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Archive for Cheese/Yogurt/Dairy

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Cracker Barrel, The Best Boxed Mac & Cheese

Why do so many American households make macaroni and cheese?

It’s easy, cheap, fast (9 minutes!) comfort food—at least in modern packaged form. But in the many centuries before boxed mac & cheese, it was as laborious as most other cooking.

THE HISTORY OF MACARONI & CHEESE

The first written known record of pasta and cheese casseroles dates to medieval cookbooks of the 14th century.

The first modern recipe for the dish was published in Britain, in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book, The Experienced English Housekeeper.

Raffald’s recipe calls for a mornay sauce—a secondary mother sauce that’s a béchamel sauce with cheese—in this case, cheddar cheese. The sauce is mixed with cooked macaroni, sprinkled with parmesan, and baked until golden.

The recipe from scratch requires cooked macaroni (now referred to by its Italian name, pasta); plus milk, butter and flour and cheese to make the cheddar or parmesan sauce.

Almost a century later, in 1861, the popular Victorian cookbook Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management offered two recipes for the dish, one topped with the bread crumbs still used today. Both books are available in reprints: Just click the links.

Thomas Jefferson encountered pasta in Paris while Minister to France (1885 to 1889), and in his travels to Italy. Back in the U.S., he imported both macaroni and parmesan cheese in order to enjoy cheesy macaroni.
 
Mac & Cheese Gets Its Name

The first recipe called “macaroni and cheese” was published in the U.S. in 1824, in Mary Randolph’s influential cookbook, The Virginia Housewife. More American “macaroni and cheese” recipes followed, in the 1852 Hand-book of Useful Arts, and the 1861 Godey’s Lady’s Book.

By the mid-1880s, midwestern cookbooks included recipes for macaroni and cheese casseroles. Labor-intensive, the dish was enjoyed by the more affluent [source].
 
Mac & Cheese Gets A Box

Once it became available in dry packaged form in the first half of the 20th century, mac and cheese became affordable to the masses—and thus less interesting to the affluent. Launched in 1937 in the midst of the Great Depression, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese advertised that a family of four could eat for 19¢, the price of a box. Consumers bought eight million boxes in the first year [source].

A whopping 50 million boxes were sold during World War II, when meat and dairy were in short supply, and one food ration stamp could be exchanged for two boxes of macaroni and cheese.

Today, the original packaged form is joined by frozen heat-and-eat versions and cheddar cheese sauce is sold in jars. The dish can be cooked on the stovetop, in the oven or in a microwave.

In the United States, July 14th is National Macaroni and Cheese Day. Now that we’re up to date…
 
 
WELCOME, CRACKER BARREL MACARONI & CHEESE

Up-front disclosure: We’re really picky about our food, and have never enjoyed powdered cheese sauce. Our mom made mac and cheese from scratch, grating cheddar, gruyère or parmesan into her béchamel.

She used bricks Cracker Barrel cheddar, her brand of choice. Back then, specialty cheese stores were few and far between; and even today, it’s not easy for many people to find the finest farmhouse (artisan) cheddars (and if you found them, the best use would not be grated into a cheese sauce).

So we were more than interested to see what Cracker Barrel would present as a packaged mac and cheese.

It’s the cheese that makes the biggest difference in preparations, and Cracker Barrel does not disappoint. Its cheese sauce is not mixed from powder, but is ready to eat, squeezed from a package onto the cooked elbow macaroni.

Smooth, creamy and full of flavor, it has a distinctively superior taste, creating what you’d expect from a casual restaurant instead of a boxed product.

 

Macaroni & Cheese Breadcrumbs

Macaroni & Cheese Broccoli

Lobster Mac & Cheese

BLT Mac & Cheese

Cracker Barrel Macaroni & Cheese

[1] A bread crumb topping was suggested in Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 cookbook. [2] Sneaking in broccoli and riced cauliflower. [3] Go upscale with added shellfish; here, lobster (photo courtesy Blake’s). [4] BLT mac & cheese (photo courtesy WMMB). [5] The best boxed mac and cheese, new from Cracker Barrel.

 
And while it comes in a box, Cracker Barrel is not meant to compete with other boxed mac and cheese (Kraft owns Cracker Barrel as well as the number-one brand, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese) but with prepared dishes from the refrigerated section of the grocery store, and with restaurant dishes. (Kraft, which owns the Cracker Barrel trademark, has no relation to the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.)

People with sophisticated palates will notice the quality. Yet, the price is not much more than other boxed meals.

There are four varieties of Cracker Barrel Macaroni and Cheese, featuring different cheese options:

  • Cheddar Havarti
  • Sharp Cheddar
  • Sharp Cheddar & Bacon
  • Sharp White Cheddar
  •  
    You can dress up the dish with anything you like. We enjoy it plain with fresh-cracked pepper and some grated parmesan, but also loved:

  • Bay scallops and toasted crumbs—shades of Coquilles Saint Jacques.
  • BLT-style, with a topping of bacon, baby arugula and diced tomato.
  • Ham and cheese—we had some baked ham as well as serrano ham. We julienned the former, shredded the latter and snipped some fresh herbs on top.
  • Veggie supreme, made with all our leftover vegetables. Tip: put the veggies on the bottom and they’ll be coated with cheese sauce.
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    DOES MAC & CHEESE REQUIRE ELBOW MACARONI?

    No: You can use any pasta. Elbow macaroni most likely became the standard because it was easy for children to eat with a spoon.

    We heard one of our favorite chefs—Gordon Ramsay—chew out a chef on TV for making mac and cheese with penne, insisting that it must be made with elbows.

    Not so, chef!

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Frittata For Dinner

    For breakfast, lunch or dinner, make a frittata (frizz-TA-ta).

    A frittata is an Italian-style omelet, set in the frying pan in the oven*—no folding required. We’ve been making them for years, because our omelets never looked neat enough and we had no patience to work on our technique.

  • With an omelet, the filling ingredients are placed on the beaten eggs that are setting in the pan. As the omelet continues to cook, it is folded with a spatula to envelop the ingredients (that’s the part that requires practice, practice, practice).
  • With a frittata—the name comes from the Italian friggere, to fry—the eggs and other ingredients are mixed together, then cooked more slowly than an omelet. The egg mixture completely fills a round skillet: no folding. The result looks like a crustless quiche. The name derives from the Italian friggere, to fry.
  • As with a quiche, a frittata can be served at room temperature
  •  
    WHAT TO PUT IN A FRITTATA

    Sometimes we add so many vegetables that we end up with “veggies bound with some egg.” You can added anything else you have, from beans, to leftover grains and potatoes.

    There are countless frittata recipes online, with oven, stove top or stove top/broiler cooking techniques. We prefer the oven—it’s the easiest for us—but try them all to see which works best for you.

    Consider:

  • Cheese: any kind, crumbled, cubed or shredded as appropriate
  • Fresh herbs: basil, chives, cilantro, dill, parsley or other favorite
  • Heat: fresh or dried chile, hot sauce
  • Meats: bacon, ham, sausage
  • Miscellany: canned artichoke hearts, capers, olives
  • Seafood: crab, scallops, shrimp (great when there aren’t enough left over for a main dish)
  • Vegetables: Anything goes (see list† below)—pre-steam as necessary
  •  
    National Farmers Market Week begins tomorrow, so head for yours and make a selection.

    RECIPE: KITCHEN SINK FRITTATA

    This “kitchen sink” frittata shows that you can take whatever you have in the fridge or pantry and toss it together for delicious results. We once had a “Surprise BYO” brunch with friends; everyone brought a favorite ingredient (we had extra ingredients in the fridge in case everyone brought the same thing).

    If you don’t have or like any of the ingredients, substitute what you do have.

    Ingredients For 2 Servings

  • 4 eggs
  • Pinch salt (more saltiness comes with the feta)
  • 1 cup feta, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 ear of corn, shucked and kernels removed
  • ½ pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Handful of basil leaves, torn
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
  • Optional: a shake of red pepper flakes or other heat
  •  
    Plus

  • Side salad
  • Toast or bread and butter
  •  

    Potato & Sausage Frittata

    Avocado Arugula Frittata

    Frittata Recipe

    [1] Use boiled potatoes and sausage for this family favorite. Here’s the recipe from Applegate. [2] You can top a frittata with fresh ingredients (photo courtesy Avocados From Mexico). [3] You can put anything into a frittata. This “kitchen sink” recipe is below (photo courtesy Good Eggs).

    _______________________
    *You can also use the stove top and broiler, but in the oven no flipping is required.

    †Try any blend: avocado, asparagus, bell pepper, broccoli, carrot, chard, eggplant, kale, mushrooms, onion/leek/green onion, potatoes (boiled/roasted), spinach, zucchini and so on.
     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Beat together the eggs and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Add the feta and whisk together.

    2. HEAT the olive oil in a 6” cast iron pan. When hot, add the garlic and onions and cook until they start to color, about 3 mintues. Add the corn, tomatoes and basil. Lower the heat to medium and cook together for about 5 minutes until the onions are how you like them. Then scrape the contents into a bowl and let cool.

    3. REGREASE the bottom and sides of the pan. Mix the egg mixture with the corn and tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake until the center of the frittata is just set and no longer jiggling, about 15 to 20 minutes.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Build-Your-Own No-Cook Summer Dessert Bowl

    Easy Ricotta Summer Dessert

    Sheep's Milk Ricotta

    Wasa Sesame Sea Salt Thins

    Wasa Thins

    [1] Lay out the ingredients for the easiest DIY dessert. [2] Ricotta salata, made in a mold, is salted. It’s better for a DIY with savory toppings (photos courtesy Good Eggs). [3] and [4] Crunchy Wasa Thins in Sesame & Sea Salt, also available in Sea Salt & Rosemary (photos courtesy Wasa).

     

    You may know ricotta from cannoli and cheesecake. They’re delicious desserts, but require some preparation.

    For summer, there’s another option: The 5 Minute Ricotta Dessert Bowl, as created by Good Eggs, a top-quality online grocer in San Francisco.

    Yes, in just five minutes you can set ingredients on the table, DIY-style, and everyone can have fun (and good nutrition!) customizing their bowls.

  • In addition to dessert, you can set out the spread for breakfast, light lunch or a sophisticated snack.
  • You can make a savory version, for breakfast, light lunch, snack or a first course at dinner.
  •  
    RECIPE: DIY RICOTTA BOWLS

    Ricotta is actually not a cheese but a by-product of cheese-making which uses the whey drained from other cheeses. Whey is the watery part of milk that remains after the formation of the curds. In fact, the name means “re-cooked.” Here’s more ricotta information.

    You can even make your own ricotta at home. Here’a a recipe from Williams-Sonoma.

    Turn it into a build-your-own dessert—no cooking, no heat, cool comfort food.

    Ingredients For 4-6 Servings

  • Ricotta (the best you can find, 4 ounces per person)
  • Berries or other fruits
  • Nuts and seeds of choice; granola
  • Sweetness: agave or honey for drizzling
  • Optional: crème fraîche, yogurt, sour cream; for dessert, mascarpone
  • Bonus: chocolate chips, candied orange peel, dried fruit (cherries, cranberries, raisins)
  • Crackers: flatbread (we used the new Sesame Sea Salt Thins from WASA), or other cracker of choice.
  •  
    Savory Ingredient Options

    Use the same nuts/seeds, yogurt/sour cream and crackers, plus:

  • Ricotta and/or ricotta salata (photo #2)
  • Carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, green onions, radishes and/or other vegetables of choice, sliced
  • Fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, dill, parsley)
  • Hot sauce
  • Shichimi togarashi or other spice blend
  • More: capers, sliced olives, roasted red peppers, etc.
  •  
    HAVE A RICOTTA TASTING

    Set out different brands, from big commercial brands or the store brand, to freshly-made ricotta from the cheese department.

    Taste each type plain: just a spoonful.

     
    Sheep’s Milk Ricotta

    Good Eggs uses Bellwether Farms Sheep’s Milk Ricotta in this recipe. In Italy, Sheep’s milk ricotta is preferred over any other for its delicate flavor and texture. If you can find it, grab it.
     
    MORE WAYS TO USE RICOTTA

    Use it both sweet and savory dishes, including stuffed pasta (lasagna, manicotti, ravioli, shells, etc.).

  • Ricotta For Breakfast
  • Ricotta For Lunch, Dinner & Dessert
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Summer Cheeses

    Yellow Tomato Caprese Salad

    Arty Caprese Salad

    Watermelon Caprese Salad

    [1] Yellow tomato Caprese Salad (photo courtesy Elegant Affairs Caterers | FB. [2] Artistic Caprese Salad (photo courtesy Great Performances | FB). [3] Watermelon Caprese Salad. You can also use mango and other stone fruits (photo courtesy Watermelon.org).

     

    On the hot days of summer, lighten up on your cheeses. Switch the heavier blues, cheddars and washed rind cheeses for delicate, creamy ones.

    Even fresh year-round cheeses like chèvre, feta, mozzarella and ricotta taste better in the summer.

    Here’s the 411 on cheese:

  • Cheeses are seasonal based on the feed and milk availability. Goats and sheep, for example, cease producing milk over the winter, when they have bred, until they give birth.in spring.
  • With modern freezing techniques to preserve the curds, goat’s and sheep’s milk curds, previously available only in spring when the animals give birth, are available year-round.
  • In the spring and summer, the animals from artisan cheesemakers graze in the field, eating grass and clover. The seasonal diet gives more dimension to their milk, with floral and grassy notes.
  • Fresh curds + richer milk = the best cheese of the year.
  •  
    No one will stop you from getting your fill of aged Gouda, Roquefort or Stilton, but we prefer to save them for the cooler months.

    There are many semisoft, semihard and hard cheeses at peak for summer. Your cheesemonger can guide you to the best semi-hard and hard summer cheeses in the store. On the soft, fresh side, here are our favorite widely-available cheeses:
     
    FOUR FAVORITE SUMMER CHEESES

    All pair with burgers, pizza, green salads and fruit salads.

    Mozzarella

    Pay a bit more for artisan mozzarella. As opposed to rubbery factory mozzarella, it’s freshly made, and has a delightfully different texture from the standard “pizza mozzarella.”

    Pair it with its soul mates, fresh basil and summer tomatoes; then:

  • Tuck it into omelets.
  • Make grilled cheese sandwiches or panini.
  • Toss with pasta and salads (ciliegine and perlini, bite-size mozzarella balls, work better here).
  • For appetizers and the summer “cheese course,” combine ciliegine with cherry tomatoes and other vegetables, cubed meats or rolled proscuitto. Use skewers or an artistic plating.
  • For dessert, do the same with fruit.
  •  
    And get your fill of perhaps the most famous summer mozzarella dish, Caprese Salad.

  • You can substitute mango, stone fruit or watermelon for the the tomatoes.
  • You can substitute feta, goat cheese, ricotta, even tofu for the mozzarella.
  •  
    Best Fresh Herb Pairing: basil.

    Feta

    Feta—crumbled, cubed or sliced—pairs with almost every summer fruit and vegetable. Tip: Some feta is very salty. Go to the cheese counter and ask to taste it first, or get a recommendation for a packaged brand with less salt.

  • In omelets.
  • In Watermelon-Feta Salad or crumbled over green salad.
  • On skewers—appetizer and dessert.
  • With grilled lamb, pork or poultry (turn it into a side with good olive oil, cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs).
  • On burgers: beef, turkey and especially lamb.
  • On pizza, anchovies, capers, olives and onion slices.
  •  
    Best Fresh Herb Pairing: cilantro or dill.

     

    Fresh Goat Cheese

    Fresh goat cheese is soft and creamy, with a bit of tang. Along with ricotta, it spreads easily on bread.

    As with mozzarella, fresh goat cheese loves summer tomatoes. Try it:

  • On crusty baguette, with tomatoes or grilled vegetables.
  • In omelets.
  • With green salads (slice a log into rounds and place on top of the greens.
  • Ditto with fruit salads or a fresh fruit plate.
  •  
    Best Fresh Herb Pairing: basil or mint.
     
    Ricotta

    Soft and creamy ricotta is can be called “Italian cottage cheese,” and can be used in the same ways.

    You can mix in any seasonings and use the flavored cheese in even more ways. Ricotta loves a drizzle of honey.

  • Spread on toast and bagels, with optional honey or berries.
  • DIY ricotta bowls for breakfast or dessert (see photo #4).
  • Substitute for mozzarella in a Caprese Salad.
  • Pair with fresh fruit and optional yogurt.
  • Sweeten for cookie sandwiches or dips.
  • Whip with sweetener and a touch of cinnamon for “cannoli cream.”
  • Use the cannoli cream instead of whipped cream to top fruit, puddings and other desserts.
  •  
    Best Fresh Herb Pairing: chives.
     
    HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT CHEESE?

    Test your knowledge—or build it up—with our Cheese Glossary: the different types of cheese, categories, techniques, etc.

     

    Ricotta Caprese Salad

    Ricotta Toppings

    [1] Top a salad with a spoonful or two of plain or flavored ricotta (photo courtesy Del Posto | NYC). [2] DIY ricotta bowls are customized to whatever you want: fruit, seeds, even chocolate (photo courtesy Good Eggs | SF).

     

      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Lactaid Ice Cream

    July is National Ice Cream Month, a time for celebration among ice cream lovers. But not for every one of us.

    According to research studies, 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. Some have been that way since childhood; some lose the ability to digest lactose as adults.

    Says HealthDay.com, “The condition is so common—and so natural—that some doctors don’t even like to call lactose intolerance a disorder.

    But that’s no comfort to anyone who can no longer have cheese, ice cream, milk, yogurt and even butter, including butter-rich foods such as buttercream frosting and caramels.

    Lactose intplerance cuts across ancestral lines, creating gastrointestinal problems in:

  • 70% of African Americans
  • 90% of Asian Americans
  • 53% of Mexican Americans
  • 74% of Native Americans
  • 20% of Caucasians, however…
  •  
    …people of Arab, Greek, Hispanic, Italian and Jewish ancestry have a much higher incidence than other groups.
     
    LACTOSE-FREE ICE CREAM FROM LACTAID

    Ice cream lovers: Eat all of the frozen delight you want, without incurring the distressing symptoms of lactose intolerance.

    (Second thought, eating too much could give you an ice cream headache or make your inner and outer mouth feel like Alaska in the winter.)

    Lactaid Ice Cream, made by Hood, is a delicious line. And what a choice:

    The Basics

  • Chocolate
  • Vanilla
  •  
    The Mix-Ins

  • Butter Pecan
  • Cookies & Cream
  • Mint Chocolate Chip
  •  
    The New & Glorious

  • Berry Chocolate Crumble
  • Salted Caramel Chip
  •    

    Ice Cream Lactose Intolerant

    Lactaid Ice Cream

    [1] Lactaid has delicious specialty flavors, like Berry Crumble and Salted Caramel Chip (photo courtesy NotQuiteSusie.com). [2] Chocolate and vanilla Lactaid (photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE).

     

    The magic is simply that the brand adds lactase, a natural enzyme that is no longer produced by the stomach of lactose-intolerant people. It’s the same ingredient as in Lactose supplement pills. It helps break down the lactose so that dairy products are easily digested.

    Lactase has no impact on taste or texture. Unless they saw the carton, no one would know the products are lactose-free.
     
    Now…

    Have an ice cream cone, a shake or a sundae!

    Make ice cream sandwiches and ice cream cake!

    Eat ice cream straight from the carton!

    But there’s more!

     

    Lactose Free Sour Cream

    Lactose Free Cream Cheese

    [1] (photo courtesy FoodForMyFamily.com). [2] Photo courtesy MyLilikoiKitchen.com).

     

    MORE LACTOSE-FREE DAIRY FOODS

    From Lactaid

    Lactaid also makes lactose-free milk (0%, 1%, 2%, whole and chocolate), low fat cottage cheese, and holiday nog.
     
    From Green Valley Organics

    Green Valley Organics adds still more lactose-free dairy options:

  • Cream cheese
  • Kefir
  • Lowfat and whole-milk yogurt
  • Sour cream
  •  
    Use the store locator on the home page to find a retailer near you.

    Might we add: No one would know all these products are lactose free.
     
    BOTH LACTAID & GREEN VALLEY PRODUCTS ARE DEE-LICIOUS.
     
    LIKE CHEESE?

    If you’re just mildly lactose intolerant, you may find that buffalo’s, goats’, and sheep’ milk cheeses are easier to digest than cow’s milk.

    If you’re substantially lactose intolerant, even cheeses with only 2% lactose can upset your stomach. The only 100% lactose-free cheese is Cheddar.

    Fortunately, it’s the most popular cheese in the U.S.

     

      

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