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10/24/2014

~ Mel's Spicy Horseradish-Cheddar Cheese Sticks ~

IMG_6451If I were a mouse, my nose would always be snapped in the trap containing a fresh piece of fine cheese.  What is it about me and cheese?  You can find me snacking on it in some form almost every day.  My refrigerator always has a few really good, fresh-from-the-cheesemonger cheeses stored in the "deli-drawer".  I'm not talking about reduced calorie, low-moisture, part-skim, half-the-fat, gluten-free, soy, and/or vegan cheese -- although if one is medically challenged, they are all fine alternatives.  For me, I'd rather eat less of anything real-deal and delicious than more of something that wierd-science has compromised.  I know I am not alone in this mindset.

IMG_5895On occasion, I have cheese that is at that "use it or lose it" stage. Sometimes it's because I was entertaining and I bought more than I actually needed -- I'm a "better safe than sorry" person.  This week, it's because I posted ~ For the LOVE of Cheese:  PLEASE Cut it Correctly ~.  It's full of lots of tips for storing, wrapping, grating and slicing all different types of cheese. You can read it by clicking on the Related Article link below.

Homemade Cheese "Snacks" (cookies, crackers, sticks, wafers):

Generally speaking, making homemade cheese snacks is an easy process, and, it is a fine way to use up fine cheese before it takes a turn for the worse.  Recipes typically revolve around blending some grated cheese and a few ingredients together in a food processor, chilling the mixture, rolling or forming the snacks, then, baking them.  Depending upon whether the recipe calls for a hard grating cheese, a firm sliceable cheese, or, a soft spreadable cheese, as long as the cheese you've got falls into the category the recipe calls for, you are home-free in terms of making a substitution.  For instance:  If a recipe calls for Brie, of course Camembert will work!

IMG_5879 IMG_6236Today (leftover from the writing of the above mentioned blog post), I've got some great white horseradish cheddar.  Feel free to substitute your favorite cheddar, or, any other firm, moist, sliceable cheese:  Swiss or Gouda for example. I'm sure you get the point I'm trying to make.  

5102My cheddar is nowhere near the "use it or lose it" stage, but these cheese sticks are so good I'm making them anyway. Yancey's Fancy New York State artisan cheeses are some of my favorites -- especially their many cheddars (and other hand-crafted domestic cheeses too).  Imagine aged cheddar and spicy horseradish combined into one great cheese.  Yancey's has developed special curing techniques no longer commercially available in cheddars from larger cheese makers, and, they are the largest manufacturer of fresh cheese curd on the East Coast, utilizing the local milk supply, which offers some of the highest-quality milk in the USA!

Please pass the homemade horseradish-cheddar cheese sticks!

And please, don't confuse these cheese sticks with cheese straws -- those twisted, super-crunchy, airy puff pastry snacks (which are great too).  These cheese sticks are crunchy on the outside with a bit of chew in the center, a whole more cheddar flavor, plus, a pleasant, spicy warmth that lingers in your mouth and takes over the back of your throat with each addictive bite. For the most part, I serve these alone as a snack/appetizer with cocktails, but, they sure do pair up well with a bowl of tomato soup or a spinach salad with a lot of crispy fried bacon in it! 

IMG_62401 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2  teaspoons dry English mustard

1  teaspoon garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

6  tablespoons vegetable shortening, preferably butter-flavored, chilled, cut into chunks

IMG_62464  ounces Yancey's Fancy horseradish cheddar cheese, grated, about 1 1/4 cups (Note: Because grated cheese can be inaccurate to measure, weight is important, so, if you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it.)

1/2  cup buttermilk, plus up to 2 additional tablespoons, only if necessary

1  tablespoon Worcestershire

4-6  drops Tabasco

2  tablespoons melted butter, for brushing tops of cheese sticks

about 1/4 cup freshly and finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for topping cheese sticks 

IMG_6256 IMG_6258 IMG_6263 IMG_6265~Steps 1, 2 & 3.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, using a series of 5-6 rapid on-off pulses, thoroughly combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, dry mustard, garlic powder, salt and cayenne.  Add the IMG_6280shortening.  

Using a series of 5-6 rapid on-off pulses, "cut" shortening into dry mixture until coarse crumbs have formed.  

Add the grated cheddar to the workbowl and using a series 3-5 rapid on-off pulses, give the mixture a rough stir.

IMG_6280 IMG_6271~ Step 4.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the 1/2 cup buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, to taste.

~ Step 5.  With processor running, add the buttermilk mixture, in a slow stream, through the feed tube.  Stop adding liquid and stop  processor the second a soft, sicky mass/ball of dough forms.  Add additional buttermilk only if necessary.

IMG_6284~ Step 6.  Using a large rubber spatula, remove dough from processor and place in a medium bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

IMG_6302~ Step 7. Cut a sheet of parchment to fit the bottom of a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan.  Place the parchment on a large pastry board (do not skip using the pastry board) then place the baking pan in the refrigerator to chill.  Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator.  Immediately:

IMG_6321 IMG_6308~ Step 8. Working as quickly as you can, form the dough into a rough rectangular shape and place it on the parchment.  Lightly dust the surface of the dough with flour.  Note:  This is probably all the flour you will need, but, if you need a bit more during the rolling process, add it.

IMG_6335 IMG_6326Using a small rolling pin,  roll the dough into a 12" x 8" rectangle.  Use the side of a 12" ruler to gently push the sides into an almost perfect rectangle. Use the ruler to measure, and, use the blade of the ruler to lightly score the top of the dough into 1" x 4" sticks.

IMG_6344Slide/glide the parchment of scored cheese sticks off the pastry board and  onto the chilled baking pan. Return pan of dough to refrigerator to chill for 30 more minutes.

~ Step 9.  While dough is chilling, melt and cool the butter, grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano and preheat oven to 450 degrees.

IMG_6358~ Step 10.  Remove dough from refrigerator.    Using the ruler again, gently "chop" down between the score lines, to separate the cheese sticks  without cutting through the parchment or spreading them out.

Return pan to refrigerator and chill another 15-30 minutes. 

~ Step 11.  Using a pastry brush, lightly brush tops with butter, then sprinkle the grated cheese over all:

IMG_6376Bake on center rack of preheated 450 degree oven until nicely golden, about 10 minutes:

IMG_6394Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan 1-1 1/2 minutes -- no longer.

IMG_6401~ Step 11.  Using a sharp spatula, carefully, but working as quickly as you can, begin separating the cheese sticks, placing them on a cooling rack as you work.  They will be delicate, but no so fragile that they will break apart.  

Allow to cool completely, uncovered, on rack, for several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Cheese sticks will continue to harden/crisp up as they cool:

IMG_6415Cease, desist & resist the urge to taste these until they're cool!

IMG_6418The clock is ticking down to kickoff -- three, two, one:

IMG_6438Time's up!!!  The waiting is over!!!  Game on!!!

IMG_6459Hot Horseradish-Cheddar Cheese Sticks: Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers/snacks.

41tRaT31NkL._SY355_Special Equipment List:  food processor; cheese grater; 1-cup measuring container; rubber spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; small rolling pin; an impeccably clean 12" ruler (Note:  I have two architect's rulers that are only used for for culinary purposes.  They get washed in hot soapy water, just like the rest of my kitchen gadgets.); pastry brush; microplane grater; sharp spatula; cooling rack

IMG_6198Cook's Note:  Two days ago, using some leftover Brie from my "cut the cheese correctly" post, I made another one of my family's favorite homemade cheese snacks too. These are actually more like rich, buttery cookies, so I refer to them as shortbread, and they pair perfectly with paper-thin slices of cured meat and fresh fruit.  You can find my recipe for ~ Savory & Peppery Triple-Creme Brie Shortbread ~ in Categories 1, 2, 20 or 21!

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

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

10/21/2014

~ Savory & Peppery Triple-Creme Brie Shortbread ~

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

IMG_6198One fine French cheese + four plain ingredients = magnifique! 

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

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

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon freshly- & coarsely-ground peppercorn blend

2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6116Cease, desist and resist!  These won't be at their best for 8-12 hours:

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

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

IMG_6120Savory & Peppery Triple-Creme Brie Shortbread:  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers/snacks. 

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

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

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

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

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

10/19/2014

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

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

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

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

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

Let's explore the wrapping and storing of cheese first:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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