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Posts Tagged ‘cheese’

Twice-baked potatoes

So, here I sit, unwilling to eat a great many things.  Many of my previously known “favorites” are sadly neglected, and I’m searching desperately for something that appeals.  It’s rather disconcerting-you know.  I’m a food person, and it seems that I’m not so interested in food, of late.  And the larger problem is this: yesterday’s interests are thoroughly uninteresting today.  Leftovers?  Nope.  I keep trying to pawn them off on Scott.  I try to avoid opening the fridge if I can, because of the refrigerator smell- do you you know what smell I mean?  It never used to be so offensive, but now, now, with my over-sensitive nose, I steer clear of the fridge if I can… “Scott, will you look in the vegetable drawer and see what we have in there?”  “Scott, do we have enough milk for my cereal?”  “Scott, what are you making me for dinner tonight?”  And by the way, thank goodness that guy can cook a great meal!  I’d be lost and starving without him!  (Well, I seem to be starving anyway, but not for lack of eating…)

Last night I found myself cooking dinner for the first time in a month-and-a half.  Start to finish- I did it all!  Perhaps it wasn’t a complete meal, but it tasted good to me and I figure, that counts for a lot right now!

A friend of mine was telling me about his trists with twice-baked potatoes.  “Oooh”  I said, “that sounds really good.  Maybe I’ll do that for dinner tomorrow night”.  And I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I dreamt about it that night and shopped for the ingredients first-thing the next morning.  He said he used triple-cream cheese (one that contains at least 75% butterfat)  in the filling rather than the commonly used sour cream/ chedddar combo.  Mmmm.  I followed his lead and made these really yummy stuffed potatoes.  And you know what?  I made five of them, hoping, hoping, hoping that I’d be interested in the leftovers.  And you know what?   I am!

I had the idea to throw olives into the mix because of the super-delicious twice-baked potatoes of my childhood.  Has anyone ever been to Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola? My best-friend’s parents used to take us on day-drives down to Capitola and Santa Cruz where we’d nibble, browse and play our summer days away.  Those twice-baked potatoes have never left my consciousness, emblematic of “the golden life”- to be sure!

Twice-baked potatoes a great idea from Ken!
yields 5 servings

  • 5 medium russet potatoes
  • 6 ounces triple-cream cheese (I used our locally made Mt. Tam)
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • 15 each medium sized olives, pitted and roughly chopped (anything but the American canned black olive will do!)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • kosher salt to taste
  • a drizzle of pure olive oil or vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Meanwhile, scrub the potatoes and lightly coat them with oil.  Pierce each one with a knife (to prevent explosion in the oven!) and set them on a cookie sheet.  Bake for about 1 hour, or until they are easily peirced with a knife, showing no resistance.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.

When they are just cool enough to handle, slice off the top 1/4 of each potato and set the “hat” aside.  Using a spoon, gently scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl, leaving about a 1/4-inch of “shell” behind.  Lightly scoop the “hats” too, using the same premise.  Lightly sprinkle the shells and hats with salt and put them back in the oven to crisp for about 10 minutes, while you mix the stuffing.

With a large fork, break the potato flesh down and begin to mix in the cheese, scallions, melted butter, olives, salt and lots of pepper.  Remove the shells and hats from the oven and carefully fill each shell with the stuffing.  As for the hats, you can do a couple things…give them a shmear of the stuffing for “potato skins” or throw them in the freezer for a mid-day snack later on!  (I froze mine, and have cheddar cheeze and bacon bits in mind!)

Choose a saute pan or baking dish that can go in the oven.  Drizzle a bit more oil in the bottom of the pan, and place the potatoes on top of the oil (this will help to make their bottoms nice and crispy!).  Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 more minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees for 5 more minutes.  They’ll brown lightly on the top and form crispy bits.

I highly recommend letting them cool for about 5 minutes before digging in- they’ll be like molten lava!

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My new love

Monte Enebro, sometimes called Montenebro is my new love.  It’s considered a  Spanish goat’s milk bleu because the rind is washed with the same bacteria as is used for Roquefort, penicilium roqueforti, but the interior of the cheese remains snow-white.  The cheese literally melts on the tongue like butter.  It’s dense and goaty- but not overly pungeant as some bleu cheeses can be.   It’s made in a long, flat, loaf-type shape and is typically portioned out into rounds.  Our only choice was to buy the end-cut, so we did a lot of scooping!  If you can’t find it at your local cheese shop, check the web- I googled it and found quite a few cheese websites selling it…and I think it would really be good served on crackers with the melting onions in red wine that I’ve got cooking right now! (pics and recipe to come!)

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So there we were…sitting on the couch…watching baseball…(watching The Yankees)…on a ridiculously hot day…eating a Cobb salad…and I thought to myself…I feel so American right now.  And it was fun.  And we hooted and hollered as Derek Jeter tied Lou Gehrig’s record for 2,721 hits…and I wondered if the neighbors could hear our cheers.  And never having been a sports fan in my life, I thought… I could get in to this.

But please.  Don’t get your hopes up about Fantasy Football.  I just don’t think I have it in me.

For our Salade Americaine

I used “Little Gem” lettuces which are a cross between a butter lettuce and romaine.  You could easily use either one with tasty results.  I then made a creamy dressing using creme fraiche (but you could also use a combination of buttermilk and sour cream).  I minced some tarragon and stirred it into the creme fraiche.  Then I added a few splashes of champagne vinegar and a few glugs of extra-virgin olive oil and lots of freshly ground black pepper, and whisked it together.  I tossed the lettuce with some of the dressing and put it on the plate.

I placed a spoonful of black-eyed peas on one side, some diced Jack cheese on another side, and a huge dollop of caponata on another side.  Tomatoes went smack-dab in the middle.  More dressing drizzled over the whole thing, and mmm, did it hit the spot.

What?  Caponata isn’t American?  Creme fraiche either?  Harumph.  We live in a melting pot baby!

Oh, come on.  I know I left out the ham…so call me a bad American.  But I think you’ve heard my rant on rules already…

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Panir in the spring

My first taste of Panir was prompted by a co-worker.  Stunned that I’d never tasted, or even heard of the cheese, she told me that I must go pick some up.  I confess that the only one I’ve ever tasted is the one that Cowgirl Creamery makes and they call it “Niloufer’s Panir”.  That is, Niloufer Ichaporia King, the author of My Bombay Kitchen.

Cowgirl Creamery is a cheese shop located in Point Reyes Station, but they have an outpost in the Ferry Plaza Building in San Francisco, which is virtually exploding with really great cheese, and customers who want it.  The cheeses they make find their way onto restaurant menus across the bay area, and they also distribute artisan-made cheeses from small-time producers in America and Europe alike.

If you happen to live close enough to either of their locations to pick up some of their panir, do it!  But I’ll warn you of two things.  First, they don’t make it year-round, so you may want to call first.  (Though I’m sure you’ll be able to find something else you love while you’re there).  Second, a little, tiny container costs something upwards of $6.00!  But it’s well worth it, and as you’ll see if you make this recipe, cheese making can be costly.  Especially if you’re using organic milk.  A whole lotta milk gives you a little cheese and a lotta whey! (But if you’re creative, you can use that delicious whey instead of pouring it down the drain.)

My understanding is that there are two types of panir. There is a firm version that can actually be cooked with, and there is a soft version that’s more along the lines of cream cheese.  This second version is what Cowgirl Creamery makes and it is also the type that this recipe makes.

I have no idea what Cowgirl Creamery’s recipe is, but I was thrilled to open up our restaurant copy of My Bombay Kitchen and find Niloufer’s recipe there.  I made it right away and really like it.

And as for “panir in the spring”, I think it is the best season for pairing it with fruits and vegetables.  Usually I eat it on crackers, but thin slabs of toasted bread is great too.  You could top it with raw, tender peas, and a little black pepper.  Or how about thin-sliced raw asparagus?  Or even raw, young fava beans.  Plain ol’ extra-virgin olive oil is great too. But I also love to eat it with strawberries.  And as soon as the rest of the summer berries come in to season, you’ll just be in heaven!

Seriously, how can you resist these with a spoonful of Panir?

Seriously, how can you resist these with a spoonful of Panir?

It goes without saying that you should use the best quality milk, cream and yogurt you can get your hands on.  A cheese like this sings of the flavor of the dairy itself.  (Happy cows make happy cheese, right!?)

Panir from My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King
yields 1-1/2 cups cheese

Note that a good, tart yogurt works best in this recipe.  If your yogurt is fairly mild, you may need to add up to a 1/2 lemons’s worth of juice to help it curdle.  Stir it in over moderate heat.

  • 1 cup cow or goat’s milk yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons  sea salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 4 cups whole milk

Stir together the yogurt, salt and cream. Set aside. Put the milk in a pan roomy enough to allow it to climb up as it boils without overflowing. Set the saucepan over moderately high heat. When the milk comes to a boil, let it come all the way up to the top of the pan.

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Lift the pan off the burner while the milk subsides.  Do this four more times. After the fifth boil subsides, add the reserved yogurt-cream mixture and quickly whisk it into the milk until it just begins to separate. It should look like a cloudy sky breaking up, not a solid overcast.  (Those are her words exactly, and I just love them!)

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Pour into a non-reactive mesh strainer lined with muslin or a thin kitchen towel, placed over a large bowl.

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After most of the whey has dripped through into the bowl, about 15-30 minutes, fold the cloth over the curds, and place a 1-pound weight on top. Save the whey for ricotta, making dal, or for cooking beans or lentils.

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