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Posts Tagged ‘Cheese’

After we spent all weekend anxiously awaiting the hurricane, the anticipated force never quite made it to this part of New Haven. The view from our apartment was surprisingly calm, with heavy rains lasting less than a few hours and winds being more gusty than sustained. Our power never went out, so we weren’t able to test out our hurricane-gourmet plan, but still enjoyed a delicious lunch of (mostly) cheese.

Upon a brief stroll through the neighborhood, we realized that we somehow lucked out and got off miraculously easily! Just about all of our neighbors are without power, there are trees down on almost every block, and several roads are closed off. Somehow, we managed to escape with just a few leaves adorning our car and a few stray branches, but beyond that, zero damage.

You’ll see in the photos above the view from our second-floor patio, several fallen trees in our neighborhood, and lunch. You may notice also that the quality of these photos are significantly better thanks to a very generous gift from some visiting in-laws!

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Wisconsin — the land of cheese and cherries and not a whole lot else. We just returned from a weekend away in Sturgeon Bay, a beautiful little waterfront town with Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. Door County is the hometown of one A.M. who recently married a good friend of Greg’s, A.U.

One thing I learned about A.U. on this trip is that he is “no respecter of persons” — in that he has little to no concern for silly social cues and codes, willingly befriending those that may be deemed unlovable. We spent a good part of the trip learning about various disabilities like blindness, deafness, and degeneration, and realized how silly the world can be with our values on physical perfection.

A few miscellaneous highlights:

Renard’s Cheese
An adorable little cheese shop off the main highway in Door County, where we learned that the leftover whey from making cheese is re-sold to calf-food-producers and packing-peanut-manufacturers. Think twice next time you pack up a box — these little  styrofoam nuggets are not vegan products!

The Lodge at Leathem Smith
Their online presence claims to be a “historic website archive” not worth linking to, but this hotel and reception site was very cute, newly renovated, and right on the water. It has beautiful grounds, and compared to the tiny-ness of Manhattan, seemed extravagantly expansive.

Snow Globes
Apparently not allowed on planes departing LGA.

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So here’s a confession: With temperatures in the mid-90s today and stifling humidity, this is certainly not a recipe we would ever recommend making in mid-July. However, given the dearth of recent posts, we dug a bit into the recesses of our repertoire and ended up with something decidedly autumnal: vegetable gratin. Now this is not to say that this recipe isn’t incredibly delicious, and that sitting in my air conditioned office I’m not salivating, but unless your kitchen is air-conditioned or you live in the southern part of the southern Hemisphere, you may want to hold off until the advent of cooler temperatures.

The problem is that cheese is just so good.  And baked things covered in bread crumbs are good, too.  So what do you do if you want to experiment with fun and exciting root vegetables?  Why not just smother them in cheese, top with bread crumbs, and bake in the oven? After all, we know that mac and cheese is delicious.  We know this is a good method for cooking spinach even.  And we all know that potatoes au gratin are a fine treat.  So why not swap rutabaga for potatoes and make a mac and cheese cousin?  Maybe even justify this cheese mess but adding some leafy greens.  Something sturdy, like kale, will surely do the trick.  And of course, don’t forget the caramelized onions.

So here’s the general system: get your vegetables.  Cook them (sautéing in a pan is fine) so that baking doesn’t leave you with a soggy mess.  If you can drain the water just by salting (like for zucchini) you can do that, too. (But personally, I think the little extra work to cook is worth the richer flavor.)  Layer veggies with cheese (if you want, and why not?) and cover with a hefty layer of bread crumbs.  Bake at 375 or 400 (I think you’ve got some flexibility) until the top is brown and the veggies are bubbly, maybe 20-30 minutes.

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Day Two in Ottawa was yet another culinary success. After dropping Greg off at the conference, I browsed through the shops and stalls at Byward Market and procured the following for a gourmet picnic:

1 loaf olive bread, The French Baker
1 wheel triple creme Brie, House of Cheese
$1 of wild boar and fig pate, House of Cheese
$5 of apricots, peaches, and blueberries, market stall
1 fig, Byward Fruit Market

We set up a small picnic outside the main conference site, complete with real plates and silverware procured from the hotel restaurant and a makeshift tablecloth, surely drawing the envy of many an economist. There aren’t too many places to eat right by campus, and we suspected that the majority of the other participants refueled at a nearby nondescript bar and grill type place with surely mediocre fare.
I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Ottawa while Greg was off hearing Daron Acemoglu (of instrumental variable fame) present on political regimes and institutions. Highlights from my afternoon included the following: touring the Peace Tower at Parliament (the castle-like structure above); happening upon a Syrian protest; obtaining an invitation to an invitation-only Iranian event at the National Arts Center; sitting by the Rideau Canal spectating a family of ducks learn how to swim. Highlights from Greg’s afternoon included a lecture on binary choice models with endogenous regressors.
When we reconvened for the evening, we went off in an ultimately failed street meat tour, Ottawa edition — a quest to try a variety of shawarma vendors in Ottawa. Spoiled by our initial journey to Shawarma Palace, 45 minutes later and half a dozen shawarma locales visited, we decided to trek back to Shawarma Palace, a 20 minute walk away. And our appetites were surely rewarded! The amount of food offered was constrained only by the size of the plate with some allowed amount of spillover onto the tray — tabouleh, hummus, shawarma chicken, cardamom brown rice, pickled vegetables and fresh vegetables piled HIGH on our plate, and a bag of pita bread tossed on the side. In a nutshell, it was awesome. And our recommendation is the following — even if you’re starving and accompanied by a big appetite-ed companion, a split order of a shawarma plate will leave you satisfied.
And this mostly concludes our trip to Ottawa. Greg is presenting this morning on Labor Allocation and Productivity: Consequences of the 2010 Health Insurance Reform, and then we’re off to New Haven!

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Homemade Cheese!

I’m often shocked at the price of milk.  I remember growing up my family would go through a gallon each day, which ended up being about $1,000 a year.  Milk, as with a lot of food, is more expensive in Miami.  But even in up here, milk can be expensive.

But this is about shock at the price of milk.  Somehow, Costco sells milk by the gallon for $2.  (Note: this is one reason we’re surprised when our bill at Costco is so much higher than $2 even though our main reason for going was to get milk.)  And milk is not one of those items you can stock up on (thanks, expiration dates) and it’s hard to change your diet to better incorporate this cheap ingredient (one can only have so many milk shakes).

But there is a way–fresh cheese, as I’m sure you guessed.  Oh, but making cheese could be so complicated.  You need to buy rennet (or something like that?) and…well who wants to try to make cheese when I don’t even know what rennet is?!  No fear, there is a better way: lemon juice.

Yes, all you need is milk and lemon juice.  One strategy: use the lemon juice with some milk to make buttermilk, and then make cheese by adding butter milk to hot milk.  Another strategy: add lemon juice directly to hot milk.  Or perhaps you see how these are two examples of the same strategy: add lemon juice and some amount of milk to hot milk.  We did one quart of buttermilk (which required a lot of lemon juice) to half a gallon of milk.  For a more ricotta-like mixture, half the buttermilk is best, we’ve been told.  And straight-up lemon juice will give you something closer to paneer (again, that’s hearsay).

However you make it, fresh cheese done this way is really easy, really fun, really impressive, and pretty affordable.  A gallon of milk makes about a pound of cheese, and the only other cost is cheese cloth (or stockings, I suppose).

Directions: Higher fat milk will be better, so why not use whole milk? Set aside 3 1/2 cups milk and add ~1/2 cup of lemon juice.  Keep adding if you need to until milk curdles and looks like, well, buttermilk.  On medium heat in large pot, bring half-gallon of milk to boil, stirring constantly!  When milk begins to boil up the sides, add buttermilk, remove from heat, and stir constantly (add 1T salt to taste at this point).  In a few minutes curds and whey will separate and the mixture will look like egg whites floating in soup.  Pour over cheesecloth,  grab ends of cheese cloth to make a ball (you’ll need to keep running under cold water so you can handle–it’s hot!) and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.  Tie cheesecloth to a spoon and hang over a pot for 90 minutes to let excess liquids leave.  You’re done!  Serve immediately, or store in refrigerator for a few days.

Note: you can also save the whey and use to make bread, but our bread wasn’t quite a success.

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Wow, it’s been a long time since we’ve posted.  Not sure how that happened.  I would like to blame it on various health problems (one person sick, then had an accident and needed stitches, then another suffered acute pains for a day landing us in the hospital, then is sick again), and travelling (we spent the early part of this week in DC!).  But that wouldn’t account for the past–was it 3 weeks?

So, to break the spell: we made a lovely spinach dish last night and a delicious mac-and-cheese the week before that.  Extreme irritableness due to illness prohibited us from taking pictures, but they looked like what you think they look like (feel free to use google images if you need help).  Give us some time and we’ll have lovely posts about mussels and fresh cheese and purple soup and extravagant cakes–all with pictures.

For now: both dishes are pretty similar, though they are on opposite sides of the spectrum.  Both are made with a base ingredient (pasta, spinach), a sauce made with a roux and cheese, and topped with bread crumbs and baked at 400F for 20-30 minutes..  However, one is certainly going to kill you in short order, while one is surprisingly healthy.

The mac-and-cheese (okay, it was actually shells not mac’) was to die for (and maybe I will).  We made enough for dinner and lunch the next day (or two?) and we both found ourselves salivating over our meal and emailing the other to say, “My lunch is incredible!!” (maybe it’s true that only one of us has salivation problems).  The spinach, on the other hand–I don’t worry for a second about overeating.  It’s a very light twist on the creamed spinach I grew up eating out of microwaved containers and at fancy New York steakhouses (thanks to the World of Finance for all those free dinners).  Hardly any butter, flour, or cheese, and no cream.

In either case, the bread crumbs really top it off (I swear I no pun intended). The texture is great–especially against the spinach. We made a less than stellar loaf of bread recently, which lives in the freezer and emerges to enter our food processor to make crumbs.  Fresh bread crumbs are pretty awesome.  It might be worth always saving away a slice of whatever bread you are having; the marginal cost (you don’t get to eat that last slice) pales in comparison to the marginal benefit (fresh bread crumbs on demand).

Mac and Cheese

1box pasta (shells, mac’, penne…)
half stick butter
3 T flour
2 cups milk
2 cups grated cheese
spices to taste
>1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400F, put water to boil, butter baking dish.  Cook pasta until 2 minutes from al dente, strain, run under cold water to stop cooking.  In medium saucepan, melt butter and add flour to form a roux, heat on medium heat until brown.  Stir in milk (which can be heated gently in another pan ahead of time) slowly, 1/2 cup at a time, with whisk.  Stir in cheese.  We used half cheddar, half romano because that’s what we had, but you could easily use gruyere or anything else for that matter.  And it’s possible we used closer to 3 cups.  Oops.

Add pasta to baking dish, stir in sauce.  Spice as desired.  We used paprika, red papper flakes, oregano, black pepper.  Top with bread crumbs and bake for 20 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Spinach Gratin

at least 1 pound of spinach
1T butter
1.5-2 T flour
1/2-3/4 cup grated cheese
1 cup stock
>1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400F and butter baking dish.  Cook spinach with butter in large pan (maybe a pot is in order)salted and covered until wilted.  It will really cook down.  Add flour and stir.  Add stock.  Add cheese.  Stir stir. Pour into baking dish, cover with bread crumbs, bake for 20-30 minutes.

This is a great simplification of the other recipes we saw.  You could cook the spinach, remove from the heat, shock with cold water, and squeeze out to drain; then make a roux, add stock, replace spinach, etc.  But our way does a good enough job, and came out plenty creamy, so why make things more complicated?

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We did it!! We successfully replicated a honeymoon staple!! Lemon-infused nutella, first mentioned here. You may remember, we were devastated to leave Amalfi without jars and jars tucked away in our bags, and this combination has since inspired many a torte and cookie.

But before I get too far ahead of myself… We’ve discovered recently that crepes are delicious, a great way to use up condiments, and also incredibly easy.  The batter is essentially a wetter pancake batter (from memory, I believe it’s 1 cup flour, 1.5 cups milk, pinch salt, optional tsp sugar).  Heat pan, butter pan, pour batter, swirl around.  When the top is dry, flip, wait 30-60 seconds.  Voila.  They have a short half-life, though, and really should be eaten immediately.  And when the kitchen is the place to congregate anyway, this doesn’t pose a problem.  What is a problem though is the stomach ache one gets from eating so much cheese and chocolate for breakfast.

Speaking of chocolate, we threw a crepe party two weeks ago for our very good friend and best man at our wedding Martin who had come a-calling for the 150th anniversary of the Yale Glee Club. We set up our crepe station at the stove with two varieties of cheese, two varieties of jam, and a heaping bowl of lemon-infused nutella.

Nutella is remarkably easy to make. It really just involves a bit of patience and the right equipment (a good food processor). A mini food processor or a Magic Bullet won’t quite cut it, but any standard good-quality food processor will do wonders. This will probably be equally delicious with peanuts or cashews in lieu of or in combination with hazelnuts. Because there are only a few ingredients involved, you’ll probably want to use the best quality of ingredients you can.

Lemon-Infused Nutella

1 cup hazelnuts, toasted
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
zest of half a lemon
2 T canola oil

In a food processor fitted with a chopping blade, liquefy the hazelnuts. Yes, liquefy. The hazelnuts pretty quickly go from cheery round things to finely ground nut-flour, but it takes quite a bit longer for the hazelnuts to be ground to the point of emitting fats and oils into true liquid form. At this point, an extra tablespoon or two of peanut oil or some other neutral oil will also help.

Add cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar, and lemon zest. Continue to blend until all ingredients are well mixed and the texture is similar to a nut butter.

Serve with crepes, on bread, in oatmeal, on pretzels, in heaping spoonfuls, etc.

* Note: confectioner’s sugar is very important in this recipe. Granulated sugar leaves a granular texture, whereas confectioner’s sugar blends much more finely with the other items.

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