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This is possibly the easiest thing I’ve ever made–simple, simple, simple, and made easier by the fact that I got myself a new immersion stick blender!  Wow, life changing. This will be a winter of soups.

I’ve tried to use the hand mixer in lieu of the blender, and that was a splattery disaster, plus a cleanup hassle.  This time around, I made a bit of a mess, but not bad at all.  Plus my hand mixer is silver–it’s so sexy.

Cheddar Broccoli Soup

Ingredients:

1 14-ounce can vegetable broth, or 1 cube bullion + water
1 cup water
1 pound broccoli crowns, trimmed and chopped (about 6 cups) –I used 1 bag frozen, rinsed to get the freezer burn off
1 14-ounce can cannelloni beans, rinsed (Canned beans are super high in sodium, so next time I’m going to buy dry beans and soak them)
1/4 teaspoon salt (I did not add salt because the canned beans are salty already, as is the bullion–tasted great)
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

  • Bring broth and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add broccoli, cover and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in beans, salt and pepper and cook until the beans are heated through, about 1 minute.
  • Transfer half the mixture to a blender and puree, or use kick-ass hand blender.
  • Transfer to a bowl and blend the other half of the mixture.
  • Stir in cheese.

Yes, this looks like throw-up, but it is delicious and fantastically fast and easy.  I will be making it again soon.

cooking poisonI love squash–love, love, love it.  When I was a kid, my mother tells me, I would eat squash every chance I got until my skin turned orangeish. I also ate pumpkin pie mix straight out of the can when I couldn’t get squash.  Turns out that Gentleman Scholar doesn’t care for squash, but if he told me that before, I didn’t believe him.

“You should cook with different ingredients” he told me.

“I love squash.” I told him.

“You should get some hobbies.” he told me.

“Cooking with squash is my hobby.” I told him.

He was less enthusiastic about this recipe, but I loved it, and I’m excited I used quinoa successfully the first time.  When I’ve had it in the past, I didn’t really care for it  (I didn’t dislike it, but was ambivalent), but it came out really well in this case.

Quinoa Butternut Squash Gratin
1 ½ lb. butternut squash, seeded, peeled, and diced
1 cup organic quinoa
2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cup Gruyere cheese, shredded– I actually used Jarlsberg because it was on sale.
1 cup Italian Bread Crumbs– I bought a Rosemary and Olive oil loaf and tore it up into chunks rather than buy breadcrumbs.
salt and pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 400. Spray a 2-quart baking or gratin dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Note: Who the hell has a gratin dish? I used my one casserole dish that I use for everything from baked mac and cheese to Gentleman Scholar’s Apple Crisp.  I don’t know if I could even recognize a gratin dish if I saw one–silly.

  • Peel and cube a whole squash, then put in a ziploc plastic bag and seal. Then pierce a few times with a fork and microwave on high for 3-5 minutes until squash is soft and tender.
  • Note: I just heaped the squash in a bowl and covered with a paper towel.

  • Wash the quinoa in a fine sieve thoroughly (about 5 minutes) until water runs clear. This is very important, as quinoa has a bitter protective coating that can linger even after processing.
  • Note: I used my French Press to accomplish this, and it worked perfectly.  I had been planning to MacGuyver something with paper towels and a colander, but that seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. French Press was exactly what I needed, I didn’t lose a single grain of quinoa (except the stuff that stuck under the filter, which really wasn’t much).

  • Transfer squash and quinoa to a large (2 or 3-quart) pot. Add water and salt to pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and the quinoa blooms into little spirals. Remove from heat and let rest.
  • Mix quinoa and squash mixture, egg cheese, and salt and pepper to taste, then transfer into baking or gratin dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs over gratin. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. of olive oil on top and bake for 35-45 minutes or until top is golden brown.

This was seriously delicious, and hearty without being heavy.  I might add a bit more cheese next time–cheese rules, but otherwise no complaints.  The egg and quinoa made a dense but springy kind of texture, which was delightful.  I did notice that about an hour after eating this, I started to feel really, really full.  Perhaps quinoa continues to expand after eating(?)  Either way, pretty happy with the results.

retro_bannerIn the interest of frugality, health, and stopping my friends from making fun of my eating habits, I’ve been meaning to cook more.  I’ve been a vegetarian for about 12 years, but I am also quite intimidated by vegetables, so my diet is mostly carbs.  I learned how to cook a little bit in home ec class, but my mother never taught me any of the wonderful cooking techniques that she learned from her mother because we never really sat down and had dinner as a family, and because even when I did eat meat, I didn’t really eat meat, and she had no idea what I liked besides bagged rice. Honestly, there wasn’t much I liked besides bagged rice, that’s a little less true these days.

Over the years, I’ve grown fonder of vegetables and have experimented with various recipes–my mashed potatoes are sublime, and my baked mac and cheese is a show stopper, but with the increased number of potlucks I attend bringing the same dishes or just beer, and the shame I feel when friends say things like “Oh, that’s chard, we can blanch it with the skdjlhfghiuas and stir fry the dfhkghla with the df.gjnh, and that should be good” I realize that I need a new dish. Chard, and kale, and all those things– I like them when people prepare them for me, but I look at a big leafy bunch and panic.  Squash, pumpkin, and eggplant are other vegetables that I love, but find incredibly intimidating.cooking poison

I’ve been saying it for a while, but I’m actually slowly working on this whole cooking thing.  My past two shopping outings have had me spending an inordinate amount of time in the spice aisle, which has now left me with two things of oregano, no nutmeg, and no parsley–oregano is good, I’ll use it somehow.  The problem I find when I cook, is that everything comes out bland.  Even if I load my dish up with garlic and other flavor agents, it still just isn’t very exciting.

Yesterday, I decided to try my hand at rice pudding.  I found an easy recipe on the interweb that got rave reviews, and I went for it.  It was only after the rice was nearly done cooking that I read the comments saying that you should never use long-grain rice, which, of course, I had used because it’s what we had; and that the recipe was so simple some woman’s eight-year-old excelled at it.

My rice pudding tasted like rice–that’s it, mushy, slightly crunchy rice.  I gave Gentleman Scholar a taste, and to his credit, he was quite gracious as he poured cinnamon on top and took it into the other room.  I burned my tongue taste-testing it, and even after dumping in an inordinate amount of sugar and vanilla extract, I’m left with the fact that my rice pudding is just blah.

I am not defeated, I will try again, but I just don’t understand why everything I make comes out tasting like paste.

We’re having a house-warming potluck on Saturday and I’m planning on making asparagus and morel bread pudding, minus the morels, substitute portobellos.  This is one that I’ve never made before, and if it comes out like a dish of mush with a crunchy top, I will be forced to send Gentleman Scholar to the store to buy a lame loaf of garlic bread.  That would be shameful, so I’m hoping for the best.

DinersDriveInsandDives_bannerI was answering KGB questions a while ago, and someone asked a very specific question about an episode of the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  Since I haven’t had cable in years, I had never heard of the show, but since Rhode Island is the home of the diner I was eager to see where all they had been.Grey's Ice Cream

At that time, the only place in Rhode Island they had visited was Grey’s Ice Cream, which is certainly not a diner, nor is it a dive, but I guess it qualifies as a drive-in since you stand outside to order.  I was seriously outraged and told everyone I could think of how stupid this show was for dissing Little Rhody (Also, the host is one of those morning radio DJ types with the shock of bleached blonde hair–I really hate that).  I mentally composed a strongly-worded email half a dozen times, but never actually wrote anything down.

Yesterday I read this, which says that one of my favorite diners will be forced to close abruptly along with 1,200 other small businesses in RI who are being levied a tax bill because the state is in trouble financially.  I wasn’t able to go support them yesterday, but this morning when Jewish Friend called me and asked if I wanted to go there for breakfast, I was eager to try to do my part (if it was still open).

Not only was it open, but there was a giant stand in front of the place that said “Read Before Entering.”  What it said was that the Food Network was inside and entering the building meant you agree to be on their show.  I wonder would have happened if the place was forced to close down yesterday…

So, Jewish Friend and I may be on an upcoming episode of the show.  We tried to sit in the dining room, but it was full of equipment, so we sat at the counter and tried to act like casual brunchers without a care in the world.  Then our meals were delivered, but we were not allowed to start eating until the photographer had gotten a good shot of the food being brought out and placed on the counter.

I ate granola and yogurt on camera, which was nerve-racking and extremely awkward; we answered some rather inane questions in a rather inane way, and sweated under massive kleig lights with me wishing all the while that I had showered.

In the five years I worked in television, I was never on television.  I even refused to tape a staff Christmas Greeting, now I’m going to (possibly) be on a cable show that I’ve been trash-talking for weeks.

When I was in High School, I went to a Rolling Stones concert in Winnipeg and was interviewed for the Winnipeg Free Press. I assume they picked me becuase I was 18 and everyone else there was 45.  When I read the article the following day, I was horrified to find that the way they quoted me made me sound like an absolute moron, and they put down that I had “giggled.”  I’m naturally apprehensive to see what a trainwreck this could become, but it is an interesting way to spend a morning.

lentil-loaf_bannerLentil Loaf recipe (best lentil loaf ever!)(the picture is not my lentil loaf)

Ingredients:

Lentils, 1 bag soaked for 1 hour (place in a pot of water, bring to a boil, then let sit)

1 cup (ish) either rolled oats, or I used leftover challah bread–if using rolled oats, moisten first or they will dry out everything!

3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar

1 whole egg, + 1 egg white

1 can tomato paste

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp basil

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350

mix all ingredients in bowl

taste test

add more stuff, if needed

make sure it’s mixed well, then pour the whole mess into a greased loaf pan

bake uncovered 30-40 minutes, let cool for 10

cut into slices, melt Gorgonzola over top, or enjoy without

The Quest

Yes, Garden Grill is technically in Pawtucket, but only by a block.  I got a text message from Jewish Friend informing me that Garden Grill serves gluten-free vegan macaroni and cheese, and responded with “that sounds like paste.” To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure what gluten is, but I know it’s in bread and beer, which are two things I need to live, and it seems like an element necessary in macaroni & cheese.  We had to find out.

The plan was to go, be unimpressed with what would surely be orange gloop, and fill up on a second entree– possibly have dessert as well.  What actually happened, is that gluten-free vegan macaroni & cheese is delicious, and we now have a lot of leftovers of the other stuff ordered.

misc-127This picture actually makes it look quite disgusting, but also, quite a bit like normal mac & cheese.  When we flagged the server over and demanded to know “How? How can this be good?”

He told us “Nutritional yeast.”

That sounds like something you’d find in your scary grandma’s cupboard one night after sneaking out of bed in search of forbidden cookies, and though Jewish Friend purports to love nutritional yeast, she cannot tell me what kind of nutrition it provides.

Despite the deliciousness of this meal, I’m still unsure of whether something like this can actually be called mac & cheese.  Mac, certainly, despite the lack of gluten, but there is nothing resembling cheese here, merely a slightly cheesy flavor provided by something that sounds horrifying.  All in all, I feel like I really learned something from this experience. Despite the fact that I haven’t eaten meat (except accidentally and in the name of victory) for 10 years, I’ve never experimented with these vegetarian ingredients– probably because I hate vegetarians so much.  I dare say, I feel a bit pure, and slightly smug.

Decor/Atmosphere:  8 Garden Grill is cute and small and looks like a hippie vegetarian restaurant, and our booth was very cold since it was right by the door.

Service: 9.5 It took a while to get our bill, but the two servers who were working that night tag-teamed our table, which was pretty fun, they were easy to flag down, and perfectly willing to tell us what the hell the deal was with the mac & cheese.  One even said as she was serving it to us, “I swear it tastes better than it looks,” I appreciate that kind of honesty.

Food: 9 Macaroni & Cheese was fantastic, I will eat it again any time, and I feel less full and gross than I usually do after a night questing for pasta.  We also had a pizza and sweet potato appetizer, which were delightful; Jewish Friend got an apple cider martini that smelled like an expensive candle, and tasted like America.

Total: 26.5

The Quest

Steeple Street is on my way– walking or driving– to the East Side, and since I’ve lived here I’ve walked or driven by it hundreds of times, sometimes stopped and read the menu, and thought I should go there. I never had though, and I think it’s because people kept trying to convince me that it’s really expensive.

Admittedly, it is somewhat expensive, more so than the places I usually go; but not break-the-bank only once-in-a-lifetime expensive like Jewish Friend tried to convince me.  I would point out to her that I spent the same amount of money at Steeple Street that I spent the last two times we went to the damn Melting Pot– and no one called me a lesbian even though my date for the evening was a lovely lady.

This was also the first time I’ve gone out for Macaroni & Cheese without Jewish Friend– a landmark occasion all around.  I met Sassy Redhead, Joe Roch, and Joe’s Beloved for an early dinner so Sassy Redhead cold go to a late movie with her Auntie.  Honestly, there’s really not much I can say about the whole experience– it was kind of perfect.  The food was excellent– we shared calamari and pizza, and I ordered mac & cheese (of course).  The service was very good– prompt refills of the water, attentive without being annoying, our server was happy to politely interrupt our chattering to tell us the specials, rather than waiting awkwardly for us to stop talking, and he encouraged us to hang out and digest rather than hustling us out the door so he could seat a new party.

Decor/Atmosphere:  9.5 Cozy, dimly lit, kind of like eating at Grandma’s house if your grandparents made a lot of money in steel.  It looks kind of like the house in Royal Tenenbaums without the pink.  My seat was close to the hallway by the door, so I got a few drafts on my back, but really not that bad. I dig it.

Service: 10 Perfect.  I have no complaints at all.  Once told by Joe that I’m a bit of a connoisseur of mac & cheese, the server made a point to ask me if it was up to my standards, and seemed genuinely happy when I said that it was.  He handled Sassy Redhead’s vegetarian concerns gracefully, and seemed happy without being fake.

Food: 9 This mac & cheese had the unusual quality of being both delicious and also very light– I have no idea how you do that with a cheese-covered pasta, but I am impressed.  The pasta they use is big shells, which are fun to eat, but not annoying like the little shells, which just go all over the place when you eat with gusto like I do.  The menu says 4 cheese, and also au gratin, which confuses me a bit, and I cannot tell you what the four cheese are, but no matter, it was good.

Total: 28.5

The Quest

This macaroni & cheese adventure snuck up on me as I was puttering around my apartment putting plastic on the windows to keep out old man winter (that’s seriously the most old man sounding sentence I’ve ever constructed).  I got a cryptic text from Jewish Friend that simply read “Downtown?”  What this meant, I found out when I called her back and said, “I don’t get it,” is that Jewish Friend was downtown and wanted someone to eat with.

Jewish Friend wanted to try Downcity, and I had no idea where that was, which is what makes this an adventure, rather than just two hot bitches having lunch.  When we got there, it was just at the end of the lunch rush, so it was packed and very, very warm, but in the three minutes or so it took for our table to be cleared, I had time to appreciate a beautiful martini that some woman at the bar was drinking, and also the decor which I will describe and being classy with a hint of whimsy.  The walls are bright orange, but not so bright that you feel like they’re screaming at you, dark wood, adequate but low lighting (not enough to make you sleepy, but this was lunch, so…), modern but without feeling cold.  I dig it quite a bit.  Apparently, they host a monthly “drag brunch” as well, as featured in the New York Times 36 hours in Providence.

Our server wasn’t in drag, but since it was Halloween he was dressed up like– Gary Glitter? I’m not sure what he was supposed to be, and felt it was rude to ask.

The lunch special of the day was the macaroni and cheese meal, which comes with salad or soup and a delightful raspberry sorbet all for $12.50.  Jewish Friend and I eagerly agreed to split that along with the deviled egg appetizer.  Unfortunately, the deviled eggs were merely “ok” and Jewish Friend–who has perfected her own recipe for deviled eggs, and is a bit smug about it– remarked “Mine are better than these.”

The macaroni & cheese was decent, but not great.  It was certainly the oiliest mac and cheese I’ve had to date, and I think I’ve isolated the problem.  The menu describes it as: Baked Penne with 5-cheese Sauce and Panko Crust 9–Asiago, cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and fontina, which is correct; the major problem is that all of the cheese seems to be on top, and there’s very little in the sauce.  When you eat through the crusty, baked top layer, your noodles are nearly naked.  It’s a very tricky dish to eat well because you stab the top layer and get a lot of just cheese no noodles, and then you have a lot of noodles with no cheese.  Cutting methods need to be employed to achieve balance.

Decor/Atmosphere:  9.5 I love the decor.  When we first got there, and it was really crowded, it was a little overwhelming, but I think that was because it was so hot.  I do not blame the restaurant for that because it was October 31 and the temperature inexplicably climbed to 62 degrees.  Once the crowds cleared out, it was lovely. Mostly I kept thinking about how uncomfortable our server must have been in his silver vinyl pants.

Service:  8  Very good, attentive, costumed.  Our server was quick with the refills, and gave us lots of plates for sharing. For some reason, it took forever to get our sorbet, and he kept touching Jewish Friend on the shoulder, which was upsetting to her.

Food: 7  The eggs were mediocre, the salad and sorbet were good, and the mac and cheese was simply ok. I’d go there again though because there are a lot of other things on the menu that I’d love to try, but I would not get the mac and cheese.

Total: 24.5

The Quest

Summer is not a good time of year to evaluate carby, cheese-landen food.  People seem to want salads and lighter fare when it’s hot out, and that’s the reason that I haven’t managed to write a mac & cheese review in quite a while.  I’m hoping that this delightful dish will crop up on a few other menus this winter, otherwise this may be a very short-lived experiment.

What has happened now, is that I’ve had the macaroni & cheese that everyone has been saying is the best in Providence– and I agree.  Still, I will not stop seeking!  There are still at least two restaurants that I haven’t tried, and there may be more out there that I’m not even aware of.  That said, La Laterie really is the best.

I actually tried the mac & cheese once before actually visitng the restaurant because their smaller, downtown location is where I’ve been going to get my overpriced gourmet sandwiches at lunchtime (I’ve since had to cut back on that).  One day I was in there, and while the friendly man was grilling my Cheesemonger sandwich, I glanced into the cold case and saw that there was the famous Cheesemonger’s macaroni & cheese. I rather foolishly got both, and ate both for lunch– I knew it was wrong– even before the guy who sold them to me said “here’s your cheese and cheese.”

This macaroni & cheese is apparently made with magic, because even when re-heated, it tastes amazing; it’s so delightfully cheesy that it slides off the fork sometimes, and there’s some kind of creamy goodness that makes it decadent and delightful.  I guess Jewish Friend was right about the whole “molten center” thing.  It’s interesting because it’s made with penne pasta rather than macaroni or corkscrew, which I found a bit different at first, but I ended up liking a lot.  The penne tubes get filled with cheesy goodness and it’s easier to get a full-sized bite rather than stabbing a bunch of smaller noodles at once trying to get a mouthful– maybe I’m just greedy.

The restaurant experience was very good as well. My Russian stout was the perfect compliment, Jewish Friend got her macaroni and cheese burned just like she wanted, and the server noticed that our table was wobbly and fixed it without our even needing to ask.  The only complaints I have are that it took a long time to get our bill, and the lighting was so low that we both got a bit sleepy.

My god that mac & cheese was good, there really are no words.

Decor/atmosphere: 9.5 Cute, cozy, classy. We were given our choice of seating bar/high top/window.  We took the high top, which felt private even though it really wasn’t. The only drawback was the fact that it did get very noisy at times.

Service: 9.5 Our waiter was attentive without being annoying, he fixed the table, and he seemed genuinely concerned about whether or not I was happy with my beer. The food came out in a timely manner, and the food runner knew who got what without our having to tell him.  It doesn’t get a perfect 10 because it took a while for the bill, though I hadn’t finished my beer yet, so the server may have been waiting.

Food: 10 The biscuits we had before the mac & cheese were excellent, the mac & cheese was amazing in a way I can’t have previously imagined.  I can’t quit thinking about it.

Total: 29

Despite my mother’s best efforts, I have a very healthy body image and attitude toward food.  My diet is not particularly healthy, but I don’t restrict, starve, or throw up, I just eat like an adolescent boy.  I’m also not fat– never have been, never will be because: I don’t often overeat, I enjoy exercise and being active, everything is fine in moderation, and I don’t want to be fat and rarely do things I don’t want to do.

It’s this moderation philosophy that is really the reason for my success, and the reason I flatly refuse to eat or drink diet anything.  It’s a waste of money, and rarely have I ever found diet something that actually tastes good.  For as bland as my diet of boxed pasta and frozen pizza is– it’s certainly more appealing than some kind of low-carb, low-cal monstrosity that just tastes like chemicals and just makes you feel sad after eating it.

The world, I’ve come to realize, does not share my view, and my obvious femininity seems a burden when asking people in the service industry for what I actually want.  This hasn’t happened as much lately, but for a while it seemed like everytime I went out for food or drink, someone wanted to give me diet or “lite”.  I went out for beers with a bunch of guys once and there was deal on a bucket of domestics.  We split the bucket with me getting Budweiser– naturally when the waitress came back, she served me Bud Light.  I got into a fight with the girl working the Erbert and Gerbert drive-thru about my soda after I took a drink and discovered that it was Diet Coke rather than regular.

“This is diet,” I told her, “I ordered regular.”

“Sorry,” she dumped it out and began re-refilling the cup with diet.

“No!” I yelped, “I don’t want diet, I want the real stuff.”

“What?  Like you want a bottle?”

“No, I want regular Coke, not diet.”

She just looked blank.

I tried again, “I want regular Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Classic, not Diet Coke, regular Coke– that red one there, not the silver.”

Finally she understood and gave me what I wanted, but I’ve been apprehensive about going to drive-thrus since then.

Since I’ve been working downtown, I’ve been very remiss about bringing a lunch.  I don’t really get terribly hungry mid-day, but it’s nice to go outside, and also nice to have a bit of a snack.  At first, I went to Farmstead and got delightful $10 sandwiches made of artisanal cheeses and felt very good about my choices.  Then one day I consumed both the Cheesemonger sandwich, and Macaroni and cheese that was so delightfully oily it kept slipping off the fork.  Then I felt a bit sick.  Now, I’ve been going to Dunkin Donuts and getting my large iced coffee and a bagel.

Yesterday, I examined the sign boasting of all of the varieties of cream cheese Dunkin Donuts has, most of them boasting of being reduced fat.  I asked the friendly worker “Is it possible to get a strawberry cream cheese that’s not reduced fat?”

“Of course,” he told me, and then promptly gave me reduced fat which I didn’t notice until I was back at work across the street.  It looked like Rose Balm, and tasted decidedly pink, so much so, that I threw most of it away.

Who wants to eat like this?  I suppose my mother does, but she seems to take very little joy in her food and sometimes brags about how she never gets hungry or “needs” to eat.  Of course, she’s a Republican and cannot be trusted to make good decisions, but I can’t assume that all consumers of diet food are Republican…

What I’m left with now, are the questions:

Did the man at Dunkin Donuts grab the wrong cream cheese by mistake?
Does Dunkin Donuts not, in fact, offer the flavored cream cheeses in any variety other than reduced fat?
Did the man at Dunkin Donuts misunderstand my question as others have in the past?
Does the man at Dunkin Donuts hate me and all others that come through the door, and want to exact some kind of small revenge?
Am I actually fat and have never realized it, but everyone else has been trying to tell me for years?