Category Archives: cheese

Caramelized Onion & Apple Empanadas

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Here’s the perfect autumn appetizer that combines fresh apples with sweet caramelized onions and sharp and tangy cheese. They are inspired by a tart recipe from William Sonoma which I have taken and made into a hand held appetizer. These little pies are so tasty and easy to make and they can be served hot or at room temperature. They are definitely going to be a part of my pre-Thanksgiving dinner spread.

I prefer to use tart apples since I think they contrast nicely with the sweetness of the onions. If your apples aren’t tart enough add a few squeezes of lemon juice. I used Beemster Royal cheese that I picked up at the cheese market in Almaaker, Netherlands. It is sharp and flavorful and my new favorite cheese. If you can’t find it substitute your favorite sharp cheddar or Gouda cheese instead. The results will be just as good.

CARAMELIZED ONION & APPLE EMPANADAS

Pie crusts

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large red onions, diced

2 tart apples, diced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (packed) shredded sharp cheese

1 egg white

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet set over medium-high heat.
  • Add the onions to the skillet and immediately reduce the heat to medium-low. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened and have become a light golden brown.
  • Stir in the apples and continue to cook for 5-8 minutes.
  • Season with the thyme and salt and mix well.
  • Remove the onion – apple mixture from the heat and stir in the cheese until it melts.
  • Roll out each pie crust to a 1/4 inch thickness.
  • Using a 4 inch round cookie cutter or juice glass, cut circles out of the dough. Continue re-rolling the dough until you have 20 rounds.
  • Place 1 1/2 teaspoons of the onion-apple mixture into the center of each circle. Fold the dough over to form a half moon and pinch the ends to close. The tines of a fork work well for this.
  • Place the filled empanadas onto the prepared baking sheets leaving 2 inches of space between each one.
  • In a small bowl whisk together the egg white and 1 tablespoon of water.
  • Brush the egg wash over the top of each empanada.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the crusts are golden brown.
  • Allow to cool slightly before removing from the baking sheet.
  • Serve hot or at room temperature.

Yields: 20 2-inch empanadas

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Mashed Potato Stuffed Peppers

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I love mashed potatoes. Whether chunky or creamy smooth they are the ultimate in comfort food. Confession time here: I’ve been known to eat a bowlful all by themselves for dinner. Yes, I like them that much. And mashed potatoes make a wonderfully easy dinner side dish for any number of meats. But if you want to dress up your potatoes a bit, or even have leftover ones from the night before that you want to repurpose, try these mashed potato stuffed peppers that are inspired by the Washington Post. They are easy and a great way to combine your starch and vegetable all into one dish and if you are already grilling, will cook in the same amount of time as most cuts of meat. If you like, you can experiment with the types of cheese you use. I love this Parmesan and Gouda version but Gorgonzola and mascarpone or Swiss and ricotta are also good. Just let your imagination go wild.

MASHED POTATO STUFFED PEPPERS

3 large russet potatoes

3 cloves garlic

1/2 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)

1/4 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup shredded aged Gouda cheese

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 medium red bell peppers

1/2 teaspoon paprika

  • Scrub the potatoes well and wrap them in aluminum foil. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until they are baked through when pierced with a fork. Alternatively, scrub the potatoes and bake them in the microwave according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Allow the potatoes to cool slightly then scoop out the insides and place them in a large bowl. Discard the skins.
  • Add the creme fraiche, milk, butter, cheese salt and pepper to the bowl and mix well until everything is combined and the potatoes are smooth and lump free.
  • Preheat a grill to medium-high.
  • Slice the peppers in half lengthwise, discarding the core and seeds.
  • Scoop the mashed potato mixture*** into the pepper halves, mounding the potatoes so that the peppers are overflowing.
  • Sprinkle with the paprika.
  • Place the peppers on the grill over and cook for 10-15 minutes until the potato is heated through and the peppers begin to char and turn soft.
  • Remove from the heat and serve.

*** If you are using leftover mashed potatoes, reheat them in the microwave until they are warmed through otherwise you may end up with cold pockets inside of your peppers.

Serves 4

Cheesy Baked Gnocchi w/ Pancetta & Sage

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It’s Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing I want to do is cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat. The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes. Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.

If you love baked macaroni and cheese but wanting something a little different and a bit faster? Then try these super fast and even easier gnocchi from Williams Sonoma. Making your own gnocchi is easy and fun but with so many good tasting gnocchi available in the markets I make sure I always have a package in my pantry for last minute dinners. Pancetta adds a bit of complexity to the dish cutting down on the richness of the cheese. I used sage as my aromatic but fresh minced thyme is also good.

 

CHEESY BAKED GNOCCHI w/ PANCETTA & SAGE

2 13 ounce packages prepared gnocchi

1/4 pound pancetta, diced

2 tablespoons fresh minced sage

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

1/2 pound aged cheese, rind removed, cut into 1/4 inch cubes (I used Chimay Grand Classique)

1/4 cup) panko crumbs

Freshly ground black pepper

 

  • Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly grease a shallow baking dish or pie plate.
  • Cook the gnocchi according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
  • In a large frying pan, saute the pancetta over medium heat until it starts to brown, about 4 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the sage, half-and-half, cheese and gnocchi.
  • Pour the gnocchi mixture into the prepared baking dish.
  • Season with the black pepper then sprinkle the panko crumbs evenly over the top of the gnocchi.
  • Place the dish in the oven and bake the gnocchi until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and serve.

Serves 4

 

 

Bacon, Tomato & Avocado Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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Sometimes all you want for dinner is a sandwich. I know in my family sandwiches area a favorite dinner and grilled cheese are by far the most requested option. But because they are dinner, you want the sandwiches to be both filling and satisfying, holding you over until breakfast the next morning. My answer is these cheese sandwiches that are filled with other tasty additions; tomatoes, avocado and bacon sandwiched between cheese and bread are sure to satisfy. Using two different types of cheese in my sandwiches. Here I’ve used cheddar and Gouda but other favorite combinations include Jarlsberg and cheddar or Colby and Swiss. For added interest you could add a bit of shredded Asiago or Parmesan  or experiment with any combination of the good local cheeses that are out there. Any way you make it, these definitely aren’t the grilled cheese sandwiches of my childhood.

BACON, TOMATO & AVOCADO GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES

4 slices thick sliced sour dough bread, or another substantial bread of your choice

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

4 slices sharp cheddar cheese, or other cheese of your choice

4 slices Gouda cheese, or other cheese of your choice

4 slices thick cut bacon, cooked until crisp

1 avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced

1 ripe tomato, sliced

  • Preheat a griddle or iron skillet over medium high heat.
  • For each sandwich, place 2 slices of cheese onto 2 slices of bread.
  • Top with half of the avocado, 2 slices of bacon then half of the tomatoes.
  • Top with the remaining slices of cheese and the other slice of bread.
  • Spread 1/4 of the butter onto the top of each slice of bread.
  • Place the sandwiches, buttered side down onto the griddle. Carefully spread the remaining butter on top of the top slice of bread.
  • Grill, until the bottom slice of bread is golden brown and the cheese has begun to melt about 6-7 minutes.
  • Using a large spatula, carefully flip the sandwich over and continue to cook until the second side of the sandwich is golden brown and the cheese has melted, about 5-6 minutes.
  • Remove from the griddle and slice in half before serving.

Yields: 2 sandwiches

 

Mexican Stuffed Shells

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Craving Italian? Or Mexican? How about both? These easy baked shells bring together the best of both cuisines; the spices of Mexican food stuffed into pasta shells that are reminiscent of baked Italian pastas. The recipe is adapted from Center Cut Cook is easy and guaranteed to fulfill your food cravings. So bake up a dish of these shells tonight. They are delicious as is but make even better leftovers the next day. Its like getting two meals for the price of one.

MEXICAN STUFFED SHELLS

1 pound lean ground beef

3 tablespoons taco seasoning (I like Penzeys Bold Taco Seasoning)

20 jumbo shells, cooked according to package instructions

2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend, divided

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained

2 1/2 cups salsa, divided

Crushed corn chips, for garnish

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Evenly distribute 2 cups of the salsa into the bottom of a 9 x 12 inch casserole dish. Set aside.
  • Cook the shells in boiling water according to package instructions. Drain and allow to cool slightly.
  • Brown the ground beef in a large non-stick skillet set over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to break up larger chunks of meat. When the meat is no longer pink, drain off any excess fat.
  • Add the taco seasoning and 2/3 cup of water to the meat. Stir well and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the water has reduced and the sauce has thickened. Remove the pan from the heat.
  • Stir in the cream cheese, 1 cup of the shredded cheese and the black beans. Stir to combine.
  • Fill each shell with a heaping tablespoon of the meat and bean mixture and place in the prepared casserole dish. Continue in this manner until you have used all of the shells.
  • Drizzle the remaining salsa over the top of the shells then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
  • Place in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the shells are bubbling.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  • Sprinkle the crushed corn chips over the top of the casserole and serve.

Serves 8

 

Herbed Lemon Butter Cheese Crepes

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I love crepes. They are essentially a thin pancake and here in Belgium are sold everywhere from sidewalk food vendors to high end restaurants. Crepes are incredibly versatile and can go from sweet to savory with just a few ingredients. Classic orange flavored crepe suzettes are probably the most well known dessert version but filled with fresh fruit they are a healthy breakfast or you can treat yourself to a decadent snack by adding a smear of Nutella (and perhaps some banana slices). And then you have savory crepes. Fillings can range from meats to cheeses and vegetables. The options are truly endless.

Cooking the perfect crepe takes practice and skill but once you’ve mastered the technique you will be able to cook up batches of perfectly thin crepes in no time. I’ve found that the trick is to have a hot, well oiled crepe pan and use a scant 1/4 cup of batter for each crepe. Any  more and the pancakes will be too thick. Once you have ladled the batter in the pan, quickly swirl it around to for a thin layer over the entire surface. When the outer edges curl a bit and turn crisp the crepe is ready to flip. The technique can be perfected with just one or two crepes.

These savory crepes from the Washington Post Food Section bring the filling right to the batter. With the grated cheese and fresh herbs mixed right into the batter, these crepes don’t need any filling. Of course, the lemon herbed butter sauce is a nice addition but if you are counting calories, you can omit the sauce. I used a combination of fresh parsley, thyme, and chives but feel free to substitute a combination of fresh herbs. Served alongside fresh steamed asparagus, these crepes make a perfect light dinner or brunch entree. Voila! Dinner is served.

HERBED LEMON BUTTER CHEESE CREPES

For the crepes:

3 large eggs

1 1/4 cups low fat milk

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 cup flour

1/2 cup grated cheese (I used French Gruyere)

1 tablespoon fresh minced chives

1 tablespoon fresh minced thyme

1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley

For the Lemon-Herb Butter

4 tablespoons salted butter

1 tablespoon fresh minced chives

1 tablespoon fresh minced thyme

1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Freshly ground black pepper

For the crepes:

  • Whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl until well blended.
  • Add the milk and the melted butter.
  • Sift the flour into the batter and stir well until incorporated.
  • Add the cheese and the minced herbs and stir until a smooth batter forms.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
  • Stir the batter well to reincorporate the ingredients before cooking.
  • When ready to make the crepes, heat an 8 inch crepe pan over medium heat.
  • Lightly coat the pan with non-stick cooking spray then add a scant 1/4 cup of batter to the center of the pan.
  • Immediately swirl it around the pan to create a thin coating over the entire bottom of the skillet.
  • Cook for 60 to 90 seconds then use a thin metal spatula to loosen the crepe around the edges.
  • Flip the crepe over and cook for an additional minute or two, until the crepe just begins to turn a pale golden brown.
  • Slide the crepe to a plate and repeat until all of the batter has been used. You may want to keep the crepes hot in a 200 degree oven.
  • Serve the crepes loosely folded over and drizzled with the lemon-herb butter.

For the Lemon-Herb Butter

  • Melt the butter in a small pan set over low heat.
  • Add the herbs, lemons zest and a light sprinkling of black pepper; cook for two minutes.

Makes 12 crepes

 

Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas

 

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The recipe comes from my Norfolk, Virginia friend Eric, a.k.a. Bubba.  Bubba and I were the two cooks in our group and would regularly swap recipes and cooking techniques.  One summer when our families shared a house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the two of us spent a happy week experimenting in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, and because we were a part of a large group, never had to be on clean up detail.  We didn’t cook these enchiladas during the week but to this day, it is one of my favorite Bubba recipes.

These chicken enchiladas are so rich and creamy that they are definitely a once-in-awhile, special occasion meal.  However, they are so good that they are worth the splurge when the craving for Mexican food strikes. Because the recipe uses pre-cooked chicken, it is a great way to use up leftover cooked chicken breasts.  Alternatively, I will put some boneless chicken breasts in the crock pot in the morning before I leave the house and when I return I have the cooked chicken I need.  And of course, whenever I make these enchiladas, we fondly remember our time in Norfolk which is really what makes this recipe so special.

CHEESY CHICKEN ENCHILADAS

1 soft taco kit

3 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, minced

1- 8 ounce package cream cheese

1 small canned chopped green chilis

2 1/2 cups shredded jack cheese, divided

1 1/2 cups chicken stock, divided

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup butter

1 cup low-fat milk

1 cup low-fat sour cream

2-3 dashes Tabasco sauce

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes until soft.
  • Add the chicken, seasoning from the taco kit, the can of green chilis, 1/2 cup of the stock, cream cheese, 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese, and 1/2 of the taco sauce from the kit.  Cook until the cheese is melted and heated through.
  • Divide the filling evenly amongst the tortillas/taco shells rolling each one.  Place the filled tortillas seam side down in a single layer in a large casserole dish.
  • In a saucepan, combine the flour and butter, blending well as the butter melts.
  • Slowly blend in the remaining stock, milk, and 1 1/2 cups of cheese, stirring constantly until well blended.
  • Place the sour cream in a small bowl and slowly stir in about 3/4 of a cup of the sauce.  Stir well to combine then return the mixture to the pan.
  • Add the Tabasco sauce and remaining taco sauce and stir well until the entire mixture is well blended.
  • Pour the sauce over the enchiladas and top with the remaining shredded cheese.
  • Bake uncovered in the oven for 45 minutes.
  • Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 6

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