I’ve been craving a cheese sandwich. Not a fancy one. A sandwich like the ones I used to get at the student union snack counter in college, on cheap white bread with cheap cheese and a few slices of tomato squashed in the middle, blazing hot from the grill. I didn’t eat white bread much when I was growing up, so cheese sandwiches of this sort had a real glamour for me (as did Lucky Charms cereal, I’m embarrassed to admit), and I only bought myself one once in a while, if I wanted a treat. Twenty years later, I’m finding myself craving that sandwich. Maybe I’m really just missing that experience, of being on my own for the first time and not having to ask anyone if I wanted to eat something bad for me. I certainly made up for a lot of childhood healthy eating in just a couple of years…maybe this is why I ended up in a Vegan-themed house my junior year. Anyway…
Unfortunately for my recent cravings, I couldn’t bring myself to actually buy a loaf of cheap white bread, as if the Junk Food Police would come by later that night. But I really wanted a cheese sandwich, so I circumvented my inhibitions by baking myself a loaf of suitable bread. It’s not bad for you if you made it from scratch, right?
One loaf, mostly white bread flour with just a little whole wheat, sweetened with honey and enriched with milk and egg. I baked it the evening before and let the loaf rest. It sliced easily, and the crust was tender and perfect. It toasted nicely in the pan without needing a vast amount of butter, and held onto the melted cheddar in just the right gooey way.
It was a perfect cheese sandwich, with nothing but bread, medium cheddar, and butter. I didn’t have tomato for it, so I heated up some Pacific boxed tomato-red pepper soup to dunk into. It made me happy.
What’s your ideal grilled cheese sandwich?
The new issue of Cascadia Weekly just came out today, with a restaurant review of Sunday brunch at the Brown Lantern, written by me. I particularly wanted to talk about their breakfast mac and cheese, which is a thing of beauty and great substance (read: calories). I had to refresh my memory before writing the article, of course, so we went back recently with some friends. I believe we were all slightly hungover, as befits this sort of breakfast, and it was incredibly satisfying. Here are a few extra photos from our outing:
The decor above the bar at the Brown Lantern is fascinating – always something to look at. I’d like to hear the story behind the inflatable shark.
The Lantern Standard breakfast. It really was too bad about the undercooked bacon, but the tater tots were excellent. I like tater tots. Almost as much as I like mac and cheese.
This was the biscuits and gravy. One of the ugliest platefuls I’ve ever seen, but it tasted great and there was plenty of gravy.
I barely made any visible dent in my breakfast. And yet I was very, very full. I’m still impressed after watching a member of our party eat an entire plate of this.
Anyone had the breakfast burrito there?
Let me tell you about this salad that chef Casey Schanen of Nell Thorn made at the cooking school the other night. Not that everything else he made wasn’t amazing, but the salad was the real eye-opener for me. Here’s what was in it: fresh arugula, roasted squash, arugula pesto, and warm ricotta cheese. Yeah.
I’ve been hearing a lot about making ricotta at home, but for whatever reason I’ve never tried it. It really is astoundingly easy, and as much as I love cold ricotta, it turns out I love fresh, warm ricotta even more. In this salad it fills the same role as fried goat cheese – the warm creaminess adds to the dressing and enriches the greens – but without the crunch (and oil). And ricotta has a fantastic springy texture in the mouth that I find addictive.
So Casey heated milk, stirred in salt and fresh lemon juice, and scooped out the curds into cheesecloth. I tossed the arugula with good olive oil and salt, and we portioned it onto plates with a sprinkle of roasted orange squash. A scoop of ricotta went on top of that, then a drizzle of garlicky arugula pesto with pumpkin seeds. That was it. I would eat salad more often if it was like this.
For our end-of-summer party this year, we let ourselves be inspired by the latest issue of Saveur and made food with a Greek or Mediterranean slant: dolmades, tzatziki, tabouli, grilled flank steak, lemon chicken, grilled eggplant dip, hummus, and so on. For a while we were considering pastitsio (sort of a Greek lasagna), but decided on a greens-filled phyllo pie instead. I thought this would be spanakopita, the classic buttery spinach-feta pie, but then I discovered hortopita.
Hortopita is like spanakopita, but better. It uses any sort of greens mixture (horta in Greek) plus scallions and fragrant herbs, and instead of butter you brush the phyllo with olive oil, making it much less rich. I ended up making this twice this week – the one I made for the party disappeared almost instantly, and since there was phyllo left over I figured I’d just make us another one.
I was so thrilled when I finally found a copy of Nancy Silverton’s pastry cookbook at Powell’s a few weeks ago. Of course, I still haven’t made the recipe I bought the book for (the incredible homemade buttermilk crackers we had at Duckfest), partly because my eye was immediately drawn to the ricotta-stuffed muffin recipe. Our favorite goat cheese vendor had fresh ricotta last week, we just had to do it. Really, could you have resisted?
The muffin batter itself was a lot like my usual muffin recipe - yogurt and oil, not too sweet. The difference was the addition of ground toasted fennel seed into the batter, a fabulous idea in itself – plus a creamy center of ricotta mixed with a bit of sour cream, that spills out when you bite into the muffin. Mmmm.
Ever since our last cooking class with Casey Schanen, I’ve been thinking fondly of his ravioli stuffed with fresh peas and feta, served in a lemon beurre blanc. We received a ravioli making kit for Christmas, and fresh shelling peas just appeared in the market. Our choice for Sunday dinner was clear.
For the filling, I wanted to use Gothberg Farms fresh chevre, because I am still newly in love with this cheese and I want to use it in everything. This particular ball of cheese had a distinctly grassy note entwined with its sweet milkiness. It seemed made to go with peas.
First, we shelled our peas. I blanched them in boiling water for two minutes, then drained and cooled them. I set aside a few peas to go on top of the ravioli, but mashed the rest lightly with a spoon before adding the goat cheese along with some salt and pepper. In retrospect, a little lemon zest would have been nice as well. And perhaps a little chopped fresh mint. Next time…
Ever since I brought home a tub of leaf lard from Art of the Pie I’ve been itching to use some of it in a savory pie. My chance came this week, as we had a bunch of spinach from Frog’s Song Farm, a bag of mustard and kale greens from Blue Heron, and a wedge of fresh goat feta from Gothberg Farms. If that doesn’t say “savory tart” I don’t know what does.
I began by completely screwing up my pie dough. I usually stick with a part-whole wheat, all-butter crust for my quiches, but I wanted this crust to taste distinctly of lard. Unfortunately I added too much lard, especially given the warmth of the kitchen, and the dough became unwieldy. I ended up patting it into a tart pan with my fingers instead of rolling it out all the way. Then I prebaked it for a few minutes to make sure it would set and not just melt in the pan. It actually worked OK, so I got started on my filling.
I wanted this to really be about the greens and feta rather than the binder, so instead of following my usual quiche formula I made up something a little different. I blanched the greens in salted boiling water, then squeezed the liquid out and chopped them. I mixed up two eggs, then added the cooled greens, some sauteed shallot, the crumbled feta, a dollop of cream, lots of freshly ground black pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. I piled all this into my tart crust and baked it for a while at 375° – sorry, I wasn’t really paying attention, but I think it was about half an hour. Basically, when the egg had set and was beginning to puff up, I called it done.
We let it cool briefly, then carefully (as the crust was very tender) cut wedges and ate them with glasses of chilled rosé. Despite the haphazardness of the preparation, it was really, really good. How about that?
This week has been crazy busy, but we did make time to get down to opening day of our local farmer’s market. It was a classic Pacific Northwest Memorial Day weekend, which is to say it rained every. single. day.
Fortunately there were plenty of vendors and customers, and the hardy Prozac Mountain Boys managed to keep the music playing without floating away.
We bought leeks, fingerling potatoes, asparagus, hothouse peppers, and butter, which seemed like a pretty good haul for the season (thank goodness for Hedlin Farms’ greenhouses). Then we checked out Gothberg Farms’ stand. A local goat dairy, they’re newcomers to the Mount Vernon market, and we’re really excited to have them here. I expect we’ll be eating a lot of their cheese in the months to come, but for now we limited ourselves to a tub of fresh ricotta and a block of Queso Blanco.
Have you eaten raclette? It’s a semi-soft, slightly stinky cheese from Switzerland, and it’s fantastic melted. We’ve bought it before, usually to put on hamburgers – a use I highly recommend. However, I had never had it served in the traditional manner, melted and poured over bread and vegetables, so when John DeGloria over at Slough Food announced a Raclette Night, we were keen to go.
The premise is simple, made even simpler with these nifty raclette grills. Unlike fondue, where you melt the cheese and dip stuff in it, here you melt the cheese and pour it over other stuff. There are cute little Teflon dishes to put under the broiler, and while the cheese heats up you can toast bread, or halved potatoes, or ham, or whatever you like on the top griddle.
We had originally planned to have steak for dinner, but I was feeling tired and steak sounded like a lot of work to eat, so we did a little menu rearrangement. We had bought a cauliflower with the intention of making Pasta al Cavolfiore, a comforting Moosewood standby from our college days, and it was just the thing for my mood. My husband used to make this for me when we were first going out, and I find it soothing.
Because this is a recipe from the 1977 Moosewood Cookbook, a book that could have been commissioned by the Eat More Cheese Association, it’s less of an Italian pasta dish and more like a vat of cauliflower cheese with some pasta and tomato thrown in. You don’t really have to add as much cheese as the recipe says to – it would still taste great – but I admit a lot of the appeal here is the dense richness of the cheesy pasta, studded with tart bits of cauliflower and herb. We do veer away from the Moosewood vegetarian standard by adding some chunks of seared kielbasa, which adds a nice smokiness, as well as heft.