January 16, 2013 11:45:22 AM
Jan Swoope - email@example.com
I know. Believe me, I get the irony of featuring cheesy recipes the week after 300-calorie dishes filled our food pages, but Sunday is National Cheese Lovers Day -- and man does not live by calorie-counting alone.
Did you know the average American consumes about 31 pounds of cheese a year? Righteouscheese.com tells us so. We've got a ways to go, however, to catch up with the French, who consume about 50 pounds per person annually.
Cheese is an ancient food with origins that predate recorded history. There are now more than 900 known varieties in the world, produced in a dizzying assortment of flavors, textures and forms. Actually, cheese should get more credit for its health benefits, which include cancer prevention (from its conjugated linoleic acid and sphingolipids), and bone strengthening and cavity fighting (thanks to high calcium content), according to doctorsolve.com.
It's full of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals that can promote muscle strength, too, and a better balanced metabolism. But go carefully if you're trying to lose weight. Cheese contains natural fats that can impede your progress. There are, of course, low-fat cheeses that can be very healthy. These include part-skim mozzarella, string cheeses and farmers cheese, among others. Goat cheese is lower in fat and has fewer calories than cow's milk cheese. And, as you know, a number of common cheeses are available in reduced-fat form.
On the other hand
Ok, forget about calories for the time being. Let's talk mac and cheese, that perennial American favorite. Kurt Beecher Dammeier, founder and owner of the Seattle-based Beecher's Handmade Cheese, has a recipe for what he calls the World's Best Mac and Cheese. He even shares the recipe and, in an interview with Rina Raphael at bites.today.com, tips for creating a cheesy, creamy dish Raphael called a "masterpiece." (Dammeier also sells a mac and cheese kit on his website at beechershandmadecheese.com.)
"Pasta style is pretty much individual choice," the cheese-maker said. "We like penne or its slightly larger brother, pennoni. If I'm making a seafood mac, I may go with a shell."
The key, Dammeier said, is to undercook the pasta prior to adding it to the cheese sauce, so it still has a faint crunch if you bite it.
"The rest of the cooking happens in the sauce," he noted.
When it comes to choosing cheeses, the artisan explained, "The basics are a smooth semi-soft cheese combined with a sharper, more flavorful semi-hard cheese." He uses Beecher's Just Jack cheese and Beecher's Flagship cheese.
"Lots of fancy restaurants actually use Velveeta, which isn't really even a cheese, but is good for melting. I wouldn't use rinds of anything that has any bitterness. Washed rind cheese can really add complexity. One of my favorites is reblochon," said Dammeier.
As for the sauce, he noted, "Most are just basic Mornay sauce, where you make a roux of butter and flour, add milk and then cheese. Too much heat is the enemy of a cheese sauce and can make it or break it."
Do you butter the dish? "I actually like to spray it in the fiction that I am saving calories," he said. For topping, he simply adds more cheese, sprinkling the top with a little paprika or chili powder for color. Some people like breadcrumbs.
Cheeses can be used in wondrous ways that go far beyond macaroni and cheese -- in appetizers, entrées, side dishes and desserts. A savory cheese grits and corn pudding can fill the bill for breakfast, brunch or light lunch. The recipe from Country Living is Southern-inspired and in today's food pages.
You'll also find instructions for making spiced yogurt cheese balls, a different pick-up for your next gathering. There's even a suggestion for jazzing up an everyday grilled cheese. If you have a favorite cheesy recipe, feel free to share it by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
BEST MAC & CHEESE
Serves 8 as a side dish
15 ounces penne pasta
Beecher's Flagship Sauce (recipe follows)
2 ounces (1/2 cup) Beecher's Flagship cheese (or Cheddar cheese), grated
2 ounces (1/2 cup) Beecher's Just Jack cheese (or Gruyere cheese), grated
½ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
For Beecher's Flagship cheese sauce:
Makes about 4 cups
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
14 ounces Beecher's Flagship cheese (or cheddar cheese), grated (about 3 1/2 cups)
2 ounces Beecher's Just Jack cheese (or Gruyere cheese), grated (1/2 cup)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ to ½ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Add the cheese, salt, chili powder and garlic powder. Stir until the cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days.
(Source: Kurt Beecher Dammeier, at bites.today.com)
CHEESE GRITS AND
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Makes 8 puddings
1 1/2 cups whole milk
Freshly Ground Pepper
1/4 cup grits
1/2 can (14 1/2-ounce) creamed corn
3 ounce(s) (about 3/4 cup) aged cheddar, grated
3 large eggs, separated
SPICED YOGURT CHEESE BALLS
Makes 2 cups yogurt cheese
32 ounces plain yogurt
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon curry powder (Optional)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Optional)
Prep/total time: 25 minutes
Makes 2 servings
1 cup sliced peeled tart apple
3 teaspoons butter, softened, divided
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 slices raisin bread
2 slices Muenster cheese (3/4 ounce each)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.