Category Archives: Cheese

I ate a taco.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Every recipe has a backstory. Here’s how pork chops cooked on a bed of mushrooms with cotija cheese came to be:

Like most great dishes, inspiration didn’t manifest, it accumulated, beginning, innocuously, with the purchase of two, thick-cut, bone-in pork chops. Something to have on-hand for dinner. But, rather than cook the pork chops, my husband Jason and I went out to dinner at DC’s newly-opened El Rey taqueria. The queso con hongos tacos, filled with rich, earthy mushrooms and crumbly cotija cheese were delicious. We ordered a second round.

The next day I thought, “I really should cook those pork chops before they go bad. I wonder how they’d taste with cotija and mushrooms?” Remembering a Silver Palate cookbook recipe for chicken cooked on a bed of mushrooms, I scanned it briefly for technique and roasting temperature.

The first attempt: since I planned to cover the roasting dish with foil, I browned the pork chops first in a pan. Then promptly ignored my own fabulous advice about cooking mushrooms in batches to avoid crowding the pan. The result? A baking dish filled with a soupy layer of wilted mushrooms topped with seared pork chops . We agreed the dish was worth repeating, but that most of the flavor ended up in the liquid in the bottom of the baking dish. We also thought the thick-cut chops got a little thin on flavor toward the center.

The second attempt: A quick and painless brine for the pork chops added all the flavor we needed. Cooking the mushrooms in batches until golden-brown on the edges minimized the broth in the baking dish. Increasing the scallion greens and cilantro from a garnish to a solid sprinkling provided a welcome fresh balance to the earthy mushrooms, sweet, mild pork and the light tang of the cheese.

It’s a winner. I wonder if it would make a good taco?

Baked Pork Chops And Mushrooms With Cotija

Serves 4

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup kosher or sea salt
  • 4 thick-cut, bone-in pork chops
  • 2 cups chicken stock, boiling
  • 1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3-5 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 scallions, white and green parts chopped separately
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 lbs crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tbs dried epazote or oregano
  • 2 tbs chili powder, like guajillo
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 cup crumbled cotija cheese, or feta

Directions:

  • Dissolve salt in 8-10 cups cold water. Add pork chops to brine and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, up to 2 hours.
  • Pour boiling stock over mushrooms. Let sit for 20 minutes. When reconstituted, strain liquid through a paper-towel lined sieve, reserving the liquid. Rinse mushrooms clean and chop finely.
  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Drain and rinse pork chops. Pat dry and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  • Warm 1 tbs oil in a 12” skillet over med-high heat. Brown pork in two batches, about 3 minutes per side. Add an additional tablespoon of oil for second batch if needed. Reserve, tented with foil.
  • Add 2 tbs more oil to pan, reduce heat to medium. Add onion and scallion whites. Cook until softened. Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.
  • Add mushrooms to pan in a single, thin layer, about half of them. Cook until mushrooms begin to brown on edges. Reserve mushrooms.
  • Return pan to heat, and add an additional tablespoon of oil. Add remaining mushrooms and cook until edges are golden brown. Return reserved mushrooms, along with chopped porcinis to pan. Add reserved porcini liquid and cook until reduced and thickly coating mushrooms.
  • Season mushroom mixture with epazote, chile powder, and 1/4 cup cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Place mushrooms in bottom of 9” square or 9 x 11″  baking dish. Top with pork chops and cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 375 until done, about 20 minutes.
  • Serve topped with scallion greens and remaining cilantro.
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Sharing the spotlight.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Not only have Brussels sprouts become the trendiest member of the Brassica family, but they have been pigeonholed for caramelization. No one wants to hear about a Brussels sprout today unless it’s roasted, flash fried, or sautéed in bacon fat…

…sorry, the thought of caramelized Brussels sprouts with salty, sweet, fatty bacon is so mesmerizing, I forgot what I was saying. I may actually have forgotten my name.

But it gets me thinking, “How do the other Brussels sprouts feel?” Can I create an equally tempting, saliva-inducing dish with no caramelization what so ever? Some quick reading on other flavors with a strong affiliation for Brussels sprouts offers clear direction. Strong bleu cheese and sharp mustard pair with shallot and vinegar, all folded into farm-fresh butter. Melting over briefly boiled Brussels sprouts, the dish is as tempting as any caramelized concoction.

These sprouts may not displace their sugary cousins, but they will certainly earn equal billing.

Blue Cheese and Mustard Buttered Brussels Sprouts

Serves 6

Use any leftover bleu cheese, mustard butter for steaks, chicken, green beans, cauliflower, squash, crusty Sourdough bread…

Ingredients:

  • 1-1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 pound butter, softened
  • 4 ounces sharp bleu cheese, softened
  • 2 tbs grainy mustard
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 2 tbs minced parsley
  • Cava Rosé vinegar or other red wine vinegar

*Sapore’s Cava Rosé won me over instantly this summer. It is refined, offering the depth and complexity of a high-quality red wine vinegar, but far less bold, a perfect match for summer vegetables and to add just the right bright, bite to this compound butter. 

Directions:

  • Trim bases of Brussels sprouts, cut in half and remove any loose or discolored leaves.
  • Bring a 4 quart pot of salted water to a boil.
  • Blend together butter, bleu cheese, mustard, shallot and parsley using a spatula or food processor.
  • Blend in 1/2 tsp Cava Rosé vinegar, a few drops at a time. Season to taste with salt, pepper and more vinegar as needed.
  • Add Brussels sprouts to the boiling water. Cook until just crisp-tender. The core should still be very firm.
  • Remove Brussels sprouts from water and toss with 3-4 tbs butter.
  • Roll remaining butter in parchment or plastic wrap and freeze.

Fine art fruit.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

The first cookbook I ever bought with my own money is titled The Fine Art of Garnishing. It came packaged with 5 small tools which enabled me to turn a radish into a rose, an apple into a bird, and, most importantly, carve a watermelon. For one summer cookout after another, I carved watermelons to serve fruit salad. Family photos reveal watermelons carefully crafted to resemble whales, Viking sailing ships, and baskets.

the fine art of garnishingWe’d scoop out the watermelons using a melon baller, and toss the fruit with cantaloupe, honeydew, peaches and berries. While I still love a good fruit salad, there are meals when I want my watermelon dressed a little more elegantly. The savory flavors of bright vinegar, bitter greens and sharp cheese balance delightfully with sugary fruits. They are the perfect companion to anything smoky and charred from the grill.

I suppose, if you’re going to use such sophisticated ingredients, you should probably present them more formally. May I suggest a watermelon?

Watermelon Gorgonzola Salad

Serves 6

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups watermelon cut in 1” cubes
  • 2 cups baby arugula, loosely packed
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup Cava Rosé, or other light, red wine vinegar*
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2/3 cups olive oil – the good stuff!
  • 1 cup chilled, crumbled gorgonzola cheese

*Cava Rosé is a wonderful summer introduction from our friends at Sapore. I paired it with Koroneiko, a light, grassy, Greek olive oil.

Directions:

  • Toss together watermelon and arugula in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together shallot, vinegar and honey.
  • Whisk olive oil into vinegar mixture to form a thick, creamy emulsion.
  • Stir cheese crumbles into vinaigrette and taste with a cube of watermelon.
  • Season dressing to taste with additional salt, pepper, vinegar or oil and lightly dress watermelon and arugula.
  • If making this ahead, keep the watermelon separate. It will release water which will dilute your dressing and wilt the arugula.

Mom was very, very right.

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Zucchini Pappardelle Pasta

Photography by Sam Armocido

When Mom said we were having a vegetable for dinner – say zucchini or green beans – it was, typically, just that. They were steamed, seasoned with salt and pepper, and possibly tossed with fresh herbs, usually parsley or basil from the garden. If Mom felt the rest of the meal was sufficiently healthy, she would add a small pat of butter. This, it turns out, is a fabulous way to serve almost any vegetable.

We should have been less surprised then, I suppose, by the overwhelming success of a recent attempt at zucchini pasta. I think it was the “pasta” that misled us. I mean, I have trouble thinking that sautéed strips of squash are in any way going to deliver the deep satisfaction of semolina spaghetti. I was wrong. (And, because I would never hear the end of it from my husband, let’s keep that little admission just between us.)

The long strips we quickly shaved with a vegetable peeler resembled wide pappardelle noodles. Cooked over low heat to keep the flavor light, we tossed in garlic and a splash of lemon juice, fresh basil and a grating of Parmesan cheese. We then made another batch, arguing that we should probably try adding fresh tomato.

Our third panful confirmed it was actually fine without the tomato, and the fourth we needed for a photograph. We are currently planning future batches to serve under chicken piccata and shrimp scampi.

You know, just to be on the safe side, I going to retract any admission that I was wrong. Let’s simply say my Mom was very, very right.

Zucchini Pappardelle Pasta

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs olive oil – the good stuff!*
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced into thin ribbons
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley
  • 1 tbs chopped basil
  • 1-2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

*We use Sapore’s Frantoio, a light, buttery Italian oil. (Which you can order online.)

Directions:

  • Warm 1 tbs olive oil over medium heat in a 12” skillet. Add zucchini and sauté, turning often with tongs, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.
  • Add garlic and cook until zucchini is softened, about 3 minutes longer.
  • In skillet, toss in parsley, basil, lemon juice and remaining 1 tbs olive oil.
  • Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper and serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

I ❤ Jason.

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Jonathan and JasonThree years ago I woke up on Valentine’s Day, a Sunday, and grabbed my copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which had spent the better part of a year next to my bedside. Deciding it was high time I learned to make a soufflé, I turned to the chapter on entrées and luncheon dishes.

This recipe is a shining example of Julia’s genius as a teacher and a writer. She breaks it down into three parts – sauce, flavor base and egg whites for leavening – that make soufflés not only simple, but easy to remember. Julia also praises the value of a copper bowl for whisking egg whites, which, she claims, increases the volume by a third.

I dressed and headed to the kitchen while Jason showered. When he came down to the breakfast table he found not only a beautiful, puffy, golden soufflé, but a vase filled with hand-arranged, white flowers.

Jason handed me a folded piece of paper. It unfolded to reveal an order receipt for a copper whisking bowl. I fell in love all over again.*

*With Jason. Not the bowl.

Julia Child’s Soufflé Recipe

That morning my first soufflé was flavored with Manchego cheese and jamón Serrano, both Spanish, that we had in the cheese drawer. Here is the recipe below, adapted from Julia Child. Forget all of your fears, soufflés are really quite simple. I have never had one fall in the oven, and entertain of brings lots of big boys stomping around our kitchen. By your second soufflé you’ll have it in the oven within 25 minutes, and served, with a vinaigrette-dressed salad, within an hour.

SouffléIngredients:

  • 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, unbleached
  • 1 cup milk, whole
  • White pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup grated Manchego cheese*
  • 1/2 cup diced jamón Serrano*

*You can substitute about 1 cup of cheese and just about anything else you want. Try bacon, sautéed mushrooms, fresh corn, smoked or cooked salmon etc…

Directions:

  • Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Butter the inside of a 2 qt soufflé dish. Add grated parmesan and turn dish to coat, reserving extra cheese.
  • Make the béchamel sauce. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and stir 2-3 minutes being careful not to brown the roux. You are cooking the raw flavor out of the flour. When ready, it will smell pleasantly sharp.
  • Off the heat, add the milk all at once and whisk vigorously to avoid lumps.
  • Return the sauce to the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes until it thickens. The sauce will be very thick. Season to taste with salt, white pepper and a pinch each of cayenne pepper and nutmeg.
  • Stir the egg yolks, one at a time, into the sauce.
  • Next whisk the egg whites, in a copper bowl if you have one, or a freshly cleaned bowl, until they support their own weight on the whisk.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the béchamel sauce with the cheese and jamón. Stir in 1/4 of the stiff egg whites. This lightens the mixture so you lose less volume folding in the remaining three quarters of the egg white.
  • Gently fold in the remaining three quarters of the egg white, until only a few white streaks remain. Transfer the mixture to the prepared soufflé dish, smooth out the top with an offset spatula (or the rubber one that’s already dirty from folding) and sprinkle the top with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake for 25 minutes. Do not open the oven for the first 20 or so. the soufflé is done when the top is golden brown and moves slightly in the middle when shaken. I prefer mine still wet in the center. Serve immediately. Warn your guests ahead of time.

Pumpkin quesa-different.

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Photograph by Sam Armocido

Think of your favorite recipe. The one you’ve made for years. It’s flavors are burned on your tastebuds. You can recreate it from sense memory. Go into your kitchen and prepare it, writing down each step and each ingredient. Grab the cookbook off the shelf and let it fall open it to the familiar, splattered and stained page.

Surprise.

Even the recipes we know best change over time as our palates and our dinner partners, the markets we shop from and the popularity of ingredients evolves. Bland canned tomatoes give way to San Marzanos, or fresh stewed. Cayenne is replaced with smoky chipotle, ancho or complex Piment d’Espelette. Children demand simpler flavors, new boyfriends or wives shape your meals with their own experiences and preferences.

One year ago I served up sausage and pumpkin quesadillas. This year the heavy blend of cumin, chile powder and Spanish paprika overpowered the sweet hearty Hubbard squash. Chopped tomato brightened the rich flavors with sweetness and acidity. Savory andouille sausage was replaced with equally spicy but less earthy Mexican chorizo.

Change isn’t always good or bad. Sometimes it’s just different. Fortunately in the kitchen, it’s usually delicious.

Pumpkin Chorizo Quesadillas

*A pizza cutter is the best way to slice quesadillas. A knife pushes all the filling out.

Photograph by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 links Mexican (uncooked) Chorizo
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 cups Hubbard or acorn squash purée*
  • 1 tsp Spanish paprika
  • 1 tsp Serrano Chile Honey vinegar**
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 10-12 6” tortillas

*For squash puree, split and roast squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet, at 400 degrees. When flesh can be easily pierced with a roasting fork, like soft butter, it is done. Let cool, scrape pumpkin from skins and mash.

**I still can’t get enough of this vinegar from Sapore. You can substitute sherry vinegar and 1/2 tsp honey.

Directions:

  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12″ skillet at medium. Remove casings from chorizo and brown meat, crumbling a it cooks. Remove meat with a slotted spoon when fully cooked.
  • Add oil, if needed, to make up 2 tbs fat in the pan, and sauté onion.
  • When onion is soft, add squash purée and heat through. Season with paprika, Serrano Chile Honey vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix sausage into squash.
  • Assemble quesadillas on top of 1 tortilla, layering cheese, squash mixture, diced tomato and finally topping with more cheese and a second tortilla.
  • Cook quesadillas over medium heat, lightly browning both sides. Slice and serve.