Cheese Straws

November 20, 2010 § 8 Comments

Cheese straws: A great homemade holiday gift

I’ve been in the food zone lately, researching recipes, populating my To Do list…oh, and most importantly, cooking! So, in the spirit of Heidi Swanson’s advice of cooking from recipes during the stages of learning to stand in the kitchen, so to speak, I’ve been scouring the blogosphere (and the library) for interesting recipes. A few of the things I am learning about cookbooks are: 1) there are way too many out there (my local library probably has a bigger selection of cookbooks than math books), and 2) most of the cookbooks are picture-less, or if they do have pictures, they’re finished products jammed into one paltry center section that doesn’t even cover 1/4th of what’s going on throughout the book. This leads a novice cook to turn to the blogosphere where traditional publishing doesn’t limit the how-to photo bandwidth, and now we’re also blessed with video! So, one of the blogs I’ve been really interested in lately is the Smitten Kitchen.

The Smitten Kitchen is a treasure trove of recipes, translated with amazing how-to images and notes on best practices. While trolling for chocolate recipes, no excuses there, I happened upon a section of homemade holiday gift ideas, one of them being cheesy straws. We’re big tea drinkers here (old English habits die hard) and are always looking for savoury snacks to make the experience a little more pleasurable for the palate. cheese straws are one of those excellent savoury accents to add to a well-balanced tea break. In a dash of inspiration from my refrigerator again, more so than a desire to put a personal stamp on the recipe, I ended up making a few adjustments. The original recipe is linked below if you’re a cheddar purist.

Cheese Straws
(adapted from the Smitten Kitchen,, makes a lot, but not too much, perhaps two small gift servings worth)

1 cup cheddar cheese (grated or cut into small chunks)
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated or cut into small chunks)
1/2 stick of butter
3/4 flour (I guess you can add a layer of creativity here, I went with AP)
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 crushed tsp red pepper flakes
3 tsps milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Process all of the ingredients, MINUS the milk, until the mixture resembles coarse grain (as pictured). Add the milk, then continue to process until the mixture turns into a ball of dough.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8th inch thickness. With a pizza cutter, slice the dough into 1/8th inch straws (as pictured). Transfer to a baking sheet (I lined mine with a silicone baking mat, I would suggest using wax or parchment paper). Bake for about 15 minutes or until the straws begin to turn golden brown.

Let the straws cool on a baking rack for a good 15 minutes at least, so that they can properly solidify. If you don’t do this they’ll break apart very easily.

Aside from being given away as awesome homemade holiday gifts (they’re wonderful and will be appreciated I promise you), they would be great with a spot of tea or served as a side with soup or chili.


Thai Curry Carrot Bisque & Goat cheese Corn Muffins

November 18, 2010 § 6 Comments

My Culinary To Do list is growing out of control, so I decided to kill two entries by making a nice meal for lunch today. Two things I’ve been wanting to cross off my list have been Spabettie’s Goat cheese corn muffins and Vegan Good Eat’s Blood Orange Carrot bisque. The point of the exercise is to gain experience by following recipes when facing an inspiration downturn. In this case, I didn’t have one of the primary ingredients for the Blood Orange Carrot bisque, namely the orange. So instead, I made a Thai carrot curry soup of my favorite flavor combo (inspired by my Ginger Carrot salad): citrus, ginger, garlic, onion, Thai spices and peanut butter. I suppose the recurring presence of peanut butter in my Thai food gives away my national heritage =)

The goat cheese is somewhat visible. One can never have too much chevre, only too little

I had to take a short trip to get the corn meal for the corn muffins, the recipe for which I halved, but followed practically to the T otherwise, aside from one substitution I made to include a flaxseed/water egg replacer instead of the Ener-G version. I recently visited a health food super store here in my area where I went in search of Ener-G egg replacer. Instead I came home with a bag full of flaxseeds, which I’m told act as an egg substitute if you soak them in water. As an aside, in the bin right next the flaxseeds I noticed that pine nuts were selling for 36.99/lb!!!! Can anyone vouch for the normality of that price? I had no idea. Anyway, now that I have ‘eggs’ I’m ready to go nuts, beginning with these corn muffins. I have to say, I didn’t dig my version too much. You can even tell from the picture that my attempt is pretty dry. Spabettie’s look so much more moist and appetizing. I don’t know where I went wrong here. My plan is to find a good, egg-less cornbread recipe and to revisit the exercise. I love my moist dairy-filled baked goods, and I think this will be a great dish to take to the Thanksgiving dinner I’m attending that won’t be off-limits to the gluten-free crowd.  

Goat cheese Corn Muffins
(from Spabettie, makes 6 muffins)

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 ‘egg’ (I used 1 tsp of flaxseed + 3 tsps of water)
2 tbsps maple syrup
1 cup milk
2 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsps honey goat cheese

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and stir until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Pour half the ‘batter’ into muffin cups (if you use the aluminum baking cups you don’t need to use a cupcake baking pan, you can just throw the muffin cups onto a baking sheet). Add a small bit of goat cheese to each cup (as pictured). Cover with the remaining muffin ‘batter’. Bake for 10-20 minutes.

Thai Curry Carrot Bisque
(makes two servings)

1/2 onion chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped in fourths
2 tsp ginger
2 cups of chopped carrots and celery
1/2 cup water
3tsp liquid amino
3 tsps peanut butter
1/4 can of coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
2tbsp olive oil
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

In a soup pot, bring the olive oil to medium heat. Then add the onions and garlic. Let these cook until the onions start to caramelize. Add the carrots and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Then add the water and liquid aminos (which together act as a vegetable broth). Let this simmer for a good 10 minutes, whilst adding the peanut butter, turmeric and lemon juice. When the carrots have become tender, add the coconut milk. This is the point at which I’d do a tasting and second round of salt and pepper seasoning. Once seasoned to your taste, turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup.

Enjoy this fun video from PES. It’s an animated recipe demo.

Goat cheese and Pomegranate Bread Pudding

November 16, 2010 § 8 Comments

This idea came to me last night upon opening the door to the refrigerator (really) and seeing all the wonderful stuff newly stocked. I was fishing for something I generally keep in the door and noticed that the butter compartment was filled w. wonton wrappers and that I had a few pounds of butter scattered in random places throughout the interior!! So, two of the first things I spotted were a big hunk of goat cheese and a container of pomegranate seeds. Yum, what could I do with these I thought. Then I closed the door, and noticed the sour dough bread. Done.

And so here we are. Cooking in the mornings isn’t something I normally do these days, but since all the best light has been jam-packed into a few early hours, I’m learning to shift my experimental habits to earlier in the day. Although, my kitchen-ing habits have waned recently, as you can tell by the dearth of posts. I was recently inspired to get back to cooking (don’t I always say this!!) after reading up on Heidi Swanson, the author of In one of her interviews she says that new cooks should devote time to trying out new recipes regularly, presumably before the process of inspiration hits. I’m lucky to have bouts of inspiration, as infrequent as they are, after only a few short months mulling around a kitchen. But to get better, I’ve picked up some cookbooks and have plans to experiment with homemade chocolates (who knows maybe someday I’ll be good enough to buy molds to package treats for my friends!).

Goat cheese and Pomegranate Bread Pudding
(makes one individual serving using a 4.5″ individual pan, scale up accordingly)

-3 slices of sour dough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
-1/6 cup of pomegranate seeds
-2 tsps maple syrup, the good stuff, never skimp on the maple syrup!!
-1/2 cup of milk/soy milk
-2 tsps goat cheese, crumbled
-1 tsp butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease your baking dish. Add the bread cubes.

In a bowl, or measuring cup (as pictured), mash your pomegranate seeds with the back of a spoon. This should result in just enough juice to turn the bread pudding ‘sauce’ pink/purple later on. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like a lot. Add the milk/soy-milk, maple syrup, goat cheese, and butter. Mix until the ingredients are incorporated and the goat cheese is largely mixed in. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes. Be sure to coat each piece of bread, otherwise you will end up with burnt bread! I like to then press the bread cubes in my hand to make sure each piece is absorbing the mixture like a sponge. Then bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is lightly brown. 

A vegetarian friend is hosting Thanksgiving at her home this year. My friend B. and I are planning to bring a slew of desserts using my new tart pans!!! Or maybe my spinach mac ‘n cheese??!! Maybe both, who knows. I am working on three different tart fillings. My new baking obsession has me so excited about Thanksgiving this year. I’m disappointed it’s still ten days away, but I plan to test one of the tarts on my French group this week, so I should be posting a sneak peek. I am curious, what are your plans for dessert on Thanksgiving?

Eggless Spinach and Goat-cheese Soufflé

November 14, 2010 § 21 Comments

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided many of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

Of course, being a lacto vegetarian, I wasn’t able to use any of those recipes!!

This was my first month participating in the Daring Cooks’ Challenge, so I couldn’t sit this one out, even though this is probably the worst possible challenge for a vegan/lacto vegetarian. On the positive side, I guess the challenges can only get less stressful from here on out!! In search of an eggless soufflé recipe, I scoured the internet. All of the ‘eggless’ versions required gelatin (which is collagen from animal bones), so that didn’t quite work out for me. Every single vegan version I found contained tofu, and I was not keen on eating a chocolate tofu concoction, so I settled on a savoury flavor. I didn’t follow any particular recipe, or any recipe at all. I kind of just felt my way through the process after looking at the pictures of some of the other challengers’ processes (what the consistency should look like before putting it in the oven, etc), and reading the ingredient lists of the vegan versions. One of the challengers just blended a panang tofu curry and baked it. This, quite frankly, is what inspired me to not give up (so thank you!!).

I ended up sautéing a tofu scramble with frozen spinach and goat cheese, and then mixed in a multi-grain pancake/milk batter. I then blended this mixture until it formed a liquid, filled my lightly oiled cup, and baked on 350 degrees for 25 minutes. There were a couple of failed iterations before settling on this one finally. Because it was a test batch, I ended up not having enough ‘batter’ to fill the cup to the brim, which is actually essential to see proof that it rose (key component to soufflé-ing). To compensate, I tried to photograph the innards so you can see the liquidy center surrounded by the cooked, spongy outer ring. I am not a fan of puréed savoury food, so I probably would never again make a savoury soufflé. I would, however, LOVE to make a chocolate soufflé. Only, I wouldn’t dream of using tofu to make it. I will experiment with egg replacers to see what I can come with. But, in the meantime, please accept my humble soufflé.

Coconut Macaroons

November 9, 2010 § 8 Comments

Coconut macaroons, finished product

I tend to like my desserts less sweet, and almost bordering on savoury (hence my obsession with tarts). However, for the sake of expanding my range of baking knowledge, I made these macaroons for the first time a few months ago. While I was practically indifferent to them (and as a result ended up giving most away), I received rave reviews. Go figure. So, for a recent celebration of exchanged desserts I was asked to make the macaroons, and so I did (even though I would have preferred to make a tart!!).

For those of you scared of baking, know that these are incredibly easy to make and almost hard to ruin. I’m more of a hybrid baker-cook, so following directions to a T isn’t really my thing. I like to have a roadmap but improvise along the way. As a result, I end up excelling, I guess, at baking items that don’t require absolute precision. This is one of those items. Classic macaroons are a different story, but the coconut variety just require 4 ingredients (5 if you count salt), a fork, bowl, oven and baking sheet. Very simple.

Coconut Macaroons
(makes two full size baking sheets)

-1/4 cup of flour
-2.5 cups of shredded coconut
-1 can of sweetened condensed milk
-1/8 tsp vanilla extract
-1/8 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl, combining the dry ingredients first. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the bottoms show golden brown (it will be very apparent).

Note: be very careful if you plan to use a dark or black baking sheet. I wouldn’t use a black baking sheet at all. The bottoms almost certainly will burn. Another issue of importance is using a surface that won’t cause the macaroons to stick. The last time I made these I used wax paper as a buffer between the baking sheet and macaroons. But this didn’t solve the problem entirely, as I was still left with a few messes across my batches. This time I was lucky to have my new silicon baking pads, which are amazing. They require no cooking spray, wax paper, etc. and the macaroons slipped off easily.

what the macaroons should look like before going into the oven

Mini pizza tarts

November 5, 2010 § 17 Comments

Half of my CSN order came in this week, so I tested out some of my new tools. Since I’ve been making too many sweet, buttery tarts these days, I decided to make something savoury and somewhat healthy, or less fatty I should say… So, this is a mini pizza tart, with the inspiration being a Chicago deep-dish style pizza.

multigrain biscuit dough base

Instead of the butter-heavy tart dough, I used a multigrain pancake mix to whip up a biscuit dough as the base.

topped w. a layer of homemade bruschetta

I then added a layer of homemade bruschetta and topped it all off w. shredded mozzarella and finely chopped mushrooms.

final product

I know I’ve been a bit lax with the posting. I’ve been making tons of stuff, but have just fallen out of the habit of photographing and chatting up the ideas. I just have my head in other things at the moment, and am hoping to be back at it soon.

Peruvian Purple Potato Chips

November 1, 2010 § 2 Comments

A couple of my vegetarian friends got together this weekend at our friend K.’s house for a dinner. We had great food and wine and watched the sun set over the Pacific, all of this wonderfulness for which I have no pictures. Maybe I’m old school, but I tend to enjoy my moments. I did bring a camera with me, fully intending to take many pictures of the table that K. did an amazing job of decorating in the Halloween theme, but I was just having too good of a time to bother. 

Peruvian purple potato chips served here w. guacamole

For the starter I made Peruvian purple potato chips with a Peruvian Aji dipping sauce (recipe below) followed with a spinach zucchini cream cheese puff pastry loaf for the main. For dessert I did a three-tier vegan chocolate cake w. non-vegan cream-cheese coffee frosting. The only thing I have pictures of are the Peruvian purple potato chips, and this is only because I made a test batch a few days before the weekend. The test batch wasn’t completely successful. I cut the potato slices a bit too thin, which resulted in some unevenness since I didn’t use a mandolin potato slicer. This caused uneven baking, so you’ll see in the picture that many of the halves are brown (read: burnt). For the actual dinner, I did a mixture of Peruvian purple potato chips and classic Russet potato chips. I honestly preferred the Russets. The purple potatoes were a novelty for me, and I was eager to work with them. And although I probably didn’t use them to their fullest potential, I have so say, I didn’t much care for them. They were a bit bitter, which could be because the darker color absorbed more heat during the baking process??? When I expand my Peruvian repertoire and develop a good sauce, I may return to purple potatoes for a creamy mash. In the meantime, my heart is set on baking tarts =)

Peruvian Purple Potatoes
(serves 4 as a side or appetizer)

-5 Peruvian purple potatoes cut diagonally at about an 1/8th of an inch thickness 
-cooking oil spray
-Sea salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lay aluminum foil on a baking sheet. Lightly spray the surface with cooking spray. Lay out the potato slices and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for an indeterminate amount of time, average time should be somewhere around 30 minutes per baking sheet. You must check on the potatoes frequently, as some may cook faster than others. As you find these, remove them and let the others continue to bake.

Peruvian Aji sauce (not pictured)

-1/8th of a head of lettuce
-2 jalapeno chiles with the seeds and veins removed
-1/8 of a cup of mayonnaise (I use an eggless mayo from TJoe’s)
-salt and pepper to taste
-3 green onions
-one small handful of cilantro leaves
-1 tsp minced garlic

Combine ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

As an aside, I just put in my first order to CSN using the $75 I won from Croque-Camille’s giveaway (thanks again to Croque-Camille and CSN). I ordered the following list of awesomeness, all of which I’m eager to put to work soon:

-4 mini 4-inch tart pans
-2 mini 4.5-inch springfoam pans
-2 silicon baking mats
-1 two-tier cooling rack

In the process of making out the order, I realized where all my interest in the kitchen lies, and apparently it’s in the oven. There will be a lot of baking going on in the future here!!!