Saturday, September 10, 2016

Baked Oatmeal

The little kitchen needs a kick in the ass re-boot. I cook a lot  throw together meals all the time. Usually it happens around 11;00 at night and nothing I feel compelled to capture on camera and it usually involves cheese melted on toast. It's not as dire as it sounds because it's usually really good cheese melted on really good toast with a rub of garlic and a swath of Dijon mustard...maybe some caramelized onions or crispy fried shallots. 
There's the occasional Caprese wrap featuring fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, fresh cracked pepper and a few pinches of  Maldon sea salt, rolled up in a flour tortilla and sliced into cute little pinwheels...I could go on and I time.
Here's the thing. I'm not conjuring up new recipes or pouring over a stack of cookbooks looking for the next best thing. I cook for one. I like to eat good left-overs.  That's the key. Good left-overs. I'll gladly spend half the day in the kitchen if I can chill over the next few days enjoying the spoils the fruits of my labors, labor-free. I like to eat good food, but I don't like to spend a lot of money. I can't spend a lot of money.
I'm fortunate to work in an awesome foodie mecca and from time to time get an early crack at the box of culled produce. Such was the case here...a nice little haul of plums and pluots.

I finally got my mitts on Heidi Swanson's (she, of 101 Cookbooks) beautiful new cookbook Near and Far. This recipe jumped right out at me, oats, nuts, buttermilk, melted butter, maple syrup and stone fruit...<sigh> I've got about 20 recipes bookmarked there, so I better get crackin'.

You know what took this to the next level? a dollop of vanilla creme fraiche! The pan (and the vanilla creme fraiche) lasted 5 days. It was awesome every day. I woke up thinking about that baked oatmeal and the cup of coffee I was gonna be sippin' soon and I swear,  five of the best breakfasts I've ever made.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Road to Cheese Whizzery

These toasty li'l bites are a super simple snack or crowd pleasing party appetizer. I've made a meal out of these with a bowl of soup or a salad.  Toast + cheese + whatever is pretty much a daily thing in the little kitchen.
After two years working in this amazing market as a cashier and then supervisor I just this week moved into the cheese department. I can now add Cheesemonger to my resume.
After my first cheese shift a few weeks ago, I realized how ignorant I was of non-cow's milk cheeses. As I was offering samples of a beautiful little triple cream I became aware of how many people can't eat cow's milk cheeses so I begin by learning more about non-cow's milk cheeses starting with sheep.
A little curd nerdery:
Pecorino (or Pecora, actually) is the Italian word for sheep, so there are a whole lotta different pecorinos out there. Most are familiar with Pecorino Romano, a hard, grating cheese one can find in the super market and is used generally as an alternative to Parmigiano Reggiano.
Sheep milk is richer in fat than cow's milk.  One cow puts out anywhere from 8-20 quarts of milk per day. One sheep puts out about 4 quarts a day, but sheep's milk has less water, more vitamins and minerals, more fat. A gallon of sheep's milk will make a slightly larger amount of cheese than a gallon of cow's milk. A herd of cows can give milk year round. Sheep don't do that. It takes a little more than a gallon of milk to produce one pound of cheese, then depending on how long that cheese ages, that pound will diminish in weight as the cheese loses moisture. Anyhoo, thus begins my cheese journey.
I brought home these three lovely little hunks of sheepy goodness. I wanted to start with semi-firm cheeses that would be good snackers and melters. These are all raw milk cheeses. In the U.S. raw milk cheeses must be aged for a minimum of 60 days, a time frame that would supposedly kill of any harmful bacteria yet leave the flavor enhancing bacteria in tact.

First up is the Tomme Brulee on the left. This is a firm, French raw milk cheese from the Basque country, distinguishable by the blackened mottled natural rind. A nice firm little cheese with smooth silky interior. As it melts on the tongue it's savoryness is mouthwatering. It's a perfect balance of sweet and salty with caramelly, nutty notes. It's a great snacker and would  be awesome on a cheese plate, warming up the taste buds before a dinner of broiled lamb chops.

Next up is Baserri Barinaga  (middle) a lovely raw milk cheese from Petaluma. I got a chance to visit Barinaga Ranch shortly after this sheep milk cheese tasting.
Marcia Barinaga models Baserri (the Basque word for farmhouse) after the Basque cheeses made by her family in Spain. Baserri is aged for 6 months, It's creamy, rich and nutty. It's a great table cheese and it melts beautifully. It was amazing toasted on slices of Marla Bakery Walnut Boule (pictured below).

Lastly is a classic Pecorino Toscano from Italy. It differs from Pecorino Romano which is aged longer resulting in a dryer and saltier cheese used primarily as a seasoning. Pecorino Toscano is  a great table cheese as it has a surprisingly flavorful bite. There's a grassy tang to it that I wasn't expecting. Not only was this a great melter on my toasties, it was most excellent shaved onto a layered salad of arugula, radishes and fennel.
I used the housemade sweet Italian sausage we sell at the market. I also had a bit of Pt. Reyes Original Blue to add to the mix.

Super Simple Toasties or Sausage & Pecorino Crostini

1/2 inch slices of a baguette or small boule
8 ounces of cheese
1/2 lb. Italian sausage

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lay out the sliced bread, top with an even layer of cheese. With your fingers squeeze sausage out of the casing and place a large dollop on top of the cheese, pressing and spreading it right to the edges of the bread. Bake for 10 minutes and serve promptly.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Warm Lentil & Goat Cheese Salad

I've had this recipe bookmarked for months. It's from Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials, a book I found in the breakroom at work and borrowed for enhancing my study of all things cheese. I'm a big fan of warm lentil salads with goat cheese since trying something like this in one of the 18 Reasons cooking classes I took a while back focusing on the beauty of budget friendly meals revolving around lentils.
I made a few tweaks to the original recipe.  I prepared the salad while the lentils were still warm whereas the original recipe instructs for the lentils to be cooled to room temperature. I find the warm lentils absorb the flavors of the dressing and allow the cheese to soften a bit and adding a little creaminess to the salad. The other adjustment I made was to chop and crumble the goat cheese then stir it into the warm salad. The original recipe places a one ounce wedge of cheese onto the side of the plated salad. That makes for a lovely presentation when using a striking looking cheese like Humboldt Fog and if serving this salad to guests.

I'm much more pedestrian and make a big bowl of this all for myself so I can enjoy it for a few days. Humboldt Fog is a lovely lightly aged goat's milk cheese from Cypress Grove in Humboldt County here in California. It has a vegetable ash layer running through the middle and beneath the white bloomy surface. It ripens from the surface where it's soft and oozy. The center is firm and crumbly. One of the things I love about good goat cheese is that it changes as it ages. There's more complexity to aged goat cheeses like Humboldt Fog that develop a bloomy (the white fuzzy) rind. The crumbly center is mild and tangy, the oozy edge introduces a bit of goaty personality and the bloomy rind is a little bitter. I love the combination of all of these textures. This salad would be just fine using a more commercial log style goat cheese if you're going the pedestrian route.

Warm Lentil and Goat Cheese Salad
adapted from Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials

For the lentils:
1 cup dried lentils
1 large garlic clove, peeled

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill plus whole sprigs for garnish
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch dice
1 large celery stalk cut into 1/8 inch dice
About 1 cup peeled, finely diced English cucumber
8 ounces Humboldt Fog goat cheese

To prepare the lentils: Fill a 2 quart sauce pan about half way with water. Add the lentils and garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the lentils until tender but not mushy. After 15 minutes taste to determine doneness and keep checking every 5 minutes until they reach the desired consistency. Drain well and toss into a large bowl.
Combine the dressing ingredients into a jam jar and shake until emulsified. Toss into the bowl of warm lentils.
For the leftovers: you can eat this cold from the fridge but I like to pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds to get the chill off.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Genius Kale Salad

Do we really need another kale salad recipe? Yes. This may just be the last kale salad recipe I will ever need. It came on my radar last week via Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks ~ she got it from the new cookbook by Food 52~ Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook.
I'm going through another one of those phases where I really need to get off the carb train and make more produce driven meals.
The kale that we get at the market is so beautiful but I lack the inspiration to buy it and make something. The thing is, I love a good kale salad and every time I make one it disappears immediately. Yet, I rarely make them. I saw this on my news feed this week I was all over it. If Food 52 and Heidi make a big deal out of it then there's gotta be something to it.
The genius in this salad is the addition of not one, but two very different cheeses and it's not very often I see the words "good aged cheddar" as a salad ingredient (the other is Pecorino).
I got a little wedge of Mrs. Quicke's Traditional Cheddar from the market. It's an English clothbound aged cheddar just bursting with rich complex flavors. It's important to note that the cheddar should be chopped or crumbled rather than grated. The little nubs of savory, nutty, tangy, caramelly flavors that really good cheddars create within each bite is what makes this salad standout from any other kale salad recipe I've come across.
I couldn't pull this together fast enough. This salad includes roasted asparagus (or roasted winter squash) and almonds, finishing with shaved pecorino. I also added chopped dried cranberries.
I had a little bit of Pecorino Toscano left from my sheep milk cheese tasting last week. It's moister and less salty than Pecorino Romano (a dry grating cheese that's a common substitute for Parmigiano Reggiano) and has a surprisingly zippy flavor. It's a lovely table cheese especially served with sliced pears or peaches.
A little curd-nerdery: Pecorino just refers to an aged, Italian sheep's milk cheese (Pecora is the Italian word for sheep), so there are different types out there, depending on the region where they are made, but the Romano is more widely available. 

Genius Kale Salad                    
Food 52’s Genius Recipes via 101 Cookbooks

1/2 cup chopped asparagus
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bunch Lacinato kale, ribs removed, leaves finely sliced, about 2 1/2 cups
1/4 cup almonds cut roughly in half
1/4 cup crumbled or finely chopped good, aged cheddar
1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries (optional)
Fresh lemon juice
Pecorino or any other hard cheese, for shaving

Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Toss the asparagus in just enough oil to coat and season with salt and pepper. Spread on the sheet pan, leaving space between each piece. Roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, 20-30 minutes (I used small spears of asparagus which were done in 20 minutes) tossing with a spatula after 10 minutes. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet in the same oven until they start to smell nutty, tossing once, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
In a large mixing bowl, toss the kale with the almonds, cheddar, asparagus and cranberries if using. Season to taste with lemon juice and olive oil (using about 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons oil). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide onto two plates and finish with shaved pecorino.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tuna Melt Toasts with Blue Cheese & Crispy Fried Shallots

The little kitchen is currently enjoying the Love side of my love/hate relationship with tuna, since I stumbled upon the gob-smacking combo of tuna and blue cheese happily married on these Tuna Melt Toasts. The stars collided when tuna, blue cheese and crispy fried shallots just happened to be the few items on hand during a sparse pantry/fridge moment.
I've always loved a good tuna salad sandwich, but cans of tuna can conjure up a dark place, mostly reminding me of when I was poor, well poorer than I am now-back to those days when I scoured the weekly supermarket flyers ready to pounce on the 4 for $1.00 Bumble Bee sale at Albertson's. This probably coincided a time or two with my early Weight Watchers stints when I pretty much ate nothing but diet mayo, celery laden, tuna salad sandwiches on white diet bread, completely oblivious to the mercury/BPA/sustainability side of the coin that plague me now.
Anyhoo, if Weight Watcher's taught me one thing (and it taught me many)-It's about moderation.
Fast forward  to this past January: I was having a conversation with one of my neighbors who happened to come into the market and we got to talking about tuna. He's a chef and he shared what he called his  trick to a great tuna salad: squeeze out all of the water with your hands, then over a big bowl rub the tuna between your palms so it's broken down and fluffy, then mix in your favorite tuna salad mixers.   All I could think about for the rest of the day was getting home and making tuna salad remembering that fresh batch of mayo I had in the fridge.
I started making my own mayo couple of years ago after watching an America's Test Kitchen DVD I'd picked up from the library.
adapted from America's Test Kitchen TV

one egg
salt & pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
dash of Worcestershire sauce
dash of Sriracha
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon agave nectar

Process the above ingredients until light yellow and with the processor running, slowly drizzle in: 

1 1/4 cups neutral vegetable oil

Adjust salt, lemon juice & agave until you're happy.

This was the page I created for the cookbook I made for my niece's bridal shower last year.

I tend to go heavier on the Dijon for my everyday mayonnaise. I've made this tuna salad a few times since January and found that I like to amp up the lemon juice a bit in the mayo when I know I'll be making tuna and use the zest in there as well.

My tuna mixture is:

1 can of tuna, squeezed dry and palm shredded
a heaping tablespoon of home made mayo
the zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon capers roughly chopped
a handful of fresh herbs
salt & pepper to taste

Since first making these with Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese, I've used Stilton and Pt. Reyes Original Blue, all good but the Bayley Hazen is my fave. It's a raw cow's milk farmstead cheese from Jasper Hill Farms in Vermont. It's got a lush, fudgy texture and just the right balance of salt and tang so it's not super assertive. I was amazed by how good this was but it was the crispy fried shallots put this over the top.
I recently discovered crispy fried shallots when I attended a class at 18 Reasons, Bi-Rite Markets non-profit educational space. I used to buy one shallot at a time and only just to chop up for my vinaigrette. Now I purchase them by the pound at my local Chinese market.
Slice 4 or 5 big shallots, super thin on a mandolin. Heat up 2 inches of vegetable oil in a skillet and cook the shallots until golden and crispy, about 15 minutes. Drain on a paper towel lined sheet pan, sprinkle with salt, let cool complete and they will stay crispy in the refrigerator for about 2 days. I love them on salads, on sandwiches-especially grilled cheese, anything middle eastern and in grain bowls. I strain the oil and used it for cooking and in vinagrettes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

savory little scones

Are savory little scones just biscuits?

I got my mitts on a spectacularly delicious cheddar and spinach scone that was somehow left unsold at the market a few weeks ago. When I warmed it up for breakfast the next morning, I was amazed at the transformation the heat brought out in it. I thought of nothing else for days whilst conjuring up my weekly cooking plan (which almost always involves cheese). I pondered the cheese counter at the market and decided on one of my favorite cheeses, Fontina Val d'Aosta.
I've used  Fontina in scones before and it was great in a frittata I made recently. I usually just smash a big hunk into a chunk of fresh baguette or melt it onto a slice of baguette with a big pinch of sweet Italian sausage smashed down on it and baked for 10 minutes for quick toasties. This is the real Italian Fontina, not that red wax coated, rubbery, bland, Danish doppelganger one finds at the supermarket.
Fontina Val d'Aosta is a classic Italian cheese made in Northern Italy. It's a raw, washed rind cow's milk cheese. It's a stinky cheese. I love stinky cheese.  It's texture and flavor depends on how long it has been aged. It can be semi-soft to firm and the flavor can be mild and rich or more robust and intense as it ages. Raw milk cheeses are lovely because the flavor enhancing bacteria hasn't been heated out of it. The washed rind adds even more complex flavors.
The Fontina we get at the market is just the right balance. It's got a great funk and a smooth buttery paste. It's pale cream in color and riddled with tiny eyes. The 45% fat content makes it super rich and creamy.
My first attempt, these crazy good scones, many, many moons ago set me on a course of savory scone nirvana. Yet, I google-thon'd, searching for a recipe for a basic savory scone dough using buttermilk ('cuz that's what I needed to use up) and I came upon this one at The Kitchn.
If there's anyone out there who actually reads this blog, you may be familiar with my Three Amigos, my go-to home made condiments: caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and slooowwww roasted tomatoes. These guys, added to my favorite food in the world~ cheese....well it's a battle for the  starring role in any of these killer savory scones: caramelized onions & blue cheese, chives & goat cheese, cheddar & jalepenos and these:

Roasted Tomato, Fontina, & Dill Scones
adapted from The Kitchn

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup frozen unsalted butter cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 cup Fontina Val d'Aosta, grated
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons whole buttermilk
1/4 cup chopped roasted tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 egg lightly beaten

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the dry ingredients. Scatter the frozen butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter pieces are the size of small peas. Add the cheese, buttermilk, tomatoes and herbs. Pulse until everything is just combined. The dough will be pretty shaggy but hold together when pinched between your fingers.
Spread a large sheet of parchment paper over a work surface and turn the dough onto it. Using a bench scraper and working the dough as little as possible, shape, press and flatten the dough into either a 1 1/2 inch thick round, if you want larger scones or a 1 1/2 inch thick rectangle, if you will be making mini scones.
Slide the parchment onto a sheet pan and chill in the freezer for about 30 minutes.
Slice the round into 8 wedges, or the rectangle into 2 inch strips then 2 inch squares then slice each square diagonally across to form little wedges.
Return the wedges to the parchment/sheet pan with some space in between each piece. Cover the pan with a sheet of plastic wrap and return to the freezer for at least another 30 minutes or until you're ready to bake them. If you're planning to freeze any of the unbaked scones, continue to freeze for a minimum of 1 hour total. Remove the frozen scones from the sheet pan and transfer into a freezer bag removing as much air as possible. Place the bag inside a second freezer bag and remove air.
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Place the scones on a parchment lined sheet pan. In a small bowl,  beat the egg with a fork. Brush each scone with egg. Sprinkle with pinches of maldon sea salt (I added fresh za'atar-a Middle Eastern herb blend- to finish these off) and bake for 15 minutes until golden, rotating the sheet pan half way through. Let the sheet pan rest on a cooling rack for 5 minutes and transfer the scones directly onto the rack to continue cooling. Serve them while they're still a little warm. Uneaten scones can be left to cool completely and then stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Enchiladas Verdes & Cilantro Lime Rice

This is one for the "Possibly-Even-Better-the-Next-Day" section of the cookbook in my head...Leftovers to Love or something like that...but these enchiladas (and the rice) are so good that leftovers may be a wild dream.
I frequently make big batches of enchiladas along with rice and beans to get myself set up for a week of quick & easy dinners. I love enchiladas and I've been making and refining my recipe since Jr. High Home Ec. Yes, I'm that old.
Many months back I was inspired by a staff meal concoction our chef made of leftover enchiladas verdes that he'd chopped up and tossed with rice and kidney beans. It was so delicious and all I could think about for the next few days was how to recreate this ASAP. I planned the majority of my weekend around it.
First up was a first-Enchiladas Verdes. I've been cooking Mexican dishes all my life and have never ventured toward the tomatillo. Green sauce? no thanks. That was then.
I pulled out my trusty Big Book of Cooks Illustrated and found exactly what I was looking for. True to form, I still spent an hour+ in a Google-thon, looking for the next best thing. Turns out there wasn't, but I already knew that didn't I? All I wanted was for it to be tomorrow already with enchiladas a done deal, cold and congealed sitting in my fridge.
While the chicken was poaching, I made a up the batch of tomatillo sauce and then prepared about a dozen enchiladas, enough to fit the pan and mistakenly made burritos with the rest of the chicken. Burritos are another great make ahead meal and though I was happy to have them later, I should have made more enchiladas. They looked amazing fresh out of the oven (I took pics but night time photography in my kitchen is pointless). I ate two right away and they tasted even better than they looked. I love, love, loved them. The tangy/spicy tomatillo sauce was beautifully balanced by the pepper jack cheese. I used Vella pepper jack, hand-made locally in Sonoma. It's super moist, flavorful and sinfully spicy, something you just can't get in a supermarket block cheese.
I reheated the enchiladas again the next day, which is what I photographed here so the tomatillo sauce isn't as bright as it was when I first pulled it out of the oven. The mess of a drizzle is a crema made with sour cream, lime juice, salt and cayenne pepper.
I don't know what I was thinking, but I re-heated the cilantro lime rice and some black beans I had in the freezer. I cut up the rest of the enchiladas and tossed everything together while it was warm. What a trainwreck. It all turned to mush, but man-o-man it was tasty. I ended up using it as a burrito filling, but in retrospect it would have made pretty awesome fritters.

Note to self: triple this recipe next time and be lovin' on leftovers all week long!
Enchiladas Verdes
Cooks Illustrated

4 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 garlic cloves minced
1 ½ cups low sodium chicken broth
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 ½ pounds tomatillos
3 poblano peppers
1 – 2 ½ teaspoons sugar
½ cup fresh cilantro
8 ounces pepper jack cheese 
12 corn tortillas
Vegetable oil spray

½  cup Sour cream
Juice from one whole lime
Cayenne pepper

1.   Turn on the broiler. In a large skillet, heat oil and add the onion, tossing to coat with oil and cook until they begin to soften about 3 minutes. Add the cumin and 2/3 of the garlic and cook another minute until fragrant. Add the chicken broth and the chicken breasts cover and cook until the broth starts to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked to 160 degrees, 15-20 minutes. Reserve the broth and let the chicken cool.
2.   Roast the poblanos either in the broiler by slicing down one side and spreading open. Scrape out the seeds and veins if you want less heat, otherwise leave them be. Lay the peppers on a sheet pan or the broiler pan and roast until the skin is blackened. You can also do this over the open flame of the stove top leaving the peppers whole and turning with tongs. Either way, once blackened place the peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap and let them steam and cool down a bit. Then scrape the blackened skin off.
3.   Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the tomatillos: remove the papery skin and stem, slice in half across the widest part (the equator). Lay the tomatillos, cut side up on a parchment covered sheet pan and brush them across the top with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tomatillos are soft and begin to brown, about 20 minutes.
4.   In the food processor add the cooked vegetables, sugar, salt, remaining garlic and ¼ cup of the reserved broth. Pulse until the sauce is still a little chunky.
5.   In a medium bowl, shred the chicken with two forks. Stir in the cilantro, grated pepper jack and salt to taste.
6.   Transfer the sauce into the skillet and heat. One at a time, dip a tortilla into the sauce so it softens enough to roll. Lay the tortilla on a plate, place about 2 tablespoons of filling in the middle and roll up. Lay the enchilada seam side down into a casserole dish and repeat. Pour the remaining tomatillo sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup cheese over the sauce and cover tightly with foil.

7.   Bake the enchiladas until heated through and the cheese is melted and serve. Drizzle with crema and sprinkle sliced scallions on top 

Cilantro Lime Rice
Martha Stewart

Prepare white rice:
1 cup white rice
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Into the blender:
½ cup cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons water

Toss into cooked rice