Losing the Battle with Ice and Lemon Thyme Cheese

It’s become a bad joke that something goes wrong right when tax season begins.  Usually my back goes out, once I was really ill, and this year I was up against the ice.  And I lost.

Temps were hovering round freezing this weekend and it rained.  Not a good combination.  I tried to get my son to his snowboarding lessons only a couple of miles away.  There were detours and accidents and we never got there.  We had to turn round and make our way back.  We were lucky.  We weren’t in the numerous pile ups and we weren’t stuck for hours.  Just a miserable day.

The next morning it was sunny and the ice was glaring.  We have stone steps off our porch.  The top step was clear.  As I took the next step I started to say to my husband that it was good when suddenly I found myself flipped up in the air like Charlie Brown when Lucy takes away the football.   Two things happen.  First time speeds up and there is nothing you can do.  Second, time slows down.  Enough to think of every curse word ending with the thought “this is really going to hurt” before landing.

I landed on my back hip and arm.  On the plus side, nothing broke and I didn’t crack my head.  Thank goodness my husband was there.  He was able to get the dogs, though Guinness took the opportunity to lick me, a lot.  Dog slobber cures all.  I was on the right side and I realised how cold it was so I carefully rolled over onto the left to let the ground ice the hip.

It is absolutely fascinating how colourful bruises can be.  Ah well, it will heal. Maybe next tax season I’ll have better luck!

The other weekend we were on a cheese making kick.  My husband made more camembert and I wanted to make a quick cheese.  I chose to make a lemon cheese with thyme.  This is super easy to make and a great beginner cheese to try.  Again we use raw milk.  Flavour is better and the proteins are still in the milk.  Ultra pasteurized kills the protein.  And we have a local source that is safe.

The recipe I use comes from Home Cheese Making from Ricki Carroll.

Lemon Thyme Cheese 1 2015

In a large heavy bottom saucepan heat the milk to 185-200F/85-93C.  Keep stirring so it doesn’t catch on the bottom.

Turn down the heat and add about a 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice.  You should see the separation of the whey and curds starting.

Lemon Thyme Cheese 3 2015

Cover and leave be for 15 minutes.  Then check to see how separated it is.

Lemon Thyme Cheese 4 2015

You want the whey as clear as possible but I’ve found that sometimes the whey will stay milky.  Add a bit more lemon juice and set a few minute more if it is too milky.

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Once you get as much curds as possible spoon the curds into butter muslin and drain.

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Wrap up and drain over the sink or large pot until the whey stops.

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Break up the cheese and add cheese salt and fresh thyme to the cheese to taste.

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Serve over salads or fresh bread like ciabatta.

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This will keep in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.  And better than store bought.  🙂

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Ricotta Pasta – Gluten Free and All

Back in October I mentioned trying out a gluten free diet because I was looking to alleviate the chronic pain I was having.  It didn’t really help with the pain but it did let me sleep better which has been a major problem.  So I do gluten free or very low gluten.  I find now my body can’t handle too much gluten.

I did finally get answers, though, about the pain last week.  I have fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.  What a relief it was to get answers.  And to now know what to fight against.  Before I hadn’t a clue and it was really beginning to get to me.  I need to learn how to manage the pain and make sure my diet is such that helps me manage the symptoms.  Fibromyalgia isn’t an inflammation disease but something that affects the brain and nervous system.  They react to various stimuli with pain. Funny I was really glad to find it wasn’t chronic inflammation!  Won’t always be easy but it will get better now.

Part of changing my diet with gluten free is to try to find a decent substitution for pasta.  Not easy because it’s hard to beat good homemade pasta.  I’ve been trying various rice pastas to see what I like.  They aren’t horrible but I’m not a huge fan.  But they’ll do.

We made some ricotta cheese the other day and I wanted to do a pasta dish with the cheese.  Poking about on the internet I saw references to using the ricotta cheese as the sauce.  I think it was from Bon Appetit.

Ricotta pasta 1 2015

In a skillet saute sliced mushrooms, chopped garlic, and fresh thyme.  Cook slowly until the mushrooms brown.  Add equal part fresh ricotta and fresh grated parmesan cheese.

Ricotta pasta 2 2015

Cook slowly until the cheese becomes creamy.  Add the cooked pasta and serve.

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Perfect comfort food for the chilly nights and super easy to throw together on a week night. 🙂

Cheesy Canapés to Ring in the New Year

Well 2014 is done and dusted.  They go by faster as we get older.  I do wish I can figure out how to slow it down a bit.  Ah well, I’ll just have to enjoy the ride at the speed it goes.

As usual we had a lot of fun with our friends for New Year’s Eve, letting our hair down probably more than is good for us.  And as usual we had a lot of good food, enough for an army!

A few weeks ago apointgourmet posted about Thyme and Gruyere Canapés and I thought they would be perfect for the party.  I could make them earlier in the day and them warm them up at the party.

I decided to use the cheeses I had on hand for this dish which was jarlsberg and parmesan cheese.

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C

Cheese puffs 1 2015

It’s a good idea to prep the ingredients prior to starting the recipe.  The amount of cheese needed is about 1 2/3 cups with half a cup of that being parmesan and the rest jarlsberg.  Grate the cheese and set aside.  Finely chop fresh thyme to give you two teaspoons and set that aside with the cheese.  Add a pinch of sea salt and a few dashes of cayenne pepper to the cheese.  In a sauce pan bring a cup of water and 4 tablespoons of butter to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add a cup of flour.  Mix well until the dough becomes smooth.

Cheese puffs 2 2015

In a mixer incorporate the dough with the cheese mixture.

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One at a time add 4 eggs and mix well.

Cheese puffs 4 2015

Scoop into a pastry bag with a tip that has a large hole.  This is my least favourite bit as the dough is thick and sticky and likes to find it’s way out the top of the bag.  So annoying!  And it’s hard on my hand squeezing all the dough.  Create dollops about an inch in diameter and place them about 1/2 an inch or so apart.  Beat one egg and egg wash the dollops without letting the egg drip down the sides otherwise the egg can prevent the puffs from rising.

Cheese puffs 5 2015

Bake 25-30 minutes until they are golden brown.  Now the recipe I followed said 20-25 minutes but mine weren’t golden in that time frame, I suspect because of different ovens.  At any rate bake until golden.

Cheese puffs 7 2015

I had also come across an idea to do apples with cheese and pancetta.  So I used that for inspiration and decided to use fontina and prosciutto.  Very easy, just wrap the apple and cheese and bake until the cheese is melted.

Cheese puffs 6 2015

I really liked the balance of the sweetness of the apple and saltiness of the prosciutto.

Cheers!

 

Seared Scallops with Cream and Butter Sauce

I often ask my family what they would like me to cook for meals.  Our son recently began requesting pulled pork sandwiches because that is one of the school hot lunches he likes.  We let them have a hot lunch once a week at school if they choose for something different.  So I told him that I’ll do that in a few weeks once Thanksgiving has died down.  Unbeknownst to me he requested that from a friend’s mom this week.  He got invited to go a book signing for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and she asked what she should make for dinner.  I don’t think he realises what goes into making these sandwiches!  But she was a great sport and made them.  Awesome.  🙂

For last night my husband requested the cream and butter sauce over pasta.  Which I was happy to do but because I’m on very low gluten/gluten free I needed to do something for myself that would allow me to get both dishes done at the same time.  I originally wanted to do some salmon but the salmon at the shop was really sad looking.  However they had some lovely sea scallops.

Instead of pasta I roasted potatoes for my dish.  I made the cream and butter sauce the way I usually do.  In a skillet saute 5 slices of  streaky bacon.  After a few minutes add half an onion chopped.

Seared scallops 1 2014

After the onions have softened add 3-5 finely chopped cloves of garlic and sliced shiitake mushrooms.  Deglaze the pan with a few teaspoons of sherry and stir well.

Seared scallops 2 2014

For colour add some red or orange bell pepper.  While the pasta is cooking prep the scallops by patting them dry on paper towels.

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Heat up a skillet with olive oil and starting searing one side of the scallops.  Because of the bacon involved I seasoned mine with a spicy dry rub.

Seared scallops 4 2014

To get a good sear on the scallops don’t play with them.  Let them be until they freely move in the pan.  Sometimes they will slide round before the sear is complete but definitely don’t try to force them up to flip them over.  Once you have a nice sear turn them over to sear the other side.

Seared scallops 5 2014

I prefer my scallops to not be overly translucent but cook them to the level you desire, just don’t cook them so that they are tough or dry.  To serve I layered the roasted potatoes with the sauce then topped with the scallops.  Grate some fresh parmesan cheese over the dish.

Seared scallops 6 2014

I loved this substitution for pasta.  I felt like I ate enough without that awful stuffed feeling.  And cream and butter sauce is such an indulgence.  I could eat bowls of it!  🙂

 

Roasted Beets with Burgers

I know a lot of us who blog have figured out the balance of healthy delicious food with budget.  And I don’t think it is that difficult to do.  But very often in cooking competitions there is invariably a challenge that involves cooking on a budget. Time and again the reaction is it’s impossible to get flavour on a budget.

For example, I am watching season 4 of Top Chef which I believe aired about 6 years ago.  They were given a challenge of cooking a healthy delicious meal with a budget of $10 for a family of four.  You might as well have told them to climb Mount Everest!  I don’t understand the disconnect for a lot of people when it comes to this balance.

Given that our food budget is about $150 a week which includes things like kitchen roll, soap, etc, I need to be creative with the dishes.  We actually do pretty well during the summer because of our veg garden but it gets a little tricky in the winter.  I sometimes skate over the line.  The big budget buster is meat, especially if it is important to buy local, humanely raised meat.  It just goes back to portion control.  I’ll take a breast of chicken and use it for the four of us.  And it’s plenty.

I also try to use an ingredient a few different ways during the week.  This week it’s beets.  I had some bacon fat left over from the chicken avocado dish I made so I thought I would roast them.  I had half a pound of ground beef leftover so it was perfect for two burgers for my husband and I.  To round it of I bought 2 large portabello mushroom caps.  When I was doing research into the Paleo diet I was so overwhelmed by all the books on this subject, it was insane. I saw in one book a suggestion to use the mushroom as the base to a burger. I cannot remember which book it was though. I looked at about 30 of them!

This is an inexpensive easy dish to make even with the grass fed beef.  I kept the burgers simple and used garlic chives and thyme from the garden.

Roasted beet burgers 1 2014

I chopped up the thyme and chives with a couple of cloves of garlic. I mixed them with the beef and a dollop of stone ground mustard.  Season with salt and pepper.

Roasted beet burgers 2 2014

Set this aside.  Peel and slice the beets about 1/4″ thick.  Beets are so messy!  Getting the stain out of my fingers is such a pain.

Roasted beet burgers 3 2014

Set the oven to 400F/200C and place the baking dish with a couple of tablespoons of bacon fat.  Allow it to melt then add the beets with salt and pepper to taste.  Roast until they are tender.  In the meantime, form the beef into patties.

Roasted beet burgers 4 2014

Drizzle the mushrooms with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Grill the burgers and mushrooms.  Be careful not to grill the mushrooms so much that they aren’t firm anymore.  Place the mushrooms on the plate and top with the burger.  Spread goat cheese on the burger then place the beets on the cheese.

Roasted beet burgers 5 2014

I’m not a fan of beets but the bacon fat helps.  🙂  Of course after I did the photos and cut into the dish I thought I should have added some greens on top for presentation.  Too late at that point!

Taking Risotto South of the Border

You know when you get a flash of inspiration and get excited, tell someone, and their response is “Erm, ok”?  That was my husband and me last night!  He had asked for risotto but I wasn’t in the mood for the usual one we do.  After debating in my head what to do I decided on doing a chilli sort of risotto.  I think that bit is what my husband wasn’t excited about as it brought to mind beans and the like.  I reassured him that I was thinking of the flavours instead of a full on chilli.

This is an easy dish to prep ahead of time if you are rushing about.  Our daughter tried out for the football team (soccer) at school and she did well enough to get on the A team.  Which considering she hasn’t played since she was about 5 was an excellent effort.  So we now deal with the practices and games, including a practice last night.  Hence the prep in advance.  First game this afternoon!

Southwestern risotto 1 2014

In a saucepan bring to a boil homemade chicken stock.  You will need 4-5 cups depending on how much aborio rice you use.  In a large skillet melt 2 tablespoons of butter then add a small chopped onion to saute.  Once the onions have softened add 3 chopped cloves of garlic and saute for a couple of minutes more.  Then add 1-1 1/2 cups of aborio rice to the skillet and stir well.  Add a few splashes of lime juice and chipotle tabasco sauce.

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Add a cup of stock and stir well.  Gradually add the stock, letting the aborio absorb the liquid.

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As the risotto cooks begin to add the seasoning.  I added ground cumin, chilli powder, ground cayenne pepper, and dried oregano.  When the risotto is halfway cooked add half a cup of frozen corn and a few sliced mushrooms.

Southwestern risotto 4 2014

After a few minutes add a chopped bell pepper and a sliced jalapeno.  Keep adding the stock.  When it is almost cooked add 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese and some chopped tomatoes.  Stir well and adjust the seasoning and the lime as needed.  Add a few chopped teaspoons of fresh cilantro and serve.

Southwestern risotto 6 2014

Grate some more parmesan cheese over the top and add a dollop of sour cream on top.  My husband and the kids really enjoyed this twist on risotto.  I loved the heat in this dish.  Of course, if you want the spice to knock your socks off add more hot pepper!

Shaking Up The School Morning Breakfast…

The kids survived their first day of school and handled the homework.  They both really like their teachers and they were really happy to catch up with their friends after a busy summer.  Though our daughter is already doing the countdown for the number of the days left!

We had been getting into a rut with school morning breakfasts of toast because with getting the kids ready, dogs, walked, and lunches made time can get a bit crunched in the morning.  The kids are much better at getting ready without much prompting but there is still a lot to do.  Remember when the South Beach Diet was all the rage?  One of the things they suggested was to make up some little quiches so you could reheat them during the week.  I remembered this idea this week and thought I would do my quiches in mini form.  The response from the kids was yes and can it have bacon?  🙂

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C

Mini quiches 1 2014

In a small skillet start cooking and rendering 5 rashers of streaky bacon.  Add 1/2 a chopped onion, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme, and a few splashes of dry sherry.

Mini quiches 2 2014

In a separate bowl beat 4 eggs.  Add 1 1/2 – 2 cups of milk or light cream.  The more watery it is the less you want to use.  Mix in 1 1/2 cups of grated jarlsberg, tsp of salt, pinch of nutmeg, a couple pinches of cayenne pepper, and pepper to taste.

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Pour into 12 regular size muffin cups that are lightly greased.  Don’t over grease as it will get absorbed into the quiche.

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Bake for 8 minutes then reduce the temperature to 350F/175C and bake until golden and the egg is cooked.  If you get the mixture wrong with using low fat milk and they come out a bit watery, put them on a baking sheet and bake at 350F/175C until the quiches is less wet.

Mini quiches 5 2014

Served them this morning and the kids loved them.  Easy to make, easy to heat up, and healthy for the kids.  Can’t go wrong!

Homemade Sausage Ravioli with Arrabiata Sauce

For Father’s Day we like to cook my husband dinner.  Just like they do for me for Mother’s Day, we come up with a menu and the kids help out with the food prep.  It was such a gorgeous weekend.  We finally got some tennis in.  We managed to get a few volleys back and forth so we felt good about that.  Plus we made a dent in the garden chores.

For my birthday my kids had given me a ravioli form so I wanted to try it out.  I need to practice with it but I did make homemade sausage ravioli and as my husband loves spicy sauces I did an easy arrabiata sauce.  This meal did take a few hours so it is definitely a weekend deal.

I started with the ravioli stuffing as it had to cool before mixing it with cheese and stuffing the pasta.  Finely chop half a cup of onion and 4 cloves of garlic.  I also grabbed thyme from the garden.

Sausage Ravioli 1 2014

In a skillet heat up a tablespoon or so of olive oil and saute the garlic, onion, and a couple of teaspoons of fresh thyme.  After the onion has softened add 1/2 a lb of Sweet Italian sausage or Hot Italian sausage.  Whatever you have on hand.  Add 1/3 a cup of nice red wine.  Cook until the meat is cooked.

Sausage Ravioli 2 2014

Set aside to cool.  Prep the homemade pasta and let it rest.  Once the sausage has cooled mix in half a cup of ricotta cheese and half a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  After the pasta has rested roll it out in sheets.  Place one sheet on the ravioli mold and create the dents.

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Fill with the sausage mixture.

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Coat with beaten egg. Place another sheet over the sausage mixture and then roll over the pasta.  I struggled with this bit.  I had to use a pasta cutter to separate the individual raviolis.  And it was a struggle to keep the air out.

Sausage Ravioli 5 2014

Chill the ravioli in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.  For the sauce saute onion and garlic in olive oil.

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Add 1/2 a cup of the same red wine used for the sausage.  Add crushed or diced tomatoes.  I could have used a 14 oz can but I used a 28 oz can and it was a bit much but my husband loves sauce so it didn’t go to waste!  Bring to a simmer and add a few teaspoons of red pepper flakes as well as salt and pepper to taste.

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Add a handful of basil near the end of cooking to the dish.  Start cooking the ravioli at this point in boiling salted water as it only needs to cook for about 4 minutes.  Once it is cooked add it to the sauce.

Sausage Ravioli 9 2014It knocked our son’s socks off but we all loved the simple sauce with the ravioli.  And we got to eat outside and enjoy the lovely evening.

A Most Indulgent Grilled Cheese…

I do my best to stay healthy and eat well.  You know, try to avoid clogging the arteries.  But there are times you just have to go for it.  Throw caution to the wind and indulge.  I had seen variations  on the theme of adding a fried egg to sandwiches so I thought I’d some fun with a grilled cheese.

This is a BLT, bacon and egg, grilled cheese treat.  I’d say I’d kept it somewhat healthy by adding the tomato and lettuce but who am I kidding!

BLT Grilled Cheese 1 2014

It’s amazing how the mention of the word bacon can light a fire under someone.  My husband uttered the word and I’m not sure my son’s feet touched the stairs on the way down!

BLT Grilled Cheese 2 2014

After cooking up the bacon and making our dogs drool in optimism I fried my egg in the bacon fat.  I love eggs fried in bacon fat but this is a very rare treat as it wouldn’t do a body good so to speak to have it too often.   While the egg was frying we grilled the sandwich with jarlsberg cheese, the bacon, tomato, and lettuce.  Don’t forget to butter the outside!  Separate the sandwich and place the egg on one half, season with salt and pepper.

BLT Grilled Cheese 3 2014

Carefully cut the sandwich in half.  I recommend doing this on the actual plate as the egg is runny.

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It was a my oh my kind of sandwich.  A bit messy but delicious.  🙂

Italian Caramelised Onion Soup

I was spoilt this weekend.  It was Mother’s Day stateside and it was a gorgeous weekend to spend with my family.  I get to be bonus mum to two amazing kids and while they always do wonderful things for me on Mother’s Day I get to also celebrate the fact that I won the lottery when I met my husband and kids.  They truly make all the ups and downs of the world worthwhile.

I was treated to a four course meal cooked by them and the kids took turns being “waiter” with the towel over their arms.  I enjoyed Bruschetta for the starter, a salad, chicken piccata, and finished with my daughter’s flourless chocolate cake with custard.  Told you I was spoilt!

A few months ago my husband ordered an onion soup inspired by Italy and I thought at some point I wanted to recreate it.  It was a cool rainy day on Friday, perfect for a light soup.  I don’t have any idea how they did their soup, I went with the impression I got from a spoonful I tried but I was pleased with the results.

I would recommend making this either the morning of or the day before to allow the flavours to mature.  Because I used half chicken stock and half water it needs the time to come together.  It’s amazing how strong a flavour water can have in a dish.  This simmered for over an hour and it just let go of the water flavour.

Thinly slice a large onion of your choice.

Italian Onion Soup 1 2014

Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter.  Saute the onions on low to medium heat to caramelise.  As they begin to soften add a tablespoon of sugar.  The trick here is to be patient and not stir constantly.  Let the onions sit between stirrings. Gradually they will start having that nice caramel colouring you need.

Italian Onion Soup 2 2014

Chop up 2 garlic cloves and fresh rosemary.

Italian Onion Soup 3 2014

Saute in the onions for a couple of minutes then add about 2 cups chicken stock and 2 cups water.  Bring to a simmer.  Add lemon juice to taste as well as salt and pepper.  Grate a cup of fresh parmesan cheese and add to the soup.  Stir until blended.

Italian Onion Soup 4 2014

Serve with some cheesy toast.  This is a lighter version of French Onion Soup and is great as we come out of the dregs of winter.