Wednesday, February 26, 2014

petit basque & mac

petit basque & mac, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
This is the latest from Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. This bowl of creamy, swirly, sweetly roasty, cheesiness is called Petit Basque with Roasted Garlic, Shallots & Gemelli. I was super excited to try this because it just looked so damn good (as the I-just-wanna-jump-into-the-page-headfirst photography inspires) and in my pursuit of furthering my cheesey gourmandese, I wanted to get my mitts on some Petit Basque, a sheep milk cheese we sell at the market.
Until yesterday, I knew absolutely nothing about sheep milk cheese. I suspect I've tasted it at the market but I don't recall ever eating in any kind of quantity.
A little Cheese 101 I got from The Cheese Chronicles an educational and entertaining adventure through the world of American made cheese:
Sheep milk has a higher fat content than cow or goat milk making it a little richer and creamier. Fresh sheep milk is also very fragile, if handled roughly those big fat globules burst, resulting in a cheese that's sheepier and more barnyardy and unappealingly oily...quoting a quote that was quoted in the book: You should taste the milk, not the animal. Thusly, quality is definitely the key because there are apparently some bad sheep milk cheeses out there.
The Petit Basque comes from the French Pyrenees Mountains where fat little sheep roam around munching on fresh mountain grasses and wild herbs. It's a medium-hard, aged (70 days), small format cheese. Sheep are small, well... smaller than a cow, and produce about 4 pounds of milk a day verses the 40-50 pounds of milk a Holstein produces.
Insert small rant<  scary thing from the book: industrial dairies that produce some those big bricks of cheap supermarket cheese (not to mention the milk), come from cows that are given growth hormones that push the daily milk production of ONE cow up toward 130 pounds. A day!! That's insane!!! Now I get it. Now I understand why you gotta pay for good cheese.  The 10 ounces of  Petit Basque this recipe calls for runs just shy of $16.00. It's definitely worth the occasional indulgence> end rant

This recipe rocks on so many levels. It's a great introduction to sheep milk cheese because the Petit Basque is relatively mild, beautifully creamy, boasting flavor notes of light caramel and subtle fruit. Enhancing the cheeses inherent sweetness is the slightly burnt and sweet caramelized element of roasting 2 heads of garlic plus some lightly caramelized shallots. So needless to say, but I'm saying it anyway...savory sweetness shines.
Here's a link to the recipe.
It's worth noting that when salting, I like to wait until after the cheese is melted into the sauce. This isn't a very salty cheese, but I like to taste the nuances that the salt begins to bring out, so taste, then add a little salt, stir, wait a minute, taste, repeat. The garlic will start to sing a little and the sweetness will enhance. Stop salting when you feel the flavors are optimal...or as they say, salt to taste.
I am now committing to explore sheepy cheeses in more depth. Whilst researching Petit Basque I came upon this article  by Stephanie Stiavetti, one of the authors of Melt. It got me all on a tear to make a gratin using it, seeing as I'm bouncing around between macaroni and grains. This gratin from Smitten Kitchen is just the perfect jumping off point. Farro? Mustard greens?

Monday, February 24, 2014

The California Barley Bowl

The California Barley Bowl, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
And now a for brief interlude in my pursuit of macaroni and cheese nirvana, this California Barley Bowl came up on my radar last week via 101 Cookbooks. I was intrigued on a couple of levels. First and foremost: it looked absolutely gorgeous as Heidi's amazing photography always does. I was also amused at a little coincidence that Heidi's inspiration for this recipe came from a new cookbook called Whole Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon. I had just been admiring the book at work a few weeks back when Megan Gordon, the author herself, came by the market to do a demo and book signing.

So when I opened up my email from 101 Cookbooks, I high-tailed it to the store for some arugula and yogurt, feeling pretty damned good about myself for the healthy 180 and the fact that I already had the majority of essential ingredients on hand, including some amazing Sir Prize avocados I managed to snag from the "Sad Produce" box at the market. The surprise about this type of avocado is that from the outside the Sir Prize when at it's optimal ripeness, is dark and super squishy, you'd think it was rotten, yet you cut it open and its the most amazingly vibrant green and yellow and buttery good perfection inside. It's perfect for smashing into guacamole or onto piece of grilled bread, or just spooning it directly into your mouth, not super great for cubing or slicing picture perfectly to fan out and gorgeously garnish your salad top. It's a good thing I'm not into perfection. Really, I'm not.
Anyhoo, this kind of grain bowl one could conjure up with stuff in the fridge and couldn't be easier once you've cooked up your grain of choice and even easier to plan to cook up big batches and freeze it up in 2 cup portions. The frozen package can be pulled out of the freezer, contents dumped into a big mesh strainer or colander, run cold water over it for a minute or so and break up the grains. Put the grain into a microwave safe dish and microwave in 1 minute increments, stirring until the grain is no longer cold. You don't want to get it hot or else it will wilt the greens. I like it when its just slightly warm.
I added some crumbled blue cheese to this and it was amazing and the poached egg? well this is just breakfast bowl nirvana.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Avocado Mac 'n Cheese

Avocado Mac 'n Cheese, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
"The only reason I work out is so I can eat more cheese". That's Ricky Gervais's quote from "back of the napkin" in the current Bon Appetit. I love that. I shall steal it. Except I don't work out. Anyway, I'm obsessing with cheese right now, taking advantage of my awesome workplace and the expertise I have access to everyday. I want to learn more about cheese. So here's what's been going down in the little kitchen.
You may not know this but, I love love love avocados and clearly, mac & cheese, but I have to say that I was initially not so keen on the idea of this combination on my initial pass through the pages of Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese and had the photo I present here been any part of that page I would have slammed the book shut in horror. My cheesy little cell phone cam does not do this dish justice. The photographs in Melt are stunning and the recipe for Beecher's Flagship Cheddar with Avocado, Lime, and Shell Pasta suddenly sang to me when I spied the little pile of imperfect avocado swag at the market the other day, I then headed over to the cheese counter to get the skinny on the Beecher's.
Beecher's Handmade Cheeses come out of Seattle's Pike Place Market. The space houses the fromagerie (the cheese making facility), a cafe, and a retail space. Sounds pretty cool. The Beecher's Flagship is a moist, semi-hard white cheese, sort of a hybrid of cheddar and gruyere. Beecher's doesn't actually call it a cheddar as it uses cultures that aren't normally introduced into cheddars. It's not as tangy as a cheddar, it's a nuttier, mellower deal and that's just fine.  At my market we carry Beecher's Flagship Reserve, which is a dryer, more concentrated version of the Flagship. It took a little nudge to get it to melt than had I used the moister cheese, but when all was said and done, it was a hit and I will be planning my next mac 'n cheese tutorial.

A couple of notes:

This dish is ideally meant for immediate and total consumption due to it's avocado-ey tendency to turn grey by the next day. That's the only leftover down-side but if you give it a little stir, it's fine. I splashed a tiny bit of water in the bowl and covered it tightly with plastic wrap, pierced it with a fork and microwaved for a minute, just taking the chill off and slightly warming it.

The cheese measurements in the book are by the ounce. When purchasing cheeses from specialty stores the pre-wrapped cuts are labeled by fractions of a pound. This confused me 'cuz  I'm mathematically challenged, so it was helpful to make myself this:

2 ounces = .125 of a pound
3 ounces =  .1875 of a pound
4 ounces = .25 of a pound
5 ounces = .3125 of a pound
6 ounces = .375 of a pound
7 ounces = .4375 of a pound
8 ounces = .50 of a pound
9 ounces = .5625 of a pound
10 ounces = .625 of a pound
11 ounces = .6875 of a pound
12 ounces = .75 of a pound
13 ounces = .8125 of a pound
14 ounces = .875 of a  pound
15 ounces = .9375 of a pound

This is more of a way to figure out the cost more than anything. I get my cheesemonger to cut it and do the math.

Note to self: Bike the long way home.

Next up: Point Reyes Original Blue with Pecans, Figs (or dates) and Shell Pasta

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Gruyere & Emmentaler Macaroni & Cheese

I threw this little bit of heaven together last week when I was in serious need of comfort food and when it comes to comfort food, it's gotta involve cheese. I finally got my mitts on my library wait-list copy of Melt: The Art of Macaroni and CheeseHow the book came on my radar is still a chain of links that I can't even recall, but I took one look at the cover, I knew I must possess it, even if only for 3 weeks. Inside there's one gorgeous, mouth-watering recipe after another. After tagging pretty much every dang page, I got down to some serious study whilst trying to decide where to start.
I am sooo lucky, not only to live in the foodie mecca that is San Francisco, I also have a whole world of amazing artisanal cheeses at my fingertips every day because I work here and I just so happen work along side some the best cheesemongers in the business, like this guy.
Turns out there are endlessly wonderful ways in which macaroni meets and mingles with a vast variety of cheeses.  I shall explore as many ways as my heart, wallet and waistline will permit. 
I have to admit that my first line of editing the number of tagged recipes was cost. Many of these artisanal cheeses can cost upwards of $30 a pound, and when you're tossing meat into the pot,'s not an after-work, week-night family dinner.
Fortunately, I don't have to cook for a family. Just me. Eating Mac 'n Cheese all to myself. I decided to start with a simple classic. Gruyere and Emmentaler Macaroni and Cheese. The cheese purchase included Cave Aged Gruyere and Holey Cow, an Emmental-style cheese from the Central Coast Creamery in California. The recipe includes Black Forest Ham cut into 1/2 inch chunks. I bought the sliced version and cut it into small strips. I also included some left-over Italian sausage.
My only mistake was buying the sourdough from my neighborhood super-market. I thought the small "fresh-baked" house-brand boule would be just fine. Wrong. It wasn't until the next day I tasted  the leftover bread  side by side with a fresh Acme sourdough baguette that I saw the light. The boule was remarkably doughy and sour-not in a good way at all. It was so awful, I just let it dry out for bread crumbs.
I've been learning a lot of valuable lessons after almost a year at the market, the most important being spend the extra $ for the good stuff. The more flavorful your components are, the less you need. The less you need, the less you spend.
This turned out beautiful in spite of the bread debacle. The flavors were rich and savory and didn't take much to satisfy. What used to be a 4 serving casserole (in my world) is 6 with ingredients like this and thusly cost effective.
Good Stuff!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

So Gouda.

So Gouda., originally uploaded by michele wynne.
If this is wrong, I don't wanna be right.
If I had a Valentine I would make him this. If I wanted to land a potential valentine, I'd make him this. If I wanted to kill a valentine, I would make him this every day. I have none of the above.
In my sometimes, way too solitary world, hot dogs are a decadent treat. So, so, soooo bad, unidentifiable animal parts, nitrates, fat, artery clogging cholesterol...blaaahdiblaahdiblaaah...
but lately I've been craving a good old fashioned hot dog. It started with the Super Bowl shoppers at the market and now I'm gearing into baseball and thoughts of my favorite afternoons at AT&T Park (the only time I generally will consume a hot dog-oh... and the occasional trip to Costco).
A few weeks ago, I had a 30-something techie kinda guy come through my line at the market with the makings of his Friday night dinner, a package of "Let's be Frank" dogs, a bag of 4 Acme hot dog buns, a 24 ounce bottle of artisanal microbrew ale and a chocolate pot de creme. I said "Wow! that looks sooo good. I want to take that exact same basket home with me tonight". He laughed and that's when he admitted it was  his Friday night dinner. Funny, not only did it trigger my hot dog cravings but it triggered this completely nonsensical observation: Guy in his 30's, I'm thinking this is the perfect quickie-pre-party-all-night dinner. Guy in his 40's??? Dinner and Netflix. Hmmnnn...sounding pretty good. Guy in his 50's? He's got the uncured hot dogs from 4505 Meats, a good bottle of Cabernet and an $8 bar of Dandelion dark chocolate. Even better. Note to self: practice witty banter.
Anyhoo...This crazy dog came about when I managed to nab some day old Acme hot dog buns and a perfectly ripe avocado from the break room. I also had just been sniffing around the cheese counter earlier in the day while a wheel  of Boerenkaas gouda was being cut. Wow, what a knock-out. It's young, creamy and buttery. I'd originally planned a killer grilled cheese with it.

Here's what went down:

Caramelized onions (a staple condiment in the little kitchen)
Dijon mustard
hot dog or a sausage of some kind (I admit to buying all beef hot dogs from Fresh & Easy)
a gouda melty cheese-cut into long strips
a good quality hot dog roll- I like Acme

Open the buns and place in the oven (far from the broiler heat). Turn on the broiler. Bring a pot of water to  boil and cook the dogs until they're done-all plumpy. Remove the dogs from the water and cut a slice down the center but not all the way through, shove the cheese down into the crack. Remove the buns from the oven and lay them open in a broiler proof pan and lay the dogs in the buns.  Broil just until the cheese is melted. Prepare the dogs with whatever you like: slather on the Dijon,  caramelized onions (I warm them in the microwave a bit first) and avocado.
Depending on your broiler, check on the dogs after a minute and then at frequent intervals until edge of the meat is slightly blackened and the cheese is melty but not running down onto the pan.

Enjoy. This is great with a spicy amber ale. oh and maybe a salad if you've got the room.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Just show up

my view, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
It didn't take long at all for my one and only New Years resolution to go south.
The intention was to fully commit to the blog one way or procrasting-waiting for inspiration to hit, but to chase after it with a club and not going all OCD to find or pick the recipe-that-must-be-made, actually making it and then getting it all picture perfect so it can be photographed at 10:15 in the morning when the light comes through the kitchen window at just the right angle. Sheeeesh!
The idea was to post some thing relevant, inspiring or interesting...kind of like that Parisian guy who snaps off a pic every single day and blogs about it. 
This morning I read an interview with Molly Wisenberg, the brains behind Orangette. She said the most important thing you can do is just show up. Alrighty then.
One of the places I show up regularly is my inspiring foodie haven Bi-Rite Market here in San Francisco and lucky for me, it's my job. 
Right now I've got two irons in the fire: Sweet Cream Pancakes, a-work-in-progress inspired by the best pancakes I've ever had-thanks Black Bear Diner and a macaroni and cheese from this gorgeous cookery book: Melt-The Art of Macaroni and Cheese.
Stay tuned....