Fromage Fort

Fromage fort – a fabulously thrifty and tasty French solution for repurposing all those nubs of leftover cheese.

a bowl of fromage fort with chips
Giving credit where it’s due, this was my sister S’s suggestion – not her recipe, but her idea. On Boxing Day, I was grumbling about a refrigerator full of holiday leftovers, including the six different cheeses rapidly aging in the cheese drawer. What was I going to do with six nubs of various cheese before they went bad?

That’s when she mentioned fromage fort. Fromage fort is a French cheese spread, literally meaning “strong cheese,” that’s made by blending together various pieces of leftover cheese, a bit of leftover white wine, garlic, and herbs. There’s a dozen of recipes out there – Pépin, Smitten Kitchen, Alton Brown, David Lebovitz, Sauver – all very similar, all very adaptable, because the idea is to use whatever leftovers you have on hand, making this thrifty French solution for too much cheese more spectacular than the sum of its parts. I recommend steering clear of very strong cheese, like blue cheese, which will overwhelm all other flavors in the final dip.

Oh, and there’s a German version, too – mixed with beer (of course!) – called Obatzda.


Fromage Fort

  • Servings: about 2 cups
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A fabulously thrifty and tasty French solution for repurposing all those nubs of leftover cheese.


Ingredients

  • 8 oz. mixed leftover cheeses (hard cheese grated, soft cheese cubed)
  • 3 Tablespoons full-fat ricotta, or 2 Tablespoons softened butter (if you don’t have ricotta on hand)
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • ¼- ⅓ cup white wine
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, blend cheese, ricotta (or butter) and garlic until well-blended.
  2. Slowly pour in wine with motor running until the desired consistency – I prefer a scoopable, yet slightly chunk spread. Add thyme and pepper and pulse until combined. Fromage fort can be used immediately, allowed to ripen for up to 5 days, or spread on bread and toasted in the oven.

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Bacon Gruyère Gougères

Bacon, Gruyère cheese, and  crispy, light choux pastry. I fell in love with gougères in culinary school – I’ve gilded the lily with the addition of bacon.  Appetizers as glamorous as they are delicious.

Bacon and Cheese Puffs

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville

You may think of book clubs as a bunch of shy, mild-mannered, nerdy types – and that may be true…until someone starts stealing our schtick, then we get all gangster.

If you’ve been following this blog with any regularity, you might remember that I started a book club in January, meeting at a local downtown bar & restaurant. It’s been my pet project, and reasonably successful.

A few months ago, I noticed someone else launched a similarly-named book club that happened to meet just 325 feet from our location (coincidence?). While, at the time, I did feel slightly encroached upon, I also thought, “That’s okay. There’s plenty of readers to go around. Good luck to them.” We were meeting monthly on the second Tuesday; the newbies were meeting weekly on Wednesdays. There was enough dissimilarity between our two groups that new members wanting to join our club wouldn’t (I hoped) be confused.

Today I noticed that, starting next month, this copy-cat usurper club will start meeting monthly on the second Tuesday – at the exact same time as our group. So, not only did they copy our name and steal our location, now they are appropriating our dates and times, too. I’m quite surprised they haven’t pilfered our reading list as well. WTF?!

I’ve heard the idiom, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” a million times, but this is downright thievery. I am not flattered. I no longer wish them luck – I wish their ersatz book club a swift and immediate demise. In fact, next month, I’m suggesting a pre-book club brawl to my group. I’m confident we could take them down.

Speaking of imitation and idea-pilfering, the following is not my own, but a riff on a ubiquitous gougères recipe. Guilty as charged.


Bacon Gruyère Gougères (Cheese Puffs)

These are best served piping hot from the oven. If needed, reheat at 350˚ until warm and crisp.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese, plus more for sprinkling
  • 6 strips crispy bacon, crumbled
  • 3 Tablespoons chives, chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, milk butter and salt to a boil. Add the sifted flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until dough pulls away from the side of the pan and becomes a smooth ball. Continue stirring about two minutes to dry out dough.
  2. Transfer dough to the bowl of a mixer. Let cool a few minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, ensuring each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the pepper, nutmeg, cheese, bacon, and chives.
  3. Transfer the dough into a piping bag and cut the tip to allow piping generous tablespoon-size mounds about 2” apart on the baking sheets (alternately, drop rounded spoonfuls onto sheets). With a wet finger, tap down any pointy “hats” on the dough. Sprinkle with additional cheese and bake 20-22 minutes until puffed, firm to the touch, and a rich golden brown (do not open oven before 20 minutes or they may deflate). Serve hot.

Roasted Garlic Htipiti

Healthy Htipiti Spread
Researchers have discovered it takes a mere seven seconds to make a first – and lasting – impression.

I’m partial to the convenience and practicality of online dating – I can quickly weed out the jesus freaks, the ones who can’t string words together into a coherent sentence, the boring, the gym rats, men who live with their mamas. But still, sometimes I get it terribly wrong.

As he walked towards me, I know I’m wasting my time. What looked like “ska” in his profile, reads “dork” in person (and not the cute geek-chic kind). What read as manners on the page is really an obsessive adherence to gender roles. Once we sit down, I ask questions and he talks…about himself…I essentially interview him so he can hear himself speak. He drones on about his brainiac career, his adult children that attend MIT and Yale, about his expertise on every subject – homelessness, drugs, religion. There’s a brief pause in his self-aggrandizement to proclaim I can’t call myself an atheist since I haven’t studied the bible cover to cover (as, of course, he has). There’s mansplaining, condescension, boasting. I feel my V-jay snap shut like an abalone. I gulp down my scalding cappuccino and furtively scan the coffee house for the nearest escape hatch.

I long for a dating convention where it’s entirely acceptable for either party to walk out in the first few seconds without explanation – the seven second rule. All I think about for the next 44 minutes and 53 seconds is…I left my kitchen for this?


Roasted Garlic Htipiti

  • Servings: About 1 ½ cups
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A roasted garlic version of Greek Htipiti, similar to romesco and a healthy yet flavorful sandwich spread and dip. I've been eating a liberal dollop of this spread on my chicken, mushroom, and spinach wraps all week. Mmmm.


Ingredients

  • 8 roasted garlic cloves
  • 8 oz. feta, crumbled
  • 2 fire roasted red peppers (hand roasted or jarred)
  • 2 pepperoncini, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 scallions
  • Parsley sprigs from 6 stems parsley
  • Dill sprigs from 3 stems dill
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse on and off about 15 times until well combined yet still slightly chunky. Use as a sandwich spread and a dip for toasted pita chips.

Pickled Carrots

Homemade Pickled Vegetables Recipe
Like a tennis player that’s been training all year for their first match, I walk into the kitchen, full of bravado, throw the culinary ball into the air, serve it across the net and hear the words “FAULT,” followed by the words, “DOUBLE FAULT,” soon after.

Two cookie recipes in as many days – two epic fails.

Disappointment. It’s officially six days into Cookie Baking Season and I feel like a big o’ Failure. I’m a baker above anything else and this should be my time to SHINE, rather than falter. Blame the recipe. Blame the quality of the ingredients. Blame my mindset. I sound like John McEnroe.

My first attempt, an anise-scented honey cookie lightly glazed and decorated with candied orange peel, was an unmitigated disaster. The texture was all wrong – too dense – and the anise too strong, resulting in a cookie reminiscent of those hard Scandinavian licorice lozenges.

The second recipe, baked yesterday, was supposed to be delicate sandwich cookies filled with mint and dipped in milk chocolate. I was hoping for an elevated version of Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Joe Joe’s (an addiction of mine) crossed with a Girl Scout Thin Mint. What I actually created were misshapen oval disks sandwiching a dollop of minty goo similar to Crest toothpaste. I didn’t even bother with the chocolate dip – in to the trash they went as well.

Rather than squander another pound of butter, I thought I would take a break today, step away from the cookies, and try something else entirely – something that didn’t require baking. I settled on these spice-laden pickled carrots – a better late-night snacking option to a plate of cookies anyway. An array of colorful pickled veggies like these, using a variety of spice combinations, would make a great alternative to the standard holiday crudité platter – no baking required.


Pickled Carrots

  • Servings: 2 quart jars
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This pickling recipe would work with whatever fresh veggies you happened to have on hand – cauliflower, onions, beans, or beets – to name just a few.

Ingredients

  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 peppercorns
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 Tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 6-8 carrots, peeled, cut into sticks and lightly blanched
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon salt
  • Hot water

Directions

  1. Divide garlic, thyme, mustard seeds, allspice berries, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, ginger, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks,peppercorns and cloves between two quart jars. Pack blanched carrot sticks tightly into jars.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar and salt and heat until boiling. Pour hot liquid into jars filling ¼” from top. If there isn’t enough vinegar mixture, fill remaining space in jars with hot water.
  3. Close jars and refrigerate at least 24 hours and up to 2 weeks.

Chili Pepper Honey Jam

Hot Pepper Honey Sauce
It’s Friday night and she has no plans. She received a text from him this afternoon, but she didn’t take the bait. She feels he’s always waiting for her to make the first move, as if he’s unsure, ambivalent. It seems he ONLY texts her on Friday afternoons, as if she doesn’t exist for him during the week, and he only remembers her after he hasn’t solidified other, better plans.

“I am not an afterthought,” she thinks to herself.

Over two decades ago, and on the recommendation of her sister, she read a popular dating book called, “The Rules.” Her best friend at the time gave her a lot of grief for obeying some of the book’s suggestions. A lot of grief. While some of the rules were silly and outdated, two concepts spoke to her – First, believe that you are unique and special and, second, don’t waste time with men who don’t treat you like you’re unique and special. One of the specific rules instructed readers not to accept a Saturday date after Wednesday (when she followed this rule, it drove her friend crazy) – in other words, don’t be an afterthought.

Sure, she delights as much as the next girl in occasional spontaneity, but also believes that if a man is truly interested, he should think about her at some point during the week. She thought about him. Why must he wait until Friday to ask her out? After reading this article in the Huffington Post, she realizes her ideas aren’t so old-fashioned after all. Consistent last minute requests to hang out make us all feel like we are Plan B, even in 2017. And if we continuously make ourselves available, we are encouraging this type of behavior.

The truth is that she’d love to hang out with him this weekend. But she believes she’s more than a Plan B. She hopes he’ll realize this, too. Meanwhile, while he’s figuring it out, she’ll play in her kitchen:

This sweet and spicy  (like a good date!) jam makes a quick appetizer when served over cream cheese and served with crackers or toast. It’s also tasty as a glaze on shrimp, chicken or salmon….or slathered on a toasted bagel and schmear.


Chili Pepper Honey Jam

  • Servings: 2 pint jars
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I developed this recipe to use up some of the dried chilies in my pantry. I used a combination of Arbol, Guajillo and Puya chilies, but you can mix or match depending on what’s available.

Ingredients

  • 6 dried Chile de Arbol
  • 2 dried Guajillo chilies
  • 2 dried Puya chilies
  • 2 Red bell peppers
  • 2/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup honey
  • ½ cup sugar

Directions

  1. Stem and seed dried chilies. In a medium saucepan, combine dried chilies with 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let soak for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stem and seed bell pepper and chop into large chunks.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine chilies and water with bell pepper. Pulse on and off until ingredients are well chopped.
  3. Pour ingredients back in saucepan and add cider vinegar. Bring to a boil. Stir in honey and sugar and bring back to a boil. Cook down, stirring occasionally, until reduced and the consistency of jam, about 20 minutes.
  4. If you plan on canning, follow proper canning procedures or cool and refrigerate jam if using within the next week.