Entertaining, Holidays, Recipes

Nothing says Canada Day like fried cheese and ketchup chips, eh?

O, Canada Day. Is there anything better than your nation’s holiday marking the unofficial start to day-drinking and carnival-food season — I mean, summer?

Caesars set glorious and free from their boxes to preside over camp chairs; dog-traumatizing fireworks for at least three nights straight; “best country in the world” overheard at least once, or every 45 minutes if you’re in my ultra-patriotic dad’s vicinity.

And, of course, enough ketchup chips for stained fingers that rival a community-theatre Lady MacBeth’s.

Or enough ketchup chips to smother on hunks of smoked cheddar cheese, then fried in butter.

Yeah, you read that right.

Smoked cheddar — Provincial Smoke, to be exact ūüėć — coated in ketchup chips and fried. In butter.

If the thought of crispy, ketchupy cheese nuggets makes you grimace, turn back now. (Lily-liver.) And don’t ever come to any BBQ of mine with that good sense.

Ketchup chips are a national treasure, but they’re only half the goods here. Provincial Smoke is a ridiculously rich smoked cheddar. Creamy, tart, with an earthy, acidic bite.

If you’re a fan of smoked cheeses, this Ontario raw milk cheddar is your new best friend — it could give your good ol’ grandpappy’s pipe a run for its money, that show-off.

And crispy-coated with a hint of sweet & salty ketchup, well, it would be borderline blasphemous not to serve these smokey little bundles around a campfire.

Ingredients: makes 12

  • 1 cup Provincial Smoke cheddar, cubed (about 1-inch)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup flour, or enough to coat
  • 2 tsp Caesar rim spice or celery salt
  • 1 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 2 cups ketchup chips (PC brand is my fave)
  • 2 tbsp butter

Directions

Place ketchup chips in sealed plastic zipper bag and let loose any residual anger toward that guy that cut you off in traffic. I.e. Pound them until they’re crumbs.

Combine flour, Caesar rim spice (for an extra Canuck boost), salt and pepper in a shallow layer on plate. Arrange alongside beaten egg and ketchup crunch.

Coat each cube of cheese in flour mixture, then egg. Roll in ketchup chips and try not to lick them off immediately like the sodium-crazed animal you are. Wrap in tinfoil or wax paper and freeze for 30 minutes.

Melt butter over medium-high heat in a frying pan. In groups of 4, fry frozen cheese cubes in butter.

Timing is the only tricky part: my first attempt, I didn’t fry them long enough and they were still cold in the middle. My second attempt, I left them too long and the cheese melted out.

The sweet spot is about 8-10 minutes total, 1-2 minutes per side to get a good crisp. But the best gauge is good ol’ eyeballing. You want a golden brown crisp on all or most sides.

I’d recommend a nibble to check when they’re done (#yum) but you can also do a poke test with a skewer, if you’re a proper Penny. ūüíĀ

Then throw that propriety out the window, ’cause these are muck-directly-from-the-pan worthy. Ketchup-stained fingers are totally patriotic.

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Holidays, Pairings, Recipes

Dark chocolate bark with Grana Padano & pink peppercorn for your Valentine

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Valentine’s Day is an intersection of cheesiness. Yes, there’s the metaphorically-cheesy¬†love you forever-ness and pandas holding candy hearts (okay, no, even commercialized pandas are adorbs), but cheese itself¬†is also gussied up for a romantic meal. Fondue? Baked Brie? C’MON.

Melty cheese is an obvious gimme, and make no mistake, I will be roastin’ up an oversized hunk of Brie this evening with all the trimmings. But, if I may, cheese shouldn’t be limited to the main event. It’s also an unexpected, welcome twist to dessert.

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Enter my dark chocolate bark, studded with sweet, salty, crumbly Grana Padano.

Now, hold your pitchforks, ye suspicious souls. Have you ever had dark chocolate with sea salt? (If the answer is no, run out immediately. I’ll wait.) Well, dark chocolate crumbled with salty cheese is even better, like sea salt’s sexy, hipster cousin.

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I was first introduced to the combo by Nad√®ge, a heaven-on-earth bakery and treat shop in Toronto. They’re known for their macarons, but they also have a line of “chocolate tablets” marked with all the letters of the alphabet. Each letter represents a surprise, unexpected ingredient, and their “P” bar has parmesan! It’s amazing.

So when I thought about what to make for my Valentine¬†‚Äď best guy ever, and an excellent excuse to tuck into something cheesay¬†‚Äď I decided to put my own spin on¬†the chocolate-cheese bar.

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It isn’t the first time I’ve tried. And if you remember correctly, the last experiment did¬†not¬†go so well. But I got some sage advice from MasterChef Canada¬†judge¬†Claudio Aprile himself when I told him of my failed chocolate-bocconcini truffles at a work event: “Try a hard, old cheese next time.”

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I started with the cheese (as one does, duh). Parmigiano-Reggiano would do nicely, but Grana Padano sat up to greet me so nicely in the cheese case that I changed my mind. As a borderline-fetishist of bold, tangy, hard cheeses, it’s one of my ol’ faithfuls.

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It’s sweeter than Parmigiano-Reggiano, with a nutty fruitiness that pairs nicely with the shots of saltiness that hit you at the tip of your tongue, and a sour bitterness that fills your cheeks with floating crystals after a few crumbly chews.

Salt on chocolate is like a red rose on Valentine’s: a classic, no-fail pairing. But the sweet-saltiness of Grana Padano with the layered bitterness of dark chocolate? That’s like a bird-of-paradise dangling next to a steaming hot cup of espresso in bed.

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Mmmmmmhmm.

But why stop there? To complete the trifecta¬†‚Äď sweet/salty-bitter/spice-ay¬†‚Äď I added some pulverized pink peppercorns. I’ve talked at length about my fascination with pink peppercorns here before, and the light, citrusy spiciness was a perfect addition to the bark.

Plus, it’s pink! Hi hello, Valentine’s Day!

Bark-pepper-sprinkle

This was dead-simple to make. If you’re feeling nurturing, here’s how to whip it up.

1.Start with about two bars of the best dark chocolate you can find. 75% or higher.

2. Put it in a double-boiler (that’s a bowl over a pot of boiling water¬†‚Äď I didn’t have a heatproof bowl on hand, so I MacGyver’d a Pyrex in a strainer) and stir until melted.

Bark-chocolate-melt

3. Pour the melted chocolate over a baking sheet or a few layers of folded tinfoil in an even layer.

4. Immediately sprinkle crushed pink peppercorns (you can smash them in a zipper bag if you’re feeling dexterous, but I used a mortar and pestle) and crumble Grana Padano on melted chocolate.

Bark-cooling

5. Lay flat in fridge to cool. Once hardened, break into bite-sized bark deliciousness.
Optional: If you’re a chocoholic, repeat the chocolate-melting step and drizzle onto the cooled layer to build on the chocolate.

6. Receive grateful kisses; enjoy!

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Uncategorized

National Cheese Lovers Day: Cheese & honeycomb’s true love

National Cheese Lovers Day is a glorious day, which, although it isn’t a household name like¬†some¬†basic-bitch holidays I could name – *ahem* Thanksgiving – it brings just as much joy. All across our fair country, the huddled masses yearn to eat cheese, so they may better meet the demands of a land where the air hurts your face, like creating memes about living where the air hurts your face.

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Like its preened elder sibling, Thanksgiving, National Cheese Lovers Day is a day to give thanks. And so we take to our traditional houses of worship for food holidays, Twitter and Instagram, and in the name of cheeses we have loved and lusted after (if you’ve never come across a sexy cheese, you probably aren’t eating enough), we preemptively confess to sins of lobster grilled cheese and truffle fondue that eagerly await committing.

It would be easy to recount my all-time favourite cheeses (a lot of Frenchies at the moment. I’m trying to diversify), the time-honoured standard celebration of National Cheese Lovers Day. But in the true spirit of the holiday – and to give Thanksgiving a run for its money – I want to shift the spotlight to what cheese loves. Cheese, which gives so much joy and nourishment (okay, mostly just joy, if it’s the really good stuff) and asks for nothing in return.

Except a recurring dalliance with honeycomb.

Honeycomb4

Honey is often paired with cheese, and for good reason. It’s rich without being overbearing, sweet, and just as lime juice or salt brings out the flavours in a dish, honey is the perfect partner to 99 per cent of cheeses (can’t completely close off the odds, just in case). Honeycomb is even better.

Honeycomb is, truly, cheese’s lover. Its chewiness is an interesting texture to play off any kind of cheese. If you’ve never tried it, it’s kind of like wax mixed with bubble gum and sugar crystals.

But the best advantage honeycomb has over plain’ ol honey from Pooh’s pot is that it forces you to uncover it in pockets. You can’t just dollop a blob of honey like it’s cheez-in-a-can directly onto your cheese when it’s parcelled into waxy hexagons, waiting to be discovered like sweet jewels buried in the tastiest puzzle pieces you’ve ever seen. And, let’s be honest, it’s just plain pretty.

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You won’t find often find honeycomb at your friendly neighbourhood grocery store, but it’s easier to get your hands on than you’d think. If you don’t live near a specialty food market or store, you can sometimes find it at orchards, farms, or other little stores that tend to stock uncommon tasty accoutrements. It’s also pretty easy to track down online (here’s a resource for Ontarians). It isn’t that much more expensive than honey, either: I paid $10 for a 300g brick that has lasted me months.

Now, I clearly wasn’t going to pair my honeycomb with a carrot. It would be cruel to tempt cheese with honeycomb and not reunite them for a tryst.

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I thought it was only appropriate that I pay homage to one of my favourite fromageries with my cheese choice: Alexis de Portneuf. I’ve never met a cheese of theirs I didn’t love. Bonus points that they’re Canadian, easily available in Toronto and pretty affordable for the quality. I wanted to try a new slice, and thought Le Double Joie was fitting for a cheese lovefest.

It scooped the gold medal in its category at the 2012 World Championship Cheese Contest (#nbd), as well as at the 2013 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. It’s a bloomy rind cheese that – as my boyfriend would delicately refer to it – has a definitive fart smell. You know the kind – looking at you, Louis D’Or.

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The rind is bitter with strong mushroom flavours (and not your grandma’s button mushrooms, either), almost acrid without the bad rap, in that you can feel the mould’s bite in your nostrils – something I definitely notice more with aged goat cheeses than cow’s. But the centre is buttery, creamy but firm, and slightly elastic.

It’s an earthy cheese, which becomes more creamy when teamed with salty umami, like olives. But with the sweet, floral notes of honeycomb, Le Double Joie is, well, double the joy: like nature itself decided to dress up as a perfectly-balanced cheese pairing.

Happy National Cheese Lovers Day, and congratulations to the happy couple!

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Recipes

Faux-baking: Cheddar & pepper jelly thumbprints

Baking brings everyone together. Even if you can’t bake¬†‚Äď or, more accurately in my case, won’t bake properly, due to a falsely-but-pridefully-held belief that mixing the dry ingredients separately makes no difference¬†‚Äď you can enjoy the laborious fruits of those with more respect for stupid rigid instructions.

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If my petulance didn’t already give the game away, I don’t bake much. But I signed up for an office bake-off thinking that it would force me into productivity after Halloween (although gorging on Mars bars and three of the finest chip flavours money can buy mixed together also counts as productivity in my books, because using up leftovers is important, guys) and cheer me up after my favourite holiday was over.

I may prefer my cookies in dough form (both for taste and lack of effort) but I’ve managed to master two solid go-to recipes that happen to be baked in the oven. This is one of them.

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I love these cheddar red pepper jelly thumbprints for three reasons:

  1. The element of surprise. They masquerade easily as ordinary shortbread cookies, so the standard reaction is one of impressed confusion, but I choose to focus on the “impressed” part.
  2. Not everyone likes sweet stuff. I lean toward the savoury side of the street as well. When fellow savoury-lovers at the bake sale find out there’s a non-chocolate option, they get pretty excited before they even taste the thumbprints. An automatic¬†vote of confidence is always a bonus.
  3. They look like Peek Freans, whose name is extra¬†fancy, but instead of lemon cream, they’re stuffed with¬†CHEESE!

Like a true petulant faux-baker, I didn’t follow the original recipe I found, from Canadian Living. My spin’s¬†pretty close, though, I just swap the nuts for rosemary.

The dough is super easy to make. It would almost make more sense to call it “cheese-butter” than dough, actually, because that’s mostly what it is.

Pepper-jelly-thumbprints-parmesan

If you’re here, you’re a cheese nerd, so you know that picking the cheese is half the fun. The recipe calls for¬†sharp cheddar cheese and parmesan.

I used my favourite old cheddar, Balderson, but any cheese strong and petulant enough that it might challenge you to a fight after one-too-many at the pub will do. St-Albert’s Extra Old Cheddar is another great Canadian choice¬†if you’re looking for recommendations.¬†You don’t have to take my word for it¬†‚Äď it won its category at this year’s Canadian Cheese Grand Prix.

There’s obviously only one parm¬†to rule the roost if you want to go big: the OG ‚Äď uh, PDO (little cheese acronym humour for you there, God I’m cool) Parmigiano-Reggiano. If you really want to knock people’s socks off with your faux-baking prowess, that’s the way I’d go. But that sh-t’s expensive. So you can also use “parmesan” petals, like I did, which work just fine.

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When I was shopping for my ingredients, the store was licked clean of red pepper jelly. And not because they were out of specialty jellies. They had all kinds I’d never seen or heard of before, but no red pepper. Weird. So I used jalape√Īo jelly, which is an easy sub in a pinch. You can sub for most jellies with a bit of a kick. I wouldn’t go for a straight-up sweet one, but as someone who enjoys the taste of chocolate and pickles in consecutive bites, I would never dare to judge you.

It would also be cute to alternate red and green jellies for the holidays, if you’re feelin’ jolly. (Yeah, we’re going to just slide on by that chocolate-and-pickles thing.)

I’ve found the thumbprint part to be a bit tricky when I make these, maybe because¬†everything about me is¬†miniature compared to a normal-sized adult. You’re supposed to make the indent before you bake them and fill with jelly after, but I find that the cookies expand while baking and kinda fill out the thumbprint. So I might try it with something a little heartier, like a mini flashlight or a hefty dad’s thumb. If you’re the type to have stamps lying around, that would be fun, too. But if you’re the type to have stamps lying around, you probably already made like, four batches of artisanal baked goods while I was writing this. You don’t need this! Make¬†me¬†these cookies.

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Cheesy musings, Profiles

Relaxing into fall and routines, with the confidence of Rougette

We like to associate spring with rejuvenation¬†‚Äď clean sweeps, fresh blooms and sweet bird songs. But fall is just as much about renewal. If we’re reborn in spring, fall is when we’re reintroduced. We look to to take on new challenges and pick up where we left off, before all those hard-earned beaches and mojitos, and armed with a season’s worth of relaxation of fun, rather than all-too-recent memories of Polar vortexes. Plus, there’s nothing like fall’s universally-comforting flannel and an inevitable uptick in good hair days (what’s good, humidity?) to give you a push toward feeling like a grown-ass human.

Rougette is a grown-ass cheese. Not in the way of a stern headmistress, who pushes you to take your work seriously through a looming presence and gulp-inducing glances. Rather, it carries the type of grown-ass flavour of someone comfortable in their own skin.

Rougette at right, comfortably reclined like it's a damn chaise.

Rougette at right, comfortably reclined like it’s a damn chaise.

It’s buttery with a lick of saltiness. Rich without feeling weighty, and with hints of hay and barnyard. (I recently read barnyard for the first time as a descriptor of cheese and am still working out exactly how that translates. For now, all I can say is that it makes sense to me as a flavour, and came to mind when tasting Rougette¬†‚Äď really, with something as subjective as describing a taste, I think faint detective is often all that matters.)

Rougette is like face cream for your tummy. It’s the voice of Chandler’s dad (the same voice, if you didn’t know, as Jessica Rabbit¬†‚Äď is there any character who more exudes confidence?) en fromage.

It even wears a French name like a selective, sexy cloak, despite its German heritage (here’s a funny theory¬†why). And if left to its own devices, at room temperature, Rougette’s depth and complexity of flavour reveal themselves even more.

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Rougette is the cheese you want in your side-car when becoming re-acquainted with yourself and your routine after a hedonic absence. It feels like an incarnation of looking yourself square in the eye and crooning, “Welcome back,” while somehow giving the work and errands that fuel your everyday life a luxurious sheen.

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m projecting. After a summer of mini-upheavals, sprints of travel, a cheese festival, a wedding and flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants moments of fun (more on that later), I’m getting back into the swing of things with a gentle nudge of self-commitment and the melting memories of Rougette (plus a turkey table runner, for seasonal good measure). Hope you’ll cheese the day with me.

Turkey table runner

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Cheesy musings, Profiles

National Goat Cheese Month: I have a Lemon Fetish

Quick question: Do you think there are too many special “days”? E.g., National Nutella Day; National Lasagne Day; National Apple Turnover Day. I used to compile a gallery listing all of the food days in a given month at my day job, but stopped when I realized it was more work than ROI, although I’d be lying if I said a little part of it hadn’t lost its lustre when I realized there’s a “day” every damn day. Exhibit A: Today is National Lemonade Day (and my sister’s birthday¬†‚Äď National Kaleigh Bee-day). Tomorrow is National Spumoni Day¬†and¬†National ~Brazilian Blowout Day~. Oooer.

Lemon Fetish cheese

That said, I can absolutely get on board with any of the cheese-themed occasions, and this month happens to be one: National Goat Cheese Month. For me, it’s an excuse to discuss the morsel I picked up from The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in June: Lemon Fetish by Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co.

It’s a goat’s milk feta, which is an interesting flavour combination as it’s less sweet and creamy than your more-commonly-found fresh goat cheese. It’s crumbly, dry and somewhere between less-salty-than-feta and more-salty-than-fresh. But the highlight, as the name suggests, is the lemon.

Lemon Fetish cheese

It’s made with lemon zest and you can tell at first taste. Right after the initial saltiness, you’re hit by a wave of the sweet citrus flavour that only comes from lemon zest. There’s a slight tang of herbs and spices that I couldn’t place at first; Fifth Town informs me that it’s also laced with red fife flour. Makes sense.

One of my favourite easy dishes is sweet potato with herbed goat cheese and a splash of maple syrup in its belly button, like a spud on spring break. I subbed Lemon Fetish for my usual herbed cheese and it worked beautifully. I also used it in a fresh kale salad with lemon-honey-mustard dressing. But my favourite way to eat it was off a (butter, safety first) knife with nothing at all. Now that’s what they should be selling at lemonade stands.

Lemon Fetish cheese

“I wish I spoke whale!” I also wish that whales had Lemon Fetish on deck to distribute via blowhole to the masses.

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Profiles

A long-overdue indulgence: Grey Owl

Grey Owl needs no introduction, as one of the celebrated Canadian cheeses lauded in the same breath as Louis D’Or or Bleu B√©n√©dictin. But I’ll introduce it anyway with a taste of its cult following.

The last time I saw¬†Grey Owl, it was at one of my favourite cheese counters, at Algoma Orchards. Rather, I encountered a lack of it. The woman ahead of me had ordered an entire wheel of Grey Owl, but there was a mix-up and it had been sold accidentally. She was distraught (seriously). If that weren’t proof enough of Grey Owl’s hold, the fact that the entire wheel sold in a few days is. I felt for the woman, but at the time I hadn’t yet tried it, so I couldn’t fully understand. Now I get it.

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I bought the teensiest, cutest little wheel at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival and saved it perilously close to its expiration; a blessing in disguise because then I had to eat the entire thing in one sitting without guilt.

I’m not sure how I avoided Grey Owl for so long, given its storied rep, but it’ll be on my rotation now, and definitely my next cheese board. Aside from Le Cendrillon, another revered Canadian cheese similar in flavour and construction (which, if pressed, I prefer of the two but let’s not divert limelight), there isn’t anything like it in Canada, especially in light of its different texture.

As mentioned, I let the clock tick on my Grey Owl, so the flavours were even more ripe and the texture quickly evolved. When I sampled it at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival, Grey Owl was pasty, as it is often described. But let it age and sit a bit at room temperature, as I did, and it’s a near-liquid indulgence at the centre. Exhibit A:

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My first proper taste, at long last, was much more sour than I expected in the way that younger goat cheese is if you hold it on your tongue for long enough. Like a strong buttermilk that’s an almost a puckering punch in the mouth, offset by creaminess.

I preferred its ashy rind when it had a whole shelf life ahead of it at the TGCCF; it was still great when I had it at home but its pungent mouldiness interfered a bit with the more subtle centre. I wanted more of the sour, grassy butteriness that dominated my balanced bites, but was knocked over by the spicy, bitter aftertaste of the rind.

Don’t get it twisted: if you see Grey Owl, eat it. Fast. Before someone else does (see: aforementioned wheel sold right from under a loving devotee). But if you’re serving it to friends, I wouldn’t let it sit for too long so everyone becomes friends at its peak texture.

And for the sake of all that is holy (Mimolette, amen), serve it with honeycomb. As Nike once wrote on the question of whether to pair cheese with honeycomb: “Just do it.”

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