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.