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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Blue cheese—love it or hate it?

Some people love it, others detest it. There’s no in-between with this strong-flavored cheese. But blue cheese is a generic term for any cheese with blue veins in it. These veins are caused by the mold or fungus, penicillium--sometimes infused into the cheese, other times from the soil in the area where the cheese is produced. The cheese is often said to be an anti-inflammatory.

This generic terms encompasses several kinds of cheeses, and they come from several countries. Some of the most common you may have heard of are Gorgonzola, Stilton, and Roquefort. Gorgonzola is from northern Italy and is made from unskimmed cow’s milk—it tends to be buttery, salty, and can be crumbly or firm. Some people believe that it is milder than, say, Roquefort. I know a man who detests blue cheese but will eat Gorgonzola—go figure!

Stilton is the English contribution to the blue cheese world. Only cheese made in three counties in England can be labeled Stilton—Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire. It typically has a strong taste and is crumbly. It is made by piercing holes in the rind of a cylinder of cheese and allowing the air in.

Roquefort, made from sheep’s milk, is France’s contribution to the label. True Roquefort must be aged in the caves of the Roquefort area of France, where there is penicillium in the soil. It is tangy, crumbly, and slightly moist.

In our supermarkets, particularly upscale, we see a dizzying variety of blue cheese, many domestic. One of my favorites is Maytag—yes, the people who make washing machines. Another popular one is Point Reyes. But you simply must experiment until you find the one whose taste most pleases you. You usually can buy a block of cheese or crumbles—I much prefer the block, which will keep longer. I don’t know this, but I suspect crumbles are what’s left from cutting blocks or wedges out of the original wheel. With crumbles, you are usually offered only a generic blue cheese.

There are countless ways to use blue cheese:

Crumbled in a salad

Put a dab of honey on an apple or pear slice topped by a small piece of blue cheese

Melt a small chunk top of a steak or lamb chop us before serving

Stir a modest amount into your next chicken salad

Make a post-Thanksgiving sandwich of turkey, lettuce, mayo, and blue cheese

Use as the base for a good stuffing for a chicken breast or hamburger.

Here’s a simple dressing that’s great for a wedge salad or a tossed salad—or used as a dip.

Creamy blue cheese salad dressing

2 Tbsp. each mayonnaise, sour cream, and buttermilk

            Note: you can substitute plain Greek yogurt for sour cream

1 tsp. lemon juice (or lime juice)

¼ tsp. pepper

¼ tsp. Kosher salt

1 anchovy filet, mashed (optional)

Blue cheese – crumbled, 2-3 Tbsp. to taste

1 finely chopped scallion

Diced tomato (for garnish)

Crumbled bacon (for garnish)

Mix mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, lemon juice, anchovy, salt and pepper adding cheese last. If dressing is too thick, sparingly add more buttermilk. For wedge salad, reserve the green onion. Top a lettuce wedge—or layers of lettuce—with the dressing and garnish with crumbled bacon, diced tomato, and green onion

Creamy blue cheese dip

To use the recipe above as a dip, simply add more buttermilk to reach the consistency you want. You may not need any additional thinning. Don’t let it get too runny, so that it drips off the chip. Mash the blue cheese crumbles with a fork so that they blend into the dip, rather than remaining unmanageable chunks.

Top with green onion which serves as garnish and adds a nice, crisp zing but is still easy to manage with a potato chip. Serve with crudities or good potato chips—I really like Trader Joe’s potato chips.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Quick pastas for those last-minute suppers

The mail carrier brought me a bountiful gift today: the latest copies of Southern Living and Bon Appetit. Couple those with the Food & Wine already on my desk, and it’s a recipe-reading day for me. Once upon a time, I had a large collection of cookbooks, but many drowned when a deluge broke through the flat roof over one part of the house, and most of the rest were surrendered to the great downsizing. So now I don’t cook so much by the book, but by pages I’ve torn out of various magazines. Problem: my collection of recipes is once again headed toward appalling.

But here are two quick and good pasta ideas that you can make at the last minute. We all have those days—it’s five o’clock, the kids are hungry, and you haven’t started dinner yet. Or you don’t get home from work until 5:30 and you didn’t defrost anything before you went to work. These come right out of your pantry.

Bonus: you shouldn’t end up with a kitchen full of dirty dishes with these dinners.

Truffle linguine

            This always makes me think it’s an easier version of cacio e pepe, which is typically hard to master—you have to get the spin of the wrist just right. I find this easier.

1 lb. linguine – (reserve the pasta water)

½ cup good butter, divided use (I use Kerry Gold for everything these days)

2 oz. good, fresh grated parmesan or pecorino (I like the slightly sharper flavor of pecorino)

1 oz. truffle oil—(Oh, go ahead, splurge a little and keep it on hand)

Melt butter in skillet and set aside, dividing into two portions.

Cook linguine; use tongs to transfer it from saucepan to skillet with half the butter in it. Stir to coat. Add 1 cup pasta water, a bit at a time, and stir until water reduces a bit and forms a creamy sauce (you may not want all the water). Add the rest of the butter and stir.

If you want to approximate cacio e pepe, sprinkle generously with fresh ground black pepper.

Remove from heat and divide into four bowls. Sprinkle generously with cheese and drizzle with truffle oil.

Fast tomato sauce with anchovies

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. minced garlic

4-6 anchovy filets with a bit of their oil

1 28 oz. can tomatoes, drained of juice and crushed (I prefer San Marzano)

Salt and pepper to taste

Cooked long pasta

Grated pecorino or Romano cheese

            Heat oil to medium in saucepan and add garlic and anchovies, stirring until anchovies break up. Add tomatoes.

            Bring to a boil and cook about 15 minutes. Sauce should thicken as it cooks—serve with linguine and top with pecorino or Romano cheese.

Buon appetito!