Stay-at-Home, Eat-at-Home Tip #1: Buy A Block of Cheese the Size of a Car Battery

Greetings, everyone. I hope you’re all doing well and staying well during this time. For me, there are two things that are making this bearable: long afternoon walks on the most secluded streets of my neighborhood and enjoying three good meals a day.

As we’re all trying to cook our best while making as few trips to the store as possible, I thought that every day or so, I’d share a few foods or resources that have helped my cooking life immensely during these times. Here’s my first tip:

I’m so glad to have this 2.5 pound block of Cheese Mart Vintage Cheddar on hand during these times.

Buy A Block of Cheese the Size of a Car Battery

If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you’ll get the reference — George’s idea of freedom is being able to stay at home, sit on the couch sans shirt, and eat a “block of cheese the size of a car battery.”

While this block of Cheese Mart Vintage Cheddar isn’t really the size of a car battery, the 2.5-pound behemoth is probably the largest hunk of cheese I’ve ever owned.

Why this cheese? Sure, if you’ve read my blog and books, you know I’m pretty insane about Comté, Pyrenees sheep’s-milk cheeses, and all kinds of aged goat cheeses. And I do have a variety of such artisanal cheeses in my fridge, and will love them while they last.

But, I wanted a big block of good, multi-purpose cheese that I could use for weeks without running out. This cheddar fits the bill. It slices well for cold sandwiches and snacking, and it melts beautifully for everything you need a good melting cheese for (from flatbread pizzas to casseroles to grilled cheese). And, while it’s no Parm-Regg, it grates reasonably well for pasta, soups, salads, etc. Sure, it’s more moist than your best grating cheese, but in a pinch (and were definitely in a pinch these days) it’ll do.

The flavor is moderately sharp, and the buttery-creamy notes are nice, too. Yes, I like the caramely, wild-meadowy appeal Comté better, but again — these times call for a few modifications.

Buy Cheese Mart Vintage Cheddar on Amazon

Here are a couple recipes I’ve been relying on lately. Both make great use of this cheese.

1. Rigatoni al Forno

This recipe is so much more than the sum of its parts! I snagged it from Steve Logsdon, owner Lucca, of a fine Italian restaurant here in Des Moines. After watching him prep the recipe in Lucca’s kitchen, I realized why this recipe is so much better than it sounds — it’s two secrets are the broiler and the à la minute (made fresh to order) way of cooking. By combining the sauce and pasta seconds before baking and running the cheese-topped combo quickly under the broiler (rather than giving it time to dry out in the oven), everything gets hot and bubbly, yet stays rich and moist.

If you have some olive oil, canned tomatoes, pasta, and cheese, you can make this!

Rigatoni (or Whatever) al Forno

6          ounces dried rigatoni (or any other short pasta you have on hand, from penne to shells)
1  1/2  cups marinara sauce (see recipe, below)
4          deli-thin slices good melting cheese, such as Cheddar or provolone

Preheat the broiler. Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain well. Season the marinara sauce to taste with the salt and pepper. Toss the pasta with the marinara in a broilerproof nonstick sauté pan. Arrange cheese slices in a single layer over pasta. Broil about 4 inches from the heat source for 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese bubbles and browns in places and pasta is heated through. Divide among two dinner plates and serve immediately. Serves 2.

For the Marinara sauce: Combine 1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes, 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (to your liking) and 3 to 4 good-sized leaves of basil, finely chopped (or use 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil or dried Italian seasoning) Store any extra in the refrigerator.

 2. Simple Cheese Pasta

Pasta with Piment d’Espelette — or whatever red spice you have on hand now.

This is another recipe you can probably make with staples you have on hand. I love using Piment d’Espelette, and it’s worth buying to have around. But if you want to make it tonight, simply use a little smoked paprika or crushed red pepper flakes, or both.

Pasta with Piment d’Espelette and Cheese (or another spice and cheese)

8       ounces dried capellini or angel-hair pasta
1/4   cup top-quality extra-virgin olive oil
4       large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
1       teaspoon chicken base paste, such as Better Than Bouillon (or use a cube or granules)
1/2   cup minced fresh parsley or chives, or a combination
1/2   cup freshly grated aged cheese (such as Cheddar)
1       teaspoon Piment d’Espelette, or more to taste*

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain well, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Set the pasta aside to keep warm.

2. In the same pot in which you cooked the pasta, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic and cook, watching constantly and stirring often, until it starts to turn golden. Using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic from the oil. Set aside. Off the heat slowly add the pasta cooking water to the pot—stand back, it will spatter. Add the chicken base paste. Bring to a boil, cook until reduced by about half, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the cooked pasta and the garlic slivers to the pot. Toss well. Off heat, add the fresh parsley; toss again. Let the pasta stand for a few minutes for pasta to absorb some of the liquid. Divide into shallow bowls. Top each serving with some of the grated cheese and Piment d’Espelette. Serves 4.

* Or use a little smoked paprika and red pepper flakes.

 

As always, thanks for reading Chez Bonne Femme. Note that if you purchase anything through one of the links, I will earn a small commission. Thank you for your consideration.

 

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Little Women Dessert Buffet

More food from Little Women!

Last week, I gave you a great menu of Little Women Recipes a great appetizer party. But if you’d rather have a Little Women dessert party, here are some great recipes for that, too! All the recipes are in my book, The Little Women Cookbook: Tempting Recipes from the March Sisters and Their Friends and Family. Better yet, a couple of them can be found online (in which case, links are given).

Bonbons and Mottoes
Vanilla Butter Cookies with Mr. Bhaer’s Chocolate Drops
Jo’s Gingerbread
Black Raspberry Jelly Cake with Lemon Cream OR Fruit and Nut Trifle
Captivating Little Tarts

 

1. Bonbons and Mottoes

Bonbons and Mottoes from The Little Women Cookbook. Honestly, you could use just about any kind of candy or even a great cookie. Just don’t forget to attach the mottoes.

“Laurie drew up a little table, brought a second installment of coffee and ice for Jo, and was so obliging that even particular Meg pronounced him a “nice boy.” They had a merry time over the bonbons and mottoes.” — Little Women

Meg and Jo first meet Laurie at a New Year’s Eve dance, and at one point, Laurie and Meg have a fine time enjoying “bonbons and mottoes” together. Bonbons and mottoes were candies (bonbons) that were wrapped in papers printed with verses, wordplays, riddles, or sayings (those are the mottoes)—think of them a little like fortune cookies.

For your Little Women dessert party, simply wrap treats in treat bags, and attach a pretty gift tag with a motto (or perhaps a quote from Little Women!) to each bag. My cookbook offers a recipe for cake balls, but honestly, you could use any kind of sweet treat. And if you’re feeling splashy, pick up some truffles at your favorite chocolate shop. Those will work splendidly!

P.S.: Bonbons and mottoes are just a great all-purpose treat for any kind of party. The ones shown (above right) were for a Christmas party, but you can decorate the any way you might wish.

2. Vanilla Butter Cookies with Mr. Bhaer’s Chocolate Drops

Butter Cookies with Mr. Bhaer’s Chocolate Drops from The Little Women Cookbook

Professor Bhaer always brings chocolate drops to the March family when he visits. I was absolutely thrilled when I found that you can still by these simple, old-fashioned, button-shaped confections in the candy aisle of the supermarket (They’re called “Chocolate Drops,” just as they are in the novel). They top these butter cookies for a delightful old-fashioned cookie.

Yes, these are slightly like peanut-butter blossoms, but … they’re made with more true-to-the-time-period chocolate drops, and more of a butter cookie than a peanut-butter cookie (because I didn’t see peanut butter in any of the 19th century cookbooks I consulted!). P.S.: I’ve posted the recipe here.

Jo’s Gingerbread

“Don’t try too many recipes, Jo, for you can’t make anything but gingerbread and molasses candy fit to eat. I wash my hands of the dinner party.” — Little Women

Meg clearly doubts that Jo can possibly pull off the ambitious dinner party that Jo is planning for Laurie — but Meg does concede that at least Jo can cook gingerbread. And clearly, anyone can cook gingerbread! It’s one of the easiest cakes to pull off.

Gingerbread is also one of those great recipes that you’ve forgotten about. Try it again, and you’ll wonder why it’s been so darn long since you’ve made one. Mine has a sweet-tart lemon glaze that beautifully contrasts the deep flavors of the molasses and baking spices. This is a must for any Little Women food buffet.

The photo, at right, was taken by Alisa Joy Photography. She did a lovely spread of Little Women Recipes. Check out her Instagram page.

4. Fruit and Nut Trifle OR Blackberry Jam  Cake with
Lemon Cream

Hot Milk Sponge Cake and Trifle with Mr. Bhaer’s Fruits and Nuts, from The Little Women Cookbook

These two beautiful desserts start with the same master recipe for Hot Milk Sponge Cake. From there, the easiest option is to make a lovely old-fashioned layer cake, with jelly between the two layers and a whipped lemon cream as the topping. This spongy and light cake is very similar to the cake that Meg, Jo, and Amy serve at the end of the movie, Little Women.

Timothee Chalamet, James Norton, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Louis Garrel, Bob Odenkirk and Laura Dern in Greta Gerwig’s LITTLE WOMEN. Presenting a beautiful cake to Marmee on the occasion of her 60th birthday.

However, my choice would be to make that Hot Milk Sponge Cake into an irresistible trifle. The recipe in my book calls for orange marmalade, dark fruits, and almonds in homage to the generous gifts of fruits and nuts that Professor Bhaer wishes to give the March family before he’s planning to leave for the American West (and minutes before he proposes to Jo).

I love serving trifles on a dessert buffet, because a) it serves so many, and b) everyone can take as much as they wish. However, you won’t be sorry with either choice — the cake or the trifle.

By the way — bloggiste extraordinaire, Ally at Ally’s Sweet and Savory Eats, posted my recipe for Hot Milk Sponge Cake. She made it in a 9 x 13 pan, but you can make it in an 8-inch round pan for a thick cake like the one pictured in the movie. Serve it simply topped with whipped cream and decorated as you wish. Or, slice it in half horizontally and fill it with a slather of black raspberry jelly before topping it with whipped cream spiked with a little lemon juice and lemon zest.

5. Captivating Little Tarts

Captivating Little Tarts from The Little Women Cookbook.

“They each whisk[ed] a captivating little tart into their tiny pockets, there to stick and crumble treacherously, teaching them that both human nature and a pastry are frail…” — Little Women

During the celebratory picnic at the end of the book, Meg’s twins (Demi and Daisy) have a fine old time stealing sips of tea, bites of gingerbread, and “captivating little tarts.” I did a lot of research as to what kinds of tarts might have been served in the late 1860s, and a very popular recipe indeed was for “Lemon Cheese Tarts.”

Come to find out, lemon cheese is an old-fashioned word for lemon curd. And it’s so easy to make. While the 19th-century recipes said to spread them into puff paste shells (i.e. puff pastry shells), for this recipe, I used phyllo dough shells. I wanted to have at least a few recipes that were easy-peasy for younger hands to make! (There are plenty of from-scratch recipes in the book.)

These “Lemon Cheese” tarts are always a lot of fun to put out on a buffet.

And More!

Your source for a Little Women-themed dessert menu.

Want more recipes from Little Women? While I think my menu offers a good variety of textures, flavors, and stories, if you’re seeking other Little Women dessert recipes, you’ll find these in my book (in addition to the ones above). Each offers a great way to indulge friends and family, March-sisters style!

• Amy’s “Pickled Lime” Sugar Cookies
• Blanc-Mange with Strawberries
• Dessert Crêpes
• Apple Slump
• Meg’s Plum Pudding
• Apple Turnovers
• Blackberry Jelly Tarts
• Pink and White Ice Cream Dessert
• Strawberry Sherbet
• Strawberries in Winter Dessert Sauce

Out of 50 recipes in the book, 18 are desserts. The rest include party foods as well as dinner and supper recipes I’ve been making again and again these past few months.

Thanks, as always, for reading Chez Bonne Femme.

 

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Perfect French Valentine’s Menu 2020

If you’re looking for a French Valentine’s Day menu or a romantic French menu for any day, you’ve come to the right place! Go traditional with a classic French bistro menu.

SauceAndSteak_RFS2249

Steak with Brandy-Mustard Sauce. I know it sounds like a rank stereotype, but Men. Love. This. Recipe.

I love dining out as much as the next food lover, but for Valentine’s Day, I tend to avoid the crowds and dine in. And for some reason, I always go tout classique for the year’s most romantic meal, and star a beautiful Filet de Boeuf au Eschallotes, Moutarde, et Cognac (though any good brandy will do just fine here). This is the type of rich, luscious and traditional French recipe that made French cooking famous in years gone by—and I just love revisiting it once in a while, especially when I feel like cozying up and staying inside for the evening with Mr. Sportcoat. Serve it with simple pommes rissolées—French browned potatoes—plus some green beans, cooked French style.

Belgian Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts. A great salad for winter. Photo by Richard Swearinger.

Belgian Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts. A great French bistro salad.

Here’s my complete menu; the steak recipe appears below. You can click on the links for the other recipes. Enjoy!

• Appetizers: Keep in simple! Choose from My Happy Hour Crackers (when you get to that page, scroll down just a bit for the photo + recipe), my Pâté Canapés, or Gougères (which of course, you’ve made ahead because you’ve followed my great advice and have kept some ready to bake in the freezer, right?
• First course: Endive, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Salad. It’s one of the best winter salads you can make!
• Main course: Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Shallot-Brandy-Mustard Sauce (recipe below), plus Pommes Rissolées (French Browned Potatoes) and Green Beans, cooked French style.
• Dessert: Crèpes. Again, you did follow my advice, and you have some in the freezer, right?

To drink?: You know I’m a huge fan of blanc de noirs sparkling wines, right? Especially those from Alsace. They’re made with Pinot Noir, and they go with everything! Pour it with appetizers and through dessert (yes, including with the steak–it works!). But if you must have a good French red to go with the steak, I love this Chateau Blaignan Cru Bourgeois Mèdoc.

Enjoy, mes amis!

 

French Steak with Mustard, Brandy, and Shallot Sauce
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
Ingredients
  • 2 6-ounce, 1-inch-thick tenderloin steaks
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup finely chopped shallot
  • ½ cup low-sodium beef broth
  • ½ cup brandy, Cognac, or Armagnac
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
Instructions
  1. Season both sides of the steaks with salt and pepper, to taste. In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the steaks and cook, turning as needed, to the desired doneness (10-12 minutes for medium-rare). Reduce heat as necessary if the meat browns too quickly.
  2. Transfer the steaks to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Add the shallot to the skillet and sauté briefly until translucent. Remove the pan from heat and add the broth and brandy, taking care not to let the liquid splatter.
  3. Return the pan to the stove and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring with a whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil until the liquid is reduced to ⅓ cup, about 2-3 minutes depending on the stove and the pan size.
  4. Whisk in the mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Then, whisk in the remaining butter. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Arrange the steaks on 2 dinner plates, spoon the sauce over the steaks, top with the parsley, and serve.

PS: Your Best Steaks Deserve the Best Steak-Knives. Laguiole are my favorite for serving anything French–chicken, pork chops, beef, and more.

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