Gourmet Veggie Mama

Tag Archives: Cheese

I’m back! (with some amazing French cheeses)

Oh, hi there! I do still exist, after all.

I’ve been digging out from under a pile of unfinished projects around the house and resume re-tooling/networking/hustling, but here I am. And my creative juices are flowing again!

Long story short, I’ve left my job (all good feelings, but it was time) and am looking for something new, this time back in the legal world. I know! So crazy.

But, I know why we’re all here: Let’s talk food. And, more specifically, cheese. A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation, as I sometimes do, for a cheese tasting. A French cheese tasting. With four different producers, all eager to share their wares with me and talk about how they produce the best cheeses in the world. I thought, why on earth not? It’s time to jump back in, and there’s nothing like some amazing cheese and the people who love it to inspire me. So, I said yes. And thus began the great renaissance of my cooking and blogging mojo (or so I hope!).

I walked in at 11:30, and was promptly offered a glass of red wine. Now, I don’t normally drink that early in the morning, but who am I to reject such hospitality? I mean, when in France (or at least, when among French cheese producers)…


So, I had some wine, and I sampled some amazing cheeses, and I met a group of the nicest European foodies you could ever hope to meet, one of whom was considering a move to Austin (I gave him some good restaurant tips). And then I came away with literally pounds of amazingly good French cheese and butter to experiment with. Nothing like that for inspiration! Everyone was so excited about my haul — the kids dug into the Mimolette Vieille from Isigny Ste Mère first, eating it by the chunk. Likely they were attracted by the cheese’s bright orange color (imparted with annatto, I’m told), but they loved the nutty flavor and kept coming back for more. They know good cheese, my girls! IMG_8371

I had more brie than anything else, so that’s where I started. I made an impromptu brie omelette for the kiddos that very evening, using farm-fresh eggs, a little cream, a pinch of salt, a hearty dollop of unsalted butter from Isigny Ste Mère for the pan, and a few generous slices of Brie L’Indulgent (a triple-cream brie) from President.

Simple is best, especially when you’re working with quality ingredients. I did sneak* a couple of small bites and the omelette was melt-in-your mouth amazing. Turns out I have some retained skills with a spatula!

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*Okay, I straight-up stole them. Je ne regrette rein. 

The next night, I had a little more time to plan, but I still needed something that would come together quickly, since Amelia has swim class on Wednesday evening, and we would need to eat directly after that. Pasta with Brie and Tomatoes did the trick, and it was a hit all around.

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It’s a bit rich to call this a recipe, as it really is just some stuff I threw together to make a quick meal, but it was so good that I will definitely make it again! Plus, it includes my new favorite secret weapon for spicing up a meal without much effort: dried shallots.** Think of it as a template.

**So versatile! Add them to salad dressings, sauces, etc. for a pop of flavor. I get mine from Penzeys, and make sure to always have them on hand.

Pasta with Brie and Tomatoes
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6 servings
  • 8 oz pasta (preferably short pasta with texture to grab the sauce; I used casarecce)
  • 4 oz Brie, rind removed, cut into slices bite-size chunks
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered (depending on size)
  • 1 tsp dried shallots
  • pinch salt
  1. Cook the pasta in generously salted water, according to package directions, until al dente. Drain, reserving ¼ cup of the pasta water.
  2. Pour the hot pasta directly into a heavy, heat-proof bowl, and add the Brie, tomatoes, shallots and salt. Add a splash of pasta water and cover the bowl with a plate or lid to retain the heat. Let it sit for a few minutes so the cheese becomes nice and melty.
  3. Remove the plate or lid and give the pasta a good stir, so that the melted Brie thoroughly coats the pasta and the tomatoes are divided evenly, adding another splash of pasta water if needed. Adjust seasoning and add a nice crank of pepper (that is, if your kids don't object to such things as strenuously as my oldest does these days.
  4. Serve immediately with a nice salad. Voila le dîner!

Stay tuned for more cheesy deliciousness, as I work my way through all these goodies!

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta with Fresh Ricotta

Not long ago, I made a meal (this fantastic baked ziti) for a friend who just had a baby. Several people did this for me when Amelia was born, and I like to pay it forward. Having a newborn is a hard gig! However, I am still a little sleep deprived myself, so while I was making the ricotta cheese for two batches of baked ziti, I had a math fail. Long story short, I ended up with twice as much ricotta as I actually needed.

But, hey, that’s definitely not a bad problem to have. I pondered what to do with the extra, and landed on a quick and easy meal of spinach and artichoke pasta. Since we have plenty of spinach growing in our garden these days, it was easy to pop outside and pick some, sauté it, combine it with some chopped marinated artichoke hearts, the ricotta and a little cream, and toss it with pasta. Voila! Dinner is served.

spinach ricotta pasta

I do like my pasta pretty saucy, and this is no exception — so if you like yours with more pasta than other stuff, well, just make more pasta.

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta with Fresh Ricotta
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 8 oz spaghetti or angel hair pasta
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups fresh spinach, chopped roughly
  • 1 12-oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese, preferably homemade (recipe follows)
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted.
  3. Lower the heat and add the artichoke hearts, ricotta cheese (breaking into smaller chunks with spoon) and cream. Stir over low heat until warm, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Stir in the pasta. Serve warm topped with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Homemade Ricotta
  • 4 cups whole milk (preferably organic, pastured milk)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  1. Fold a length of cheesecloth so that it's four sheets thick, and set it in a colander in the sink.
  2. Bring the milk, buttermilk and cream to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Keep watch over the mixture, stirring occasionally, until you see the curds start to separate. When this happens, turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Keep scooping under all you've got left is a light-yellowish liquid (whey).
  3. Sprinkle the cheese with a little kosher salt and let it drain for about 5 minutes. Use immediately, or store in the fridge in an airtight container.


Grilled Pizzas with Spinach and Ricotta

I love making my own ricotta. I know it sounds nuts, but (as I have gone over ad nauseum by this point) it really is ridiculously easy, and so very much better than store-bought. It’s just a matter of bringing some milk (with a little buttermilk and cream added) to a boil, watching it separate into curds, and then scooping out the cheese. Voila!


The other night, I made a batch of ricotta intending to serve it along with spinach and a light cream sauce on pasta, but I changed plans at the last minute. It was a ridiculously gorgeous day, and it seemed almost a crime not to fire up the grill. We had some frozen pizza dough ready to be quick-thawed and used, so I conscripted the hubby as soon as he got home to roll out the dough and grill some pizza crusts.

I sautéed some spinach and sliced some fresh local mozzarella from Full Quiver Farm. We topped hubby’s signature herb-garlic crust with the spinach, mozzarella and a few dollops of ricotta,  and threw it back on the grill to finish cooking. A sprinkle of crushed red pepper sealed the deal.

spinach pizza

It was so good we repeated the whole thing a few nights later, when my in-laws were in town to visit. In place of the spinach, though, we had delicate broccoli fresh from our garden, and we added caramelized onions (always a favorite).

The spinach, mozzarella and ricotta, though, was a classic, and one that we’ll definitely be repeating around here. I’m going to give you the recipe for the whole darn thing, from pizza dough to ricotta, so hang on to your hats!

Grilled Pizzas with Spinach and Ricotta
Recipe type: pizza, cheese
Serves: 8
For pizza crusts (based on a recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue):
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 4 cups bread flour, plus extra for dusting hands and work surfaces
  • 1 envelope (2¼ tsp) instant yeast
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1¾ cups warm water (110°)
For the ricotta:
  • 4 cups whole milk (preferably organic, pastured milk)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
For toppings:
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil, plus additional for the pizza crusts
  • 1 bunch spinach, washed, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • Fleur de sel or kosher salt, to taste
  • 4 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • crushed red pepper, to taste
Prepare the dough (see my pizza dough tutorial for step-by-step instructions and photos):
  1. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and saute briefly, until fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and cool to room temperature.
  2. Place the flour, yeast, salt and garlic-rosemary mixture in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix briefly to combine on low speed. Slowly add the water and continue to mix on low speed until a cohesive mass forms.
  3. Stop the mixer and replace the paddle with the dough hook. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
  4. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a well-oiled deep bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour to an hour and a half.
  5. Press the dough down with your fist and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Use a bench scraper or a chef’s knife to divide the dough into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a smooth, round ball and cover them with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for at least 5 minutes, but no more than 30 minutes.
  6. Working with one ball of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, flatten the dough ball into a disk using the palms of your hands. Starting at the center of the disk and working outward, use your fingertips to press the dough into a round about ½-inch thick.
  7. Use one hand to hold the dough in place and the other to stretch the dough outward. Rotate a quarter-turn and stretch the dough again. Continue turning and stretching until the dough will not stretch any further. It should be about ¼-inch thick. Use the flat of your palm to press down and flatten any thick edges.
  8. Transfer the dough rounds to lightly floured baking sheets, and cover with a damp cloth until ready to use.
For the ricotta (see [url:1]this tutorial[/url] for more information):
  1. Fold a length of cheesecloth so that it's four sheets thick, and set it in a colander in the sink.
  2. Bring the milk, buttermilk and cream to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Keep watch over the mixture, stirring occasionally, until you see the curds start to separate. When this happens, turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Keep scooping under all you've got left is a light-yellowish liquid (whey).
  3. Sprinkle the cheese with a little kosher salt and let it drain for about 5 minutes. Use immediately, or store in the fridge in an airtight container.
For the pizzas:
  1. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet, and add the spinach. Saute until wilted but still bright green. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  2. Sprinkle the top of each prepared crust with olive oil and kosher salt, and, using your hand, quickly flip the crust onto the grill. Cook on one side for 5-8 minutes. Move once in the first 30 seconds or so to make sure it doesn’t stick to the grill, and stab a few times with a fork once bubbles start to appear. Turn over and cook for about 2 minutes.
  3. Top the fully-cooked side of each pizza crust with a couple of mozzarella slices, spinach and a few dollops of ricotta. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper, if desired.
  4. Grill the pizzas until the cheese is melted and the bottom of the crust is done, about 5 minutes. Slice and serve warm.



Antonelli’s and Jordan FTW!

I got to go to a wine and cheese tasting last night. It was amazing. Not only because I was sprung from the house on a weeknight to go do something grown-up,* but also because the wine and cheese, and especially the pairings, were amazing.


* My undying thanks to the hubby for coming home early from work, feeding the little one dinner and putting her to bed… and not even acting like it was a big deal. He is a keeper.

The tasting was hosted by Antonelli’s, an awesome little cheese shop in Hyde Park, and the wines were provided (and mostly paired) by Jordan Winery. How did I get in on this awesome event? I got lucky… literally. The Austin Food Blogger Alliance opened this event to their members on a lottery basis, since there were a limited number of spots, and I was one of the lucky few.

I was psyched to see Elizabeth Van Huffel of Local Savour, Natalie Paramore of Food Fetish, Maggie Louise of Maggie Louise Bakes and Rob Moshein, The Austin Wine Guy (among others) at the event. I love being a part of the Austin food blogger community!

I had never had Jordan wines before last night, but I enjoyed them quite a lot. They pride their wines as more food-friendly than many California wines, and they seem to have hit the mark, judging in particular by how well the Cabernet Sauvignon — not typically seen as a cheese-friendly wine — played with the cheese selections.

cheese plate 2

And, oh, the cheese selections! Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Jordan only makes two wines — Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The only white was a 2010 Chardonnay (its slightly older sister got some good press recently from California Chardonnay skeptic Jeremy Parzen), and it paired beautifully with a young (first of the season!) and creamy Ste Maure from one of my favorite local producers, Pure Luck Dairy, elevated further by the addition of a dab of lime marmalade.

The other three wines were all Cabernet Sauvignons (from 2009, 2008 and 2003), so we were treated to a vertical tasting. The 2009 paired nicely with Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, a cheese I am still dreaming about today (and, we were told, one of the only U.S. cheeses currently exported to France). I didn’t try the salumi, obvs, so I missed out on the full impact of the pairing, but that’s cool.

Next up was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, which, along with Onetik’s Ossau-Iraty (erotic cheese!) and a luscious strawberry jam from INNA Jam, was my favorite pairing of the evening. The fresh strawberry flavor really brought out the jaminess in the wine, and the cheese balanced it all out. Good stuff.

Last but not least came the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, paired with an aged Cabot Clothbound and a sublime 74% dark chocolate. I loved the wine — it was probably my stand-alone favorite of the evening. I was not a particular fan of the cheese on its own, and I was on the fence about the pairing until I tried it with the chocolate — and it worked! Shazam.

So, many, many thanks to Antonelli’s, Jordan and AFBA for making such a wonderful evening possible! One of these days, I hope to make it to one of Antonelli’s cheese classes, and I will totally make the drive to Hyde Park for all of my fancy-cheese needs from here on out. Specifically, I need to put in my order for some Ste Maure and Red Hawk, STAT!

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