Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ugly name, culinary magic

I got some great compliments for my potted cheese dip that I made for the Elite 8 game last Sunday. Both the flavor of the dip—kinda a winey, feta-heavy cold fondue flavor—and my improv culinary skills in making the dip were praised.

Thing is, this dip was one of the easiest things I’ve ever made. I took some leftover cheese, a bit of some type of onion, threw it in a food processor, and added wine until it was the consistency I wanted.

I felt a little bit guilty taking all the praise for a recipe that is specifically designed to be refrigerator Velcro. But hey, I’ll take the credit.

And now, so can you.

Potted cheese

1 pound of leftover cheese (I used half feta, and half milder, other cheeses)
¼ cup of something oniony (onion, shallot, garlic, chives, or a combination)
½ - 1 cup of wine (I used red, red wine)
Couple tablespoons of herbs (something strong like thyme or oregano)
Pinch of cayenne pepper (for luck)
Salt and pepper to taste

Shred/crumble cheese. Place all ingredients in food processor. Blend, then add red wine in a thin stream, a little at a time, until it comes together and gets smooth. Taste, add more salt and pepper as needed. Put into nice serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to 2 days, before serving.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A world without cheese

Although I called this blog "Garlic is love," if there's one food I couldn't live without, it would be cheese.

From feta to fontina, brie or baby swiss, its salty, tangy, rich mouthfeel is the ultimate comfort food.

Which of course, got me to thinking, what if I had to give it all up?

I don't think I'd want to have fake cheese substitutes. The quality's not the same, and it would only remind me what I was missing.

But there are other foods that have a similar mouthfeel, texture, or taste, that are enjoyable on their own. They don't try to be cheeese, but, if, God forbid, I could never have another piece of cheddar, I'd be eating these foods a lot more often to fill the gap.

1. Avocado.

The fatty, silky mouthfeel of avocado is delightful, and reminiscent of some soft cheeses. It's so smooth, in fact, that there are ice cream recipes that incorporate some avocado into them.

Like cheese, avocado can be eaten in slices, or cubes, and, like cheese, it can be turned into a spread. The flavor of avocado is subtle, so it's more like a cream cheese than a hard or aged cheese.

Recipe: Avocado Gelato(Gourmet magazine)

2. Olive oil

Olive oil, at least the very good ones, are complex like wines and cheeses. Like a thick, golden wine. I like a buttery olive oil as opposed to a grassy one, but both have their place. The nice thing about golden olive oil is that the color is similar to yellow cheese.

A simple snack of fresh bread drizzled with olive oil can help with a cheese fix.

ZeTune olive oil - amazing oil from a small family farm in Lebanon.

3. Hummus

Take the olive oil, add some chickpeas and perhaps some sesame paste, and you've got an extremely thick, creamy dip. Put in a little bit of lemon or garlic, and you could almost believe this was some kind of cheese dip.

Recipe: Carrie's Speedy hummus
1 can chickpeas
1/4 cup good-quality olive oil
juice and zest from one lemon
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
salt and pepper to taste.

Place all ingredients except for olive oil in blender. Pulse until chickpeas disappear, then add the olive oil in a thin stream, keep processing. Taste and adjust seasoning. Put into small, pretty bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve, covering with plastic wrap. Drizzle a touch more olive oil on the top just before serving.

4. Eggs

Dilbert once famously said, "eggs are like cheese from chickens." He's not far off. Both eggs and cheese can be used in similar ways, to thicken, to add body. And both can be nice and creamy.

Dairy-free Lemon curd (adapted from Sally Schneider's A New Way to Cook)
1/2 teaspoon gelatin
juice and zest from 2 lemons
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg white
a few tablespoons of coconut milk (optional)

Take about a tablespoon of the lemon juice and put it in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the small bit of lemon juice and let it absorb.

Fill a medium-sized saucepan halfway full of water. Find a stainless steel bowl that nests in the pan well, but doesn't touch the water. Nest the bowl in the pan.

Place everything except for the gelatin and coconut milk in the bowl, and whisk it all together. Turn the heat to high, and stir the mixture constantly for 5 to 10 minutes, until it starts to get quite thick.

Once it gets thick, add the gelatin in and stir until it's combined. Remove from the heat. Let cool for 5 minutes, then stir. Let cool another 5 minutes, then stir in a few tablespoons of coconut milk (optional).

Serve cold or at room temperature. Keeps for several days.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pi(e) Day celebration

Because I'm a geek and a food geek, I made a pie in celebration of Pi day, March 14th, 3-14. (Get it?)

I was hoping to work on pie crusts, but as our oven is still broken, I needed to focus on no-bake recipes. So I went with a Jell-O Pie.

Sure, Jell-O Pie is a marriage of 1950's convenience foods and 1960's science. But, at its core, it's Fruit, juice, gelatin, and cream. Mostly. What's not to like?

The traditional flavor is strawberry, though any variation of fruit, fruit juice, and Jell-O can be used. To make it a little bit interesting (and for my sister-she knows why), I made a Mango Tango Lemon Pie.

Mango Tango Lemon Pie
Most of the mango items can be found in the international foods aisle of your grocery store. You could use 2 fresh mangoes here, too, but the canned tastes pretty good and works just fine.

1 graham cracker crust
8 oz (smaller container) Cool-Whip Lite
16 oz canned mangoes (International Foods aisle at grocery store)
Juice and Zest of one lemon
1 packet Lemon-flavored Jell-O
Mango-flavored soda
Canned mango puree or juice
Red and yellow food coloring

Juice and zest a lemon. Add enough mango-flavored soda to make 1/2 cup. Add a half cup of mango juice to the mixture. Heat briefly over low heat until it's just boiling, then turn off heat.

Meanwhile, drain canned mangoes, and chop into bite-size pieces.

Dump lemon Jell-O packet into medium bowl. Add fruit juice, stir well. Add Cool-Whip, stir until all the lumps are out and everything is smooth.

Add 2 drops of red, and 4 drops of yellow, food coloring to the mix (optional).

Fold in the mangoes.

Dump it all into a graham cracker pie crust and toss in the fridge for a couple hours, until it's set.

I've found good luck sticking it in the freezer for an hour, then into the fridge. It means you get to eat it sooner.

You may scoff at Jell-O pie, but I dare you not to lick the bowl clean.