Archived entries for cheese

Kick it off right: Crustless mini-quiches.

I came incredibly close to kicking off 2011 with a very large mistake: I very nearly canceled my New Year’s Eve party. Thanks to Snowmageddon 2010, Bench (the world’s best party-prep-partner-in-crime) was stuck in Chicagoland until New Year’s Day, and half my guest list was stranded in similarly snowbound points west. It just didn’t seem worth going all out for only three people, particularly since I didn’t have all that much of an axe to grind with 2010. And so, the unthinkable well and truly almost occurred.

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Fortunately for us all, Biscuit was on hand to remind me that half the fun of a party is getting ready for it. Also that I was being stupid: a party is a party is a party, whether it’s for six or sixteen! And of course, he was right.

Thus fortified we threw ourselves into the business of party, whipping up myriad delights for the masses! On the menu were some old favorites (amaretti cookies, gougeres, thyme and gruyere icebox crackers) and some new experiments. Foremost among these experiments was an amuse bouche that is going to become a permanent part of my party repertoire: the crustless mini quiche.

What makes this wee timorous beastie such a superstar is not that it is perfectly savory and bite-sized (which it is), or that it’s so versatile (which it also is), or even that it’s pretty darn easy to make (ditto) but the fact that it can be made up to a month in advance and then whacked into your freezer until you’re ready to entertain. Reconsitute with 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven, and you’re laughing.

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As any dedicated party-thrower knows, any time you can front-load while prepping for the event is time you can instead spend fixing your hair or bedazzling the walls on the day of. Or, in my case, time you can spend convincing yourself that the party is, in fact, going to be a good idea and you should probably go through with it. Which, in retrospect, it really, really was; a truly glittering and wonderful way to kick off what I hope will be an absolutely excellent year.

I like to think the thirty (!) people who miraculously appeared at the wingding would heartily agree.

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Lafitte Brand Hard Tack: Thyme and Gruyere Icebox Crackers!

There are certain things that, historically, it has never really occurred to me to cook at home. On this list: cheese; pretzels; crackers. I don’t know why; it’s not that I don’t think I’m up to the task, or that I’m not interested, but it’s just never seemed like a good return on energy investment.

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Note: I am sometimes kind of dumb.

Now that we’ve established that, we can discuss the fact that in getting utterly out of hand, this bribe inspired me to push my boundaries, and one of these boundaries involved crackers. After all, it is important to give the judges a well-rounded bribe, resplendent in easy snacking. And what’s easier to snack upon than crackers? With that in mind, I turned to my File O’ Recipes and pulled out one from one of the patron saints of the Sexcamaids, Miz Martha Stewart (fun fact: the atrium at Martha Stewart Omnimedia has hosted many a mermaid practice–we owe a lot to Martha!) and her Thyme and Gruyere Crackers. They seemed like a perfect fit for our Pirate Picnic–no ship is complete without Hard Tack, after all!

If you’re looking to get into dabbling with crackers, I can’t imagine you getting off to a better start than these. Not only are they easy and delicious, but they can be done a few days in advance–a godsend if you’re preparing them as part of a party buffet, or at any other occasion where you know you’re going to have to take care of a lot of different dishes. The more you can front-load in these situations, the better, and the bribe was no exception. I actually ended up making the dough two days in advance, and I think it just got better for the rest.

And, I mean, really. Beyond their deliciousness, how cool did they look? The design of this tin was done by my lovely friend Ry; Bench was responsible for the bullet holes. I loved this box beyond all reasonable comprehension, and wanted to keep it for myself. Okay, yes, so, I wanted to keep them all for myself, but this one had a special place in my heart. Was it the bullet holes, or the crackers? Bake some and draw your own conclusions.

Note: I am lame and somehow lost all the pictures I took of the crackers. So you’ll just have to go to Martha’s site to see what they looked like.


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The Month of Grilled Cheese

Toward the end of last March, we made tiramisu. We made old-fashioned cream scones.

We made succulent salmon and spicy nut mix. There was no-knead bread and sunchoke soup.

All this variety, and then we had an idea for April.cheese

Why not spend a month honoring National Grilled Cheese Month? Why not make only grilled cheese–fantastic, wacky variations on grilled cheese–until May?

Let’s just say, we’re older and wise now, and not actually repeating the experiment in 2010. But if you want to try a month of grilled cheese madness–or if you just want a few delicious and unusual sandwiches, check out the recipes below.

Pictured above, from left to right:

1. Cornbread Grilled Cheese with Poblano and Avocado

2. Grilled Cheddar and Applie Sandwich with Raspberry Coulis

3. Grilled Smoked Mozzarella with Maple-Caramelized Bacon

4. Tomato Soup Grilled Cheese (the soup is in the sandwich)

5. Grilled Sweet Five-Spice Sandwich

6. Grilled Goat’s Cheese with Proscuitto and Eucalyptus Honey

7. Grilled Fontina with Proscuitto-wrapped Melon

8. Grilled Caprese Sandwich

9. Greek-ish Grilled Feta Sandwich with Green Garlic

10. Smoky Grilled Cheese with Sopressata and Sage

11. Grilled Manchego with Fig Jam and Olives

12. Brie and Nutella Grilled Cheese

Party Trick: Homemade Cheese Crackers

I’ve been doing quite a lot of entertaining lately—folks come over to our place a few evenings a week to help out tasting this or that. (Tough life, I know.) But we have to feed them—not full dinners, necessarily, but we need to have enough food around to balance out the booze. And I’m getting tired of bread and cheese, crudites and prosciutto.

Enter homemade cheese crackers—they’re like the Cheez-its of your dreams, but full of real cheese flavor (not “cheese flavor”) and spiked with just a hint of smoked paprika. The original recipe was for cheese straws, Southern style, but I prefer them almost like cookies: puffy and chewy inside, tender instead of crumbly. I set out a plateful of an entire batch last night and it was decimated almost immediately. (The imperial stout was a slower slog.)

I’m working on some variations—I think they’d be good with a dab of mustard or hot sauce stirred into the dough, and maybe a sprinkle of fresh thyme and garlic. You could make them all-cheddar, or use a mix of whatever hard cheese-nubs you have around: aged gouda, parmesan, gruyere. I’m even game to try it with something blue—you might not need any milk to moisten the batter in that case.

You can make the dough ahead, wrap it carefully and refrigerate until you’re ready to pop them in the oven—all the better for the busy entertainer.

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Steakhouse Iceberg Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing

I’ve always shied away from mayonnaise, from ranch dressing and sour cream. I’m a little afraid of buttermilk unless it’s whipped into a muffin or a biscuit. I cringe when I discover mysterious creamy sauces on my burgers or sandwiches.

But recently, when out to dinner with my parents at Portland’s Laurelhurst Market, I realized I may have a weakness for good blue cheese dressing. We ordered a wedge salad to go with our buttery bavette steaks, and there was something addictive about it. The tangy blue cheese on the simple iceberg chunks, dusted with crispy shallots and bacon—if ever there was a junk-food salad, that was it, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Much to my delight, this dressing doesn’t include (scary) mayo or (disturbing) buttermilk—it’s just high-quality blue cheese stirred into creamy submission with the help of fresh lemon juice, sherry vinegar, and olive oil. You could dribble it on anything—grilled portobellos or eggplant, perhaps, or even on a baked potato. But it’s simply awesome on iceberg lettuce, so good we kept interrupting our dinner conversation to praise it.

We skipped the steak this time—when you’ve got blue cheese and bacon, I’m not sure you need anything more.

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