Chèvre Redux and a Review of a Classic Cookbook

I received a review copy of The Complete Best of Bridge Cookbooks, Volume 3 from Robert Rose Inc. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own.

Image courtesy of Robert Rose, Inc.
Image courtesy of Robert Rose, Inc.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my cheesemaking adventures, which left me with about two pounds of chèvre. I used some of it for the ice cream I made, but that took care of less than a quarter of it. Candy reminded me about the torteau de chèvre, a cheesecake unlike any other I’ve had before. My chèvre, you might remember, was a little softer than it should have been, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. This treat was as good as I’d remembered it being.

My bowl of chèvre was getting down to a manageable size, so I turned my attention to the other cookbook I’d taken for review from Robert Rose, Volume 3 in the Best of Bridge series. This is a spiral-bound edition, which lays flat when open – a handy feature when you’re bringing it into the kitchen with you. The font (what seems to be Comic Sans in all caps) cuts down on readability and the jokes throughout are dated. The recipes, though, are solid. The reputation of these books is well-deserved.

You won’t find innovative or fashionable cuisine here, but you will find a mixture of old-fashioned recipes and new millennium favourites. There’s also a good mix of dinner party and weekday meal fare across cuisines. The methods are easy enough for new cooks, but there’s still enough variety to keep the attention of more experienced ones. In some recipes, there is a reliance on canned or pre-prepared pantry staples that doesn’t mesh well with today’s focus on fresh, homemade ingredients, but it’s easy enough to make substitutions. It’s the kind of all purpose, old fashioned cookbook that I like to have on my shelves. I’ll likely never make the tuna casserole or the molded salads, but the Citrus Crisps have already made an appearance for a holiday cookie exchange this year and I can also tell that I’m going to find some more new favourites in this book.

Speaking of new favourites, I was pleased to find a recipe that would help me with my abundance of chèvre, an onion and goat cheese pizza that sounded delicious. My niece J, one of the stars of our Baking With Julia endeavours, was on hand and agreed to do the heavy lifting on this dish. She made pizza dough, using the recipe found elsewhere in this cookbook – it’s a great, simple crusty one. Then, she vetoed the pine nuts and spent the next half hour in front of the stove, on a comfortable chair with an iPad in one hand and a spatula in the other. By the time she was done, the onions were dark and jammy. She spread the chèvre on the unbaked pizza crust, added the onions, and ground some pepper on top. After a short time in the oven, it was ready.

Pizza

Even without the pine nuts, this was a complexly flavourful dish. I’d love to serve it in small squares as an appetizer, though it made a great main for dinner that night, too. It reminded me a little of Pissaladière and could easily be dressed up with olives, bacon, or even something sweet like figs.

Robert Rose, Inc. has been kind enough to let me share the recipe with you, so if you experiment with it, let me know. It’s great as is, though.

Caramelized Onion and Chèvre Pizza

1 12-inch (30 cm) pizza crust, homemade or purchased
Olive oil to brush crust

3 medium onions, thinly sliced (use all 3!)
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) butter
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) olive oil
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. (45 mL) balsamic vinegar
2 cups (500 mL) crumbled chèvre (goat’s cheese)
1/2 cup (125 mL) toasted pine nuts
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F. Brush crust with olive oil. In a large frying pan over low heat, combine onions, butter, and olive oil Cover and cook, stirring often, until onions are very soft, about 30 minutes. Add sugar and vinegar and continue cooking until vinegar evaporates, about 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Place cheese on crust, leaving 1/2-inch (1 cm) border. Sprinkle with pine nuts, top with onion mixture and a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, until crust is golden.

After the tourteau and the pizza, I was left with just enough chèvre to improvise a goat cheese and mushroom quiche, inspired by a suggestion from Betsy and a fridge full of mushrooms. It was a nice way to finish off the batch of precious homemade goat cheese and the mushrooms, fresh thyme, and onions set off the tangy goat cheese nicely.

Quiche

A week of rich eating was at its end and with the help of some friends and a couple of cookbooks, we were well-satisfied.

The Complete Best of Bridge Cookbooks, Volume 3 came out in Fall, 2013. You can find more details here, along with a link to purchase the book.

At Home with Lynn Crawford – A Penguin.ca Daily December Delight

I received a copy of At Home With Lynn Crawford for review from Penguin Canada. Nevertheless, all opinions are my own.

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You may have noticed this jaunty Christmas penguin on my front page. He’s there because I’m participating in Penguin Canada’s Daily December Delights Campaign. Every day in December, there’s a new featured book, with surprises, extras, or contests running for each selection. There’s also $750.00 worth of Penguin titles up for grabs. You can enter and explore, here.

I came late to discovering the joys of Food Network Canada, so for years I had no idea what people were talking about when they were raving about their favourite celebrity chefs. Then, when my parents started downsizing, I went to stay and help out and discovered my television kryptonite. Not only did I finally see Iron Chef and Chopped, but I got to know my first Canadian celebrity chefs since the Urban Peasant was on air. Today’s chefs are a little more sophisticated (I still love the Urban Peasant’s version of 40 cloves of garlic chicken) and I’ve come to love watching Anna Olson, Michael Smith, and Ricardo Larrivée. One of my favourite shows, though, is Lynn Crawford’s Pitchin’ In, with its wacky premise, Chef Lynn’s endless curiosity about ingredients, and the fantastic meals she serves at the end of each episode.

Image courtesy of Penguin Canada
Image courtesy of Penguin Canada

At Home with Lynn Crawford is her second cookbook. The first, Pitchin’ In, was inspired by her television show and replicated the fine dining at home ethos of the meals she served to her hosts on the show. Many of the recipes in her first cookbook were quite technically challenging, especially for inexperienced cooks. Her new cookbook takes a different tack, focusing on easy home recipes, including a wealth of recipes for ingredients like stocks, marinades, spice rubs, and flavoured butters. As a result, this book is perfect for a new cook. Chef Lynn also includes her take on a number of basic recipes like baked beans, potato salad, and chicken noodle soup that make a good starting point for someone learning to cook. There are classic recipes like Coq au Vin, Cioppino, and Porchetta that might seem familiar to older cooks, but will be brand new to many young people. Her recipes run across many cuisines, including Asian, Caribbean, and Indian flavours, which is another good point of entry for new cooks.

But, it’s not all slow lane cooking. Her Sweetbreads recipe requires some finesse and techniques like salt-baking certainly piqued my interest. Most of all, it’s her chef’s eye for detail which makes her recipes interesting. The ingredients are given as much attention as the whole. Something as simple as steak and mushrooms becomes much more sophisticated in her hands, with a rich marinade to start and red wine butter to finish. I like the way that the recipes cover so many categories, too – not just appetizers, mains, sides and desserts, but also jams and spreads, seasoning salts, and a cocktail section that might even get Trevor’s attention.

The book itself is beautiful, with lovely photography and a clean, spare layout. However, this brings me to what I didn’t like about it, which is how space is used in parts of the book. Serving champagne merits two pages and variations are often presented as separate recipes. It’s not a huge problem, but it can promote more hunting around for things you’re trying to find fast. With its emphasis on easy recipes, I’d also like to see more detail in the instructions, which would help new cooks when they might be unfamiliar with even the more simple techniques. But, those are really the only two issues I had with the book.

Cake

I’ve only had a chance to test drive one recipe so far, but I think I chose well. Chef Lynn’s Sweet Potato Bourbon Cake is full of rich ingredients, but it bakes into a cake that’s both substantial and light. The bourbon glaze reminds me of sucre à la crème, but with some smokiness from the alcohol. (I may have to try a boozy version of sucre à la crème this year.) I used squash and Canadian whisky in place of the sweet potato and bourbon, but as Chef Lynn mentions in the recipe, these substitutions work just fine. It’s a big cake, made for sharing, but I suspect that it will keep well, too. You can find a more elaborate version of this recipe here.

I plan on working my way though some of the other recipes, and I might just be handing out a few jars of Chef Lynn’s Old Bay Seasoning at Christmastime, too. If you head over to today’s square on Penguin’s calendar, you can find some sample recipes from the book. And if you’d like to get a taste of Chef Lynn in action, her Pitchin’ In Christmas special is running right now on Food Network Canada.

Cheesemaking – A Book Review, with Recipes

I received a review copy of 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes from Robert Rose Inc. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own.

Image courtesy of Robert Rose, Inc.
Image courtesy of Robert Rose, Inc.

Robert Rose, Inc., a publisher based in Toronto, asked me if I’d like to review any of their new releases and the first one that caught my eye was the second edition of this book. Like a lot of folks these days, I’ve been fascinated with the rediscovery of homemade foods, from preserves to charcuterie and beyond. Cheesemaking seems to be a natural for the fermenting, pickling, curing set. In the case of this book, I was curious to see how many different sorts of cheese could reasonably be made at home and I also wanted to see how well I’d fare trying my hand at it. I was tempted to try Mozzarella or Halloumi, but I decided to stick with a fresh cheese, as suggested by the author, as they’re the easiest and fastest to tackle. Besides, making chèvre doesn’t require anything beyond the active agents, a place to rest, and some cheesecloth. Some of the other cheeses are considerably more involved and I wanted to start slow.

I found the mesophilic culture and liquid rennet that I needed at Gourmet Warehouse and picked up four liters of goat’s milk at our local food co-op. I sterilized all the equipment, and followed the instructions as closely as I could. I have to admit I felt a little frightened at the idea of leaving a pot of milk out for twenty-four hours, then the curds for another six or seven. I read the troubleshooting section for fresh cheeses over and over that evening, just to prepare for the worst.

But, for the most part, everything went exactly as planned. My cream cheese turned out a little softer than it should have been, but not much. Otherwise, in taste, texture, and aroma, it’s exactly what I expect from chèvre. What I wasn’t prepared for, even though I knew the expected weight of the finished cheese would be about two pounds, was just how much chèvre I’d just made. Enough to fill a large mixing bowl. After the delight I felt at discovering I’d been successful, next came the fear that I’d never be able to figure out what to do with all that highly perishable cheese. I figured it out and now there’s just about three-quarters of a cup left in the fridge, ready to be mixed with herbs and spices and used as a spread.

goat cheese

So much for my experience, now on to the review.

This cookbook is comprehensive, not just in its range of recipes, but also in coverage of technique. There are photo guides for each stage of the process for all the categories of cheeses in the book, along with troubleshooting guides and overviews of ingredients, equipment, techniques, safety, and sanitation. As long as you read Amrein-Boyes’ instructions carefully and follow them exactly, I don’t think you can go very wrong.

However, the quantities produced for many of the recipes can be a little overwhelming for the home cook. For instance, her Halloumi recipe requires ten liters of goat’s or sheep’s milk and results in two pounds of cheese. I understand why, as the active ingredients for smaller batches would be miniscule and probably impossible to get right. As a result, I think some people will stick to some of the easier recipes, which produce smaller quantities, like her yogurt and flavoured butter recipes. I suggest getting together with friends or family to tackle some of the larger recipes, both to share ingredient costs and split the cheese.

The other problem with this book for home cooks who live in small spaces is lack of correct conditions for many of the aged cheeses. As much as I’d like to have a cheese cellar, I think my neighbours in the suite below me might have something to say about that. I also think certain categories of these cheeses are really semi-professional. Those are small quibbles, though, and if you were thinking about a career in cheesemaking, this book could serve as your apprenticeship.

Overall, I’m really happy with this book. There are many recipes that I can work my way through even if I can’t try the aged cheeses. There are also a number of recipes for using the cheeses you’ve made, which is a nice feature. I also love the huge variety of recipes Amrein-Boyes provides across all categories of cheeses. It makes for interesting reading.

The second edition of 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes came out in October of this year and I think it might make a great present for the cook in your life who is ready to start experimenting beyond baking and dinner-making. You can find more details here, along with a link to purchase the book.

The publisher is kindly allowing me to share this recipe with you, so that you can try it for yourself. However, I’d strongly recommend buying the book first, or doing a good deal of research before you start, because the safety precautions are very important in cheesemaking.

Here is Debra Amrein-Boyes‘ recipe:

Chèvre

Makes 2 lbs (1 kg)
25% yield

4 quarts (4 litres) goat’s milk
1/4 tsp (1.25 mL) mesophilic culture
1 drop liquid rennet
Pickling (canning) or kosher salt

1. Sterilize all equipment. In a large stainless-steel pot over medium heat, warm milk to 77°F (25°C), stirring gently to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.

2. Sprinkle culture over surface of milk and let stand for about 5 minutes to rehydrate. Using skimmer and an up-and-down motion, gently draw culture down into milk without breaking surface of milk.

3. Dilute rennet in 1 tbsp (15 mL) cool water. Add to milk and, using the same up-and-down motion, draw rennet down into milk until well blended. Cover and let set at room temperature in a draft-free location for 24 hours.

4. Tip pot slightly to drain off collected whey. Using skimmer, ladle curd into a draining bag or cloth-lined colander. Let drain for 6 to 7 hours or until desired thickness is reached. Keep in mind that the cheese will firm up further once refrigerated.

5. Remove cheese from bag and place in a bowl. Weigh cheese, then add 1% of the weight in salt. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Tip: Fresh cheeses are highly perishible. Store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Just to reiterate, please do some research on sterilization, safety, and troubleshooting before you attempt this recipe. It’s a simple cheese to make, but you’ve got to do it right.

ice cream

And now you’re probably wondering, what did she do with all that chèvre? I made ice cream, of course! And a few other things, which I’ll share with you another time.

I improvised the following recipe with help from several sources. I learned the proportions of milk to yolk and the method from Dorie Greenspan. (I’d buy a copy of Around My French Table if I were you.) Inspirations for honey chèvre ice cream are here, here, and here. Last but not least, my brother the chef gave me some advice on balancing tart, sweet, and acidic flavours for the best result.

Some notes: I happened to have this awesome honey on hand, but you could use plain honey and add some candied ginger instead, or heat plain honey over gentle heat and add some ground ginger yourself. Obviously, traditional ice cream is made with heavy cream and whole milk, but I had some half-and-half to use up and it worked well. I went for a very subtle sweetness, but you could easily amp up the sugars in this recipe. You could use a vanilla bean or vanilla extract in the custard and plain sugar for the strawberries. You could also add a bit of balsamic in place of the lemon juice, too. And you could easily replace the frozen berries with fresh ones (it’s winter here) or change out strawberries for blackberries, blueberries, or stone fruits like peaches.

Ginger-Honey and Strawberry Chèvre Ice Cream

4 cups half-and-half
6 egg yolks
100 g ginger honey
5 oz chèvre
1/2 cup frozen strawberries, mashed with 1/4 to 1/2 cup vanilla sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Whisk the egg yolks and honey together.

Bring the half-and-half to a boil in a heavy pot over medium heat, then temper the egg mixture with some of the hot milk before whisking the two together completely.

Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon over medium heat (don’t stop stirring!) until it has thickened a little and coats the spoon sturdily. Remove from the heat and stir in the chèvre a little at a time, letting each addition incorporate before adding the next. Then, strain the custard into a heat-proof bowl. Stir in the strawberries and chill in the fridge or a bowl filled with ice. Once it’s cold, you can finish it in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

I’ll have some more chèvre dishes and another Robert Rose cookbook review for you on Thursday, December 19th. Next Thursday, I’m hoping to have a bit of a surprise for you.

Also, I just noticed that this is my 250th post.