There are a lot of qualifiers attributed to birthdays. Birthday cake. Birthday beats. Birthday sex. No one (that I know, anyway) talks about birthday cheese, but by now it should come as no surprise that it is indeed one of highest importance on this, the day of my birth. (Picture this said like an Italian gangster.)

For my birthday this year (May long weekend, if you’re wondering ;)), my boyfriend took me to the new Ripley’s Aquarium downtown, which I’d been dying to go to, as an admirer of everything under the sea. We had made plans to go for a schmancy dinner after, but had to choose a new place after we realized the restaurant was not easily-accessible by public transit. Alas, another day.

I was in the mood for seafood (ironically), but really, my only request was a cheese plate. I know some people would here insist that that was their version of “birthday cake,” because they’re more into savoury and cheese and blah blah blah. Not I. I was planning to have a fancy dessert anyway, I just wanted to have my damn cheese plate and eat it, too, because it was a special occasion and I am a cheese brat.

We ended up going to Marben, a place I’d been to before and one of my favourite restaurants in the city. I had smoked scallop risotto and an Aviation cocktail I promptly fell in love with. But let’s get to the crowning glory: The cheese plate.

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First, let me address the elephant in the room. Clearly, there is something literally wrong with this picture. I tried to take a panorama and failed, miserably. I don’t know how. But I kept it because you can still see the cheese well enough and the longer I lingered over angles and composition, the longer it took for the cheese to get in my mouth.

There are three cheeses here and one of them remains a little foggy. One of the yellow wedges is Applewood Smoked Cheddar, the one on the left, I think. The middle bloomy rind is a soft version (which I didn’t even know they made) of Blue Haze, and was a delectable surprise, though I prefer the semi-soft one. The other one I remember being more tangy, though that could be wishful thinking if it was bland. I’m about 75 per cent sure it was Manchego-esque. (So-so odds, I know.)

The accoutrements were fantastic, too. The bluish-black jam was made from a berry I had never heard of and have since not remembered, but it tasted a bit like a sour blueberry. Then we had some roasted red peppers and honeyed walnuts. Oh, and toasty bread, of course. Yum.

All in all, though the names are hazy, the memories are not. Thanks for the treats and renewed hunger from writing this, Marben.

Cheesy musings

Flashback Friday: Birthday cheese

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Recipes

Mozzastein: Four-cheese poor man’s buffalo mozzarella

There are three things in my little culinary life that come around about as frequently as the Perseid meteor shower (i.e. not very often, but which is on my mind because it peaks tonight): Blueberries, sandwiches and balsamic so decadent I want to swig it like a Muggle’s first Butterbeer.

I don’t ever crave blueberries, so I never buy them because they’re expensive. I usually only eat sandwiches for the stuff inside them (so then I think, why bother?), because the only bread I buy is the healthy seed-filled stuff that I don’t enjoy eating as much as, oh, I don’t know, irresistible fluffy croissants or sourdough. And contrary to the previous two, my allegiance to aged balsamic is so strong that I would bankrupt both my food and entertainment budgets (read: spend way too much money without thinking about it and then burn with shame upon facing my credit card bill) if I indulged in buying it for myself.

But this week, all three converged. My mom brought me blueberries and blueberry jam from a trip to the farm in Bowmanville, my best friend brought me aged balsamic back from Italy and I found a recipe for grilled cheese I couldn’t stop thinking about.

I know, I know – a recipe for grilled cheese? It was actually helpful in this case because it’s not the intuitive grilled cheese you’re likely used to and it’s far from traditional. Unless you are a classically-trained nonna. In which case, okay, fine.

The recipe is from Half Baked Harvest, a food blog I recently discovered and have become a bit obsessed with, for mozzarella in carrozza, or a fried mozzarella sandwich.

I know. Hold it together.

Half Baked suggests serving it with blueberry balsamic jam. Coincidence? I thought not.

Sometimes my roommate and I have “food nights” – an innocuous way of describing, essentially, all-out pigging parades, which would be more apt for our last one, a literal sausage fest. We decided tonight would be one such night, and I couldn’t think of a better companion than one fried cheesy sandwich with a side of balsamic-y blueberry jam.

There was just one problem. I had no access to buffalo mozzarella. By that I mean, although I live in Toronto and I guarantee you there was some of it somewhere in the city, available for purchase, my usually-dependable grocery store and the others I stopped at on the way home were fresh out of not only buffalo mozzarella, but bocconcini and any other fresh cheese I could think of.

So I did not what a rational person does, which would’ve been to break out the Annie’s boxed mac and call it an almost-success. Oh, no. I had been dreaming of this gooey sandwich all day (practically a lifetime when you’re chronically peckish). I behaved like a maniacal cheesemonger playing god and decided to create my own. I made Mozzastein.

The foraged bones

The foraged bones

That’s right. I chose four cheeses that each brought something to the table that I deemed to be a crucial part of buffalo mozzarella: Havarti, because it’s melty; cottage cheese, because it’s wet and slightly briny; cream cheese, for pseudo-binding and a touch of extra flavour; and shredded mozzarella, because it is actually mozzarella.

Before I go any further, let me clarify that under no circumstances did I expect this to live up to buffalo mozzarella. That sh-t is sacred. But when you’ve come this far in your fantasy, sometimes you have to allow yourself to get just as pumped over a strange, amorphous substitute.

So I mixed the four together and started my journey.

Appropriately-menacing shadow

Appropriately-menacing shadow

Sandwich assembly, with my Mozzastein in the middle.

Mozzastein-bread

Next up, I dipped both sides in milk, then flour and eggs.

My Igor - er, roommate, scrubbing into the surgery

My Igor – er, roommate, scrubbing into the surgery

I rapidly tossed it in the frying pan with already-steamy olive oil ready to go.

Mozza-pan

And then I waited.

Fine, if you must know, the balsamic is on my bed and not the counter in this photo because I last encountered it dribbling pools on my palm to lick off while watching Netflix. I am the monster here

Fine, if you must know, the balsamic is on my bed and not the counter in this photo because I last encountered it dribbling pools on my palm to lick off while watching Netflix. I am the monster here

Mixed my blueberry jam and holy-cannoli balsamic.

Flipped, waited, and retrieved.

Then I cut into it.

It certainly had the gooeyness. (How do you actually spell this word?)

It tasted cheesy. But it did not taste like buzzalo mozzarella.

Behold - my creation!

Behold – my creation!

Were you hoping after all this raving determination it would? I sorta was. Sadly, like Dr. Frankenstein, I learned that you cannot create a carbon copy of that which already exists from parts that happen to be available. There’s something philosophical in there somewhere, but my takeaway was this: Buffalo mozzarella may have taken a rare turn on my absentee roster, but blueberries and balsamic will not be returning. Although it had the least help from me out of any of the dish’s elements (in my inventor mood today, that was probably a good thing), the blueberry-balsamic jam was the star. I am definitely buying – and combining them – more often in the future. Thanks, Mozzastein.

P.S. I have filed this under recipes and use the term loosely in this case – I encourage you to check out the real recipe I was inspired by if a cheese-monster hybrid doesn’t appeal to you.

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