CHEESE, GLORIOUS CHEESE

I’m not from Wisconsin but could I be the original cheesehead anyway?  I have loved cheese for as long as I can remember- in any way, shape or form but loose (like cottage cheese, although it can replace Ricotta cheese in lasagna in a HUGE pinch).  Everyone has a preference to what cheese they prefer but REALLY, I don’t know anyone who won’t eat some type of cheese unless they are allergic to dairy or a vegan.

My friend Jackie insists that one day she will raise a milk producing goat so that we may all have wonderful, flavorful cheese.  Of course, all of her friends will care for this sweet goat while she and Tom travel- HA!

These goats are raised in the US and even on the East Coast.  But let’s face it, fromage de chevre from the Loire Valley in France, has to be the best.  70% of all French goat cheese is made there and available here.  I am certainly not a connoisseur but I have eaten US farm raised goat cheese and it does not compare in taste or texture. Most likely because the flavor not only comes from the goat’s natural hormones but from what it eats.  When Bob and I traveled to Paris last year I thought I had died and gone to cheese heaven.  Goat cheese is often my go-to-cheese used in recipes.  Most commonly it is purchased soft and easy to spread or melt.  Sad to say, however, not everyone loves goat cheese like I do!  I wanted to share so many recipes using a variety of cheeses; however, there is nothing worse than a blog that bores you to death by its length.  That being said let me share just a few recipes that use different cheeses as the star ingredient and are always requested again.

ALI’S GOAT CHEESE/ROASTED RED PEPPER CROSTINI

Quite simply, this is the easiest appetizer to prepare.  I always have a baguette in the freezer.  There are no decent local bakeries (yet) and I have not mastered the art of bread making.

To prepare the roasted red peppers:
Wash 2 red bell peppers.  Place directly on a high flame grill or under the broiler in the oven.  Turn until each side becomes charred.  When done, place peppers in a paper bag x 20 minutes.  This step will allow the skin to easily peel away and seeds removed.  Cut peppers into 1/8 inch slices and marinate in olive oil with salt and fresh ground pepper for at least one hour at room temperature.

To prepare the bread:
Cut ¼ inch slices of baguette at an angle (2-3 pieces per person).  Brush each side with olive oil.  Bake at 400 degrees x 5 minutes until golden brown.

To prepare the crostini:
Spread each slice of prepared baguette with as much goat cheese as you would like.  I typically use herbed cheese to save a step but you can use fresh chopped tarragon, basil, rosemary or Herb de Provence to flavor plain cheese.**  Top each slice of baguette with  2 slices of roasted red peppers.
**If you don’t care for goat cheese (WHAT??????) then substitute your favorite soft cheese.
I am begging you; PLEASE do not use roasted red peppers from a jar.  They are so easy and quick to roast and I believe, NO, I am sure that the preservative changes the wonderful sweet, roasted flavor.

 ALI’S POTATO LEEK GRATIN

I originally found this recipe in Bon Appetit magazine years ago but it was too long and involved to prepare.  You would have thought my beloved Julia Child wrote it.  My recipe is shortened but still somewhat labor intensive.  And a quick word about leeks; cut off the root end and darker green leaves.  Split in half lengthwise and wash thoroughly.  Definitely worth the time to prepare this dish.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 T. butter
  • 3 medium leeks, cleaned and chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 T. flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 3 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

1.  Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add leeks and sauté until tender but not browned.  Add garlic and sauté 30 seconds.
2.  Whisk in flour, stirring constantly for 1 minute.  Gradually whisk in milk.  Add salt, pepper and thyme.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens.
3.  Remove pan from heat; stir in cheese until melted and smooth.
4.  Pat potatoes dry*.  Layer half of the potatoes in a lightly greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
5.  Pour half the sauce evenly over potatoes.  Repeat the layer.
6.  Bake, uncovered at 375 degrees for 50 minutes.
7.  Remove from the oven and let stand 10-15 minutes to allow liquid to set.
*Make sure the potatoes are dry or the gratin will not set properly.

My dear friend Nancy made it her own by adding sliced baby bella mushrooms sautéed with the leeks.  It was fabulous and a terrific dish for a dinner party.  The perfect accompaniment to any meat.

ALI’S POUND CAKE WITH MASCARPONE CITRUS CREAM

Another extremely easy, yet impressive recipe…

My sister Tricia makes an incredibly rich, buttery pound cake but you can quickly make this recipe with store bought pound cake for an instant hit dessert.

Mascarpone cheese is a mild Italian cheese that is very similar to cream cheese- best known for its use as a layer in the Italian dessert tiramisu.  Mascarpone blends splendidly with citrus in this recipe to make a lovely whipped topping.  Because it is thicker than whipped cream, it has other uses such as an icing.  Now that I think about it, it actually might be quite nice on your pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving!

INGREDIENTS FOR THE CAKE:

  • Prepared pound cake, cut into 1 inch thick slices
  • 2 T. melted butter
  • 1/3 cup honey

INGREDIENTS FOR THE MASCARPONE CREAM:

  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 T. fresh orange juice
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large oranges, segmented

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray baking pan with cooking spray.  Arrange pound cake in a single layer on the pan.  Brush each slice with butter and drizzle with honey.  Bake 7-8 minutes until light gold in color.  Set aside to cool.
2. Using an electric hand mixer, beat all mascarpone cream ingredients until stiff peaks form, approximately one minute.
3.  Spoon cream over cake slices, top with orange slices and serve.

WOW, LOVE THE CHEESE!  These three recipes could actually be a meal.  Make it, name it and call it your own!  Bon Appétit!

ALI

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