A Year and a Day

What did we eat for lunch on June 23rd last year?

This:

Reception Spread 1
Reception Spread 2
Homemade bread, compound butter, big salads of farmer’s market greens with raspberry-mustard vinaigrette, big bowls of berries, three kinds of cheese (including Gruyere, an aged goat and a tangy Brie-like cheese), a smoked salmon-pink peppercorn tart in an almond crust, and a three-layer fritatta, with a roasted red pepper layer, a spinach layer and a cheese layer.

And for dessert?
Wedding cake

Wedding Cake.

Wedding cake and lemon cheesecake

Specifically, an almond cake filled with mixed fresh berries and frosted with vanilla bean whipped cream and decorated with red currants and a lemon cheesecake topped with lemon curd and black currants.

And what did we have for lunch on June 23rd this year?
Anniversary lunch

Sea scallops wrapped in radicchio and pancetta, then grilled and served with a red lettuce salad from the farmer’s market.

The scallop recipe was beyond simple–sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper, wrap each one in a radicchio leaf, and then wrap the leaves with a slice of pancetta. My slices were inexpertly wrapped at the butchers, and thus had unraveled. I ended up just wrapping it around and around and around each little radicchio bundle and securing the ends with toothpicks.

Who am I kidding–I used about 3 toothpicks per bundle. I am not good at food-skewering.

The grill caramelized the radicchio and infused the flavor of both the pancetta and radicchio into each scallop. In spite of the fiddly eating required by all the toothpicks, it was delicious, especially from our unaccustomed seats under our lawn umbrella (which we haven’t set up, sadly, since our wedding reception). Teacherman poured an Alsatian wine to drink alongside the meal–it reminded him perfectly of the wines from our honeymoon.

Lunch was wonderful, yes, but what did we eat for dinner? Last year, we didn’t eat anything for dinner. Our reception was still going on, and due to the enticements of the lunch board, we’d eaten too much of everything.

This year, though, lunch was elegant and austere. And so, for dinner:

Anniversary dinner

Chocolate-peanut butter cookies and chocolate-peanut butter ice cream. What’s the point of being a grown-up if you can’t do this sort of thing every now and then?

(I have to admit, though, that I don’t feel remotely like a grown-up. Even though I’m nearly 30, and even though I’m married, I still have to remind myself that I’m not a kid. Thus, of course, the ideal dinner of cookies and ice cream).

If you’ll forgive my sentimentality (and if there’s one day a year when one is allowed to be sappy, one’s wedding anniversary ought to be it): Here’s hoping that we always feel this ridiculously young, and that each anniversary is as lovely–and delicious–as this one.

Published in: on June 23, 2008 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

No Vengeance, Please, Vegans

I love vegan cookbooks. 

This may come as a surprise to those of you who have seen my recipes for fish with bacon, chocolate truffles with bacon, and even bacon-from-the-ground-up, but I love vegetables just as much as meat, sometimes more. 

Vegan cookbooks are a wonderful place to look for vegetable recipes, because, obviously, vegetables are, for them, the whole point of eating.  I love cooked greens with ham hocks as much as the next (non-vegan) person, but sometimes I want the bright, clear flavor of a vegetable all by itself, or a crisp salad unsullied by salty crunchy bits.

I have, however, an unfortunate tendency.

Sometimes, when I make the recipes, I add animal products. 

The problem is protein–I can’t survive a meal without it.  If I don’t get a significant amount of protein at every meal, I will, in fact, faint.  It’s happened before, and it’s not fun.  And while I’m not a knee-jerk carnivore, and while I adore tofu and beans and lentils, I don’t want more than half of my meals to be leguminous.  Thus: meat or cheese. 

(I don’t know why I feel guilty about it–I change other recipes in ways that their authors never intended all the time–but I do).

The other week, I checked Veganomicon, a humongous and engrossing new vegan cookbook, out of the library.  I loved every recipe that I tried, but when the book went back to the library, there were plenty of wonderful ones that I hadn’t gotten to.  Instead of the recipes, I now had jotted notes, combinations of flavors: “Brussels sprouts, roasted, garam masala.”  “Chickpeas–do things!”  “Tofu, barbecue sauce, broccoli?”

The note that colonized the meal-planning section of my brain, though, was “kale enchiladas.”  I love kale, I love enchiladas, and, after the day-long blizzard last Friday, I needed simple comfort food.  (Explanatory note: my father is from New Mexico.  Thus, for me, even though I grew up in Iowa, Southwestern flavors are redolent of childhood, safety and comfort).

What I had: 1 bunch of kale, 4 tortillas, 1 can of tomatoes.  I made the tomatoes into a quick sauce by sauteing a minced shallot in oil, then adding garlic, the tomatoes, and a raft of southwestern spices.  (I know that real enchiladas are made with a chile sauce, not a tomato one, but I was making this up as I went along).  After everything cooked together for about 15 minutes, I turned off the heat, let the mixture cool a bit, then whirled it up in the food processor.

I tore the kale into bite-sized pieces, steamed it, and then added a big spoonful of the sauce.  I wrapped the lightly suaced kale in the tortillas, put them into a greased 8*8 pan, and poured the rest of the sauce over the top.  They looked great, but there was something missing–something that would take them from Extremely Good to Ultimate Comfort. 

Sorry guys: my platonic ideal of an enchilada includes cheese. 

The very last of the locally produced cheese–a chipotle cheddar–came out of the freezer, where I’ve been hording it.  It was, with difficulty, grated, and the rust-tinged crumbles scattered over the tortillas in sauce.  I baked the dish for 45 minutes at 350, until the cheese was browned and bubbling, then let it cool for about 10, until it was still hot, but not molten.

It. Was. Perfect.

The greens, sauce and tortilla had retained their integrity, but had so melded their flavors that they might have been one item: each flavor was distinct, but present in every bite, with no sharp edges between them.   The combination of a cooked green and a tomato sauce was almost reminiscent of spinach-stuffed pasta, even though the seasonings were completely different.  And, also similar to a stuffed pasta dish, the blanket of cheese held everything together and added a layer of chewy caramelization. 

The dish would have been delicious even without the cheese–I admit this.  I would have loved it, and not missed the dairy at all.  But I’m not sorry I added it; it made an extraordinary meal on a cold, cold night.

Published in: on March 28, 2008 at 7:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Priznel 2.0

The first dish that my husband (then my brand-new boyfriend) cooked for me was a long-standing family recipe called Priznel. Priznel is a kind of a quiche, made with cottage cheese, grated hard cheese (usually jack, or something else white), eggs and lots and lots of cooked spinach.

What Teacherman didn’t know was that I despised cooked spinach. I’d tried to eat it innumerable times–I’ve mentioned my struggles here before–but no matter what I did, I still hated it. (Why, you ask, did I keep on trying to eat something I loathed? It annoyed me that I couldn’t conquer the dislike, so I tried with all my might to get past the raw-metal flavors and the the slimy texture. And yes, I made sure to have spinach cooked by capable cooks, even surpassingly brilliant ones, but nothing worked. I still hated it–cooked, at least).

In any case, Teacherman made me Priznel. After many hours of cooking (we ate ate 9 pm that night, I believe), he proudly presented me with a dish of the only food that I absolutely hated. And I had to eat it.

I did manage to, and I didn’t mention that I was revolted by every spoonful I consumed (it didn’t help that the Priznel never did get fully cooked through). I smiled my way through the meal, but firmly sent all the leftovers home with him. Unfortunately, this politeness meant that I had to eat Priznel at every family function I attended for the next year or two, as Teacherman and I became more and more involved as a couple.

It wasn’t until we were engaged that my mother off-handedly mentioned my wretched feelings about cooked spinach. A look of horror appeared on Teacherman’s face. “Why didn’t you TELL me!” he said, “I would have completely understood!” This is probably true. But my inner politeness switch had refused to budge, and, as I mentioned, I had been trying to learn to like the stuff.

In fact, I’m still trying to learn to like it. I’ve almost succeeded–at this point I can handle wilted spinach, especially if there are lots of spices involved, but not the fully-cooked type. (I should point out, here, that I enjoy fully cooked greens of every other variety, just not spinach. This, of course, is because no other cooked greens taste like rust).

This year, we spent Easter with Teacherman’s sister and her family–my in-laws had driven in from Detroit, and we all contributed to what turned out to be a brunch of epic proportions. My entries? A raspberry-ginger cheesecake for dessert, and, for the main meal, a recipe so similar to Priznel–but, in my opinion, so much better–that I actually may have converted the family.

Last month, while doing some research on ancient Roman cuisine, I read a lot of cookbooks about food from the modern Mediterranean, in order to become aware of the evolution of various dishes over the centuries. As might be expected, I ended up copying down a lot of recipes, as well as the information I was looking for. In an encyclopedic book on modern Greek cuisine, I found several recipes for egg-cheese-and-greens pies and casseroles. One in particular caught my eye–it seemed almost identical to Priznel, but with a very important exception. Instead of spinach, it used curly endive and romaine lettuce.

Otherwise, the ingredients were incredibly similar. A grateable cheese (kasseri), a soft, creamy cheese (feta), and eggs. The Greek casserole also included herbs–leeks, scallions and parsley, and one extra flavoring: chopped Kalamata olives. I knew immediately that I wanted to make the casserole, and I also knew that I wanted to make it for Teacherman’s family. Luckily, the Easter potluck presented itself, and I set to work.

Saturday night I washed two small heads of curly endive and two romaine hearts, then wilted them in a large pan until they were thoroughly cooked. I drained the greens in a colander, then squeezed them completely dry, and put them into a large bowl. Next, I chopped and washed two leeks and a whole bunch of scallions, then sauteed them in a little oil until lightly browned. I added the aliums to the greens, along with the chopped leaves from an entire bunch of parsley and half a cup of olives, also chopped.

Once the mixture was cool, I crumbled up 10 oz of feta and 7 oz of kasseri cheese (the recipe called for slightly different amounts, but those were the sizes of the cheeses I bought) and mixed the crumbles into the greens, along with a tiny pinch of salt, and several grinds of black pepper.

At that point, I covered the bowl and put it into the fridge. I left it there overnight, but this was for the sake of convenience, rather than any necessary ripening step. I wanted to make the casserole right before we left for brunch, the meal was due to take place at 10 am, an hour’s drive away, and the casserole needed an hour in the oven. I didn’t want to get up at 5 am to cook the greens, so I did everything ahead.

The next morning, I let the contents of the bowl come to room temperature while I preheated the oven to 350, then I mixed in four beaten eggs. I poured the mixture into an olive-oil slicked 9*13 inch pan, then let it bake while I readied myself for the family gathering.

After one hour, the casserole was finished cooking, and I packed it–covered in foil and wrapped in many layers of dish towel–in a conveniently sized cardboard box. Away we went!

I was a little nervous about presenting Teacherman’s family with a bastardized version of their Priznel–understandably, comforting traditions often matter far more than taste–but I needn’t have. The group dove into the pan, taking generous portions, and, in many cases, going back for seconds.

“This is definitely the new Priznel,” Teacherman whispered to me.

“Man, I love anything with cooked spinach in it!” said one relative.

Teacherman and I looked at each other. We didn’t say a word.

Published in: on March 23, 2008 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dinner for Breakfast

Teacherman and I spent Saturday up in Madison, WI, attending their absolutely amazing farmer’s market.  We have a tradition of going up once a year, in the fall, and stocking up on every variety of apple that appeals to us.  There are lovely apple varieties available down here, but there’s a particular orchard that sends produce to the Madison market, and for the most part we can’t get their exciting, antique varieties anywhere else.   As you can see, we bought quite a few varieties (Wealthy, Hudson, Russian Raspberry, Cox’s Orange Pippin [my favorite] and one that I can’t remember the name of).

Our trip was fruitful (har har), and we came back home with two big coolers full of produce, cheese and meat.  We usually forgo meat at the farmer’s market (we’d love to buy it, but the price is a little steep for our budget, even though we realize that it’s just) but we found two farms selling beautiful, free-range, natural meats for prices that were well within our range.  We bought beef and pork and chicken and rabbit, and would have bought more if we’d had the cash on hand. 

Of course, Madison being the capital of Wisconsin, there was cheese available, and since we’re us, we brought home more cheese than we did meat.  Though we concentrated mostly on varieties of cheddar, we also found a producer making delicious blue cheese.  It was hard to decide between the four available varieties, but in the end we went with Tilston Point, the most medium of the four–it wasn’t overly pungent, but it wasn’t too creamy and mild, either. 

We didn’t purchase the cheese with any use in mind, but when later in the morning I bought a big basket of Concord grapes and a tiny bag of black walnuts, the three items locked together in my mind and I knew I had a meal. 

One might expect that we ate those lovely things for a light dinner (especially since we ended up eating our dinner in a park, preparatory to watching a free opera benefit concert), but in fact we ate it for breakfast the following morning.  I sometimes find blue cheese too intense on the palate that early in the morning, but in this case I was too excited about trying the combination of flavors to pay it much mind. 

I toasted the walnuts while Teacherman made coffee, then arranged equal portions of the grapes, nuts and cheese on each plate. 

The combination of flavors really was wonderful.  Some might not care for Concord grapes as a table grape, having been overexposed to fake, Concord-esque grape juices as a child.  I don’t think I’ve had grape juice of any variety for 15 years, though, and I don’t find the Concords unpleasant at all.  They are very sweet, but I find that syrupy fruitiness contrasts well with the bitter walnut skins and the butteriness of the cheese–exactly why grapes, nuts and blue cheese are such a classic combination. 

Published in: on September 14, 2007 at 7:30 pm  Comments (1)  

Bountiful Berries

Voila!  A tart!  A tart with very little indication that it had been attacked by a crust-crazed feline!  (Forgive the blurriness).

This was a lightning-fast dessert to prepare, once the crust was made (and repaired, but that only happens to me).  I mixed mascarpone cheese with a splash of rum, about a lemon’s-worth of zest, and just enough sweetener to tame the overly cheesey nature of this particular brand of mascarpone.  (I wish I could tell you that I made the mascarpone myself, but this was not the case.  Mascarpone is the one cheese that I have tried numerous times, and failed to come close to each time.  Someday I will prevail, but I’m still working on it). 

I spread the cheese mixture into the tart crust, then topped it with two pints of enormous, thumb-sized blackberries, purchased last weekend at the farmer’s market, and then two or three handfuls of white currants, frozen since June.  I didn’t bother to defrost the currants, since they were so small that the travel time to the party would be sufficient to do just that, and currants don’t tend to get too horribly juicy when frozen and thawed. 

The finished tart was no trouble to carry to the party (I put it inside an upturned box lid, and though it did slide around, it didn’t crack or slop), and beautiful to present once there.  All of the guests loved it, and had no idea that the crust was cat-nibbled; I did still take the repaired, hole-y piece for my own, though, just to be safe.

Perversely, though the tart was very well received, I’m a little reluctant to make it again.  It’s easy and delicious and beautiful, but I’d rather not make anything that requires posting a guard on it for the entirety of its cooling time. 

Published in: on September 12, 2007 at 6:35 am  Leave a Comment  

This Could Get Expensive

On Wednesday I tasted buffalo mozzarella for the first time. 

I’ve eaten a lot of fresh mozzarella since I discovered it five years ago.  Purchased, homemade, big, small and tiny, hot and cold, on soup and on pizza, every which way.  However, all of this mozzarella was made of cows’ milk.  It’s not that I object to non-bovine dairy products, but on the whole, buffalo mozzarella is more expensive than cows’ milk mozzarella, and I am not so flush that I can ignore the distinction.

On Wednesday, though, I wanted insalata caprese for lunch, and since I would be the only one eating it and I didn’t forsee any other occasions for mozzarella consumption on the horizon, I was reluctant to buy the 12-16 oz of mozzarella that most places sell in one container.  Instead, I blinded myself to price and bought the small container of one ball of buffalo mozzarella. 

At home, I chunked the tomatoes and tossed them in a bowl with Maldon salt and some of the enormous basil that my garden has lately been producing.  I sliced/chopped up the mozzarella, too, idly putting a naked piece of it into my mouth as I slid the rest into the salad bowl. 

Good lord! 

I actually dropped the knife.  I have never tasted anything like that before.  It was . . . it was . . . .  I almost called Teacherman on the phone at work to tell him that I just didn’t think I could handle it.  It was that good. 

And even though I have never had it before, what struck me about the taste was how familiar it was.  Not the familiarity of a long-cherished food, but the familiarity of the brain, where one KNOWS how things OUGHT to taste. 

It was creamy, with the shaggy texture of most mozzarella, but it can’t be compared at all.  I tasted the freshness and character of the cream, but the taste it most reminded me of was, of all things, buttered toast.  And no, it’s not that it tasted of butter, it tasted like nothing I can articulately describe–buttered toast is just the only thing that my overwhelmed brain can come up with.  It tastes like the idea of buttered toast remembered after a long abstention.   It had the deep flavor of something caramelized but the light freshness of of something raw.

Goodness.  Imagine how good it would have been if it had been really fresh; I hear buffalo mozzarella is best the day it’s made.

Published in: on August 31, 2007 at 6:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Still Life With Lunch, the Final Chapter

Freiburg was our favorite place of all. Not only is a beautiful university town with a stunning cathedral, all located with in (in my opinion) the best part of the Black Forest, but our hotel was right on the cathedral square and that square hosts a six-hour farmer’s market six days a week. The market extends all around the cathedral in a two-sided hoop, with gustatory delights on either side. It was plum season. It was cherry season. It was the season for every other summer fruit delight. We were seduced by the cheese stands and by the meat and sausage counters and looked (but alas, did not purchase anything) at the smoked fish cart.

Every day, as soon as we had finished working our way through the bountiful breakfast spread inside the hotel, we’d venture out into the market and buy food for lunch and/or dinner. Before we left, one of my colleagues had scoffed, saying “what use is a farmer’s market—you won’t have a kitchen.” This is undeniably true—our hotel room was a bedroom only—but to think that nothing for sale at a farmer’s market could be edible until transformed by cooking is nonsense. We bought cherry tomatoes, covered with golden speckles and more flavorful than I’ve ever had. We bought tiny gherkin cucumbers, meant for making cornichons, and ate them by the handful, like popcorn. We bought sweet, earthy carrots and tongue-numbing radishes—once we even bought radishes thinking that they were carrots! We bought innumerable kinds of cheese: weinkase, blue, sheep’s brie, chevre coated with pink peppercorns (excellent when spread on a perfect apricot), and once, a tiny, perfect thimble-sized container of crème fraiche. Nothing has ever been better on a strawberry. We investigated various meat stands, buying heavily smoked ham, lightly smoked ham, and various kinds of dried sausages. We bought olives, we bought pickles, we bought nuts; we ogled, but did not buy, spices, plants, eggs, and the most beautiful mushrooms I’ve ever seen. (I made up for this last by ordering chanterelles fried in butter in every restaurant that served them. It was the most worthwhile expensive passion I’ve ever acquired). We had four days to try as much from the market as we could, and we barely skimmed what was there. Every market-based meal we had was perfect—we would have happily eaten every meal there. Next time we visit, though, we will have a kitchen (I don’t know how, but we will); those eggs are calling to me.

Published in: on July 16, 2007 at 9:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Still Life With Lunch, Vie Francaise

There is a lot of food in France.  Significant portions of the whole are in Strasbourg.  I think I may have eaten most of it.  Due to such exceptional greediness, we didn’t take pictures of any of our picnics, and we were too afraid to take any pictures of restaurant meals (in spite of the utter transcendence, of, say, the choucroute avec confit de canard et lard fume at the restaurant overlooking Strasbourg cathedral, or the restaurant devoted to using cheese in every way humanly possible [not to mention the attached boutique de fromage, where we practically lived]).  Strasbourg farmer's marketInstead, we have a sole picture of the Strasbourg farmer’s market–or rather, a picture of a cheese stand therein (a cheese stand that also sold bacon, as one can see in the foreground, and stationed next to a sausage cart, which you can see in the background).  Just out of the frame is the stall where we bought the most intriguingly flavored wild blueberries I’ve ever tasted–they were so concentrated and winey in flavor that they tasted like raisins.  Yes, they were definitely blueberries.  Yes, they were definitely fresh, not dried.  They were exceedingly good, not to mention tres unique.  (And it didn’t hurt that we ate them sitting in a churchyard in the Vosges mountains looking towards a misty Romanesque mountain settlement).

Also, in Selestat, a town just down the road from Strasbourg, we found The House of PAIN.  Strasbourg farmer's marketYes, I know that pain is just the French word for bread.  Allow me to be self-indulgent: when I was in high school I edited the literary magazine.  Faced with a never-ending stream of missives on the blackness of everyone’s SOUL, another board member and I, both of whom were in the same French class, came up with a silly method of diffusing the adolescent angst surrounding the discussion of such literary gems at board meetings.  The poems, you see, were really about bread, not pain.  Thus, while Teacherman found the Maison du Pain funny purely on an English-cognate level, I doubled over in wheezing giggles at the memory of those long-ago meetings.  I may have even produced a few scraps of remembered scholastic verse, to mark the occasion.  It’s a good thing Teacherman didn’t leave me there on the curb.  The bread looked excellent, I must admit.  

Too be continued, of course. . . . 

Published in: on July 14, 2007 at 8:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Fresher Than Fraiche

Yes, it’s true.  I make cheese at home.  I know that this sounds excessive and may push me over the edge into the realm of crazy survivalists, but I really make cheese for the same reason that I do all of my unusual cooking projects–because it’s fun. 

I first made cheese because of a friend.  I’d invited my college dance partner and his then-girlfriend to visit me for Thanksgiving, and, at the time, he was known far and wide as an extremely picky eater.  One thing that I knew he did enjoy was the fresh cheese he ate for breakfast every day; he didn’t make it himself, but someone in his family did.  In an attempt to provide him with an acceptable breakfast, I threw caution to the winds, trawled the Internet for instruction, and made fresh cheese. 

It took absolutely no effort at all–milk and lemon juice were my only ingredients, an old pot, a slotted spoon, a colander and a cheap thermometer (a meat thermometer, actually) were my equipment.  It took me about 20 minutes to heat up the milk in the pot, stirring it occasionally with the spoon.  When it reached 165 degrees, I added the lemon juice.

Foosh!  Instant cheese!  The lemon juice coagulated the milk into big, fluffy white curds and thin, greenish whey, exactly the color I always imagined the moon would be if it really were made of green cheese (even though I realize now, of course, that it wasn’t really green cheese they were referring to, but new cheese.  Leave me alone: I formed my original idea when I was five).

I poured the contents of the pot into a colander lined with paper towels and watched the whey drain off, leaving the curds behind.  After most of the whey had precipitated out, I let the mixture sit in the fridge for a few hours, until it was about the consistency of the cheese I remembered from my friend’s house.

His visit came.  The cheese was approved.  I sighed with relief and moved on.  But I had made cheese!  I felt so cool!  I knew I had to try it again. 

I made that lemon cheese for several years–for using in cheesecakes, for filling lasagnas, for eating plain, with fresh fruit or chopped herbs–but had never branched out until about two years ago.  One day I idly noticed that a cheesemaking class being given at an event I was already attending.  More idly still, I decided to take the class.  The instructor made lemon cheese, using almost exactly the same recipe I do, and mozzarella, using minimal ingredients and even more minimal time.  Mozzarella?  This was something I definitely had to try.

I bought the book she recommended (Cheesemaking Made Easy by Ricki Carroll).  I perused the websites the book suggested.  I bought the cultures and rennet and cheesecloth.  I made mozzarella–it was really good.  Then I made feta–it was not so good.  Then I tried it again with modifications that made sense and it was fabulous.  I’ve made chevre, leipajuusto, queso blanco, panir, sour cream, creme fraiche, yogurt, cream cheese, cultured butter, whole milk ricotta and real, whey-based ricotta.  All good ranging to great; all definitely worthwhile. 

I’ve discovered that, counterintuitively, regular supermarket milk responds better to the cheesemaking process than fancy organic milk (from, admittedly, fancy organic supermarkets).  The one time I was able to get some raw milk (definitely hush-hush and under the counter), though, it made the most amazing cheese that I’ve ever eaten–it tasted like eating flowers.  I can only assume that the organic milk was pasteurized at a higher temperature than the ordinary supermarket kind.

I admit that I’ve never made a hard cheese.  I have the equipment (a cheese press sulks forlornly in a box on top of my kitchen cupboards, waiting for its chance to go to the ball) and the ingredients (one uses the same cultures and rennet for nearly every kind of cheese, just in different quantities and added at different times and temperatures) but I have nowhere to _age_ the cheese.   As soon as I can find a sterile, contained 60-degree environment with adjustable humidity levels I will make an aged cheese, but until then I’ll stick with the softer ones. 

Which brings me to the point.  Once Teacherman and I had decided on the menu for our wedding reception, and I saw that one of the dishes required creme fraiche, I knew that I had to make the creme fraiche myself.  It’s cheaper, yes, but it’s also incredibly neat to make something so ‘fancy’ out of something so easily available.

After dinner tonight I heated a quart of half-and-half in a small pot on the stove until it reached 86 degrees.  I stirred in the starter culture, put a lid on the pot, and moved it to someplace it could sit undisturbed for 12 hours.  Tomorrow morning before work I’ll check the contents, to see if the resultant creme fraiche thick enough for me.  If so, I’ll put pot in the fridge.  If not, I’ll leave it to continue culturing until after I return home from work. 

The extent of the effort is the heating and stirring–nothing more is necessary.  Almost no cheese is easier (except for cream cheese, which doesn’t even need to be heated: just stir the culture into room-temperature cream, put a lid on and let it sit overnight) and few recipes of any kind result in such a lovely, voluptuous product.

This creme fraiche will fill three almond-onion crusts and be topped by smoked salmon, dill and cracked pink peppercorns.  It won’t be the star of its particular show, but its presence will be noted and appreciated.  Even if that note and appreciation are only from me, it will be worthwhile.

Published in: on June 18, 2007 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

More Cheese, Please!

In twenty-six days Teacherman and I leave for our honeymoon: two weeks in the German Black Forest and in Alsace (which, in spite of Teacherman’s pseudo-naive assertions, is in FRANCE).  We are both far too excited about the food.

Sure, we read all the guidebooks and marked down the museums and castles and natureparks and picturesque towns that we wanted to go to, but in the midst of this genteel cultural orgy there would inevitably come a shout from whoever was in the other room:

“Do you think we’ll be there during asparagus season?”

“Look at the website for this cheese shop!”

“Strasbourg geese!  That is all I’m going to say: Strasbourg Geese!”

I think our most extreme moment of glee came when we realized that the farmer’s market in Freiberg is held Every Single Day on the square directly out the front door of our gasthaus.  There was some imperfectly-suppressed joyous leaping. 

And, because I always like to know what I’m getting myself into, I’ve been trying to read cookbooks from the region.  For the most part, this was a futile excercise.  Hearty Germanic cusine is not remotely “in” right now, and both regions, Alsace in particular, tend to be slighted in books of recipes meant to represent the entire country (whichever one that happens to be).

I was elated, therefore, when I discovered Black Forest Cuisine by Walter Staib on the New-Book shelf at the library.   I won’t give a review of the book here–I don’t actually know enough about the subejct to be a reliable auditor–but I will say that I loved the recipes, the traditional salad recipes in particular.  They hearken back to the self-created salad recipes of my childhood (meat, cheese, dressing, ancillary vegetables), but are so far above them in quality and inspiration that they really can’t be compared thereto.

My current favorite is for something called a Camembert Cafe Frei.  A whole round of Camembert is broken into pieces and mixed with a finely chopped amalgamation of chives, onions, caraway seeds and paprika, then served on top of lettuce and sliced radishes. 

I made the recipe last Sunday night, as part of our travelling cooler-fodder picnic.  The cheese I used was not a Camembert, but a something-without-a-name-I-could-discern, from Normandy.  It was runny and pungant, though, so runny that it couldn’t be broken into bits.  Instead we sprinkled the oniony mix-ins over the top and ate it bite by bite, chasing the chives around the plate and dipping the cheese into them. 

Wow. 

I know that the taste of the final dish had everything to do with the quality of the ingredients (the amazing cheese, the chives and shallot [because I had no onions] from the farmer’s market) , but it was still a revelation.  It was incredibly rich, but not so rich that I wanted to stop eating it.  The radishes and the lettuce provided a contrasting spicy crunch that worked well as an alternate bite with the gooey cheese. 

This is a recipe worth saving.  And, more, worth hoping to find in Germany itself.

Published in: on June 1, 2007 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment