Reality check

True confession:  I am no longer shopping all-local.  COVID restrictions have caused me to reconsider my food choices. As much as I support local produce, I have had to shop beyond my 10 mile preference—by a long shot. 

For fresh fruit, I regularly buy local apples and pears, but beyond that, I must opt for what is available and affordable. At first I argued with self, but then there’s the banana situation. I have always been able to justify buying them from other countries because bananas aren’t readily available in US.  Plus, they ship well, arrive in their own thick-skinned wrapper, and supply plenty of much needed potassium.

Then, it was blueberries, a much loved Oregon staple. I struggled at first, but rationalized they were not locally in season. Still, they remain competitively priced and readily available —arriving clean, plump, and juicy from Mexico, Chile, and elsewhere.  Another reality check, and I’ve moved on. 

So, today’s cookie may cause some to freak out —but, consider the Blueberry Banana Cookie!    

Blueberry Banana Cookies

This is the time to use any soft aging banana you may have on hand. These cookies mix up quickly in one bowl with a whisk and spatula. A touch of nutmeg blends beautifully with both the berries and bananas.

Throw in a handful of fresh blueberries and you will have soft cookies peppered with purple pockets. A scoop of quick oats gives fiber, deliciously absorbs any excess berry juice, and contributes to their shelf-life. 

Of course, lacking fresh blueberries, you can always substitute an equal amount fresh nuts, seeds, or chocolate.

Blueberry Banana Cookies

From Banana-Oat Cookies, Counter Cuisine

Ingredients
1 cup AP flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp each salt, cinnamon, nutmeg
1 egg, room temperature
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 banana, mashed
2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted or vegetable oil
½ tsp vanilla
 1 cup quick oats
½ cup or more cut up fresh blueberries (or nuts, seeds, fruit, chocolate bits)
1 Tbsp demerara sugar

Instructions
Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat, or spray with non-stick spray. 
On waxed paper, combine flour through spices.
In large bowl, combine egg through vanilla.  Stir in the dry ingredients, mixing to just combine. Stir in the oats, plus blueberries.
Drop by tablespoons onto baking sheet. These will not spread much.  If desired flatten tops slightly. Sprinkle with a pinch of demerara sugar. 
Bake for 12-16 minutes, until evenly browned; rotate pan once.  Cool slightly and remove to rack,   Makes 24 cookies

Endearing Fajitas

The story of the fajita is deeply intertwined with Texas and its beef culture. 

In the early 1900’s, the lowly skirt steak was a favored commodity in the Rio Grande Valley for vaqueros during cattle roundups. The fajita, with grilled beef, vegetables, tortillas and condiments continued on as a traditional dish in homes and local restaurants.  

No surprise that its popularity would surface in other areas of Texas. In the early 80’s the sizzling fajita became a real happening at the Austin Hyatt Regency — and still retains a legendary presence. Fajita offerings soon appeared everywhere in Austin. Restaurants and fast food sites featured diverse adaptations with chicken, shrimp, and vegetables that ultimately elevated it to national status.  

It’s fajita adaptations that keep it a beloved staple in my kitchen. The whole point is to keep these stovetop creations quick.  Since I love a good side of black beans with fajitas, during a recent session I simply added them to the skillet instead. 

Chicken-Bean Fajita

Turns out, a casual cupful of black beans dotted amongst the onion, red and green peppers, provides depth, boosts overall flavor, and extends the chicken without notice. A nice touch — and something I should have thought of sooner!    

Chicken-Bean Fajitas

Adapted from Fajitas, Counter Cuisine Cookbook

Ingredients
¾ lb chicken, boneless, skinless breast or thigh, cut bite-size
Fajita Dressing
½ tsp each salt, cumin and dried oregano
1 tsp chile powder
1 clove garlic, mince
2 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
½ large red onion, strips
1 clove garlic, slivers
1 each red and pasilla peppers, seed, in strips
1 cup black beans, rinse and drain
salt and pepper

Instructions

Make dressing:  In small container combine salt thru olive oil and set aside.

Marinate the chicken. Drizzle with approx. 1 Tbsp dressing to coat; set aside up to 1 hour.

Cook vegetables. Over medium high coat a wide skillet with 2 tsp oil, cook onion and garlic 1-2 minutes to soften. Add the peppers, dust lightly with sat and pepper and continue for 2-3 minutes to soften.  Remove to a holding plate.

To finish.  Drizzle oil to coat pan, add the drained chicken slices and sauté until firm and taking on color. Toss in the drained beans; add the vegetables, drizzle all with remaining dressing and heat well.   

To serve, place portions on warmed tortillas. Top with cheese, cilantro, lime juice, salsa or guacamole. Serves 8-12

To Wok, or not

It’s post-Easter, and once again I’ve got more eggs than space. Here’s a tasty way to convert 2-3 eggs into a satisfying meal along with any lingering vegetables from the fridge.  

Granted, fried rice can be a bit of a yawn, but this one will catch your attention. Bill from Woks of Rice adds a clever seasoning sauce to his rice either ahead or during the stir fry process.  More than the usual few shakes of soy sauce, his blend includes a dash of turmeric which adds color, smooths the edges, and fills in some the missing blanks.  

I have taken liberties with Bill’s recipe and streamlined it further for my own convenience and entertainment.  I’ve discovered that the Instant Pot works nicely as a makeshift wok!  By using the Sauté More setting, it rises to the occasion and supplies plenty of heat for the stir fry task. 

Fried Rice

So, grab your wok, a pan, or pot of choice. It’s critical that all prep work is done ahead since the stir fry goes very fast. The ingredient list may look long due to the many vegetable inclusions, but pick and choose as you wish. Here are 3 salient points:

  1. Attend to all advance work and gather all tools. When ready, there are few cooking steps. 
  2. Read though the recipe a couple of times so that the cooking process flows smoothly.
  3. Directions are provided for either a wok (or wide skillet) or Instant Pot.  When it’s time to remove the ‘pan from the heat’ simply grab a glove or mitt and lift pan or pot liner onto a hot plate or board standing by. If necessary, carefully wipe it out before proceeding.

Although this is a vegetable-based dish, it’s delicious with ham, shrimp or other protein added at the vegetable stage.   

Fried Rice, Wok or not 

Inspired by Vegetable Fried Rice, Woks of Life   

Ingredients
1 cup raw rice (3 cups approx., cooked white rice)
Rice Seasoning Sauce:
½ tsp sesame oil
2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp light soy sauce
½ tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric
Vegetables:
¼ cup carrots, dice
½ onion, dice
¼ cup shiitake or other fresh mushrooms, dice
¼ cup green pepper (your choice) dice
¾ cup snow peas, remove strings and halve
1 green onion, chop
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided, more if needed2 cup mung beans sprouts
1 clove garlic, mince
⅛ tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp white wine or water
2 eggs
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp white wine or water

Instructions

  1. In Advance 
    • Prepare Rice  Prepare the rice according to package directions. In Instant Pot, place 1 cup basmati rice, 1½ cups water, and ½ tsp salt in pot. Seal, bring to Pressure, cook 5-6 minutes; allow 10 minutes cool down time before releasing pressure. Cool to room temperature and break up any clumps.
    •  Seasoning Sauce and Vegetables  In a small bowl, combine sauce ingredients and set aside. Trim vegetables, cut into similar size; set aside in neat piles.
    • Eggs  Combine the eggs with salt, white pepper and water. 
  2. Heat wok to high (IP Sauté Normal) coat with 1 Tbsp oil. Pour in the eggs; scramble with spatula and when half cooked remove pan (IP liner) from heat. Use spatula to break eggs into smaller pieces and finish cooking with residual pan heat. Turn out onto holding plate.
  3. Set wok heat to medium (IP to Sauté Normal).  Add 1 Tbsp oil, onion, garlic, and carrot, stir fry for 1 minute with spatula.  Add mushrooms and pepper, stir fry 30-60 seconds. 
  4. Increase heat to high (IP to Sauté More).  Add rice and stir fry, firmly scraping bottom to prevent sticking.  After 1 minute pour the reserved seasoning sauce over the rice and stir to coat rice evenly.  Season with more white pepper and cook 2 minutes until steam rises from rice. Adjust seasoning.
  5. Add the snow peas, stir 15-30 seconds.  Return eggs to pan and mix to incorporate.  Add water or wine around perimeter of pan and stir it in.  Add the beans sprouts and scallions, cooking until sprouts begin to wilt.  Serves 4.

Scottish Salmon anyone?

A package of Scottish Smoked Salmon caught my eye at the grocery store recently. It was a thick slice from a fillet weighing between 5-6 ounces in size, similar in shape to a cut of hot smoked Pacific Northwest salmon. But it was softer when pressed—on the order of a chunk of cold smoked Nova.  I was intrigued…

When I opened it later, I discovered the salmon’s skin was attached and it was wonderfully moist and flaked easily.  It’s richly smoked flavor was more intense than the usual Nova salmon—somewhere between hot smoked and Nova. Oh yum. This delicacy would require a light touch to retain its essence and beauty. 

After considering my options, I decided to feature the salmon in a light, creamy Pasta Carbonara. 

I’d go with a fettucine rounded it out with mild artichoke quarters, a bit of roasted red pepper and peas for color—and fold in the salmon at the last minute. If the lovely Scottish smoked salmon is not available, go with your next best choice, either Nova or hot smoked.  

Since there isn’t much prep for this dish, it’s best to have everything ready as it all happens in the blink of an eye.  Frozen peas are set out on the counter at the onset. Canned quartered artichokes are used rather than fresh or frozen and tossed lightly with mild vinaigrette.  I used a variety of fettucine that only takes 5 minutes and started it cooking before beginning the carbonara. 

First, the vegetables are heated in a sauté pan and the hot drained pasta is added and combined. When well heated, the pan is removed from the heat. The egg mixture is poured over the hot pasta forming its own creamy sauce with more Parmesan added in. Any residual heat should be enough for the eggs to bind and cling to the pasta. If in doubt briefly return to heat. Too much heat can run the risk of a scrambled mess.

 

Top with the glorious smoked salmon and a few chives or green onions, give a light toss and dinner is served! 

Smoked Salmon Carbonara

Ingredients

  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, small slivers
  • ⅓ cup roasted red peppers, strips
  • 1 cup quartered artichokes, rinse, drain, cut if large. If time permits, marinate  briefly in 1-2 Tbsp vinaigrette
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ tsp each salt & red pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 12 oz. fettuccine, cooked al dente, 1 cup salted pasta water, reserved
  • 5 oz. Scottish smoked salmon, broken up – or equivalent Nova or hot smoked salmon
  • salt and freshly ground pepper as needed
  • 2 Tbsp chives or green onion slivers

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.  Drain and reserve 1 cup pot liquid.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, sauté garlic briefly in olive oil. Add roasted red peppers and drained artichokes, gently toss to incorporate flavors. Add the defrosting peas, cook 1-2 minutes to heat well.  
  3. Beat eggs with red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Slowly whisk ½ cup of the hot pasta liquid into the eggs to temper them and stir in ¼ cup of grated cheese. 
  4. Reduce heat to medium, toss the pasta and vegetables together in the hot skillet. Drizzle with olive oil to avoid sticking to pan and remove from heat.
  5. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta/vegetables to evenly coat; sprinkle with more cheese. Add more hot pasta water if needed to form a creamy sauce; adjust seasoning.
  6. Top with the smoked salmon pieces and gently combine; overmixing can reduce freshness and color. Sprinkle with chives or green onion.  Yield:  4 generous servings

Alt-Chili

Tired of the typical Bowl of Red adrift in a sea of chili powder?

Feeling adventurous?  This tasty option will tickle your jaded palate in under an hour. We get a quick start with ground pork and build up layers of flavor and nutrition with multiple peppers—including smoky dried chipotle pepper in tangy adobo sauce.

Building chili flavors

For a satisfying twist we fill in with non-traditional pumpkin puree. The Italians have taught us that pumpkin is not just for pies, it’s a known team player with pork and in pasta dishes, too. If it was a lovely fall day we might consider making our own puree, but today we are on a roll and happy with a plain can of pumpkin pulp.

Our bean of choice is not a red or even a black bean. Instead, we are going for the durable all-American great Northern, which suits our needs nicely. This mild, digestible  white bean holds its shape well and won’t soon turn to mush.

Three-Pepper Pumpkin Chili

In 45 minutes the chili is ready to eat, but a longer simmer will develop more flavor. Made it ahead, it’s even better the next day!

 Three-Pepper Pumpkin Chili

Ingredients
1-2 tsp vegetable oil
¾ lb ground pork or turkey
1 onion, chop
2 cloves garlic, mince
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 poblano or pasilla pepper, seed, chop
1 jalapeno, seed, chop
1 smoked pepper in adobo plus 1 Tbsp or more adobo sauce
1 cup canned pumpkin pulp
1½ cups liquid: thin as needed with any combination chicken stock, water, coffee
½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, to taste
15 oz can Great Northern beans, rinse and drain

Avocado, grated cheddar or jack cheese, cilantro, corn chips or corn tortillas; salsa or hot sauce.

Instructions
1. In a large pot over medium high, heat oil and brown the pork; drain off any excess liquid.
2. Lower heat to medium, add onion and garlic; cook to soften 2-3 minutes. Add cumin and dried oregano; cook briefly to absorb flavors.
3. Add the fresh peppers, the smoked pepper and adobo sauce; cook to soften, 5-10 minutes.
4. Add the pumpkin puree, thinning as needed with liquid; season with salt and pepper and simmer on low for 10 minutes.
5. Add the white beans, simmer 15 minutes or longer; adjust seasoning.
6. Serve in bowls with chips or warmed tortillas. Top with avocado, grated cheese and cilantro. Pass favorite salsa or hot sauce. Serves 3 or more

Broccoli Bonanza

Broccoli is the soldier of vegetable world.  We can rely on it to perform equally well whether raw or cooked, hot or cold, or mixed with protein for a one-pot meal.

Here’s a broccoli dish that works in several of those categories. It is good as a room temperature or cold salad, or as a hot or cold side.

Broccoli Salad

In any case I prefer it barely cooked, let’s say al dente. For contrast include the tenderest stalks, sliced and steamed along with florets in the microwave, 3 minutes at most.  Use hot or if rinsed in cool water the broccoli will hold its color and not turn mushy if refrigerated.

The dressing can be whipped up while the broccoli is cooking.  Combine a small amount of Dijon with the olive oil and whisk in either unsweetened rice or white wine vinegar until thick.

Coat the broccoli lightly with the dressing and add roasted red pepper for flavor and color. If you are an anchovy fan a few chopped filets complement this combination  beautifully.

Five-Minute Broccoli Salad

Ingredients
1 lb broccoli, rinse, trim, cut into florets, ¼” thick stems
Dressing
1 clove garlic, mashed
pinch salt and pepper
½ tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp rice or white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp roasted red peppers strips
6 anchovy fillets, chop (optional)

Instructions
1. To make the dressing, combine garlic, salt and pepper and mustard in a bowl, whisk in the olive oil. Beat  in the vinegar to emulsify; it should be thick.
2. Cut the red pepper into strips; drizzle a spoonful of vinaigrette over the pepper and set aside.
3. Rinse the broccoli. Cut into florets and residual stems into ¼” thick slices.
4. Place in microwaveable bowl, cover and steam 3 minutes in microwave, until broccoli is barely cooked.
5. Enjoy hot or rinse in cool water; drain and light pat dry to remove excess water.
6. Toss broccoli with the red peppers and dressing. Serve at room temperature or chill until needed. Serve with topped with chopped anchovy if desired. Serves 4.

Transported

Nothing draws me in faster these days than books, movies, and food from other cultures, especially those set in sunny seaside locations.

Number One on my list:  Greece and its many idyllic islands.

Agistri, courtesy Kernpanik 

What a package to contemplate. Glistening beaches, deep blue seas, craggy mountains, a vast history of innovative, resilient people, and magnificent cuisine. Ah, the sun drenched food: the hand-crafted cheeses, the olives and their oils, glorious fruits and vegetables, and the seafood.

On My Greek Table recently, Diane Kochilas whipped up a fascinating version of avgolemono soup laced with fresh fish. It stayed with me and kept replaying in my head… Yes, I should eat more fish, I need this soup.

At its core, avgolemono is a classic Greek soup thickened with eggs and a lively amount of lemon juice—teamed with fish is surely a heavenly match.  As much as I would love to tackle a whole fresh fish like the one Diane tossed around, they are hard to come by.  I’d be lucky to find fresh fish fillets.

I’d adjust my plan, settle on a slightly less authentic version and be happy with rock fillets.  For a modified stock I’d improvise and incorporate a couple bottles of briny, easy-to-find clam broth (usually stocked in the canned fish section).

The soup base starts with a quick sauté of onion and other vegetables, a bay leaf is added, and it’s all simmered with clam stock. Then, fish fillets are layered in for a brief poach and stock boost. When firm to the touch, the fish is pulled to cool and remove any lurking pin bones. The stock volume is increased to accommodate addition of the traditional rice component and cooked until tender.

For the emulsion process, the eggs and lemon juice are whisked together (cornstarch can be included to further ensure soup binding) and tempered with hot stock. It is then poured into the hot soup and stirred in one direction (this motion ensures a smooth consistency) until it becomes thick, silky and bright—hallmarks of this legendary soup.

Greece in a bowl

Finally, fish pieces are re-warmed in the pot and the soup is ladled into waiting bowls.  Finish it with a dusting of fresh dill or marjoram and pass more lemon.

In spite of alterations the soup retains its winsome character—blithely brimming with essence of sun and sea—thanks to the magical egg and lemon emulsion.

Avgolemono Fish Soup

Inspired by Diane Kochilas, My Greek Table.  Chicken and chicken broth can be substituted for fish ingredients.

Ingredients
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chop
1 stalk celery, chop
1 medium carrot, peel, chop
1 clove garlic, mince
6-7 cups fish fumet, clam stock/water, divided
1 bay leaf
¾ lb fresh fish, rock or other firm fleshed fish
salt and pepper
½ cup rice, basmati is good
3 eggs, room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice, from 2-3 lemons
1 Tbsp cornstarch (optional)
fresh lemon and herbs such as dill or marjoram

Instructions

1.  In a soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent. Add the celery, carrot, and bay leaf and sauté briefly. Add 4 cups liquid and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes.
2.  At a low simmer, layer in the fish fillets, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover and poach for 10 minutes, until the fish is opaque. With a wide spatula, carefully remove fillets to holding plate to cool.
3.  Add rice and a pinch of salt; cover, reduce heat and simmer until done, approx. 12 minutes.
4.  Meanwhile remove any detritus and bones from the fish, break into smaller portions and set aside.
5.  When ready to serve, return stock to a simmer making certain there is at least 6 cups liquid.
6.  In mixing bowl, whisk eggs and lemon juice; cornstarch if using. With a ladle, slowly whisk in 1-2 cups hot stock, to temper.
7.  Pour the tempered mixture into the simmering soup; gently stir in one circular direction until it thickens, do not boil. Adjust seasoning, add the fish to warm.
8.  Ladle into bowls and top with fresh herbs and more lemon. Serves 3-4

Breathe, savor, smile

Why do you cook?  Because you are hungry?  Because you like to eat and feed others?  Maybe you have too much zucchini. There are plenty of reasons why we cook…

Cooking is my therapy, it’s a form of meditation.  I can get lost in the repetitive process of chopping, stirring, or kneading; it zones me out and relaxes. I like to think I’m a better person because I cook… but that’s purely subjective.

Then, we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor, the results of all this cooking. Eating is our big reward.  Before a meal I like to set the table and arrange the food so that it is visually appealing. There are times when I’m famished or in a hurry and need a reminder to take a deep breath and slow down.

When I seriously savor my food I know I eat less and enjoy it more.  Such is the case with a recent batch of transformative Fig Bars.  Though nothing fancy, they are definitely meant for savoring.

Odd-shaped dried figs have a perfumed honey flavor with little seeds that can be distracting.

Peculiar dried figs

However, when  teamed with complementary partners they magically morph into something far different. Once baked, you realize these mysterious understated little packages are well worth a meditative moment.

At first bite, the bar is reminiscent of a well-built brownie. Notice how it shatters on top. But there’s no butter here and no heavy hit of chocolate—merely enough cocoa to create a balanced, ethereal union with the figs.

Fig Cocoa Bars

A citrusy bite of orange punctuates and brings the flavors fully alive. The center is moist and slightly gooey, thanks to those crazy dried figs, the seeds fade and blend beautifully with the candied walnuts.

There are times when sweets fill a momentary gap: a quick breakfast bite, perhaps a snack during the day or an easy dessert. These bars provide all that plus a good dose of fiber, nutrition and energy.

While you are at it, take a moment to breathe, savor, and smile.

Fig Cocoa Bars

Ingredients
2 eggs, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup less 2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
1 cup dried figs, chopped (approx. 10 medium )
½ cup candied walnuts, chopped

Directions

  1. Coat an 8×8” pan with baking spray or line with non-stick foil. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Slowly add the granulated sugar blending until thick; continue to beat in the brown sugar. Then the vanilla.
  3. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and mix into bowl along with orange zest. Stir in the figs and nuts, don’t over blend.
  4. Spread batter evenly into pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until top is evenly browned but not overbaked. Cool for 10 minutes. Cut into portions while warm. Yield: about 15 bars.

Ice Storm Satisfaction

This past week the entire country was hit by severe winter storms. We haven’t been spared here in Oregon either. For over a day now, ice storms  have caused sporadic power outages throughout the region.

Icy Rose Bush

Crashing sounds continue to echo outside, as huge icicles precipitously break and fall thunderously to the ground from their weighty perches. It’s darn cold out there.

An early start this morning called for a late breakfast of warm, luxurious, comfort food. High on my mind, a fabulous block of Cotswold Double Gloucester cheese on standby in the fridge.

Cotswold, Courtesy Amazon.com

Cotswold is a variation of Double Gloucester, a whole cow’s milk cheese made in Gloucestershire County, England where it is revered as a pub cheese.  In my book, it’s not nearly so self-limiting.

This is a unique cheddar-style cheese, pale orange in color and deftly speckled with chives and onions.  Its full herbaceous flavor equally shines on a cheeseboard or teamed with just about anything that agrees with alliums.

Here’s a simple solution that soothed my hungry heart.

Cotwold Pub Sandwich

Call this a starting place: a hot sandwich or cheese-stuffed French toast topped with an egg.  A cheese sandwich of this stature is so startlingly robust it needs little more—perhaps a dab of mayonnaise.

Or, Cheese-Stuffed French Toast

Envelope it all in an eggy batter and simply toast on both sides.  It is exquisite graced with a gooey fried egg.

Cotswold Pub Sandwich (Cheese-Stuffed French Toast)

Ingredients
2 slices sourdough bread
2-3 slices Cotswold Double Gloucester with Onions & Chives cheese
1 tsp mayonnaise or mustard combo
2 eggs, divided
1 Tbsp milk
salt, pepper
1 Tbsp butter, divided

Instructions

  1. Spread the inside slices of bread with mayonnaise. Layer with thick slices of Cotswold cheese.
  2.  In shallow bowl, beat 1 egg with 1 Tbsp milk, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the sandwich in the egg batter and soak for 30 seconds to absorb some of the batter. Turn and repeat.
  4. In hot skillet over medium heat, coat the surface with part of the melted butter.  When hot and bubbly add the sandwich and cook until toasted and cheese softens, approximately 3 minutes per side adding butter as needed. 
  5. Remove sandwich to plate.  If desired, add an egg to buttered skillet; once the white begins to set turn or, add 1 Tbsp water to pan to create steam, cover with lid and cook to set the yolk, another minute or so.
  6. Top the sandwich with a fried egg. Enjoy hot.   Serves 1. 

In Defense of Halloumi

Halloumi has been on my radar for a while now. In truth, it’s not a cheese I was real familiar with because its biggest sales pitch is that it doesn’t melt much. That seemed an oxymoron. Why bother? I’m usually looking for those that are either very hard, fresh, or get all gooey.

But from a cheesemaking point of view, it becomes far more interesting. Halloumi is a fairly basic cheese to make:  set the curds, form into a manageable flat shape, and briefly press to tighten the structure. Then, it goes through a heat process that raises the melting point. It’s salted and often held in a brine solution.

Fresh Halloumi

You are rewarded with a chewy cheese with a fresh mild flavor, a charming squeakiness, and a salty component. Now that is quite a package and enough to challenge feta! Halloumi retains its best qualities when eaten hot or warm. With a little imagination it can easily become the major protein point in a meal.

More good news. Halloumi heats fast while turning golden brown in short order. My latest experiment included cubes as part of a skewered mixture of fast cooking vegetables.

Halloumi Skewers

For even cooking it’s best to select smaller sized mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, and cut sweet onion, pepper, and summer squash into shapes similar in size to the halloumi.  Marinate all in an herbal vinaigrette for 20-30 minutes.

Once skewered and set in a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat  watch carefully and turn, as they brown in 2-3 minutes per side.  I served mine on a bed of warm ley puy lentils along with a few greens, olives, etc.—with warm naan bread and more olive oil for drizzling. Splendid.

Halloumi and Lentils

More info on le puy lentils and a light vinaigrette can be found at Soup and Salad. For those interested, my simplified Halloumi recipe follows, inspired by Gavin Webber’s helpful Halloumi video on YouTube. 

Halloumi

Resized and inspired by Gavin Webber video

Ingredients
10 cups whole milk, homogenized, not ultra-pasteurized
¼ tsp liquid rennet, dilute in ¼ cup water
¼ cup coarse sea salt, approx.

Directions

  1. Heat milk to 86-90° F. Add rennet, stir gently up and down for 1 minute. Cover and rest 30-45 mins to set. Check for a clean break.
  2. To cut curds, cut into ½” cubes with long knife. Rest 5-10 mins to heal the curds.
  3. Slowly heat whey to 104°F, allow about 30 mins. Gently stir curds to keep from matting. Maintain heat for 20 mins; stir occasionally as curds will shrink. Remove pot from heat, cover and rest 10 mins to allow curds to sink.
  4. Drain whey into cheesecloth lined colander, with pot or bowl under to save whey. Wrap with cheesecloth and shape into a ball. Squeeze liquid from curd; turn out with cloth onto large board.
  5. To shape, press and weight, flatten the curd into approx. 1” thick oval, wrap with cloth to firmly hold shape and cover with 2nd board. Weight on top with filled 1 gallon jug for 10 minutes. Turn the flatten curd over, cover with board and press for 20 mins more.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare a draining rack and drainable mat as a holding area.
  7. Cut flattened curd mass into 4 or more wedges.
  8. Heat whey in pot to 180-200° F, skim any detritus (save 2-4 cups for brine). Remove from heat, place curd wedges in near boiling whey and cover until they begin to float, 20-45 mins. If some do not float reheat the whey. Place the cooked wedges on mat to drain a few minutes.
  9. Sprinkle each halloumi wedge all over with ½ tsp fine sea salt. Place on mat to drain 2-4 hours.
  10. For brine, dissolve 2 Tbsp coarse sea salt in 4 cups whey (can be cut with half distilled water).
  11. Store halloumi in closed container, zip lock bag, or covered in brine for up to 60 days. Flavors improve with age.
  12. To fry halloumi, heat skillet over medium heat with a light layer of olive oil. Cook halloumi pieces until golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side.