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 😍 — 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. 💁

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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Entertaining, Holidays, Pairings

Move over, Guinness: Beau’s Beer Washed Cheese is ripe for St. Patrick’s Day

Okay, the headline was a little aggressive, but c’mon, it’s not like Guinness is gonna be sitting home alone on St. Patty’s. I love a cheese made with stout as much as the next person, and there’s a place in our hearts on St. Patty’s, too. But I recently discovered Beau’s Abbey Style Beer Washed Cheese, and that’s my draft pick for St. Patrick’s Day. Here’s why, for six simple reasons:

Beaus cheese

1. It’s prettier.
Sorry, did you think I was going to start with taste? We all know cheese freaks (ahem) will munch anything that can no longer be considered milk in good conscience, but if you’re buying for a group, odd blocks streaked with brown require a bit more convincing. But Beau’s looks joyfully by-the-book and won’t raise a single eyebrow when it’s suggested as a snack.

2. Its flavour is more versatile.
See, I was getting to it. Stout cheese is delicious on its own and is likely to make a stronger impression (for better or worse), but doesn’t pair as well as Beau’s. One of the first thoughts I had when tasting it was that it would be a natural fit for fondue. What’s that? Everyone wants to hang out around your party snack while the mini meatballs get cold? I thought as much.

3. Beau’s is an Everyman.
It will please both cheese neophytes that aren’t sure about anything outside of a Black Diamond label, and seasoned curd lovers that will wax poetic about the delectable rind and surprise crystals.

4. Its little holes can masquerade as clover.
Just tell your tipsy guests to squint harder.

5. It’s equally good refrigerated or room temp.
I prefer room temp, but that isn’t always realistic if you need to chop up more in a hurry (which you will, see #3). You do you, sweet sugar.

6. It’s made with beer.
And not the kind you need to work up to with a pregame grimace and jokes about chest hair at the ready. Emerald-green mic drop.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Share your St. Patty’s snack picks, cheesy or otherwise, in the comments below or tweet me @xCheeseTheDay!

Beaus cheese with wine

I had my Beau’s chunk with some icewine last week for a little alcohol cross-pollination and it was just dandy. No rules on St. Patty’s, kids!

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Super Bowl dips
Entertaining, Recipes

Super Bowl recipes: One cheese, two dips

Super Bowl Sunday has a little something for everyone: Football (so I hear), puppy-centric commercials and the Big Kahuna, food. The Super Bowl falls in an indulgence sweet spot: I’ve finally recovered from all the junk I ate over the holidays, just in time to do it all over again. Plus, I’m a firm believer that a theme around which to centre your snacks makes for double the fun. These recipes are spinoffs of two of the most revered Super Bowl food groups: Pizza and buffalo wings.

I’ve been maniacally consuming Super Bowl recipes for the last two weeks, and I have to say, BuzzFeed Food really knocked it out of the park with Super Bowl snacks and Sriracha-cheese recipes – go have a look if you’re hosting and looking to make an impressive centrepiece dish, or want to enjoy a bit of cooking.

Pizza dip buffalo dip

But if, like me, you are going to a party and want to bring a simple, crowd-pleasing appetizer, look no further. These two dips were the crowning glory of the aforementioned holiday spread this year. Both are made with stuff you probably already have on-hand, and are perfect for the Super Bowl, too: Pizza dip and buffalo dip. I bought a single bag of shredded mozza-cheddar blend and it carried me through both, to rave reviews from my pals. Here’s what’s involved.

Buffalo dip for Super Bowl

Buffalo Dip 

This dip has been a winner in our family for years. It involves slightly more effort than the pizza dip, but it’s still dead simple. My aunt once gave me a big batch of this dip for Christmas – that’s the level of addictive we’re looking at. This can easily be adjusted with more or less chicken or buffalo sauce. I haven’t tried it with tofu before, but I’d bet if you bake the tofu first with a bit of spice, you’d never know the difference.

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 package cream cheese (8 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup ranch salad dressing (feel free to make your own if you’re not feeling bottled)
  • ~1/2 bottle of Frank’s Red Hot regular or buffalo, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded mozza-cheddar (in my case), or straight-up cheddar for tangier flavour
  • 1 bag tortilla chips (small rounds work best), for dipping

Buffalo dip for Super Bowl

Directions

Boil the chicken breasts until finished, about 20 mins. While the chicken is cooking, mix the cream cheese and ranch together with an electric mixer until creamy. Add Frank’s, then stir in shredded cheese. Chop the chicken very finely, then stir it into the mixture. Put into a 9×9″ baking dish and bake at 375 degrees for about 45-50 minutes until bubbly. Serve and dip!

Pizza dip for Super Bowl

Pizza Dip

So, buffalo dip was the big guns at our holiday spread, until my aunt made pizza dip this year. It’s four ingredients and so easy that it’s almost unfair how much people like it – give the other snacks a chance, would ya? People slaving over from-scratch and artfully-crafted apps might turn their nose up at first, but keep a polite smirk in your back pocket for roughly 10 minutes later, when they’ve thrown pretence to the wind and are scraping cheese from their chin so as to not miss any. There’s no pretty way to eat it, just dig in.

Ingredients

  • 250g tub herb and garlic cream cheese
  • ~1 1/2 cup your fave tomato sauce, to taste
  • ~1 1/2 cup chopped pepperoni, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded mozza-cheddar cheese, or straight-up mozza for lighter flavour
  • Sliced baguette, for dipping

Pizza dip for Super Bowl

Directions

You ready? This gets real simple, real fast. Grab the dish you want to serve it in. A tinfoil pie plate makes for easy cleanup. Spread the cream cheese across the bottom in a smooth layer. Pour enough tomato sauce to cover on top, as much as you like. Layer the pepperoni on top. Sprinkle the cheese. Pop it in the oven at 375 degrees until the cheese has melted and you’re about to implode with wanton desire from the smell. Serve with sliced crusty bread.

What are you making for the Super Bowl? Have any favourite recipes to share? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments!

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Entertaining, Profiles

Tasting notes: The “vintage” brigade and whiskey cheddar

The air quotes come from my sideye at referring to cheese as “vintage” (see here). But don’t get me started on that again. I want to share the tasting notes I typed furiously into my phone before devouring the spread I got at St. Lawrence Market. I served some of these (plus herbed goat cheese and Le Rang Des Iles, which sadly didn’t make it to my notes) at my housewarming along with olives, jam, marinated portobello mushroom, artichoke and cherry peppers.

Cheese board

Highland Chief with Single Malt Whiskey

  • First impression: Dry, liquor taste
  • Sour like aged cheddar in the cheeks
  • Development of whiskey flavour is reminiscent of mould at first, but becomes sweet
  • Strong liquorice notes in whiskey flavour
  • Subtle caramel in the background
  • Slightly smoky, mellow finish
  • Clean with little bitterness
  • Incredibly creamy, like buttercream

Uniekaas Vintage 3 Year Old Gouda

  • First impression: Sweet like liqueur
  • Like a great fondue with beer or wine already added
  • Bitter like stout, slightly salty
  • Sweetness shines through, a little grassy
  • Similar to Beemster but stronger flavour
  • Creamy-firm texture with slight crystallization
  • Would be fantastic with something tart-sweet like currants (post-note: Had raspberry jam with it = perfect)

Oak Manor Vintage Cheddar
(You won’t see this one in the picture above, the cheese boards I served at my housewarming, because my boyfriend devoured it in almost one sitting. It’s a snacking cheese for sure.)

  • First impression: Smoked hay or grass
  • Sweet like an aged cheddar, then smoky
  • Progresses to deep caramel
  • Slight bitterness like coffee or hops
  • More lightly acidic than creamy
  • Not crumbly like traditional old cheddar, more dense and chewy

If you read the previous post, you’ll see that Le Rang Des Iles is missing from my tasting notes. Sorry about that. I saved it for my housewarming and thought I’d have a scrap left to study. Wrong-o. I remember it was stronger than a light bloomy rind like Camembert, but not as intense as a Sauvagine or a similar smelly slice. Creamy. Crumbly rind when chewed. Also, your friends won’t hesitate to eat it all.

The Grinch

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Cheesy musings, Entertaining

Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving cheese

Just prior to this past Thanksgiving, I was browsing the Dairy Goodness website (as one does), and came across the Canadian Cheese Board Contest, in which you post 10 photos of Canadian cheese on Pinterest for a chance to win $100 worth of Canadian cheese. This seemed like as good a reason as any to head to my beloved Algoma and choose blocks to build a Thanksgiving cheese board.

(Oh, you don’t do Thanksgiving cheese boards? You’re probably not doing the holiday right. What is more appropriate to give thanks for than cheese? I mean, besides family and stuff…)

Thanksgiving-sized

I decided to go with the classics (my classics), as befits such an occasion. From left to right, let us join hands and give thanks for Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, Blue Haze, Maple Smoked (not sure where from but it’s always there when I need it), and finally, front and centre (just like in my heart), Sartori Bellavitano Balsamic.

Needless to say, my Pinterest project took a back seat almost as soon as this picture was taken, after which I sliced and diced these nuggets into golden bites. Most made it to the table.

I never did pin this picture. But if I put it toward the required total of 10 Canadian cheese photos, that would give me nine more totally valid reasons to visit my cheese haunts…

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Entertaining, Pairings

The perfect cheeses to welcome hockey back

In case you haven’t already been beaten over the head with it by media and jersey-wrapped fans, hockey is back tonight. As I write this, the Toronto Maple Leafs lead the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in my peripheral vision. I will not say anything about hoping it lasts, because it would be a likely jinx and I don’t need that on my conscience; also, my level of masochism isn’t quite high enough to be a true Leafs fan.  (Montreal just scored. Damn it, non-jinx attempt.)

I’ve always said that it’s impossible to be in a bad mood at a sports arena. The energy is infectious. But watching sports on TV takes a little more cajoling, and snacks are part and parcel of my engagement. Obviously, my munchies of choice always involve cheese, or even better, are just cheese with some accoutrements. I have a cheap and cheerful Brie du MarchĂ© by Alexis de Portneuf (who I just discovered make a number of my other favourite cheeses, pleasant surprise) waiting with some ginger jelly as we speak. It may not make it to my belly because of some unfortunate overdoing of dill Crispy Minis earlier, but that’s another story.

There is no bad cheese to serve with a side of hockey, but it’s always fun to tailor your cheese to what you’ll be serving it with – in this case, hockey. Chemical-laced ice and bloodied teeth don’t make for ideal mental images from which to draw inspiration, but the teams make it fun. I’m watching the Leafs and the Canadiens, so here are the cheeses I’d pick (if the majority of my friends weren’t at home with violent colds and flu and I were hosting instead of pigging out alone – ah, hockey season):

For the Toronto Maple Leafs:
There are cheeses that are made with maple syrup, but I have to admit, I haven’t tried many – just one. But man, is it a doozy. There is a little setup in Keene, Ontario, not too far from where I grew up but far enough to make it a special trip, called Cross Wind Farm. They specialize in goat milk and meat products and many of their chĂšvres are mixed with spices, fruits and more for melt-in-your-mouth spreads. My favourite by far is the Maple Syrup ChĂšvre (I’ve also had the Herbs de Provence and Orange and Cranberry). It’s obvious that they use real maple syrup from the tantalizing bitter edge to the sweetness, which complements the dry, salty sweetness of the cheese nicely. Plus, bittersweet is an apt way to describe Leaf fandom, to say the least.

If you’d like to show off a little more, you can never go wrong with a baked brie (try my aforementioned Brie du MarchĂ© for a good affordable option), especially one that incorporates maple syrup. I’d do it one of two ways: Use pure maple syrup instead of egg wash to seal your dough covering (sticky, but oh-so-much better) for a touch of sweetness, or cut the top of the rind off and drizzle it directly on top with gay abandon and a sprinkling of pecans before baking.

For the Montreal Canadiens:
QuĂ©bec boasts no shortage of irresistibly smelly cheeses to sample. I have only been there a handful of times as an adult, but both times I made sure to try a few. When I visited my cousin during Winterlude last year (hi, Melissa!), she turned me onto La Sauvagine, one of Alexis de Portneuf’s. It has an noticeable yet accessible tang that will please both smelly cheese devotees and newbies alike. And the triple-cream texture, well – that speaks for itself.

To add a hard cheese to the roster, try Louis D’Or, arguably one of Canada’s most famous and  lauded smelly cheeses. When I first bought it on a trip to Montreal with my boyfriend, he complained that it made our whole hotel room smell like farts, even while safely tucked away in the mini-fridge, which it did. Still, it has the kind of vegetable-moldy flavour (think steamed broccoli) that you find more commonly in sheep’s milk cheeses. I can’t decide if I like this one more cold or room temperature, but if you’d like to ease into it, try it cold first.

The game’s still 2-2 and I have yet to bring out my Brie. My stomach is tied too, with fullness on one side and uh, Brie, on the other. That’s a whole other game.

Here’s to hockey, and more importantly, the cheese boards that viewing will bring.

(Main image: Coyau / Wikimedia Commons)

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Entertaining, Pairings

New motherboard, new friends, new cheese. Trapiche?

Thought I’d gone on another perfectionist hiatus, didn’t you? Alas, this one was technologically-imposed. I finally got my computer back, after a hefty bill and wait. I don’t want to be a brat about how long the “straightforward” repair took, but I think empires may have fallen faster.

Before I had a chance to put my computer, complete with new motherboard, to good use over the weekend, I got strep throat and spent the better part of this week sending my immune system into battle instead of battling through the half-sentences in iPhone notes I took for the blog during my computer’s vacation.

Now that my antibiotics have kicked in, let’s have a catch-up. Pull up an armchair and some quince, will you?

Last week I got to attend a wine tasting with iYellow Wine Club, run by one of my favourite wine-os (don’t worry, Mom, you’re still number one), Angela Aiello. I always have a great time at her events, so I was looking forward to this one, which looked like a doozy: Sampling Trapiche‘s new wines Pure and Extravaganza, topped off with food pairings.

It’s the first time I had been to an event alone, much less with a cheese-blog agenda, so I wasn’t sure how to tackle the whole networking thing. After saying hi to Ang and the iYellow peeps I already knew, I received a hefty glass of the first wine to taste, Pure. Inspect the legs, check, smell, check, sip, check, repeat. Try to stop thinking about how Trapiche reminds you of Capiche? and repeating it in an Italian accent like a visual-cue earworm. Awkwardly glance around, hoping to catch the eye of someone else looking to converse with a fellow professional (none), check. Oh look, that woman is painting a plate.

Her name was Jacqueline, the resident artist at the Ritz. She paints all of the plates in the restaurant, some of which were displayed on the walls – there’s a little-discussed career path for you. She had the sort of friendliness that makes you wonder whether you actually do know the person, because people are generally not so warm toward complete strangers, but she was. A good start to my getting-to-know-you endeavour. Here’s how the plate turned out, which she finished in about an hour and change (!).

Plate

After my conversation with Jacqueline started to taper off, I began to play spot-the-willing-conversationalist again and landed on the man’s name-card next to me. His blog name had a pun (Hi Mario!). We were bound to be friends! Turns out, there’s no easy way to strike up a conversation when everyone else seems to know each other, you just have to power through the awkwardness. Before long, we were nerding out about cheese, him explaining proper names and locations for beloved rinds while trying to follow my vague, half-remembered characterizations, although I did manage to adequately describe Don Heliodoro. I am not an imposter!

From there it was smooth sailing, as he introduced me to some of the more seasoned wine writers and industry people in the room and I began to feel more well-connected. That, and I was well into my second glass (which did not bode as well for me when I tried to ascertain whether I was actually rocking back and forth on my heels during the winemaker’s speech or whether that was second-glass goggles).

The second wine tasting, of Extravaganza, was at iYellow’s Wine Cave. There were Venetian masks, frogs’ legs (au revoir, Michigan J.), duck tongue tacos (found that out after I finished, probably for the best) and cricket-studded chocolate donuts.

Crickets

There was also, blissfully, a cheese plate.

Cheese-plate

Apparently, there was a “cheese room” at the Ritz that I missed in my nervous haste to connect with people (Never. Again), so to say that I was excited to see the spread would be an understatement. After I made a beeline to confirm the rumours, my reaction went like this:

One of the cheeses Mario and I had been talking about was even on the roster, Idiazabal. Score! Here were my notes on the offerings, three of which (all except the Camembert) I’d never had before:

Idiazabal
– Very meaty
– Smokey (Wiki tells me the cheese is usually un-smoked though, interesting – anyone know which part of the process creates the smokey flavour, then, or is it the milk?)
– Like smoked kielbasa, minus the mandatory pickles and cheddar slices on a vegetable cracker at family gatherings
– Deliciously dry
– Full flavour with a touch of bitterness; rich

Bleu D’Auvergne
– Middle-range flavour – not quite as mild as a Bleu Benedictin but not as strong as Stilton
– Tasted faintly of fennel, but I tried this shortly after my duck tongue tacos (without cleansing my palate with quince first, I know, slap my wrist) so it could’ve been leftover hoisin flavour
– Creamy, mold wasn’t especially flavourful, which I liked

Old Amsterdam
– Deliciously salty
– Briny (it’s not exactly the same as salty, shut up)
– Lighter taste when it begins to crumble
– Strong buttermilk flavour and caramel taste, right at the finish

Camembert, that ol’ faithful
– Very grassy and buttery
– Just a touch of tanginess
– Reminds me unmistakably of broccoli (the prominent vegetable flavours were driving me nuts with vague recognition – that’s what it tasted like!)

There was also some quince jelly, which I mistook for sausage – it was dark – but  which complimented the Camembert and paired well with Old Amsterdam’s saltiness. I explained it to one of my newly-minted buddies with Fruit To Go as my reference. I can have my cheese and ’90s lunchtime staple comparisons and eat them, too, Trapiche?

How do you approach networking? Ever tried any of the above cheeses? Let me know in the comments or @xCheeseTheDay (brand new!) on Twitter. I’ll be catching up on belated Flavours of the Month next, and there’s a fancy domain coming, too!

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