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10/21/2014

~ Savory & Peppery Triple-Creme Brie Shortbread ~

IMG_6160There is nothing better to whet the appetite than a few sips of wine or a cocktail accompanied by the taste of fine cheese.  I serve these buttery, rich snacks as an appetizer without any more cheese (they ARE that good on their own), but melon & cured meats -- yes please.  This is also not a recipe to get creative with, meaning:  don't add herbs or spices to enhance the flavor, or, nuts or seeds for added texture.  Don't do it -- that's just missing the point:  some things are best kept pure and simple --  Triple Creme Brie shortbread "cookies" are one of them -- trust me!

IMG_6198One fine French cheese + four plain ingredients = magnifique! 

IMG_597212  ounces untrimmed triple-creme Brie, Saint-Andre or your favorite kind, about 10 ounces after trimming rind, brought to room temperature after trimming (1 and 1/2, 8-ounce wheels)

1/4  pound salted butter, at room temperature (1 stick)

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon freshly- & coarsely-ground peppercorn blend

2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

IMG_5986 IMG_5982~ Step 1. While the Brie is cold, using a serrated knife, trim the rind from the top, bottom and sides.  Don't worry about any little bits of rind that might remain here and there -- they affect nothing.

~ Step 2.  Cut the brie into wedges or chunks, cover it and set it aside to come to room temperature, along with the butter, about 1 hour.  When the butter is very soft and ready to use, the cheese will be too.

Note:  My Brie is on a plate under a small cheese dome -- the perfect instrument for bringing cheese to room temperature without drying it out.  If you do not have one, place the plate in a zip lock bag.

IMG_5993~ Step 3.  You can pass a little bit of the time by grinding the peppercorn blend.  In my pepper mill, when set to "coarse grind", this is exactly 60 grinds of pepper (I have done this SO many times before I just know).

Note:  I prefer a blend of white, green, pink and black peppercorns in this recipe (and, quite frankly, almost all recipes).  For me, plain black pepper is too harsh, particularly in this recipe.  Substitute at your own risk.  Trust me!  

IMG_5997 IMG_5998 IMG_6002 IMG_6006~Step 4.  Place the cheese wedges, butter, salt and pepper in the work bowl of a processor fitted with a steel blade.  Blend until smooth and creamy, about 15 rapid on-off pulses followed by 15 seconds of constant blending.  Add all of the flour, and once again, using a series of 15 rapid on-off pulses followed by 15 seconds of constant blending, thoroughly combine the mixture.

IMG_6011~ Step 6.  Using a large spatula, transfer the mixture to a plate and divide into two parts (I use a kitchen scale to divide them and each part weighs 1 pound, 1 ounce).  

Refrigerate for 5-6 minutes and absolutely no longer than 10 minutes.  Using the palms of your hands, pick each one up and form it into a rough-shaped cylinder.  

Note:  This dough will be very soft, but it will not stick to your hands -- it is very pleasant to work with.

IMG_6014 IMG_6018 IMG_6024~ Step 7.  Transfer dough to a pastry board and quickly form into two 2"-round x 6"-long cylinders. Work quickly -- this should only take about 1 minute to form both.  Place each cylinder on a piece of parchment paper and roll it up.  Place seam side down on a large plate and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 2 hours.  There is no need to fold or secure the parchment paper.

IMG_6030~ Step 8.  Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper. Place pans in the refrigerator to chill too.  Working one cylinder of dough and one pan at a time, remove the dough from the refrigerator, unroll it and slice it into 12, 1/2" ovals. Place, well-apart, on chilled pan. Using a fork, decoratively prick the IMG_6047tops twice, in a criss-cross pattern.  

IMG_6039~ Step 9. Place pan of shortbread in refrigerator and repeat process with second cylinder and  second pan.  

When both pans are back in the refrigerator, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

IMG_6062 IMG_6065                                       ~ Step 10. One pan at a time, bake on center rack of preheated oven for 16-18 minutes, or until "cookies" are just beginning to turn brown around the edges. The tops will not be brown. Remove from oven and using a thin spatula, immediately transfer shortbread to cooling rack to cool completely.  

Cease, desist and resist!  These won't be at their best for 8-12 hours:

IMG_6117Tick, tock, tick tock -- OK -- now it's time for the taste test:

IMG_6088After that, store shortbread in an airtight container for up to 1 week:

IMG_6120Savory & Peppery Triple-Creme Brie Shortbread:  Recipe yields about 2 dozen cheesy snacks.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated knife; food processor; spatula; pastry board; parchment paper; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; fork; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01675fc4e5a1970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite Brie appetizers, which pairs really well with this shortbread, click into Categories 1, 11, 17, 18, 20 or 21 to get my recipe for ~ Bejeweled Brie Torte (as Easy as it is Elegant!!!) ~.  Read on:

In this recipe, the Brie is sliced into two discs.  The "layers" are frosted with mascarpone cheese and then a combination of dried fruits (blueberries, cherries and cranberries) and nuts are pressed into the center and on the the sides.

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

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

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"!

IMG_5963There are only two reasons to cut cheese:  to serve & eat it and/or to wrap & store it.  

Let's explore the wrapping and storing of 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, aluminum 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 cheese:

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 taut 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 recommendations 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 2014)

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