MEAL IN MINUTES: A Wrap Session for the Nineties Lately, a fast food idea known as a “wrap” seems to be taking certain parts of the country by storm. Simply a meal rolled in a flour tortilla, a wrap goes a burrito one better by […]
Author: Sharmin Begum
If you think cheese comes in a box and melts into a plasticity orange ooze, you have a world of discovery ahead of you. Cheese is an art form whose flavors and textures have been developed over generations. In fact, the delightful block of flavor that rests on your cracker can be the result of months–sometimes years–of careful pressing, prodding, mixing and storing.
Becoming a real cheese connoisseur may require reading about, looking at, and tasting many of the thousands of cheeses available, but you don’t have to devote this much effort to find out what you like.
Making Cheese Curds
You may be concerned by the fact that making cheese involves the necessary presence of bacteria. To make cheese safe for consumers, many kinds of cheese today are processed or pasteurized. Here’s what those processes involve:
Processed cheese is made by melting together tiny pieces of various cheeses, mixing them with other dairy products, such as cream, butter, whey, or casein, and then, once smooth, pouring the mixture into airtight molds. Sometimes dyes, emulsifiers, or preservatives are added to make cheese more colorful, softer, or longer lasting, respectively.
Pasteurized cheese may or may not contain pasteurized milk, but the cheese itself is heated to a very high temperature to delay spoiling.
These processes sterilize and extend the shelf life of cheeses, making them more economical and appealing to the public, but they also rob cheeses of the original flavors and textures created by bacteria that are killed off in the process. This lens will help you select and enjoy delicious (and safe) cheeses and store them properly. No two kinds of cheese are made in a precisely way, but several ingredients are familiar to most cheeses, including Milk, which can come from goats, sheep, cows, or even water buffalo, and maybe skimmed to remove fat or pasteurized to kill bacteria
A curdling agent, usually rennet (a naturally occurring substance extracted from a calf’s fourth stomach).
Note: Vegetable-derived rennet may be used instead
Various flavoring agents, such as salt, fungus, brine, and spices Cheese is usually made in three necessary steps:
A starter–usually an acidic substance like vinegar or lemon juice, or a bacterial culture–is added to warmed milk to change lactose into lactic acid. This ensures that the milk protein (or casein) will coagulate when the rennet is added. Rennet causes the watery part of the milk (whey) to separate from the firmer part (curds), and within a short time, the process leaves a soft gelatinous mass, which, when separated from the way, becomes the basis for cheese.
At this point, processes, temperatures, and times vary depending on the cheese. The soft mass of curds may be used as is, or cut and pressed to drain the liquid whey. The more delicate the curds are cut, the more whey is drained and the firmer the resulting cheese. Some cheeses may require shaking, turning, kneading, stacking, or reheating of the curds. Cheeses may be wrapped in cloth and hung to drain, or placed in a perforated mold that forms the cheese while allowing moisture to escape. The time needed to complete this part of the cheese-making process can vary from a few hours to several months, depending on the acidity of the curds and the type of cheese being made.
After the curds are formed, and the cheese is shaped, there’s a period over which the cheese develops before reaching an optimum or desired flavor. This allows various enzymes, acids, and bacteria to play distinctive roles in the development of the characteristics and features that characterize a particular cheese–like the holes in Emmentaler, or Brie’s fuzzy rind.
Cheeses are usually matured or ripened in cellars with consistent temperature and humidity levels. In general, firm or hard cheeses ripen slowly, from the inside out. Softer cheeses, such as Brie or Camembert, mature more quickly, typically in a matter of weeks. Unripened cheeses, also known as fresh cheeses, like ricotta or cottage cheese, maybe ripened minimally or not at all. Ripening is not necessarily the same as aging. Some cheeses can benefit from further aging after reaching their optimum mature or ripened state, to bring out different qualities and characteristics. The more protracted cheese is aged, the drier it becomes and the stronger the flavor.
Depending on the cheese being made, other ingredients and flavoring agents may be introduced at various points in the ripening process. For instance, soaking cheese in brine or rubbing it with salt speeds up the drying process, adds flavor, and helps a rind form. Roquefort is poked with a needle to aerate the cheese and allow its particular flavor fungus, Penicillium Roquefort, to take root.
Cheeses may be categorized in some ways (according to the kind of milk, or the processes used, for example). The following categories emphasize texture and flavor:
Fresh cheeses (including ricotta, cottage, Neufchâtel, chèvre, and mascarpone) are not fermented or pressed. They are soft or curdy, mild in flavor, and do not keep long. Some double and triple creams, which are mainly rich and creamy, fall into this category, too.
Bloomy rind cheeses (including Brie and Camembert) have a high milk fat content and a white, velvety texture on their rinds. They are not pressed or cooked and have a short coagulation time which makes for a soft, smooth cheese. A perfectly ripe bloomy rind cheese has a creamy texture, a delicate tangy flavor, and is just beginning to bulge or ooze from its soft center. Overripe bloomy cheeses are runny and the smell of ammonia.
Blue cheeses (including Roquefort, Stilton, and Gorgonzola) may be made from different types of milk, but all owe their pungent, tangy flavor to the presence of penicillium. Make sure the veins are blue and not a darkened gray or brown, which shows it’s past its prime.
Washed rind cheeses (including Limburger, Munster, and Pont-l’Évêque) are sprayed or soaked with water or brine during ripening. The wet surface encourages bacterial growth and inhibits yeast, producing a mild-flavored but strong-smelling cheese, and creating a protective rind. When ripe, these cheeses cling to the knife but do not ooze. Stay away from slimy, hardened, or cracked peels.
Swiss cheeses (including Emmentaler, Appenzeller, and Gruyère) are both pressed and cooked and can be recognized by their holes, which are formed by gases produced during the ripening process. They have a mild, sweet, and nutty flavor. The fact that they melt and slice nicely makes them a favorite ingredient in a variety of dishes. Look for an even, creamy texture and avoid cracked or brown rinds.
Pasta filata cheeses (including mozzarella and provolone) originated in southern Italy, and are made from spun or pulled curds. This process yields a chewy, textured, often sharply-flavored cheese that can be kept for some time without spoilage. Note: In addition to being a favorite pizza topping, mozzarella comes in a fresh form made from buffalo or cow’s milk (mozzarella di bufala), a delicious, soft cheese that comes soaked in its whey.
Uncooked pressed cheeses (including cheddar and pecorino) vary widely in ingredients, flavor, and process, but all are firm and flavorful. Dutch cheeses, such as Gouda, Edam, and Mimolette, are known for their buttery or nutty flavors and semi-soft interiors.
Extra-hard cheeses (including Parmesan and Romano) are dry, almost brittle, and aged for several years. They frequently have a piquant flavor and are suitable for grating over food as a garnish. If you’re purchasing cheese for eating alone, choose a younger, less crumbly variety. Here are some suggestions for determining and serving various cheeses. Just remember, nothing beats tasting them to discover what you like.
Choosing. Some cheeses (like Gruyére, Emmentaler, or Fontina) are best when melted or used in an omelet or souffle; others, like Munster or Limburger (washed rind varieties), are ideal when served on their own. Unless you’re going for one of the blue cheeses, choose a cheese that’s free of mold. Consult your cheese seller for information on the best cheese for your purpose.
Serving. Cheeses should be served at room temperature to appreciate their flavors fully. When serving a variety of cheeses together, choose ones that are distinct in texture, age, or milk source to highlight the unique character of each. Offer hearty bread or plain crackers, as well as fresh fruit such as apples, pears, or grapes, to cleanse the palate and complement the cheese. Cured meat, nuts, and olives also can bring out the flavor of cheese, as can good wine.
The rind on some semi-soft cheeses (like Brie, Camembert, or Munster) can be eaten, though it is a matter of personal preference. The skins on hard-pressed cheeses are sometimes treated with wax, paraffin, and dyes, and should, therefore, be cut back and not eaten. A dried or moldy crust should be cut away before serving.
Note: Cheese can also be served melted over an entree or as part of soup or sauce. Softer cheeses, such as Gruyère or Camembert, do a much better job of dissolving than firmer cheeses with a lower moisture content (like Romano or Manchego).
Storing. In general, hard cheeses last longer than soft ones, but it’s always best to buy cheese in small quantities, so you don’t have to store it for long. Cheeses don’t do well in the freezer, but if protected can be kept for some time in the refrigerator. They should be wrapped to preserve their internal moisture, but still allowed to breathe. Cut off only as much as you need for serving and leave the rest in the refrigerator to avoid fluctuations in temperature.
Well-made, judiciously chosen, and adequately served cheeses can be a revelation. Smell them. Taste them. Share them with friends. A whole world of discovery awaits you.
I’ve given you various options here, listed according to degree of involvement/difficulty. It helps if you read the whole recipe first before you start cooking so that you can gather any ingredients and equipment you may need. I’ve done my best to keep things simple […]
This is a collection of the basic cake recipes we (with my husband) have developed very the last few years in various occasions and family party. Some are perfect for the non-cook in your relationship to make for your favorite loved one.
Many of these recipes are also filled with what I consider to be the romantic side of chocolate. Many people consider the combination of fruit and chocolate to be seductive, or at the very least sinful making for a perfect occasional treat. As most of these recipes are designed to be made with a partner in the kitchen, it is no surprise that there is a lot of melted chocolate, dipping, and plenty of cooling time before your tasty chocolate cake is ready. –
This cake has an elegant appearance that belies the fact that it is quick and easy to make with a cake mix. The beautiful contrast between the pale orange frosting and deep chocolate cake makes a beautiful cake for any occasion.
The texture of the frosting, both smooth and crunchy also makes an excellent contrast in taste to the rich fuggy cake. I had better results with orange juice concentrate than with freshly squeezed orange juice.
By only adding part of the water to the juice the taste is more intense. For best results use a pulp free juice. This cake is beautiful by itself or when garnished with chocolate covered leaves, pecans, or orange slices. 1 tablespoon orange extract can be substituted for the orange liqueur if desired. –
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Reserve 2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate for the frosting. Place the remaining concentrate in a large bowl. Reconstitute the juice using 1/3 cup less water than directed. Mix well and add the eggs. Beat until well mixed. Add the cake mix, butter and liqueur and mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake the cake according to package directions or until a toothpick comes clean and the top springs back when gently pressed. Place the pans on a wire rack until thoroughly cooled. Remove from the pans.
In a small heavy saucepan mix together the evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat. Add the reserved orange juice concentrate, vanilla extract, and orange liqueur and mix well. Fold in the pecans. Cool until ready to frost.
Place one cake on a serving platter and spread a layer of frosting on the cake. Top with the second cake. Frost the top and sides of the cake thoroughly. Garnish as desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Cakes:,6 ounces thawed orange juice concentrate,1 package chocolate fudge cake mix,3 eggs,1/2 cup softened butter,2 tablespoons orange liqueur, Frosting:,1 cup evaporated milk,3/4 cup sugar,3 egg yolks,1/4 cup butter,2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract,1 tablespoon orange liqueur,2 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans These are by far my favorite chocolate chip muffins. They are very simple moist muffins that mix up in just a minute or two.
White Chocolate Baked Bananas and Berries
This is the perfect dessert for all of you non-cooks out there. This is a simple, yet elegant dessert that is perfect for the hesitant cook to make for a special occasion like Valentine’s Day! The combination of flavors is heavenly and this dessert is ready in about 15 minutes. You can use your favorite berries, all berries, or all bananas in this recipe if desired. Use high quality white chocolate for this recipe. Use fresh or thawed frozen berries for this recipe.
- 2 small bananas peeled and thinly sliced
- 12 whole raspberries
- 2 ounces white chocolate – finely chopped
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease two custard cups or ramekins. Place half of a sliced banana and three raspberries into each ramekin. Sprinkle one ounce of chocolate over each ramekin. Top with the remaining banana slices and raspberries. In a small bowl whisk together the heavy cream and vanilla. Pour the cream mixture evenly into the ramekins. Bake for ten minutes. Serve hot.
Romantic Chocolate Dip
This really isn’t technically a chocolate mousse, but if you are in a hurry for a chocolate fix, it works very well. For those with compromised immunity, children, or who are elderly, this recipe uses raw eggs and should be avoided. Make sure you are using a fresh egg, or my personal preference, a pasteurized egg substitute, which is safe for everyone and does not effect the taste of the mousse. You can use any chocolate with good results in this recipe, depending upon what kind of chocolate you like. Milk, white, dark, semi-sweet, all work well. Substitute your favorite liqueur, flavoring, or liquor for the Grand Marnier if desired.
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces chocolate, finely chopped
Place the milk in a small heavy saucepan or microwave proof dish. Heat until barely boiling. While heating the milk, place the egg, sugar, liqueur, vanilla, and salt into a blender and mix well. Add the chocolate and blend quickly to mix. Pour in a small amount of the boiling milk and blend. Continue to gradually add the milk and blending until all the milk has been added and the mixture is smooth. Pour into serving dishes and chill for at least an hour
Strawberry Milk Chocolate
This simple recipe is a little bit complicated, but as long as you are very careful and do not get distracted, it is a snap. It is very important to keep the heat low and to not overheat the chocolate. This dip is excellent with fresh fruit, cubes of pound cake, cookies, chunks of angel food cake, snack food, nuts, or anything else you want to dip into chocolate.
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Heat the heavy cream in a small heavy saucepan over low heat until hot. Add the chocolate and corn syrup. Stir continuously until the mixture is smooth and the chocolate has all melted. Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the mixture into a serving dish and cool.
Chocolate chocolate kisses
These little pots of strawberries, rich milk chocolate, and light caramel crusts are sure to delight even the most jaded of hearts. Use a very high quality chocolate for this recipe for best results. This recipe is perfect for Valentine’s Day as it can be made well ahead of time, leaving plenty of free time available on the big day!
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup half and half
2 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6 sliced strawberries, plus additional for garnish if desired
Preheat oven to 300°F. Bring the heavy cream and half-and-half to boil in a medium heavy saucepan. Reduce heat to low. Add the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat. Beat the yolks one at a time in a large bowl. Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar and beat until thick and lemon colored. Gradually whisk in the chocolate mixture, making sure to add slowly to prevent curdling.
Divide the strawberries among two 3/4-cup custard cups. Scrape the custard into the cups on top of the strawberries. Place the cups in a baking pan large enough so that the cups do not touch each other or the sides of the pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up the sides of the cups.
Bake until custards are set, about 50 minutes. Remove the custard cups from the pan and let sit at room temperature for two hours. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Preheat the broiler. Sprinkle each custard with 1 tablespoon sugar. Broil until sugar turns golden, watching closely to avoid burning, about 3 minutes. Refrigerate until custards are set, 1 to 2 hours.
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream
What could be more romantic than ripe, red, juicy strawberries dunked into rich chocolate? This simple yet elegant dessert makes the perfect simple finale for any dinner, and is very easy to make. You can use any fruit that you like in this recipe with excellent results. For small fruit (berries, baby bananas) dip whole, for larger fruit (apples, large bananas, pears) slice and dip.
Cooking time -15 minutes
Total time – 1 hour
1/2 cup fine quality semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vegetable shortening
powdered sugar, cocoa, granulated sugar, sprinkles, or other garnishes to roll strawberries in
Clean the strawberries, but leave stems on. Drain and dry with paper towels. Melt the chocolate chips and shortening in a microwave or double boiler until the mixture is melted and smooth. Place desired garnishes in shallow bowl. Dip fruit into the chocolate and let access dip off. Roll in garnish and place on wax paper. Refrigerate and serve chilled.
All-Purpose Asian Marinade It’s the season for grilling- yup, most folks have brought out their grills, hibachis, smokers, Rotisseries stands and are giving it a once-over to have a go during this year’s grilling season. You know barbecue season is upon us when temperatures rise, […]
One week ago, I was surprised and happy to be the recipient of a few fresh pineapples given as gifts. It was great arranging some of the pineapples on a basket so that I could use them for a bit as a centerpiece to adorn our family dining table, the one in our kitchen where we usually eat and not in the more formal area we use when we have guests. May is pineapple season here in the tropics. (more…)