Monday, August 15, 2011

How I rang in Artisan Cheese Month with Great Beer and 4 Sensational Appys

Apparently, wine and cheese are over. Don’t get me wrong—I still enjoy the fruity contrast of good vino with a savory hors d'oeuvre, but in these dog days of summer when I wandered into the cool of my local grocery store to pick up some odds and ends, a community cooking event had me toasting the merits of cheese and beer instead. What I learned that day made me rush home and try my favorite pilsner with something wonderfully (cheesy) I learned to make recently: Mini Welsh Rarebit with Roasted Pepper Chutney. The sharp white cheddar in the dish tamed the heat for a perfect marriage of spice and sweet—and washing it down with the scrubbing bubbles of a good beer made my cleansed palette appreciate it all the more.

Lately Whole Foods is the “Big Cheese” in Community Cooking!

Wanting to know more about pairing beers and nibbles, my attention got snagged Saturday when a large crowd gathered around the Whole Foods cafeteria; I noticed they were holding wine glasses full of something much more amber and carbonated than your average Cabernet Sauvignon. I got in for a closer look, saw a Fromager named Becca who worked as a cheese buyer for the store, and added my hands to the applause she was getting for sips, later revealed as India Pale Ale. At first glance it looked like a political event. The blue and white sign that identified the elegant scene said “Artisanal Cheese Month”—and under it two chefs dressed in buttoned down white bustled around a long table, one pouring beer and the other floating by with assorted cheeses.

Beer is the De Facto Complement for Cheese. Here are 3 More Appys that Pair Well with It!

The aforementioned subtitle makes sense when you consider that beer and cheese come from the same place. English farmers have known it all along, making the Ploughman’s Lunch extremely popular in the day, when the season was just right to enjoy beer made during winter months on the farm with cheeses cultivated that summer from the same barley. Beer and artisan cheeses, on anybody’s plate, feature many of the same floral and citrusy undertones that farmers have savored for centuries. While wine and cheese parings are all about contrast, beer and cheese pairings are about harmony. So…taking my cues from the traditional Ploughman’s Lunch of ham, some really good cheese and, naturally, beer I began experimenting with locally made cheese and microbrews created just as lovingly; I used white sharp cheddar to make my English Crabbies, Bacon Cheddar Bites and Cheddar Scones.

Attention Female Foodies: Beer Not Just a Man’s Drink

These pleasing appetizers underscore the fact that the grains used to produce beer are often the same fed to milk-animals for the cheese, and so I began to more fully appreciate the robustness and crispness of beer—how good it can be! It was extra gratifying—as a female foodie—to blast through that gender barrier that women can’t love a good beer the same way a man can. Beer isn’t just a man’s drink anymore—it’s for anyone who savors earthy, yeasty, musty, fruity, rich, toasty and floral flavors. I can assure you these foodies will be equally delighted in the way beer jibes with cheeses of the world.

For excellent beer and cheese pairing tips, click on this artisanal cheese site, and don’t miss out on events that are popping up in high-end grocery stores these days, many of them free to the public. Next week, I’m learning how to shop on a budget at Whole Foods, using what I learn to tackle my own more expensive recipes. Should be interesting! Tune in at the first of September to find out how it went!

Until then, Bottoms up. Enjoy what’s left of August, “Artisan Cheese Month”!

Cheddar Scones

2 cups self-rising flour
½ cup butter, chilled and diced (1 stick)
1/4 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Zest of ½ medium orange (about 1 tablespoons)
1/3 cup buttermilk

1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
1. Place the flour and the butter into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture resembles course crumbs.
2. Add the cheese and orange zest and pulse just to combine.
3. Pour just enough of the buttermilk through the feed tube so that a dough forms around the blade.
4. Remove the dough to a floured board and knead lightly.
5. Roll out the dough. Use a biscuit cutter dipped in flour to cut out scones. (Or roll the dough into a thick circle and cut into triangular, pie-shaped pieces).
6. Place the scones on a Silpat lined baking sheet.
7. Brush the tops with beaten egg.
8. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes depending on size. The scones should be golden brown on the top.
9. Cool on a wire rack.

Yield 10 to 12 scones
Preparation Time: 10 minutes plus baking

Mini Welsh Rarebit with Roasted Pepper Chutney

Yields: 12 appys
Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes for chutney, 4 to 6 minutes for appys

4 large red bell peppers
2 orange Anaheim peppers (or 4 medium jalapeno peppers)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large red onion, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
½ cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3 fresh bay leaves
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 cup homemade chicken broth, or prepared low sodium chicken broth
2 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated, about ½ cup
½ cup sour cream
12 slices whole grain bread (party bread size)
¼ cup mayonnaise

Prepare the chutney by roasting the peppers. Heat an outdoor grill or grill pan on high heat.

Place the whole peppers onto the grill. Char the skin on all sides until black and blistered. This will take about 20 minutes for the large peppers, less for the smaller ones. Transfer the peppers to a bowl, cover and steam for 15 minutes. Pull off the charred skin. Remove the stem and core. Use a knife to scrape away the seeds, heeding the cautionary advice below. Chop the peppers. CAUTION: If you are sensitive to hot peppers, wear gloves for this task. Remember to wash your hands and work surface after working with the seeds and do not touch your eyes.

While you are roasting the peppers, you can prepare the onions. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 15 minutes. Add the chopped peppers, brown sugar, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, mustard, paprika and chicken stock. Simmer until the chutney becomes thick and syrupy, about 30 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Preheat the oven on the broil setting. Stir the cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise together in a bowl. Layout the bread slices on a baking sheet coated with vegetable oil spray. Spread a thin layer of chutney onto each slice. Spread a heaping spoon full of cheese topping over the chutney. Broil until the topping is browned and bubbling, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Bacon Cheddar Bites

½ pound bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
15 pitted black olives
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
½ medium onion
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
½ cup butter (1 stick), room temperature
1 loaf party rye rounds

In the bowl of a food processor place the cooked bacon, cheese, olives, parsley, onion, ustard and mayo. Pulse to combine.

Lightly butter both sides of each bread slice.

Spread a spoonful of the bacon cheese mixture on top of each slice of bread. Freeze for at least 15 minutes.

Place the Cheddar bites between sheets of plastic wrap in an airtight container and freeze until needed.

Place the bites on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until brown and bubbling.

English Crabbies

1 (7-ounce) jar processed cheddar cheese spread
½ cup butter
¼ cup mayonnaise, room temperature
12 ounces imitation crab
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 loaf party pumpernickel bread

In the bowl of a food processor place the cheese spread, butter, mayonnaise, chopped crab, salt and garlic powder. Pulse to combine.

Spread a spoonful of the crab mixture onto each pumpernickel slice. Place each one on a baking sheet freeze for at least 15 minutes.

Place the crabbies between sheets of plastic wrap in an airtight container and freeze until needed.

Place the crabbies on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until brown and bubbling.

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