Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tribute to Grilled Cheese #2: Cranberry & Pecan Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwich, and a visit to Antonelli's Cheese Shop

by Jaelyn

#2 in Our Tribute to Grilled Cheese!

I had the most inspiring trip yesterday to Antonelli's Cheese Shop in Austin.  Cheesemonger Kara was kind enough to walk me through some of the intricacies of grilled cheese, including which cheeses melt the best, which cheese to avoid, and which cheeses rarely leave the store because they are so good you have to eat them there.  OK, OK, I made that last one up.  But seriously, some of the cheeses I sampled were so good, they made me not ever want to use my mouth for talking again.  My mouth now has better things to do - or rather, better cheeses to eat!  I'll share Kara's tips along with her own Grilled Cheese recipe later this series- so don't forget to come back and check it out!  Sign up for our email list (on the right side of the screen) if you want to be sure and get all the latest info directly in your inbox!

Today's recipe was inspired by one of my favorite salad combinations - greens with dried cranberries, feta/goat cheese, toasted pecans and balsamic vinaigrette.  It's just the right combination of creamy, sweet and tart - the strong flavors of each ingredient complimenting each other perfectly!

With Kara the Cheesemonger's help, I selected two artisan cheeses for use in this sandwich:  a goat's milk feta from Pure Luck Farm and Dairy and a Majorero (a firmer goat's cheese from Spain).  I know not everyone will have access to these specific cheeses, so in the recipe below I have included two types of cheeses that should be widely available.  Flavors vary fairly widely even within individual styles of cheese, so if possible, sample before you buy.  However, you should be pretty safe with the types of cheeses here - no matter what, I'm sure it will be delicious!   Happy cheesing!

Grilled Cheese Tip #2:  Bring your cheese to room temperature before adding to the sandwich.  - I mentioned this within the last recipe, but as I left the cheese shop yesterday, the cheesemongers reminded me again - so now we know for sure not to skip this important step!

Ingredients (per sandwich)
  • Bread:  Good quality Ciabatta OR other chewy bread
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 c. shredded or crumbled Chevre (goat cheese), room temperature (I used Majorero which can be shredded.  If the goat cheese you use is softer/crumblier, it might not melt. But that doesn't mean it won't be yummy!)
  • 1/4 c. whole pecans
  • 1/8 c.  Mild-flavored goat Feta, room temperature (can substitute mild cow's feta.  If your feta is very strongly flavored, just use a little less)
       Balsamic Cranberries (enough for 2 sandwiches)
  • 1/2 c. Dried cranberries
  • 1 c. Balsamic vinegar
  • pinch each of white pepper, fine ground sea salt, and ground sage

1.  Spread pecans on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350F oven until toasted - appr. 5 minutes.  Watch closely, as nuts can scorch quickly.  Remove from oven and set aside.
2.  Prepare the Balsamic Cranberries.  Add the cramberries, balsamic vinegar and seasonings to a small saucepan on med-high.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low, simmer.  Cranberries will soak up some of the liquid while at the same time the vinegar is reducing.  Turn off heat when liquid is reduced by half.
2.  Cut ciabatta loaf into 4-inch sections.  Slice section in half crosswise to form sandwich top and bottom.  Try to slice it so the pieces are equal thickness.  Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil.
3.  Heat skillet over med-high heat.  Place top and bottom slices of bread, face-side down, in skillet.  Cook until toasted golden.
4.  Flip pieces of bread over in the skillet and immediately add the feta to the bottom slice and the goat cheese to the top slice.  Cover with a lid to help melt/warm the cheese.
6.  When cheese is starting to melt, add 2 spoonfuls of cranberries to top of bottom slice (reserve the balsamic liquid), then add a layer of pecans.  Add the top slice of bread, press sandwich down with a spatula, and let layers of cheese melt together for 1-2 minutes.
7.  Remove from skillet, serve with greens.  Drizzle greens and sandwich with reduced balsamic liquid.
Enjoy the crispy, creamy, tart, sweet, chewy goodness!  I love this sandwich!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tribute to Grilled Cheese #1: Ital-Yum Grilled Cheese!

by Jaelyn

Grilled Cheese.  My mouth waters just typing the words.  You know the best thing about "Grilled Cheese?"  It can mean so many different things.  I mean, there are literally hundreds of different kinds of cheeses.  There are also hundreds of types of breads.  And a seemingly limitless amount of toppings and condiments.  That means there are more possibilities for Grilled Cheese combinations than I can count.   Another best thing about Grilled Cheese is that almost everyone has the ingredients for some kind of Grilled Cheese sandwich already in their pantry and fridge.  Go ahead, go check.  I'll bet you a slice of cheese I'm right.  The last best thing about Grilled Cheese?  That's easy.  It's EASY!  Few ingredients, minimal cook time, maximum Yum.  Maxiyum?  :-)

Grilled Cheese Tip #1:  Good Bread (the RIGHT Bread) = Sandwich Magic

Most of us have only ever used one type of bread (regular ol' sandwich bread) for our one type of grilled cheese sandwich.  And it works.  Butter, sandwich bread, American cheese (or Velveeta for the indulgent - you know who you are).  That's a classic.  Comfort on a plate.

BUT (and this is a big but), we are not making your regular ol' Grilled Cheese for this series.  That means regular ol' bread won't cut it.  I will warn you now - you CAN use your grocery store bag o' bread, and it might be good, but it won't be magic.

That being said, I know not everyone lives around the corner from a Whole Foods or a gourmet grocer or a French bakery.  I also know that most of us simply don't have the time or patience to make our own artisan bread at home.  So I will give you my ideal bread recommendation, and then I give you an option that (I think) should be available to everyone.  Sound fair?  I might even throw in a third option if I am feeling really hungry inspired.

Explanation's over.  Let's get Cheesy!

Ital-Yum Grilled Cheese!

Recommended Breads:
1.  Good Olive Bread, or
2.  "Seeduction" Bread (Pictured - from Whole Foods Market), or
3.  Grocery Store Italian or French Bread

Other Ingredients (per sandwich):
  • 1 Tbsp. Pesto - Fresh is best! (recipe here), but also can use store-bought
  • Fresh mozzarella medallions, room temperature (appr. 3 medallions per sandwich).  If medallions are not available, purchase a log of fresh mozzarella and cut 3/8-inch-thick slices.
  • 2 Tbsp. Pasta sauce, hot (I used Giada's Creamy Tomato sauce, available at Target - but any flavorful, good quality sauce will do.  If you love it by itself, you will love it on this sandwich.)
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)

Put it Together
1.  Heat your pasta sauce in small saucepan on the stove.  Place a skillet on the stove over medium low heat.
2.  If not already sliced, cut your bread in 1/2-inch slices.
3.  Note:  I don't use butter or oil on my bread for this sandwich, as I prefer a "toasted" flavor.  If you prefer to use oil (recommended if your bread is not particularly moist), brush each piece of bread, on  the side that will touch the skillet only, with olive oil prior at this point.
4.   Spread pasta sauce on one piece of bread and place in the skillet, sauce side up.  Put the room-temperature mozzarella slices atop the sauce, with some space between slices.  Lightly salt the cheese, cover with lid for 2 minutes to warm the cheese.
5.  Spread pesto on one side of a second piece of bread.  Remove lid and place piece, pesto side down, on top of the sandwich.  Immediately flip the sandwich so the new piece of bread is being cooked on the skillet.
 6.  Cook until bottom slice is golden brown, then flip again to continue cooking other side.  Remove when both sides are golden brown and cheese is warm and beginning to melt.  

Serve with a side of greens, then sit back, eat, and enjoy all the gratitude from your satisfied family! :-)

Don't forget, over the next couple of months, I'll be doing a whole SERIES of grilled cheese - along with other recipes - so come back soon! 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Happy Grilled Cheese Day!

By Jaelyn

Yes, you read that right - today is National Grilled Cheese Day!   April is National Grilled Cheese Month, and get ready for Real.Beautiful.Good.'s series of Grilled Cheese starting next Monday!

It's easy, it's versatile, and amazingly satisfying.  Grilled Cheese is an American comfort food staple.  But have you ever taken a chance and move outside the realm of yellow cheese and buttered bread?  Next week, take a walk on the gooey side and become a Grilled Cheese Gourmet! I will show you several different fun and delicious combinations that all add up to one thing:  Yum!

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Here's a little teaser...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Chicken Puff Pastry Caprese

by Jaelyn Penner

Puff Pastry is one of my absolute favorite foods.  The buttery flakiness is addicting... and versatile!  You can make it into a sweet breakfast pastry, fill it with sandwich fixins' for lunch, wrap around a wheel of brie for an amazing appetizer or create multiple puff-pastry-based dishes for a decadent dinner.  Or, as I've done here, you can fix up a simple, delicious and easy dish that your entire family will love!

I've used some simple ingredients in this dish, several of which are a staple in my home.  Fresh basil is easy to grow and great to have on hand.  Pesto is easy to make and freezes well, and is a great way to use all that basil that you grew and didn't have time to eat!  Balsamic vinegar is a wonderful pantry staple - it's perfect to use with olive oil as a fast homemade salad dressing, or to reduce as in this recipe for a sweeter and more complex flavor.

This recipe is based on the traditional Insalata Caprese in Italian cuisine - which literally means "Salad of Capri" or "Salad in the style of Capri."  It revolves around three simple ingredients - fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato.  I've taken that side dish and made it the star of the meal.  I hope you love this as much as my family and I do!

Chicken Puff Pastry Caprese

  • 2 sheets puff pastry (store bought - found in the freezer section, generally near the pie crusts)
  • 3-4 Tbsp fresh pecan pesto (see recipe below - or in a pinch, you can purchase pre-made)
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and pulled apart with a fork
  • 9 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut in 1/4" slices
  • 3 med. Roma tomatoes
  • 1-2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • Balsamic reduction (see recipe below)

1.  Thaw puff pastry according to directions on package.  Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut tomatoes in 1/4" slices.  Salt each side and set aside.  This will draw out extra moisture for better baking.  Pat mozzarella slices with a clean towel to remove extra moisture, lightly salt and set aside.

3.  Remove pastry sheets from the fridge.  Using a rolling pin, roll each sheet to appr. 12x16-inches.  

4.  To assemble:  Place one sheet of puff pastry on parchment-lined flat sheet pan.  Spread 3-4 Tbsp. pesto on the pastry sheet, leaving a 1-inch border.  Stagger mozzarella slices, leaving at least 1/2-inch between slices (see pic).  Add chicken evenly across the top of the cheese and pesto.  Carefully place the 2nd sheet of puff pastry on top.  Score the top sheet appr. 1-inch from border, then press the edges of the two sheets together with a fork.  This will create a nice fluffy perimeter crust.  Poke several vent holes in the top of the pastry with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape while cooking.

Pat dry your tomato slices.  Using the scoring as your new border, stagger the slices on top of the pastry, covering the entire region within the scoring.  Dust with grated parmesan and freshly ground pepper.  Place in oven for 30-40 minutes, or until top of pastry and crusts are golden brown and tomatoes are nicely roasted.

While baking, prepare the Balsamic reduction according to the recipe below.

Cut into 9 pieces and drizzle 1 tsp. of Balsamic reduction over top of each.  Serve with a side of fresh greens. Enjoy!

Pecan Pesto

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 cup whole pecans, toasted
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
In a food processor, add basil, pecans and garlic.  As the ingredients chop, slowly drizzle olive oil through the feed tube just until a smooth paste is created.  Add the parmesan and blend for 20-30 seconds more, until well combined.  Refrigerate unused pesto, and use or freeze within 5 days.

Balsamic Reduction

  • 2 c Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • pinch of freshly ground pepper (I prefer white pepper, but you can use whichever type is your favorite)
In small saucepan, heat the vinegar on med heat.  When warm but not boiling, add honey and stir to incorporate.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer on med-low until reduced in volume by half.   Add pepper and stir, allow to reduce an additional 10%.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before serving.

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