Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cheese, Cheese, Cheese

Sometimes, a well-stocked cheese counter can be overwhelming. With so many colors and consistencies or shapes and smells to choose from, how can you prevent a stinky cheese disaster? Each month, I continue my mission to explore my local cheese offerings, to seek out new flavors and sensations and to boldly try cheeses I've never tried before.

This month's cheese picks are random, but entertaining, mostly for reasons known only to me. Enjoy.

Old Chatham Sheepherding Company: Nancy's Hudson Valley Camembert. I know I should photo my cheeses all deliciously spread across some crackers, but then you really wouldn't understand why I chose this cheese. I was completely and utterly drawn in by the cute black sheep. He looks kinda demonic when the picture is this small, but when you bring him home, set him up in your fridge for a few days, you know, get to know each other, you'll think he's cute, too. Sheepys!

As for the flavor, well, I've never had a Camembert, at least, not intentionally. The consistency was like brie, only less dense and creamier, like softened butter. The flavor was similar to a bleu cheese, but milder. I am not sure I like eating it alone. The aftertaste was kind of funky.  I think it would be fantastic with a hot pepper jelly or a fig jam.

Amedeus. I absolutely bought this cheese because of the name. Ironically, it was very mediocre. The little description card at Whole Foods claimed that this cheese was from Austria and tasted similar to Havarti. Oooo, I thought. I like Havarti. However, it tasted more like cheese that had been soaked in dirty dish water and all the flavor had run out.

I do want to include a shout out to Atwater's for their delicious spelt bread (pictured here).  It is awesome with butter, honey, soup or plain. It easily outshone this cheese.

Irish Gubbeen. I'm starting to get excited for March and everything Irish. This cheese was a good start. It was semi-soft with a nice, friendly, nutty taste. It had a thin rind, which tasted similar to the rind on brie. Boyfriend and I devoured this little guy in one sitting... and promptly took a nap.

Not much of a contest this month. While I did like the Camembert, it reminded me too much of butter. The Irish is the big winner, and not because I am excited for St. Patrick's Day, which, of course, I am.

P.S. I made a bowl! My new bowl has little or nothing to do with this blog, other than the fact that I made it and I am proud of it. And, hey, you choose to read my blog, that makes you subject to my posting whims. Isn't it pretty? Hi, Bowl.

If you're interested in learning more about wheel-thrown pottery, check out the cool studio I go to: Hinckley Pottery.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Great Grammie O'Keefe's Recipe Box: Starlight Mint Surprise Cookies

(Secret goodness hidden inside)

On one of my recent trips back up to Boston, Mom gave me an absolutely priceless gift, Great-Grammie O'Keefe's recipe box. Perhaps most notable is the fact that the recipes are about 90% desserts. (In fact, Mom specifically advised me to avoid any recipe that was not dessert related, because she couldn't vouch for its flavor and/or outrageous caloric content). The box has an entire section dedicated to frostings. Unbelievable. While many of the recipes have been typed up on index cards (nice!), some are handwritten in an elaborate script, from which I decode phrases like: "bake until done," or "add nuts." Great Grammie also liked to flagrantly omit ingredients until the point in the recipe that one would add them... because everyone had a double-boiler of melting chocolate going all the time, right? (Always read a recipe all the way through before you attempt it. Good advice for everyone). Despite the occasional frustration, the real feeling I take away from these recipes is that of following clues around Great Grammie's kitchen and the thrilling sensation of unlocking her baking secrets. I plan to try many of her recipes this year. I hope you like them, too. 

From what Mom has told me, I am assuming that Starlight Mint Surprise Cookies were once a very common homemade cookie a la Tollhouse. A quick search on the Interweb turned up a bunch of similar the-way-my-mom-used-to-make-'em type recipes. The original recipe calls for Rockwood Chocolate Mint Wafers, but I couldn't find them anywhere. Mom tells me that Rockwood Chocolate Mint Wafers were similar to Girl Scouts Thin Mints, but smaller. Since I covet my seasonally-available Thin Mints like the last tube of toothpaste on Battlestar Galactica, I opted to put Andes Creme de Menthe mints in the middle of my cookies. I wasn't sure how much dough to wrap around each mint, so the first batch baked up bigger than I expected.

The dough itself is a pretty basic cookie dough. Despite the fact that I have made several kinds of cookies over the last year, I'm not a cookie person. Sugar, peanut butter, and shortbread cookies are just plain boring and not worth the calories. When it comes to your standard cookie dough recipe, I'd much rather sit down with a tube of the raw, premade stuff, pop in a movie, and go to it, preferably with my fingers. But this recipe was delicious. The cookies were a scrumptious combination of firm and chewy, with a great sugary taste, without seeming like a ball of sugar. And they were easy!

Starlight Mint Surprise Cookies  
adapted from Great Grammie's recipe
Makes about 4 1/2 dozen

3 cups sifted flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
1 package Andes mints
Pecans halves


1. Sift together first three ingredients in a medium bowl. Cream together butter and two sugars. Add eggs, water and vanilla to butter and sugars and beat well. Gradually mix in dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Cover and chill the dough for at least 2 hours.   

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Enclose each mint in about 1 tbsp of chilled dough. Place on a greased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Top each cookie with a pecan half. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

P.S. Great Grammie's recipe called for walnuts, but a) I like pecans better, and b) I already had pecans in the house, so I did a mix to compare. I am sure you can guess which I liked better. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Moroccan Meatball Stew

I know it has been a while, but don't worry, I survived the Snopocalypse. Much to my chagrin, I didn't have time to hit the grocery before the panic-stricken hordes began picking the shelves clean of milk, cheese and toilet paper. I spent the week grazing and foraging through my pantry, which in addition to the usual pasta and canned goods had a good store of dried fruit, a box of clementines, some bread, some green beans and a bunch of frozen steaks (courtesy of Mom and Dad). After a week of making-do on slapdash dinners and Fluffernutters, I was actively fantasizing about a hearty meat stew.

Part of that fantasy might have been the result of my snowcation dedication to finishing The Eye of the World, the first book in Robert Jordan's fantasy series The Wheel of Time. While I wasn't crazy about the book, the characters really whet my appetite. (Think Tolkien, but a lot less action and a lot more running away and more running away). When the characters aren't surviving on dried meat and cheese, like you do when you are being chased by Darkfriends, Halfmen or other minions of the Dark One, they are scarfing down meaty stews at farms and inns. After four days I couldn't help myself. I needed some stick-to-the-ribs comfort food. Enter Moroccan Meatball Tagine with cilantro and lemon couscous.

Moroccan Beef Meatball Tagine from January's Bon Appetit.

Couscous with Fresh Cilantro and Lemon Juice

I know it isn't really fair to write this, being February and all, but this recipe was possibly the best recipe I made in the last year.*  I suggested bringing a serving into work the next day, but Boyfriend and I both agreed it would upset the precarious balance of sharing the leftovers. We were still circling and eyeing each other over who would get more meatballs or veggies on the third night. I kid you not. The combination of the sweet, savory and hot spices was perfectly balanced, which just a hint of the cinnamon and nutmeg in every bite. And so economical! With the exception of the saffron (which I simply couldn't justify buying for an untested recipe) most, if not all, of these ingredients are things I buy on a regular basis. I am sure that omitting the saffron is some kind of cardinal sin to someone, but saffron is so expensive and I really don't know how it could have improved on an already wonderful dish. AND, I got to make my couscous in the cute new sauce pan Mom sent me. Huzzah!

*Despite this admission, I fully reserve the right to choose a Best of 2010 recipe later this year. In fairness, I didn't pick one for 2009, so it should all even out.