Posts tagged cheese
“That cheese I like,” is what my middle daughter calls cotija (coat-eeha) cheese. She sprinkles it on nearly everything. And for good reason: the cheese has the sharpness of grated Parmesan, but not the bite. While the crumbly cheese originated in Cotija area in the state of Michoacan in Mexico, I’m finding it more widely available in grocery stores in the U.S.
Here’s what you need to know about using cotija cheese:
When do you use cotija cheese?
Can I use it in place of Parmesan cheese?
I wouldn’t. Cotija is saltier than Parmesan, so a little goes a long way. I find that it’s creamier, smaller, and softer too. BUT, I would use a little bit of Parmesan cheese as a substitute for cotija in Mexican dishes. The Americanized versions of enchiladas, tostadas, and tacos are often coated with bland, cheddar cheese. Why not try making your dish a bit more authentic (hey, and tastier) by adding a bit of grated Parmesan on top and not using any other cheese?
Where can I find it?
Your best bet would be to look at a Mexican grocers, but large supermarkets may have it too.
Is there anything else I should know?
Like grated Parmesan, cotija cheese lasts for months when it’s refrigerated, so no rush to use it right away. Also, cotjia cheese doesn’t melt. It’s often called, Mexican Parmesan.
For the perfect holiday comfort food, try James Beard award-winning chef Alex Young’s recipe for homemade mac ‘n cheese. While you might not have cheddar cheese on hand from Grafton Village Cheese Company like they do at Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Young serves guests this rich pasta dish, but for something special you might want to look around for a locally produced cheddar cheese.
Here’s a few more ideas to add some pizzazz to your mac ‘n cheese: add bits of crisped bacon on top before serving and/or pour the mac ‘n cheese into a casserole dish, sprinkle with another 1 cup of shredded cheese and bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the cheese on top is browned.
Prep + cook time: 25-35 minutes
1 lb. macaroni
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup diced onion
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 lb. grated raw milk cheddar cheese (Zingerman’s uses two-year-old raw milk cheddar from Grafton Village)
2 tsp. olive oil
Coarse sea salt
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta and stir well. Cook for about 13 minutes (if using Martelli) or until the pasta is done. Drain it and set it aside.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter for the sauce in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat (be careful not to scorch the butter). Add the onion and bay leaf and saute until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the bay leaf. Add the flour and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly.
- Slowly add the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly to avoid lumping. When the flour and milk have been completely combined, stir in the cream. Keep the mixture at a gentle simmer (not at a high boil) until it thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the mustard, cheddar cheese and salt. Simmer for 5 minutes and set aside.
- In a heavy bottom skillet, over medium-high heat, get the pan very hot. Add olive oil and, when it begins to smoke, add the cheese sauce and drained cooked noodles. Toss thoroughly and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until you have approximately 15% of the mixture golden brown.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Remove from heat.
I saved my favorite bistro pizza recipe for last. Layered with tart apples and a hardy cheese, this pizza was inspired by one of my favorite snack combos, Cortland apple slices with either sharp New York cheddar cheese or whatever strong cheese I had on hand, Fontinella, Fontina, Gruyere, even Parmesan works.
A few things that make this recipe work:
The size. The less traditional mini-size pairs well with the less traditional ingredients. I can’t imagine eating a big slice of apple pizza, can you? But a hand-sized one seems perfect.
Fresh ingredients. The apples are at their flavorful peak right now. I like something with a bit up a bite that holds up to baking. I used Cortland apples, but Granny Smith would be a good choice too.
Deli dough. You can make the dough from scratch, but I stop by my neighborhood Italian deli and pick it up to make the meal prep even faster (they have white or whole wheat dough available).
Sweet slather. Before putting on the apples and cheese I brush the dough with agave nectar. You can use honey too, but I prefer the consistency and slight maple flavor of agave.
Even though my kids like the margarita and the meatball pizzas, apple was the surprise winner in our week of bistro pizzas and this was the only recipe I didn’t plan out beforehand. I had extra dough so I looked through my fridge for inspiration and came up with these pizzas. (Side note: I knew I had a good recipe when my daughter asked if she could bring an apple pizza to school with her for lunch.)
Servings: 4 mini-pizzas
1 bag pizza dough
3-4 tart apples, sliced thin
8-10 small slices of strong cheese (about 8 ounces, Fontinella, Parmesan, Gruyere)
Agave or honey
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Divided the dough into four equal pieces using a floured knife.
- Roll each dough piece out into a 5-6 inch circle, then place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.
- Brush each dough piece generously with agave or honey
- Layer the apple and cheese slices on top.
- Bake for 15 minutes until cheese is golden.
Raise of hands, who has no time to cook because their kids are in choir/basketball/theatre/piano lessons/girl scouts or all of the above? Me too. What is it about this time of year that piles up one activity after another (despite my best efforts not to over-schedule)?
Now you know I love to cook, but lately I’ve been running from one kid’s activity to the next after school so that by the time I get home I don’t have much time to whip up dinner. Take my Monday: I came home after watching one child’s basketball game at 5:30pm, checked my email and found out my other’s daughter’s coach had moved up her practice by ½ hour. And could I have her there by 6pm? Yikes.
Luckily I knew I’d have a tight schedule that night (although I wasn’t thinking it would be quite THAT tight). I had put chicken breasts in the crockpot in the morning and all I needed to do was shred them, add some beans, salsa, a little cheese, roll ‘em up in a flour tortilla and I had a tasty chicken burrito. To go. I heated it then wrapped it in tinfoil and my daughter ate hers on the way to practice. (I know, I know, you’re not supposed to let your kids eat that close to exercising…) I was able to sit back and eat mine while I watched her play. Yeah, eating around the table is definitely preferred, but sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. And eating out is only exciting for a couple nights before my kids start asking for something homemade.
So if you’re looking for a quick dinner that packs well–it’s crockpot time! And don’t forget you can shred the chicken and keep it for a few days–or even freeze it. (Then again, it’s so nice to have the whole house smelling good when you get home after a long day.)
Zesty chicken burrito
Prep time: 5 minutes (or less!)
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (fresh or frozen)
1 onion, chopped coarsely
1 clove garlic (or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder)
½ tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. ground cumin (optional)
1 poblano pepper (optional)
1 can pinto beans
About 1 cup cheese (mozzarella or Monterrey Jack work well)
About 1 cup salsa
4-6 large flour tortillas
- Place the chicken in the crockpot along with the onion, garlic (you don’t even need to remove the skin, just chop it in half), chili powder and 1 ½ cups water or chicken broth.
- Cook the chicken on low for 5-6 hours or on high for 3-4.
- Once the chicken is tender, remove from the crockpot and shred using two forks.
- Add salt and pepper to taste (and more chili powder, if desired).
- Drain the pinto beans.
- In the center of the tortilla place about ¼ cup chicken along with a couple tablespoons of beans, a handful of cheese and a tablespoon or two of salsa.
- Bring two opposite sides of the tortilla together.
- Beginning on the non-folded side, roll the tortilla.
- Heat for 35-45 seconds in the microwave. Wrap in aluminum foil.
Your turn–have any favorite on-the-go meals?
Portabella-gruyere grilled cheese sandwich. Yes it can–and should–be done. Or what about green chili-cheddar grilled cheese? See the humble grilled cheese sandwich gets a bum wrap. Yes you can slather margarine on two sides of bread and pop a piece of tasteless American cheese in the middle and call it done. But you don’t have to.
With a few tricks, I like to make what we call grown-up grilled cheese at our house. Okay, I should confess, it’s also an excuse to feel like I’ve made my kids a decent meal instead of just “settled” on grilled cheese. Plus, they really do taste good.
Let’s talk cheese
Don’t get me wrong, I actually like American cheese. But I pick up the deli slice variety instead of the kind that you peel off plastic. American cheese gives your sandwich the meltiness it needs to be, well, a grilled cheese. Sure, other cheeses may melt okay, but nothing beats the meltability of American. So I pair it with other varieties to get the flavor–and the texture–right. Some of my favorite combos:
American + Fontina (a mild, creamy Italian cheese)
American + Gruyere (a hard cheese that’s almost a cross between Swiss and Parmesan)
American + Extra Sharp Cheddar
You just can’t skimp on the bread if you want a decent grilled cheese. Airy bread absorbs the butter on the outside instead of keeping it crisp. End result: soggy sandwich. I usually choose an Italian deli bread, hearty whole wheat, rye, or even make some on my own.
Deconstructing grilled cheese construction
And now for putting the sandwich together: You want a crisp outside bread layered with hot cheese on the inside right? You might even want to throw in some slices of ham, turkey, tomato, mushroom, or a combination. The key is that you want everything warm or else you’ll end up with an unevenly heated sandwich (almost as bad as soggy!). So, for example, say you want to put ham in the sandwich. Heat the ham on the griddle before you put it on the melting cheese. Ditto for a slice of tomato, or mushrooms. The one exception I can think of would be green chiles.
Now to put it altogether you’d normally put one slice down, lay a few slices of cheese and then put another slice of bread on top right? Try this instead–cook the bread slices side by side and then bring them together once the cheese has started to melt. Again, the goal here is a crispy, evenly cooked sandwich.
You don’t need a lot of butter on the bread to make it crisp. I melt a little butter in the microwave and then brush it on the bread. This spreads the butter more evenly, and thinly, than a butter knife.
Mushroom-gruyere grilled cheese
Servings: 2 (you can easily double or triple this recipe)
4 bella mushrooms
3 slices American cheese
Several small slices of Gruyere (about 4 ounces)
4 slices deli ham
4 slices hearty Italian bread
To give you an idea how I put this sandwich together (well, actually I was the photographer and my hubby did cooking duty), I’ll break it down.
- Cut up 3-4 baby bella mushrooms.
- Melt one tablespoon butter in a large, non-stick skillet. With a kitchen brush, use some of the butter to brush the outside of each sandwich bread slice. Set aside.
- Put the mushrooms into the butter and cook until soft.
- Remove the mushrooms from the pan and add the ham slices. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, then remove.
- Add your bread slices to the pan with the buttered side facing out. Lay one and a half slices of American cheese on one side and slices of Gruyere on the other.
- Place the hot mushrooms on the Gruyere side and the ham on the American cheese side (the hot ingredients help melt the cheeses).
- Cook the bread until it becomes just crisped on the outside. Press the ham/American cheese bread side onto the Gruyere-mushroom side and continue cooking for about 1 minute.
- Remove from the pan and serve. Note that the outside of the bread will have more flavor because it cooks in a pan that also had ham and mushrooms. Mmmmm.
Grown-up grilled cheese is perfect to serve on a family night movie night. There’s plenty of other fun ideas about how to pull off a movie night at Movie Night on a dime at Better Homes & Gardens. I like the idea of recreating a drive-in at home. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team.
Your turn, do you like grilled cheese? Do you ever add something fun? And do you have movie nights with your crew? What do you serve?