Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 16: Italy

For the last of the 1st round Euro2016 knockouts I returned to Italy for the cheese feast and chose Smacafam. There are so many Italian dishes that incorporate cheese that I have to nominate Italy as my favourite cheese feast nation. I was very happy that they went through to the quarter-finals as it will be very easy to find another cheese dish for their next game.
Patrica Michelson's Smacafan or 'Hunger Breaker'
Smacafam is a rather delicious dish comprising layers of polenta, sausage and onion sauce, and cheese. The dish is based on a recipe from The Cheese Room by Patricia Michelson. The author runs La Fromagerie in London with 2 lovely cheese shops/delis/cafes. I have only shopped at the Marylebone store but it is an absolute delight to visit. The Cheese Room was her first book published in 2001 and has an eclectic mix of recipes, reference information and anecdotes related to her love of cheese. There are even some notes on making your own soft cheese at home.
I have a whole shelf of Italian cookbooks but could only find reference to this dish in two of them.It wasn't even included in my book of polenta dishes. Many of the internet recipes/pictures I found looked a little different or even used a buckwheat polenta rather than cornmeal so I give you this knowing there may be many variations. The recipe apparently comes from the Trentino-Alto Adige region  in the north of Italy where polenta is a staple dish.

Try to use Italian 'fresh' sausages if you can, these have no rusk or cereal added and are made with coarsely ground pork and can be flavoured with fennel seed, garlic and mild chilli flakes. I could not find any this time so I just used a high meat content coarse ground pork sausage and added some fennel and chilli flavouring to the sauce. The dish can be prepared a day in advance.

I used less polenta than given in the recipe below and just did a top and bottom polenta layer with all of the sauce in the middle. I used a wide dish so there thin layers and plenty of crispy topping. It would have been easier to spread the polenta into a smaller dish giving a thicker layer. Polenta can set solid so quickly.

I am omitting the author's instructions for cooking the polenta as they involved an hour and a half of simmering. I am sure you would be able to tell the difference between my quick cook polenta and a traditional method but I have yet to summon the patience to try the traditional method. My totally lazy cook method is to have the polenta and boiling water in a large jug in the microwave and just keep cooking on high for a few minutes at a time stirring well after each blast, until it tastes cooked and is the right consistency. I add any extra water I think it needs as I cook, and add the salt at the end.

For detailed information on polenta and how to cook it the serious eats site has a good reference article.

For full recipe: 500g polenta cooked in 2.5 to 3 litres water and 2 tsp salt. If you are using 'instant cook' polenta follow the packet instructions for the amount of water and cooking method.

I only used 150g of polenta but will up this to 250g when I next make the dish so the polenta layers are thicker.

For the Fillling
cooking oil
2 large mild onions thinly sliced
200g fresh (soft) pancetta (you can substitute a good dry cured streaky bacon) cut into small cubes
250g fresh Italian sausages or other fresh continental style sausages - I used more than this as the pack size was larger.
2 large cloves garlic chopped
250g of either young asiago, Montasio, young gruyere, or mozarella, coarsley grated
120g young grana padano or young parmesan (not too dry) finely grated

  1. If cooking to use straight away preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Lightly oil a deep sided baking dish.
  3. Start cooking the polenta as per packet instructions or your preferred method. 
  4. If you are happy watching 2 pots at a time you can start to make the sauce while the polenta is cooking. If you are using instant polenta then I would make the sauce first then do the polenta.
  5. In a large heavy frying pan cook the onions in some oil until translucent the remove and place on some kitchen paper to absorb some of the oil.
  6. Add a little more oil to the frying pan and cook the pancetta until golden, remove from the pan and place on kitchen paper.
  7. You may need to wipe the frying pan out with kitchen paper now to remove any burnt or sticky pieces, Then add a little more oil and cook the sausages until golden brown, crispy and cooked through. Remove from the pan.
  8. Clean pan again if there are burnt pieces and drain off any excess oil. Gently cook the garlic for 2-3 minutes but take car not to burn.
  9. Take the pan off the heat and drain off any excess oil.
  10. Chop the sausages into cubes and add to the garlic in the pan along with the cooked pancetta and onions, stirring everything to mix well.
  11. Pour some of the cooked polenta into the baking dish to give a layer of  about 1cm.
  12. Sprinkle over half of the asiago or other cheese of your choice.
  13. Cover with half of the sausages filling.
  14. Repeat the layers again - polenta, cheese, sausages.
  15. Add a final layer of polenta to the top and sprinkle the parmesan cheese over.
  16. At this point the dish can be cooled down and stored in the fridge or baked off in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes.
  17. When heated through if the dish still looks quite pale put under a hot grill to brown and crisp the top. To cook from cold the dish will take longer to heat through.
The first of the semi finals sees Poland play Portugal and I shall be doing my best to recreate a Portuguese 'sandwich' known as a 'Francesinha' or Little Frenchie.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 15: Germany

If you have just arrived on my blog and are wondering what these posts on 'Cheese and Football' are all about it is just a but of fun whereby I try to match the food we eat to the countries that are playing while we are watching one of the major football tournaments on tv.  I get to pull some of my more obscure cookbooks off the shelves and learn a little bit more about national cuisines. I have been running with the theme of cheese dishes. We have reached the knockout stages so some countries are starting to feature for the second time. I try to do as many different nations as possible but also try to not make things too much of a challenge. So this is my second dish for Germany and I have played a little fast and loose with a take on Käsekrainer sausages.
As you can see there is not a sausage in sight, but a meatloaf, which has most of the flavourings of the smoky meat and cheese Käsekrainer.
The cheese cubes melt into the meatloaf as it bakes but you can see a little evidence of them on the outside of the loaf and a few pieces inside if my photo was a little more in focus.
I never follow a recipe for meatloaf but tend to keep the number of flavourings to a just few. This loaf was made with:

500g high meat content plain pork sausages
500g lean finely minced pork
100g finely minced smoked German ham (or use finely minced smoked bacon)
150g mild cheese like Tilsiter, or a young cheddar, cut into 1cm cubes
large pinch of celery salt
salt & pepper

  1. Preheat your oven to 160C
  2. Take the sausages out of their skins
  3. Finely chop the smoked ham or bacon
  4. Mix the sausagemeat, minced pork, celery salt and a little salt and pepper well together in a bowl. I do this with my hands as it is easier, but messy, so use a large strong fork or other implement if you would rather.
  5. Gently mix in the cheese cubes.
  6. Form the mixture into a smooth rounded oval /loaf shape and place in a small roasting tin or pyrex type dish.
  7. Cover with foil and bake for approx 90 mins at 160C
  8. Check if the loaf is cooked. I use an internal cooked temperature of 75C as a guide which is over the 'official temp.' but thermometers can vary so safer to go over. With minced pork it is actually quite hard to tell if the juices are running clear. 
  9. Turn the oven up to 200C fan or a turbo fan setting and return the loaf to the oven without the foil and cook just long enough to brown the outside. A grill setting may also  do this.
  10. Turn the oven off and leaf the meatloaf to sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting into slices.

This is good served with boiled new potatoes or mashed potatoes potatoes.

For those in the UK proper Käsekrainer can be purchased online from the German Deli where you will also find a selection of German mustards to go with them.

For the last of the knockouts I move to Italy and will be cooking 'Smacafam'. This is a glorious mix of polenta, cheese, onion, sausage and pancetta.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 14: Wales

For the first day of the Euro2016 football tournament knockout games my cheese feast returned to Wales. The title of this dish is Anglesey Eggs, but it is as much about the leeks and cheese as the eggs.
The mashed potato is mixed with a large portion of cooked leeks and some cheese is added too. This forms the base and edges of the dish. Eggs are placed in the centre and then topped off with cheese sauce and extra cheese on top for the golden finish.
I did manage to source some Welsh cheese for this dish, a Welsh Cheddar from the Snowdonia cheese company called Black Bomber. This is a mature cheddar with plenty of flavour. It is sold coated in black wax, hence the name. The beer to accompany the meal was Skull Attack Gold from Brains Brewery, based in Cardiff.
I based my recipe from the late Keith Floyd's book on Britain & Ireland which was a part of a tv series on British food.
I thought his portions were a little mean though, so I used rather more cheese and potato than in the book. This recipe from the Hariy Bikers is closer to how I made my dish but I didn't add any cream to the mashed potato and we didn't serve any bacon with our dish.
This is how much dish looked before going into the oven. It was heated through at a fairly low oven temp (160C)  covered in foil, and then at half time the grill turned up high to brown the top.

The cheese which I bought at a Devon cheese shop/deli came wrapped in its own 'strip' which was quite fun and I have to show you the bottle top on the SA beer, as I love dragon images.
I wouldn't say they Welsh team were on fire but they won so well done to them.

The next dish on the cheese feast is a my very anglicised version of a German Käsekrainer sausage. Instead of a smoked pork sausage containing cheese I shall be cooking a pork meatloaf made with minced pork, smoked ham and cubes of cheese. The beer will be more authentic.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 13: Italy

For the final games of the first round in the Euro2016 football tournament I chose Italy for my cheese feast, and the not so common 'quattro formagii' pizza. Four cheeses on a pizza; the perfect cheese feast tv supper.
This is sometimes made as a 'white' pizza with no tomato sauce, but I like the sharpness of the tomato with such a rich topping. My four cheeses were gorgonzola, mozzarella, pecorino and a small amount of a soft white cheese (intended to use ricotta but missed it off the shopping list). I went heavy on the gorgonzola and mozzarella and light on the pecorino and soft white cheese. My tomato sauce is just passata reduced down a little with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Just a thin layer of tomato sauce and then the cheese and then a sprinkle of dried wild oregano.

This is my new classic pizza dough recipe. It is from the Uuni pizza oven manufacturers blog.
I bought one of their pizza ovens a few weeks ago and am quite in love with the pizzas I can make in it. It burns wood pellets and once fully up to heat can cook a pizza in a couple of minutes. Sadly the weather was too rubbish to use it for the cheese feast pizza, so the kitchen oven was cranked up to its hottest setting.  I have now bought a lot of Italian 00 flour so I am hoping for plenty of outdoor pizza cooking weather.

I am also trying out these aluminium pizza screens for baking the pizzas on. They come in a range of sizes and once you have shaped the dough you just transfer it onto the screen and build your pizza. I thought the dough might creep into the metal grid and stick but it didn't at all. I guess the oven heat sets the dough pretty quickly and the dough is not on the screen for very long before it goes in the oven.

There are a couple of days break in the football before the knockout stages begin and I'm still working on the cheese menu so that is all for now!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 12: Czech Republic

Now this fried cheese (syr smazeny) dish may not appeal to all cheese lovers and it is not something I would make a habbit of eating but I saw it on loads of menus on a visit to Prague so it seemed a clear choice for my cheese & beer football feast. The beer of course had to be Budweiser.

It isn't really a recipe. Portions of cheese are coated in flour then dipped in beaten egg, then fresh white breadcrumbs and then fried. I think I may have been cooking mine a little too slowly as I'm not sure they should have melted quite so much. I used a mild cheddar like cheese  but other options are gouda or a swiss cheese. Other Eastern European countries have their own versions using different cheeses and in some cases just dipping the cheese portions in flour. I shallow fried mine but I have seen some recipes where the cheese portions are deep fried. The dish can be served as an appetizer or with potatoes and vegetables for a main course.

Some of my travel companions in Prague were less than wowed by the food but I came away with very happy memories of some fabulous roast duck dishes and more sweet bread buns that I wanted to eat than would be good for anyone. We also had an incredible meal at restaurant called Field where the set price lunch was quite a bargain, but it appears they no longer offer this. Perhaps now they have a Michelin star they do not need to. The Taste of Prague website recently compared all of  Prague's Michelin starred restaurants and said if  Field was a celebrity it would be David Beckham; I think that is good! All of the places we ate at were so friendly and hospitable and I was made particularly welcome at small wine shop/bar one afternoon. I wanted to try some local white wine and they took great care to select something I would like and served it on a beautifully tray laid with a huge plate of cheese cubes and a jug of water.

Blessed are the cheese makers, sellers ,and anyone who offers cheese with beer or wine!

Next up for the final day of the first round and I move to Italy for Pizza Quattro Formaggi.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 11: Wales

The Euro2016 football tournament has almost reached the end of the first stage and there have been some big surprises along the way. Not least of these surprises has been Cristiano Ronaldo's rather 'bad day at the office' against Austria. Gareth Bale, however, has kept the Welsh supporters very happy, and has managed to look pretty chuffed himself, but in a very un-superstar way. I suspect he had something more fancy than cheese on toast to celebrate Wales being top of their group, but this is pretty good 'cheese on toast' none the less. The Double Dragon ale is rather special too.
Welsh rarebit  is rather more than just cheese on toast. The grated cheese can be mixed with eggs as in this recipe or sometimes ale. Mustard is usually added to the cheese mix and some add Worcestershire sauce. The cheese 'sauce' is then spread over the partly toasted bread and put under a hot grill. The recipe I like comes from a book I have written about before called The Bakers Daughter. The cheese mix is best made ahead as it thickens while resting, but if you need it straight away you may need to add extra cheese to get a spreadable consistency.

For this occasion I used a mix of Gorwydd Caerphilly and Quicks Cheddar cheese. Much to my disappointment the Caerphilly does not come from Wales, though the makers were based there for a short time. It seems most Caerphilly is now made in Somerset or Wiltshire.

Welsh rarebit - for each person you will need:
1tbs milk
1 medium egg
65-70g grated cheese such as a young cheddar, lancashire, cheshire.
1/4 tsp mustard
1 thick slice of white bread, crusts removed.

In a bowl mix the egg and the milk with a fork and then add the cheese and the mustard.
Stir well and leave to sit in the fridge for a few hours or preferable overnight.
Toast one side of the bread under a hot grill. (you can toast both sides if you prefer)
Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the un-toasted side and place under the hot grill until nicely browned and bubbling.

Enjoy with your favourite beer or a cup of tea.

Next up is Czech 'Fried Cheese', I had never seen this dish until a trip to Prague last autumn,  there is nothing frivolous about Czech cooking!

As I write this the UK are just over a day away from voting in the referendum that will decide if we stay in the EU. Voting is very much an act of faith and all too often an act of hope; hope for better things. There has been a huge discussion re how the current system is not working, is not 'good enough' for us, and that we can look after our futures better on our own. The EU is talked about like a bad marriage, something far removed from what we thought we had signed up for.

I am not pretending the EU is perfect; that the UK and many of its member states are not going through a rough patch, but I hold its values dear.

Values it is impossible to put a price on.

So whether or not the UK pay over more than they get back , whether or not the average UK person's standard of living would be better in or out, I shall be voting to remain.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 10: France

For day 10 of the Euro2016 football tournament my cheese feast moved back to France, but with a hint of Switzerland in the cheese itself. It is of course the Croque Monsieur.

The two games for the day were Switzerland vs France, and Romania vs Albania, both playing at the same time. We had a Romanian beer with the Croque Monsier, but I did not manage to include an element from Albania.

Croque Monsiers seem to come in many different forms with the name being used for many a version of a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. I took my recipe from the Guardian newspapers online article How to cook the perfect croque-monsieur. This is quite a detailed account of all the permutations, so zoom down to the bottom for the actual recipe. It was the first time I had made this with a bechamel sauce topping but I would recommend keeping that in your recipe as it really made the dish more interesting to eat. But it did mean you needed a knife and fork to eat it with. I used a mixture of Gruyere and Comte cheese, and a soft white sandwich loaf  but cut the butter down to 40g.
You could make the sauce in advance and cover with cling film to make this a really quick dish to put together. My ham was a tad thinly sliced so I used more than 1 piece.
The Romanian beer was also very good. We have had a lot of fun drinking our way through our mixed case of european beers, and this is the Romanian 'Timisoreana'.
Next up on the cheese feast is Welsh Rarebit, which is another version of the somewhat universal cheese toastie.  Wales play Russia and England play Slovakia. My toasties will have some English cheese in to mark the occasion.

This week I shall be voting for the UK to remain in the EU. Membership of the EU has given our young opportunities to freely choose to work and study throughout this large community. I have also been able to work and study alongside citizens of other EU countries who have opted to come to the UK; and that has greatly enriched my life.  I cannot comprehend why we would want to risk taking these opportunities away by leaving the EU; even less can I comprehend how this risk can be justified in the name of freedom.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 9: Hungary

Day 9 of the Euro2016 football tournament and the early evening game was Iceland vs Hungary.
The cheese feast recipe I chose was Lipto Cheese Spread which is quite similar to the Austrian Liptauer cheese spread. Lipto is the name of the Hungarian sheep's milk cheese it should be made with which is apparently similar to Romanian Brindza but I could find neither so I had to settle for using a Greek soft sheep's milk cheese instead.

I have a couple of books on Hungarian cuisine but this one by the late George Lang is the most comprehensive and well written.
It's 'old school', 400 pages of close text, no recipe pictures, but some line illustrations and a detailed English, and Hungarian language index plus a detailed bibliography. It was first published in 1971, and my paperback version appeared in 1985. As it was written long before word processors were common it must have taken a monument of paper drafts to complete. The recipe for caraway soup is a reminder of just how little there sometimes was to make meals from as it is composed of no more than lard or butter, water, bread, garlic and caraway seeds, with an egg if one was available. This reminded me of the Spanish garlic and bread soup Sopa de Ajo.

The recipe below is taken the book but apparently only the cheese, paprika, onions and caraway are essential so I skipped the anchovy. Other versions can include capers and gherkins.

200g Lipto cheese
100g softened butter
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp prepared mustard
1/2 tsp pounded caraway seeds
1 small onion grated
1/2 tsp anchovy essence

Sieve the cheese and mix with the softened butter
Add all of the other ingredients and mix well.
Serve with wedges of good crusty bread, toast, young radishes, scallions, peppers.

This, rather off dry, Hungarian white wine went very well with the dip and has encouraged me to look closer at Hungarian wine. The supermarket blurb read ' It's a fruity blend of Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio and local grape varetity Kiralyeanyka that represents excellent value for money' and as it was under £5 I would have to agree.

For day 10 I am making the timeless classic Croque Monsieur.

I am voting to stay in the European Union. I strongly believe that Britain is stronger and safer in, than out. One of the reasons I want us to stay in is the European Union has set far higher levels of protection and financial support for conserving the environment than I believe any UK government would do if it was 'free' to do what it wants. Alone, we cannot control our environment.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 8: Turkey

So we are more than a week into the cheese and football feast of the Euro2016 tournament and I think I am getting a little punch drunk on cheese as I managed to miss report in my blogpost the result of Thursday's game of Germany vs Poland, but did get that corrected pretty quickly to a draw.  Spain, however, beat Turkey 3 goals to nil, and Turkey never looked like winning that one. For the cheese feast I chose a Turkish feta and spinach filled pide and Turkish Efes beer.
This is another bread based dish in my cheese feast series and it that can be filled a number of ways, but this one has Feta cheese, onions, red peppers, hot red pepper paste, and lots of spinach. The spinach baked up quite dark in the hot oven so it does look rather more scorched than it actually was.
The recipe comes from a wonderful blog on Turkish food named Ozlem's Turkish Table. There are loads of good recipes there and information about her cookery classes and culinary tours in Turkey.

I bought my feta cheese and hot red pepper paste from a uk online Turkish foods supplier called bakkalim. I know you can get feta in local shops but I fell in love with the tin:
It looks very authentic but 'other half' noticed it was made in the Netherlands and Gazi appears to be a German company but they  sponsor a lot of football so there is still a connection.

The pepper paste was quite hot but you can get a mild version.
The breads looked a little more colourful before baking:
The base is pinched up or crimped around the edges to form a lip. I tried my 'Cornish Pastie' style crimp.
The Turkish beer was Efes, may not be one of Turkey's best, it was ok, 'nothing thrilling' as my mother in law would saw.
Next up is a cheese dip from from Hungary and as I could not find a Hungarian beer we are going to have a Hungarian white wine.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 7: Germany

This was another tough first round clash in the Euro2016 football tournament with Germany playing Poland and the game ending in a draw (earlier error in this post corrected - woke up this morning thing they had won!!). For the cheese feast I chose Flammekueche, a wonderful social dish which is baked in large trays and served on wooden platters for guests to help themselves to, and order more as soon as one has been eaten.
 The base is a made from a very thin white bread dough and the topping is a mix of a fromage blanc style soft white cheese, sour cream or creme fraîche and onion and bacon. Try to get a good dry cured smoked streaky style bacon as the bacon gives this dish much of its distinctive flavour. I may have been a little heavy handed with the bacon on my tart but it was my preference to have quite a lot of bacon. Sweeter onions are good too.

The recipe I based my dish on is from a French Alsace cuisine website here: flammekueche and is written in French but with lots of pictures to make the instructions clearer. I used Italian 00 flour grade for the bread base and for the soft cheese layer a mix of approx 4 parts fromage blanc to 1 part sour cream but I added a little more sour cream after tasting it as the mix seemed a little flat/bland.

The beer was Warsteiner, served nice and chilled.

For dessert we had a baked Polish cheesecake which was nice and simple to make as no crust/base was required.

The recipe came from 'The Polish Kitchen' by Mary Pininska. The printed recipe serves 10 so I halved the quantity for this version and baked it in a square tin with sides approx 20cm long and 6cm deep.

125g butter
500g curd cheese
3 large eggs, separated
150g caster sugar
60g raisins
juice & rind of half a lemon
20g potato flour
extra butter and silicone paper to grease and line tin*

Oven 180C
Grease and line the cake tin with the extra butter
Cream the butter
Sieve the cheese if it has any lumps and then gradually mix in to the butter
Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing well
Add the sugar and mix well
Add raisins, lemon zest and lemon juice.
Whisk the egg whites in a separate clean bowl to soft peaks
Fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture
Finally carefully mix in the potato flour
Pour the mixture into the greased tin and bake for 45mins or until the top is golden brown and cake is set.
Remove from oven and leave to cool before turning out. 
*the original recipe just called for greasing the tin but I chose to line mine with parchment to help remove the baked cheesecake from the tin.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 6: Albania

I have been trying to cook cheese based dishes to match the countries playing in the Euro2016 football tournament but there are a few countries that have been a little difficult to find authentic recipes for. I chose Albania for day 6 but I know nothing of Albanian cuisine and if I am honest I could not have even put Albania on the map until I started looking for suitable recipes. I am trusting the internet on this one but this dish did turn up on a few sites, so I give you Byrek ose Lakor - Albanian Leek Pie.
I could not find any Albanian beers or wine, so as Albania played France I have chosen French Meteor beer.

The pie is filled with finely sliced leeks, cottage/farmers style cheese, feta, and flavoured with fresh thyme. The recipe is to be found on the Global Table Adventure site. I chose to serve mine with a roasted pepper and tomato sauce.

The recipe makes quite a lot of pie (serves 8) so I split mine into two smaller pies. I sealed the first one quite well but not so well the second. The lid is being placed on quite a liquid filling which gets a bit tricky if the pasty lid is not quite big enough!
But either way they taste good.

Day 7 sees Germany play Poland and I'm cooking a main course of German Flammekueche and a Polish baked cheesecake for dessert.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast day 5: Portugal

Day 5 of the Euro2016 football tournament and Portugal played Iceland, and with heavy expectations of winning but Iceland were not to be dismissed and they fought hard for a draw. I love the low pitched  'chanting' that the Iceland fans do, which at times seems to be synced with each time the ball was kicked. For the cheese feast I took an easy option of serving a cheese and tapas supper with homemade cheese bread.
The bread recipe is just adapted from a white loaf recipe to which an egg and a mix of Sao Jorge Portuguese cheese and feta are added. It baked up to a nice light loaf with a thin crisp crust. I read that there are very few cooked cheese dishes in Portugal so I gave up looking and settled on this.
Cheese, bread and beer are a match made in heaven and tonight's beer was Sagres.
I found an online Portuguese food supplier to buy the Sao Jorge cheese from as well as a Portuguese sheep's cheese milk cheese called Quinta da Veguinha. The orange rinded cheese was gifted to me by a Portuguese colleague whose father had recently visited bringing lots of Portuguese cheese. I don't know the name but it was the best of the three and the coating has paprika in it.
This Quinta da Veguinha sheeps cheese was very strong and our least favourite. I had maybe kept it longer than I should but it came vacuum packed so I think it started out life with a lot of 'aroma'. There is an interesting article on Portuguese cheese here on where these soft scoopable cheeses are descried as stinky with a pungent barnyard aroma. I would have to agree with that.

I was surprised just how punchy all of these cheese were, even the mild looking Sao Jorge was very characterful.

The delicias online store also sold jars of piquillo roasted peppers which are quite delicious to eat straight out of the jar and not always easy to find. These are good added to a paella too. I also bought some tinned sardines which sounds a little dull but good sardines are quite different to the cheap ones that fill supermarket shelves. The artwork on some sardine cans is also quite beautiful and that is possibly what lured me to buying these.

They made a very nice addition to the cheese tapas menu. Tinned sardines do not often come out of the tin looking quite so beautiful and they tasted very mild too.
The final element was a small dish of cooked globe artichokes. These came from my allotment and whilst I envy the huge size they seem to grow to on the continent I am delighted to have any at all. They can seem like quite a lot of preparation work for not so much to eat but I am grateful to have them, and as a perennial vegetable they are no trouble to grow and are often the first vegetable we harvest each year.
For day 6 I am venturing to Albania and serving a cheese and leek pie. Pies are such good football food and there will be a french beer as I could not find one from Albania.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast Day 4: Belgium

Day 4 of the Euro 2016 football tournament saw Belgium play Italy, which I think was a tough opening draw for both teams. Huge reputations and expectations at stake, but Italy took the win. I continued my cheese and beer celebration of the tournament with a classic supper of Belgian Endive au Gratin and Leffe Blonde beer.
Not much to see of the endive (or witloof chicory) as it was all hidden under a rich cheese sauce and gratin topping, but this is a fine use of the slightly bitter vegetable. I may have been a little heavy on the sauce, and many recipes include ham as well, but this one was all about the cheese. My recipe called for gruyère but I used some comté, as does Raymond Blanc in his bbc website  recipe.

Chicory is not  so easy to cook as the chicory heads can discolour very quickly while you are cooking them, so lemon juice is usually added to the cooking water. The vegetable is produced by forcing chicory plant roots that have been lifted in the autumn and then planted out in dark, warm sheds to produce those pale tight leaved chicons. Well that is a rather simple version, as I think it is quite difficult to grow them as well as the ones for sale in the shops.

The recipe I followed, excluding the ham, was from the book  Everybody Eats Well in Belgium
Although none of the recipes are photographed for the book, there are some charming illustrations throughout and the recipes are written with lots of background information and useful tips. You lean a lot about Belgium life and culture while reading through the chapters. Vegetables that are less common in the UK like salsify, escarole and celery root are to be found and a whole chapter dedicated to cooking with beer!
Leffe Blonde is a rich and malty beer that paired well with the chicory and cheese. The brewery website suggests you drink it with white mould cheeses like brie so I shall have to try that as I always find them a bit hard to match. I love that it is bottled rather like champagne and it does have a very fine soft fizz or 'mousse', like champagne. You can buy some rather gorgeous glasses to go with your beer and I have happy memories of a short trip to Brussels where all the beers came served in their own glasses. I don't remember any good cheese, but we drank plenty of beer and ate lots of chocolate.  

For day 5 I am celebrating the cheeses of Portugal, with cheese bread and a predominantly cheese tapas plate.