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cheese course

Smoked salmon and ricotta wraps

Smoked salmon and ricotta wraps

New Year’s Eve is my favorite food holiday, full stop. We don’t have to follow any specific food traditions, and instead we can make a number of small bites that follow whatever whims we may have in mind that particular year. In reality, the only rules that we do have around the holiday are simple:

  • No leaving the apartment, even to do this same thing at someone else’s house, because that never ends well.
  • Loungey clothes are necessary, if not required.
  • Games will be played
  • Wine, especially bubbly wines, will be consumed.

When our friend W asked what our plans were, I explained that we were pretty rigid on the not-leaving-the-apartment thing (seriously, the last time we tried to do this on New Year’s Eve, I ended up with a stomach virus) but that they were welcome to join us. As soon as she said that they would love to come, out came the cookbooks to brainstorm some ideas on what to make. I may have also put the El Bulli episode of No Reservations on while I browsed, and ultimately came up with more ideas for this dinner than I did for the dinners I was supposed to be planning for…because that’s how things tend to go.

Besides: a meal of this scale requires several days of brainstorming, and I ended up finding some fine meals to have on Sunday and Monday shortly thereafter. So there, husband. Read More

Our plate at Bar Pastoral:  Casatica with roasted garlic, Manchego with horseradish (I think), Caveman Blue with honey, and some prosciutto di San Daniele and chorizo.

Our plate at Bar Pastoral: Casatica with roasted garlic, Manchego with horseradish (I think), Caveman Blue with honey, and some prosciutto di San Daniele and chorizo.

Not long after our friend T moved out to Chicago, he sent me a link to a wine bar/cheese shop that wasn’t far from his apartment that he thought I’d like, all but promising to go there when I eventually paid him a visit. I hadn’t forgotten about the place in the intervening months that followed, so when I was finally able to head out to the Windy City a few weeks ago to finally see him, going to Pastoral (the wine/cheese shop) and its sister bistro next door Bar Pastoral was one of the few definitive plans I had for the trip, and perhaps the only disappointment I had was that I only was able to eat there once.

But oh, was that one time a memorable one!

T was completely wiped from a particularly grueling work week, so by the time we sat down at the bar he was more than happy to let me run the show. Since this was my first time there, I decided to cede control to our very helpful bartender, who recommended a nice selection of cheeses: a soft cheese made with water buffalo milk, a lovely blue cheese, and a firm cheese that I’m pretty sure was Manchego. (This bad food blogger forgot to write them all down. Boo.) Some slices of chorizo and prosciutto di San Daniele finished the plate, along with a little loaf of crusty bread and a nice glass of red wine. Even better was that each cheese came with its own specific garnish, ensuring that when you loaded up a piece of bread with your cheese of choice, you were going to get a complex, complete bite.

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Moliterno laced with black truffle

Truffle-laced anything, if you ask me, should come under a great deal of scrutiny. There was a great article in the New York Times from a few years ago that blew the lid off of the “magic” of truffle-infused-olive oil and frankly, had me wary of anything that claimed to have anything to do with the prohibitively expensive fungus. I reluctantly got back on the truffle bandwagon when I finally tried a can of porcini and truffle sauce that reminded me of Piemonte in an instant (minus the plane fare and the two-hour drive from Malpensa). I was slightly more convinced when a small Italian import brand sampled white and black truffle mayonnaise, honeys, and butters a few times at Fairway, though the price was still a little too high for what it was. Then Steve Jenkins–the man who wrote the book on cheese and is Fairway’s cheesemonger–made an appearance at Fairway Stamford last weekend and was sampling this cheese…and now I’m firmly back on the Truffles Are Awesome But Only In Specific Situations. Read More

El Cantú

Vicky buried herself in work at the library. She put foolish ideas out of her head and concentrated on her thesis, but she found her thoughts frequently returning to Oviedo.

Narrator, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

One of the songs on the Vicky Cristina Barcelona soundtrack that  never fails to grab me when I’m in a contemplative mood is ” Asturias.” (Yes, I’ll wait while you click the link so you can listen to it as you finish reading this post.)  It’s this meditative, mysterious piece that is stark and hypnotic and immediately evokes a hot, dusty afternoon in Oviedo (the region’s capital) and immediately makes you want to sit outside a tapas bar and sip wine and snack on cheese all day. And be honest: we’re in the dog days of summer, so sometimes that sounds like a pretty sufficient meal if you can get a loaf of bread to nibble on as well.

Believe me when I say that the cheese you want to be snacking on as you while away those hot and lazy days is from a wheel of El Cantú. I’m snacking on it right now as I write this.

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Garrotxa and Queso Romao

When we shopped at Fairway Harlem every week, the trips I’d make to the cheese counter were pretty seldom, because it required navigating past the deli and around the bloc of shopping carts that belonged to the people waiting at the deli. I’d usually stick to the self-serve cheese area with the goal of getting in and out as quickly as possible with a chunk of cheddar or Grana Padano, but sometimes I would indulge if I was looking for a very specific cheese. The Stamford store is not quite the cluster since there’s more room to maneuver, and the cheese case is so inviting and not nearly as chaotic as the deli, so I’ve been finding myself over there more often in the two months we’ve lived here than I did in New York, well, ever.

There are many things that are great about the Fairway cheese counter, and two of the most useful are the friendly staff behind the counter and the colorful tags they have on each cheese that describe country/region of origin, the kind of milk the cheese is made from and also whether it’s raw or pasteurized, and a handful of tasting notes to pique your interest. The cheesemongers are happy to slice practically anything for you to taste, and as a result it’s really hard to walk away empty-handed when I venture over there, because invariably I find something new that I really enjoy and my mind is jumping ahead to the wine I’ll serve with it.

So every so often I’ll share some of my particular favorites with you, and to start I’ll share two recent favorites from Spain: Queso Romao and Garrotxa.

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Westside Market at 110th and Broadway

Westside Market at 110th and Broadway

Having successfully unpacked our entire mess of kitchen things, including a whole host of pantry items that made the journey alongside us, along with filling our fridge once with some staples, the real business of shopping in the city could finally begin.  As accustomed as we were to the onslaught of people we encountered every weekend at our old Stop & Shop, I don’t think either of us were really prepared for what we were to encounter here:  the weekend rush crammed into stores half the size (at best) of a suburban market.  Our normal tactic of darting down empty aisles to avoid clumps of slow-moving or merely crowded spots is no longer as helpful as it once was, and now we have to not only look out for shoppers with carts and baskets, but for larger baskets equipped with wheels that some shoppers dragged around with them.

Clearly, I will have to be more cognizant of where I walk before I fall flat on my face.

I danced around some of these carts during our Sunday trip to Westside Market on 110th Street.  Most of our shopping had been done the day before with a visit to Fairway on the Upper West Side, but how could I resist a ten-block walk to investigate a potential gem when Michael texted me this a week ago?

“Just went to Westside Market at 110th St.  Am intrigued…”

Under the pretense of getting a few more ingredients for that night’s dinner, we headed down Broadway past Tom’s Restaurant to check things out for ourselves.  I was immediately charmed:  not only did the produce outside look appetizing, a sign upon entering the store encouraged us to “have fun while shopping.”  Samples were strategically placed all over the fresh and prepared foods section, ranging from salads to spreads to cheeses, and it seemed like everywhere you turned you were facing a tempting display of takeaway meals, including a counter with some of the most appetizing prepared foods I’ve seen since we moved here.  And then there was the matter of the cheese section.

The next time I’m there (which will probably be sooner rather than later), I’ll try to get a shot of this to give you an idea of the breadth of selection that is available, because it’s completely overwhelming.  If we didn’t have a slab of pancetta in our bag that I wanted to get into the fridge, I could have lingered here for hours.  The reasonable prices presented an even greater temptation—I picked up a small wedge of Spanish Iberico for less than $3, which was just enough to enjoy that night without having so much leftover to figure out what to do with later.  The prices in general were all pretty reasonable:  not the lowest we’ve encountered, but close.

It may not be as conveniently located to us as Romeo’s was in New Haven, but I have a feeling that Westside will be a store I frequent almost as regularly.  With it being open 24 hours to boot, I think an off-time visit is required to really get to know this local treasure.

First off–to those who are joining us from The Kitchn:  benvenuto, tutti!  We were thrilled to be among those chosen to guest-post, and we welcome you to explore our little piece of the food blogging universe.

Poached Eggs, Spinach Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette, and Ciabatta Garlic Toasts with Homemade Ricotta and Speck

Poached Eggs, Spinach Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette, and Ciabatta Garlic Toasts with Homemade Ricotta and Speck

This was a weekend of experimentation:  Michael took a small risk by doing a pan-Mediterranean take on tapas (apparently he was worried I wouldn’t like it, which seemed odd, but his concern was moot anyway as I happily dug into my plate) and I did the same by making ricotta cheese, as I had never done so before and it’s one of his least favorite cheeses to eat.  The recipe on Epicurious seemed so simple, though, so I at least wanted to try my hand at it; after all, we’ve done duck ham and will probably cure some pork in the next few weeks–why not add cheese into the mix?

The cheese came out well, if a little too lemony (I think I used just a little too much–shame on me for  not measuring!), and paired nicely with the salty speck, crusty bread and runny eggs.  I always liked the idea of having a salad with brunch to cut some of the grease inherent in so many of the classic dishes, and this one–a mustard vinaigrette–is perfect for spinach:

Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette:

  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • White balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together mustard and desired amount of vinegar (some like a 1:1 ratio, others a 2:1 of oil to vinegar), add salt and pepper to taste, then slowly add oil and whisk to combine.  Drizzle over greens of choice.

It’s a light alternative to traditional brunch, to be sure, and perfect for a summertime morning/afternoon after a backyard cookout.  Buon apetito!

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