Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Day Two Hundred and Three - Cumin Results and a Recipe

With such a plethora of nuances, Cumin is a tough cookie to crack and in a way might be able to go with all of the contestants from this week's Marriage Mondays, but for me there is one clear winner. But let me entertain you all with the options the other contestants provide.

Contestant Number # 1: Tarentaise - Actually our least successful contestant today, this fantastic cheese does not have the correct consistency or repertoire of tastes to support the dynamism of cumin's flavor profile. If you have had Leyden, the Dutch cheese that utilizes cumin within its paste, you could say that both Leyden and Tarentaise are buttery cheeses, but that is where their similarities stop. The barnyardy, grassy, farm-y, flavor nuances of the tarentaise miss the boat with our dear cumin here, a little bit like oil and water. However, since Tarentaise is so high in butterfat (at 45%), it is a perfect melting cheese, and when melted on a nice crispy baguette you could sprinkle a little bit of cumin for a little added spice sparkle to a simple grilled cheese sandwich. Here, with the cheese heated, cumin will work as the icing on the cake, not as the star of the show. 

Leyden cheese

Contestant Number # 3: Valencay - Although a truly fantastic cheese, I somewhat tricked you all here. If I had said fresh and not aged Valencay, then cumin could have worked perfectly. Why you may ask? Well, that is because you could dust the Valencay with a little bit of cumin and let it then age, developing the cumin's flavors as the cheese in turn ages to its ideal depth, somewhat like Capriole Farm's Piper's Pyramid, but instead of utilizing the paprika that Piper's is dusted with, you would utilize cumin. However once the cheese is aged and its tastes have formed, adding cumin will just overpower the delicate nuances of the cheese. But should come across a fresh Valencay and dust it in cumin and let it age for a few weeks, even in your fridge, I think you will find that the cheese and the cumin will work in an particular and unusual harmony but with a surprising success.

Piper's Pyramid -- see you could substitute the Paprika for Cumin

Contestant Number # 2: Salvatore Brooklyn Ricotta - Therefore, we can see that Salvatore Brooklyn's Ricotta is triumphant this week. Why you may ask? This is a pairing where opposites attract -- the spicy, herbal, piquant cumin with a toasty, even nutty finish will find solace in the creamy, light, fresh, and lactic notes of the Ricotta bringing to the surface unique nuances in each. So how would I pair these two in a recipe? Well my first idea was to make a Middle Eastern style dip, simple, delish, and perfect for snacking on with some sliced up cucumbers and some grilled whole wheat pita bread.

Dip ingredients:

8 oz Salvatore Brooklyn Ricotta
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon of cumin (or as much as you see fit)
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Drizzle of Lemon juice for a nice acidic kick
Chopped up parsley
Salt and Black pepper seasoned to taste

Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl and whip with a spoon till it is creamy and perfectly combined. What you will get is a mutli-dimensional dip full of highs and lows in the flavor department, I guarantee that this is a dip that will satisfy those who don't like Middle Eastern flavors and those who do...A little bit of this dip on grilled pita bread will be just the perfect thing to cut the 95 degree heat outside. Enjoy!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Day Two Hundred and Two - Cumin Marriage Mondays

This past weekend, I was running in Central Park and I swear it smelled like Thanksgiving potpourri, what it was, I don't know but it got me thinking, gosh, I haven't done any spice Marriage Mondays, that could be fun! So for today's Marriage Mondays, I decided to feature the second most popular spice in the world, Cumin. For your edification purposes, pepper is the number one spice, in case you couldn't guess.

Cumin is the dried seed of a plant in the parsley family. It is found in a plethora of international cuisines from Indian to Cuban to Mexican to Middle Eastern to Spanish, this spice is used the world over. It is even utilized to produce a specific Dutch cheese known as Leyden. But folks, our Marriage Mondays here is about which cheese could be combined with cumin to make a successful dish, not about taking a cheese that already is made with cumin, it's about experimenting and trying new routes and learning about how distinct flavor profiles are capable of melding together.

So folks, before we get going here, close your eyes for a second and imagine the strong and savory flavors that characterize cumin. If you cannot recall them,  reach into your spice cabinet and taste cumin on its own, that is if you do have it in your cabinet.

Now that you've got that earthy, smoky, herbal flavor on your tongue, let's get going with this week's contestants:

Contestant Number #1 - Tarentaise : A firm aged cow's milk cheese made by Thistle Hill Farm in Vermont, this contestant is the American cousin to the Alpine style French cheese, Abondance. It is fabulously buttery while still staying true to its firm texture, with notes of nuttiness and grassiness. Each bite of this contestant is sure to delight the taste buds, full flavored and delish. It is a complex yet simple cheese, but will it have that perfect balance to be able to meet the demands of our dear Cumin?


Contestant Number # 2 - Salvatore Brooklyn's Ricotta : Barely old enough to be a cheese, this youngster is lactic, creamy, fresh, citrusy, with that perfect melt in your mouth quality. It is a testament to successful cheesemaking capabilities and fantastically fresh cow's milk. Truly a decadence, this ricotta will put your regular store bought Ricotta to shame. A true treat but will it be the right treat for the second most popular spice utilized world wide?

Contestant Number # 3 - Valencay : Named for a town in the Indre section of France with a breathtaking castle, this is a pyramid shaped goat cheese that is as beautiful on the tongue as the Chateau de Valencay is in person. Valencay's exterior is coated with ash and consequently aged for a few weeks. Lightly piquant and spicy with the lactic grassy tang of a good goat cheese, Valencay has a musty side to it. You can tell that this is a cheese that has been made with a great deal of care and love, however is there enough love there for it to be able to work with Cumin?

Chateau de Valencay

And its namesake cheese....

And those are this week's Marriage Monday's contestants, check back tomorrow for the winner and a delish and unusual recipe utilizing cumin.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Day Two Hundred and One - ABC Kitchen

Seems like its been a weekend of recaps of dining out adventures, I guarantee next week will feature a variety of yummy cheese-y recipes, pairing ideas, and recommendations. For the moment though, I'd love to fill you in on the fabulous meal I had last night at ABC Kitchen. I'd been wanting to try this restaurant from the time I heard about it -- local, organic, sustainable, fresh food, and direct from the farmers? Sounds like just how I like to eat and with a kitchen imagined by a chef so fantastic, it was hard to fathom that I wouldn't love the meal. As my significant other said, "The menu looks like you created it..."

Walking into the space, the restaurant has the perfect blend of modern sleek touches with a homey rustic barn sort of feel -- a place to enjoy a nice meal but not feel like you can't have a few laughs and a good time, no pretension here. Both the restaurant space and the cuisine served within it are locally sourced and original, the sort of place that you know everyone who is involved really cares and loves what they've put in.

So what did we have?

Well before getting to the food, let me just spend a moment discussing their house made sodas. They make four different sodas: basil/lime, ginger/lime, herbal root beer or tarragon, and lemon-thyme. I had their basil/lime soda with Hendricks gin as a cocktail before the meal and boy was it fantastic, you could taste the freshness of the basil with the slight pucker of the lime, an excellent marriage of flavors.

After looking at the menu where each dish sounded better than the last, we finally decided on what to have. For our meal, we split one of their whole wheat pizzas with morels, Parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, and an egg on top. A thin and crunchy crust with an array of fresh morels, cheese, herbs and an egg, this was a pizza that was completely light and flavorful, an ode to the freshness of the morels, the aromatics of the herbs, the crispness of  the crust, the creamy nuttiness of the cheese and the added decadence of the egg in the center.

I had a delish and simple tuna sashimi and my significant other/dining companion had their bass entree. Each fish was fresh, locally sourced, and organic keeping with the vision of the restaurant and while being all of those things, each fish melted in one's mouth. With our fish dishes, we split a small side of fresh corn, manchego, jalapenos, and a little bit of parsley. It was the perfect sort of dish to showcase the freshness of the corn with the bite of the jalapenos and the herbal bent of the parsley.

All in all, a fantastic meal, I would most certainly go back. This place knows how to do fresh, local, and organic right.

ABC Kitchen
35 East 18th Street

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Day Two Hundred - Dos Toros Tacqueria

I hope everyone is enjoying this glorious weather we are currently having, gosh it is a treat right? No humidity, warmth and plenty of sun... After a fun end of summer wine tasting, we went to grab a bite of to-go Mexican food at the well regarded Dos Toros. Located on 4th avenue between 13th and 14th streets, this tiny spot is considered to have authentic Misson style burritos and although I don't eat meat, I could still judge them based on their quesadillas and chips and guacamole and salsa. So we tried their cheese quesadilla with cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese and fresh pico de gallo, simple but truly delish. Unlike in certain quesadilla situations, the cheese did not overpower the salsa but was the perfect subtle complement to the fresh tomatoes, onions, and all. Satisfying and light, two words that one doesn't typically utilize to describe a quesadilla. And with that we had their homemade chips and guacamole, each was completely fresh and delish. You know how sometimes homemade tortilla chips can be overly oily and heavy, these were light and airy! Their guac was bright, simple and light!

A great place for to go Mexican, at least I can vouch for their cheese quesadilla and chips and guacamole! Worth a visit in a city where Mexican joints are hit or miss.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Day One Ninety Nine - It's that time again, GCF time, with a special pesto focus

When you think pesto, you think a basil based sauce don't you? Well folks, not every form of pesto you make has to look like what is pictured below...and actually the name pesto originates from "pestâ" which means "to pound," or "to crush," as in what happens to the herbs and garlic utilized to create this ubiquitous sauce.

I think that the base for a pesto sauce can be applied to a variety of other ingredients so that it does not strictly have be an ode to basil, not that there is anything wrong with basil. It is one of my favorite, if not my favorite herb, but it is nice to experiment with flavor profiles and see what happens when you take a tried and true recipe and substitute an ingredient here or there. That's the focus of today's simple GCF.

Ok, so when you break down a pesto, what do you have?

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to season

Why not substitute that pesto for yellow summer squash right? It's at its peak right now and is just so fantastic, I guarantee you will love this summer squash pesto. It will have a creamy yet bright, nutty, earthy side to it that is not present to the same degree in the original basil version. Instead of just chopping up the basil and throwing it into the food processor with your other ingredients, your summer squash version requires a little more work. You have to very quickly blanch your cubed summer squash so that it is still crunchy but is briefly cooked otherwise making a raw version might be a little tough on the stomach, that's for sure! Once your squash is cooked, throw all of the ingredients into a food processor and blend. So now that you've got your summer squash pesto, where do you go from here for this week's GCF?

Well, that's easy, this week's GCF is meant to be simple so you've just done most of the work for it, not all though....Lets get some nice pizza bianca from Grandaisy Bakery for our bread here. The pizza bianca is a simple flatbread foccacia with olive oil, sea salt and rosemary, the perfect base for our sandwich. Next up, you need to cut a few thin slices of zucchini which is the obvious and perfect counterpart to the summer squash. Place your paper thin slices of zucchini in a small saute pan with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary and cook low and slow till the slices are golden brown. Pull off the heat. Top each side of your sandwich with some of your summer squash pesto then your zucchini slices, which will be topped with a few slices of the French cheese, Abbaye de Belloc. Made by Benedictine Monks, this is a Basque French Pyrenees aged sheep's milk cheese. It's semi firm in texture with the perfect amount of buttery, caramelly, creamy notes on the tongue, a fabulous cheese for the nuttiness of our summer squash pesto. Next up, you need to top the cheese with a very very light sprinkling of chives and then bake this in the oven. Serve with one basil leaf on top of the sandwich for that added oomph. You want to try something refreshing with this sandwich that's for sure, maybe even with a bit of bubbles, a nice glass of Cava would be excellent or a Blanc de Blancs.

Enjoy the sandwich and the weather..

Abbaye de Belloc

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day One Ninety Eight - Luncheon Recap - Cafe Boulud

Cafe Boulud is one of those Upper East Side landmarks. It is the sort of place that if you ask me, people still dress to go to. At the lunchtime hour, it is a nice mix of business men, "the ladies who lunch," older neighborhood ladies and gents, an occasional tourist here and there, and then everyone else. It truly is one of those places you walk in and feel that you are in a proper dining room, one stands up just a little bit straighter as they walk through the door. The simple beige dining room with spare artwork and minimalist furniture is meant to focus the diner's attention on the cuisine and focus it does.

The lunch menu is divided into four categories : la tradition or classic French cuisine; la saison, seasonal fare; le potager, the vegetable garden; and lastly le voyage, international influences. These four categories make up Daniel Boulud's specific culinary point of view. The last portion of the menu is dedicated to an extended restaurant week special, three courses for $24.07 at lunchtime, such a great deal right? Unfortunately though the restaurant week selections I don't feel completely showcased the chef's creativity to its fullest, always a tough thing when deciding to do a restaurant week deal!

So what did I have?

I was completely enamored with the section of the menu dedicated to "le potager," and decided to stick with the fresh, local, seasonal side of things. Each of the dishes clearly paid homage to the ingredients that one would find in their vegetable garden right now. I imagine if I went back in the winter months, I would instead find dishes with turnips and other root veggies. However since it is August and there is so much fresh produce that is just at its peak, that was not the case.

For my first course, I had their version of tomato gazpacho which was composed of a fresh and vibrant tomato broth that was poured over one tomato water ravioli with burrata cheese and basil oil topped with a homemade sourdough crostini. It was light, refreshing and truly magnificent. Then I had an appetizer portion of their Jersey Corn Agnolotti which came served with small slivers of green zucchini, chanterelle mushrooms, a few steamed garlic cloves, and pecorino romano. It was served in a really light caramelized onion broth. So flavorful and light were these agnolotti, they just melted in your mouth. A fantastic meal and not at all too heavy in the middle of the day.

Certainly a nice way to have lunch on this sunny Thursday afternoon. Check back tomorrow for this week's GCF.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day One Ninety Seven - Tomatoes Galore

This is the time of year for tomatoes -- luscious, ripe, juicy, and so flavorful! Too bad summer tomatoes aren't available year round, the tomatoes that get shipped in from somewhere in the Caribbean in the wintertime, just don't do the fantastic fruit justice. Tomatoes are definitely one of my fridge essentials at all times, I even like to have a few versions if I can, cherries, plums, maybe an heirloom, and definitely some sundrieds. There are more than 7500 varieties of tomatoes grown worldwide, isn't that insane!?

Anyhow, I thought on this rainy grey chilly afternoon, I thought I'd lift everyone's spirits with a bright, fresh, and delish tomato salad. Simple, delish, nutritious, satisfying and good for a day like today! This salad utilizes some of the classic Greek

1 lb of tomatoes - preferably heirlooms or other larger tomatoes, cherry or plum tomatoes do not work here.
2 avocados
2 Persian Cucumbers
2 small French Breakfast Radishes
1/3 lb of fresh French Feta (You may wonder why French and not Greek feta right? French feta is much less salty than its Greek cousin and much better for our simple salad purposes)
1/4 large red onion diced

Dressing - Basil/Parsley Pesto
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Pine nuts
Crushed Red Pepper
A tiny drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar

The preparation for this salad is extremely simple. You need to dice up the tomatoes, season with some salt, fresh oregano, crushed black pepper and extra virgin olive oil. Let those marinate in their own juices while preparing everything else. Next up, dice up the avocados into small squares. The addition of the avocado will give you a nice creaminess to the salad. Place the avocados in a separate bowl. I usually am not a fan of skinning one's cucumbers but in this case, I think it is a nice thing to do, so skin your cucumbers and then dice into small squares. Then dice up the french breakfast radishes which will add a nice fresh spice quotient to the salad. Last dice up extremely finely your red onion. Combine all of the salad ingredients except for the tomato and the feta and mix together in one bowl, this will give the avocado time to meld with the radishes, onions, and cucumbers. Now, next up, it is time to make your pesto, you do not want an especially thick pesto as a dressing here, but a thin, liquidy version, so I recommend only placing a small amount of pinenuts into your food processor so you don't thicken it too much. Once you've made your basil/parsley pesto, place to the side and then cube your french feta. Now combine the tomatoes and other veggies and then dress with a small amount of your basil/parsley pesto and then top with your cubed french feta -- combine all together! Enjoy this with a nice glass of light minerally white wine.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day One Ninety Six - Results and a Figgy Fig Recipe

What may I ask is going on with this weather? It feels as though New York City is experiencing an early Fall this year, fingers crossed that doesn't happen! This weather makes me want to have a glass of red wine and roast some root vegetables and cuddle under the covers at home. It does not make me want to eat fresh figs and drink rose while picnicking in the park, unfortunately. But hopefully, there will be plenty more sunny summer days for us to eat fresh figs with today's Marriage Monday's winner and soaking in some Vitamin D.

Let's get to it!

Contestant Number # 1: Chaource - Like oil and water, this pairing simply won't work. The cheese's luscious creaminess will clash with the juicy plumpness of our fresh figs. This is a case where dried figs would function, creating a consistency contrast. In this scenario, although each shares some key characteristics, they are the specific characteristics that if you ask me just don't work together. Too bad because Chaource is a fantastically delish cheese. Buy one the next time you are having guests over for some sparkling wine and serve it with some crisp morsels of bread, and you're ready to go!

Contestant Number # 2: Comte - Here we have a hard cheese paired with our juicy fig and from the comments about the previous contestant, one would think that this contrast would be more successful. In terms of consistency, it clicks somewhat more, but in terms of flavor profiles, the fresh fig combined with the firm aged goodness of the cheese miss the mark. It is a pairing that would not necessarily be bad but simply would not coax out the flavor nuances of each the cheese and the fig. You could easily eat it and taste both together but there would not be the extra special third aha moment taste that develops when a pairing works excellently together.

Contestant Number #3: Bleu d' Auvergne - Therefore by elimination, our third  cheese takes the cake  this week, why you may ask? Well that's because it is the perfect mixture of consistency and flavor profile.  The semi soft consistency of the cheese works with the juicy lusciousness of the fruit and its spicy, piquant flavors offset the fresh, fruity notes in the fig creating a magical melange of tastes. This pairing works because each element, so different from its counterpart, is able to bring out the hidden nuances in its partner -- the stuff good relationships are made of!

So how could you pair these two together in a recipe? Well honestly the best scenario is one where each gets to shine without being clouded by other ingredients. Keep it simple.

I recommend if you want to utilize both of these ingredients, you make a simple arugula, blue cheese, fig, roasted almond salad with a few slices of fennel and a few sprigs of chive here and there to spruce it up. That is the uncooked beginner dish.

Should you be feeling more advanced, these two flavors work excellently when paired in the form of a homemade dessert. Here is how I would make that:

Cake portion:

2 full eggs, 2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon raw honey
1 cup flour
1 cup gluten free flour (I love the gummy stickiness that one gets in desserts from gluten free flour and its better  for you anyhow)
1 cup buttermilk
5 fresh figs mashed up and combined into the batter
1/4 cup of finely chopped up roasted almonds
pinch of salt
drizzle of olive oil

Slice up between three and four fresh figs to place thinly on top of cake and then top with blue cheese crumbles.

Steps to prepare:

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Crush almonds and mash up figs in food processor
3. Combine all wet ingredients into one bowl and all dry ingredients in another bowl.
4. Mix together
5. Coat round cake pan with cooking spray/olive oil/butter.
6. Pour mix in.
7. Slice figs and crumble cheese for topping.
8. Once it is topped  bake until golden brown or 25 to 35 minutes.

Enjoy this with a nice dessert wine.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Day One Ninety Five - Fig Marriage Mondays

I'm safely back across the pond despite a series of travel hiccups yesterday and twenty four hours of travel, it sure was nice to walk in the door of my sweet little apartment last night. I must say it is weird writing to you all from a desktop computer, my first post in two weeks that has not been written from my iPhone. It sure is easier to re-read my musings and edit them on the actual computer screen.

I got to thinking about seasonal produce and about some of the late August specialities that you see at your local farmer's market and I decided that it could be fun to do a fresh fig marriage Mondays. You commonly see dried figs and other dried fruit paired with cheese, but I think that fresh figs offer a completely different flavor profile, sweet, unctuous, luscious, juicy, and earthy. For some reason they encapsulate for me what an elegant nineteenth century hoop skirt would be if it were to be converted to a food, why I don't know, but there's this roundness exhibited in each. Ok, enough of my wildly creative fantasizing here, let's get down to business and discuss this week's contestants, sound good?

With my mind still in France, I thought that I would provide you with three distinct cow's milk French cheeses to pair with figs today and tomorrow I will give you the results and then a fun figgy fig fig recipe.

Contestant Number #1 : Chaource - This cheese certainly predates you or I, production of this double-cream cow's milk cheese has been going on since the 14th century. Utterly decadent, oozing, mushroomy, and bloomy with a nice crisp finish, it is great when paired with a nice glass of Champagne. But will it be great with our dear figs?

Contestant Number #2 : Comte - Firm, pressed, aged, and hard is this cow's milk cheese traditionally made in the Jura region. It is a classic French cheese with an immensely wide range of flavors from apricots to butterscotch to caramel to grilled toast to heavy cream to hay to chocolate, this cheese has a big profile, full of nuances to delight the tongue! Will its hard consistency be the perfect match for the lusciousness of our fresh figs?

Contestant Number #3 : Bleu d' Auvergne - Produced in the Auvergne region, this grassy, herbaceous, piquant and spicy blue is delish! Moist, sticky, and creamy, this cow's milk blue coats the roof of your mouth perfectly providing you with a nice morsel of savory milky goodness. Is it good enough for our figs though? 

Stay tuned to find out the results tomorrow! 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day One Ninety Four - "La Retour" Part Deux

Today I'm writing to you all from the Aeropuerto de Madrid and gosh am I over travelling, connecting flights, trains, buses, taxis, you name it apart from a ferry, I've probably been on it in the last twenty four hours. You might think I'm travelling from someplace halfway around the world, unfortunately you'd be mistaken. Don't get me wrong, I love travelling and I love adventures, what I do not love is six hour layovers with the possibility of maybe taking an earlier flight but being told that I can't transfer to that flight. Oh well, more time for me to write to you all and of course explore the Madrid airport.

Sitting here at what is just your basic cafe, drinks, sandwiches, baked goods, you come across a cheese plate that actually looks halfway decent. Not that I decided to try it, but it always makes me smile when I enter an establishment that has a cheese plate on offer, much more so of a European thing than American one. Maybe one day it will be a fixture at American airport cafes, we shall see.

Moving along folks, I thought I'd tell you all about the simple cucumber salad and sandwich I made to have for dinner in my hotel in Vitrolles, France. As I had to use up a previously purchased cucumber, I decided to slice it really thinly, combine it with a dollop of the fresh, lactic, and delish ricotta we had, some sel de mer, and a few drops of grapeseed oil, topped with a few leaves of basi. It was fresh, bright, light and delish -- the perfect thing to eat the night before a day of travelling! I had this with a small green olive roll that I had put some Picodon, one of my Loire Valley goats to refresh your memory, and a few sprigs of basil. A great end to a great time in France!

More tomorrow stateside and hopefully this week, a bunch of photos from all of my French meals!!! Enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Day One Ninety Three - "La Retour" Part One & A wrap up meal

I sit here writing this to you all on train two out of three before two taxis, two planes and then two more subways, all of which will happen over the course of today and tomorrow, somewhat exhausting to think about! But hey my current train passed the golden towns of the Cote d'Azur, the vineyards and lush greenery of Provence and Southern France...not bad!

I got to thinking what would be the best way to sum up my time in France, through a recipe? Through one of my beloved Loire Valley cheeses? Through a new cheese adventure in Corsica or on main land France? Well unfortunately I just couldn't decide because all three of those concepts could barely begin to sum up the past two weeks - full of adventures, good times with friends and family, cooking, relaxing, running, reading and more in such a special place!

So I thought I'd tell you what my perfect simple home cooked meal that characterizes the South of France would contain:

It would start with a glass of Vin Gris from the region -- crisp, light, refreshing, and delish. To complement your wine, you would start with some roasted and salted almonds to get you in the cooking mood. You'd no doubt have some classic French chansons playing in the background. For our meal, I'd suggest making a hot and then a cold salad of course accompanied by cheese, michettes and fresh bread.

For the cold salad, you definitely need some nice mâché and fresh basil as the greens. Then you need some thinly diced carrots (because French carrots are just fantastic!), some diced cherry tomatoes, and some diced up yellow pepper. I'd top this with diced up fresh mozzarella di bufula and homemade croutons sauted with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, shallots, and herbs. This should be dressed with a homemade vinaigrette composed of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, maille mustard, a little bit of lemon juice and some soy sauce. The perfect
fresh light salad showcasing the delish produce found in this part of the world.

Now on to our roasted medley of veggies for our hot salad. As zucchini blossoms are in season you must use some of them with zucchini ribbons. At the marche provencal in Antibes, you can find quite the variety of zucchini, I'd suggest getting a few different kinds. This needs some diced up fennel, garlic and shallots. I like to keep this simple with a little bit of herbs and some olive oil, allowing the delicate flavors of the veggies a time to shine!! I'd roast this low and slow till the zucchini are tender and somewhat golden. This is to be topped with a homemade light pesto composed of fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, roasted almonds, a handful of grated Parmesan, a dollop of fresh ricotta, some sel de mer and some frshly ground pepper.
Lightly toss your roasted veggies with this and top with some extra freshly grated Parmesan.

Enjoy your hot and cold dishes with a crisp simple Picpol de Pinet, nice and light for hot summer days!

In terms of cheese, I'd choose a great Roquefort for that piquant blue kick; the fantastic aged semi soft sheep's milk cheese from Corsica (the name of which is currently escaping me, but fret not I will report back with it tomorrow); and lastly a nice chevrot for that aged Loire valley goat cheese that you all know I love!

I'd serve this with a nice crusty French baguette and a few michettes say the ratatouille, zucchini, roquefort, and chevre ones.

I'd round out the meal with a few homemade French macarons, preferably a coffee, a raspberry and a pinenut and a nice glass of white port.

The perfect meal to sum up my favorite tastes and flavors of the south of France.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Day One Ninety Two - An ode to Corsica GCF

Ever have the experience of a movie, a book, a restaurant, a bar being built up to be something fantastic, brilliant and wonderful all rolled into one? And well it just wasn't. That surely was my experience with brocciu -- it just wasn't what I thought it would be. Instead of being a supremely creamy, fresh sheep's milk cheese somewhat like the young maquis coated sheep's milk cheese we tasted minus the herbs, this Corsican delicacy was certainly not that! Brocciu's consistency resembled feta but maybe just touch harder. However instead of having a nice balance of salt and creaminess, this was somewhat like tasting feta that had had an entire salt shaker poured upon it. I suppose that if you were prepared for a mouthful of salt, you wouldn't have been surprised. The salt I guess is good when you sweat constantly in the heat but Corsica is not hot year round. Therefore discounting that notion. However I think that this cheese could be fantastic with some nice extra virgin olive oil, thyme, Rosemary, and crushed red peppercorns or say honey lavender and maybe a little bit of a citrus spritz on top. As we tried it last night on top of almond canistrelli (classic Corsican superduper crunchy and hard biscuits), it was much more successful than plain, that's for sure!
All in all, it could probably be a cheese I could get into, definitely not love at first bite!

Now onto this week's GCF which will feature brocciu as it's star! I know you're thinking after she went on this rant about the cheese why would she decide to use it, well because it is so typically Corsican of course!!! Although not a cheese easily accessible in other parts of the world, this GCF would work with any supremely salty, young sheep's milk cheese.

Start with a nice crusty French baguette. On either side of the baguette spread honey, either raw for the health benefits and depth of flavor or nice artisanal creamy honey which similarly has a distinct depth of flavor. This natural sweetness will immediately cut the saltiness of the cheese. Next up, chop up some mint and place to the side. Place a nice slice of brocciu on your baguette and now top with your diced up mint, a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper and toast away. What you will get on the tongue is a sweet and savory blend of crunchy, creamy, fresh, green, and vegetal goodness!

Enjoy folks!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day One Ninety One - Adventures on "kitchen island" - Corrected

First off, let me apologize-- my iPhone decided to have a mind of it's own and publish a post that barely had two words in the title, technology you can live with it, can't live without it!!!

Needless to say, let me start by saying, why can't all islands be like Corsica in certain respects? Most islands feast on tourism and are able to maintain a somewhat stable economy due to their visitors. Granted Corsica has it's visitors but it also has an extreme concentration of food and wine production -- from wines to beers to cheeses to confitures to biscuits to chesnuts and chesnut flour to charcuterie to olive oil to herbs, this small island really spans the gamut. Each of the products I've tried has been completely artisanal and delish while maintaining the rugged rough side of the island in which they were produced -- they are quintessential examples of their unique terroir.

To give you a more indepth example and since this is a blog about cheese, I thought I would briefly discuss the six cheeses we tasted at last night's dinner:

1. Fresh brebis coated with local maquis herbs - a rarity to get such a fresh sheep's milk cheese treated in the same manner you might find a young goat's milk cheese treated. Just as creamy as a young goat's milk cheese but with signifcantly more heft and a depth of body. The interesting thing though is it is by far the lightest sheep's milk cheese I've had! This cheese is perfect when paired with a crisp glass of fresh Cap Corse rose.
2. A young goat's milk tomme - This extremely fresh, lactic, grassy tomme had a light hay and green citrus side - you could taste that the goats whose milk went to this cheese ate well - truly an embodiment of summer in Corsica!
3. A young sheep's milk tomme - Equally as fantastic as the goat tomme with just as much of a

fingerprint of terroir as the goat tomme, however this had a greater barnyardy, farmy, earthy side to it.
4. An aged goat tomme - Drier and pastier than it's younger cousin, this was a cheese to savour and pause on to reflect its delicacy while maintaining that classic aged goaty tang. Here, one certainly tasted mineraly grassy notes reminiscent of the hills where these goats graze.

5.An aged sheep tomme - Definitely significantly stinkier than it's younger sibling on our tasting plate, but not as old as our final cheese. This was an excellent example of the nutty earthy characteristics of simple small production sheep's milk cheeses, yet utterly fantastic and full of notes of its terroir.
6. Lastly we had a very aged sheep's milk cheese - Stinky, barnyardy, and supremely delish!!!! Definitely a nice note to end on!

You might be wondering why didn't they have any cow's milk cheese? Well that's because there are no cows on the entire island of Corsica.

Each cheese was so delish and special, you could tell that they were made by farmers who loved and cared deeply about their products. The nice treat was that you could tell that there was little to no preservative added to any of them -- they were presented with their flaws and short comings if they had them but also with their strengths and high notes. Personally, I felt there wasn't a sour one in the bunch!!!!

All were worth a taste, each different than the last!!

Check back tomorrow for a GCF and a special Corsican cheese feature!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day One Ninety - Bienvenue en Corse

Welcome to Corsica, rustic, mountainous, beautiful and like another world. After a short propeller plane ride from the Cote d'Azur, we arrived in the town of Bastia, in the north eastern region of this island situated between France and Italy. Drama landed with us as we had rented an automatic car and although we were told that the car we received was in fact automatic, they were certainly mistaken. An hour later we were off in the largest car Europcar had to offer -- certainly not ideal for switchback turns and tiny one way roads leading into the mountains. Fret not, the car did not hold us back for our rigorous agenda of seven
stops after a 5am awakening, what did however was the fact that most roads indicated on our so beautifully researched directions, simply did not exist where they were supposed to and we even had the fortune of following signs for towns that then seemed to evaporate, as though the signs did not actually lead you anywhere. Truly an adventure!

We did manage to stumble upon a few cute cheese shops in Bastia where I purchased an outstanding looking Corsican brebis or sheep cheese -- an aged washed rind cheese that looks fantastic, however I have yet to try it.

After our morning and early afternoon of fits and starts, we happened on a quaint little restaurant overlooking the beaches of Ile Rousse in the north western portion of the island and there we sampled some fresh goat cheese which was just as rustic, herbaceous and rough around the edges as the island on which it was made.

And folks from there, we drove to our sixteen room hotel in the tiny perched village of Lumio, over one hundred and twenty kilometers of virages and mountainous turns later, to spend our evening without continuing to drive further.

I hope tomorrow to be able to recount to you all the taste sensations of the local cheese speciality, brocciu and of course other adventures on this ruggedly stunning island.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day One Eighty Nine - Results and a Recap

So who do you think won yesterday's Marriage Mondays???

It was Contestant Number Three!
But before we get to why, let me tell you about why contestants one and two were not the winners. Contestant Number One aka gorgonzola albeit a piquantly delish morsel would most certainly overwhelm the delicate flavors of the Nicoise olives. Gorgonzola calls for a bigger, more "present" olive, say for example one of the big green guys. Those are delish as well but can withstand the intensity of the gorgonzola. Contestant Number Two - Petit Basque is also such a fantastic cheese and would work in certain circumstances with the Nicoise olives like for example when the olives are chopped up on bread and then topped with Petit Basque as a nice form of a grilled cheese. The main issue I find when served at room temperature is that the texture of the cheese, semi firm will not work as successfully with the semi
soft texture of the olives -- however when heated the cheese looses it's semi firm texture which is what makes the grilled cheese perfect with the olives.

So then why do wethink Contestant Number Three has won -- the consistency of the cheese works perfectly with the olives and in turn is great when utilized as a "stuffing" for the olives. the creaminess of the cheese will be the perfect counterpart to the salty brininess of the olives and the herbal rub of the chevre will find its match in the herbaceous fresh flavors of the olives. Here is a case of freshness paired with freshness and each element finding its complement in the other.

I promise a nice bowl of these chevre stuffed olives with an aperitif on an early sunny summer evening will hit the spot.

Moving along I thought I'd give you all a little recap of last night's two goat cheeses -- the first was Picodon and the second was Saint Maure de la Tourraine. Picodon is a soft rippened goat cheese that is a small flat disk, about half the size of a hockey puck. It is one of those Loire Valley goats that simply is not found outside of France. Why you may ask? Well that's because the preservatives that need to go into the cheese to transport it transatlantically ruin the supreme delicate texture of the Picodon. The Saint Maure de la Tourraine is a log goat cheese that is ash rippened and aged on a little bamboo stick. It has a nice firm goaty tang with the piquant edge of the ashen exterior - a veritable melody of flavors designed to delight the palate.

That's all for now folks!
Check back tomorrow for burrata experiences and day one in Corsica.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day One Eighty Eight- Olive Marriage Mondays

Green ones, black ones, stuffed ones, tapenades made with them, oils made with them -- olive products are truly in abundance in the South of France. I think one can find especially delicate and flavorful olives here, much more so than on American shores. So I thought what better marriage Monday than one featuring the black Nicoise olives known in this part of the world.

When you think of Nicoise olives, you think of small, wrinkly black olives that are full of flavors, an herbaceous salty side that is just so perfect for the warm sunny summer afternoons on the Cote d'Azur. What could be better than an early evening aperitif with a bowl of fresh delectable olives? Not much if you ask me! Why not pair a cheese with those olives? That's what today's marriage Mondays is all about!!

All three of these cheeses are found at the Marche Provencal in Antibes.

Contestant Number One- Gorgonzola - Blue cheese stuffed olives tends to be a pairing you see often -- the piquant, salty side of the cheese finds its match in our olive friends. But is this today's match made in heaven?

Contestant Number Two - Petit Basque - Mentioned in one of last week's blog posts, this a buttery, rich, caramelly sheep's milk cheese from the Basque region of France. Being that it is a semi firm cheese, it could be perfect when thin cheese ribbons are wrapped around our olives in bite size amuse bouches. Found in its best form at the marche provencal in Antibes -fresh, fantastic, firm, barnyardy and delish!

Contestant Number Three - chevre avec des herbes - A fresh goat cheese with the classic creamy lactic tang, soft and luscious on the tongue, this herb rubbed cheese would bring out the herbaceous notes of the olives, maybe even could be used to stuff them, who knows...

Check back tomorrow for the winners and more updates of the delectable cheeses we sample here in the South of France.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day One Eighty Six - Les Michettes

Don't you wish you could bottle the scent of freshly baked bread wafting out of French bakeries and boulangeries? Strikes a specific cord of fantastic comfort and homey goodness.

Moving back to our boulangeries topic though, the French make a very special baked bread item called a michette - it is a four to five bite bread baked with a variety of "centers" -- everything from ratatouille to to emmental to mushrooms to olives to chevre to zucchini to spinach to Roquefort to ham to tuna and more.

The zucchini or courgette one just strikes a cord for me - the mixture of chevre, emmental, herbs and fresh zucchini baked all into this small morsel of yummy goodness, you just can't go wrong! Each manages to impart an intense infusion of the flavor it promises - freshly baked and superduper delectable!!!

If you are ever in Antibes, it is worth a visit to L'Epi D'or for their fantastic michette. They're definitely the best in town! Keep in mind the bakery is closed Thursdays & Fridays. If you want to get michette you have to go between 11am and 1pm, otherwise they sell out. A true treat!!!!

Check back tomorrow for a positively Southern French Marriage Mondays!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Day One Eighty Five - Rain Rain Go Away...

This morning I awoke to thuds and crashes, certainly not a fun awakening while on vacation...upon opening my shades, I discovered that today certainly wasn't going to be a beach day, the rain was coming down in torrents. So I did what any intelligent person would do on vacation, I went back to sleep of course! Next time I woke up at 9am, the rain had ceased for the time being allowing me the opportunity to go running and consequently to the marche.

I got home just in time for the rain to pick up again...darn! No long bikes rides or kayaking excursions or hikes today. But that leaves me time to write to you all and have a lazy Saturday afternoon enthralled with my book.

But first a few recaps, let's start with last night's cheese plate which featured two cheeses: Saint Fellidien and Bethmale. Saint Fellidien was another version of my Loire Valley goats, however this one is not really found outside of France unlike a bunch of the others I have mentioned. This cheese resembled what would happen if you smushed a chevrot, it was a thin round disk slightly larger than a hockey puck and soft rippened like a variety of other goat cheeses I've mentioned. Although delish with it's goaty lactic tang, this cheese felt incomplete in a way, why I'm not sure but I can only bet that it needs some more aging and might even taste better tonight but probably tomorrow. Granted as this cheese was larger than the majority of other Loire Valley goats I've mentioned, maybe it's flavor profile is just more spread out where as that of say a Chabichou de Poitou is more concentrated. Now don't get me wrong, this was still a fantastic cheese, just a little less so than its cousins I've discussed over the previous few days.

The other cheese we had last night was Bethmale an aged semi firm washed rind cheese that in the US is delish, creamy, luscious, and buttery. Here, this cheese had much more of a farmy, barnyardy, earthy side to it. Not what I first expected but it sure did taste of its terroir which is always quite a treat!!!

I also thought I'd share with you all the zucchini blossom side dish I made last night. I stuffed the blossoms with an extra virgin olive oil, ricotta, garlic, chive, and basil mixture and baked these babies low and slow till they were golden brown. Yumtastic if I do say so myself!!

Check back tomorrow for more fun cheese adventures from the South of France.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day One Eighty Four - An Antiboise style GCF

Gosh, weeks surely do fly by when you are having fun, I cannot believe it's already time for another GCF, how crazy is that?!? This particular GCF is special as it is coming at you from the South of France.

Before we delve into the GCF, I'd like to tell you all about the fantastic salad I made last
night, truly simple, but when done right with the best ingredients, it is so perfect. It
consisted of heirloom tomatoes, one yellow and one red; a handful of cherry tomatoes, chopped up fresh garlic, chopped up fresh basil, mozzarella di bufala, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, and homemade croutons from a variety of left over breads purchased this
past week.Perfectly sweet, savory, crunchy, herbal, creamy -- it just hit the spot after a day of running, sunning, biking, relaxing and more.

Moving onto the GCF, certain flavors present in last night's salad might reappear in today's sandwich, who knows?!? Today's GCF starts with a nice homemade olive fougasse. In case you aren't familiar with what a fougasse is -- it is an oval shaped bread with three bread slats through its center, with chopped up black olives, herbs and olive oil baked into the inside, when fresh, this is utterly to die for! Once you've gotten your fougasse, you need to get your cheese, and guess what it's gonna be?!? One of my beloved Loire Valley goats will allow for just the right amount of lactic creamy goodness and will impart a little of that classic French heated goat cheese flavor. Today's choice is Chevrot, an aged goat cheese that if you ask me is somewhat like the king of the Loire Valley goat's -- so classically fantastic, it will be the perfect addition here. Next up you need some of the quintessential French lettuce -- mâché, so delicate and delish, this is always such a treat here as it is so expensive and not nearly as flavorful in the US. So as to not crowd the sandwich too much with too many ingredients, I like to use some of the homemade tomatillo sundried tomato tapenade found at the marche provencal in the veille ville of Antibes. Once you slice the fougasse in half and layer everything together, I like to top it with a few sprigs of fresh basil, some salt and pepper and then bake in the oven for fifteen minutes. It will be lipsmacking good and make you want to never leave the South of France or transport you here!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day One Eighty Three - Aging your cheese

Last night's cheese plate consisted of three distinct cheeses -- of course one of my beloved Loire Valley goats, tonight's choice was Saint Marcellin; then there was a Corsican bloomy rind Brebis cheese; and lastly a Tomme de Montagne. The Saint Marcellin was young, creamy, lactic and super fantastic. Interestingly enough, it sure found it's match in the olive oil fennel seed taralli (small round crunchy Italian crackers) -- it was the perfect combo of creaminess, crunchiness, herbaceousness, brightness with a grassy citrus finish. I wonder what would happen if you dusted a Saint Marcellin in fennel seeds, would it impart the same multi-layered flavor? Maybe it's worth a shot one of these days... However, the crunch of the taralli was so perfect, I'm not sure the fennel seed alone would do it.

The Tomme de Montagne was a simple young semi-firm cheese, full of subtle nuances, I could see this is as a fantastic cheese for grilled cheeses or baked pasta dishes. Although delish on it's own, it did not knock your socks off in terms of developed and unique tastes, but it was somewhat of a nice "pause" on the cheese plate. Slightly buttery with a farmyard barnyardy sort of feel, this cheese was a nicely done simple table cheese.

Lastly was our bloomy Corsican Brebis or sheep's milk cheese. I'd wanted to try this to get me psyched up for next week's trip to Corsica and last night, it fell quite flat, however today was a completely different story! Last night, as aptly stated by one of my dining companions, this cheese was a one note "Brebis Brie" -- nothing exciting, just a stereotypical Brie, the only difference was that it was made with sheep's milk. However once this cheese spent an overnight here at Residence El Nil, it was as though it had blossomed and transformed, it grew into itself almost -- it had fantastic nuaces that simply were not present last night -- a sweet creamy herbal and mushroomy paste delivered itself forth on our tongues today. Where was that last night I wonder?

This cheese was an excellent example of the fact that sometimes cheeses haven't finished their aging processes upon purchase, sometimes your fridge can become cheese cave part deux. Yet sometimes, cheeses like this one just need some time to breathe, they need not to be wrapped too tightly and need to have the appropriate amount of space to occupy their proper presence. Ok, before I get all into this whole cheese needs to breathe as well tangent, let me just recommend if you buy a cheese that you feel isn't living up to it's full potential, unwrap it, place it loosely wrapped in either cheese or wax paper and let it sit in the fridge for at least twenty four if not forty eight hours, you will be surprised at the results you will receive.

Check back tomorrow for an extra special Cote d'Azur grilled cheese Friday.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day One Eighty Two - Chabichou de Poitou

Isn't such a treat when you get to have a cheese that you are typically used to having but the cheese's commute to your plate is greatly diminished? It allows you to taste intricacies in
the cheese that you wouldn't otherwise be able to taste. In case you haven't gathered in my many many musings to you dear readers, I'm a sucker for goat cheese and primarily the superstar goat cheeses from the Loire Valley. I love Crottins, Chevrots, Saint Maures, Selles sur Chers and of course Chabichou de Poitous. Grassy, lactic, fresh and fantastic these cheeses make me smile.

Yesterday, I picked up a young Chabichou that we had for our cheese plate at dinner and if I do say so myself, it was the cat's meow. So young was this Chabichou that it had a creamy side to it; it truly melted in your mouth. You could even taste that these goats were eating some good grass. The cheese itself, a small cyclindrical pyramid was bursting with flavor -- it was bright, citrusy, green grassy, tangy yet creamy lactic and light all rolled into one. This was certainly a treat for me, you just don't find such young, delish Chabichous in the US, the cheese's commute to the plate and consequently to your mouth takes so much longer that although still delish, a lot of it's intricacies and depth of flavor profile are lost. Therefore I plan on savoring each and every morsel of my favorite cheeses while here in the South of France, it is very hard for this to be replicated anywhere else in the world -- food in general just tastes better and is fresher here. However that is not to say America's artisanal and local movements aren't making strides across the pond.

The Chabichou was great on toast last night; fantastic mixed into the homemade veggie quinoa salad and equally as yummy when combined with basil, chives, shallots and egg whites in a nourishing omelette this morning after a long run.

Enjoy your Wednesday folks! Check back tomorrow for tonight's cheese plate and more.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day One Eighty One - Welcome to the South

Greetings from a magical place in the world dear readers...first off, let's announce the winner of yesterday's marriage Mondays and instead of delving into a recipe, I thought I'd share with you all some of the fantastic cheeses we are having here in the South of France.

So folks, who do you think won?

The answer is contestant two! Why you may ask? Well just as yogurt has many beneficial cultures that help aid the immune system, nourish and energize your body, so does yogurt cheese, it will give you energy, help fight off any pesky germs you may have caught on the plane, and will be satisfying and delish without packing on too much of the fat.

Seeing as I'm writing to you all from my iPhone and cell service is expensive, I apologize if my posts aren't as long and in depth as they normally are.....

Moving along, let's discuss last night's cheese plate. The nice thing about being in France is that you can find delish artisanal cheeses at the Casino or supermarket, the kind that cost an arm and a leg in the US here are much more reasonably priced.

For our welcome to France cheese plate, we got the classics - a Selle-sur-Cher, a Loire Valley ash ripened goat's milk cheese; Petit Basque, an aged cyclindrical sheep's milk cheese; and of course some blue Fourme D'Ambert, a medium bodied cow's milk cheese, mild on the piquant qualities, but strong in flavor. It's always such a treat to taste each cheese and feel the difference in freshness, crispness and body in flavor, and the ultimately melt in your mouth qualities of true homemade French cheeses. As our days go by, the cheese choices will transition to the more adventurous but for right now, tasting these cheeses in the country in which they are made, totally changes them and you all at once. You feel as though the drama of big city life is quickly dissipating from your bones.

Check back tomorrow for some Provencal recipes!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day One Eighty - Heathrow and other traveling thoughts for Marriage Mondays

Morning folks. I'm sitting in the crowded and epically large Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight to the South of France. You just don't find airports like this in the US -- it took us ten minutes on an inter-terminal
bus to go from terminal three to five, it's like taking a taxi from the Upper West Side down to the West Village, without any traffic of course, that's big if you ask me.
And of course it's got all the amenities to boot - high end shops, WH Smiths, Boots pharmacies, sushi bars, coffee houses, regular bars serving English fry ups, sandwich places, the list goes on and on -- if you have to have a layover, it's not a bad place.
You could walk for miles and still find new offerings!

As it was that weird hour where I should be eating breakfast but everyone here in England is thinking of lunch, I settled on a simple sandwich of fresh mozzarella, oven roasted tomatoes, pesto and arugula, perfect as a breakfast/lunch and easy on the wallet and on my stomach, always sensitive after a night flight.
Well folks, that gets me to this week's Marriage Mondays, what cheese goes best with or counteracts jet lag?

I know this sounds like a weird marriage Mondays but just go with me here. You know how it's said if you have a banana the potassium will help counteract jet lag?

Well I think that there's a cheese that does the same...

Contestant Number One : mozzarella - could the cheese that I had on my sandwich here at Heathrow be the cheese that helps counteract jet lag?

Contestant Number Two : Yogurt Cheese - low in fat this smooth buttery cheese is great for cooking. It has a mild flavor, nothing overly fantastic on it's own, but it melds with a variety of different flavor profiles.

Contestant Number Three: Roquefort - King of French blue cheeses, rhizome is a stinker, piquant, spicy and delish. It just awakens your senses!

So folks, which contestant will it be?!?

Check back for tomorrow's post from the South of France for answers.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Day One Eighty - Transatlantic cheese travel

Good evening ladies and gents, as I'm just gearing up to head off to the airport for a two week vacation in the South of France and Corsica (don't worry you will hear about it all!), I thought why not advise my faithful readers on a few rules of thumb when bringing cheese back from overseas. Unlike fruits, veggies, and other perishables, cheese is most certainly allowed back into the US. However folks, don't think that you can bring all cheeses, soft and hard on the airplane with you.

As a rule of thumb, only harder cheeses are allowed in the cabin, softer cheeses are allowed in your checked luggage. You may think that there are really in depth reasons for this separation, yet folks, I regret to inform you, it is simply that the customs agents believe that the softer cheeses will stink up the plane and therefore prohibit these cheeses in the passenger cabin. Do not fret  though, the hold where one's bags are stowed is cold enough to sustain these cheeses from Europe to the USA.

That's pretty much it folks. I wouldn't try and bring extremely fresh soft chevres or pungent blue cheeses but other cheeses should be good to go!

Have a wonderful evening. Look for tomorrow's post from Heathrow Airport.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day One Seventy Nine - A fast easy fresh tuna salad

After a long day of running around, I wanted something simple and quick for dinner and since I'm leaving town tomorrow, my fridge is not nearly as full as it might otherwise be on a weekend, so I thought I'd make my version of a healthy tuna salad on fresh crusty pane di sesamo from the Gourmet Garage.

This was easy, quick, nutritious, and full of veggies and protein! So I thought why not share this recipe with you all, it's easy as pie!

1/2 - full can of tuna in water (depending on hunger level)
1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh chevre with herbs
Handful of mixed greens
1 celery stick sliced
5 cherry tomatoes diced finely
1/4 cup of diced crisp yellow pepper
1/6 chopped red onion
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Maille Dijon Mustard
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Black Pepper and Salt

1. Dice all the veggies
2. Toss all together in a bowl and mix until all of the ingredients are nicely blended together.
3. Serve on top of toasted crunchy bread with a glass of crisp white wine.

Although not very glamorous and exciting this simple recipe will hit the spot when you're running around from place to place. For those of you used to mayo with your tuna, you will be surprised that mustard, olive oil and chevre create just as sufficient a creamy quotient as the mayo.

Enjoy folks.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day One Seventy Eight - A French Send-off GCF

On Sunday, I'm leaving on a two week vacation to the South of France and Corsica, boy am I unbelievably excited! And I thought today for our French GCF, I'd take on the classic French sandwich, the Croque Monsieur. A Croque Monsieur is a warm ham and cheese sandwich typically grilled originating as a French on-the-go snack or fast food. Some versions include a Bechamel sauce or a Mornay style sauce. It also has a close cousin in the Croque Madame that is pretty much the same sandwich just with a poached egg on top.

In France you see a variety of Croque Monsieurs with a little bit changed here and a little bit altered there, but for our purposes here, I am going to suggest a vegetarian Provencal Vegetarian Croque Monsieur, simple clean crisp flavors yet delish.

Keep the same crusty french bread and emmental utilized in a Croque monsieur and instead of ham, for our purposes you will utilize thin slices of roasted eggplant, zucchini, squash, sundried tomatoes and a few sprigs of basil. To roast your eggplant, zucchini and squash, slice each thinly, toss in an oven baking dish with olive oil, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, marjoram, oregano, salt, pepper, and some diced garlic. Roast till these are crisp and browned over low heat. Place the veggies, sundried tomatoes and basil between the two slices of bread with some bechamel or alone or even some nice sauteed salmon and then top with the traditional cheese. I personally like the vegetables alone, it makes for a fantastic vegetarian sandwich -- decadent, fresh, and uber delish! I'd enjoy this with a nice Sancerre.

Have a nice weekend folks!

Day One Seventy Seven - A riff on Nachos, a little less Mexican and a little more Middle Eastern

After a long day yesterday, I went to a fantastic little beer bar where I split some nachos with friends and I got to thinking, why not take the traditional nacho recipe and make it new and different. It's such a great sharing dish, perfect to soak up those suds if you decide to have one more than you maybe should have. But why is it that it is made with that classic orange American cheddar?  Let's break out of the mold folks! Try something new, you never know you might be surprised.

If you break down nachos you basically have:

Sour Cream
Chili (optional)
Beans (optional)
Meat (optional)

So for my idea of a Middle Eastern Riff on Nachos, I thought you could start with pita chips, ideally homemade, if you're not feeling up to the task, you can utilize store bought ones. However they are easy as pie to make -- slice up pita into small triangles and brush olive oil on each, bake in the oven at a low heat for about 40 minutes or until they are golden brown.

Instead of your cheddar cheese, why not use the delish Cypriot cheese, Halloumi. Great grilled or fried this cheese has a high melting point so that it will hold up to the heat of the oven. Somewhat like the consistency of mozzarella yet completely different in taste, this would be the perfect cheese for our Middle Eastern Nachos here. If you'd like to add a little salt content to our dish why not sprinkle some feta on the top as well right before putting this in the oven.

I'd keep the tomatoes and onions, maybe add some sliced black olives and sundried tomatoes. Instead of jalapenos, why not use some harissa for spice and color. Top the entire plate with some pine nuts for crunch and finely diced parsley for color.

Place your Middle Eastern nachos in the oven over low heat till the halloumi melts. Serve with hummus, baba ghanoush on the side and homemade tzatziki (greek yogurt, dill, diced cucumbers, drizzle of olive oil and white wine vinegar, salt, and some garlic).

Enjoy folks!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day One Seventy Six - A trip to the Southern Hemisphere

Who knew you could get to the Southern Hemisphere without leaving Manhattan, right? Well folks your trip to South Africa is greatly shortened by going to the South African wine bar, Xai Xai on 51st Street between 8th and 9th avenues where I went with a few friends this evening.

Known for its strictly South African wine list and a selection of South African dishes mixed in with the  more generic wine bar staples, it's a fun place to go with a group of girl friends or with that special someone.

This evening we split  a bottle of South African Sauvignon Blanc, Beyond to be precise -- perfect for this hot humid day, full of acidity with a crisp and light floral bouquet. I find that new world Sauvignon Blancs tend to be lighter and easier drinking than their more mature developed old world cousins -- each with a perfect place and time. Tonight, this Sauvignon Blanc was just the ticket!

As it was early and the idea of eating heavier more substantial foods did not appeal we did not unfortunately get very adventurous with their food. However the one time I did, everything was fantastic. Tonight we stuck with cheese, nuts, and olives. Unfortunately their cheese selection was not very extensive which isn't overly surprising but they had a few delish cheeses that went perfectly with the wine.

For our cheeses we had:

1. Humboldt Fog Goat's Cheese - An aged goat's milk cheese with a vegetable ash line through the center and an exterior coating under its bloomy rind. Lactic, chalky, creamy, fresh and even a bit citrusy, this is a cheese that shows you American artisanal cheesemaking has made it! This baby gives the Loire Valley goat cheeses a run for its money. Perfect with the wine we ordered, you couldn't have asked for a better pairing!

2. Jasper Hill's Blue - A fantastic medium bodied piquant cow's milk blue cheese with just the right amount of salt for such a steamy sweaty day. Perfect with a few walnuts on a nice piece of baguette with this wine. Another great new world meets new world pairing here.

3. A lightly smoked Dutch Gouda - Buttery, butterscotchy, with a hint of caramel, spice, and smoke this was a nice semi firm cheese that served as a great counterpart to the two other cheeses.

An easy and fun happy hour with friends on a lovely hot summer eve. I recommend checking out Xai Xai if you haven't been and definitely be more gastronomically adventurous if you're up for it and indulge in some of the regional offerings.

Xai Xai
369 West 51st Street
NYC 10019

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day One Seventy Five - Results

So folks are you ready for this week's Marriage Monday's results? The nice thing about pairing with beer is that the options are endless and each unique style of beer will complement distinctly different cheeses and just like with wine, of course everything is completely subjective and you might find that my suggestions are not the right way to go ether, that's completely fine, you and I don't have the same taste buds, how could we?!

Alrighty ladies and gents, without further ado, here are this week's results:

Contestant Number #1: Cabecou Feuille - This disk of creamy goodness wrapped up like a little gift in chestnut leaves is fantastically aromatic and flavorful but just misses the boat here when paired with Brooklyn Brewery's summer ale. The cheese's tastes will overpower the fruity bready floral citrus bouquet of the beer while managing to fail to bring out unique nuances of the beer. This is the sort of cheese that is best paired with say a Pilsner as it will be the perfect counterpart to the dryness that is typically associated with that style of beer.

Contestant Number #2: This week's winner! Why you may ask? Well folks, that is an easy question if you ask me, the creamy lactic qualities of the cheese will accentuate the bready notes in the beer and each will play of the other's citrus side, bringing out the best in one another -- always a good characteristic of a successful marriage, right? The hints of blue will play off of the yeasty side of the beer while the youth of the cheese will play of the floral summery notes in the beer, overall a great beer and cheese pairing if you ask me! Stay local and Northeastern here!

Contestant Number #3: A fantastic cheese, herbaceous, piquant, and certainly a party in your mouth. However, this cheese would miss the mark at bringing out all of the nuances of our fair beer here. It would be a fine pairing, it just wouldn't be the sort of pairing that would hit it out of the park if you know what I mean. For this cheese, I would suggest a nice classic Weisse or Wheat beer which has the high notes and sweetness to tango with the high spicy notes of our third contestant.

Enjoy folks!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Day One Seventy Four - Summer Ale and the Goats Marriage Mondays

I got to thinking about our previous Marriage Monday stars and I realized, gosh, we had yet to do one that features beer. Just because I don't drink beer while marathon training, doesn't mean that other people aren't interested in what to pair with beer, there are plenty of people who love beer and cheese pairings and to be honest, sometimes I think beer can be a better cheese partner than wine.

So for today's first round of beer Marriage Mondays, I thought I would take up the widely known and truly local -- Brooklyn Brewery's Summer Ale, available obviously in summer months, this beer is modeled on the "Light Dinner Ales" served in England from the 1800s through the 1940s. Also known as luncheon or family ales, this style of beer is considered light and refreshing, perfect for those hot summer days. This beer is made with English Barley Malt along with both German and American hops. It has sunny citrus and herbaceous notes while still maintaining a yeasty, fresh baked bread side as well. Full of flavor, light in weight, a great summer choice and perfect for this week's Marriage Mondays.

Let's meet this week's contestants:

Contestant Number #1: Cabecou Feuille - Wrapped up like a little present in chestnut leaves, this fresh goat cheese from the Perigord region of France delights. First dipped in plum brandy and then topped with coarse black pepper, it is then briefly aged in two layers of chestnut leaves. Don't worry, all of that flavoring most certainly doesn't overwhelm the delicate fresh goaty lactic tang, it infuses the luscious and creamy cheese's paste with the aromas of a nice glass of brandy with the piquant spicy kick of the black pepper and a vegetal nutty side due to the chestnut leaves. 

Contestant Number #2: Westfield Farm's Classic Blue Log - Hailing from the Northeastern state of Massachusetts, this cheese starts out like our previous contestant as a fresh goat's milk cheese, however unlike number one this isn't dipped into a liqueur and then leaf wrapped, contestant number two has a different procedure performed. It is blue yet goaty all at once. Unlike most blue cheeses, this young goat's milk paste is not inoculated with Penicillium Roqueforti to create the classic blue spots, its exterior is instead coated with blue Glaucum mold which imbues the cheese with a slight blue kick while maintaining the creamy paste of young goat cheese. Ready to eat at two weeks old, as these guys age, the melange of flavors grows stronger and stronger.

Contestant Number #3: Piper's Pyramide - Moving farther west, our third contestant hails from the state of Indiana. Modeled in the shape of the French Loire Valley goat cheese, Valencay, this little pyramid of goat cheese goodness is coated in paprika. It is named after the cheesemaker's granddaughter, Piper and is a party in your mouth. Spicy yet sweet, lactic and buttery yet somehow refreshing with an earthy barnyardy side as well. Best when eaten after three weeks of aging.

So folks will be the leaf wrapped cheese? Or the blue mold coated cheese or the paprika queen?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day One Seventy Three - A trip to the farmer's market

I love outdoor farmer's markets. There you go, I said it. Some people can't resist Barney's and Saks or Club Monaco and J Crew, that's not me. Take me to a farmer's market, I'll ooh and aah, proceed to get really excited followed by wanting to buy everything and then will manage to exercise some restraint and come home with some veggies, traditionally a local cheese and maybe a homemade bread. All of which I know will be worlds better than what I can find at the supermarket.

So which Farmer's Market did I go to? Today's expedition led me to the one in downtown Bethesda, Maryland. Not nearly as crowded as ones that I frequent in NYC, but with a fantastic selection of fruit, veggies, cheeses, breads, meats and more. On this first day of August, one certainly got an abundance of great looking tomatoes, one stand boasted over twelve different types of tomatoes alone. There were tons of lovely squash and zucchini, some outstanding looking eggplants, mushrooms, and plenty of greens. But hey this isn't a blog about fresh produce, it is a blog about cheese, so let's get on with it.

At this farmer's market, there were two different cheese stands - Cowgirl Creamery and a Virginia Farm cooperative offering cheeses from six different farms in Virginia.

We first stopped at Cowgirl where they had a selection of their three well known bloomy rind cheeses - Mt. Tam, Red Hawk, and St. Pat's, along with two fromage blancs, one pure and one with herbs. We decided to buy one St. Pat which is their cow's milk bloomy rind cheese that is rubbed with nettles and only available in the spring and summer months. Delish, slightly vegetal and grassy from the nettles yet unctuous and superbly creamy - a tasty morsel!

Next up we ventured over to the Virginia Farmer's Cooperative where we tasted four of their cheeses, each delish in it's own way --

The first we tried was an aged goat tomme rubbed with Rosemary -- a great combo of tangy citrusy grassy notes from the goat's milk mixed with the herbaceous freshness of the Rosemary.

Next up we tried a washed rind goat cheese, not something you find very often -- this cheese was stinky, with that quintessential washed rind pucker yet lighter than most washed rind cheeses as it was made with goats milk. Definitely unique!

Thirdly, we had a taste of a goat triple cream that for me missed the mark. And last but not least, we had an ash ripened soft goat cheese, both coated in ash and with an ash line through the cheese, this was just melt in your mouth fantastic! Young with that classic goat tang but with the earthiness of the ash, you couldn't go wrong here!!

All in all, we had quite the fun trip to the Bethesda Farmer's Market this fair Sunday.

Hope you all had a lovely weekend and didn't have to deal with the overturned tractor trailer on I-95 as I did!

Day One Seventy Two - A Fruity fruity fruit weekend

Oops, seems I'm playing a little game of catchup here...busy weekends out of town tend to lead to multiple musings of mine over the course of one day. Today is an exciting day in the world of Fromagical, it is the first day that I am writing to you all from my iPhone, excellent for on the go blogging. Unfortunately, no one has developed an application dedicated to blogging with Blogspot software yet. That is not to say that there aren't any blogging apps, just none dedicated to the hosting site that I use.

While running this morning I got to thinking about what to write about and I decided that I haven't focused at all on melon and cheese pairings and as cantalope and it's siblings are in season now -- farmers markets are full of them big & small, I thought why not. Melon and prosciutto are a classic Italian antipasti dish so why couldn't we pair cheese with nice thin slices of melon instead of the prosciutto?

No reason!!!!

For today's recipe, we will be making almost like sushi rolls, excellent for appetizers if you are having friends over for a nice summer garden party.

If you were to pairing melon with just cheese, I'd pair it with a nice medium bodied, somewhat piquant blue cheese with a nice dosage of salt to offset the juicy sweetness of the melon.

But since that is not the case, I'm gonna go a different route here that will be unique, refreshing and delish. I'd go with a Fourme D'Ambert or a Bleu D'Auvergne.

Start with slicing a few slices of melon paper thin. Put this to the side. Next up, slice up some Persian cucumbers just as paper thin as the melon. Then grab some of Lynnhaven Creamery's fresh chevre, if you don't have Lynnhaven's available, any fresh chevre would work. Dice up some dill to combine with the chevre and some extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Mix all together. To make this into a little roll, make little canelles with the cheese then wrap the melon and cucumber around them. Each roll should then be topped with one steamed fava bean and a sprig of fresh chive. I think you will find this unique combination to bring together sweetness with savory, juicy fruity flavors with the salty creaminess of the cheese with a nice vegetal component and a green herbaciousness. Most of all, I think you will find our little melon roll ups to be refreshing, flavorful and the perfect amuse bouche for a hot day. Great with a glass of rose!

Enjoy folks.

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