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10/19/2014

~ For the LOVE of Cheese: PLEASE Cut it Correctly (+ the best tips I can give for wrapping and storing)! ~

IMG_5895Blessed are the cheesemakers.  They make hard, dry, grating cheeses; firm, moist, sliceable cheeses, and; soft, gooey, spreadable cheeses.  They make blue, white and yellow cheeses. Some cheeses are aged for years, others for a few months, and, some aren't aged at all.   They make herby, spicy, fruity and/or nutty cheeses.  They make mild, aromatic and strong, stinky cheeses.  They make cheese from the milk of cows, goats and sheep -- sometimes it's pasteurized and sometimes it's not.  There are a thousand+ varieties of cheese in this food world -- some are mass produced, some are specialty, some are artisan and some are farmstead. There are cheese societies that come up with cheese standards and government organizations that enforce cheese laws.  Yes, thanks to the cheesemakers, we live in a very cheeesy world!

I'm not here (at least not today) to explain the many different types of cheese, tell you where to buy your cheese, what kind of cheese to choose, what time of year to buy it, what time of day to eat it, what temperature to serve it at, what to serve it with, or, what to drink with it:

I'm here to explain what to use to correctly "cut the cheese"!

There are only two reasons to cut cheese:  to serve & eat it and/or to wrap & store it.  

Let's explore the wrapping and storing cheese first:

IMG_5908All cheese needs to be stored, even if it is just for the short trip from the cheesemonger's to your kitchen, and there are right and wrong ways to do it.  Once you get it home, unless you are going to eat it immediately, it needs to be stored in the warmest part of your refrigerator (the top of the vegetable bin works great).  There will be no discussion about freezing cheese on this post except to say:  do not freeze your cheese.  Except for certain processed cheesefeed products (like cheese that squirts out of can and pours out of jars), cheese is a living organism.  It needs to breathe.  Once upon a time, the most common way to store cheese was to wrap it in tightly woven cloths that had had been doused with vinegar then wrung dry.  This allowed the cheese to breathe without drying out.  A few purists may still do it this way, but I don't know these people.

IMG_5851For practical purposes, we must take a look at what wrappings most of us have on hand in our home kitchens.  For me, the list includes:  aluminum foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper and waxed paper, along with zip lock bags.  Here is a quick overview of my thoughts on all of them:

IMG_5860Aluminum foil and plastic wrap:  I put both of these in the same category because they are both airtight wrappings, which is ok if you just want to store cheese for a short period of time, 1-3 days.  Why? Neither allow enough of the gasses or moisture to escape (although aluminum foil does allow more than plastic wrap), which causes cheese to develop mold at a faster than normal pace (all cheese grows mold eventually). In the case of soft cheeses (like blues or chevre), plastic causes the cheese to get sticky and disgusting, alumium foil does not, so, I use foil for them for short-term storage.  For hard cheeses (like Asiago and Parmesan) and semi-hard cheeses (like Cheddar and Swiss), I find that either works fine. Purists will argue that plastic wrap imparts a flavor into the the cheese, but, quite frankly, I'm not convinced of that and consider it a non-issue, so, plastic wrap it is for them in my kitchen.

IMG_5870Parchment paper and waxed paper: I put these in the same category because they are both semi-airtight wrappings which give the cheese both air and room to breathe, which slows down the growth of mold, which in turn allows you to keep your cheese in edible condition for a longer period of time, 4-7 days (depending upon the cheese). Parchment paper and wax paper work great for any type of cheese, but, you still have to prevent the cheese from drying out, so:   parchment paper wrapped in plastic wrap is my choice for hard, dry grating cheeses.  Wax paper wrapped in plastic wrap is my choice for firm, moist sliceable cheeses.  One other thing I should mention:  brined cheeses (like fresh mozzarella and feta) require no wrapping and should be stored, in their brine, in an appropriately-sized food storage container with the lid on -- many times the container they came packaged in is just fine.

IMG_5879Formaticum cheese bags and papers:  Perhaps "my cheese has slid off my cracker" (I know I am getting older), but, I used to refer to "this stuff" as French cheese paper. At our local Wegmans, they sell sheets of it at a reasonable price. French cheese paper (now marketed by and as Formaticum, is a two-ply material designed to maintain optimal humidity, while not allowing water to accumulate, thus preventing the growth of surface molds.  The outer layer, which usually has logos on it to let you know it is the outside, is thin paper. The inner layer is a thin sheath of plastic containing microscopic holes.  This paper is amazing: it allows the gasses and moisture to escape without allowing the cheese to dry out.  No other wrapping is necessary (although you can place the wrapped cheese, several different kinds, each individually wrapped in Formaticum, in one open zip-lock bag for a bit of added protection.

In the end, how and what you wrap your cheese with is your choice, but, it is necessary to change the wrapping every few days, as well as, each time you unwrap it to slice and serve.

Now it's time to explore gadgets for grating and slicing:

IMG_5959Cheese can be cut into any thickness you want, but, the general rule is to follow the shape of the cheese.  For instance, for small wheels, discs, pyramids or squares, position the knife in the center and cut down and around it into equal-sized wedges.  Rectangular or cylindrical logs of cheese can be sliced into squares or discs.  Block shape cheeses can be cut into cheese sticks or cheese cubes.  To slice wedge shaped cheese, cut the large wedge in half lengthwise (thick side to point side), then slice into smaller, thinner wedges.  It is cheese -- not rocket science!

IMG_5913Cheese graters:  There are all sorts of devices for grating cheese on the market, and, they are all a matter of personal preference.  When it comes to the actual grating of cheese, there is only one rule:  

The softer the cheese, the coarser the grater/the harder the cheese, the finer the grater.  

I must mention that for large quatities of many types of cheese, the food processor is a big time saver.  Simply chop hard, dry grating cheese into chunks, place them in the workbowl and process using a series of rapid on-off pulses.  Via special slicing discs (mine came with my processor), firm, moist, sliceable cheeses may be quickly grated too!

IMG_5923Wire Cheese Slicers:  Wire cheese slicers are by far my favorite gadgets of the cheese world.  Any gadget with a taught wire will cut almost any cheese (except for hard, dry, grating cheeses) neatly and cleanly.  Depending upon the length of the wire, it will cleanly cut everything from a 4-ounce wedge to 5-pound block.  Note:  In the upper left is an Italian mozzarella slicer - an ordinary egg slicer (just below it) works well for smaller-sized mozzarella.  In the upper right is a vintage butter slicer - it's perfect for small blocks of cheddar and logs of chevre! 

IMG_5927Cheese Knives:  I know that if I lined up every cheese knife I own, tips-to-handles, they would circle the globe.  This is a small sampling. I've got got 'em in gold, chrome, stainless steel, silver and pewter -- I especially love the Chinese set with the enameled handles.  They are all designed to do specific tasks.  For instance, the small open-blade knife in the upper right is for slicing  IMG_5928soft cheeses like Brie.  What about those two large "plastic" looking knives?  Marketed as "The Cheese Knife", it comes in three sizes, and, the handle is designed to leave sliced cheese on the plate, not stuck to the knife -- and it works!

The season for wine and cheese is upon us, so, look sharp!

To get my recipe for ~ Bejeweled Brie Torte ~, click into Categories 1, 11, 18, 20 or 21: 

6a0120a8551282970b01675fc4e5a1970bFor the LOVE of Cheese PLEASE Cut it Correctly (+ the best tips I can give for wrapping and storing)!:  Recipe yields tips for wrapping and storing all types of cheese, along with receommendations for gadgets to successfully grate and slice all types of cheese.

Special Equipment List:  aluminum foil; plastic wrap; parchment paper; wax paper; French cheese papers; Formaticum cheese paper; cheese graters; cheese wires; cheese knives

IMG_3378Cook's Note:  For another one of my cheese lovin' posts, also perfect for any wine and cheese celebration, check out my post ~ Confessions from a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover ~.  The recipe is in Categories 1, 11, 20 & 26!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)

10/16/2014

~ Cozy Apple, Bourbon, Vanilla Bean & Pecan Crisp~

IMG_5843I'm turning the heat on in my house and preheating my oven today.  The heat is on because "baby it's cold outside", and, the oven is on because baby I'm using up the last of our apples.  I'm making my version of perhaps the simplest of all Fall apple desserts:  an apple crisp.  In the event you don't know what it is, it's basically:  apple pie filling (no bottom pie pastry) sprinkled with streusel (no top pie pastry) and baked until the apples are cooked and the top is crispy. It's usually served warm, spooned (not sliced) onto a plate, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the side of it (not on top of it), to insure the melting ice cream doesn't soften the crunchy topping!

IMG_5755Why exactly is this American fruit dessert called a "crisp"?

Our forefathers' wives invented a lot of amusing words to define American heritage fruit desserts that do not fall under the category of pie.  Here's a quick overview:  A crisp is a fruit mixture topped with a crispy crumb or streusel mixture (a streusel contains oats, a crumb does not, which makes it crumbly).  If a crisp has a bottom crust, it is called a crunch.  If you want to turn a crisp or a crunch into a betty, the fruit gets layered between slices of buttered bread or bread crumbs and spices.  To turn a crisp into a cobbler, mix up a rough, "cobbled up" biscuit-like topping and plop/drop it on top of the fruit.  For a grunt or a slump (which is very similar to a cobbler), cook the berries on the stovetop and listen to them make an unusual grunting sound while they cook, then watch them slump under the weight of the biscuit topping.  To bake a buckle, you need to stir fruit into a buttery-rich, coffeecake-type batter and top it with streusel, then, watch it buckle (sink) in the center as it cools due to the liquid in the fruit.  Memorize them:

There might be a quiz at the end of this post!*

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6f3422e970b

Mel's Six Troubleshooting Tips for Making a Top-Notch Crisp:

I'd love to tell you it's impossible to screw up an apple crisp, but, **it happens.  To avoid "mushy, murky, watery, uncrisp and/or undercooked", allow me do a bit of trouble shooting for you.  

#1)  Use your favorite apples, ones you are certain are suited for baking -- for the best flavor, use a combination of tart and sweet apples.  I like Granny Smith in combination with McIntosh.  

#2)  Of course the apples must be cored, but, don't think of leaving them unpeeled -- peel the apples.  I think apple peels compromise consistency, texture, presentation and enjoyability.

#3)  A little bit of thickener in the filling goes a long way -- use some.  Remember, there is no bottom crust to sop up extra moisture.  I like to use tapioca, others use flour and/or cornstarch.

#4)  Use your favorite streusel topping, but, make sure to use enough of it -- this is the "crisp" part of making apple crisp.  I like the added crunch that oats and nuts add so I use them both.

#5)  Test for doneness  -- if a knife inserted in the center says the apples aren't cooked through, bake it longer.  I often cover the top loosely w/foil near the end to protect top from overbrowning.

#6)  Serve warm or at room temperature the day apple crisp is made -- if serving it with ice cream, place the ice cream to the side, so as it melts it does not soften the crispy topping.

IMG_5780Part One:  Preparing the Pecan-Streusel Topping

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d072fdde970cFor the pecan-streusel topping: "Streusel" (STROO-zuhl) is the German word for "something scattered or sprinkled".  In baking, it is a crumbly topping for pies, coffeecakes, muffins, and fruit crisps.  It's made from a mixture of flour, butter and sugar, and usually a few aromatic spices too, but, it is not uncommon for nuts and/or oats to be added for extra crunch.  This is my favorite blend, especially for tart fruit crisps and pies (like apple, cherry, peach or rhubarb).

IMG_43066  tablespoons cold, salted butter, cut into cubes or slices

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  cup all-purpose flour

1/2  cup old-fashioned, uncooked oats, not quick-cooking or instant

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  cup coarsely-chopped pecans or walnuts (Note:  Do not use toasted nuts.  They will toast in the oven while the crisp bakes.)

IMG_4311 IMG_4321 IMG_4324~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, using a pastry blender and a sharp knife, "cut" the butter into the sugar, flour and cinnamon.

IMG_4332Stop "cutting" when it resembles coarse pea-sized crumbs.

Note:  If you want to add other spices, instead of just cinnamon, one of my favorite combinations is:

3/4  teaspoon cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon cloves

1/8  teaspoon nutmeg

~ Step 2.  Coarsely chop the nuts as directed.  They should be about the same size as the pieces of butter.

IMG_4344 IMG_4335~ Step 3. Add and gently fold the nuts into the delicate, softening butter mixture.  Keep it "light":  

IMG_4340You do not want to smash the butter.  Set aside, at room temperature, while preparing filling: 

Part Two:  Preparing the Apple Filling

IMG_5676For the apple filling:

1  stick salted butter

1  large vanilla bean, split open, seeds removed

2  tablespoons bourbon

1/2  teaspoon apple extract, lemon extract may be substituted

2  pounds peeled, cored and thinly sliced baking apples, your favorite combination of tart and sweet apples (Note:  I'm using 4 Granny Smith apples and 2 McIntosh apples.  I always start with 4 Granny Smith's.  After peeling, coring and slicing, if the weight of these six apples is less than 2 pounds, I make up the difference with an additional McIntosh apple.)

1/2  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

2  tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking dish or casserole

IMG_5684~ Step 1.  Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise.   Open the two halves up, like you would a book, and, using a sharp paring knife, with one long firm motion, run the sharp flat edge of the knife down the center of the "open book" to scrape out all of the seeds.  Note:  I find it more manageable to cut each half in half to form four shorter lengths.

IMG_5701 IMG_5686~ Step 2. Place the stick of butter in a microwave safe container along with the bourbon, the apple extract and all of IMG_5693the vanilla seeds.  In microwave over low heat, melt the butter. IMG_5715Set aside to cool.  While butter mixture is cooling:

IMG_5704~ Step 3. Prep the apples as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Toss in the brown sugar and the tapioca.  Give the mixture a good stir and then add the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. IMG_5724Lastly, pour and stir in the cooled butter, bourbon, vanilla mixture.

~ Step 4.  Spray an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish or a 2-quart casserole with no-stick spray.  Transfer all of the apple mixture to the prepared dish, doing your best to make sure apples are all laying flat in layers. Spoon the streusel topping evenly over the tops of the apples.

IMG_5727~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 55-60 minutes, or, until topping is golden brown, crisp is bubbling, and, a knife inserted into the center indicates the apples are cooked through.  Loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top at any time after 45 minutes to keep the streusel from burning.  

~ Step 6.  Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool 45-60 minutes prior to serving warm, or longer, 2-3 hours, prior to serving at room temperature.  This crisp will remain remarkably crisp well into the next day if stored at room temperature, uncovered, overnight.  

IMG_5747Place a generous scoop into each bowl and serve...

IMG_5776... with (salted caramel vanilla) ice cream to the side of each!

IMG_5812Cozy Apple, Bourbon, Vanilla Bean & Pecan Crisp:  If served with ice cream to the side, recipe yields 12 very satisfying servings.

Special Equipment List:  pastry blender; paring knife; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish or 2-quart oval casserole (au gratin); cooling rack

IMG_5964Cook's Note:  For one of my classic recipes, that also uses the same great flavors of pecans, bourbon, vanilla and brown sugar, you can find my recipe for ~ A Holiday Tradition:  My Bourbon Street Pecan Pie ~ in Categories 6, 11 or 18.  Don't forget the ice cream!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

*To learn how to make Word Clouds, like the one in this post, check out http://worditout.com

10/13/2014

~ My Silky-Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree Sorbet (+ the best tip EVER for perfect sorbet all the time)! ~

IMG_5609Did you know that high-quality, applesauce (homemade or store-bought) makes luxurious, creamy, dreamy sorbet in about 25-30 minutes?  Well, I didn't quite believe it either until I decided to give it a try last year.  I was having one of my smallest crowds ever for Thanksgiving, a group of six for a sit-down dinner.  I especially love small, intimate dinner parties because it gives me the opportunity to "fuss" ("pull out all the stops"), and this includes an intermezzo to freshen/cleanse the palate -- usually a small scoop of homemade sorbet or granita:

Served properly, in small chilled ramekins with chilled spoons!

IMG_5651As I was pondering what type of fruit sorbet I wanted to make, I looked the many containers of ~ Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree ~ in my freezer.  You can get my recipe by clicking on the Related Article link below.  Under normal circumstances,  I serve it as a side-dish at my annual Turkey Day buffet feast (for 20-24 people).  Thoughts of apple-pear puree sorbet IMG_5019began churning around in my head. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made.  After all, the best fruit sorbets, the ones that are really creamy and smooth, always contain, besides a goodly amount of sugar, pectin, which is found primarily in apples, apricots and citrus fruits.  This is why citrus juice if often added to most berry sorbets. Since my puree is full of apples and oranges, theoretically all it needed was a bit more sugar!

A bit about pectin:  Pectin is the fiber found in the walls and skin of fruits and plants.  It, in combination with sugar, is a natural thickener and food stabilizer, which is why it is commonly used in the making of  jams and jellies.  All plants contain some amount of pectin with apples (primarily Granny Smith and McIntosh varieties), apricots (and its cousin the peach a close second) and citrus (primarily grapefruit and oranges) containing the highest concentrations.

Making My Apple-Pear Puree Sorbet:

IMG_55221 1/2  cups ~ My Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree ~, chilled (high-quality, smooth, not chunky-style applesauce may be substituted)*

6 tablespoons orange juice, chilled

6  tablespoons sugar

* Note:  My puree is beautifully spiced with cinnamon and cloves.  If you are using applesauce, consider bringing up the flavor a bit by adding some cinnamon and a pinch of cloves.  Nutmeg and vanilla work nicely too.

IMG_5531 IMG_5538 IMG_5544~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup container, combine puree, juice and sugar.  Wait 5 minutes, to give sugar time to dissolve and stir again.

The best tip you're ever gonna get for making sorbet:

A bit about sorbet (sore-BAY):  Sorbet is the French word for "sherbet".  Italians call it "sorbetto". Sorbet differs from ice cream or gelato in that it contains no milk or dairy products.  Sherbet on the other hand, sometimes does contain milk, egg whites or gelatin.  Culinarily, sorbet is thinner than sherbet and not as granular as other ices or granita, but, nowadays, not too many people split hairs over the fine details.  Sorbet is either served in small amounts, 2-3 teaspoonfuls, as a palate cleanser/refresher (intermezzo) between courses at a meal, or in a larger quantity as a light dessert.  The beautiful, silky texture of sorbet is at its best when freshly made and still soft.  It should not be rock hard or full of ice crystals.  When I make it a few hours in advance, I keep it frozen in my machine (which has a chilling switch), until 15-20 minutes prior to serving, when I turn it off and let it soften to the right texture, at which time it must be served immediately.

IMG_5562About 17-18 years ago I invested in a rather expensive, Italian-made, Simac gelato machine, bought several cookbooks dedicated to frozen desserts and even took a class.  This is a very substantial piece of equipment with its own freezing mechanism.  Once I prepare my ingredients, it does everything short of scooping out the finished product for me.  I won't lie, I love this machine and it has a place of honor on my kitchen counter (right next to my freezer).  I can, however, state that it is all about the right recipe, not the machine, so whatever device you are using, just PLEASE follow the manufacturer's instructions and proceed! 

Sorbet is technically a simple mixture of pureed fruit, sugar and water. Chilling it, then churning it in an ice-cream maker is theoretically all you need to do to produce sorbet.  Not so fast.  You need to make sure you have the right ratio of sugar to water in the fruit puree to keep it from turning into ice crystals.  Without getting too scientific, sugar increases the density of liquid and water decreases the density.  So how in the wild world of culinary sports do you test for that?  

Place a raw, large egg on top of the puree mixture!

IMG_5556If the egg sinks:  you need to at a bit more sugar.

If the egg floats high above the surface:  you need to add a bit more water.

If the egg sinks somewhat, but, keeps itself from drowning (a 1" or so patch showing on the surface), you've got the perfect ratio of puree, sugar, and water.

~ Step 2.  Remove the egg, rinse it off and return it to the refrigerator.  Cover the sorbet "base mixture" with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill, 1-2 hours or overnight.

IMG_5563~ Step 3.  Pour the chilled base mixture into the workbowl of the pre-chilled ice-cream maker. Notice the white coating around the inside of my workbowl?  I switched the machine on to chill for 10 minutes. IMG_5578Place the cover on workbowl and turn the machine on to churn for 25-30 minutes.

Take the lid off.  Tell me this doesn't look like perfection:

IMG_5591Go ahead, help yourself.  Take a taste of perfection:

IMG_5601My Silky-Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree Sorbet (+ the best tip EVER for perfect sorbet all the time:  Recipe yields 2 cups, or, 8, 1/4 cup-size servings, or, 16, 2 tablespoon-size servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; spoon; ice cream machine

IMG_4589Cook's Note:  If you are serving this sorbet as an intermezzo, you might want to consider serving everyone a slice of apple pie to end the meal. My first choice would be a ~ Dutch Apple, Sour Cream & Walnut-Streusel Pie ~.  It's the perfect complement & you can skip the ice cream.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 6, 17 or 19!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)