Mes Escargots

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So, I love snails. Shoot me. At least I think I love them. You could probably smother bits of shoe soles in a garlicky butter and parsley sauce, bake them, and serve them with good, crusty bread, and they would be good, too.

I was raised on snails, so they never scared me. Now, honestly, I don’t want to think about them really being snails because, well, snails are icky.

Recently I realized that I’ve never prepared my own L’escargots. And, it was about time to rectify this.

Funny anecdote: Right before we got married, my fiancé and I visited my mother, a couple of weeks before our elopement would occur.

My mother, being who she is, French, wanted to make my future husband happy, so for the first celebratory meal she prepared for us, it began with snails. And, he ate them. He ate other things, too. I guess he really loved me.

Photos below show two times I had l’escargots in France, in Avignon and Tourettes.

Here is a snail dish I had in Aix en Provence – snails on a salad. I’d always enjoyed l’escargots the traditional way, but this salad was superb.

To make snails the traditional way, you need snail shells, and you need snails. Fortunately one doesn’t have to forage in garden for either.

Escargots à la Bourguignonne
based on recipe in Saveur
makes 24

16 tablespoons butter
1/4 minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon white wine
1 teaspoon cognac
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
Salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste
24 extra-large snail shells
24 canned extra-large snails
Rock salt
Country bread

In a bowl, whisk together butter, parsley, wine, cognac, garlic, and shallots with a fork. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors meld.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of butter mixture into each snail shell.

Push a snail into each shell; fill shells with remaining butter mixture.

Cover bottom of a baking dish with a layer of rock salt to stabilize the snail shells.

Arrange snail shells, butter side up, on the salt and bake until butter sizzles, about 10-12 minutes.

Serve hot with bread.

Alternatively, to prepare l’escargots, you don’t need snail shells, just ceramic dishes with round indentations.

Put a snail and the butter in each indentation, then bake the same way in a hot oven.

You’ll still need a little fork and good bread.


Snails are a wonderful excuse to eat bread soaked in a garlic parsley butter.

 

 

Bacon Egg Salad

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To date, I’ve never written a sandwich post on my blog. I don’t dislike sandwiches – on the contrary, if it weren’t for my lack of self-portion control, I’d probably have a sandwich every day. Simple sandwiches like braunschweiger with mustard, a hot panini, or a multi-layered Italian sub dripping with vinegar… I love them all.

So today is the day I write about a sandwich. The recipe screams to me every time I’m near this book, Gale Gand’s Brunch!

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It’s an egg salad sandwich filling with bacon. So simple and yet so perfect! Who doesn’t grow up loving egg salad, and now you get to enjoy it on bread, with bacon!!!

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Honestly, while you might be shaking your head at the simplicity of this sandwich concept, you’re wanting one at the same time, aren’t you?!!

Here is the recipe:

Bacon and Egg Salad Sandwiches

8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
4 strips of bacon, diced
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices white bread, crusts cut off

Roughly chop the hard-boiled eggs and put them in a medium bowl.

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Cook the bacon, and let drain on paper towels.

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Add the mayonnaise and mustard to the eggs, and mix with a fork. Then add the bacon. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
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Spread the egg salad on each of 4 slices of bread, top each sandwich with another slice of bread, and cut corner to corner to make triangles. (Obviously that’s optional.)

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Serve immediately, or cover and chill for up to 3 hours before serving.

Obviously, one can change up the ratio of the eggs, bacon and mayonnaise in this mixture. Although less “healthy,” I really love mayonnaise, and would not enjoy an egg salad that is dry.

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I also imagine that some people would prefer more bacon, and that is A-OK. Change up the bread, too. Make this sandwich yours!

Normally I would add lettuce and a ripe tomato slice, but I think I’ll leave this sandwich alone as is. I added a few olives for fun, but a pickled asparagus spear or pepperoncini would be nice also.

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This little unobtrusive cookbook was a gift, and I’m still making recipes from it, like the shakshuka-style Cucurumao I made on Christmas morning that was a huge hit. If you love brunch inspiration, I highly recommend this gem!

The Other Polenta

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The most well known version of Italian polenta, in my experience, is the soft and creamy porridge style – what we call grits in the United States. Savory and hearty for breakfast or as a dish served similar to risotto – topped with braised mushrooms, grilled shrimp, or simply with cheese. If you want a grits recipe, check out grits with eggs and red sauce.

But there’s another way to prepare and serve polenta, which I’m calling “the other polenta.” It also deserves a little attention and respect.

This kind of polenta is more like a soft yet dense cornbread. As with American cornbread, this bread-like polenta is wonderful served with stews, pasta, soups, or even salads. It also makes a fabulous appetizer, topped with cheese and served with white wine.

Lorenza de-Medici refers to this polenta appetizer as crostini di polenta. In her cookbook The Villa Table, she states, “I always make more polenta than a recipe requires in order to have some for making crostini for the next day!” It’s a great idea!

I’ve seen polenta used in so many ways in Italian cookbooks, like molded into a timbale served with a meaty ragu, or as dumplings, or layered into a casserole or pie. But however polenta is used, it comes down to preparing the softer creamy version, or the drier, sliceable variety that I’m making today.

So here’s how make the other polenta:

Have 2 cups of cornmeal on hand in a bowl.
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Heat 6 cups of slightly salted water in a heavy pot on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil, slowly pour in the cornmeal.
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Whisk well, then turn the heat down to the lowest position, cover the pot and let the polenta cook for 30 minutes.
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Remove the lid and give the polenta a stir. Depending on the grind of the cornmeal, it might be cooked already. Give it a taste and test if it’s gritty, which would indicate more cooking time required.

My polenta looks a bit grainy because it’s a coarser grind, but it’s fully cooked.
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Add a little more water if you feel it could stick to the pot, but keep the additional water to a minimum. Then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes more, still over the lowest possible heat.

Butter a 9″ x 13″ cake pan. You can also use a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.


While still hot, pour the polenta into the pan. (If you want to make this kind of polenta the traditional way, you can also pour the polenta onto a large, clean work surface or board.)
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Let the polenta cool completely, even overnight, covered tightly with foil.

When you are ready to finish the polenta, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the cooled polenta with grated cheese; I used Gruyère.
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Then bake the polenta until the cheese barely browns a bit, about 30 minutes. The baking of the polenta dries it out, or solidifies it more, if you will, plus it melts the cheese. This step could probably be done under the broiler if you feel your polenta is stiff enough to already slice.

Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
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To slice, flip the pan of polenta over onto a large platter, then flip it onto a cutting board, cheesy side up. Alternatively, slice inside your pan if it’s not non-stick like mine.


Cut squares or strips of polenta and serve warm. With wine, of course.
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Today I served the baked polenta with a fresh asparagus soup!
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Alternatively, you can cut squares or shapes of the polenta, place them on an oiled baking sheet and then bake them. I’ve seen so many different variations that I don’t think it matters as long as you eventually get to the lovely cheesy polenta. In fact, I’ve seen polenta squares fried on both sides before serving, and also grilled. But I like the easier way of keeping everything in the cake pan, then slicing.

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If you love polenta or grits, you will surely loved baked polenta!
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note: You can use chicken broth in this recipe if you feel the polenta might be too bland for your taste.

Mushroom Bread Pudding

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Most people are familiar with bread puddings that are sweet and typically served for dessert. They probably came about for the purpose of using leftover bread. In fact, many recipes actually call for day-old bread. Sometimes the crusts are removed, sometimes not. Either way, bread is layered in a baking dish, smothered in an egg and cream mixture until it is absorbed, and baked. The resulting “pudding” is soufflé-like light and fluffy.

I’ve only made one bread pudding on the blog, and the recipe came from a bed and breakfast my husband and I stayed at in Dingle, Ireland. Their bread and butter pudding was offered on the breakfast buffet every morning. I tried it once, because the owner himself did the breakfast cooking every morning, and it was fabulous. But it was too sweet for me, especially at breakfast. But they were nice enough to share the recipe.

However, if you’re talking savory bread puddings, you’re talking my culinary language! Bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and cheese, in between puffy layers of baked bread. Fabulous!
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If you don’t love mushrooms, you can change this recipe in so many ways, like use sausage and apples, or use corn bread instead of yeasted bread and include dried cranberries and pecans. So many options!

The bread pudding could also be made in ramekins, for prettier individual servings.


The recipe I created is for an 8 x 8″ baking dish. The bread pudding can be reheated,if there are leftovers, but should be done so gently, so as not to overcook.

Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding

3 ounces unsalted butter
1 pound fresh, sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Black pepper
4-5 slices good bacon, finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
5 eggs
2 cups heavy cream or 1/2 & 1/2
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Fresh bread slices, about 12 sandwich-style, I used whole-wheat bread
8 ounces grated white cheese, like monterey jack
Grated Parmesan

Melt the butter in a large skillet or wok over high heat. When the butter has melted, add the sliced mushrooms. I used a combination of button and portobella mushrooms. If you want an earthier tasting bread pudding, check out my savory baked brie for instructions on adding dried mushrooms to the fresh, which creates a deeper flavor.
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After about 4-5 minutes, turn down the heat and let the mushrooms cook further. Add the thyme and black pepper.
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When they have softened completely, place the mushrooms in a large colander over a bowl to collect the mushroom liquor. Always save this! It can be used in reductions, sauces, soups – just about everything!

Clean out your skillet and place it over high heat. Add the bacon and let it cook just until lightly browned. Add the chopped onion and turn down the heat to medium. Sauté until the onions have softened.
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Add the mushroom mixture, stir well, and set aside.
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Meanwhile, place the eggs and cream in a medium bowl. Add salt and white pepper.
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Whisk until smooth; set aside.

At this point, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and generously grease an 8 x 8″ baking dish.

You are going to be making layers with the bread, cheese, and mushroom mixture. In between creating the layers, add 1/2 cup or so of the egg and cream mixture over the bread layers, instead of pouring the whole amount on the top when you’re done with the layering.

Begin by removing the crusts from the bread.

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Place the bread slices on the bottom of the buttered baking dish. I use a little cheese on top of the bread, then add the mushrooms, than a little more cheese.

It helps make the layers “stick” together.

Continue making your layers, filling up any spaces between the bread slices if necessary, and when you’ve created the final bread layer, pour all of the remaining egg and cream mixture over the top. The final layer should be the mushrooms.

Wrap the baking dish loosely with foil and bake for one hour. Remove the foil and shake the baking dish to see if there’s any movement. If there is, most likely the middle hasn’t finished cooking. Turn down the heat to 300 degrees, and bake for about 15 minutes more. You can also use a cake tester to make sure the pudding is fully cooked. Just be careful not to overcook.

When the bread pudding is cooked, remove the baking dish from the oven, and set the oven on broil. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the mushrooms and broil until browned.

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Let the pudding sit for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Serve warm.

It can also be made the day before, but re-heat gently. You don’t want it become rubbery.
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I served the bread pudding to my husband with pork tenderloin, but I think it would go with just about any meat.

I would have sprinkled the bread pudding with chives or chopped parsley, but it was raining.
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Tapeschetta

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Tapeschetta is a combination of tapenade and bruschetta. One evening when I had short notice that a few girlfriends were coming over, I quickly made this appetizer.

It evolved from wanting to make a bruschetta, but running out of tomatoes. So to stretch what I had, I added some previously prepared tapenape. And it worked well!

So here’s approximately what I did. If you ever can’t decide between bruschetta and tapenape, try both!
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Tapeschetta

1 – 8 ounce jar marinated mixed olives, pitted
1 – 4 ounce can black olives, pitted
1 small jar sliced pimientos, optional
2 shallots, diced
4-5 Roma tomatoes
Lots of basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup good balsamic vinegar
Crostini or crackers

Place the olives and pimientos in the jar of a food processor and pulse until the olives are in small pieces.

Place the mixture in a medium bowl.

De-seed the tomatoes, and let them drain a bit on paper towels.
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Dice the tomatoes and add them to the olives in the bowl.


Dice the shallots and add them to the bowl as well.
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For the basil, make a chifonnade of basil leaves by rolling same-size leaves up like a cigar, then slicing across the cigar horizontally. Avoid the stems.

Mix everything together gently. Add the olive oil and vinegar.

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Stir again gently, and let the tapeschetta sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.
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You can add more chifonnade of basil on top, if you wish.
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I think the key to this delicious mixture is to keep the ratio of the olives to the tomatoes about fifty-fifty. That way you get to enjoy every aspect of it. But you can adjust the ratio as you wish.

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When I make this again, I will serve it with crostini instead of fresh bread, like I did originally. It’s just better on toasted bread, I think.

Roasted Okra

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Quite a few years ago, I was at a girlfriend’s beautiful loft for dinner, and for someone who doesn’t really love cooking, she had really put out an impressive spread of hors d’oeuvres.

Among those hors d’oeuvres were roasted okra. I was a bit hesitant at first. I’d only had okra in Creole dishes, and there is this dog slobber-type slime that I had previously associated with okra. But I’m glad I tried them!

Not only did I immediately become addicted to these roasted okra, I found out that they were made from frozen okra! Wow.

So I had to make them myself. They’re so easy, and only take a little bit of time for the thawing process. Other than that, all you’ll need is an oven.
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Roasted Okra

1 or 2 1-pound packages frozen whole okra
Olive oil
Salt or seasoning salt

Starting the day before, thaw the bag of frozen okra in the refrigerator overnight.
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The next morning, place the okra in a large colander. Give them a little rinse, then let them drain for at least 4 hours.
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Place the okra on paper towels and let them “dry” up. There should be no very little “wetness” left to them.
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Preheat the oven to a roast position, or to at least 400 degrees Farenheit. Place the okra in a large roasting pan or jelly roll pan, making sure there’s not too much overlap. Drizzle on olive oil, and season with salt or your favorite seasoning salt. I used a favorite spice blend that my girlfriend Gabriella brings me from Trader Joe’s.
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Roast the okra for about 20-25 minutes, tossing them once during the process. They should be roasted on all sides.

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Cook longer if there’s not sufficient browning. The roasting time depends on how full of water they are. Turn out the okra onto a serving platter.
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You might want to add a fun coarse salt to them as well, but taste them first to test the saltiness.


I made a little Sriracha mayo for dipping, but they’re wonderful just by themselves.
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Be careful. They seriously are addicting!


And not slimy.

Tomato Basil Pinwheels

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My first experiences in the kitchen were of the baking kind. I’d get up early and make some kind of sweet coffee cake or cinnamon buns on Sunday morning to make my family happy. All I remember was that I was about ten when I started the ritual.

Baking became addictive for me, although I’ve since changed from sweet baked goods to preferring everything savory.

I’ve posted on three savory yeast breads on this blog – Chili Pecan Buns, Pesto Pinwheels, and Bread for Cheese. They’re just so much fun to create, and no recipe is required.

I happened to have a chunk of Comté, and decided to use it in a yeasted bread, along with sun-dried tomatoes, and make them in the style of cinnamon buns, much like the pesto pinwheels. Simple, yet delicious. By themselves, with a soup, stew, or just as a basic savory bread to serve with dinner.

So, I’m not writing down an exact recipe, because I like the idea of encouraging my readers who are novice cooks to come up with their own versions of recipes customized to their specific tastes. Don’t like sun-dried tomatoes? Use feta and olives instead! Or nuts!

But I’ll tell you what I did. And if you don’t make your own bread dough, you can make these rolls with purchased pizza dough.

Tomato Basil Pinwheels
makes 10

Comté or Gruyère or Fontina, approximately 8 ounces
1 – 8.5 ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1 lb. bread dough or pizza dough, risen at least once
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
Dried Basil, about 1 tablespoon
Cayenne pepper flakes, optional.
Approximately 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan

First grate the cheese you’re using.


Then place the sun-dried tomatoes in a colander to drain the oil. The product I used was julienned tomatoes packed in oil with Italian herbs.


My dough weighed exactly 16 ounces when it was ready to roll.
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Roll out the dough to a rectangle, approximately 16″ in length by 10″ in width. First add a drizzle of olive oil, and top with the cheese.
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Add the drained sun-dried tomatoes, and then the basil and cayenne pepper flakes, to taste.
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Roll up the dough lengthwise, keeping it tight. Snip off the ends if necessary.
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Slice down through the log, making even pieces, and place then spiral side up and down on a cookie sheet. Mine were about 2″ thick. The pinwheels don’t have to touch. Also, you could use a baking dish instead to contain them, or even muffin tins.
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Let the pinwheels rise for at least 45 minutes while the oven is preheating to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle them with the finely-grated Parmesan, and put the cookie sheet in the oven.
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Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes; they should be golden brown on the tops.
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Let cool slightly and serve.

My husband ate some for lunch. With nothing else! Oh, and he doesn’t like sun-dried tomatoes.
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I’m very happy that I made these pinwheels.
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Lemon Goat Cheese

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If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you know that I’m a cheese lover. A serious cheese lover.

I like all kinds – hard to soft and everything in between. Cow’s milk washed rind cheeses are probably my favorites if you told me I could only eat one variety the rest of my life, which would be sad. But I’m also a huge goat cheese lover.

If I prepare a cheese platter, there will always be some variety of goat cheese on it. There is a goat Brie that is really fabulous. But I also like to play with creamy goat cheese, adding flavors, nuts, herbs, fresh and dried fruits.

On the blog I’ve posted my “Faux Boursin,” which is basically this recipe, shown below, with the addition of fresh and dried herbs. It’s delicious, and you can really customize it to your taste. Plus, it’s much less expensive than buying retail Boursin.

Being that it’s officially spring, I wanted to celebrate with a lemony goat cheese. This is so simple, and I’m not even a huge citrus lover. But the flavor of the goat cheese and lemon zest is fresh and lovely – perfect for Spring! Enjoy!

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Lemon Goat Cheese

8 ounces creamy goat cheese, like Chèvre
2 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Zest of 1 lemon, plus a little more for decoration

Have the first three ingredients at room temperature before you begin. This is the goat cheese I’m using.
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You don’t have to include cream cheese; I do it more if I have guests who might not like the full goat cheese flavor. I add butter I because it helps firm up the cheese and makes it more spreadable. Place the goat cheese, cream cheese and butter in a medium-sized bowl. Add the lemon zest.

Then simply using a spatula or spoon, mix the ingredients together. Line an appropriately-sized bowl with plastic wrap and add the cheese.


Force the cheese down to avoid holes, and spread the top flat. Alternatively, you can make a log shape, just as you would a composed butter.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 4 hours or overnight.

Remove the plastic wrap, and turn over the bowl onto a serving platter. Remove the plastic liner while the cheese is still cold. Let the cheese come to room temperature before serving. It will have more flavor and spread more easily.

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Top with a little lemon zest, if desired, and serve with crackers or bread.

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Other things, like herbs, could be included in this cheese, but I like the simplicity of the lemon. No salt or pepper is required. A little fresh tarragon, chives, parsley, or toasted pine nuts would work sprinkled on top. Play around with this recipe to make it suit you!

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Welcome spring! I’ve missed you!

Bread for Cheese

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I’m addicted to cheese. It’s one of the joys in my life, besides the obvious stuff like family and friends. If only I was addicted to celery, I wouldn’t have to bake bread to go with cheese.

Bread is not something I make a lot anymore. I used to make it almost daily, mostly for my husband, who is bread addicted. These days he’s down on carbs, so that’s why I don’t bake much anymore. But fortunately I don’t have to twist his arm to get him to eat cheese – especially good cheese.

I’ve mentioned before that the holidays make me think of all kinds of festive foods. In my house, from October 1st Thanksgiving through New Year’s it’s a food frenzy.

I not only start planning dishes with figs and cranberries and sweet potatoes, I plan the cheese itinerary. On top of that list is Époisses, my most favorite cheese of all time. We discovered it when in Beaune, which is in the Burgundy region of France, in 2002. To this day, I think it’s still banned on French transportation. And it’s a French cheese!

Although it would be classified as a stinky cheese because of the smell (think standing amongst cows in a cow paddy), it is wonderfully smooth and flavorful. You just have to be able to stand near it in order to eat it.

When I serve it, I always serve it with dense. yeasted breads filled with dried fruits and nuts. They just go together.

The other day I happened upon some dried currants, so I picked those up. And because of my love of hazelnuts this time of year, they’re going into the bread as well. For today I’ll just stick to currants and hazelnuts, but there will be a generous amount of both. Sometimes I make the bread so dense with fruits and nuts that it’s almost like a yeasted fruitcake, but this one is on the breadier side.

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Époisses comes in a little carton. So you really don’t have to do anything presentation wise if you don’t want to. But do make sure you take it out of the refrigerator about 3-4 hours before you serve it. That’s the only way you will get the lovely runniness that typifies this unique cheese.
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Fruit and Nut Bread for Cheese Pairing

3 ounces currants
Cherry brandy or port
3 ounces toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 ounces goat’s milk or evaporated milk
1 egg, whisked
Scant 5 cups of flour in total, 1/2 cup of it whole wheat flour

Place the currants in a small bowl, and cover with a liquid like port. Or, if you prefer, use orange juice. Let them soften for at least 30 minutes before draining them thoroughly right before using. You can always save the liquid for another purpose.


Have all your ingredients ready. Chop the hazelnuts and set aside.

Place 1/4 of warm water in a large, warmed bowl. Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar, and let it sit for about 3-4 minutes, or until the yeast softens.

Give the mixture a whisk, then put the bowl in a warm place for about 5 minutes. The mixture will have doubled in volume. If you would like a yeasted bread tutorial, please see this recipe, which is also a fruit and nut bread.

Add warmed milk and the whisked egg to the yeast mixture. I thought I had a can of evaporated milk, but it turned out to be goat’s milk. It still works.
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Then whisk 1/2 cup of flour into the mixture. Place the bowl back into a warm place and let the mixture double in volume, about 45 minutes.

Switching to a spoon or spatula, vigorously stir in 1 cup of flour. Cover the bowl with a damp dishcloth, and return to the warm place for about 1 hour.

Next, add 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour and the hazelnuts and stir together. The bread dough is ready to be turned out onto a floured surface.


Using about 1/3 more of flour, knead the dough until smooth, then fold the currants into the dough.

Knead a few more minutes until the currants are fully incorporated, then place the dough into a greased loaf pan, or any pan or pans of choice. Place it in the warm place for at least 30 minutes, or until the dough has at least doubled in size.
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Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.

Place the pan in the oven and bakeit approximately 40 minutes. If you’re not sure if it’s done, you can use a thermometer to see if it has reached 195 degrees internally. It shouldn’t become hotter than that or it will be overbaked.


Let the bread cool. When you’re ready to serve it slice it with a serrated knife.

I love the pairing of a fruit and nut bread with this particular cheese. I also served it with a rosé.

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Look how gooey Époisses is:

The bread is so easy to make, and it’s fun to change up the different fruits and nuts. It could have just been easily figs, cranberries, and walnuts.
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Foja de Noce

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When the holidays are approaching most all cooks and bakers I know begin thinking about festive treats and Christmas cookies. But not me. I think cheese. I begin collecting Gruyère for pasta, Fontina for savory tarts, Reblochon for potatoes, Époisses for hors d’oeuvres, and raclette and fondue cheeses for special feasts with family and friends.

Thanks to reading blogs, about food, of course, I recently came across one called Di Bruno Bros. From the blog I discovered their website, simply called dibruno.com.

The Di Bruno story is a typical one from 1930, with 2 Italian brothers moving from Italy to Philadelphia via Ellis Island. There they opened the successful Di Bruno Bros. grocery store, but in 1965 the store became primarily a cheese shop. Eventually the sons and other Di Bruno relatives took over the business, and they expanded the products with international gourmet items, and opened new store locations.

Also because of the blog, I discovered and ordered the cookbook Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese – a guide to wedges, recipes, and pairings. The author is Tenaya Darlington, who also blogs as Madame Fromage.

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Because of where I live, I have to be my own cheesemonger. My local grocery store does a decent job, but they’re not going to put out cheeses that the bulk of the population won’t buy. So I make purchases when I travel, and order online a lot, as much as my diet allows. French cheeses are my favorites overall, but the world of artisanal cheeses in the US has really grown, which is a fabulous trend.

So the book appealed to me because cheeses are described in delightful prose. I love the names of the chapters, such as ‘The Quiet Ones,” “Vixens” and “The Stinkers.” But also there are recipes associated with some of the cheeses, provided by the Di Bruno Bros. kitchen, and also notes from their professional cheesemongers. So what’s not to love!

All of my favorite cheeses that I mentioned above are in this book, but I also love that they wrote about two of my favorite American cheeses. One is an old standby for my family – Humboldt Fog by Cypress Grove Chèvre, and a recent discovery – Red Hawk by Cowgirl Creamery.

In the introduction, the author writes, quoting a cheesemaker, that “making a cheese with pasteurized milk is like trying to bake a cake with hard-boiled eggs.” Love it.

To get to the point of this post, one cheese in the book especially caught my attention – Foja de Noce – an Italian sheep’s milk cheese that I’d never heard of. It’s wrapped in walnut leaves and aged in mountain caves. Drinks suggested for pairing include Barolo, a pint of amber, or Scotch ale. Hmmmm.

Here is the cheese. It’s a Pecorino, and has a delightful flavor, similar to an aged Manchego. To quote the author, which will give you an idea of her writing style, “it has all the primal whomp of a nutty, aged sheep’s milk cheese, and yet there is so much more going on: a lazy kind of sweetness, a buttery stealth that lingers, a dreamy, woodsy depth.”

The recipe using this cheese was intriguing to me because it’s a tapenade which not only contains olives, which is to be expected, but made with Foja de noce and smoked almonds. I’ve posted on tapenade before on the blog, and I’ve only been familiar with olive-heavy tapenades. So i knew i just had to make it. It was a good excuse to try the cheese, besides.

I’m typing the recipe as it’s written, but please take note below on my changes.

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Sicilian Olive and Smoked Almond Tapenade
from Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese

1/4 pound Foja de Noce, grated (I crumbled)
1/3 cup smoked almonds (I’m assuming whole almonds)
1/3 cup dry-cured Sicilian olives*, pitted
1 small garlic clove
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor.
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Puree until the mixture is finely chopped, about the consistency of pesto. This photo shows the tapenade on its way to become pesto-like in consistency.
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You may need to add a couple tablespoons of water if the paste is too thick. Because I most likely used more olives, no extra liquid was required (see note). Covered, this tapenade will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

The author suggest serving the tapenade with pita crisps or baguette rounds, and also suggests using it as a spread in a sandwich. Delicious.

I served the tapenade with browned flatbread triangles.
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The recipe states that Pecorino or Parmesan could replace the Foja de Noce.
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* I used Castelvetrano olives, which aren’t dry cured, but they’re the only Sicilian olives I could get my hands on.

note: I’m not going to rant (again) on poorly written recipes, but honestly, 1/3 cup of olives? About four olives fit into my measuring cup and so I gave up and decided to pit them first, then I weighed out 3 ounces. It perhaps wasn’t quite the right ratio, but the end result was delicious nonetheless. The rest of the recipe I followed exactly, because I was so intrigued with the ingredients, especially the smoked almonds and honey.

verdict: I will make this. Over and over again. It’s my new favorite spread.