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, Pairings

Cheesy Caesar combinations for Canada Day

We did a segment on Caesars recently at work, which focused on all of the weird, wonderful and winning combinations that are possible with Canada’s signature summer drink.

(Sidenote: Though the Caesar is often touted as a Canuck creation – not just from drunken braggarts, it’s been featured in more than one Canadiana commercial – it was not actually invented here. Back in 2010, National Post columnist Adam McDowell unearthed a recipe for the Caesar that he said dated back to before Walter Chell, the purported creator, mixed and popularized it in 1969 in Calgary. McDowell’s discovery was greeted with surprising furor, presumably from people that put all their national pride in one Clamato-wielding basket. Guys, it didn’t take off before Chell. We may not have made the first Caesar, but Canada made the Caesar what it is today.)

There are numerous pickled, salty, briny treats that can be added to the cloudy scarlet concoction. Pickles and olives and/or their juices are classic. You can riff on rims with sweet and spicy additions like steak rubs or maple syrup. Skewered snacks and veggies like bacon and spicy green beans have become de rigeur, and seafood is an always-welcome bonus – one of my favourite restaurants adds a whole lobster tail to their Caesar.

Where’s the cheese?

I’m a firm believer in the possibility to incorporate cheese into any dish. Yes, any (if you don’t believe me, add your challenge in the comments and I’ll use it for a future post). I know cheese isn’t exactly an orthodox addition to a drink, but Caesars are rarely a straight-up drink. Nibblets are practically a requirement. Hell, Score on Davie in Vancouver is infamous for its $60 Checkmate Caesar, which comes with a whole roasted chicken, burger, pulled-pork slider, onion rings, chicken wings, pulled-pork mac ‘n’ cheese hot dog and a brownie, because, y’know, everything in moderation.

Davie-Caesar

Score on Davie’s Checkmate Caesar. (Facebook)

When I was collecting tried-and-true mix-ins for my part of the Caesars segment, the only cheese-like suggestion I got was blue-cheese-stuffed olives. We can do better than that, not least because I don’t even like the two together. Without further ado, here are a few cheesy additions I think would be nothing short of delectable in Caesars, just in time for Canada Day – because it’s still our drink, damn it:

  •  Bocconcini cheese: I’m not the first person to conjure this up (aforementioned Score on Davie has a Caesar that uses bocconcini), but I have yet to see it on a menu in person. Don’t underestimate these dreamy, delicate orbs, especially in a sweeter Caesar with basil.
  • Arancini: One of my favourite Italian treats; risotto balls that are best when accompanied by a smear of arrabbiata sauce. What else is spicy and tomato-y, like arrabbiata? Why, a Caesar! Don’t skimp on fresh, gooey mozza – preferably buffalo, or burrata if you want to get downright decadent – in the centre and stick to minis, skewered, for logistical reasons.
  • Cream cheese: It’s sacrilege to leave out the celery stalk, and cream cheese is perfection slathered on it. If you’d like to add a creamy texture to the drink, cover the whole stalk and swirl it around. Cover only the portion above sea level if you want your tomato tonic undisturbed. Bonus points for using hot red pepper jelly as your rimmer liquid.
  • Frozen feta: I have, admittedly, never tried this because it didn’t occur to me until just now. But why not freeze feta as “ice” cubes in a tray? You get more flavour instead of less as it melts (thanks, brine!) and a yummy treat at the bottom. Not sure if it would disintegrate when melting, but I’m going to try this soon.
  • Provolone: Specifically, stuffed in hot cherry peppers with prosciutto, the kind you can find at most supermarkets with the olives. Low-maintenance, sophisticated skewers. Add a spring of fresh rosemary to take it up a notch.
  • Grilled Halloumi: It’s delicious on its own, but I’d love to try a chimichurri marinade before grilling. Herbalicious crust? Yes, please.
  • Brebis Rousse: I know this stuff doesn’t come cheap, but how decadent would it be slathered inside a halved jalapeño pepper and baked with panko? So much better than your standard filling. If you’ve never had this sheep’s milk cheese before, make you you save the majority to savour on its own, too.

Who’s thirsty? Writing this made me want to throw an all-Caesars mixing party, so I’ll be trying the above suggestions and will post the results. If you try any of my cheesy combinations or have some killer add-ins of your own, let me know in the comments! Happy Canada Day and cheers to Caesars!

 

Main photo by: luckyfish/Flickr

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