3 cheese polenta with Italian sausage

3 cheese polenta with Italian sausage

I love cheese, all types, hard, soft, sharp and nutty.  So when a sample box of Sartori cheeses showed up on my doorstep, I was in cheese heaven.


I immediately opened the cheeses because I was excited  sample them all and they were all amazing and unique in their own way. The 3 cheeses that struck my taste buds the most were the rosemary & olive oil asiago, bellavitano gold and the sarvecchio parmesan. All rich and nutty along with the added rosemary made me think that the combination of these 3 cheeses would be outstanding in polenta.  


3 cheese polenta with Italian sausage
A big bowl of creamy polenta is so comforting and the addition of these nutty and creamy cheeses were the perfect finish, giving a hint of rosemary. But I wasn’t finished there, I wanted to make the polenta into a complete meal, so I made my own Italian turkey sausage with toasted fennel seed and sage and this served as a great meaty topping. To finish the dish, I topped it with more cheese, baked  until it was melted and bubbly, then topped with freshly chopped basil, the dish was complete.
3 cheese polenta with Italian sausage


3 cheese polenta casserole with Italian sausage                                       print

Ingredients
(serves 4)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter casserole dish and set aside.
  3. In a large cast iron skillet, add the fennel seed and toast over low heat until fragrant, remove and set aside. 
  4. Add the olive oil to the skillet and heat over medium high heat.
  5. Add the ground turkey, breaking up the meat and cook for 2 minutes.
  6. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes more until the onion is softened and the meat is browned.
  7. Add the chopped onion, garlic, paprika, sage, fennel seed, crushed red pepper flakes, black pepper and salt.
  8. Cook until the meat is browned, add the chopped zucchini and cook.
  9. In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken stock  and milk, bring to a simmer.
  10. Add the yellow cornmeal whisk  until combined.
  11. Cook at a very low simmer for about 15 minutes whisking occasionally until smooth and thickened for 30 minutes. If the polenta thickens too soon, add a little more stock or milk. 
  12. Add all 3 cheeses and the butter, stir until combined.
  13. Place the casserole dishes on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

3 cheese polenta with Italian sausage

Cheddar caprese bites

Cheddar caprese bites


You know when you make a grilled cheese sandwich and there’s always some the of cheese that oozes out and browns in the pan? That’s what these cheddar caprese bites taste like. 


I had some extra cheddar cheese in the fridge that I needed to use.  I was thinking about the parmesan frico crisps that I made in a previous post and thought, there’s nothing better than melted crispy. 

If you’ve ever had a caprese salad, you know that it’s traditionally made with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomato and fresh basil. This was my inspiration for these bites and the mozzarella is replaced by the crispy cheddar so you can pick them up and eat them as appetizers.
Cheddar caprese bites

They take just minutes to make, but you might have restrain yourself from eating them as you make them. I melted mounds of cheddar cheese on a baking sheet in the oven.  When they are cooled, they become great, sturdy vessels for toppings. I topped them with a slice of sweet tomato, freshly chopped basil and a balsamic glaze. They are what can only be described as a taste sensation.


Cheddar caprese bites                                                                     print

Ingredients                                                                                
(yields 16 bites)

For the cheddar caprese bites

  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
  • 4 medium tomatoes, sliced thin
  • Small bunch fresh basil, chopped

For the balsamic reduction

  • 2 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions

For the caprese cheddar bites

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Take half  of the grated cheddar and place in  circles on the baking sheet about 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 2 inches apart.
  4. Bake for 5 minutes or until melted and golden. 
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet. 
  6. Removed when cooled.
  7. Repeat with the other half of the cheddar.

For the balsamic glaze

  1. In a medium saucepan, add the balsamic and stir in the honey.
  2. Bring the vinegar to a simmer over medium heat.
  3. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes until the vinegar has reduced by 1/2, keep an eye it and check until it has the consistency of molasses. 
  4. Pour into a container for drizzling.
To assemble

  1. Arrange the pieces of melted cheddar on a platter, top with a slice of tomato, a pinch of chopped basil and drizzle with the balsamic glaze.

Cheddar caprese bites
Cheddar caprese bites

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Parmesan frico crisps

Parmesan frico crisps


*Warning, these are very addictive and you may be in danger of eating them as you make them.

What’s better than cheese? Melted crispy cheese, that’s what these Parmesan frico crisps are. The name ‘frico’ has no literal translation, but they do originate from the Northeastern Italian area of Fruili.

Parmesan frico crisps


Frico are so easy to make and the result is crispy nutty, cheesy goodness, that is a perfect garnish for soups, salads or pasta. They can be made in the oven, or in a non-stick pan like I did in this recipe. Please use real freshly grated Parmesan cheese, like Parmigiano Reggiano (in the picture above), which is clearly marked on the rind. The recipe will not work with the pre-packaged fake Parmesan.

Parmesan frico crisps


Ingredients    (4 crisps)                                                   metric conversion                 print recipe

  • 8 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated


Directions

Non-stick skillet method

  1. Heat the pan over medium heat.
  2. Take 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese and place into the skillet in a rounds, about 1/4 inch apart.
  3. When they are melted and golden brown, removed from the pan using a fish spatula, and allow to cool.

Oven method

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with a non-stick mat.
  3. Take 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese and place on the baking sheet in rounds, about 1/4 inch apart.
  4. Bake on the middle shelf of oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden.
  5. Remove using a fish spatula and allow to cool.


Party appetizers

Party appetizers

It’s that time of the year. Cocktail parties, get togethers, impromptu visits from family and friends, make sure you have something to nibble on while you serve drinks.

Here are 4 easy appetizers that will satisfy everyone’s palette:




Teriyaki chicken skewers


Teriyaki chicken skewers

Ingredients (10 servings)      metric conversion            print recipe

  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger (about a 1-inch piece)
  • 1 teaspoon grated garlic
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon mirin
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 pound thin boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 10 6-inch bamboo skewers (soak in water for 30 minutes)
  • Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, over low heat the sesame oil.
  2. Cook the ginger and garlic, stirring until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the soy sauce, mirin, orange juice, vinegar and brown sugar.
  4. Whisk the cornstarch into 1/2 cup water until dissolved, add to the soy sauce mixture in the pan.
  5. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat slightly, simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Transfer to a bowl and cool. * (see note)
  7. Cut the chicken into strips about 1/2 inch wide by 4 inches long.
  8. Weave the chicken onto the skewers, folding it back and forth to create a wavy look.    * (see note)
  9. Preheat broiler to high.
  10. Transfer a little of the teriyaki sauce into a separate bowl. 
  11. Brush the chicken skewers with teriyaki sauce on all sides using the separate sauce. This is so you are not dipping a brush that has touched raw chicken back into the sauce you will serve for dipping. Discard any of the sauce that has come in contact with raw chicken.
  12. Cover the exposed part of the wooden skewers with foil to prevent burning, broil for 2 to 3 minutes or until browned. Turn and repeat.
  13. Remove from oven and brush one more time with leftover sauce.
  14. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with teriyaki sauce for dipping.
Teriyaki sauce can be made in advance and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Chicken skewers can be made up to this point and refrigerated, covered for up to 6 hours.
Gingered pear, brie and pecan tartlets

Gingered pear, brie and pecan tartlets

Ingredients (10 servings)    metric conversion         print recipe 

  • 8 ounces brie
  • 30 pecan halves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons fine sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 Bosc pear
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 10 frozen phyllo cups, defrosted


Directions

  1. Place brie in the freezer for 45 minutes to 1 hour until very firm.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  3. Spread pecans on baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes, or until toasted, keep your eye on them.
  4. Set aside.
  5. In a small saucepan, combine lemon juice, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 cup water and ginger.
  6. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat.
  8. Cut pear into 1/4-inch cubes, removing core and stem. 
  9. Stir pear cubes into hot lemon mixture.
  10. Cool to room temperature, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.
  11. Remove brie from freezer, cut off the rind and cut the cheese into 1/4-inch cubes.
  12. Drain the liquid from the pears and stir in the brie cubes.
  13. Reserve in the fridge until ready to assemble the tarts.
  14. To assemble the tartlets: Preheat broiler.
  15. Cover a baking sheet to foil.
  16. Place phyllo cups on baking sheet and put a rounded teaspoon full of the pear and brie mixture in each shell.
  17. Broil the tarts for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cheese is lightly browned on top.
  18. Top each tart with 3 pecans.


Beet and goat cheese endive

Ingredients (10 servings)        metric conversion        print recipe

  • 1 large beet
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 3 medium heads endive
  • 3 ounces goat cheese, finely crumbled


Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Lay a piece of foil on a baking sheet, place beet in the center and fold the foil around the beet, pour int 3 to 4 tablespoons water and seal the foil.
  3. Roast the beet for 35 to 45 minutes our until tender.
  4. Remove the beet from the oven and allow to cool, then peel. * (see note)
  5. Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes, keep an eye on them.
  6. Allow almond to cool, roughly chop and set aside.
  7. Cut the beet into 1/4-inch thick slices then into 1/4-inch sticks.
  8. Lay strips of beets down center of each endive leaf.
  9. Sprinkle the goat cheese over all the endive and beets and top with chopped almonds.

Beet can be prepared up to this point and stored in fridge, wrapped for 2 to 3 days.

Mango tequila shooters with chili-lime shrimp

Mango tequila shooters with chili-lime shrimp

Ingredients (10 servings)       metric conversion         print recipe

For the mango shooters

  • 6 ounces frozen mango cubes, defrosted
  • 6 ounces from pineapple cubes, defrosted
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 5 medium limes)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup tequila (optional)


For the shrimp

  • 1 bunch scallions, coarsely chopped
  • 1-2 Serrano chillies, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, plus zest of 1 lime (about medium 5 limes)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons for sautéing)
  • 20 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
  • 20 toothpicks

Directions

  1. In a food processor, puree mangoes, pineapples, lime juice, cilantro, bell pepper and salt, puree until smooth.
  2. Refrigerate covered for 2 to 3 hours.
  3. In a food processor, puree scallions, chillies, cilantro, sea salt, lime juice, lime zest and olive oil, puree until smooth.
  4. Refrigerate until ready to cook shrimp.
  5. When mango is chilled, add the shrimp to the marinade and marinade for no more than 10 minutes or the lime with start to ‘cook’ the shrimp.
  6. Remove mango puree from the fridge and stir in tequila is using.
  7. Divide between 10 shot glasses.
  8. In a saute pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  9. Saute the shrimp for 2 minutes each side, transfer to a plate.
  10. Skewer each shrimp with a toothpick and place 1 on each shot glass. Serve.
Party appetizers

Baked gnocchi with sage and cheese sauce

Baked gnocchi with sage and cheese sauce


Home made gnocchi, not as scary as you might think and when they are right, they are nuggets of soft pillowy goodness that just melt in your mouth. The word ‘gnocchi’, derived from the Italian word ‘nocchio’,  which means a knot is in wood. But it’s not only a dish served in Italy, gnocchi are served in France, known as ‘gnocchis à la parisienne, Croatia, called ‘njoki’, and South America, called ‘nhoque’.

Homemade gnocchi


With only 3 ingredients, potato, flour and salt, makes them easy to prepare and there’s not really anywhere you can make a mistake.

Homemade gnocchi

Other than super soft potatoes, the other key to soft fluffy dough is to only add enough flour to bring the dough together, but to not over knead the dough which will develop the gluten in the flour and make them tough. Rolling the gnocchi over a gnocchi board or fork to make the ridges, helps sauce to adhere to the them. 

Homemade gnocchi
What you will notice in the cheese sauce recipe is that it does not call for cream or milk. By using chicken stock it adds more flavor, but milk or cream can be substituted.

Ingredients (6 servings)               print recipe

For the gnocchi

  • 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cut into large pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the cheese sauce

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock (recipe) or vegetable stock (recipe), warmed
  • 1 cup Fontina cheese, grated
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • Small pinch fresh nutmeg

Directions

For the gnocchi
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Fill a large saucepan with water.
  3. Add the potatoes and 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil.
  4. Boil the potatoes until they are very soft.
  5. Drain and set run through a food mill, or ricer for nice smooth potato.
  6. Put the potatoes in the fridge until they are cool, this will help keep them fluffy.
  7. Prepare 2 sheet pans by dusting them with flour, set aside.
  8. On a clean work surface mix together the potato and the flour and knead for about 4-5 minutes until the dough is soft and smooth. Only add enough flour so the dough comes together and is not tacky.
  9. Cut the dough into 4 equal parts. Roll one 1 quarter of the dough into a 3/4 inch log.
  10. Cut the log into 3/4 inch pieces.
  11. Roll the pieces over a gnocchi board or the back of a fork to create ridges onto the floured sheet pan in a single layer.
  12. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
  13. Let the rolled gnocchi dry out for about 1 hour before cooking.
  14. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil.
  15. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat to a gently boil, so you don’t break up the gnocchi.
  16. Add the gnocchi and boil for about 3 minutes, or until they rise to the top.
For the cheese sauce (while the gnocchi is cooking)
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.
  2. Whisk in the flour and whisk until flour turns golden brown, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the warm stock and continue to whisk until it thickens, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the fontina and parmesan cheese and stir with a spoon until melted.
  5. Stir in the chopped sage and nutmeg.
  6. Stir in the cooked gnocchi and transfer to a casserole or baking dish.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbly.

    Baked gnocchi with sage and cheese sauce
    Baked gnocchi with sage and cheese sauce




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    Roasted heirloom tomato caprese

    Roasting heirloom tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and dried basil, can take a caprese salad to a whole new level.  Fresh basil and fresh mozarella on top of the warm tomato then drizzled with the balsamic reduction = heaven!


    alt Roasted heirloom caprese



    Ingredients (4 servings)

    • 5 large heirloom tomatoes
    • Balsamic vinegar
    • Salt
    • Ground black pepper
    • Dried basil
    • 6oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
    • Fresh basil leaves
    • Extra virgin olive oil


    Directions

    1. Spread the tomatoes evenly on a sheet pan. Drizzle balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and dried basil. 
    2. Roast the tomatoes at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Then cool.
    3. To assemble the salad. Place 3 slices of tomato on a plate. Top each with 1 slice of mozzarella and each with a basil leaf. Drizzle the reduced balsamic vinegar from the sheet pan, olive oil, salt and pepper.


    Cheese, beer and Trappist monks


    You may have heard about the Trappist monks of Belgium and their beer brewing. But did you know that they also make cheese?  


    The Scourmont Abbey (Abbaye Notre-Dame de Scourmontis a Trappist Monastery in the Scourmont Plateau in the village of Forges which is part of Chimay in the province of Hainaut Belgium. Chimay is 1 of 7 beers that are allowed to bear the logo ‘Authentic Trappist Product”, which means it is brewed within the walls of a Trappist Monastery under the control and responsibility of the community of monks. There are 3 different varieties of Chimay beer produced, Grand Reserve (blue label), Cinq Cents (white label) and Première (red label). 

                               

    alt Cheese monks
    Since 1876, the Cisterian monks put into their work the same care for perfection that they do into their life of prayer and study. A true art of beer brewing and cheese-making has developed over the course of time at the Scourmont Abbey in Chimay Belgium. 
    Chimay country was always a region where dairy cows are bred. Made from regional milk, technology has allowed the monks to modernize their operation so Chimay cheese has adapted while maintaining its authenticity.  

    alt Chimay cheese board selection
    Board of 5 Chimay cheeses

    There are 5 varieties of Chimay cheese:

    • Chimay with Beer, whose rind is soaked in Chimay beer.
    • Chimay Grand Classic, a semi-hard pressed cheese.
    • Chimay Grand Cru, made from pasteurised milk and matured for six weeks.
    • Old Chimay, a hard cheese matured for at least six months.
    • Vieux Chimay, a hard cheese matured for at least eight months

    When in the Chimay area, you don’t have to look far from the Abbey to find a quaint hotel within walking distance called Auberge du Poteauprè (The Poteauprè Inn) to enjoy the accomplishments of the monks. Their on site restaurant serves everything Chimay of course, including one special brew that is only served at the restaurant, Chimay Doreè (gold). They also serve an array of dishes that feature the Chimay beers in an extensive menu that includes beer and cheese tastings. A wonderful way to experience the artisanship of cheese making.

    alt Chimay hotel Poteaupre Hotel