Category Archives: cheese

A taste of Cato Corner Farm

If you’re ever at a loss for what to do when a giant, stinky box of cheese arrives at your doorstep, go buy a good bottle of wine, a good baguette, and invite some friends over.  Or just keep the smelly goodness to yourself — your preference.  We recently got such a package from Cato Corner Farm, courtesy of Pam (thank you!!), filled with healthy portions of Vivace, Dutch Farmstead, Bridgid’s Abbey, and Hooligan (their stinkiest, ripest, most gorgeous award winner).  They make some of the best raw milk cheese in the US, and they are only an hour or so away, so we were thinking of picking some of their varieties for our wedding (which we are self catering, picnic style, because we are nuts / poor grad students — whichever you prefer). Therefore, with utter seriousness, a bottle of Malbec, and a great deal of hunger, the taste test commenced.

James arranged the order, because he’s the resident cheese expert.  We started with the Vivace, which tastes kind of like a young, less salty Asiago (though the website describes it as a cross between a Gruyere and a provolone). This one was mild and pleasant and ended up making a delicious melting cheese.  Next was a 6 month Dutch Farmstead, which is sort of a raw milk Gouda.  It was also fairly mild, though richer than the Vivace, and somewhat creamier.  Bridgid’s Abbey, which is supposed to be a Trappist-style monastery cheese, finished the trio of older, slightly harder cheeses.  Now, I have no idea what a Trappist-style monastery cheese is supposed to taste like, but of the three harder cheeses, this last one probably had the most complex flavor profile, and was the most bewitching when melted over a bit of toast.

Now, for my personal favorite. That cheese in the top left corner of the picture above is called Hooligan. It smells of wet, dirty socks, but tastes creamy and complex, with a slightly strong aftertaste.  Now that is CHEESE, as it is meant to be.  And it’s the closest either of us have come to finding a proper Epoisses in the states.  I am, unfortunately, hopelessly addicted.  Good thing it’s hard to come by here — you really have to go to New York to pick up a smaller portion, or order a whole 1.3 lb wheel and pick it up at the farm.

All these cheeses are made with the same milk, so they all have a similar creamy flavor to them.  For the wedding, we’ll probably pick a few from different producers, just to get a bit of variety going.  As for the Hooligan? Well … It depends on whether we can figure out what to do with a whole 1.3 lb wheel of the stuff.  I have a few ideas…

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Cauliflower? Delicious?

Hell yes.

I’d even tell you the recipe if I had time.  Good thing it’s simple.  Preheat your oven to something like 400ºF/200ºC. Toss cauliflower florets and plain white button mushrooms in oil, with a bit of salt, a teaspoon or so of freshly cracked coriander seeds, and some paprika (to taste — I love the stuff, so maybe I better not advise you on this one).  Shove in the oven for 30 minutes or so. When the cauliflower starts to look golden, grate a healthy portion of gruyere over all of it, return to the oven until the cheese melts, and eat.

All of it.

In one sitting.

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Filed under cauliflower, cheese, mushrooms, vegetarian

New York in January

It’s 3 weeks until the thesis is due, and let’s face it, if you’re in the US, you’re more interested in superbowl recaps or hangover potions after a long night in front of the telly. So I’ll get to the point: we just spent two days in New York (overnight! for cheap!) and, oh, if you’ve never been, you need to go. Just for the food, of course.

No, this isn’t quite breaking news. But New York, more than anywhere else, inspires gluttonous food tours filled with Balthazar rye bread, Sullivan Street semi di sesamo, Murray’s cheese (and salami, now, too!), and of course, restaurants.  We were there for Restaurant week, which is actually two weeks and happens twice a year, but try not to think about that too much.  We tend to try to get to the city during Restaurant Week because it is the only chance for poor grad students to sample some of those places we’ve been reading about for ages, and haven’t quite managed to visit.  This time, we went to db Bistro moderne.

It’s the first of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants I’ve visited, and is one of his most casual.  Casual does not mean the food is sloppy. Not at all.  Like the vibrant red decor, which has clearly been impeccably styled, every dish we tried seemed like a perfectionist chef’s attempt at making contact with the masses.  Not that this was a bad thing.

The Alsatian tarte flambee was a square of almost cracker-like, crisp bread, topped with a mix of fromage blanc, bacon, and white and green onions that balanced the smokiness of the bacon and the subtle sweetness of the onions just so.  The pot au feu was a basic beef broth decorated with tiny, uniform squares of beef and root vegetables, and as a whole, reminded us both of some of the best roast dinners we’ve managed in our own home.  But the mains were the most memorable.  The winter squash risotto was a vibrant green, decorated with arugula, perfect little cubes (once again!) of butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, and perhaps a bit of pumpkin seed oil.  It was sweet and spring-like: winter vegetables transformed into a hint of the spring to come.  And the matelotte de poisson?  It was the sea, which is perhaps the highest compliment I could pay a seafood dish.  The spaetzle accompanying the various little pieces of seafood was lightly coated in a sauce that tasted of some of the better rieslings I’ve had in my lifetime, and the brussels sprouts and carrots were actually as enjoyable as the fish.  Dessert, the final act, was a work of art, and yes, I will make that coconut custard someday. (Or maybe I’ll just go back for another serving?)

Atmosphere-wise, the place was buzzing, the service was as calculated as the food, and it was abundantly clear that Boulud’s specialty is fine dining.  This is, essentially, a fancy restaurant that you can wear jeans to, which is exactly what James and I look for when we head into the city.  Having our napkins straightened like naughty children whenever one of us looks the other way just makes us nervous.  I think the only odd thing about the place is that the reception desk is halfway through the dining room, requiring some awkward coat-check moves and causing a bit of confusion when you enter the first place for the first time, but it is New York, after all, and space is at a premium.

The rest of the trip was no less delicious, though lunch at db Bistro was probably the highlight.  We made it to the farmer’s market for a bunch of different varieties of potatoes, some delicious pear cider (so warm in my freezing fingers), and an apple pie for my friend K.  We also made it out to Artichoke Basille’s for slices, because what’s a trip to NY without a slice or two? The picture on NYmag’s site makes the place look roomy, which is certainly not the case, but it’s cozy and friendly and they had good taste in music, so make friends with your pie-eating neighbors.  Their spinach and artichoke slice is worth walking all the way across Manhattan for (and you probably need to, just to work all that bechamel off).  The crust is thick, bready, and flavorful, but not so much so that thin crust devotees would be turned off by it.  If you don’t eat your crust, you really haven’t had good pizza, so go have a try.  The sicilian slice wasn’t bad, either, but eh, I’ve had better.

After all that, K took us to a vegetarian place called Red Bamboo in Brooklyn, which had the most convincing fake meat I’ve ever had.  Even James was smitten.  I had a  montego sandwich, which had a sweet vidalia onion spread that I could see myself getting addicted to if I ever lived in the neighborhood.

Finally, we took a quick trip to East Village Cheese for some Balthazar rye bread (sour and hearty, and oh, how it reminds me of Poilaine!) and to Murray’s for some heavenly stinky cheese from Cato Corner Farm (which is in CT, but unfortunately doesn’t sell cheese anywhere near me … Unless you go to the farm and buy a whole wheel, which we may just do for the wedding!).  By that point, we were cold and exhausted, and looked forward to the long ride home.

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Filed under cheese, local farms, New York City, pizza, restaurant review, travel

Wintry onion soup

For those chilly nights

For those chilly nights

Yesterday, snow arrived before dawn and traced the barren trees with wintry light, taunting us until we put on our running clothes, trekked out into the frigid air, and left only our footsteps behind.  We arrived home pink-cheeked and slightly hoarse from the chilly wind, giddy from snowball fights and snowmen and the feeling that everything had been scrubbed clean and restored to its proper order.

Dont make me cry

Don't make me cry

The first snowfall is always the best.  The trees have been barren just long enough to make fall seem distant, and the cold hasn’t had a chance to settle into one’s bones just yet. It’s the perfect excuse to do all those cliched things one does at the start of winter: drink hot chocolate with marshmallows, go sledding with all the neighborhood kids, and make hearty winter fare.

Stock brewing

Stock brewing

There’s something so soothing and cheerful about a warm, wintry soup, and the one I want to share with you today is a perfect dinner or post-run snack for warding off winter’s chill. And topped with golden melted muenster and slices of toasted sourdough bread, it feels almost luxurious.

Wintry onion soup

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Filed under cheese, comfort, onions, soup, vegetarian-friendly

Fast food

Spinach, Feta, and Roasted Tomato Omelette

Spinach, Feta, and Roasted Tomato Omelet

Sometimes, life gets a little absurd. Recently, I’ve been letting my dissertation take over every waking hour, because, well, someday, I want to get out of here, move on, and do something (anything) with my life that people might actually be interested in. I mean more than the 30 or so people in my field, who are working on similarly esoteric stuff.  That’s grad school for you, I suppose. But I digress … I’m really here to tell you that there ARE ways to make home-cooked meals, even when life gets crazy. If you have five minutes, and don’t mind leaving the dishes in the sink, you can eat amazingly well even in the midst of work-related chaos.  I think I’ll make these meals a monthly feature here on threeForks.

This first one is actually one of my favorite quick meals, especially because you can double the recipe and provide yourself with lunch or dinner the next day, as well.  It’s incredibly versatile — you can throw in anything (including leftover pasta!) you need to use up and end up with a gorgeous, filling meal. And it takes a whole 5 minutes, depending on your fillings.  I’ll give you a specific variation below, but first, I have some business to attend to.

Baking Blondie tagged me, so I will in turn tag Rachael, Arielle, and Marty, just because. Here’s some insight about my food obsessions…

You can take five items and are allowed one sentence in which to justify your decision. Tag whoever you like and link back! You are on a desert island so assume a plentiful supply of exotic fish, coconuts and sea salt. Ignore any issues regarding storage. There happens to be a very large solar powered refrigerator washed up on the shore as well. Now, on to the list…

1. Olive oil. With all that fish and salt, I’m going to need some to get gorgeous, crackling fish skin.

2. Coffee, because I am an addict.

3. A cast iron pot, because you can cook anything in one of these.

4. Flour, so I can make some awesome sourdough pizza.

5. A tomato seed packet. Then I can grow something delicious.

Ok, now back to the regularly scheduled program…

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Filed under cheese, eggs, main, quick meals, spinach, tomatoes

Get your greens

Pumpkin saag paneer

Pumpkin saag paneer

I’m never a one-dish girl. Even at my favorite restaurants, I can’t pick up a menu and order something that I’ve had before. God forbid I miss their best dish, even if I know I had it two weeks ago, and there’s no way in hell I’ll ever come close with anything else.  Call it a handicap of mine.

With one exception, that is.  I cannot stop ordering saag paneer.

Spinach!

Spinach!

It’s as if I’m channeling some inner Popeye the second I step into an Indian restaurant. Seriously, it’s a problem, because frankly, I’m a little ashamed of myself.  Until now, that is.

Squash.

Squash.

I’ve tried to make saag paneer at home before, to no avail. The cream and ghee they use in copious quantities in restaurant cooking doesn’t really make it into most cookbooks, because seriously, do you really want to know what you’re eating?  It’s never tasted quite as good. But this recipe, which I adapted from Veganomicon, is genius.  That creamy consistency? They achieve it with squash.

Paneer

Paneer

Kind of surprising, right?  It makes total sense if you think about it, though.  There is a reason butternut squash soup is kind of creamy, even without any cream.  If you’re not easily convinced, you must go cook this now. Seriously — I really think you’ll thank me.  My version is not vegan, because James really wanted to make cheese, and I kind of like paneer, but I think it would have actually been better without it. (James, by the way, agrees. And he had seconds — for a dish with no meat! If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will).

This is a great start to the “eat less meat” challenge I unofficially took on a little while ago.  (It’s been going well — more on that later).

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Filed under cheese, main, spinach, squash, vegetarian

More reasons to start a garden

Food porn opportunities are everywhere

Food porn opportunities are everywhere

Check out the gorgeous beans, tomatoes, and squash. Oh, the squash … We made some tonight, and it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. Not grainy, like you get sometimes with acorn or kabocha squash that’s been sitting in your grocery store for something like an eternity, but smooth and supple, with a sweetness that makes dessert entirely unnecessary. Oh, and the flowering thai basil just makes me excited. But yah, that’s enough fawning over produce for one night.  I’ve got places to be. Tomorrow morning, in fact. I’m off to California, to visit a friend, say hello to some family, and go to a conference. And I have serious food plans. A tasting menu at Melisse in LA, lunch at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, and more excursions to the Cheese Board in Berkeley, because why wouldn’t I go if the conference is in Oakland? I want more bread …. Oh, and sourdough is calling my name.

squash warts

squash warts

But that’s tomorrow. For now, I want to leave you with one bizarre and sort of cool observation: those funny bumps you see sometimes on squash? That’s where it rests on the ground. It makes its own pillow!  And two, you can make an awesome meal from a random assortment of veggies, a few spices, tortillas, and cheese.  If the veggies are good, you really don’t even need the cheese.

Funky delicious potato

Funky delicious potato

So, I want to give you some ideas for an easy vegetarian meal. This isn’t really a recipe — just the best easy meal you could have on a Friday night.  You can use any veggies that take your fancy, as long as they’ll roast well.

My meal

My meal

We started with the garden produce we had on hand — a squash, bush beans, and a few peppers. We added in one very funky looking (but delicious) farmer’s market potato, and some cauliflower, button mushrooms, a bit of garlic (unpeeled), and rainbow carrots from the store.  We cut the squash into quarters, after scooping out the seeds, cut all the remaining veggies into similarly sized chunks, and pre-heated the oven to 425 degrees F.  After tossing everything except the potatoes in olive oil, salt, pepper, a tablespoon of freshly ground coriander seed, and a smaller portion of ground cumin (maybe < 1 t.), we placed everything in baking tins and threw it in the oven. For the potatoes, we tossed them in salt, pepper, olive oil, and spanish paprika. When everything was fork tender (maybe 1 hour later — this is a 1 dish go-about-your-business sort of dinner), we heated up a bit of cheddar cheese on some store-bought tortillas (habanero lime, from Trader Joe’s), and made our own fajitas.

The boys dinner

The boy's dinner

We both had the squash on the side, because it was easier. I didn’t feel like peeling it. But you could cut it up and roast it, too, or fork bits of it into your tortilla. You could use butternut squash, or acorn squash as a substitute, and it’d work perfectly.

This was a great first vegetarian night. We both got exactly what we wanted in a meal, no meat required. Really, even the cheese wasn’t that necessary — the veggies were tasty enough.  And I am definitely going to be excited about setting up a garden again next spring. Bring on the seed catalogs!

I’m not done yet …

James suggested I tell you what we grew this year, so here’s a list, with a few comments:

  • Pink brandywines – awesome heirloom tomatoes, and much cheaper to grow than to buy. They’re a bit finicky if you live in a rainy environment, but how indulgent is brandywine tomato sauce? You will be making a lot of it from the tomatoes bugs started tasting first.
  • Sungold tomatoes – these are orange cherry tomatoes. They’re a hybrid, a heavy producer, and are DELICIOUS.  Slow roast them and savor them in everything.
  • Yellow pear tomatoes – these are cute but not as tasty as sungolds, and definitely not as disease resistant. We won’t be growing these again next year.
  • Yellow and purple bush beans, haricots verts. The yellow and purple bush beans are my favorite. They seem to achieve a nicer texture when cooked, and have a nice flavor. The haricots verts really didn’t produce much at all.
  • Swiss chard – Awesome. They’re gorgeous, and they keep throwing up stalks when you cut some off for dinner. They weren’t terribly prolific in our garden, but we had enough to feed us with greens all summer.
  • Sweet nantes carrots – Also awesome. These are small, and really need to be grown in potting soil, because CT has rocks everywhere. They’re sweet and flavorful, and have a cute wrinkly witch finger look about them.
  • Arugula – Yum, but eat it before it gets warm and starts flowering. It gets bitter once it gets leggy.
  • Thai and genovese basil. Both varieties did really well as companion plants for the tomatoes, and gave us some tasty meals. The thai basil is gorgeous — it has lovely purple flowers, and a slightly exotic taste (gee, you think?). It’s also hardier than the typical genovese, but is a bit too strong for pesto.
  • A fingerling potato from the Union Square market – Complete failure. It seemed like it was going to work, but it died off, and then there was nothing left in the soil!
  • Sage, marjoram, oregano, cilantro, rosemary. All good herbs to have. We kept these in pots, since they can be brought inside when it starts to get cold.
  • Pea shoots. You can eat these, and they’re easy. They also like cold weather. They’re so cute — they have curly tendrils!
  • Onions, shallots. These hated our rocky soil. I did get the onions to grow a bit, and pickled them when they were still pretty small. Yum.
  • Kale – these are just tiny shoots right now, because we just planted them. They look happy, and are a cold weather crop, so I can’t wait to see how they do.
  • Peppers — I bought a 5 variety mix, and I think we had three different types pop up. I have no idea what kind — some kind of bell pepper, some longer, low-heat pepper, and I think some jalapeños. Yum.

Ok, that’s all I can remember so far. My flight leaves early, so I’m off to sleep. I’ll be back before Halloween, with an awesome lime cookie recipe, and some reports on Zuni Cafe and Melisse. See you then!

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Filed under carrots, cheese, gardening, garlic, local, main, potatoes, roasted vegetables, San Francisco, squash, stories, travel, vegetarian