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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Flavour of the month, Pairings, Profiles

Flavour of the month: Black River Maple Cheddar

February is the suckiest month. My boyfriend sometimes makes the case for November: clearly the rambling of mal-adjusted soul that never fully knew autumn-induced joy and Santicipation (love you, honey!). After emerging bleary-eyed from a Polar-Vortex funk last year, I resolved to make plans, preferably hot ones, for this year.

Costa Rica, a bit pie-in-the-sky for our budgets, fell through.¬†But the universe stepped in with two lucky¬†opportunities, thanks to said boyfriend. First, a weekend work trip to Ottawa,¬†on¬†which I was invited to tag along. Almost immediately after, a week-long stint in Fort Myers Beach, squatting in the beach-side haven his parents rented for the suckiest month ‚Äď air-kick!

Florida was a lot of ol’ faithful cheeses: melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella with tomato and basil and gooey cheddar crowning stuffed peppers. But our mini-break in Ottawa brought a new dairy love to my life: Black River Cheese’s Maple Cheddar. I’d seen it around the block many times, but had never bought it. That is, until I bought absolutely everything to eat.

Maple cheddar

Please accept my crude depiction of its components in lieu of the actual brick, which I obliterated. (Genevieve Howard/Compfight, J.P. Lon/Wikimedia Commons)

They say you should never shop when you’re hungry (not even for inedible things!), and¬†we were living proof of that, headed to the grocery store to stock up on snacks¬†having skipped dinner. We spent around $100 on “snacks” (for an army, I guess). Nestled in the spoils was Black River’s Maple Cheddar, to be paired with our crackers, or, y’know, eaten straight off the plastic knife with which we cut it.

Generally, cheese is not sweet.¬†A lot of my favourites have sweet undertones¬†(hay, Piave), but rarely is the overall impression more sweet than salty ‚Äď which is why they’re usually so yummy with an accompaniment like jam. Not so with Black River’s.

The Maple Cheddar is a medium-aged cheese, so not too strong, which allows the maple syrup that it’s mixed with to really take the reins.¬†It doesn’t have pure maple syrup’s bitterness or much of cheddar’s saltiness to create a more layered, deep flavour, so its powerfully-sweet impression¬†won’t be for everyone (my boyfriend didn’t care for it, but he’s usually more of a salty/bitter guy ‚Äď pun unintended but welcomed with a smirk). I, however, found it refreshingly soft and simple, and just devoured it.

Much like icewine is a true dessert wine, so does this cheese just scream¬†dessert. Grilled cheese and cheese bread are two of the suggestions Black River makes for how to use it best, and I’d have to agree¬†‚Äď bread would set off the sweetness while letting the cheese be the star. I’d tread carefully with any pairings. Common sidekicks¬†like salty meats and antipasto would be too much, in my humble opinion. A lightly-smoked (not grainy) mustard would be interesting, or a¬†Saskatoon berry¬†jam (probably the only time I’ve ever wanted this specific jam, but I think its sorta-blueberry, sorta-apple lightness would be just right).

Honestly, though, it’s best left to its own devices, with just a little bit of bread. Suitable for both screw-you-February days and cuddled-up, what-month-is-it-anyway sojourns.

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Blue Haze
Profiles

Blue, Blue Haze

Yes, just like “Red, Red Wine.” I’d serenade it if I could think of something more original than “daze” to rhyme with “haze.” (Note: Hit the adjacent F instead of D the first time and am now onto something. Thank you, universe.)

I first tasted Blue Haze under a clear, fittingly-blue summer sky at the Mill Street Beer Hall. It had just opened and it was my first time there. I obviously wheedled my way into “splitting” (read: racing to devour as much as possible) the cheese board with my boyfriend before deciding on a main. I don’t remember much about the other cheeses that were seated like sultans among the cured meats, garnishes and spreads; I think there was a Manchego-esque block in the bunch. All I remember is the silky, smoldering feeling of falling in love with Blue Haze.

It’s smoky in a welcome, all-encompassing way, almost ashy, “like mould without the edge” (according to my most recent tasting notes) at the rind, where the flavour is most concentrated. It’s sweet and almost tastes hoppy, like beer. The texture is creamy like any run-of-the-mill p√Ęt√©, but melts like a fine foie gras (which coincidentally, I still don’t like the taste of, despite my best efforts, but which I will eat anyway if you put it in front of me). ¬†My notes also say “Milliners underneath”, which I can only assume was meant to be something else but was Autocorrected to “Milliners.” So, thanks for that, Apple. You’ve probably ruined a masterpiece in observation.

Blue Haze

It starts out as a blue cheese in Quebec, but earns the faded-yet-defining tendrils of smoke from Provincial Fine Foods in Ontario, where it’s cold-smoked.

“The small amount of heat in the cold-smoking process will crack the cheese,” Cole Snell of Provincial told Fiesta Farms, for a post titled¬†“A Cheese That Will Change Your Life,” natch. “We smoke it for an hour, then vacuum seal and age it for another month to let the smoke really penetrate the cheese. My favourite way to eat it is with honey or chocolate.”

I met Snell when he owned About Cheese (#RIP) in Church Wellesley Village, my first friendly neighbourhood cheese shop. It was there that I first set a cheese budget for myself, indulged in more than my fair share of samples, learned the difference between bloomy rind and Brie, and a lot more, at the hands of Snell. I didn’t know he was a big deal, he was just a maybe-stoned (sorry dude, you’re just so chill) aficionado with a bevy of passion and recommendations. You’ll hear more about Snell on this blog eventually, but for now, suffice it to say the guy knows his sh-t: Honey and chocolate are indeed, the unequivocal best things to eat with Blue Haze. (I humbly suggest maple syrup, too.)

Word to the wise: If you’re going to Google it, be sure to include “cheese” at the end. Go try it now without, and you’ll see why. Suddenly the name makes more sense, yeah? And is more funny? Okay, put down the Blue Haze, you’ve had enough.

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