Archive | March, 2012

Bernice’s Cheese Crackers

27 Mar

B’s Mac and Cheese takes me back to my childhood. It feels like my grandmother always had macaroni cheese in the oven when we arrived at her house, as it was my older sister’s favourite dish. Complete and utter comfort food. Yum.

B was just describing to me how much her young niece and nephew love these cheese crackers, to the point where her mother Bernice bakes them as a special treat whenever she visits the kids.


They are pretty easy to make too.


You’ll need… yellow cheeses, butter, plain flour, sea salt, and chives (or even spring onion if you have no chives).

I grated the cheese, I had parmesan and cheddar on hand. I then chopped my spring onion finely.


I put all of the ingredients in to a blender…


and blended until well mixed.

I then rolled the mixture in to largish walnut sized balls, and squashed them flat with my hands, I  flattened them further with a fork on the baking tray. B says she squishes them well and good with a flour dusted base of a glass to make them even thinner, before she flattens them more with the fork. Next time I’ll give that a go, I imagine they would be super crispy.

I sprinkled each cracker with some sea salt and set them in to the oven.

I baked them for around 15 minutes, until they were lovely and light brown underneath.

They were perfect with a glass of white wine before dinner.

I’d ask where you are going to take us next B, but I know already.

Just the other day, B and I spent hours cooking together with super cook Karen Gay in my parent’s Melbourne kitchen. We’d love to fill you in on the favourites we made, the dish Karen invented, and all the chopping and mixing we laughed over.

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BERNICE’S CHEESE CRACKERS

ingredients
1 1/2 cups of plain flour
1/2 tsp salt, plus sea salt to sprinkle over crackers
1/2 cup butter
1 tbsp chopped chives
2 cups (250g) grated cheese, you can use any mix of cheeses.

Mix all together in food processor until completely combined.

Roll in to small balls, then flatten with your hands. Place on baking tray and then flatten further with a fork. To get an even thinner cracker you flatten the dough first with the base of a glass which dunked in flour, and then use a fork to flatten further.

Sprinkle with sea salt and bake at 350F (180C) for 12-15 min or until very lightly browned.

Remove to cooling rack. Try to resist them, I dare you.

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Macaroni and Cheese

18 Mar

All this cheese talk has made me very hungry. Well, that and the fact that I’m currently sitting in an airport having eaten only those little ginger cookies that they feed you on the airplane these days.

But back to cheese. Alice, that cheese recipe was great! Such a sophisticated dish to serve to guests.

There’s something about cheese that is very comforting. And what is more comforting than adding it to macaroni, topping it with crunchy crumbs and baking it?! I didn’t grow up with macaroni and cheese, but I discovered it as an adult and set off to learn how to make the good creamy home-made stuff, not the stuff from the little blue box.

Here is my favorite macaroni and cheese.

It calls for quite a bit of cheese, as might be expected.

You can use any kind of cheese you like or even a combination of cheeses. I like to go with cheddar for the nice orange color and Gruyère for a nice tangy flavor.

Shred the cheese first, as things move very quickly once you get cooking. It’s best if you shred it yourself, as the convenient bags of pre-shredded cheese you can get from the grocery store tend to be tossed in something to keep them from sticking together into one massive glob. That also keeps the sauce from getting nice, smooth and melty.

See, it’s not THAT hard to shred it yourself. Really.

After the cheese is ready, it’s time to move on to making the roux. Roux is a way to thicken a sauce by cooking butter and flour together before adding the liquid, which in this case is milk.

So, start by putting a pot of water on to boil for cooking the pasta, heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat, then melt the butter in a large heavy bottomed pan over medium/low heat

once the butter is melted, add the flour and stir around until it is fully incorporated into the butter.

Let it cook for a little while, so the flour taste is cooked out of the sauce. Then pour in the hot milk, whisking all the while

Whisk until the milk has been fully incorporated into the flour mixture and is smooth and starting to thicken, then toss in the cheese.

Mix until the cheese is all melted,

then add the cooked and drained pasta.

Mix it all together until it is fully combined

then pour into a baking dish

Prepare the bread crumbs – I like to use Panko bread crumbs, as they are finer, flakier and lighter. Read all about them here.

Mix the crumbs with melted butter and some grated parmesan cheese

sprinkle over the macaroni and cheese and bake until the cheese sauce is bubbling and the topping is browned

Look at that cheesy, gooey, crunchy goodness!

Macaroni and Cheese

(inspired by the Barefoot Contessa recipe)

1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 quart (4 cups) milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces (4 cups) Gruyère, shredded
8 ounces (2 cups) extra-sharp Cheddar, shredded
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, six to eight minutes (don’t overcook it as it will cook a little further while it is baking). Drain well.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt six tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for two minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Add the Gruyère, Cheddar, salt and pepper. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter, combine them with the bread crumbs and two tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the crumb topping is browned on the top.

Enjoy.

OK, Alice. What next? Your move.

Soft White Cheese (Labna)

8 Mar

When B and I caught up in New York last year, we ate freshly baked Pão de Queijo walking along busy streets, making our way to Chelsea amidst the cars and beautifully dressed kids. Nice memories.

I thought an appropriate response to B’s cheesy balls, was a cheese, in a ball. I am logical like that.

If you are anything like me, you have always wondered how to make cheese. I love cheese, pretty much all cheese to be honest, but soft white cheeses especially. Here is a super simple way to make cheese from yoghurt. I believe it originates in the middle east. The name I know it by is Labna.

All you need is…

Yoghurt and some salt.

Then to store and flavour the cheese, some olive oil and garlic. I also used a little rosemary.

When I say simple… I really mean it.

All I did was…

mix some salt into some yoghurt.

Then I set up a sieve over a bowl, and you line it with either two layers of muslin, or as I have always done… just a piece of cotton fabric, into which you pour the salted yoghurt.

I then tied up the parcel.

The whey started to drip in to the bowl straight away. I put this in to the fridge for two days. I keep an eye on the whey and empty it out if it is starting to get close to the base of the sieve.

After two days… it was ready to go…

I took the cheese out of the sieve and gave it a gentle squeeze to get the last of the whey out.

Then opened it up and voila, a large ball of cheese.

I made walnut sized balls from the cheese, and put them in a container I had prepared with a layer of oil.

It is best stored in olive oil, in a shallow container, so it remains in one layer as the cheese is very soft.

I then crushed a few cloves garlic with the side of a knife…

And put them in to the oil around the labna balls. I had some fresh rosemary around, and added that too. The garlic adds flavour within minutes.

To store, keep it covered in the fridge… apparently it lasts for a week or so. Never managed to keep it for that long. I also love it on top of pan fried lamb cutlets and I did plan to show you how that looks, but… ahem, it didn’t last that long either. Let’s just say, this batch was enjoyed with friends, within hours.

I am curious where B is going to take this, I threw a bit of a curve ball. Tag!

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SOFT WHITE CHEESE – LABNA

ingredients

600g (20 oz) plain yoghurt
1 1/2 tsp salt
I have always used pot set yoghurt, the kind of yoghurt that forms edges when you scoop it out. Brands like Yoplait contain starches and gelatine and that just doesn’t seem right to me. This time I used a low fat yoghurt because that was all that was available but I would normally use a whole milk version. Either works well.

Olive oil for storing the cheese
5 cloves garlic, smashed with the back of knife
You can also add whatever herbs you would like to use, I added some rosemary, chives would be great too. Apparently Armenians add chives, dill and Aleppo pepper.

Method
Line a sieve generously with two layer of muslin, or a piece of pure cotton fabric, and rest the sieve over a bowl.
Mix the yoghurt and salt and then tip in to the fabric lined sieve. Tie up the fabric with a piece of string and leave to rest in the refrigerator for two days, keep an eye on the whey level and empty it if it is getting close to the sieve.

Open up your fabric parcel and make walnut sized balls, rolling the cheese in your hands. Place the balls in to a shallow container with enough oil to come close to covering the cheese. Add the crushed garlic and herbs. They are ready to eat. Cover and refrigerate to store.

Pão de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread)

2 Mar

I have been enjoying our exploration of Brazilian food for the past few weeks. My Mom happened to have a few pounds of oxtail in her freezer but didn’t have a recipe for making any of the dishes we used to eat in Brazil, so Alice’s recipe is very timely. Thanks, Alice!

I decided to try my hand at one of my favorite snacks, pão de queijo, which translates to “cheese bread”. It’s made with tapioca flour or in Portuguese, povilho which has the consistency of cornstarch, sort of squeaky and super fine. It’s more like a powder than flour.

In Brazil, you can get sweet or sour povilho and it’s the sour povilho that is used for this delicious snack. Here in the United States you can buy tapioca flour (also known as tapioca starch) in the gluten-free areas of most grocery stores. This is the equivalent of povilho doce or the sweet flour and it will work in a pinch. You may have to look in specialty stores. In my local store, I was able to find the tapioca flour as well as a ready made mix.

I’ve attempted pão de queijo from scratch about three times in my life and have never been able to make them as well as I’d like. Of course, my Mom once made this cheese bread and forgot to add the cheese, so maybe it’s a genetic thing.

On this attempt, I adapted a recipe that I saw on the foodie photography blog What Katie Ate. It called for the addition of a boiled, mashed potato, which I’d never heard of before in this cheese bread. It had a good flavor, but my first batch was over baked and quite crunchy, rather than being a bit soft and gooey in the middle. When I baked my second batch, I followed the directions on the recipe (duh) and added a bowl of water to the oven to help keep the little treasures from drying out so much. And what do you know? It helped! That’ll teach me to skim over a recipe.

This is a fairly simple method. Boil the potato and mash it up so it’s smooth.

Measure all the ingredients into a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer if you have one, as it goes much faster that way. Combine everything until it becomes a smooth dough. It shouldn’t be too sticky or too dry. Add a teaspoon or two of milk if it seems too dry to hold together nicely.

Next, roll the dough into balls. I usually make them bite sized, but you can also make them into large bun sized balls and use them for sandwiches.

Bake them for 15-25 minutes, depending on the size you make them. Don’t forget to add an oven proof bowl filled with water to the oven before you start baking them.
Once they are lightly browned on the bottom, they are done.

I love to eat these cheese breads topped with vinaigrette (vee-nah-grechy) which is a sort of Brazilian fresh salsa made with vinegar, olive oil, chopped onions, tomatoes and green peppers. I know Alice can’t eat green peppers, so she’s allowed to leave them out. Something else green would be good in it instead, maybe celery or chopped cilantro leaves.

Chop the onions, green pepper and tomatoes to a fine chop, you don’t want large chunks of anything in this vinaigrette.

Mix together in a bowl with the olive oil and red wine vinegar, adding salt and pepper to taste. This, like most things I cook, is very adaptable to your preference. You can add other ingredients as variations if you want to be creative. Sometimes I add corn and black beans and use lime juice instead of the vinegar and eat it as a salad or a tortilla chip dip. Go crazy with this.

I use Arisco as my all purpose seasoning. It’s just salt, pepper, onion and garlic, but the combination is not something that is easily replicated. I use it for everything. It is wonderful in meat marinates, added to my black beans or to my balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing – the sky’s the limit. You can usually get it at Brazilian stores or latin markets. If you are fortunate enough to be able to find it, BUY SOME! You will thank me later.

When the little pão de queijo is done, cut one open, spoon the sauce in it and enjoy. You’ll be back for more.

I have found a couple of good pão de queijo mixes at the Brazilian store and the mix shown at the top of the page was at my local grocery store. The mixes are usually quite good, especially if you add fresh grated cheese to them. So in this case, I am going against everything I normally would do and am recommending using a mix. So if you can find one, use it with my blessing.

Pão de Queijo

4 cups (500 gr) tapioca flour (starch)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups (250 gr) grated mozzarella cheese
½ cup (50 gr) grated parmesan
4 tablespoons oil
1 cup boiled mashed potato
4 tablespoons butter
1-3 teaspoons of milk, only if necessary

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place an oven safe bowl full of water on the top rack of the oven. This will help keep the rolls from drying out. Chop the potato and boil it in a medium saucepan of water. When it is soft, drain it and mash it with a fork until it is smooth.
Measure all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl, preferably in the bowl of an electric mixer if you have one. Combine the ingredients well until a soft dough has formed. If the dough seems too dry, add one teaspoon of milk and mix again. You can add up to three teaspoons of milk if necessary. The longer you mix it, the smoother the dough will be, so don’t skimp on the mixing.
Roll the dough into balls and place on a baking sheet. I rolled mine into the size of a golf ball, but you can go as large as the size of your fist. They won’t puff too much, so you can bake them fairly close together.
For the golf ball sized rolls, bake for 15 minutes, then check to see if the bottoms are light brown. For larger rolls, increase the baking time by 10-20 minutes. If you aren’t sure that they are done, pull one out and cut it open. Watch out for the hot steam – don’t burn yourself! If the outside is a little crispy and the inside is slightly gooey, then they are done.
Cut open, top with the vinaigrette and enjoy.

Vinaigrette

½ medium onion, chopped finely
2 tomatoes, chopped finely
½ green pepper, chopped finely
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper or Arisco to taste

Combine all the ingredients and taste. Adjust the vinegar or salt and pepper quantities to taste.
Serve on pão de queijo. This is also good atop grilled fish, as an accompaniment to beans and rice, a dip for tortilla chips or… just use your imagination. And please let me know how you’ve adapted it.

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