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THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Cheese/Yogurt/Dairy

FOOD FUN: Paint Hard-Boiled Eggs

Why should Easter be the only occasion to rouse your inner artist by painting hard-boiled eggs?

The practice of decorating eggshells is ancient, predating Christianity. Engraved ostrich eggs found in Africa date back 60,000 years. Decorated ostrich eggs, also replicated in gold and silver, have been found in 5,000-year-old graves in Egypt and Sumeria. [Source]

The Christian custom of decorating eggs at Easter has been traced to the early Christians of Mesopotamia, sometime after 100 B.C.E.

But you don’t need a religious context to decorate eggs. On a hot summer day, it’s a quiet activity that can be done while in the shade—or in the air conditioning. For summer themes, think beach, birds, blue sky, butterflies, flowers and yes, palm trees.

Cook a batch of eggs and let family and friends paint away. Take a vote afterward and give a prize for the “people’s choice.”

Then, you can peel the eggs for protein-rich snacking, or turn them into sliced egg sandwiches or egg salad.

You don’t have to hard-boil the eggs, either.

 

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Why wait for Easter to decorate eggs? Photo from the Zevia Facebook page, attributed to “Melodrama blog.” (We couldn’t find the blog.)

 
Those who are not likely to break the eggs can paint raw eggs. The decorated eggs can then be used for cooking. But for cooking, keep them cool, first in air conditioning and then in the fridge.

You can keep raw painted egs as art by removing the innards. Simply pierce each end of the shell with a thick sewing needle. Then, blow strongly on one of the holes. The contents will be expelled through the other hole.
 
WANT TO HARD-BOIL EGGS MORE EASILY?

Here are tips on how to make hard boiled eggs from the American Egg Board.

  

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PRODUCT: Challenge Lactose Free Butter

challenge-lactose-free-230sq

A delicious butter spread that’s lactose free! Photo courtesy Challenge Dairy.

 

An estimated 30 to 50 million Americans have lactose intolerance, a condition wherein individuals naturally lose the ability to digest lactose—the natural sugar component of milk—as they grow into adulthood.

In some of the world’s populations, the condition begins in childhood, after weaning. In others, it happens on an individual basis in late middle age or beyond. Still other people never lose their ability to produce lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose.

And since the inability to digest lactose continues to grow as many people age, our population has millions of contenders discovering their lactose intolerance every year.

We are one of those people. Having grown up on butter, milk, cheese (cottage cheese, cream cheese, mozzarella and other fresh cheeses and lots of aged cheeses), sour cream, yogurt and ice cream, we suddenly became unable to digest them (or more accurately, they get digested with some unpleasant side effects).

 

We quickly found lactose-free staples in:

  • Lactaid cottage cheese and ice cream
  • Green Valley cream cheese, sour cream and yogurt
  • Cheddar, the only cheese that is naturally 100% lactose free
  •  
    But what to do for butter?

    While no one has yet marketed a lactose-free bar of butter, Challenge Dairy now has a delicious lactose-free butter spread.

    The California-based maker of butter and cream cheese, representing some 600 dairy farm families, has made life easier for the lactose-intolerant.

    Their lactose-free spreadable butter clarifies the butter, a process that removes the milk solids that contain the lactose (this is the same process used to make clarified butter and ghee). The butter is then blended with canola oil to create a smooth, spreadable butter.

    The result: a buttery spread that has half the calories of regular butter. One tablespoon has 50 calories, 2 grams saturated fat (of 5.5 grams total fat) and 110 milligrams sodium.

    The lactose-free butter is available at retailers nationwide, including Albertsons, BI-LO, Harris Teeter, HEB, Jewel, Lucky’s, Meijer, Safeway, Savemart, Vons and Winn Dixie. A 15-ounce container is $4.49

    Learn more at ChallengeDairy.com.

    See the foods that have hidden lactose, below.

     

    FACTORS THAT IMPACT THE TASTE OF BUTTER

    Why do different brands of butter vary in flavor?

    Several factors are responsible, according to Challenge Dairy.

  • The cows’ diet has an effect on the flavor of the milk. Grass-fed cows, which graze in the pasture, have different diets depending on the season. The grass mix will be different in the spring, summer and fall, when clover, wildflowers and herbs are part of the blend. In the winter, the animals eat silage, grass that is compacted and stored in airtight conditions (as opposed to hay, which is dried first). Penned cows eat feed, a combination of hay, grain, silage and proteins (such as soybean meal), vitamins and minerals.
  • The cream that is used, churned from the butter, can have slightly different acid levels.
  • All butters are pasteurized and churned, but these processes are different among manufacturers, resulting in different flavors and textures.
  •  

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    Now, enjoy butter mashed potatoes to your heart’s content. Photo courtesy U.S. Potato Commission.

  • Butterfat level can differ slightly by different manufacturers (and by different products in the line, e.g. European butter).
  • The butter could be cultured or made from sour cream instead of sweet cream butter.
  • There can be a difference in the natural flavor that is usually added to unsalted butter (but not all brands—check the ingredients label). This flavoring is a natural milk derivative starter distillate (a distilled flavor made from fermented, cultured milk, similar to that used in the production of sour cream and buttermilk) that is added to the cream prior to churning. It produces flavor compounds that give unsalted butter a more pleasing taste, compensating for the absence of the flavor boost from salt.
  •  
    Check out the different types of butter in our Butter Glossary.
     
    SURPRISING SOURCES OF LACTOSE HIDDEN IN NON-MILK-BASED FOODS

    Some people are just mildly lactose intolerant, others are extremely so (more information). Every person handles it differently. If you think you might be lactose intolerant, a gastroenterologist can give you the test.

    As with sugar and salt, there is “hidden lactose” everywhere.

  • Creamy & Low-Fat Salad Dressings: Lactose gives texture and flavor to many creamy salad dressings. Kraft and Newman’s Own have some lactose-free varieties. Low-fat dressings also can use lactose as a filler.
  • Instant Foods: Coffee, mashed potatoes, oatmeal, soup, other instant foods and powdered drinks can contain lactose, which helps the granules dissolve quickly. Quaker instant oatmeal is milk-free, but check the labels on everything powdered before you buy.
  • Medications: There’s lactose in everything from birth control pills to digestion remedies (that’s ironic, since lactose causes digestive problems in the lactose-intolerant) and quick-dissolve tablets. Lactose is used as a filler or base, improves bioavailability and taste.
  • Processed Grains: Breakfast cereals, breads, cookies, crackers, granola bars, pancake and waffle mixes, and even potato chips can include lactose as a cheap sweetener. Read the label carefully, or look for vegan-labeled products.
  • Processed Meats: Bacon, cold cuts, hot dogs and sausages can contain lactose. Kosher products (including beef, turkey or seitan-based bacon) will be lactose free.
  • Sweetener Tablets: Lactose is used as a bulking agent in sweetening tablets (e.g. Equal Classic Tablets).
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Ricotta For Lunch, Dinner & Dessert

    A couple of weeks ago we discussed the glories of ricotta for breakfast. Today, we make some recommendations for lunch and dinner.

    HORS D’OEUVRE

  • Ricotta dip for crudités, chips, pretzels. You can season and serve it as is, in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil; or blend it in the food processor, with or without fresh herbs (we like chives or dill). You can also blend it with plain yogurt.
  • Ricotta sandwich bites: Grill slices of summer squash or zucchini and fill with fresh ricotta, seasoned to taste.
  • Ricotta spread: Season and serve with crostini or fresh baguette slices. Seasonings include salt and pepper, plus anything you like from garlic to heat (chili flakes, minced jalapeño) to fresh herbs and lemon zest. Look on your spice shelf for inspiration. Here’s how we topped ricotta crostini with green peas.
  •  
    SALADS & SIDES

  • Topping: Use ricotta instead of yogurt to top grains, vegetables, baked potatoes. Garnish with a bit of fresh basil, chive, dill, parsley or other favorite herb. You can also purée the ricotta into a sauce.
  • Salad: Add a scoop of seasoned ricotta to a mixed green salad, instead of a round of goat cheese.
  • Radish salad: Make a first course salad of radishes and sugar snap peas, topped with ricotta and fresh-ground pepper.
  •    

    ricotta-honey-davantichicago-230

    Ricotta spread with honeycomb and toasts. Photo courtesy Davanti | Chicago.

     

    MAINS

  • Casserole: Check recipes for the type of casserole you’d like to make.
  • Pasta: Make ricotta gnudi or ravioli, stuff shells, layer lasagna or top cooked pasta (tossed with a bit of butter or olive oil) with a mound of ricotta, seasoned and garnished with snipped herbs, lemon zest, peas or snap peas.
  • Savory sauce: Purée ricotta with peas, spinach or other vegetable. Place a layer of sauce on the plate before adding the protein.
  •  

    radish-ricotta-oxandson-230

    Ricotta salad, topped with sliced radishes, microgreens and a drizzle of basil olive oil. Photo courtesy Ox & Son | Santa Monica.

     

    DESSERTS

  • Baked ricotta: Mix it with berries before or after baking, or serve it plain with a drizzle of honey.
  • Berry topper: Instead of whipped cream, use ricotta. We sweeten it lightly and add cinnamon or vanilla; but you can also process it until smooth and use it as a sauce.
  • Dessert cheese: Cheese doesn’t have to be sliceable to be on your cheese plate. Serve a bowl of ricotta with customizable accompaniments, like dried and fresh fruits and nuts, honey, jam, Almondina cookies, date nut bread or toasted raisin bread.
  • Ricotta cheesecake!
  • Pudding: Make “cannoli pudding” by sweetening the ricotta and addding a touch of cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla. Top with mini chocolate chips, or serve with berries and/or cookies. You can find other types of ricotta pudding (called budino di ricotta in Italy), some of which are soft like rice pudding and others baked into tarts. Here are recipes for vanilla and a soft chocolate versions.
  • Ricotta ice cream: Follow a recipe for cream cheese ice cream or mascarpone ice cream and substitute ricotta.
  •  

    MAKE YOUR OWN RICOTTA

    While you may not have leftover whey begging to be made into ricotta, you can make your own version from milk and cream. Sure, it’s easier to buy it ready-made; but if you like to cook, you’ll enjoy the experience. This recipe is adapted by one from Chef Anne Burrell, who makes it to serve as an appetizer spread with toast.

    And it’s easy! Prep time is 5 minutes, cook time is 10 minutes, draining time is 15 minutes.

    Ingredients For 4-6 Servings

  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Finishing oil (we like to use flavored olive oil, like basil or rosemary
  • Bread: baguette, rustic loaf, semolina or other favorite
  • Optional: 1 clove garlic
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the milk, cream, vinegar and salt in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and slowly bring to a simmer. Simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, until curds begin to form.

    2. LINE a mesh strainer with several layers of damp cheesecloth. Gently pour the curds and whey through into the strainer and let drain for 15 minutes. Gather the cheesecloth together and gently squeeze some of the excess liquid from the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a serving dish and drizzle with big fat finishing oil.

    3. PREHEAT a grill or broiler. While the ricotta is draining, slice the bread into 1/2-inch thick slices. Toast the bread on the grill or in the broiler on both sides. Swipe the garlic 2 times on each piece of toast and drizzle each piece with finishing oil. Serve the ricotta, slightly warmed, with the grilled bread.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Shakshouka, Spicy Poached & Baked Eggs

    Our friend Terry commented yesterday that on weekend mornings, she goes to a neighborhood café for a dish of shakshouka (shah-SHOOK-ah). “That’s the NIBBLE tip of the day for Tuesday,” we exclaimed.

    So here’s the scoop, something to consider for Father’s Day or any day you have the extra time to make the spicy sauce.

    Shakshouka is a breakfast dish of eggs baked or poached or both, in a spicy tomato sauce that incorporates crushed tomatoes, garlic, hot chiles, olive oil, onions, paprika and/or cumin and salt.

    Some variations include artichoke hearts, beans, potatoes and salty cheese.

    Shakshouka means “a mixture” in Tunisian Arabic. The dish is believed to have a Tunisian origin, but it’s also a staple of Algerian, Egyptian, Moroccan and Libyan cuisines and is popular in Israel, where it’s served for dinner as well.
     
    The dish is traditionally served in a cast iron pan or in a tagine*, with bread to mop up the sauce. The recipe is similar to Mexican huevos rancheros, Spanish pisto manchego and the Turkish dish menemen.
     
    *A tagine or tajine (tah-ZHEEN) is a North African earthenware that comprises a shallow pan covered with a dome. Here’s a photo, recipe and more about tagines.

       

    shakshuka-1-oneofakind.com-goodeggs-230r-r

    An American approach to shakshouka: Served it for lunch with a salad. Photo courtesy GoodEggs.com.

     

    RECIPE: SHAKSHOUKA

    This recipe, from Good Eggs chef Audrey Snyder, is first poached, then baked. But you can poach only if you prefer. Chef Audrey adds both beans (more protein!) and cheese, which add flavor and texture. You can omit them if you prefer.

    You can serve shakshouka with warm bread or toast for dipping, can serve it over polenta, or both. To serve it for lunch or dinner, add a salad and cooked vegetables, as in the photo above.

    If making the sauce is too time-consuming for you, you can substitute a prepared puttanesca sauce along with the fresh herbs and optional cheese. The flavors won’t be the same (anchovy paste, capers and olives instead of cumin, onions and paprika), but they’ll be close enough to enjoy spicy eggs.

     

    Shakshouka_jill-betterhappierstsebastian-230

    This more traditional version of shakshouka, from Jill of ABetterHappierStSebastian.com, uses cheese and parsley to garnish. Here’s the recipe.

     

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 cups/15 ounces cooked beans of your choice, drained
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 sprig each of thyme and rosemary
  • 1 28-ounce jar/can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
    and juices reserved
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or basil
  • 1 cup grated hard cheese or crumbled feta (optional)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F.

    2. HEAT the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeños. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 8 minutes.

    3. ADD the beans, paprika, oregano and fresh herbs and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a light boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes.

    4. SEASON to taste with salt and pepper. Crack the eggs into the sauce one at a time, spacing evenly. Top with the cheese.

    5. TRANSFER the skillet to the oven and bake until the egg whites are set but yolks are still runny, 5 to 8 minutes. Garnish with parsley and basil or cilantro. Serve with warm bread for dipping, or serve over polenta.
     
    Yum!

      

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    RECIPE: Smoky Deviled Eggs

    Our father loved deviled eggs, and every Father’s Day we made him two or three different recipes. You’ll find a bunch of them if you search for “deviled egg recipe” in the search box at the top of the page (the search box at the right only searches the blog portion of TheNibble.com).

    This year’s recipe addition adds a hot and smoky touch that goes great with a beer. The recipe is from SafeEggs.com, producers of pasteurized eggs (here are all the foods where you should consider pasteurized eggs).

    Prep time is 10 minutes after the eggs are cooked. Here’s how to hard-boil eggs.

    RECIPE: SMOKY DEVILED EGGS

    Ingredients For 24 Halves

  • 12 eggs, hard-boiled
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup spicy brown mustard
  • 1 tablespoon ranch dressing
  • A few dashes of hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon paprika plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Garnish: 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped (substitute parsley)
  •  

    smokey-deviled-eggs-safeeggs-230

    A deviled egg recipe with a bit of heat and smoke. Photo courtesy SafeEggs.com.

     

    Preparation

    1. CUT the hard-boiled eggs in half and carefully remove the yolks. Mash the yolks and mix with the mayonnaise, mustard, ranch dressing, hot sauce, onion, paprika, chili powder, salt and pepper until well combined.

    2. SPOON the egg yolk mixture into the egg white halves and garnish with chopped cilantro and an optional sprinkle of paprika.
     
    FUN WITH EGGS

    How much do you know about the “simple” egg? Become an egghead: Check out our Egg Glossary.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Ricotta For Breakfast

    When you think of ricotta, you probably think of ravioli, stuffed shells, lasagna, cannelloni, manicotti, gnudi and white pizza.

    But ricotta is so versatile: It’s a topper, a binder, a stuffing (cannoli, crêpes, dumplings, pillow pasta) and an ingredient in cheesecake, pancakes, puddings and more.

    This is the first of three tips on ricotta: Enjoy it for breakfast! If you like cottage cheese, you’ll like ricotta; and if you don’t enjoy cottage cheese, you may well like the flavor and texture of ricotta.

    WHAT IS RICOTTA

    Ricotta is a fresh (unaged) cow’s milk cheese that’s used extensively in Italian cooking. It’s soft and spreadable like cottage cheese.

    Technically, ricotta isn’t a cheese at all, but a by-product of the cheese-making process. The name “ricotta” means “recooked” in Italian (from the Latin recoctus).

    Ricotta is been made from the whey left over from making other cheeses. After the curds are coagulated from the milk with rennet, the whey is drained off and the curds are pressed into cheese.

    What to do with all the leftover whey had long been a concern with cheese makers. Many simply fed it to their pigs, a practice continued today. Famously, the whey drained from making the “king of cheeses,” Parmigiano-Reggiano, is used to feed the pigs that become Parma ham (prosciutto).

       

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    Ricotta and honey for breakfast. Delicious! Photo courtesy Murray’s Cheese.

     
    Somewhere along the line, some cheese maker hero whose name is lost to history discovered that whey contained proteins and milk solids that could be coagulated into curds. Using an acid and high heat, ricotta was born. Early mentions and depictions of the ricotta-making process date back to the 1100s.

    While ricotta in the U.S. is typically made from cow’s milk whey, in Italy it is also made from goat whey, sheep whey, even water buffalo whey.

    Regardless of the whey used, ricotta is the freshest of cheeses and should be consumed promptly. Supermarket brands tend to be stabilized for longer shelf life, but there is nothing like fresh-made ricotta—higher in price, but so worth it. Ask for it at a cheese store or an Italian specialty market.

     

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    Depending on the preference of the cheese maker, fresh ricotta can be the consistency of cottage cheese or slightly less moist. Photo courtesy Caviar Russe.

     

    HOW IS RICOTTA SALATA RELATED TO RICOTTA?

    Ricotta salata is made specifically from the whey of sheep’s milk, but it not sold fresh like ricotta. It is pressed, salted (salata) and aged into a hard, white cheese. Mildly salty, nutty and milky, it is an excellent grating and shaving cheese, often used to garnish pasta, salads and cooked vegetables.

    Here’s a photo and more about ricotta salata.

    There’s also ricotta affumicata, an aged cheese that is smoked in the early part of the maturing process. Like ricotta salata, it can be eaten with bread or grated over other foods.

     
    USES FOR RICOTTA AT BREAKFAST

    When Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet*, eating her curds and whey, she was having a bowl of cottage cheese: Curds are the lumps and whey is the liquid. That was in England. If she’d have been in Italy, she would have eaten ricotta instead. Here’s how we enjoy it at breakfast:

     

  • Spread on toast. We like it plain on crusty toast with a pinch of fresh-ground pepper, but you can add sweet accents (cinnamon sugar, jam) or savory seasonings (cracked black pepper, herbs).
  • Toast with toppers. Green pea and ricotta toast is delicious for breakfast, as a snack, even as a first course at dinner. You can substitute edamame or sugar snap peas (more). Or, you can add fruit yogurt and/or fresh fruit.
  • Ricotta with honey, with or without toast, untoasted bread or a muffin. Here are recipe variations.
  • Ricotta pancakes. Add one cup of ricotta to two cups of pancake mix. Here’s a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, and another for lemon ricotta pancakes from Bobby Flay.
  • Omelet or crêpe filling. As with the previous tip, you can make it sweet or savory. Or, make scrambled eggs with ricotta and chives.
  • Curds and whey update. Top ricotta (as the curds) with fruit yogurt (as the whey). Add fresh fruit.
  •  
    We’re off to enjoy a breakfast of these “curds and whey.” Do you have a favorite way to enjoy ricotta for breakfast? Let us know.
     
    *Have you ever wondered what a tuffet is? It’s a hassock, a piece of furniture used as a footstool or a low seat. Your great-grandmother likely had one that matched the sofa.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Savory French Toast

    Saturday was always “French Toast for breakfast day” in our family. It was always sweet, with real maple syrup and fresh fruit.

    So when we came across this recipe for savory French Toast from Castello Cheese (which used its Aged Havarti in the recipe), we picked the following Saturday (yesterday) to give it a try.

    The result: a nifty breakfast option for those who don’t particularly like syrup or other sweet toppings, and a change of pace for those who do. It evokes a breakfast grilled cheese sandwich on a soft, eggy base of pan-fried bread, rather than on crisp toasted bread.

    It’s a nice change of pace. Just as you can vary the toppings on French Toast, you can use different savory toppings.

    For those of you who remember Creamed Chipped Beef On Toast, you can make a French Toast version. Use leftover beef or jerky to replace the tomato and cheese in the recipe below. No beef? Check the fridge: You can adapt just about any savory leftovers.

     

    savory-french-toast-castello-230

    Savory French Toast with cheese and tomatoes. Photo courtesy Castello Cheese.

     
    Test out the recipe now: It may be just what you’re looking for for Father’s Day.

    Prep time is 40 minutes. For prettier color, look for heirloom cherry tomatoes or a mix of red, orange and yellow varieties.

    As you can see in the photo, the Castello chef used a three-inch round cookie cutter to cut the bread in circles after it comes out of the pan. We’re not so elegant; and besides, we don’t want to give up that cut-away French toast.
     
    RECIPE: SAVORY FRENCH TOAST

    Ingredients For 6 Servings
     
    For The Tomato Topping

  • 3 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  •  
    For The French Toast

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (substitute Asiago or Pecorino Romano)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 1½-inch thick slices brioche, egg bread or jalapeño Italian bread
  • 2 ounces aged Havarti, shaved (substitute Jack, aged Gouda, Tilsit or other shaveable cheese)
  •  

    monte-cristo-kikkoman-panko230

    A Monte Cristo sandwich is ham and Gruyère on French Toast. Photo courtesy Kikkoman.

     

    Variations

  • Blue cheese and sliced apples
  • Feta and kalamata olives with dill or oregano
  • Smoked salmon, caviar and crème fraîche
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREPARE the tomatoes: Sauté the tomatoes in the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the oregano and vinegar and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and set aside, keeping warm until ready to serve.

    2. MAKE the French Toast: Whisk the milk, egg, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a shallow pan. Dip the bread into the milk mixture and pan fry it in a hot non-stick pan for 3 minutes per side.

    3. TRANSFER the bread onto serving plates and top with the tomato mixture. Shave the cheese over the tomatoes. Serve immediately.

     
    THE HISTORY OF FRENCH TOAST

    The dish known in America as French toast has roots at least as far back as ancient Rome, where it was a sweet dish. In fact, pain perdu (lost bread), the current French name for the dish, was once called pain à la romaine, or Roman bread.

    While the story evolved that French Toast was a food of the poor, trying to scrape together a meal from stale bread, recipes from ancient and medieval times denote that it was fare for wealthy people.

  • Recipes used white bread, a luxury, with the crusts cut off. Poor people ate brown bread, much cheaper because the wheat endosperm did not have to be milled and painstakingly hand-sifted through screens to create white flour.
  • Costly ingredients such as spices (cinnamon, cloves, mace and nutmeg), sugar and almond milk are found in numerous recipes.
  • The cooked bread was topped with costly honey or sugar.
  • And cookbooks themselves were the province of the privileged: Only wealthy people and clergy learned to read.
  •  
    THE MONTE CRISTO SANDWICH

    More recently, French toast has evolved into a savory sandwich, the Monte Cristo. It is an evolution of the croque-monsieur, a crustless sandwich of ham and Gruyère cheese, buttered and lightly browned on both sides in a skillet or under a broiler.

    The croque-monsieur was invented in Paris in 1910. A variation with a baked egg on top is called a croque-madame. Neither sandwich was battered, like French toast.

    The Monte Cristo sandwich, a triple-decker sandwich, battered and pan-fried, was invented at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. According to the L.A. Times, the first recipe in print is in the Brown Derby Cookbook, published in 1949.

    Here’s the recipe so you can try it for lunch—although probably not on the same day you have French Toast for breakfast.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: 25+ Egg Salad Additions

    Today is National Egg Day, which rings nostalgic to us. The approach of summer reminds us of Mom’s fresh egg salad sandwiches, served to us with the just-cooked eggs still warm.

    Basic egg salad combines chopped hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise with finely chopped celery and onion, seasoned with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (or some pickle juice), salt and pepper.

    Some people then build a sandwich by adding lettuce and tomato, even strips of bacon. But today’s tip is what to add to the egg salad itself. They turn egg salad from ordinary to memorable.

    It doesn’t have to be a sandwich. Scoop your egg salad atop greens, into a crisp bell pepper, a stuffed tomato, a bacon bowl, even into potato skins. Make canapés with a base of apple, cucumber or potato or.
     
    Kitchen tip: When preparing hard boiled eggs, add a teaspoon of baking soda or vinegar the pot of water. This will help when removing the shell & have a perfectly peeled egg. Here’s more on how to make hard-boiled eggs.
     
    25+ FAVORITE ADDITIONS TO EGG SALAD

  • Antipasto, with diced mozzarella, salami.
  •  

    egg-salad-tartine-theeggfarm-230

    Find more delicious recipes at TheEggFarm.com.

  • Asian, with garlic, green onions, ginger, soy sauce instead of salt and a few red chili flakes (note: the soy will darken the egg salad).
  • Bacon horseradish: Add crumbled bacon to your favorite egg salad recipe and a teaspoon of prepared horseradish to the mayonnaise.
  • Beet: Diced beets turn your favorite egg salad recipe pink.
  • Curried, with chopped almonds, raisins and fresh apple.
  • Deviled, using your favorite deviled egg recipe ingredients.
  • Greek, with lemon zest, kalamata cheese, peperoncini, oregano, thyme and optional crumbled feta cheese.
  • Dried fruit: dried blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raisins or sultanas, especially in combination with sliced almonds.
  • Français: Add finely chopped shallot, fresh tarragon, and tarragon or wine vinegar mixed with the mayonnaise.
  • Fruit: diced apples, halved grapes, dried fruit (cherries, cranberries, blueberries)—consider combining with nuts.
  • Giardiniera, with diced pickled vegetables (pickle carrots, celery and onion for one hour). Alternative: capers.
  • Gremolata, a combination of garlic, lemon zest and parsley (recipe). Or, add any one or two of these ingredients.
  • Gribiche, with capers, diced cornichons and fines herbes (fresh chervil, chives, parsley and tarragon).
  • Ham, diced.
  • Heat: chile in adobo, crushed red pepper, minced fresh chiles.
  •  

    curried-egg-salad-louisemellor-safeeggs-230

    Bacon and egg salad. Photo courtesy SafeEggs.com.

     
  • Herbed: Pick two fresh herbs from among basil, chives, dill or parsley.
  • Mom’s: Our mother’s recipe uses finely chopped celery, red bell pepper, red onion; minced fresh parsley; and Durkee’s Famous Sauce*.
  • Mustard: Dijon or grainy mustard (add minced cornichons), honey mustard (add dried fruit).
  • Mushrooms, marinated or sautéed.
  • Niçoise, with drained flaked tuna, chopped picholine or Kalamata olives, chopped cooked green beans.
  • Nuts: almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts (consider combining with a fruit).
  • Olives: It’s fun to combine two varieties, e.g. Kalamata and pimento-stuffed.
  • Peppadew, especially combined with diced red pepper.
  • Pesto: Bind with half mayonnaise, half pesto.
  • Pickles/relish, from chopped cornichons or dills to sweet pickle relish and mustard pickles.
  • Russian, with dill, boiled potatoes, pickled onions and 50:50 sour cream and mayonnaise (optional: diced beets).
  • Soft cheese: crumbled blue, chèvre or feta; diced mozzarella.
  • Three onion: chive, red and sweet onion, finely diced.
  • Tomatoes: diced cherry tomatoes, sundried, and when the good summer tomatoes come in, with big, thick slices.
  •  
    SANDWICH BREAD

    Forget the supermarket white or whole wheat bread for a day, and try:

  • Baguette
  • Ciabatta
  • Croissant
  • Flatbread
  • Pita (look for whole wheat pita!)
  • Pretzel rolls
  • Pumpernickel, rye or black bread
  • Seeded bread
  • Semolina bread
  • Tortilla wrap
  •  
    BINDERS

    Plain supermarket mayonnaise is so 20th century. Blend proportions of any of the following, to taste:

  • Blue cheese, Italian, ranch or Russian/Thousand Island dressing
  • Chili sauce, ketchup or barbecue sauce
  • Durkee’s Famous Sauce (see footnote below)
  • Flavored olive oil
  • Guacamole
  • Hummus, plain or flavored
  • Mayonnaise, including flavored mayo (bacon, lemon, chipotle, wasabi, etc.) or sandwich spread (mayo mixed with pickle relish)
  • Mustard, from Dijon to grainy to flavored (types of mustard)
  • Pesto
  • Plain yogurt flavored with herbs or spices, or tzatziki
  • Salsa
  • White bean purée
  • Wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon vinaigrette
  •  
    VEGETABLES: BEYOND ICEBERG LETTUCE

  • Arugula or watercress
  • Cucumber slices
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Radish slices
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Romaine or bibb lettuce
  • Sliced tomatoes in season, or chopped cherry tomatoes year-round
  •  
    This should keep you busy until the next National Egg Day! If you have anything to add to the list, let us know.

     
    *Durkee’s Famous Sauce is a tangy salad and sandwich spread that combines mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar and seasonings. Mom used it in cole slaw, deviled eggs, potato salad and on sandwiches. Patented in 1857, Durkee says it was served in the Lincoln White House! It is still sold online and at some Wal-Marts and other retailers. We haven’t tried this recipe, but it claims to be a Durkee’s Famous Sauce clone. Here’s another version.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Shave Parmesan Onto Everything

    You shave Parmesan cheese onto pasta and risotto, meatballs and Caesar salad; maybe on other green salads, too; perhaps to garnish soups. But why stop there?

    Armed with two different grating gadgets*, the space for which we need to justify, we’ve been shaving Parmesan cheese onto just about everything. Just a bit goes a long way as a tangy, nutty garnish.

    We add shaved Parmesan cheese to these dishes (if cooked, after they come off the heat):

  • Beef, from slices to whole steaks and burgers. Try a roast beef sandwich with shaved Parmesan and arugula and of course, on a steak salad.
  • Carpaccio and crudo. (In Italian cuisine, carpaccio is raw beef fillet, crudo is raw seafood.)
  • Chicken and fish, grilled or baked. Not a surprise for those who like Chicken Parmigiano or Parmesan-breaded chicken or fish.
  • Eggs, any style.
  •    

    beef-salad-parmesan-blissfullydelicious-230

    Sliced steak and salad with shaved Parmesan. Photo courtesy Blissfully Delicious. Here’s the recipe.

  • Grains, from rice to quinoa. The best cheese grits are made with grated Parmesan and topped with some shavings.
  • Vegetables, particularly grilled vegetables and steamed asparagus. A favorite summer side is a grilled or broiled tomato, removed from the grill and covered with shaved Parmesan.
  •  
    As an aside to shaved Parmesan ideas, in Italy, chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano are often eaten for dessert with a few drops of balsamic vinegar, and perhaps some fresh strawberries. The same wedge you use for shaving can be broken into chunks for a cheese plate.

     

    shaved-parmesan-onceuponachef-230

    You can shave Parmesan with a vegetable peeler. Photo courtesy Once Upon A Chef.

     

    PARMESAN & PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO: THE DIFFERENCE

    “Parmesan cheese” can be produced anywhere on earth, however the manufacturer desires.

    Parmigiano-Reggiano dates to medieval Italy. It is PDO-protected and produced only by members of a consortium, the Consorzio del formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano. It can only be made from the milk of local cows in the Italian provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and certain parts of Bologna and Mantova.

    Producers must adhere to strict Consorzio guidelines, which ensure that the cheeses develop the profoundly complex flavors of authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano. Wheels that don’t meet the standards are declassified and aren’t given the official Consorzio stamp.

    Note to connoisseurs: The best Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is considered to be Vacche Rosse (“Red Cow”), with milk from a specific herd of cows, that is 30 months. If you can’t find it locally, you can buy it at iGourmet.com.

     

    For most people, generic Parmesan is just fine. For connoisseurs, tasting the real deal can be an eye-opener. It is intense and complex, with nutty, sweet, grassy, creamy and fruity flavors. That’s why it has long been called called the “King of Cheeses.”
     
    PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO TIPS

  • Buy it only in wedges. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano begins to lose its flavor after grating.
  • Keep the cheese in the fridge for up to a month. After then, it slowly starts to lose flavor but can still be used.
  • Rewrap with fresh plastic or parchment paper at least once a week.
  • Don’t toss the rinds. Use them to add flavor to soups or pasta sauces.
  •  
    Here’s more on Parmesan vs. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and still more about Parmigiano Reggiano itself.

     
    *You can use a vegetable peeler; no special gadget required.
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Fried Cheese For The Cheese Course

    Sophisticated diners in the U.S.—and many people in Europe—have long finished dinner with a cheese course and small salad, instead of a sweet dessert.

    How about a twist: fried cheese with salad on top—or underneath?

    There are many fried cheese recipes; today’s is a Sicilian specialty. Caciocavallo, which means “cheese on horseback,” is a cheese that dates back to Roman times. Two large, pear-shaped cheeses are tied with rope and slung over a wooden board to drain and age.

    Believed to have been so shaped to make it easy to transport by slinging over pack animals, the cheese duo evokes the image of saddlebags, hence the name (here’s a photo).

    Caciocavallo is hard to find in conventional U.S. markets, although you can find it at Italian specialty stores and online from cheesemongers like Murray’s Cheese.

       

    fried-caciacavallo-esquaredhospitality2

    Fried caciacavallo cheese topped with salad. Photo courtesy E-squaredhospitality.

     
    Or, substitute halloumi, kasseri, provolone, scamorza, smoked mozzarella or queso de freier (Mexican frying cheese). You’ve got plenty of options!

    RECIPE: FRIED CHEESE COURSE

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3/4 pound of Caciocavallo, cut into 4 slices
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 4 tablespoons vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon sugar
  • Italian bread, sliced
  • Salad of choice (we like arugula, basil, cress, endive, chives or sliced green onions and sometimes, fennel; but you can use absolutely anything, very lightly tossed with vinaigrette to slightly moisten)
  •  

    fried-cheese-eatwisconsincheese-230

    Fried caciacavallo served atop the salad. Photo courtesy EatWisconsinCheese.com.

     

    Preparation

    1. HEAT the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and slices of cheese and lower the heat.

    2. COOK covered for 1 minute; then turn the cheese over and cook covered for an additional minute, or until the cheese is golden in color.

    3. REMOVE the skillet from the heat, add the oregano and pepper and transfer the fried cheese to the serving plates.

    4. ADD the vinegar and sugar to the hot oil in the pan and cook for about 1–2 minutes until some of the liquid evaporates. This creates a sweet and sour sauce.

    5. DECIDE if you want your salad on top or underneath the cheese. Add the salad accordingly.

    6. TOP the cheese with the sauce if the cheese is on top of the salad; or use it to dot the plate if the salad is on top. Use the garlic as garnish and serve immediately with slices of fresh Italian bread.

     

    ABOUT CACIOCAVALLO CHEESE

    Caciocavallo, a popular cheese in southern Italy and Sicily, is typically made from unpasteurized cow’s or sheep’s milk. Two pear-shaped cheeses, about 4 pounds each, are joined at the neck by a rope to age.

    Like burrata, mozzarella, provolone and scamorza, caciocavallo is a pasta filata, a cheese made by stretching and forming the curd by hand.

    It is then aged for two to three months, and optimally for one year. Because the pairs of tied cheeses hang from rods in the air to age, instead of sitting on shelves like other cheeses, more microbes can enter the cheese, where they help to develop sharp, spicy flavors, deep, earthy undertones and fruity aromas.

    The result is a layered, complex cheese that is typically sliced and served with fresh fruit, plus a glass of hearty red wine. The yellow rind is edible.

    There are different types of caciocavallo:

  • Caciocavallo Silano, a PDO* cheese made in the southern Italian regions of Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise and Puglia.
  • Caciocavallo Ragusa, a PDO* cheese made in Ragusa, Sicily.
  • Caciocavallo affumicato, smoked caciocavallo.
  • Caciocavallo piccante, spicy caciocavallo.
  • Caciocavallo primaverile, made from milk gathered in the spring, which has subtle flavors of the aromatic herbs in spring pastures.
  •  
    MORE FRIED CHEESE RECIPES

  • Cashew-encrusted fried cheese recipe.
  • Fried cheese curds recipe.
  • Grilled halloumi cheese recipe.
  •  
    *PDO, Protected Designation of Origin, is a designation of authenticity from the European Union. In the case of Caciocavallo Silano or Ragusa, it guarantees that the milk used comes only from local herds.

      

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