Challenge Basket #1

Shake and I love watching competition cooking shows. Shows like Knife Fight and Top Chef take us 3 hours to watch because we’re always pausing it and discussing the food and chefs and Padma’s outfits. I find the shows really inspiring-if two chefs can break down and cook an alligator in an hour, I can probably throw together a decent pasta from the frozen shrimp and linguine in my pantry. Playing armchair quarterback is also fun, but Shake and I decided to challenge me by setting up our own mystery basket experiment. Shake put the basket together and I didn’t compete against anybody, but Salty helped taste and judge the dishes I made. Since it was the first time I’d ever done anything like this, Shake picked ten ingredients and gave me two hours to cook at least three dishes. I cooked five dishes in an hour and 27 minutes, and I used every ingredient at least twice except the pastry dough because I kind of forgot it until the end. Some dishes were better than others, but it was a great creative infusion and I can’t wait to try it again.

challenge basket items

Mystery Basket Items 

Newport Steaks Saucy Note: Newport steaks are individual tri-tip steaks. I’d never cooked them before, but they were easy to get right.

Boston Lettuce

Mini Naan

Artisan Garlic Salt

Cheese Curds

Boursin Cheese

Canned Artichoke Hearts

Rainbow Baby Carrots

Fresh Chives

Pillsbury Crescent Rolls

Dish #1: In-N-Out Salad

Challenge Ingredients Used: Butter Lettuce, Artichoke Hearts, Boursin, Chives, Naan, Garlic Salt

Other Ingredients: White wine vinegar, olive oil, pink salt

This dish was never intended emulate California’s most popular burger, but I somehow achieved an oddly similar taste in a vegetarian salad. To start, I finely chopped the artichoke hearts and fried them in a little olive oil until crispy over medium-high heat. While the artichoke hearts crisped, I chopped the naan into bite size pieces. When the artichokes were finished, I removed them from the pan and added the naan with a little more oil and some garlic salt. I added them to the pan in one layer, shaking them occasionally until they were toasted and crunchy like croutons.

To make a salad dressing, I combined ¼ cup each of olive oil and white wine vinegar with about a third of the Boursin cheese and a pinch of pink salt. The result was delectably creamy without being overwhelmingly rich-I’ll definitely make it again for other salads since it was so easy.

To plate the salad, I overlapped three leaves of washed Boston lettuce in a bowl. I piled the artichoke hearts and croutons in the center and drizzled the mixture and lettuce with the dressing. I topped the salad with chopped chives and garlic salt.

In-n-out salad

delicious salad

Dish #2: Newport Steak Sliders

Challenge Ingredients Used: Naan, steaks, cheese curds, Boston lettuce, carrots, Boursin

Other Ingredients: white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt

For this dish I used the naan and steaks to make tiny delicious sandwiches with a side of rainbow carrot “fries”. I think all three of us agreed it was the best dish, and it was definitely the best composed. To start, I julienned the baby carrots and put them in a pan over medium heat with a little butter. To cook the steaks, I rubbed one of the steaks with olive oil and salt. I seared it on both sides in a hot griddle pan-I flipped it once the meat easily released from the pan. I finished the meat in the oven under high-broil for about 2 minutes, and then let it rest while I arranged the rest of the slider. I sliced the naan into square “buns” and spread each with a small amount of the dressing from the salad. Then I thin-sliced a few cheese curds and melted them on the buns under the broiler for about 30 seconds. I also sliced the steak very thin and piled it on half the buns. I topped the sliders with a small piece of Boston lettuce and another piece of bun.

Newport steak cooking

newport steak

newport steak sliders with carrot fries

Dish #3: Artichoke Cheese Dip

Challenge Ingredients Used: Naan, cheese curds, Boursin, artichoke hearts

Other Ingredients: salt 

Artichoke dip is a thing I make all the time anyway, so I tried using the Boursin and cheese curds to make some. I cut the naan into strips for dipping and toasted them while the cheese melted with the artichoke hearts in the oven. This was not my favorite preparation, but the Boursin is a good component and the naan is an excellent vessel for melty cheese (I can see why chefs on TV struggle to balance good overall taste while still highlighting special ingredients – even with something as seemingly simple as cheese) . In the future I would add a little crème fraiche or mayo to up the creaminess, as well as some mustard, lemon, or other acidic element.

artichoke dip

Dish #4: Steak Roll-Ups

Challenge Ingredients Used: Crescent rolls, steaks, cheese curds, Boursin

Other Ingredients: white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt

This dish could have been better, I’m just going to say that up front. I used to love Pillsbury rolls as a kid, but as with many of our favorite junk foods, they just don’t taste quite as good anymore. I rolled the crescent rolls around strips of beef, chopped cheese curds, and the Boursin dressing, and then baked them for about 8 minutes in a 400° oven. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with them, I just felt uninspired by the dish as a whole.

pastry dough

tri-tip roll ups

Dish #5: Tri-Tip Dinner

Challenge Ingredients Used: Naan, steaks, carrots, garlic salt

Other Ingredients: chicken broth, sherry

I ended this little culinary experiment with dinner for Salty and Shake, since that seemed like the nice thing to do after they helped me with this fun challenge project. Since we had been snacking for a little while, it was on the lighter side, but I came up with a really yummy carrot pan sauce that I will definitely make again. I cut the carrots into ½ inch pieces while I melted butter in a large sauté pan. When the butter was foaming, I added the carrots to the pan and sautéed them until the butter had cooked down and the pan was almost dry. I deglazed the pan with a splash of sherry, and then added about a cup of chicken broth and gently boiled them, uncovered, until the sauce was reduced and the carrots were tender. The flavor was surprisingly deep for such a simple combination of ingredients. I poured a spoonful of the carrots over each steak and served it with a side of naan and garlic salted butter.

tri-tip dinner

Challenge Conclusion

 I’m so excited to try doing a challenge basket again. Shake made me a pretty easy one and gave me extra time for the first round, but from now on it will be more difficult. Required ingredients can be surprisingly uninspiring, but overcoming that tedium and making something awesome is very fulfilling.

Simple Gravy

I make gravy all the time, sometimes with more success than others. This particular attempt turned out quite well, and kept in the fridge for several days, so it seemed right to share it with you-not to mention it only took about 15 minutes, and was very easy to make. Try it on the potato croquettes-so good.

Ingredients

Makes about 1 cup

32 oz. low-sodium chicken broth

1-2 chicken necks Saucy Note: I happened to be smoking two chickens at the same time as this recipe, so the chicken necks were really an effort in not wasting things. One neck will suffice, or use frozen ones that you saved.

1 oz. salted pork belly, cubed Saucy Note: Pork belly is something I always keep on hand, because its cheap, flavorful, and more versatile than bacon. I buy it by the pound, use what I need, and then cube and freeze the rest for future recipes. Throw a cube in simmering soup or use to sauté some vegetables and you’ll soon do the same.

1 bay leaf

¼ cup sherry

1 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. flour

Instructions 

Set a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add pork belly and cook until the fats start to render. Add chicken necks to fat, skin side down, and sear until deep brown, repeating on each side. Continue stirring the pork belly so it does not burn.

When the chicken is well seared, deglaze the pan with the sherry (please keep hands, face, and any other sensitive exposed bits away from the steam). Add the chicken broth and bay leaf and bring to a low boil-reduce it at this temperature. Remove the bay leaf halfway through the reduction.

While the sauce reduces, make a roux. I know the minute a fancy French food word gets thrown out there half of you start running scared, but stick with me. This is easy, and worth mastering. Just make sure you have a couple minutes to give it undivided attention.

Melt the butter in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat-I like to use my 1½ quart enameled cast iron for even heat. When the butter is melted, add the flour and begin stirring constantly. The butter will foam initially, and then the two ingredients will begin to form a smooth paste. Continue stirring, being careful not to burn the flour-use your nose and eyes, since smell is one of the easiest ways to judge the character of a roux. Stir slowly but constantly, reducing the heat if the mixture is getting to hot-I usually pick the pot off the stove instead of adjusting the burner, since it gives you quicker, more fluid control. Cook until the mixture takes on a pale golden color and the flour no longer smells raw, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, continuing to stir for a few seconds before setting aside. I’ve found that you can cheat your way to a darker, richer roux if you leave it in the cooled-but-still-hot pan for a few minutes while the gravy finishes reducing. Just be careful its not too hot to burn when you set it aside.

When the liquid in the pan is reduced to about 1 cup, turn off heat and remove solids. Add roux, stirring gently to incorporate. Serve immediately, or cover and set aside to keep warm. I didn’t need to add salt because of the pork belly, but add salt and pepper to taste if necessary.

Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise is one of the five French master sauces, and it is really satisfying to make (and eat!) Keep practicing and you’ll be able to whip this up in less than 10 minutes-your eggs and vegetables will thank you.

Set up a double boiler, or use a small saucepan with a bowl that covers the top of the pot. While the water is heating in the base, melt the butter in a small measuring cup, and separate the egg yolks into the top of the double boiler (off heat.) Whisk vigorously off heat until the yolks double in volume and thicken, like an egg cooked over-medium. This takes a minute or two, and can take longer if your whisking skills are rusty or nonexistent. Be patient and keep at it-the change is gradual, not dramatic.

butter for hollandaise

eggs separated for hollandaise

Once the egg yolks are well beaten, place them over the gently simmering water, whisking the whole time. This is the tricky part about hollandaise, because the eggs will scramble if you don’t keep them moving constantly. A few drops at a time, rapidly whisk in melted butter until the mixture doubles in volume again and the sauce is very thick-it should be a little thicker than you want, since the lemon juice will thin it out a little. Saucy Note: If at any time the egg mixture seems like its getting too hot and starting to scramble, keep whisking and lift the top section off the simmering water. Let the vessel cool slightly and turn the heat down a skosh before continuing with the butter.

adding melted butter to hollandaise

Remove the hollandaise from heat when the mixture has doubled. Whisk in the lemon juice and salt to taste and put someplace warm-I like the inside of the microwave, because the small space is enough to keep some heat in the sauce being too hot. If the sauce is too thick when you go to serve it, a few drops of warm water will fix it. Stir before serving.

Cheesesteak Sandwich Party

Last summer I threw a weekend party for about 20 people at my house. We made cheesesteak sandwiches, and everybody said they were the best cheesesteaks ever. The secret-I made my guests assemble their own sandwiches from an array of options, and consequentially provided the opportunity for individualized sandwich perfection. I recently revisited the idea and threw another party, and it was just as good the second time.

Ingredients

Serves about 20 people, with enough for seconds. Buy extra meat and buns if you have a hungry crowd-some people ate as many as four sandwiches last time. 

5 lbs. Shaved Rib eye Saucy Note: Rib eye steak is the best meat for cheesesteaks, even if it’s a little pricey. Have your butcher shave it very thin-trust me, it is totally worth it.

40 French sandwich buns or hoagie rolls

Butter

5 bell peppers, sliced

2 onions, sliced

1 lb. sliced mushrooms

Au jus Saucy Note: Easy au jus is as simple as simmering some frozen ham or steak trimmings in beef broth and adding salt to taste. Simmer at least ½ cup of trimmings in 32-64 oz. beef broth, depending on how many people want au jus-you can always freeze it or save it for leftovers if there is extra.

Hot Sauce

Cheese Saucy Note: I serve a variety of sliced cheese, usually cheddar and provolone, and I make the following beer cheese recipe in my slow cooker-use a plastic liner unless you like scraping gummy cheese out of the crock though.

Slow Cooker Beer Cheese Sauce            

2 blocks Velveeta

2 cans beer Saucy Note: I like lighter beer for my cheese, but darker varieties can be delicious if you like a heavier beer flavor.

1 block cream cheese

¼ cup sour cream

2 tbsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. salt

¼ Frank’s Red Hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on high simmer, covered. Once the golden blocks of cheese product begin to melt, turn the heat down to low and stir. Leave covered and stir occasionally-the cheese will stay good for hours.

img_3379

img_3402

Sandwich Instructions

Start the beer cheese first, following the instructions above. It takes 30-60 minutes for everything to melt, so plan accordingly.

Make the au jus. Simmer beef or ham trimmings in beef broth until slightly reduced and salt to taste.

Warm oven to 200°F. Place 3 servings bowls and a large serving plate in the oven after it preheats.

Sauté the vegetables just prior to serving the meal. I sauté them separately since not everybody likes all the vegetables, and they cook more evenly. Transfer them to the warm serving bowls in the oven and cover with foil.

img_3393

img_3401

img_3415

Arrange the sliced cheese on a plate so people can easily access it. Put out plates and buns, and remove the vegetables and serving plate from the oven. Turn the oven to low broil and adjust the rack to the medium high position so people can toast their buns and melt cheese if they want.

At this point, everything should be ready, so it is finally time to cook the meat. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Sear meat quickly in batches-the thin slices cook very fast. Transfer the meat to the warm serving plate as it finishes cooking. I usually cook at least half the meat, and then resume cooking once people have eaten most of the first batch.

img_3424

img_3418

img_3426

Make sandwiches! My favorite is provolone, cheddar, AND beer cheese, plus onions, mushrooms, and hot sauce, all dipped in au jus. Salty (my husband’s code name) prefers a single piece of provolone with a stripe of hot sauce, and Shake eats hers with peppers, mushrooms, beer cheese, and extra extra hot sauce. I have also been known to mix au jus and beer cheese together for a super dip-this meal has no redeeming nutritional qualities, so you might as well enjoy yourself.

img_3425

Annual Sportsball Party Planning

Every year about this time, people gather together to eat unhealthy finger foods and scream at their televisions, a tradition I happily facilitate. My team is out of the event-that-shall-not-be-named this year, but that never stops me from throwing a party. Whether you’ll be on the edge of your seat or edging out others at the bar, this is your essential guide to throwing a fun, hassle-free soiree start to finish.

Menu

Thunder Thighs

Hot Birthday Dip

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Beef Empanadas

Guacamole

Chili con Queso

Salsa

Tortilla Chips

Crudités (Crudité is just a fancy French word for raw vegetable. The word is pronounced crew-dee-tay.)

Top Shelf Jungle Juice

Schedule

The great thing about this menu is that almost everything can be made ahead of time, some parts up to 24 hours. Dishes like the dips are also great potluck items if you have helpful friends.

2 days ahead:

Grocery shop

Tell your friends what you want them to make

1 day ahead:

Prep Dips

Prep Thunder Thighs

Morning of:

Prep Empanadas

Start Chili Con Queso

Make salsa

Put drinks on ice

Make Jungle Juice

Prepare buffet/serving area and bar

1 hour before start time:

Saucy Note: I try to be dressed and ready for guests at this point, since you probably won’t have time otherwise, and you’ll be prepared for early guests. 

Preheat oven(s)

Preheat smoker/grill

Prep crudité platter and refrigerate

30 minutes before party:

Make guacamole

Put chips in bowl

Put salsa and guacamole in serving bowls. Cover and refrigerate.

Start cooking Thunder Thighs

Saucy Note: I like to time my main item to come out around halftime if it is a sports party, so plan accordingly 

5 minutes before start of party, or when first guest arrives

 Heat bean and artichoke dips. If you have two ovens, you can also start the empanadas, otherwise bake the empanadas after the dips are hot.

Uncover salsa and guacamole and arrange with chips in preferred location.

Serve crudité platter.

As guests arrive:

Saucy Note: I usually put the start time for sports parties 1 hour before the event starts, and plan for the majority of the hot food to be ready 20-30 minutes before game time. This gives people time to filter in without overwhelming you, and food will be hot for kickoff.

Greet guests and offer drinks. Shake is usually in charge of that at our parties while I put the final touches on the food, so don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. Serve hot finger foods as they are ready. Except the Thunder Thighs, everything should be ready or finishing up at least 20 minutes before game time so you have time to relax and grab yourself some refreshment.

Don’t forget the Thunder Thighs when they’re done, and party on!!

The Art of the Cheese Plate

Cheese plates are sophisticated and crowd pleasing, and even the most culinary challenged individuals can easily succeed with a little preparation. The most important part of this endeavor is obviously the cheese itself, and if you can manage to pick out at least a couple good varieties, the rest of it comes together pretty naturally. Cheese plates are a great way to flex your culinary creativity-fruits, nuts, bread, charcuterie, and condiments like mustard and honey are all possibilities, and arranging them is half the fun (the other half is eating it!) Since the possibilities are pretty endless, I put together a compilation of cheese plates I’ve made over time, as well as my general method for choosing and arranging components. Remember, this is all about you and what you like-if it tastes good to you, you did it right.

Saucy Note: My early introduction to cheese came from a very dear family friend-I call her Mashik Anu, which is Hungarian for “other mother.” I asked her where she learned about cheese, and I thought her response was perfect to share and send you on your way with confidence. 

“Each cheese plate takes on its own personality depending on the cheeses, crackers, fruit, nuts, salami, etc. Even the platter shape and color inspire me. I learn with each cheese plate, and am still learning and teaching myself. I get ideas from pretty photos and cookbooks, but I also like to create on the fly and personalize to people and the occasion!”-MA

How to Shop 

The biggest determining factor for your cheese plate is going to be the cheese counter at your grocery store. Some stores, like mine for instance, have a beautiful cheese section, curated by a knowledgeable and friendly cheese person. Other stores might not be as bountiful, but you can still usually find some good stuff. Handmade and artisan cheese makers are also pretty easy to find these days, and the higher prices are almost always worth the quality. Boutique stores are also a great place to learn about specialty cheeses, since they will often slice you a sample and are usually happy to discuss your options if they aren’t too busy.

Saucy Note: Value the people you buy food from-Shake and I are on a first name basis with the cheese manager, our butcher, and our wine supplier. The more you get to know each other, the more they can help guide you towards things you’ll like, things you’ll want to try, and the best deals for your money. It also makes errands a lot more fun when each stop is friendly and helpful.

I usually like to serve cheese at a ratio of 2 cheeses for every 3 people, although that is variable depending on sales, cheese wedge size, and how much cheese I feel like eating (a cheese plate makes a decadent but easy weekend lunch that pairs graciously with a bottle of wine, any color. Fresh fruit juice with sparkling water is also delicious if you want a non-alcoholic option.) I usually end up serving at least 3 cheeses if there are more than 4 people though. Because I can.

img_0135

When picking out cheese, I start with texture. I always buy at least one firmer cheese-aged gouda, smoked cheddar, or fresh cheese curds are a good place to start.

Saucy Note: Beecher’s Smoked Flagship cheese is our house favorite for firm cheese-the flavor is more refined than your standard mild cheese, and everybody loves it. Beecher’s is a Seattle staple, so it is pretty easy to find throughout most of the Pacific Northwest, and they have an online store that ships nationally. There is also a store in New York now. I can’t recommend their cheeses enough-No Woman is another of my personal favorites if you like something with a little more flavor, since it is seasoned with Caribbean jerk.

For my second cheese, I usually choose something soft and creamy. Varieties like Brie and Camembert are very easy to find, although the options go far beyond that if you’re adventurous. Shake and I love Délice de Bourgogne, which is creamier than Brie (like butter made of cheese) with just a hint of acidity that makes it impossible to stop eating. Another excellent choice is Fromager d’Affinois, which is milder and more similar to Brie than the Délice. The classic version is wonderful, and there is also a garlic herb version that is delicious and makes for a nice pop of color on your plate (it is quite green!)

If you are not a soft cheese person (they exist!) choose another firm or semi-firm cheese with a different flavor profile than your first choice. Cheddar and gouda are easy to find in smoked, aged, and flavored varieties, or you can try a goat or sheep’s milk cheese. Manchego is an aged Spanish sheep’s milk cheese with a distinctive, almost crunchy texture (aged gouda has a similar enchanting quality.) My favorite goat cheese is Midnight Moon, made in the Netherlands by Cypress Grove Cheese, or Drunken Goat Cheese, which is made by soaking a wheel of goat cheese in wine.

Saucy Note: Another of my favorite cheese sources is Mt. Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend, WA. Their Seastack cheese is a great semi-soft cheese, and their New Moon is a luxurious semi-firm cheese they call “Washington Jack.” They also ship nationally, so branch out and try something new-they have plenty more varieties for you to explore on their website.

Moving on to the third selection-anyone up for blue cheese? Although it is not universally popular, the right blue cheese can curry favor with most anyone. I am not personally fond of most blues because I find them overpowering (blue cheese dressing can get right out) but there are many milder options that I love. By all means go for the Stilton if you like it-otherwise I recommend trying something like Cambozola Black Label (a mild, somewhat creamy cheese with just a hint of blue) or Saint Agur Blue, which does not have as strong of a bite as traditional blue, but still retains the characteristic rich veining and nuanced flavor. If you really can’t stomach the idea of blue cheese, opt for a strongly flavored firm cheese (truffle, jalapeno, black pepper, etc.)

If you’re serving 4 or more cheeses, there really are no rules. Repeat the steps above, or take advantage of a big spread and try something unusual-at my grocery store, they have a little bin filled with pieces that cost about $5, so I like to dig through there and see if I can find anything new. Cheese soaked in wine or bourbon tends to be quite palatable to artisan-cheese newbies, and I also really like coffee rubbed cheese rinds. Large cheese plates are also a great place to compare flavors-learn the distinction between aged and smoked Gouda, or Irish cheddar versus sharp white. Taleggio is a superb Italian cheese-it is their version of Brie, but is firmer and milder with a nutty, buttery flavor. Sometimes I even serve a small block of high quality Parmesan-the sharp, crumbly bite is a nice palate cleanser between some of the creamier options. As long as you have variety, you can’t really go wrong.

Saucy Note: The one category I tend to avoid is the aptly named “stinky cheese.” I have yet to find one I like, and most of them actually smell like feet. If you have any tips or comments on how to enjoy stinky cheese, I would love to hear them.

How to Serve

Alright, now that I’ve completely overloaded you with wonderful cheese options (don’t worry, I’m going to put together some groupings at the end to help you along) let’s get down to the rest of the cheese plate. While there is nothing wrong with eating cheese off the cutting board with a knife, a little effort goes a long way in creating a nice presentation and well-rounded flavor assortment.

img_2839

At the bare minimum, I like to serve some sort of cheese vehicle (bread rounds, crackers, apple slices) and a complementary condiment (stone-ground mustard and honey are my top picks.) If you’re feeling more ambitious than that, start adding other elements, keeping flavor and texture balance in mind. Cheese is savory, so that is the foundation of your flavor choices-build from there by adding sweet, salty, and acidic notes. Texture is also important-brittle crackers create a crumbly mess when paired with hard cheese, but the buttery texture of a triple crème will help hold the whole thing together. The soft texture of fig or pear is better coupled with a toothier cheese or crostini, whereas apple slices are usually an excellent choice with brie or other creamy cheeses. Play around to see what you like-I’m just giving you ideas, not telling you how to live your life.

Honey adds a sweet note, which lends itself nicely to salty extras like salami or prosciutto. Most jams also pair nicely with cheese; if you have a good market, you might even be able to find traditional quince paste, a thick, fragrant jelly. Quince is a fruit related to apples and pears, but it is usually cooked before consumption. Sweet condiments go with most any cheese, but honey mustard is also a nice middle ground if you only want to serve one condiment and can’t decide between sweet and sour.

The acidic hit of mustard plays nicely with fruit or sweet crackers (Effie’s Homemade Tea Biscuits sells oatcakes that are sublime.) Grapes, figs, berries, pears, and apples are all great with cheese, but make sure you buy what’s in season, unless you like dropping 15$ for 10 raspberries. I tend to like stone ground and Dijon mustards the best-the higher quality the better. Grey Poupon is a classic I can’t live without, and Maille mustard makes all my other favorites-Old Style and Honey Dijon are at the top of the list.

Marcona almonds are another worthwhile luxury-they are a Spanish almond that is a little meatier than the usual California kind, and they often come decadently toasted with olive oil and salt. They are much easier to find in stores than they used to be, and they are also easy to order online. They gleam like salty gemstones piled around your cheeseboard, and are also excellent cooked in rice if you have leftovers.

Once you have the necessary edible ingredients, you need some sort of attractive platter or cheese board. There are plenty of options for purchase in all sizes, materials, and price ranges, but I find myself using a wooden cutting board as often as an actual cheese plate (I said there was nothing wrong with it.) I’ve seen cheese boards in restaurants that were served on parchment paper wrapped around books, so get crazy. As long as you can clean it, get after it.

Some sort of small knife or other serving utensil is also necessary. A full-size knife will work, but make sure it has a place to rest-I’ve chased more than one rogue butter knife across my kitchen floor after it flipped off a too small cheese plate. There are lots of inexpensive cheese knife options if you want a set though.

Time to arrange everything!! Cheese first-however many pieces you have, space them out and place them at complementary angles. Add bread or crackers next, followed by fruit and/or charcuterie. Condiments can be spooned into small bowls or ramekins, or used to decorate the cheese plate itself-drizzle honey in spirals under fruit or use the back of a spoon to spread mustard across the plate. I use the almonds to fill in gaps at the end, since they go with everything and look pretty sprinkled about.

If you have a lot of cheese, or just don’t like to explain things to your guests, I suggest making little flags labeled with each type of cheese (tape, white paper, and toothpicks work great) and sticking them in their respective wedges.

I hope you feel equipped to tackle the cheese plate now, but if you still feel a little lost, the following are some of my favorite and most frequent combinations. Use them as guides, take them verbatim, or mix and match until you find your favorites.

img_2852

Trio Cheese Plate

Serves 2-4 

Delice de Bourgogne

Beecher’s Smoked Flagship

Cambozola Black Label

Crostini Saucy Note: Crostini is a fancy word for toasted bread-thinly slice fresh or leftover baguette and toast in 300° oven or toaster oven on medium (keep an eye on it, it cooks quickly.) Brush the bread with olive oil or melted butter before toasting if you like.

 Clover honey

Marcona Almonds

Cheese and Charcuterie

Serves 4-6

Saucy Note: Charcuterie is the French word for various forms of cured meats.

Aged English Cheddar

New Moon (Mt. Townshend Creamery)

Taleggio

3 oz. prosciutto

2 smoked sausages, sliced Saucy Note: Our butcher sells a huge variety of handmade sausages, so we are a little spoiled. If you are not as fortunate, there are still plenty of good options at the grocery store-Aiden’s is a good precooked brand with lots of flavors, and Johnsonville makes a pretty good bratwurst if you’re willing to smoke or grill it yourself.

3 oz sliced salami

Honey

Stone Ground Mustard

 

Party Cheese Plate

Serves 10+ 

Smoked Cheddar

Fromage d’Affinois

Saint Agur Blue

Seastack (Mt. Townshend Creamery)

Aged Gouda

Beecher’s Cheese Curds

Brie

Crostini

Effie’s Oatcakes

Grapes

Figs

Apple Slices

Marcona Almonds

Honey

Mustard

Sesame Chili Tofu

Tofu is terribly underrated. Usually categorized as a vegetarian food, tofu is a beautifully adaptable and versatile foundation for many dishes, vegetarian or not. The deep fried versions tend to be the most palatable intro, but there are so many other options for slightly more adventurous eaters. One of my favorite ways to prepare tofu is also quite simple-press, steam, stir, and serve.

Shake says: Pair this with a unfiltered sake. Stick to something on the drier side to cut through all the delicious spicy richness in this dish.

Ingredients

1 block tofu Note: I like soft tofu for this recipe, but some people prefer medium or firm varieties when first trying it, since the texture is not exceptionally common in most meat-eating diets. Eventually I’m sure you will come to appreciate the silken elegance of melting soy in your mouth.

2 tbsp. white soy sauce Note: If you can’t find this ingredient, substitute 1 tbsp. regular soy sauce.)

3 tbsp. regular soy sauce

1 tsp. hot chili sesame oil

½ tsp. sesame oil

Pinch of salt

Optional:

Seaweed Salad or Sliced Scallions Note: A punch of green is pleasing to the eye, and a crunchy note helps brighten up the overall dish.

Salt cured egg yolks Note: Cure eggs in small bowl filled 1/3 of the way with salt at least an hour before serving tofu. Nestle egg yolks in salt and cover with more salt. Eggs will be “soft boiled” after about an hour.

Bonito Flakes Note: Bonito flakes are a Japanese staple. Made of dried skipjack tuna, they provide a savory, flaky texture and visual appeal to many dishes.

Instructions

Tofu must be pressed before cooking to remove the excess moisture. Make two stacks of 5-6 paper towels, and fold them into large squares just slightly bigger than the tofu block. Make a “sandwich” with the tofu, paper towels, and two dinner plates. Stack a cookbook on the top dinner plate (two if you’re using firm tofu) and let sit for 30 minutes.

img_1750

img_1754

img_1756

img_1758

While the tofu is pressing, mix the sauce together. Nothing fancy here-just combine the soy sauces, oils, and a little salt in a small bowl.

img_1912

When the tofu is pressed, it needs to be steamed for five minutes. Raw tofu is edible, but not exactly fantastic. I use a bamboo steamer, but any sort of steamer basket will work.

img_1907

Cool tofu to at least room temperature. Slice tofu into ½ inch squares, trimming edges to make even if necessary. Arrange on a plate and spoon sauce over the tofu-I like to use a slightly dished vessel so there’s a little extra dipping sauce. Garnish with all or none of the recommended items. Also, this dish is vegetarian if you forgo the bonito flakes, and vegan if you don’t include bonito or egg.

img_1958

img_1971

Chocolate Soufflé

Chocolate soufflé is fundamentally similar to chocolate mousse, but is slightly more technical in execution. Proceed with confidence, have your ingredients ready, and make sure your oven is hot-you’ll do just fine.

Shake says: A few weeks ago, Sauce and I found “The Original Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Rose Syrup” at a liquor store. They are DELICIOUS in cocktails, on their own, and make any cocktail pop with a gorgeous color and balanced floral flavor. To go with this traditional, technical dessert, keep it simple on the drink front.

Blooming Bubbles

Ingredients

Equipment: Champagne Flutes

Bottle of sparkling wine (Use something dry)

The Original Wild Hibiscus flowers in rose syrup

Instructions

Take one flower and set it on the bottom of the flute. I did this some kitchen tweezers but you could also use chopsticks or your fingers or a spoon, whatever works. Spoon a splash (I used about half a teaspoon) into the glass and top with sparkling wine. Cheers!

img_1902

img_1929

Chocolate Soufflé

Ingredients

Equipment: Soufflé casserole dish (5 1/2 to 6 qts.), electric mixer

3 eggs yolks, room temperature

6 egg whites Note: If you’re feeling economical, cure the extra egg yolks in salt. Simply fill a small bowl about a 1/3 of the way with salt, then nestle the egg yolks on top and cover with more salt. After about an hour at room temperature, they will essentially be “soft boiled.” Lightly brush as much salt off as you can, and use to garnish any dish for a major umami blast-it will be quite salty still, so prepare the receiving dish accordingly. You can also cure the egg yolks in the fridge for up to a week if you want them firm.

5oz semisweet chocolate

¼ cup sugar, plus a little extra

1 tbsp. butter

Salt

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Fill small saucepan 1/3 of the way full with water. Bring to a simmer on the stove.

Grease soufflé dish with butter using a small piece of wax or parchment paper. Sprinkle in extra sugar and toss gently until interior is completely coated. Add more sugar as necessary.

img_1852

img_1855

img_1858

Melt chocolate in small metal or glass bowl over simmering water. Once chocolate is melted, turn off heat but leave bowl over water.

img_1867

img_1868

Whip eggs and a pinch of salt in stand mixer or with electric hand mixer until soft peaks form. Add sugar a little at a time and whip until peaks are stiff. Quickly add egg yolks to warm chocolate (the mixture will stiffen) and then add a few spoonfuls of whipped egg white to the chocolate mixture. Mix lightly to soften. Fold into remaining egg whites until well incorporated with gentle lifting motions.

img_0299

img_1879

img_1887

Spoon mixture into prepared dish. Pouring the soufflé can cause inconsistencies in the texture, so it is worth it the extra effort. Wipe your finger or a paper towel around the inside of the dish to create an even edge.

img_1898

Bake for 23-26 minutes. The soufflé is ready when the edges look crispy but the center jiggles if you gently tap the baking dish. Serve immediately-deflated soufflés are no joke, but it will disappear the moment you put it on the table.

A Monthly Giveaway!

Every month, Sauce and Shake plan to give away something we consider a staple in our kitchen or bar. To win, make one of the recipes we posted this month, then send us a picture on Instagram and tell us what made you happy about that dish. We’ll announce the winner on February 1st.

This month, we’re giving away a Lodge 6qt. Dutch oven, since I keep badgering you all to get one. If you already have one, this will make a nice extra, and if you’re new to the game, it will be the centerpiece of your collection for years to come. Get cooking!

lodge-6qt
We love this Lodge 6 Quart Dutch Oven!

 

Luxury from Economy: Deglazing, Gravies and Reductions

Sauce is my favorite thing to make (I’m sure this surprises you greatly.)  Whether I’m working on the long, slow reduction of demi-glace or a quick, punchy gastrique, I always feel just a little more accomplished when sauce is involved.  I have two staple sauces; both are easy, cheap, and require very few ingredients that are convenient to keep on hand, and they make your food look and taste sophisticated and well composed.  You can also minimize your food waste, especially of protein, if you start saving the scraps and fat that you trim off meat and putting them in the freezer.  I save fatty steak cuts, the slightly strange bits of ham, chicken necks, and anything else that would otherwise be thrown away.  Turn things like that sad, expires-tomorrow pork chop or leftover steak into a gourmet treat instead of chucking it when you inevitably forget about it.

Deglazed Pan Sauce

Deglazing is fun.  First you get to sear or sauté tasty morsels until they are dark and beautiful.  Then you pour in a little liquid and it blossoms into a cloud of steam and smells fabulous and you totally feel like a real chef.  Then you add more liquid so you don’t burn your sauce while having chef fantasies.

Anyway, moving on.  Fun aside, searing and deglazing are critical cooking skills, and it is in your best interests to master them.  Confidence is the essential factor, since there is a lot of heat and noise and smoke, but I believe in you.  Practice making a sauce every time you cook a simple chicken, pork or steak dish, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you improve.  And how often you find people inviting themselves back over for dinner.

The instructions are chicken based, but I’ll list of few of my other favorite combinations at the end.  The method and ratios are essentially the same, except where noted.

Ingredients

Equipment:

Large enameled skillet (preferably with a lid) or Dutch oven.  Nonstick will work if you don’t have anything else, but not as well.  You should probably just listen to me and buy a Dutch oven.

Wooden spoon

Kitchen fan A good sear easily creates enough smoke to set off the fire alarm. Crank it up to high, and crack a window if yours is not stellar.  

At least 1 chicken neck

Saucy Note: Usually a whole chicken will come with the neck inside it, so it’s particularly easy to make sauce if you’re roasting the entire bird. The roasting time is also perfect for a nice rich reduction, so I tend to use less chicken scraps than when I do other proteins.  If you have extra pieces saved or chicken thighs are on special though, I highly recommend making extra meaty chicken gravy at some point.  You can also usually buy bulk chicken necks at the grocery store and freeze them in small bags if you want to have a better supply.

1 shallot or onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken broth

Saucy Note: Adjust the amount of liquid you’re using based on how long you’ll be reducing it for.  A long reduction calls for more liquid, whereas you can make a quick tasty au jus in about ten minutes with less than a cup.

2-3 second pour white wine or dry sherry Saucy Note: Buy a big bottle if you like our blog!

1-2 tbsp. oil, depending on amount of meat Note: Olive oil is fine, although it tends to be smokier than other oils.  Sesame oil or canola oil is better.

Salt

Optional: butter

Instructions

Heat skillet or Dutch oven over high heat.  Add oil and heat until just starting to smoke.  Quickly and carefully arrange chicken in single layer in the hot pan (very easy if you’re only using the neck.) Set a timer for 4 minutes. Do not touch, turn, flip, poke, or even look at the meat for too long during this time.  With practice you won’t need a timer, but anyone new to this technique should so you can ignore it for the appropriate amount of time without forgetting it.

While chicken is browning, dice onion and smash garlic.  Keep separate.

img_1536

img_1552

When the timer sounds, use tongs to ever so gently pull at a piece of the chicken.  If it releases easily, it’s ready to flip.  If it sticks, give it another thirty seconds.  If it’s still stuck, you might need to turn the heat up.  When the meat releases easily and is dark brown, repeat the process on the parts that now look pale and anemic compared to your beautiful sear.  When chicken is well browned on all sides, use tongs to remove to plate.  Turn off heat and let cool for a moment.

img_1535

Make wine and broth easily accessible.  You’ll need to move quickly once the garlic goes in the pan.

If the pan is very greasy, drain or use a paper towel to mop up grease so there is about 2 tbsp. left.  Turn stove back to medium, and add shallot or onion and sauté until lightly brown, turning heat down if bottom of pan starts to get too dark.  When onion is golden, add garlic and turn heat to high, stirring constantly.  As soon as the garlic is fragrant (20-30 seconds), splash in the sherry or wine-you want enough to create a small puddle but not enough that the pieces are swimming.  It will steam and boil immediately, so watch your sensitive bits while continuing to stir with the wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up the fond (the savory, sauce winning brown stuff.  There will not be as much fond with nonstick, which is why it is not as awesome for this)

img_1549

After the alcohol has evaporated and the pan is almost dry, pour in the broth, repeating the scraping and stirring, and turn down the heat to simmer.  The liquid should be slowly producing small bubbles.  Add the bay leaf and return chicken pieces to pan, including the juices accumulated on the plate.

img_1595

If you have at least an hour until the gravy needs to be ready, cover and let simmer for about thirty minutes.  If you are working with less time, leave uncovered.  The next step can also be moved up 10-15 minutes if trying to reduce faster.

After thirty minutes, turn up heat until liquid is bubbling steadily.  Cook until reduced to desired consistency, and then strain the solids (I recommend a gravy strainer. The top is perforated to allow liquid through, and it has a special spout to separate the grease.)  Sometimes I make it thinner for hot sandwich dipping.  Other times I return it to the pan and reduce it even further until it is very concentrated.  Swirl in a couple tablespoons of butter for a rich gravy, and make sure you serve bread so people can resist drinking straight from the gravy boat.

img_1604

Salt to taste.

img_1617

Variations 

Seared smoked ham ends, deglazed with bourbon and simmered with beef broth  

Note: As I mentioned earlier, I save the little end pieces and fatty trimmings from pretty much everything.  In the case of ham, its usually already cooked and seasoned, so it imparts more flavor than others. I like it for French dips because it’s a little smoky.

Seared steak trimmings deglazed with red wine and simmered in beef stock 

Beef makes for a very luxurious tasting reduction because it is so rich, especially if you’re using steak trimmings, and can benefit from a splash of vinegar at the end.

Seared steak trimmings and onions deglazed and simmered with beef broth 

Very simple, and if you pick out the beef bits with tongs, the onions make for a heartier texture.

 

Gastrique: The Easiest Fancy Thing Ever

If you’ve never had a gastrique, you are majorly missing out. Sweet, tangy, and full of sass, gastriques are as beautiful as they are delicious.  Made of equal parts liquid sugar (simple syrup, maple, honey, agave…) and vinegar, gastriques are also deceptively easy to make.  Ten minutes of effort,  a little flavoring in the form of fruit, vegetable, wine or herb, and you’ll be sending it home in to-go cups.  Except there won’t be any left because everybody ate it already. The following recipe is my absolute favorite for smoked ham, but it’s also fun to play around with on breakfast foods. Ham and pancake sandwich anyone?

Ingredients

Makes about 1 cup 

Equipment:

Nonstick skillet or sauté pan

Silicone spatula

½ cup maple syrup

½ cup apple cider vinegar

Salt

Splash of red wine

Instructions

Heat maple syrup over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, swirling pan occasionally so it heats evenly.  Add vinegar all at once, careful not to splash the hot liquid on yourself.  It should boil immediately.  Continue cooking for another few minutes as the syrup and vinegar meld.

img_1531

img_1534

Add the red wine, just enough to give the mixture a brilliant scarlet color, and reduce, stirring occasionally.  The gastrique is done when you can leave a temporary clean streak on the bottom of the pan with your spatula.

img_1584

img_1587

To serve put in gravy boat or spoon over top. Keep in mind this is a strongly flavored sauce.