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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Creamed Spinach

I just love really quick, simple, delicious, and healthy side dishes. I've been on a spinach kick in the last couple of years. Lately, I just can't seem to get enough of the stuff. Maybe that's because I've finally figured out some delicious ways to cook it (I've always liked it raw in salads). I posted a recipe for sauteed spinach with shallot and garlic, and I've posted a great combination of spinach and great northern beans. I've posted recipes using spinach in soups (here and here for instance), in a special tart/pie, stuffed in mushrooms, even put in stuffing! But what about that classic standby, creamed spinach?

Well, I was a little hesitant to dive in. Most of the recipes for creamed spinach that I've seen require copious amounts of heavy cream and are more white sauce than anything else - not that that is necessarily a bad thing, but I try not to go overboard with the heavy cream these days and I really want the spinach to be the star of the show. So, I set out to make a simple, light creamed spinach. What you see here is the result and it is darn quick and darn good. There's enough cream to add a nice rich edge to the spinach without overwhelming it. I love making this dish!

Creamed Spinach
Yield: 2 large servings or 4 small servings

1 TBS butter
1 tsp minced garlic
16 ounces fresh spinach
1/4 cup heavy cream
dash nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach and saute, turning frequently until it is mostly wilted. Add the heavy cream. Cook, stirring, until the cream has reduced and thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and add the nutmeg and salt and pepper. Let sit for five minutes before serving to allow the cream to thicken a bit more. Stir before serving to redistribute the cream.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Smoking Pressed Cheese

It's been a while since I've posted about cheese. To be honest, I haven't had a chance to do much cheese making in the last year or so... between moving multiple times and having a baby, it's kind of fallen to the back burner. However, before all this chaos in my life happened, I did have a chance to experiment with smoking cheese and I wanted to finally share with you how I did it and how it worked out.

I smoked a wheel of Gouda with apple wood chips, but you could just as easily smoke cheddar. After the cheese dried out for a few days, I smoked it using the outrageous, but relatively cheap, contraption you see above. After smoking, I waxed the cheese and aged it as usual. Wow! It worked great. Once I broke that cheese open, the smokiness was subtle but pleasing. It permeated all the way through.

The thing to be careful of here is to be sure it is not too hot outside the day you want to smoke your cheese. The cheese's internal temperature will rise regardless due to the smoke, adding a hot day to the equation can lead to cheese that gets too warm. You don't want it to get so warm that the fat starts to separate!

I used my Weber charcoal grill with a flexible dryer hose attached to the smoke outlet. I epoxied a couple of half inch bolts to the side of a dryer vent clamp. I then used magnets to attach the hose to the grill. It wasn't a perfect seal, but plenty good enough! On the other end, I had a cardboard box that fit a metal cooling rack I already had in my kitchen. I punched bamboo skewers across the corners to hold the cooling rack up. I cut a hole the size of the hose in the side near the bottom and pushed the hose through so that it brought the smoke from the grill into the box. To keep my cheese from getting grooves from the cooling rack, I placed a sushi rolling mat on top of it. Lastly, I cut a few vent holes in the top of the box. Therefore, the smoke comes in the bottom of the box and surrounds the cheese with its goodness on its way out the top. I just held the top of the box closed with a heavy ceramic bowl.

If you've never smoked anything on a grill before, the trick is the soak the wood chips before using. If you don't soak them, they burn instead of smoking. You don't need a lot of charcoal for this project because you don't want the fire too hot (again, you want to keep your cheese as cool as possible). Heat your coals and then sprinkle some of the soaked wood chips on the coals to start the smoking process. Add additional coals and wood chips as necessary to maintain a steady stream of smoke.

Flip your cheese periodically to obtain even smoking and to also keep the fat evenly distributed in the cheese. The cheese does not need to get a lot of color on it to be thoroughly smoked. How long to smoke it? Well, this is a bit of a judgement call. I think I did about two hours and it ended up with a nice smokey flavor. What a great way to add a little extra flavor to your homemade cheese!
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