Thursday, September 29, 2011

Guest post: Gen's cheddar & wholegrain mustard croquetas

It's been a while since I've posted a recipe but when I heard about the cheddar croquetas my friend Gen cooked for her supper club the other day I begged her to tell me how to make them.

Gen's a very talented food stylist and writer whose blog ‘An Egg a Day’ charts her adventures in urban hen keeping and egg cookery. She recently started an occasional supper club with a menu that includes as many eggs as possible. This is how she describes it:

"Saturday night saw the second ‘egg supper’, planned as an early autumn feast of fruit, cheese and meat. On the menu was a rabbit and prune pate, served with spiced apricot chutney, Keen’s cheddar & wholegrain mustard croquetas, pork & pears braised in cider, a mojito sorbet and a plum, almond & amaretto crumble served with glorious homemade custard.

Undoubtedly one of the stars of the show were the croquetas. The recipe started out as a germ of an idea, constructed in my mind as an anglicized version of the gorgeous Spanish jamon croquetas I love so much. I used Keens cheddar for this recipe as it's one of my favourites. I knew it would be smooth enough to melt gorgeously but robust in flavour with a strong earthy taste that wouldn’t be overpowered by the mustard. If you can’t get hold of Keens, substitute any other extra mature cheddar.

I was so pleased with the result, they were quite delicious - rich, crunchy and deeply savoury - just as I imagined them to be in my edible daydreams!"

Cheddar & wholegrain mustard croquetas
Makes 28-30, enough for 4-6 generous helpings.

800ml milk
1 small onion, peeled & cut into quarters
1tsp whole black peppercorns
2 sprigs rosemary to infuse in milk
100g butter
150g plain flour
200g extra mature cheddar, grated
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
200g fine dried breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
Vegetable oil for deep frying

In a heavy based plan, bring the milk up to boil along with the onion, peppercorns and rosemary. Reduce the heat to as low as possible and simmer gently for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.

In a clean saucepan, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir together to form a roux. Strain the milk and pour onto the roux and whisk until combined. Cook until thickened, stirring all the time to prevent lumps or sticking. You will end up with a rather unappetizing thick and gloopy white sauce - have faith. Add the cheese and mustard mix throughly until combined, scrape into a flat dish and spread out to cool, pressing down a layer of cling film to prevent a skin forming. Once cool, chill in the fridge for an hour or two to firm up.

When you are ready to begin shaping the croquetas, set yourself up a production line with the beaten egg in a small bowl and the breadcrumbs on a large plate. Take a generous dessertspoonful of the chilled mixture and shape into a little rugby ball. I found it easiest to do this with a combination of the scoop of the spoon and the palm of my hand. Drop gently into the egg then lift out and roll in the breadcrumbs until coated all over. Transfer to a clean plate. Repeat with the remaining mixture then chill again for at least 30 minutes. They will rest quite happily in the fridge for 24 hours making it a good fiddly job to do ahead of time.

To cook, heat a deep fat fryer to 180°C and fry in batches for 3 minutes until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Alternatively heat a litre of oil in a large saucepan. When a cube of bread dropped in takes 60 seconds to turn a deep golden brown the oil is hot enough to cook. Cook in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan as this will result in a dramatic drop in temperature.

These croquetas are really rich and great served with something a little crisp and sharp, like a peppery watercress salad. As an added bonus, the croquetas, shaped and rolled, freeze really well. Cooked from frozen - they will take a little extra time to fry - they make a gorgeously indulgent and quick supper. Lovely with a glass of chilled dry sherry, or even an icy cold beer straight from the fridge.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Are you scared to try new cheeses?

According to a survey by the British Cheese Board released today one in 10 of us is scared of trying a new cheese.

I suppose one should be heartened that 9 in 10 of us aren't but I always find it surprising that anyone is scared of food. I only have to find out about a new cheese - or new anything - and I want to try it and I guess that applies to many of my regular readers too.

But suppose you do feel like that? How do you move out of your cheddar (and, I suspect, brie) comfort zone?

A lot of it I suspect has to do with intensity of flavours. I know many people - my husband is one - who don't like strong blues like Roquefort or stinky cheeses like Epoisses. But the answer is not to avoid that style of cheese completely but find a milder example of it.

If you find Stilton too strong for instance try a milder, mellower Barkham Blue or Gorgonzola Dolce.

If you run a mile from pongy cheeses try something like a Tallegio which has that gorgeously gooey interior of a washed rind cheese without its pungent smell.

You could also think of trying a sheeps' cheese like Manchego or Berkswell which doesn't tend to be too strong or a mature Gouda or Mimolette which has a nicely rounded nutty flavour. (Waitrose does unscary examples of all these.)

And what about the many other English regional cheeses, many of them mild and mellow - Caerphilly, Wensleydale and Red Leicester to name but three?

Of course the best way to extend your knowledge of cheese is to go to a cheese shop or deli that will let you have a taste - or, if you're in the vicinity, head for the British Cheese Festival in Cardiff this weekend. Or come to our Cheese School on October 30th, says she, ruthlessly grasping the opportunity for a quick plug!

You can also identify the British cheeses you might like on the British Cheese Board's new flavour map. Click on the pins near the centre for milder cheeses.

Try one new cheese a month and you'll soon be an expert.

Do you stick to the same few cheeses? If you tell me what they are I'll suggest a new cheese for you to try!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nopi's courgette and manouri cheese fritters

The big boom in restaurants doing breakfast has resulted in many more places offering inventive cheese dishes to start your day. This was an amazing dish I came across at Yotam Ottolenghi's Nopi last week where I attended the launch of David Lebovitz's glossy new book Ready for Dessert - an odd venue, really, when you think about it when it's all about puddings not cheese. Although I don't see any reason why you shouldn't make his delicious Ricotta Cheesecake with Orange and Aniseed for breakfast. Apart from the fact it contains a good slug of marsala, perhaps.

Anyway, back to Ottolenghi's fritters which were amazing. Lighter than fritters have any right to be though I'm not sure if you followed the recipe which I happily came across in the Guardian here they would be the puffy balls in the restaurant rather than the slighly flat burger-shaped patties in the recipe shot. They come with lime flavoured yoghurt which was wonderfully refreshing and some punchy bitter leaves.

They also served some really delicious chard and feta (I think) pastries at Nopi with black and white sesame seeds on the base which look really easy to knock up.

Sometimes the cheese thing gets a bit out of hand, though. This rather unlovely dish with house braised beans, salted ricotta, lemon, mint and poached egg at the hip Clerkenwell breakfast spot St Ali was less well thought out. Particularly as you had the rather weird option of ordering it with a kipper.

Have you come across any good breakfast dishes that include cheese lately?

PS you can see many more beautiful pix of the breakfast delights at Nopi on David Lebovitz's blog here. Meaning more beautiful pictures than mine ;-)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The ultimate cheeselover's weekend

If you love cheese, visit the West Country the last weekend of October.

There are two great all-day events on.

On Saturday 29th there's the Fine Cheese Company's cheese festival at Milsom Place in Bath which features over 20 artisanal cheesemakers. I went last year and it was fab. You get a fantastic chance to taste the best of British cheeses.

And on the Sunday Trethowan's Dairy and I have our latest Cheese School which is being held for the first time in the beautiful Barley Wood Walled Garden (above) at Wrington, just outside Bristol. Inspired by the surroundings - there are also some amazing orchards there - we are going to focus on cheese and apples and apple flavoured drinks including, of course, cider and local cheesemaker Tim Homewood of Homewood Cheeses will be showing you how to make your own cheese in the old cider barn.

There will also be talks from Joe Schneider producer of what I think is currently Britain's best blue cheese, Stichelton, an unpasteurised version of Stilton, a French v British cheese tasting and a wine and beer 'smackdown' to see which is the best drink with cheese - or at least the cheeses we field on the day.

You can find more information and booking details on the Cheese School website including some recommended places to stay. The picture below, by Rob of Eat Pictures, is of our 'Amazing Tastes' session where you get the chance to create your own cheese plates and boards!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Two new ways of serving goats cheese

Our fortnight in France has produced a couple of new ideas for serving cheese - as it usually does.

The first was an elegant course in a restaurant that should by rights have had a Michelin star, La Renaissance in Argentan which is also considerably more interesting than it looks from the website. Small balls of goats cheese were mixed with apricot and chopped lavender and set in the centre of fine, crisp savoury biscuits. There were also shards of apricot alongside and some kind of apricotty syrup, hard to determine, admittedly, in the rather fuzzy low-light picture above.

You almost certainly wouldn't want to go to that trouble but you could easily prepare the cheese that way and serve it with homemade breadsticks or biscuits. We'd finished our wine by that point but it would have been perfect with a sweet wine like a Jurançon or a Pacherenc-de-Vic-Bilh.

The other was at a wine bar in BĂ©darieux called Chai Christine Cannac where they served goats cheeses of different ages with honey, fleur-de-sel (coarse, unprocessed sea salt) and olive oil. The rather dishevelled appearance of the slate is due to the fact that it was ordered not by us but the next door table. When I was asking Ms Cannac about it she said she was sure her friends wouldn't mind if I took a snap of it. So I did.

Serving cheese with salt is of course not the healthiest option but I can imagine it would add an appealing crunch. A bit like that gorgeous French butter with salt crystals.