been running much lately), and decided that gave me leave to have three different cheeses as part of dinner. The type of Caprese salad we typically make at home is basically just basil leaves, Mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, red onion, fresh ground pepper and then some Fresh Ingredients, Pearl Mozzarelladrizzled olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.  Thanks to Kathy’s father’s incredible garden, we have some very fresh tomatoes and red onions. Caprese Salad (the colors of which represent the Italian flag), is so simple to make and is excellent for summer. If you chill all the ingredients in the fridge before cutting and serving, it’s a particularly nice treat on a hot day.

We also had some amazing green beans from  the garden, so I decided to make a green bean quiche. I’ll type up my version of the recipe below, it’s modified slightly from an out of print cookbook I have, Crêpes & Quiches.Fresh Green Beans

Where did the Chèvre fit into this meal?

I ate it for dessert. Kathy opted for ice cream. Here’s the quiche recipe:

Green Bean and Gorgonzola QuicheKathy & Caprese

 

Serves four as a main dish.

Active time ½ hour

Full time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

 

Ingredients:

1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed

1 pre-made pie crust in a 9” pie tin/plate.

3 eggs

1 egg yolk

1 to 2 Tablespoons butter

1 cup heavy cream

2 shallots

3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese

salt and fresh ground pepper

 

Directions:

If thinking ahead, let your pie crust become room temperature (an hour if frozen).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat lightly salted water to boiling, (enough water to cook the green beans in).

Once the oven is pre-heated, poke holes in your pie crust with a fork to that the dough won’t form “bubbles” during pre-baking, and/or use pie weights. Pre-bake your pie crust for 5 to 10 minutes so that it is just starting to brown, but not becoming too dark. Set aside.

[Cook’s note: when baking quiches which have a lot of liquid like this one, I take a cookie sheet, line it with parchment paper and then put the pie pan on top of that. In case of liquid spillage, it cooks onto the paper/cookie sheet and not the bottom of your oven.]

While the oven is pre-heating and/or while the crust is pre-baking and the water is heating, wash and trim your green beans. Cut into 1 inch segments. Thinly slice your Shallots.

Cook the beans in the boiling lightly salted water until just soft, roughly 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix your three eggs, one egg yolk, and cup of cream together. Crumble and add the Gorgonzola. Mix Butter, Beans, Shallotstogether, season to taste.

Once the beans are done, drain well. Melt the butter in a large fry pan, add the thin shallot slices and green beans to pan. Salt and pepper to taste as you sauté over a medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Place green bean-shallot mixture into the pre-cooked pie crust. Give your liquid mixture one last mix and then pour into pie crust. If there is too much liquid, don’t overfill, but be sure to get all the crumbled cheese into the pie. Egg Mixture into the Pie Shell

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

 

Excellent when served with a fresh salad.

 

Quiche & Caprese  Slice of Quiche

Pizza Obsession

Kathy & Max; Settlers of CatanLast night we had the pleasure of having been invited to a friend’s house for dinner and games. Kathleen and Max decided on home-made pizza for the meal due, in part, to an article in the New York Times. In short, it is about a man named Jeff Varasano who had an obsession to create (or rather; recreate) his favorite Manhattan-style pizzas now that he is living in Atlanta. He has a detailed website about his success and failures, and instructs, in great detail how he did his work, and how you too can do the same. Perhaps it is the IT part of my brain which makes Varasano’s obsession appealing to me.  The detailed entries about types of flour used, the very specific instructions for making dough, etc… it’s not unlike Max & Kathleenthe types of notes I have to take when fixing computer problems in my day job. I’m certain that this level of detail also appealed to Max and Kathleen, since Kathleen is a science writer, and Max is an IT manager. Although the article inspired them, they freely admitted that they used a recipe for last night’s pizza which was already familiar to them.  Jeff Varasano’s tome of information waits for you, however, if you’d care to reproduce his success.  Result of Max & Kathleen’s home-made pizza? Excellent. Much better tasting pizzas than recent restaurant pizzas I have had. Such as…

Last Thursday Kathy and I ate out in Albany, California, at an Italian restaurant named Cugini. Part of its appeal was that it has a “Wood Fired Oven” for its pizzas. The decor was nice, the service was good, but for the price and the quality of the food, we agreed we wouldn’t be returning there. Not that it was bad, it wasn’t, but let’s talk about cheese, shall we?

Quattro FormaggiTwo of the most common Italian pizzas you can get, and are often excellent when made in a wood fired oven, are Pizza Margherita (made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil) and Quattro Formaggi (typically made with tomatoes, Mozzarella, Stracchino, Fontina, Gorgonzola). At Cugini the Quattro Formaggi was listed as being made with Mozzarella, Provolone, Fontina, Pecorino cheese, and fresh herbs. This sounded great, so I ordered it. When it arrived, it looked beautiful (see picture) and the crust was perfectly baked. The taste? Forgettable. As far as I can tell, they took the four cheeses, shredded them, mixed them up together and simply scattered the mixture on the pizza. Instead of experiencing different layered tastes and textures in which the four cheeses could play both individually and together, each bite tasted the same; an indistinct combination of cheese. Also, due to the almost rubbery consistency, I’d say that some, or all, of the cheeses were not of a very good quality. I doubt very much that any of them were from Italy. Although I’m not attempting to vilify Cugini’s pizza-making abilities, I did get the impression that due to their wood fired oven, they have perhaps become lazy. If the average customer comes in and mentally compares Cugini’s pizza to the typical American-style pizzas from a chain that they consume, Cugini’s will (and should) win favor. If, however, you’re like me, and somehow looking for a cheese pizza which causes something akin to an epiphany; this wasn’t it.

Figs and GorgonzolaWhat was excellent at Cugini, however, was a seasonal appetizer which wasn’t on the menu. Oven Figs and Gorgonzolabaked (again with the wood fired oven) figs with apple and Gorgonzola. Excellent. I’m a huge fan of figs, and the easy construction of a couple thin slices of baguette, covered with a thin layer of Gorgonzola, some thin apple slices, and the baked figs (which were also topped off with a dollop of Gorgonzola), was perfection. Due to the mingling tastes I was not able to pinpoint the quality or type of Gorgonzola, but it was far superior to the four cheeses on my pizza.

PerspectiveThe picture with my arm, and Kathy’s dish of Manicotti is a joke; I’m by no means a professional photographer, but Kathy gets a kick out of how I “stage” some shots for perspective. If there’s nothing else in the picture, it’s hard sometimes to know what you are looking at. This picture led to discussion of more absurd “staging” we could accomplish, such as completely irrelevant props we could use; cheese next to reams of paper, a jet liner, or perhaps a cement mixer.

Max & Homemade PizzaBack to Max & Kathleen’s pizza last night, again; excellent. Fresh ingredients, good quality Mozzarella, and exceedingly tasty. They also made a fantastic fresh fruit and custard torte that I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of. We played Settlers of Catan (which Kathy and I hadn’t played since we lived in Germany), and went home both full and happy.

As to some pizza places that serve pizza that I’ve had better luck with on the cheese-front of things, here in the Bay Area of California we have The Cheese Board Pizza Collective in Berkeley (and in Oakland at Arizmendi Bakery, plus a couple other locations), and I’m also partial to the pizzas at Jupiter in Berkeley.

As illustrated by Jeff Varasano in Tampa, pizza can be quite an obsessive passion. Do you have a favorite recipe or restaurant or comment to make on the subject? Please us the comment section at the end of this post. I look forward to hearing about it.

Bryce Eats Pizza

Beer, Cheese and Patriotism

Kathy & Bryce with Onion RingsHope you all had a wonderful 4th of July weekend. We certainly did; filled with family, fun, food, and yes; cheese. Chico, California is near and dear to my heart since it is where Kathy is from and where I met her. I had written a post mentioning Chico in the past, but I knew I’d get around to writing a bit more about it when I had the chance, since it is a place I love. Plus, Chico does have quite a cheese culture, due to a lot of nearby dairy farming.

Before we get to cheese, a few words about Chico; it is an island of culture in the Northstate. An hour and a half Sierra Nevada Signdrive south of Chico is Sacramento, and north, about the same distance, is Redding. This isolates Chico as the only “large” town in that part of the central California valley which has a university, the third largest municipal park in the contiguous United States, and also happens to be where Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is located. There’s much, much more that I can tell you about Chico, but we’ll start here since I plan to work my way to cheese in this entry…

Yea! Beer! (Eddie & Janet at Taproom)Kathy’s sister Janet, and her boyfriend Eddie (aka Edmund; film critic for BlackBook Magazine) had flown out from New York for the weekend, so we visited a lot of points of interest which Eddie got to explore for the first time. Not the least of which was the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Since Kathy and Janet were “locals” for so many years, we were treated to a rare behind the scenes tour of the Brewery. Our friends Meilani and her husband John, who both work for Sierra Nevada (and who actually met there), brought us into the many marvelous rooms of the expansive brewery. I’ve taken several brewery tours in my life, and in some ways it always feels a bit like Charlie & the Chocolate Factory due to the large and varied rooms and machinery. Do not get the wrong impression, however; although Sierra Nevada has grown exponentially over the years, it was and still is a Microbrew Craft Beer, and is one of the most Inside the depths of Sierra Nevadainfluential pioneers in the movement of microbreweries which have gained favor in the past couple decades. Our friends have worked there for 13 and 15 years respectfully, and although about the same age as us, will most likely be able to retire in about another 9 years. This is due to the wonderful policies and respect that Sierra Nevada has for its employees as well as their various plans of sustainability. Meilani conducted the majority of the tour for us, and answered all of my detailed questions about the processes, the equipment, the company, etc. (much, perhaps, to the saturation point of Kathy, Janet and Eddie’s patience). Touring creameries and factories as often as I have allows for both insight and fascination on my part… Bryce looks over the sampler and when someone as well informed as Meilani can help further my understanding, I become “that guy” on tours who asks too many, and too specific of questions. This naturally brings us to the beer though, since it is impossible to go through a factory which smells like hops for an hour and a half and not want to try some as soon as you can…

The tap room and restaurant at the Brewery has on draft all 16 of the Sampler. Click for 3-page PDF with Descriptionscommercially produced beers that Sierra Nevada currently brews. Many of these you can almost only find in the taproom in Chico since they are either seasonally released or are not sent to all markets. If you click on the picture of the sampler platter, a three-page pdf file will open up with the same picture and the written description of each of the beers. Another area of the brewery’s policies that interested me was that of waste Sierra Nevada & the Environment Click for PDFmanagement and impact on the environment. Again, Sierra Nevada is ahead of its time and is doing as much as they can in this regard. The pictured two-page pdf can explain in better detail just how much is being done.

Are you getting off-track, Bryce? Where’s the cheese?

Pedrozo Cheese at Chico's Farmer's MarketAh, inner-cheese voice; not off track at all. While talking with John inside of the Brewery, I mentioned how similar much of the sanitizing processes used on the stainless steel beer equipment was to that of large creameries. He mentioned that some of the original equipment used by the brewery had been modified cheese-making equipment… But I sense you’d like me to move onto more specific cheese topics, so I’d like to talk about Pedrozo Diary & Cheese. About four years ago when I took a week-long “vacation” by attending a Farmstead Cheese making University Extension course (conducted by UC Davis, and given in Orland, California, which is very close to Chico), I was able to meet Tim & Jill Pedrozo. By that time I was already familiar with their farmstead cheeses since in the Chico-Orland area they were already well known and respected. My in-laws had purchased a few wheels for me for my birthday and/or Christmas.

Pedrozo Up CloseCompletely distinct to the herd of grass-fed dairy cows on the dairy, Pedrozo’s cheeses have their own well-crafted flavor, and as many awards attest; they produce world-class cheeses. It would be an injustice to compare the cheese to other types of cheese, but Tim himself once described their cheeses to me as being not unlike an aged gouda. A couple of their varieties include Tipsy Cow, which has been soaked in red wine for added flavor during the aging process. A cheese, new to me, that I got to try (and buy) at the Saturday morning Chico Farmer’s Market, was the Stout Cow. Like the Tipsy Cow, this cheese has been soaked in alcohol, specifically Sierra Nevada’s Stout beer (see inner-cheese voice; it all comes together!). During the Farmstead Cheese making course I had taken several years ago, our class got to assist Jill Pedrozo in making their wonderful cheese. This is certainly a farmstead cheese; there’s one vat (originally built in Holland, if memory serves…), and Pedrozo’s capacity for cheese making is entirely reliant on the milk production of their well-maintained herd. When I bought some of the Stout Cow this weekend, I was fortunate to meet Mandy Johnson, the Pedrozo’s daughter, who not only helps with all aspects of the dairy and cheesemaking, but also has her own wonderful cheese blog. If you have even half a chance to buy or try some of the Pedrozo’s cheese, I highly recommend it; this is some of Northern California’s hand made cheese at its best.

So, Bryce, what about Sierra Nevada Cheese Company?

Thanks for asking! Actually, I want to make sure that you don’t confuse Sierra Nevada Brewing Company with the Sierra Nevada Cheese Company. The Cheese Company, which is only about 30 miles south-west of the Brewery, named its self years after the Brewery had been around. Whether they had done so due to the pre-existing name recognition, or the fact that the Sierra Nevada mountain range is large enough to bear the name of many companies, is any one’s guess, but you should know that these are two separate companies. Sierra Nevada Cheese Company is a fairly large operation and nowadays also owns, operates and produces Gina Marie Cream Cheese. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting that facility too; if I can dig up those photos some time I’ll write a bit more about them…

Kathy at Honey Run Covered BridgeTo finish up this post I’ll throw in a few more pictures and let you know that the Honey Run Covered Bridge (built in 1886) in Chico survived all the recent California fires. Some of the fires which burned in nearby Paradise had threatened (and burned) many, many acres nearby. Here’s to having had a relaxing three-day weekend. I hope all of you dear readers also got to enjoy some cheese. Let me know about it. Use the comment section.

 

Kathy at Sierra Nevada Eddie & Janet in Orland, 4th of July Bryce at Covered Bridge

Can Cheddar Cheese save Rock & Roll?

Would YOU see this band?

Nikita Protests the Rock BandApologies if I haven’t posted in a few days; had to take a quick trip down south again, and rehearsals have begun for the theatre (no, not in this one, but there’s a lot of organization that has to happen).  So, my cheese intake, although consistent, has not been spectacular. I did get to have some Cheddar Saturday night when our friends Jeff, Anna, and Sang came over for a pot-luck dinner, games, and the video game Rock Band which Jeff & Anna brought over.

I had nearly nothing to do with the excellent dinner’s preparation since I had driven all morning. Anna & Jeff wanted a slice of Americana, so they prepared the Bacon-Cheeseburger Potato Pie (recipe & pictures below). Kathy made a Jell-O, fruit and sour cream side dish, Ramakie appetizers (bacon wrapped water chestnuts with green onion), and Sang brought an excellent tomato, cucumber and onion salad as well as bread. Oh, we also had a lemon-poppy-seed Bundt cake that Kathy made with ice cream for desert.Ramakie

Cheese, Bryce, what about the cheese?

Well, as I mentioned, I wasn’t part of preparing the meal, so I’ll tell you a thing or two about Cheddar cheese which you may or may not already know. Cheddar hails originally from England, and has been made since at least the year 1170. It is a cow-milk cheese and the majority of the Cheddars you enjoy these days (particularly if produced in the United States) are made with pasteurized milk. Although most English Cheddars tend to have a sharp taste and are crumbly, American Cheddars are often mass produced and made in much more mild forms then their predecessors. Also, Cheddar is a white-cream color naturally, it is America and Canada who color Cheddar the bright orange color that many Americans associate with Cheddar. Anna told me to go along with the “Americana”-style feel of the recipe (it uses, for example, instant potato mix), she bought pre-shredded, domestically produced orange Cheddar. For this recipe and the desired taste, it was perfect.

The meal was really quite fantastic, an excellent array of comfort foods. I’m putting the recipe below for the casserole, and submitting you all to photos of us attempting to “rock out” on full stomachs and too too much to drink (click on the pictures for larger pop-up windows of the pictures). Enjoy.

More Rock Band

Bacon-Cheeseburger Potato Pie

 

Prep Time: 45 min. Start to finish: 1 hour, 15 min.

 

Bacon-Cheeseburger Potato Pie1 1/2 lb. pkg. extra lean ground beef
1/2 cup (6-oz.) pkg. plain bread crumbs
1/4 cup (6-oz.) pkg. finely chopped onion
1/4 cup (6-oz.) pkg. ketchup
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pie up Close3 slices bacon
1 1/4 cups water
3 tablespoons margarine or butter
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
3/4 cup (6-oz.) pkg. milk
2 cups Hungry Jack® Mashed Potato Flakes
4 oz. pkg. (1 cup) shredded Cheddar cheese
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 green onions, sliced, if desired
Jeff & AnnaHeat oven to 375°F. In medium bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, ketchup, mustard and salt; mix well. Press mixture in bottom and up sides of un-greased 9-inch pie pan. Bake at 375°F. for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towel; cool and crumble.
In medium saucepan, combine water, margarine and garlic salt. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add milk. With fork, stir in potato flakes. Stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese.
Remove partially baked beef crust from oven; pour off any drippings. Spoon potato mixture evenly into crust. Return to oven; bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until beef is thoroughly cooked and potatoes are heated.
Remove pie from oven. Top with tomato, remaining 1/2 cup cheese and crumbled bacon. Return to oven; bake an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove from oven; top with green onions. Let stand 10 minutes. Cut into wedges to serve.

Serving size:
6 servings
 
 Sang Describes the Taste Plate of Dinner Kathy Tries the Pie
Jeff & Sang Rock Out