Figgy Jam

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Figgy Jam! Just the name alone conjures Christmas spirit! And it’s December – time to plan cheese pairings!

Personally, I think a jam, paste, or curd is a wonderful addition to a cheese platter, because it enhances the cheese. This one has a little savory component to it, but it’s not a chutney. And, it’s really not a jam, because it’s not that sweet.


Just as the Spaniards are so good at pairing their beloved Manchego with quince paste, I make my figgy “jam” to pair with cheeses like Chèvre, Brie, and my favorite stinky cheese of all time – the famous Époisses from the Burgundy region of France.

I love dried figs, but I have to admit something. When I eat a dense fig jam, it can sometimes feel like I’m chewing sand because of the seeds. So to the figs, I added dates and dried cranberries. That way, I will have the figgy flavor, but not so many seeds.

And the cranberries provide a more scarlet color, which fits the holidays.
So here’s what I did:

Figgy Jam

1 pound dried fruit – chopped figs, chopped dates, and dried cranberries
1 apple, peeled, cored, finely diced
¾ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup ruby Port
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 shallots, finely diced
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick

On a scale, weigh out the fruit you’re using – in this case, figs, dates, and dried cranberries.

Place all of the ingredients in a pot including the cinnamon stick.

Cook the mixture with the lid on for about 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often.

Pretty much all of the liquid will have been absorbed; you want the dried fruit hydrated, but also have a little liquid left over in order to process the jam.

Let the mixture cool. Remove the cinnamon stick, then put the mixture in a food processor. Pulse, scrape, pulse, scape, and continue, using a little more orange juice if necessary. I don’t make a paste – I prefer to have a little texture.

Place in jars and store in the refrigerator. Alternately, freeze the jars and thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

The jam is best at room temperature served with a variety of cheeses, crackers, breads, and more dried fruits!

There are brie logs that would make lovely canapés.

Also, the figgy jam could be put on a brie wheel of any size, warmed slightly. Then you get the combination of oozing cheese and the figgy jam.


I drizzled a little maple syrup over the brie as well.

The jam is also good with goat cheese.

However you use it, you will love the combination.

The figgy jam isn’t terribly sweet, so it’s also good on toast in the morning!

Springtime Baked Brie Tartlets

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Blogging is so addicting fun for me, that posts are scheduled months ahead. But as a result, when I come across something new that I must make ASAP, posts get pushed back, which is exactly what happened to these baked brie tartlets.

I wanted to make them last Christmas, but now here it is April. Instead of postponing them until the following Christmas, I decided to make a springtime version. I mean, why not? Warm cheese isn’t only for winter holidays. And instead of cranberry chutney or some similar festive variety, I’m using strawberry onion chutney.

If you’re not familiar with cooked fruit chutneys, they are different from compotes in that there are savory components. My favorites to use are combinations of onion, garlic, and ginger. The resulting flavor profile includes a bit of zing, as well as sweetness.

Recently on Instagram, I saw a cheese board from Murray’s Cheese in New York City, and I asked about a certain beautiful, orange-rinded cheese. Turns out it’s called Brebisrousse D’Argental, a sheep milk cheese from Lyon, France.

I thought the orange rind and white paste would be beautiful paired with the strawberry chutney.

Just for the ease of preparing these tartlets, I purchased pre-baked phyllo cups. You just fill and serve, and they’re basically a one-bite size.


Springtime Baked Brie Tartlets

1 package (15) phyllo tartlets
Cheese of choice that melts easily, like Brie, Fontina, or Raclette
Strawberry chutney, or choice of zingy condiment
Good balsamic vinegar

Place the tartlets on a microwave-safe serving dish. Fill them about halfway with the cheese you’re using. Gently warm the cheese, using a low-strength microwave setting.

Add some of the chutney, and then top with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

And you’re done.

I know I called these baked brie tartlets, but baking isn’t necessary, since all you have to do is warm the cheese. I also didn’t actually use Brie…

Now I get to have friends over and finish up this amazing cheese that I just discovered! Yes, it melts well, but it’s also good as-is!

Get creative with this kind of tartlet. You can choose your cheese, as I did, and also choose your condiment. There are so many available for purchase these days – from apricot to tomato chutneys.

Cabbage Rolls, Deconstructed

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I am completely aware that the term “deconstructed” is overused these days, but that’s exactly what innocently came to mind when I first thought about this recipe.

Cabbage rolls have always been a favorite of mine – mostly because of all the varieties of stuffings potentially hiding inside. Ground pork with rice and raisins, reminiscent of dolma, or sausage rolled in cabbage, smothered in red sauce – all delicious, comforting, and reliable.

There’s nothing tedious or challenging about making cabbage rolls, but it’s easy to run out of the nice big cabbage leaves.

So I was staring at a cabbage the other day, and thought I could simply parboil the cabbage, and create a layered “casserole” of cabbage and sausage. But I also needed a white sauce and cheese.

I not only was thinking of traditional cabbage rolls, but also a recipe I made which was bacon and mushrooms in béchamel and wrapped in cabbage leaves – more of a side dish than a meal, and deliciously rich.

So here’s what I did, combining the components of both recipes.

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls
printable recipe below

1 large head of white cabbage, about 3 pounds
1-2 tablespoons oil or bacon fat
2 pounds Italian sausage
1/2 pound ground pork
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Approximately 4 cups of bechamel, double this recipe
Grated Gruyère, about 16 ounces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Have a large pot of slightly salted water heating on the stove. Slice the cabbage in half and remove the core.


When the water comes to a boil, add the cabbage halves and keep them submerged. I used a plate with a weighted lid.

Cook the cabbage for about 6-7 minutes, or until the leaves soften a bit. Place the cabbage in a colander to drain and cool. When you can handle the leaves, separate them slightly and let them drip dry on a dish towel or paper towels.

Meanwhile, cook the sausage, pork and onion over medium-high heat, along with some oil, until barely any pink shows; don’t overcook.


Add the fennel seeds and white pepper. Taste for salt.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13″ baking dish.

Begin with adding cabbage leaves to the bottom of the dish.

Next add one-fourth of the sausage mixture, topped by one cup of bechamel, and sprinkle with about 4 ounces of grated cheese.


Repeat these layers three times or, if your baking dish is shallower, form only three layers, using thirds of the sausage mixture, bechamel, and cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, until golden. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing.


Serve with some buttered potatoes for a really hearty meal!


One could certainly add celery, carrots, and parsley to the meat mixture.

Or, go a different direction with seasoning the meat component to make it Italian-inspired. There are so many options.

note: This deconstructed cabbage roll casserole would be just as good with a red sauce instead of a cheesy white one, and definitely less caloric, if you worry about that sort of thing.

 

 

 

Antipasto Pasta Salad

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This pasta salad recipe isn’t remarkable on its own, being that there are hundreds of pasta salad recipes, but this is remarkably good!

Inspired by my favorite antipasto platters, I used Italian dry salami, Prosciutto, Provolone, Fontina, plus olives and pepperoni. Then I added pasta and fresh vegetables to create an easy pasta salad that is definitely extraordinary.

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My vinaigrette is classic, made with olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and garlic.

Feel free to make this salad your own. It’s one of those “use what you like” recipes. Change up the meats and cheeses, add sun-dried tomatoes or marinated artichokes, chives or shallots, or your favorite dressing. It will all be delicious!

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Antipasto-Inspired Pasta Salad
best served at room temperature

16 ounces pasta of choice, I used rotini
Olive oil
Salt
10 ounces dry Italian salami
8 ounces Provolone
8 ounces Fontina
6 ounces Prosciutto
12 ounce jar peperoncini
6 ounces Greek Kalamata olives
6 ounces pimiento-stuffed Spanish green olives
12 ounces spinach
Fresh cherry tomatoes
Fresh basil leaves
Vinaigrette of choice

Begin by cooking the dry pasta based on the package directions. Drain well, then return to the cooking pot. Stir in a few tablespoons of olive oil and a little salt; set aside to cool.

Cut up the salami and cheeses in a sort of julliene shape. Place in a bowl and set aside. Chifonnade slices of Prosciutto, or alternatively, slice in to bits. Set aside.

Place the drained pepperoncini and olives in the jar of a food processor and pulse until in pieces. Set aside.

Chifonnade fresh spinach leaves and place on a large platter or pasta bowl. Add the cooled pasta on top.

If you don’t want a “composed” salad, all of the ingredients can alternatively be tossed in a large bowl.

Add the salami and cheese mixture, plus the Prosciutto.

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Add some of the pepperoncini-olive mixture to the center of the pasta salad.

Sprinkle generously with coarsely-ground black pepper and cayenne pepper flakes.

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If desired, add some cherry tomatoes, and basil leaves.

Serve with the vinaigrette.

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note: I would normally have added a little vinaigrette to the cooked pasta, but I’m always wary about guests not liking vinegar. But all components of this salad could first be tossed with some vinaigrette, including the spinach, if the salad will be served immediately. If your guests also don’t like pepperoncini and olives, the mixture could be served on the side.

Cheese Log with Walnuts

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It seems like I’ve been entertaining a lot lately. A little bit more than usual. Which is good – I love having company. But what that means is that I have a lot of extra cheese on hand, because I invariably purchase good cheeses for hors d’oeuvres when friends are coming.

Inspired by a recipe by Jacques Pepin, I decided to use all of the cheeses together and make a cheese log of sorts. Jacques Pepin calls this fromage fort, which literally translates to “strong” cheese.

That’s really a misnomer because there’s nothing strong about this cheese unless you choose to make it strong. It’s all about your choice of cheeses. I used goat cheese, Manchego, and Fontina.

In his book, Chez Jacques, Jacques tells the story about how his father always made crocks of cheeses created by whatever leftover cheeses they had on hand. He also included other things like wine and sometimes garlic. His father’s cheese creations were definitely strong because he aged them for about 1 1/2 weeks in the cellar before serving.

Mrs. Pepin follows the same method of combining leftover cheese to make fromage fort, but unlike the “old” days, uses a food processor. She also adds some cream cheese or cottage cheese if the cheeses are on the dry side. I used some butter, but it’s the same principle.

Cheese Log with Walnuts

Goat cheese
Manchego
Fontina
Butter
Walnuts

I’m not including the weights of the cheeses because the whole point of making this fromage fort, or potted cheese, is using what you have on hand.

I placed the goat cheese and the grated Manchego and Fontina in a large bowl. Then I added some butter just to make things a little softer and smoother. Then I let things set until everything was at room temperature.

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I toasted the walnuts. Then I chopped them on a cutting board.
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I layed out a piece of plastic wrap on my workspace, and then carefully placed some of the chopped walnuts on the plastic wrap. I did this instead of just pouring the walnuts onto the plastic, because I didn’t want to include the walnut “powder” that comes from chopping the walnuts. I wanted the bigger, cleaner pieces.

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I used my hands to mix everything together – it was almost like kneading a greasy bread.

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Then I formed a log of sorts and pressed it down onto the stretch of walnuts.
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Then I added more walnuts, and kept turning over the log until all sides were completely covered with walnuts.

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Wrap the log securely and store in the refrigerator.

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At least 2 hours before serving, remove the log from the fridge and place on the serving plate. Then let it come to room temperature. Serve with crackers or bread.
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This is really good cheese to serve with charcuterie and olives, as well as other cheeses.

log

note: You don’t have to turn your cheeses into a log. If you prefer, just place the mixture in a crock. But if you stick to the log idea, different nuts can be used with this recipe just as well as different cheeses. Instead of nuts you could use only chopped herbs in the summer. And, you could use dried fruit as well – think dried cranberries and pistachios for the holidays!!