Posts Tagged ‘winter’

The Mailman Brings Cheese

February 9th, 2010

Vacherin Mont d'Or, Murray's Cheese Label

It all started with my friend’s enticing post about Vacherin au Four, a soft cow’s milk cheese, studded with garlic, fortified with wine, then melted in its wooden box in a hot oven and poured over potatoes or served fondue-style. There are few things I have a harder time resisting than melted cheese. Plus, it is winter, the height of the melted cheese season, so it seemed a perfect opportunity to try making this simple dish at home.

That meant getting my hands on some Vacherin Mont d’Or. Easier said than done in Northern New Jersey. I telephoned Wine Library in Springfield, who told me that while they did have an order that was supposed to arrive on the next boat, he wouldn’t know if it made the boat until it arrived, and even then he wasn’t sure it would make it through customs. I called Summit Cheese Shop in Summit, and was told that it would be nearly impossible to get, and good luck with that. I phoned Gary’s Wine and Marketplace in Madison, and was told they were out and didn’t expect to get any until next season, which would mean maybe October. I called Murray’s Cheese in Manhattan and was told, yes, they had plenty! I made two dates to hop into the city to pick some up, but both trips were foiled. I was going to have to suck it up and pay for shipping.

A foodie, shopping a website listing a large variety of cheese, armed with a credit card. Well, you can see where this is going, can’t you? My eyes glazed over as my fingers clicked to the “Special Sale” page. I would be saving money if I purchased some cheese on sale, wouldn’t I? And oh, what’s this? A virtual cheesemonger! Answer just a few multiple-choice questions, and my own cheesemonger will guide me to my ideal selections. I went deeper into my trance as “Amanda,” my virtual cheesemonger, described a list of cheeses that I’d surely enjoy. Click, click, click. I should get some bread too! Click. And oh yeah, I almost forgot, the Vacherin Mont d’Or. Click!

Two days later my professionally packaged box of cheese is waiting for me on the porch, with a stamped message on the top of the box informing the FedEx delivery person that it’s OK to leave the package with the recipient, even though it may stink. A lovely (to me) odor envelops our dining room as I inventory the contents of the box: Two Vacherin Mont d’Or (one for me, one for a friend), a half-pound of Cabot’s clothbound cheddar (a friend’s recommendation), a half-pound of Fourme de Ambert (“Amanda” said this blue is mild and sweet), one puck of Brunet (“Amanda” says it’s her favorite goat), a half-pound of Tete de Moine (I need this as have not used my girolle in ages), and one pound of Parmigiano-Reggiano (well, it was on sale), and a loaf of bread (if you’re going to go this far, you may as well buy the bread so you don’t have to go to the store).

Counter-top tasting: The first night, we have a simple tasting. My friend is right, Cabot’s clothbound cheddar is outstanding, and “Amanda’s” picks are spot-on. Not that I wouldn’t have been just as happy with any other cheesemonger’s choices. I have no prejudice against any cheese, but it was nice that these were cheeses that noticeably agreed with my taste. The goat is super creamy and mild, almost the texture of camembert, while the blue is downright luscious with a bit of tang. We eat it standing at the counter, all except the Vacherin and the Tete de Moine. Those, we’ll eat later.

Brunet, Fourme d'Ambert, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar

Vacherin au Four: I meant to make this on day two, but couldn’t get to it until day four. Life got in the way, as it often does, and we didn’t get to it right away. This is too bad because Anne over at Pots and Plumes had emailed me to say that we shouldn’t wait, as hers had been too ripe. I should have listened. When we received ours, it looked very fresh, almost white. By the time I retrieved it from the refrigerator to cook it, it was nearly orange and it had a very strong odor. I cooked it with garlic, wine, and a bit of chive, and ate it with potatoes and bread, but it had taken on a flavor of ammonia and was overripe. I emailed Murray’s Cheese, not to complain but to warn, and was told that I would be credited for the Vacheran Mont d’Or. Way to go Murray’s customer service! We will definitely be ordering from them again.

Vacherin Au Four

Interlude, cheddar with Diana Pittet: Ironic that of all weeks I should be attending a talk by Diana Pittet, who writes of her adventures in cheddar on her blog, CheddarBound. This is a very cozy affair in the private room at Jimmy’s 43 in Manhattan, during which Diana regales a crowd of listeners with stories of her travels and the making of cheddar. We enjoy a tasting of five cheeses, along with a cask ale, an apple cider, and an apple wine. Apple beverages go fabulously with cheese!

Spicy tomato and blue cheese soup
: It has occurred to me that perhaps I have purchased too much cheese. I should include some in a recipe, perhaps. I find the recipe for Michael Symon and Michael Ruhlman’s spicy tomato and blue cheese soup on Made with sriracha and blue cheese, it is creamy, fruity, and spicy. I highly recommend it. But I’m not sure I could have it more than a few times a year. It is rich.

Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup

Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup

Another tasting: End of the week, another spread of cheese on the counter for my husband and me to pick at. I’ve discovered this is probably my favorite way to eat cheese. It goes against all tenets of healthy eating, but I like it. Take what you want, when you want it. Leave the bread out with a knife nearby, or crackers, and maybe some olives, fruit, or nuts. Cheese is Nature’s processed food, so I figure it can’t be all that bad for us.

Tonight or tomorrow the Parmigiano-Reggiano will take its turn, grated over pasta. Sometime this weekend I’ll be leaving the girolle out on the kitchen counter to enjoy the thin rosette-shaped slivers of Tete de Moine with a glass of white wine. Probably while perusing Stinky Bklyn’s website. Their cheese-of-the-month club looks very tempting….

Yankee Pot Roast

January 3rd, 2010

IMG_0123When I was a child and young teen, among my favorite dishes were my mother’s beef stew and Yankee pot roast. My mother is a fantastic cook all around, and in those days, as a single mother working long hours, with both of us hating the chill of winter, braises took care of three essentials: Less time in the kitchen, plenty of leftovers to eat for the week, and the warming of our bones. I’m not certain she made braises for that purpose consciously, it’s just common sense. About braises, these essentials hold true.

Then there were the hours upon torturous hours that my mother would leave the roast braising all day, and with the air permeated with the aroma of beef, wine and bay, I’d be salivating for what seemed like forever. Worse, there was no eating it the same night, as it would be better the next day. Oh, the agony of waiting!

All About Braising by Molly StevensSo it is hardly surprising that I should fall in love with “All About Braising,” by Molly Stevens. In my opinion, the finest book on braising I’ve encountered. From the why and wherefore to technique; from what cuts of meat to clear, concise recipes that work. If you are as much of a fan of braised dishes as I am, this is the book for you.

In addition to beef recipes, there are several for vegetables, seafood, pork, lamb, and chicken. The hearty chicken and herb dumplings are fabulous comfort food, and the pork pot roast with apricots, cardamom and ginger is a feast for the senses. I’ve probably cooked more from this book in the couple of months I’ve owned it than any other new book in the same period of time.

As the dreadful cold appears to have settled in for the foreseeable future, I highly recommend this mouth-watering pot roast to treat the symptoms of winter. By adding the root vegetables late in the braising process, they retain their flavor, enhanced by the herbs and braising liquid, and become rather meaty themselves. I served it along buttery mashed potatoes. What’s that you ask? Why yes, there are potatoes in the pot roast as well. One can never have too many potatoes.

This recipe has instructions to broil the roast in order to brown it. I skipped this and browned the roast directly in the braising pan on the stove. I felt the flavor of the fond (the brown bits left behind in the pan from browning meat) would enhance the flavor of the pot roast, as I was using store bought stock, which always needs a little help in the flavor department.


Yankee Pot Roast Redux
by Molly Stevens
from All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
© W. W. Norton & Company, 2004

Serves 6 | Braising Time: About 3 Hours

– One 3.5 to 4-pound boneless beef chuck roast
– Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
– 1 bay leaf
– 1 medium yellow onion (about 6 ounces), peeled
– 3 whole cloves
– 1/4 cup hard cider or dry white wine
– 1 cup beef, veal, or chicken stock
– 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
– 1/2 pound small white or red potatoes, peeled and, if larger than 1 1/2 inches, cut into halves or quarters
– 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt for serving (optional)

1. Tying the meat: Tie the roast with kitchen string so that it is snug and neat (see instructions in the book, page 258). Season all over with salt and plenty of pepper and place in a shallow baking pan (2- to 3-quart).

2. Browning the meat: Heat the broiler to high. Slide the roast under the broiler so that the surface is about 6 inches away from the element. Broil until the fat begins to sizzle and the surface begins to caramelize but not char, about 5 minutes. Turn with tongs and broil on the other side (or sides, depending on the shape of the roast) for another 5 minutes (each). Remove the roast from the broiler, and heat the oven to 300 degrees. (Alternatively, you can brown the roast in the braising pan according to the instructions on [cookbook] page 254.)

With tongs, transfer the seared roast to a Dutch oven or other heavy lidded braising pan (4-quart capacity). Tack the bay leaf to the onion using the cloves and tuck it into the pot alongside the beef.

3. The braising liquid: Pour off any excess fat from the pan you used to brown the beef and set over medium-high heat. Add the cider or wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to dissolve any precious bits of caramelized beef juices that have stuck there. Continue to boil until the liquid is reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the stock and let it come to a boil. Pour the boiling liquid over the beef and sprinkle with the thyme.

4. The braise: Cover the roast with parchment paper, pressing down so that the paper almost touches the meat and the edges extend about an inch over the sides of the pot. Then set the lid in place and slide the pot into the lower third of the oven to braise. Check to see that the liquid isn’t simmering too fiercely after the first 10 to 15 minutes. If it is, lower the oven temperature 10 or 15 degrees. After 45 minutes, turn the roast with tongs. Continue braising at a gentle simmer for another 45 minutes.

Turn the roast again, and add the turnips, potatoes, and carrots to the pot, spooning some of the braising liquid over the meat before returning the parchment paper and lid. Continue braising until the meat is fork-tender and the vegetables are easily pierced with the tip of a knife, another 1 1/2 hours or so (for a total of about 3 hours).

5. The finish: Transfer the roast to a carving board or serving platter. With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables and arrange them around the meat (discard the clove-studded onion). Cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Set the Dutch oven over medium heat, and skim the surface fat from the braising liquid as it comes to a simmer. Evaluate the braising liquid: if it appears too thin or watery, boil the liquid to reduce the volume and thicken up slightly, about 10 minutes. It should be the consistency of a slightly thickened vinaigrette.

6. Serving: Cut the strings from the roast and slice into 1/2 inch thick slices. Serve slices of the pot roast alongside a mix of vegetables, with the braising liquid ladled on top. Pass the fleur de sel or coarse sea salt at the table, if desired.


October 19th, 2009

The past four days in the northeast have been particularly dreary. It has been overcast and wet, and much cooler than it should be in early autumn. Weather like this screams for comfort food that has been cooking for hours, filling the house with its fragrance and warming the soul, and what could be better on a Sunday than a rich, meaty Bolognese?

One of the most important things a good cook knows is how to build flavor. You’ll hear comments on this all the time on shows like “Top Chef.” How many times have we heard, “He doesn’t know how to build flavor,” or “I wish there was some acid,” or “This is the perfect balance of sweet and savory.” There are several ways to build flavor, often used in combination, such as reducing, salting, searing, and toasting. This Bolognese uses these techniques, but above all is the technique of browning. This should probably be called “Brown Bolognese.”

Chef Anne Burrell was one of my culinary school chef-instructors, and the best teacher we had when it came to technique and Italian cuisine. It is to her recipes I turn when I want to make great pasta. And so I used her recipe for Bolognese.

Bolognese Recipe:

I’ve edited this a bit from the original. Click here to see the recipe on the Food Network’s website.


  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery cut into 1-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
  • 2 cups tomato paste
  • 1 750ml bottle (about 3.5 cups) hearty red wine
  • Water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch thyme and 1 rosemary, tied in a bundle
  • 1 or 2 rinds of Parmigiano cheese (optional)
  • 1 pound pasta of choice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • High quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing


1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Cook 15 to 20 minutes until beef is brown.

3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes, or however long it takes for the tomato paste to brown.

4. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes. Make sure it is reduced.

5. Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves, the bundle of thyme/rosemary, and the Parmigiano rinds (if using), and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 1 to 2 cups at a time. Don’t be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed. Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Note on pasta: When you cook your pasta, retain some of the pasta cooking liquid. Once you’ve added your pasta to the ragù, if you feel the pasta is too dry (it should be glistening somewhat), add a bit of the cooking water. The water you cooked your pasta in will have retained some of the pasta’s starch and will keep your sauce saucy, rather than watering it down. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and add Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. For this sauce, I’ve become fond of Barilla’s Campanelle. It has a lovely fluted shape that holds the sauce well.

How To Build Big Bolognese Flavor:

Beef: I strongly recommend rather than buying packaged “ground beef,” visit your butcher and ask him or her to grind particular cuts. It makes a difference in flavor and quality. For this recipe I used about 1 pound of ground bottom round and 2 pounds of ground chuck steak. One could also use ground bison or turkey. Some cuts have more fat, almost all have different flavors and textures. It’s worth exploring and discovering your personal preferences.

Herbs: In Chef Burrell’s recipe, she uses only thyme and bay. I add some rosemary simply because I like it. Some Bolognese recipes add nutmeg. It’s entirely up to the chef what flavors they want to add to their pots.

Wine: It is not necessary, but I like to use wine from the region of whatever region-specific dish I am cooking. One popular varietal from the Bologna region is Sangiovese, which is the main component of Chianti. Thus, I used Chianti for this recipe. This is merely a persnickety habit of mine, as I believe recipes from a particular region should use ingredients from the region. But whatever hearty, inexpensive red you can get your hands on will work just as well. Never break the bank buying wine you’ll be cooking with. Once you’ve concentrated the wine with the other flavors and cooked the alcohol out, you’ll barely be able to tell the difference whether you’ve used Italian Chianti or California Merlot.

Cheese Rind: Chef Burrell’s recipe does not note this, but I find that adding a rind or two of Parmigiano to a pot of soup or sauce adds a rich dimension. Nearly everyone who cooks has rinds floating around in the bottom of their cheese bins (and if they’re moldy, just cut the mold off). It’s not a crime if you don’t use it, but adding it is divine.


In step #1 you’ll be browning the aromatics. You’ll want a “crud” (or fond) to form in the bottom of your pan, thus you should use a steel or ceramic pan, not non-stick. The crud will darken until it looks nearly burnt. This is going to add flavor to your Bolognese! When browning the aromatics, take your time. For me it took nearly 30 minutes to get all the water out and get the vegetables to a deep brown color. You could keep a tiny bit of the vegetable paste uncooked to the side to see how the color changes over time. Remember, you want to brown the paste.

In step #2 you’ll be browning the beef. As the beef releases fat, you’ll be able to start scraping up the crud that formed earlier from the vegetables. Again, brown the beef, don’t gray it. It should be the color of something you’d want to eat, not something underdone.

In step #3 you’ll be browning the tomato paste. You’ll notice it’s a bright red when you add it (again, you could leave some raw to the side to get a sense of where you started). Brown, brown, brown. The tomato paste should not be at all red when you get to the next step.

In step #4 you’ll be reducing the wine. Reducing concentrates flavors. If you don’t reduce the wine, you’ll wind up with a very nice wine sauce with beef, but what you want is a meaty sauce with the richness of wine in the background. Again, this takes time. Depending on the heat of your pan and its depth, this might take four minutes or it could take longer. Don’t rush.

In step #5 you’ll add herbs and water, beginning the process of the long simmer, concentrating the beef, tomato, wine, and herbal flavors even further. Again, depending on heat and depth, you may wind up adding water more or less often, but make sure you add and reduce, add and reduce. Don’t add too much water. Chef Burrell’s recipe says you’ll add 2 or 3 cups at a time. I prefer to add less water more often, as I don’t want to boil the meat.

You’ll want the meat to be soft and unctuous and become the messenger of the sweetness of the aromatics, the acid of the tomato, and the earthiness of the cheese and herbs. Your house will be ten degrees warmer than the thermostat says, just from the aroma. I recommend eating while wearing pajamas and slippers.