Category Archives: Cheese

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseAs far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster loved the Oscars. I couldn’t tell you when I first watched them, but I don’t recall ever missing a ceremony. Oscar Night is my favorite holiday. One of my best friends and I bonded over our mutual love of Oscar politics. I put great effort into predicting each year’s nominees and winners. I consider Martin Scorsese’s win in 2007 one of the happiest moments of *my* life. Put simply, I love them I love them I love them.

To that end, it will come as no surprise that I have a traditional Oscar Night meal. If you’ve been around here a while, you know by now that my Oscar dessert is always red velvet (because it’s “red like the red carpet”). The main though? I’ve never posted it. I’ve barely mentioned it. Until now, duh.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseI’ve been making Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheeses for dinner on every Oscar Night since 2005. Why? Because:

A) it’s effing delicious, as all cheesy pesto things are.
B) it’s easy, and that’s important when you’re cooking and watching red carpet coverage at the same time.
C) 20 year old me could afford all the ingredients and churn these out on the illegal electric burner I had in my dorm room. Pesto Mozzarella anything seemed very special to all my college pals and was enough to get them to watch the Oscars with me.
D) this is the height of sophistication in the category of Things I Once Cooked in a Residence Hall That I Still Make.

Anyway…this sandwich. This simple, simple sandwich. I’ve been making it for sixteen years and I won’t go an Oscar Night without it. It’s cheesy, it’s herby. It brings me so much joy on Oscar Night (and any night).Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseLet’s talk ingredients. First things first: get the good sandwich bread. I mean, whatever you have will absolutely work, but might I suggest sourdough? Or something crusty and chewy with an open structure so that some of the cheese melts through to the pan and gets crispy? Can you tell I’ve thought about this a lot???Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseNext up, Basil Pesto. It’s spread on both slices of bread involved in this grilled cheese and is the thing that makes it pop! The pesto pictured is my homemade stuff, but feel free to use store bought. Keep in mind that it’s a primary flavor though, so whatever you choose, make sure you really like it.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheesePesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseYou can’t have a grilled cheese without cheese! I use a mix of equal parts fresh mozzarella and low-moisture whole milk mozzarella that I shred on the large hole side of my box grater. This gives the sandwich the rich flavor of the fresh cheese with the perfect meltability (?) of the more processed stuff.

Don’t want to buy both? Don’t! You can use all of either one with good results. I am just persnickety after sixteen years and like a mix. You can also just slice and layer it instead of grating–whatever you like. A word to the wise: don’t buy the pre-shredded stuff. It just doesn’t melt right.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseThough most grilled cheeses are made with butter, I choose to use olive oil here to keep with the pesto flavor profile. I brush a little on both sides of my assembled sandwich before cooking.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseAnd speaking of cooking, as with my favorite classic grilled cheese, Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese is cooked over medium-low heat so that the bread crisps and the cheese melts at similar rates—no burnt outsides and cold cheese allowed! It’s all gooey, stretchy cheese, garlicky pesto and crispy edges up in here.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseI almost always serve these up with a green salad with cara cara oranges, red onion and balsamic vinaigrette (more “sophisticated” college food), but you do whatever makes you happy. I mean, the Oscars tend to be volatile enough that this sandwich may be the only thing that goes your way come Sunday night. But oh, what a win.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese
makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices sourdough or other good sandwich bread
2 heaping tablespoons prepared basil pesto
2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, grated*
2 ounces low-moisture whole milk mozzarella,* grated (I used Trader Joe’s)
olive oil, for brushing
pinch or two of Kosher or sea salt

Lay all slices of bread on a surface. Spread about a 1/2 tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) of pesto over each one. Top two of the slices with the grated cheeses. Top cheese with remaining pieces of pesto-spread bread, “closing” the sandwiches. Use a pastry brush to brush olive oil on exposed plain bread. Sprinkle with salt.

Heat a medium-large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add sandwiches oiled-bread-side-down. Brush the exposed (plain-side-up) pieces of bread with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Let sandwiches cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the bottom, about 3-4 minutes. Flip sandwiches and let cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the other side, about 3 more minutes.

Remove to plates and serve immediately.

Note:

1. Fresh mozzarella doesn’t grate cleanly, but will still crumble nicely enough on the side of a box grater.

2. Low-moisture mozzarella is the kind that comes shrink-wrapped and is usually near the bricks of cheddar and pre-sliced cheese. Leftovers can be used in pasta dishes or for homemade pizza bagels or English muffin pizzas.

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheesePesto Mozzarella Grilled CheesePesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupOver the past couple of years, I’ve learned that a shocking number of people I know and love don’t know how to make one of the simplest recipes in the wide world: Grilled Cheese. It’s not because they’re incapable in the kitchen—it’s just that nobody ever taught them how to make it so that the bread cooks and the cheese melts at similar rates, and the butter doesn’t blacken and smoke up the house.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupLuckily (maybe?), they’re friends with me, a person who will make them a grilled cheese in the moment and then spend four months dwelling on the (non-)event until the middle of January when she decides to write a blog post about the whole (inconsequential) thing. And that’s how we got here. Luckily. Maybe.

Anyway…Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupI make Grilled Cheese for dinner at least once a week because a) it’s easy and I don’t have to think about it too hard, and b) I always have sandwich bread, butter and some sort of melting cheese (usually extra sharp cheddar). It only takes a couple of minutes to butter two pieces of bread and layer cheese in the middle. You’ll notice I don’t use sliced cheese here—that’s simply because I prefer to buy the brick and slice it myself. Do whatever works for you, with the exception of pre-shredded cheese because it’s coated in an anti-caking agent that prevents proper melting. You do not want to impede proper melting on a Grilled Cheese!Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupAs far as cooking goes, I think it’s a pretty human thing to want to cook crispy foods over the highest heat for a couple of minutes, but when it comes to Grilled Cheese (and so many other things), it’s best to ignore that thought, turn down the flame and take your time. Whereas 3-4 minutes over high will yield cold cheese between burnt slices of bread, 7-8 over medium-low will give you perfect melted cheese and buttery, golden edges every time. Those extra four minutes make all the difference in the world.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupBoom! That’s all you need to know to make a basic Grilled Cheese. You can change up the cheese and bread depending on your mood, but as long as you butter the outsides of the bread instead of melting butter in the skillet and cook things low and slow, you will always have perfect Grilled Cheese.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupAnd what’s Grilled Cheese without Tomato Soup? This combination is a classic for a reason—the tang of tomato pairs perfectly with the rich, cheesy, crispy sandwich, making for a simple, satisfying meal.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupAs with Grilled Cheese, my go-to Tomato Soup recipe is easy as can be. Whole peeled tomatoes are crushed by hand, then simmered in vegetable stock with carrots, onion, garlic, tomato paste and spices before being puréed until velvety smooth. Easy peasy.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupTwo things to note:

• I prefer to use canned whole peeled tomatoes instead of fresh. This is for a few reasons, but mainly because canned tomatoes give consistently delicious results. I love fresh tomatoes, but they are only in season for a few months of the year and January isn’t one of them.
• You’ll notice I like to add a pinch of baking soda at the end of cooking to neutralize some of the acidity, but you may also use a teaspoon of sugar or honey. Whatever works for you.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupSo there you have it—one of the simplest meals in the world, explained. Maybe you knew all this or maybe you didn’t. Either way, I hope you treat yourself this weekend. I know we could all use some comfort. No “maybe” about it.Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices sandwich bread (I like Dave’s Killed Bread White Bread Done Right)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
small pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter
4 ounces extra sharp cheddar or other melting cheese, thinly sliced

Spread 1/2 tablespoon of softened butter over one side of each piece of sandwich bread. If using unsalted butter, sprinkle butter with a small pinch of salt.

Turn 2 pieces of bread plain-side-up. Lay sliced cheese evenly over each plain side. Top cheese with remaining pieces of bread, buttered-side-up, so that the buttered sides of each slice of bread are on the outsides of the sandwiches.

Heat a medium-large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add sandwiches and let cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Flip sandwiches and let cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the other side, about 3-4 more minutes.

Serve immediately, with tomato soup (recipe below), if desired.

Tomato Soup
makes about 4 servings

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-large Spanish onion, diced
3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
1/2-1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, divided
4 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled & sliced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or a pinch of ground cayenne)
4 cups vegetable stock (I use Better than Bouillon)
small pinch of baking soda or teaspoon of sugar, optional
chopped parsley, optional

Place tomatoes and any liquid in a mixing bowl. Use your clean hands to crush the tomatoes. Set aside.

Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and pinch of salt, and cook for 5-7 minutes, until onion is starting to turn translucent but nothing has browned. Add minced garlic and cook about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until starting to darken.

Stir in red pepper flakes, hand-crushed tomatoes & their liquid, followed by vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 20-25 minutes, until carrots have softened.

Purée soup with a hand blender. Alternatively, let hot soup cool for 15 minutes before transferring to a high-powered blender and puréeing. Be careful, as hot liquids expand during blending.

Taste soup and add salt as desired. If soup is too acidic, stir in a small pinch of baking soda or a teaspoon of sugar. Garnish with parsley and serve, with Grilled Cheese (recipe above) if desired.

Leftover soup will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupGrilled Cheese & Tomato SoupGrilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Friday Favorites: Cheesy Appetizers

Turkey and pie may take all the Thanksgiving glory, but I’m on a mission to nab a tiny bit of it for holiday cheese plates. You know, the stuff you snack on while you make…everything else. They’re frequently overlooked or taken for granted, which is a shame because the holiday cheese plate says something about the person who made it. Specifically, that they like cheese.

While there is nothing wrong with just putting out cheese and crackers, I’ve made it a point over these last several Thanksgivings to turn my cheese plate game up to 11. These twists, shortbreads and slumping blocks of feta aren’t difficult or overly flashy—nobody has time for that on the fourth Thursday in November!—but they sure are delicious. Here is a definitive list of your favorite cheesy food blogger’s favorite cheesy appetizers.Friday Favorites: Cheesy Appetizers Rosemary-Parmesan Cheese Straws

These flaky homemade cheese straws are the perfect thing to serve alongside an assortment of cheeses and fresh fruit. They’re perfumed with rosemary, have a little funk from grated Parmesan, can be prepped ahead (!), and they’re absolutely gorgeous.
Friday Favorites: Cheesy Appetizers Baked Brie with Caramelized Onions

Baked Brie is a classic holiday party treat, and it couldn’t be simpler to make. Just wrap a wheel of brie in puff pastry and bake until golden and gooey—that’s it! This version has added sweetness and depth from caramelized onions and a smear of dijon mustard. Yum!Friday Favorites: Cheesy Appetizers
Spicy Cheddar Shortbread

These shortbread are like Cheez-Its all glowed up. They’ve got a rich cheddar flavor with hits of spicy cayenne and black pepper, and are outrageously good. Serve them by themselves or pair with a tart apple for a bright, rich finish.Friday Favorites: Cheesy Appetizers
Baked Feta with Sautéed Dates

I made a whole Christmas dinner for my family last year, including a porchetta, but this easy appetizer stole the show. An entire block of feta is painted with olive oil and honey before being baked until soft and slumping, then broiled to a golden finish. While Baked Feta would be delicious served on its own with water crackers, you’d be remiss to skip the sweet & savory Sautéed Dates. They’re chewy, caramelized, and get finished with a a good hit of coarse salt before being piled on the Baked Feta and fully devoured.Friday Favorites: Cheesy Appetizers
Pimento Cheese Tarte Soleil

This year’s cheese plate offering is low-brow and high-brow and completely delicious. Two sheets of flaky rough puff pastry are sandwiched together with southern pimento cheese, gently twisted into a sun shape (“soleil”) and baked until bubbly and golden. While everything else on this list works well as part of a cheese plate, this Pimento Cheese Tarte Soleil *is* the cheese plate.

Have you made any of these or any of my other cheesy appetizers? What’s your favorite thing to put on a holiday cheese plate? Let me know in the comments or on social media!Friday Favorites: Cheesy Appetizers

Pimento Cheese Tarte Soleil

Hello from the recent past! I’m writing this post ahead of Election Day, so I have no idea what fresh hell is going on in this country upon publishing, nor am I going to address it. This blog has no political views of its own, but you can guess which side I’m on.Pimento Cheese Tarte SoleilI had a very difficult time deciding what to post today. The election has zapped any creative energy I had left, and just…what do I want to talk about post-Election Day? Do I go straight into pie? Thanksgiving sides? Not post a recipe and tell everyone to make one big cookie everyday until we know the actual results? Disappear without a trace for two months and re-emerge only after January 20th of next year? They all seem like good options.Pimento Cheese Tarte SoleilInstead though, I’m going with Pimento Cheese: straight-up cheesy, spicy, sweet, tangy, mayo-bound southern comfort food. While it’s normally served with crackers or celery or on a sandwich, today I’m wrapping it up in two circles of puff pastry, slicing and twisting it so it looks like the sun (“soleil”), and baking until good and flaky with multiple textures of melted cheese. Yesssss.Pimento Cheese Tarte SoleilWhile Pimento Cheese Tarte Soleil sounds fancy, it’s really quite simple, as most things made with puff pastry are. As usual, I went with easy from-scratch rough puff pastry here, but the frozen stuff works too. If you’re going the rough puff route, I find it much easier to make the two sheets separately than I do to make one big one and divide it.Pimento Cheese Tarte Soleil No matter which dough you use, roll your sheets out about as big as you can (mine were 12×14”) and cut out two 12-inch circles. Top one with a batch of homemade pimento cheese, then seal the edges together with a swipe of water.Pimento Cheese Tarte SoleilPimento Cheese Tarte SoleilPimento Cheese Tarte SoleilNext up, create the soleil (sun shape). Place a 2.5-3 inch cutter or vessel in the center of your pastry circles, then use a sharp chef’s knife to slice the edges into sixteen rays. Twist them up for beauty reasons, then brush the whole tarte with egg wash and bake until golden all over.Pimento Cheese Tarte Soleil
When I started working on this recipe, I had some concern that I’d open the oven after 35 minutes to find pimento cheese melted and burnt everywhere, but those fears were unfounded. The pimento cheese gets bubbly on top, gooey in the center, and a little crisp on the bottom.Pimento Cheese Tarte SoleilThis tarte, y’all. This. Tarte. I love that it’s both low brow and high brow–“Pull-aparts, but make it fashion.” It’s a guaranteed showstopper, and one of those things that’s good warm or at room temperature (or cold, honestly), as most flaky, cheesy things are. I had zero trouble putting away a quarter of it after this little photoshoot.Pimento Cheese Tarte SoleilPimento Cheese Tarte SoleilI usually post something to be a part of a Thanksgiving cheese plate, but this fancy finger food? It *is* the cheese plate. No need for crackers or bread or anything else, except maybe a sliced apple and a glass of something festive. And since Thanksgiving is but once a year, know that this would also be welcome in a game day spread. Heck, you could even just make one, slice up some raw vegetables and call it dinner any old time. Basically, it’s appropriate for any pimento cheese and puff pastry-eating occasion, including eating your feelings while waiting for things to sort themselves out, which is the exact route I will be taking.Pimento Cheese Tarte Soleil

Pimento Cheese Tarte Soleil
makes one tarte

Rough Puff Pastry (makes 2 sheets):
2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, divided
10 ounces (20 tablespoons) unsalted European-style butter, very cold, cut into small pieces, divided
1/2 cup water or milk, very cold, divided

Pimento Cheese:
8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 4 ounce jar pimientos or roasted red peppers
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Egg wash:
1 large egg
1 teaspoon water

If you do not wish to make the Rough Puff Pastry, you may use two sheets of frozen all-butter puff pastry that you have thawed according to package directions. Begin the recipe at “Make the pimento cheese.”

Make the first sheet of rough puff pastry. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Use a pastry blender or two forks to cut 5 ounces (10 tablespoons) butter into dry ingredients until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Pour in 1/4 cup of cold water or milk and stir with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms.

Flour a surface and a rolling pin. Turn dough out onto surface, and use your hands to pat it into a rough rectangle. Roll the dough into an 8×10″ rectangle. Fold dough in thirds, and give it one quarter turn. Roll into an 8×10″ rectangle again, fold, and turn. Repeat rolling, folding, and turning until it has been done six times total. Wrap folded dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 48 hours.

Make the second sheet of rough puff pastry. Repeat the mixing, rolling, folding and chilling process with remaining 1 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 5 ounces (10 tablespoons) butter, and 1/4 cup cold water and milk.

Make the pimento cheese. Grate the cheese on the large-holed side of a box grater. Transfer to a small mixing bowl.

Drain the pimientos and blot with paper towels. Mince pimentos and transfer to the mixing bowl. Add black pepper and mayonnaise. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold it all together—it will seem dry, but should hold together.

Make the tart. Place an oven rack in the center position. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a rimmed half-sheet pan with parchment.

Flour a surface and a rolling pin. Unfold one sheet of dough. Roll out to at least 12×14-inch rectangle, or a bit larger. Place a 12 inch round item (I used the lip of a large mixing bowl) on top. Use a thin, flexible knife to cut out a circle. Refrigerate. Repeat rolling and cutting process with the second sheet of dough.

Place one circle of dough on prepared pan. Drop spoonfuls of pimento cheese over the dough and spread to cover, leaving a 1/2-inch border on all the way around. Dab or brush some water along exposed dough, then place the second circle of dough over the top. Press edges together all the way around.

Place a light 2.5-3-inch object on the center of your tart (I used a biscuit cutter). Leaving the area covered by the object alone, use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice the pastry into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths. Remove the round object to see that your tart looks like a sun.

Taking one “ray” (strip of dough) at a time, gently twist it a few times. Repeat with all “rays.” If the dough becomes soft or sticky at any point in the assembly process, refrigerate the entire tart for 15 minutes.

Make egg wash. Combine egg and water in a small bowl and whisk together with a fork. Use a pastry brush to paint egg wash over the entire tarte.

Bake tarte for 35-40 minutes, until completely golden. Let cool 10 minutes before carefully removing to a serving plate.

Serve immediately. This tarte is best warm or room temperature, but leftovers may be wrapped tightly with foil and stored in the refrigerator for a day or two. Reheat in the oven for best results.Pimento Cheese Tarte SoleilPimento Cheese Tarte Soleil

Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles

Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}When I posted that Cheesy Jalapeño Cornbread a couple weeks ago, I had a thought that I could give a similar treatment to my Cornmeal Waffles. That’s to say I didn’t plan on posting two cornmeal-based recipes so close together, but I couldn’t get that idea out of my head…and so, here we are.

With minimal changes to the source recipe (swapping all the vegan ingredients for eggs and dairy), a bit more liquid, a brick’s-worth of grated cheddar and some sliced scallions, I was able to take those sweet-leaning waffles in a decidedly savory direction.Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}You know, one that involves stacking smoked salmon and avocado and sriracha and lacy fried eggs on top of Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles and calling it breakfast or lunch or brunch or whatever.Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}Aren’t these pretty? I’ve found my other waffles a bit difficult to photograph, but these are so dynamic and colorful! Love those golden, cheesy wells and all the fun toppings.Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}I am huge fan of all things onion, so scallions were a natural choice as a mix-in. Feel free to leave them out if they’re not your thing, or swap ‘em for chopped herbs or minced jalapeños or anything else your heart desires.

Like my other cornmeal-based recipes, Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles are naturally gluten-free. Also, they freeze & reheat like a dream, so you can stash them and then throw together a meal at the drop of a hat. Or eat them with your hands like a wild animal while writing a blog post. Not that I’d know anything about that.Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}

Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}
makes 16-17 4-inch waffles

2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup thinly-sliced scallions (about 3 small scallions)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted & cooled slightly

For the waffle iron:
cooking spray

For serving:
smoked salmon
avocado
sriracha
soft-boiled, poached or fried eggs
thinly-sliced scallions

Preheat oven to 200F. Place a cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

Heat waffle iron according to package directions.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs until pale. Add dijon, followed by buttermilk. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together cornmeal, cornstarch, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Use a silicone spatula to fold in grated cheddar and scallions. Stir in melted butter, followed by egg/buttermilk mixture.

Grease waffle iron with cooking spray. Pour a 1/4 cup of the waffle batter into each well of the iron and close the top. Let cook until steam dissipates and the wells are turning golden, about 6-8 minutes.

Transfer cooked waffles to the prepared rack-over-pan and place in the oven to keep warm. Re-grease the waffle iron and cook remaining batter.

Serve waffles with lox, sour cream, eggs and/or scallions, if desired. Enjoy immediately.

Leftovers may be layered with parchment, placed in a freezer bag, and frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat in the toaster.Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}Cheddar Scallion Cornmeal Waffles {Gluten-Free}