April’s Cheese, Please! – Beef, Beer and Blue Cheese Pie

For the first half of April the weather in my corner of France was spectacular. The skies were blue and the temperature was nudging 20+°C. Spring had definitely sprung and summer looked just around the corner. Unfortunately that has all now changed. Instead the skies are grey, the weather is wet and windy and I’m back in my thick warm jumpers.

Luckily I had finally got around to deciding what I wanted to cook for April’s Cheese, Please! Challenge and had decided on a pie! Perfect to warm, and cheer, me up in this dreadful weather. The theme for this month’s challenge was blue cheese and so the pie I was making was filled with beef, beer and blue cheese.

Beef, Beer and Blue Cheese Pie

Beef, Beer and Blue Cheese Pie

Beef and blue cheese is a classic combination, but one more usually seen in the form of cheese on a burger or a Roquefort sauce with steak. However adding blue cheese to the gravy of a beef pie is another great way to enjoy the pairing. The blue cheese adds a rich salty savouriness to the sauce and really gives it a bit of oomph and depth.

Beef, Beer and Blue Cheese Pie - Adding the blue cheese to the sauce

Beef, Beer and Blue Cheese Pie – Adding the blue cheese to the sauce

After a recent trip back to the UK for Easter I am in possession of two different British blue cheeses: some Stilton and some Blue Shropshire (I also have some Danish blue from IKEA floating around in the fridge but given Fromage Homage’s passion for British cheese I thought I’d better not use that one ;-)).

After a fair bit of umming and ahhing I decided to use the pungent salty Stilton in my pie instead of the slightly creamier Shropshire Blue to make sure I got as much blue cheese flavour in the final dish as possible. If I’m going to add cheese to a dish I want to be able to taste it and enjoy it and I thought the Stilton had the best chance of standing up to the beef and the beer.

Beef, Beer and Blue Cheese Pie - A nice hunk of Stilton

Beef, Beer and Blue Cheese Pie – A nice hunk of Stilton

When this was cooking you could certainly smell the Stilton as well as the meat and beer. My kitchen was awash with cheesy and beefy aromas and my stomach was rumbling.

By the time the pie was ready I was starving and unfortunately, in my hurry to consume my creation, I dropped the pie onto the plate and split it open! While I had originally planned to take a photo showing the sauce and the inside of the pie, I had been hoping for a rather more elegant shot!

Beef, Beer and Blue Cheese Pie - Dropped onto the plate!

Beef, Beer and Blue Cheese Pie – “Served” – or rather dropped onto the plate!

Nevermind, you have to break it to eat it and it tasted wonderful! You could definitely taste all the lovely Stilton but at the same time it wasn’t overpowering – you can also taste and enjoy the beef.

For the pastry I made some thyme flavoured shortcrust for a bit of extra flavour and colour, but plain shortcrust (or plain shortcrust and a puff top if you’re fancy) would also be fine. My recipe can be found here.

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Fondue Alternatives: Aligot and Baked Mont D’Or

When it comes to sharing dishes based on melted cheese dishes, the one that everyone knows is a fondue.  I, personally, am rather partial to a fondue and since moving out to the French/Swiss border I have eaten rather a lot of them (I ate them back when I lived in Cardiff as well, but not quite so often).  While my love of fondue is not waning, I thought that maybe it was time for me to try out some new melted cheese meal options.  The two I opted for were Aligot and a Baked Mont D’Or.

Aligot de L’Aveyron

Aligot is hearty dish made from a mixture of potatoes, garlic and cheese.  It originated in the L’Aubrac region in the Pyrenees.  While this dish has humble origins (it was originally made by monks to feed weary pilgrims) it has since become a dish for celebrations and gatherings.

The communal preparation of the dish at such celebrations, combined with its extremely stringy texture when finished, have earned it the nickname “ruban de l’amitié” (ribbon of friendship).

Aligot de L’Aveyron in the pan

Aligot de L’Aveyron in the pan – my best attempt at a “ribbon”

While visually this dish looks pretty similar to a fondue, it’s actually much closer to mashed potato so you don’t want to be dipping any bread into it.  It’s usually served as a side dish with either roast pork or sausage.

Aligot de L’Aveyron with sausage and garlic green beans

Aligot de L’Aveyron with sausage and garlic green beans

I was a bit lazy and bought my Aligot pre-prepared then reheated it at home. But it’s actually a pretty straight forward dish to make.

Aligot de L’Aveyron

My packet of Aligot de L’Aveyron

For four persons you need 1kg of potatoes (traditionally Bintje), 2 cloves of garlic, 400g of fresh Tomme cheese (or Cantal or a mild Cheddar, you don’t want anything too strong) and 200g of crème fraiche.

Peel the garlic and the potatoes and cut the potatoes into large chunks.  Boil the potatoes and the garlic till the potatoes are soft. Drain, remove the garlic and mash the potatoes.  Add the crème fraiche. Grate the cheese and then slowly incorporate into the creamy mash, stirring all the time while it melts.  It’s ready when it forms a “ribbon” when lifted with the spoon i.e. when it’s nice and stringy!

Making this for four, the stirring needs a bit of effort, but is not too difficult.  However when you see the size of the pots they make at celebrations you can understand why they might need a few friends to help out!

Baked Mont D’Or

Having been produced for around 200 years in the Jura region of both countries, Mont D’Or is a cheese claimed by the French and the Swiss (it’s called Vacherin Mont D’Or in Switzerland and is made with pasteurized milk as opposed to the unpasteurized French version).

It’s completely seasonal, only being produced and available for sale in the “winter” (you can buy the French one from September to May) when the cows produce less milk with a different fat profile compared to the summer milk. The summer milk from the same cows is used to make Comté (or Gruyere on the Swiss side).

I like to think of Mont D’or as the original baked camembert and a cheat’s fondue – no grating required and it comes in its own box ready to be cooked and enjoyed!

Mont D'Or in packet

A Mont D’Or in its packet

A washed rind cheese, it’s shaped by a spruce hoop that also adds to the “outdoorsy” flavour of the cheese.  When ripe, it’s often already runny and delicious inside even at room temperature.  Baking with white wine and garlic just enhances the loveliness that lies within and warms things up a bit.  I would say that overall the taste is a bit stronger and more pungent than a fondue, it’s also an extremely rich cheese, but if you’re a cheese lover like me it’s a real treat.

Mont D'Or ready for the oven

The Mont D’Or ready for the oven

For a small Mont D’Or (which serves 2 apparently, although I can eat a whole one myself!) you just need 1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic (sliced) and 50mls of white wine.  Cut a few slits in the top of the cheese and push the garlic into them.  Pour over the white wine and then bake everything in the oven for about 30 minutes at 200C (or longer if your cheese has been in the fridge). Et voila, beautiful, gooey, tasty, hot cheese ready to be dipped into!

Mont D'Or baked with the accompaniments

Mont D’Or baked, with some accompaniments

Dipping my bread into the Mont D'Or

Dipping my bread into the Mont D’Or

As well as bread, I like to serve mine with gherkins and meats.  I find that the smokiness of some saucisson goes particularly well!

Mont D'Or - Demolished!

A Mont D’Or – Demolished!

A selection of Austrian Cheeses (and one stray Italian one)

As you may have suspected from the pages on this blog, I’m rather partial to a bit of cheese.  It would in fact be fair to say that barely a day goes by when I don’t eat cheese (today I have macaroni cheese for lunch, yesterday I had it in a salad at lunch and in canapés in the evening, the day before dinner involved a cheese course(!) and the day before that I enjoyed some in a galette – I won’t go on for fear of boring you but the trend continues…).

This love of cheese has not gone unnoticed by those around me (I received some wonderful Welsh cheeses as a present at Christmas which I scoffed before I could blog about them) and on a recent trip to Austria I was taken to a local market by some friends to sample the various wares.  After consuming an entire meals worth of tasters I finally left with five different Austrian cheeses, an Italian cheese and some sausage (for a little variety).

And so onto the cheeses that I bought (the names/origins of these may or may not be completely correct – I really should have written the details down on each piece rather than trying to remember it all!)

The red wine cheese – Laendle Weinkaese:

Austrian Cheese - Laendle Weinkaese

Laendle Weinkaese

This is a hard cows milk cheese which was washed with red wine as it matured.  According to the internet (http://www.vmilch.at/en/laendle-weinkaese) the washing is done twice a week and the cheese is matured for 4 months.

You could really smell the grapes when sniffing this cheese; it had a very clear fruity whiff about it.  In terms of the taste it had a mild and general fruitiness which reminded me of comte.  I think this is a really nice around snacking cheese, good to nibble by itself or use in a sandwich.

The plastic one – Murtal Styrian Cheese (Murtaler Steirerkäs):

Austrian Cheese - Murtal Styrian Cheese -Murtaler Steirerkäs

Murtal Styrian Cheese -Murtaler Steirerkäs

A Styrian delicacy, this was a very unusual cheese.  It’s an acid-cured cooked cheese made from cows milk and flavoured with caraway.  Because acidic bacteria are used instead of rennet to curdle the milk the cheese has quite a sour taste.  During the cooking stage that comes next most of the curds melt (some pieces still remain whole in the cheese) and this gives it a fake plastic texture which is closer to a cheese slice than mozzarella or halloumi (the only other cooked cheeses I know).  The caraway adds a really spicy note which I loved, but because of the fairly strong sour flavour I couldn’t eat a lot of this in one go.  Great in small doses but not something to make a meal of for me.

The one from the Silver Mine – Stollenkase:

Austrian Cheese - Stollenkase

Stollenkase

Another hard cows cheese, this one is matured 100m underground in an old Silver Mine in Arzberg (http://www.almenland-stollenkaese.at – they also make a red wine washed variety!).  The temperature down the mine is a constant 10C whatever time of year it is and the cheese are left exposed to the elements and then washed gently with salt water.  This was a bit stronger than the red wine cheese, not as soft overall with the slight acid astringency you get with a mature cheddar.  Another really nice cheese though for picking at!

The blue one – Blue goats cheese:

Austrian Cheese - Blue mountain goats cheese

Blue mountain goats cheese

I have to confess that I have completely forgotten the proper name for this cheese, and the internet is not proving very helpful.  I do however remember that it’s a blue cheese made with milk from mountain goats (not just any old goats – mountain goats!). It had a fairly soft almost frothy texture making it easy to cut and interesting in the mouth. I’m a big fan of both goats cheese and blue cheese so I loved this.  It was fairly mild and goaty to start with but had a massive blue tang on the back of the throat that hung around for ages.

The garlic one – Brie with garlic and herbs:

Austrian Cheese - Brie with garlic and herbs

Brie with garlic and herbs

Once again the proper name for this has unfortunately escaped me. However the English translation I was given was brie with garlic and herbs.  I have to be honest and say that on the herb front I couldn’t taste that much, but they definitely weren’t lying about the garlic!  When you smell this or first put it in your mouth it doesn’t seem that strong, but once you chew that garlic really kicks in.  And the more you chew, the more intense that garlic flavour gets.  A very powerful cheese indeed!

The odd one out – Italian chestnut cheese (Occelli ® in foglie di Castagno – http://www.occelli.it/en/47-occelli-in-foglie-di-castagno):

Austrian Cheese - the odd one out - Occelli in foglie di Castagno

The odd one out – Occelli in foglie di Castagno

While I was primarily after Austrian cheeses, one of the stalls suggested that I try this and I’m very glad I did.  It’s like no cheese I’ve tried before!  It’s a mixture of cow, sheep and goats milk (with the mix depending on availability) which is matured for a year and a half and then wrapped in chestnut leaves for extra flavour.

It was an extremely flaky cheese, I didn’t have a slice so much as a collection of small pieces, yet in the mouth the texture was extremely soft and creamy (increasing so with the pieces from closer to the edge that had been wrapped) as opposed to dry and hard which I would have expected given its appearance.  There was a strong hint of goat about this cheese, but I guess that would change depending on batch you had.  It also had a earthiness and woodiness that I really liked.

So there you go, an awful lot of cheese, all of which I had to cram into my hand luggage!  I’ve really enjoyed devouring these since I’ve been back.  I have no idea if it’s possible to source any of these cheeses elsewhere, but if not have a look out for them if you’re ever in Austria.

October Cheese, Please! Challenge: Etorki, leek and Hazelnut Tart

Etorki, Leek and Hazelnut Tart

I adore cheese (for me it’s even better than chocolate) and I’m always looking for any excuse to consume more or try something new.  After watching from the sidelines previously, this month I decided I wanted to have a go at the Cheese, Please! Challenge (rules here) run by FromageHomage.


Fromage Homage

This month’s challenge is hard sheep’s cheese and for me the obvious choice to use was Etorki, a sheep’s cheese from the Basque region that I love.  Etorki (it means “origin” in Basque) is made from the milk of black- or red-faced Manech ewes in South West France.  It’s a very pale colour and has a fairly “bendy” texture.  It’s not as punchy as a mature manchego, but has a subtle nutty/earthy flavour instead.

Etorki

Etorki

Etorki Cheese

Etorki Cheese

I’ve never cooked with Etorki before, I normally just eat it on bread with membrillo (or just straight from the pack), and so I was intrigued by the idea of finding or coming up with a proper recipe using it.

How I normally eat Etorki

How I normally eat Etorki

I did not succeed in locating any recipes that called directly for Etorki but after much racking of my brains I remembered a recipe from the BBC that I cooked some time ago for a leek tart with a hazelnut crumb on top that had used Caerphilly cheese (which was originally made with sheep’s milk many years ago but now uses cow’s milk).  I figured that, given its own nutty flavours, the Etorki would work quite well in this dish as well.

It wasn’t all plain sailing but I was fairly pleased with the end result.  The final recipe I used is here.

A slice of Etorki Leek and Hazelnut Tart

A slice of Etorki Leek and Hazelnut Tart

My original plan involved using a hazelnut shortcrust pastry to further enhance the nuttiness, however it turned out that I only had 20g of ground hazelnuts left in my cupboard (this was a Sunday evening so there were no shops open to get more).  I did incorporate what little I had left into the pastry I made, but I don’t think it did any more than giving it a slight grainy appearance, I certainly couldn’t taste it in the finished dish!

Blind baking without beans because I had lent them to a friend

Blind baking without beans because I had lent them to a friend

Having never cooked with Etorki before I wasn’t sure how it would react.  The cheese inside the filling worked fine, it just oozed into the egg and tasted delicious.   However, while the cheese in the topping still tasted great, it didn’t look terrible appetizing.  As you can see it puffed up, rather than melted and so ended up looking more like toasted sweetcorn that pieces of cheese.  The texture worked well though, just a shame about the appearance!

Etorki, Leek and Hazelnut Tart

Interesting Cheese Lumps!

So that’s my first ever entry to the challenge.  Thinking of a recipe using Hard Sheep’s Cheese was a tricky task and I don’t think fully mastered cooking with Etorki yet, at least from a visual point of view!   I enjoyed my tart though, it was very tasty and it also tastes just as nice cold (I have been eating the left overs as lunches in work).

Zürich Geschnetzeltes – a quintessentially Swiss dish

I have been working in Switzerland for two and half years now and despite my best intentions, until this week I had never visited Zürich – the closest I had come was driving around the outskirts on my way to Austria one time.

I’ve managed to fix all that in the past week by visiting not once but twice!  Both trips were flying day visits of only a couple of hours ach with absolutely no time to see the sights or experience anything of the culture or cuisine on the first trip and only time to wolf down some (delicious!) currywurst and glimpse the lake on the second, but hey; at least I actually made it into the city!

Currywurst

Currywurst

As I didn’t actually get to sample it when I was there, I thought I cook myself the traditional dish of Zürich Geschnetzeltes (or Émincé de Veau Zurichoise if you prefer) at home to celebrate finally making it to Zürich.

A long long time ago (or so it seems,) in anticipation of the move out here, I decided to cook a Swiss themed meal for some friends.  My original plan was to have Zürich Geschnetzeltes as the main course, however after searching high and low, in supermarkets and butchers, it turned out it was impossible to find veal for sale and so I had to settle for the rather less authentically traditional (but much more cheesy ;-))option of a fondue.

However there is no such problem over here on the continent, since moving out I have enjoyed many a veal escalope,  it was easy to get hold of some for this traditional Swiss dish.  I scouted around the internet to compare recipes from various sources and to my surprise I found out that the mushrooms are a modern addition to the mix.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen it made or advertised without them so there was no way I was going to leave them out of mine, no matter how traditional!

Picking my favourite bits of the recipes I saw I opted to use shallots rather than white onion as I think the sweetness goes really well with cream.  I also choose to leave out the paprika that some recipes included and tried to stick to just the basic flavours.  A couple of recipes I found called for the addition of cornstarch to the sauce, but I found the residual flour from frying the veal thickens things just fine.  The recipe I used to make my take on Zürich Geschnetzeltes can be found here.

Zürich Geschnetzeltes

Zürich Geschnetzeltes

On my way back from Zürich the second time I also got to something else I had been meaning to do for a long time – eat in the dining car on the train.  It was brilliant.  After a long day and a three hour exam I was able to relax on my own table with a large plate of Swiss cheese and a delicious Valais Pinot Noir.  There was something wonderfully timeless and elegant about the spending the return journey in the dining car, I felt like I was in a movie or some great romantic novel.  I can’t wait to do it again.

Swiss cheese and wine on the train

Swiss cheese and wine on the train

 

Greek Delights

To me, the Greek cuisine is very underrated.  While most people (in the UK at least) are familiar with the staples of Mousakka, Tzatziki, Feta and Halloumi the broader spectrum of Greek cooking doesn’t seem so widely known and it can be pretty hard to track down a good Greek restaurant in many cities.

I have visited a few Greek islands as part of holidays and always enjoyed trying all the different dishes on offer.  However it’s been quite a few years now since I was over there and while it’s fun to recreate things at home, it’s always great to enjoy the real deal.  As a result I was really excited that, in addition to all the food I on the boat, I would also be able to sample some authentic Greek cooking while on the Islands and in Athens.

My first Greek stop was the island of Santorini where I embarked a short boat trip round to Oia in order to take in the amazing view of the caldera.  Sanotrini is famous for its wine and I was keen to try some so after a while walking round in the (scorching) heat and taking pictures we popped into a little taverna for some refreshment.  Rather than opting for an expensive bottle we went for a carafe of the unnamed local white which was delicious and at €4 for 500mls an absolute bargain!

Santorini wine

Santorini wine

Refreshed, we then caught a bus round to Fira, the town above where the ship was moored.  After a bit of a look round we popped into another taverna for snacks before heading back on board.  Here we shared a Greek salad and some of the pies of the day, which turned out to be feta.  The portions for each were huge: five crisp and flaky individual pasties which were divine and a very generous portion of fresh salad topped with an enormous slab of feta.

Some of the Greek Salad

Some of the Greek Salad

the delicious feta pies

The delicious feta pies

Our next Greek destination was Mykonos where unfortunately I had already eaten before leaving the ship and so wasn’t able to try any of the amazing fresh fish and seafood that was on offer.  It wasn’t all bad news on the food front though as after some exploring to build up an appetite I was able to sample some delicious homemade baklava down on the waterfront.

A hunk of baklava

A hunk of baklava

Many times when I’ve had baklava both and home and abroad it’s has been made and served as bite size pieces but there was nothing dainty about the baklava at this restaurant.  We were given a colossal slab of filo, nuts and honey all of which tasted divine.

The final Greek destination was Athens where we stayed for one night and where I managed to indulge my craving for gyros.  Gyros is basically a traditional kebab, but bears no resemblance, either visually or in flavour, to the processed “meat” you get in most UK kebab shops.  Instead thin layers of spiced pork are built up on a skewer and interspersed with layers of fat and then rotated and cooked slowly resulting in the amazingly tender and moist pieces of meat which I can’t resist.

A plate of gyros

A plate of gyros

It’s usually served one of two ways: either on a plate with the accompaniments (fresh tomato, sliced red onion and garlicky tzatziki) and pitta on the side or as a quick takeaway snack with the meat et all in wrapped in the pitta bread.  Being greedy over the course of our stay I tried both as well as a slight variation of take away version with the gyros meat replaced with chicken souvlakia (an individual skewer of meat marinated in lemon garlic and oregano)! All were wonderful and I wish I had time (and the stomach space) to have eaten even more.

take away gyro and souvlaki

Take away gyros and souvlaki

For our one evening meal in Athens I reluctantly held back from consuming yet more gyro in order to sample some other dishes – fried cheese with figs and giouvetsi.  The fired cheese with figs was exactly as it sounds, rounds of crisp fried cheese topped with confit figs and a fig and honey dressing/sauce, a ridiculous rich and indulgent starter.   Giouvetsi is a classic Greek dish of soft slow cooked beef or lamb chunks (mine was actually veal) baked with orzo pasta in a cinnamon spiced tomato sauce.

fried cheese with figs

Fried cheese with figs

giouvetsi

Giouvetsi

Overall I can’t praise the Greek food and wine I consumed highly enough.  I didn’t have a single bad/meal or dish and I can’t wait till I can go back sometime and eat more.  In the meantime I’m going to have to see if I can find a good Greek restaurant in Geneva and I’ve brought back some authentic dessert filo to have a go at making my own baklava!