Why make ricotta cheese and add one more thing to do in your busy day? Is it really necessary to make ricotta cheese if I am already making a lasagna that takes too long? The answer is an unflappable yes because the taste is 100 times better than store-bought. Ricotta cheese bought in grocery stores tastes gummy, gritty, and filled with additives to prevent the whey and curds from separating. Ricotta should have a pure milk flavor, not a chemical flavor.
Another good reason to make homemade ricotta is a small gesture, but a good one. Sourcing milk from small farms will reduce your carbon footprint. Additionally, milk from cows that are allowed to graze, eat a natural diet of grass, and produce hormone and antibiotic free milk, tastes better and is better for our health. Further, clean farming practices and less plastic containers in the world will ultimately make it a healthier and cleaner place.
I wanted to share this recipe because it is so simple and quick. If you are at all skeptical about starting another project, I believe this is a great way to ease into making ricotta cheese. The recipe makes a small batch, enough to use in pancakes, or to make one of my favorite appetizers, ricotta with lemon zest, mint and honey spread on toasted bread.
This recipe is from the cookbook, Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Additionally, Kenji is the founder of the website, Serious Eats, which I reference a lot. He is all about the science of cooking and puts recipes through rigorous testing to come up with the best practice to produce the tastiest results. This recipe will produce about 1 cup of fresh ricotta and could take 5-15 minutes from start to finish. Another easy bonus is, it is prepared in the microwave.
However, the recipe is not without its challenges. When I first made it, the bowl I used barely fit inside my microwave. I believe the lack of space around the bowl made an unevenness in the way the milk heated up. The temperature of the milk between the top and bottom of the bowl differed by 10 – 15 degrees. This resulted in producing less ricotta from the quart of milk than the recipe indicated. The next time I made the recipe in the microwave, I used a Pyrex mixing bowl and had better results.
Keys to Success making Ricotta
You will need an instant read thermometer. Getting the milk to 165F is crucial to making ricotta. It’s important to make sure that the milk doesn’t get too hot and start to boil.
Do not use ultra pasteurized milk. The milk carton label must inform the consumer of the type of pasteurization process. All organic milk sold in the grocery store is ultra pasteurized. This is done to make sure the milk has a longer shelf life. Ultra pasteurized milk will not turn into ricotta cheese since the good bacteria needed to help create the curds is non-existent.
Distilled vinegar produces the cleanest taste. Lemon juice will give the ricotta a distinct lemon flavor. Regardless of which acid you use, the flavors in warm and freshly made ricotta were more pronounced. The flavors mellowed after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. The ricotta became drier overnight as well.
A microwave safe bowl with a wider mouth had better results than an 2 quart liquid measuring cup. Additionally, remember that this won’t work exactly the same across all microwaves.
What to make with fresh Ricotta?
Mix one cup of ricotta cheese with zest of one lemon and 1-2 tablespoons of minced fresh mint. Spread the cheese on toasted baguette and drizzle with honey. It is a creamy, bright and slightly sweet appetizer plus it is easy to prepare.
A simple recipe for homemade ricotta and finished in about 5 - 7 minutes. It produces a creamy ricotta, perfect as a spread on toast. (See blog post for ricotta spread recipe). It is a great recipe to use and get familiar with the ricotta making process.
This is a recipe from The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.
¼ cup distilled vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
Line a fine mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and place the strainer over a large and deep bowl. Set aside.
Place all the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Gently stir. Use a bowl with a 2-quarts capacity. Place the bowl in the microwave and turn on high for 4-5 minutes.
Check the temperature of the milk, if it is not 165˚F / 74˚C, continue to microwave checking every minute or 30 seconds until the milk reaches 165˚F / 74˚C. You will see the milk curdle and the liquid (whey) become clearer and separate from the curds. If the liquid is milky and without a clear separation between the whey and the curds, the ricotta is not finished. There is a 165˚F/ 74˚C to 180˚F / 82˚C temperature window to work in.
Once the milk/ricotta cheese reached the desired temperature, take the bowl out of the microwave and lightly stir for a few seconds.
Use a spider or slotted spoon to scoop out the curds into a cheese cloth lined strainer. Scoop out as much of the curds as possible, then gently pour the remaining liquid into the strainer. Drain the ricotta to your desired texture. 5 minutes will have the creamiest and moist texture. 15-20 minutes will produce a texture that is spreadable and slightly moist. 2 hours or refrigerated overnight, will produce dry and crumbly curds.
This recipe can be made on the stove top in a large saucepan. Add all the ingredients into a medium saucepan with the heat set at medium to medium-low. Stir the milk constantly and gradually heat the milk to 165F / 74C. Continue as directed to drain the whey.
It won’t take long to muscle your way through a big bowl of these spicy mussels. Chances are, your bowl will be empty before you realized you started. Eating this shellfish can consume ones’ attention, especially when they are steamed in wine, garlic, and spices. No one wants to miss out of getting every drop and morsel of the flavorful broth. It is a fun and messy affair, but well worth it.
I have grown to realize people either love mussels, or refuse to eat them. In the past, clams and oysters had a better reputation, because eating mussels was considered risky behavior. Only Gods like Hercules should eat them, for they were invincible to everything. For the longest time, I was a member of that camp. They just did not appeal to me. Fortunately, I have grown-up and changed my attitude.
When I was a child, I saw mussels everywhere anchored to pillars, rocks and boats throughout the intertidal zone. I believed they were the strangest creatures around. At low tide, I would play under the docks, looking for the perfect skipping rock and other hidden treasures. I saw colonies of mussels tightly glued on pillars, like bunches of grapes ready to be picked. Purposefully, I would attempt to pull one off, and always fail. How they managed to cling so tightly to every surface along the shoreline intrigued me. Their beards were thin and stringy, and I was dumbfounded at the holding strength of the tiny fibrous strands. If someone told me back then, mussels were alien creatures from another galaxy, I would have believed them. The thought of eating these sea creatures never crossed my mind.
Several years ago, I was researching healthy foods and mussels kept showing up as a superfood. Based on my research I became more open-minded to try them. After all, how can I have an opinion on something I know nothing about? Fortunately, I did change my mind, because now I love them. Unlike clams, they are very tender and slightly sweet with lots of protein, low in fat, and tons of beneficial nutrients.
There are many ways I like to prepare mussels, and this recipe with chorizo sausage is just one in a collection. One of the best aspects of cooking with mussels, is you do not really need a recipe to create a delicious meal. Exact amounts are not necessary. Put them in a pot with a little liquid and garlic and you have an easy dinner. My recipe is a little more involved than that, but still simple to execute. I have written this recipe as a guideline for you to learn the process and hopefully inspire you.
Tips for Success Cleaning and Eating Mussels
Where to get mussels? If you are lucky enough to know a secret spot along the coast where you live, this will be your freshest option. Please only take what you need and be aware of the health of the waters you harvest in.
The most available option is to buy mussels at the store. The ones that are most common are from, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Mussels from PEI are farm raised, reliable and sustainable. They are also a great bargain with a 2 lb bag costing around $7.00. Harvesting date and best used by dates are provided on the label of each bag. Ask the fishmonger to pack them in ice, if they have not already done so.
Care and cooking: As soon as you get home, take the mussels out of the plastic bag and store loosely in a bowl covered with a kitchen towel. Put the bowl immediately in the refrigerator. No plastic wrap, and not submerged in water. If you are keeping them in the refrigerator for a couple of days, pour out any accumulated water from the bottom of the bowl.
When you are planning to cook the mussels, inspect each one and clean them. Most farm raised mussels come cleaned, but they still need a once over for stray grit and beards. Run cold water over the mussels and inspect for broken shells, grit and the beard along the straight edge of the shell. Slice off any stray beards with a sharp paring knife. Throw out any mussels with broken shells.
If a mussel shell opens, tap the top of the shell with your finger. If the shell does not close, throw it away. Store the clean mussels in the refrigerator in a bowl loosely covered with a towel until you are ready to cook them.
4 large main course servings, or 8 first course servings
Mussels steamed in wine, tomatoes, garlic and spices creates a delicious broth that will have you licking your fingers. The chorizo adds some warmth and kick to the mussels, providing more depth of flavor. If you are cooking for non pork eaters, this meal is just as delicious without the sausage.
Serve with a salad and lots of crusty bread to soak up all the sauce. You will need extra napkins.
2 lbs / 1k mussels
2 Tbs olive oil divided
1/2 lb / 225g chorizo sausage
1 shallot, minced
6 medium size garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1-1 1/2 cups / 250 - 375ml dry white wine like sauvignon blanc
8 tomatoes from a 28oz can of whole tomatoes (or 8 fresh plum tomatoes)*
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
Small pinch of saffron
1/2 tsp paprika
1 bay leaf
two sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
Finely grated zest from one lemon, and juice from half a lemon
1 long strip of orange zest (optional)
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
4 oz / 125g watercress, or arugula, or swiss chard, thick stems removed and rouch chopped
Before cooking, clean and inspect the mussels. Check for grit and stray beards. Discard any mussels that have broken shells and the ones that the shells remain open after tapping them with a finger. Put the cleaned mussels in a bowl loosely covered with a cloth, no plastic wrap, in the refrigerator until you are about to cook them.
Remove the casings from the sausage. Pour 1 Tbs of olive oil in a Dutch oven and turn the heat up to medium high. Add the chorizo sausage and cook, stirring often to break the sausage up. Continue to break up the chorizo while the sausage cooks to get different size pieces that resemble cooked ground beef. Remove the chorizo from the pot and reserve for later. Taste the cooked chorizo to see how spicy the sausage is so you will know how to adjust the seasoning for your broth.
Add the remaining olive oil and turn down the heat to medium. Add the minced shallots and cook, stirring occasionally so the onions don't brown. Cook the sausage until they soften and look translucent, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook until the garlic begins to release its scent, about one minute.
Pour in 1 cup / 250 ml of white wine and deglaze the pan. Allow the wine to boil down slightly for a couple of minutes. Add the bay leaf, thyme bundle, pinch of saffron, orange zest, and lemon zest.
Cut the tomatoes into irregular bite size pieces, then add the tomatoes to the pot with the wine and onions. Reserve the juices from the can to thin the broth if necessary.
Bring the tomatoes to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Simmer the tomato sauce for 15 minutes so all the flavors blend. Half way through the simmering, taste the tomato sauce and adjust the seasoning as needed. You may need a small pinch of granulated sugar, (1/2 tsp) if the tomato sauce tastes to sharp. Add more salt, paprika and red pepper flakes if more punch is needed, or based on how spicy the chorizo is.
After the tomato sauce has simmered taste for the balance of flavors. Add more wine if the sauce need to be a little thinner. The mussels will also emit their own juices so don't make the sauce thin. Add the cooked sausage and turn the heat up to medium high. Bring the sauce to a full boil then add the mussels. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened. No peeking under the lid for the first 5 minutes.
Serve immediately in bowls with crusty bread and a spoon, and lots of napkins. Mussels are best eaten the same day it is made.
If you want to cook with fresh tomatoes, cut plum tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Rough chop the tomatoes for irregular shaped pieces.
The meal can be made ahead of time up to the point of adding the mussels. Keep the tomato sauce in the pot covered in the refrigerator if you will be saving it for longer than one hour. Keep the mussels in the refrigerator up to the minute you are ready to add them into the pot to cook.
One cannot research Irish Cuisine without devoting some time reading about the potato. This nutritious plant plays an important role in Ireland’s history, and because of the potato famine, US history as well.
Although there is some debate about when and who introduced the potato in Ireland, there is no mistaking its impact. The health and welfare of the Irish people significantly improved after its introduction. I read, before the potato famine, 30 percent of Ireland’s population depended on the potato for a significant portion of their diet. There is evidence from that time that people ate 40 to 60 potatoes a day. *
Sadly, the plant that helped build a country is also responsible for one of Ireland’s most significant challenges. In 1845, the potato blight hit Ireland. By 1851, 1 million people died from starvation, and by 1855, 2 million people emigrated from Ireland. * How does a country recover from such a significant loss?
There is often a connection between historical events and food, or the lack thereof. With some time and effort, I am sure it is possible to create a timeline of historical events and discoveries that relate back to the potato. Any food could have an impact to all aspects of our daily lives. Yet, some of the more interesting developments is seeing how food changes from a means for survival, to a developed regional cuisine. Fortunately after the potato famine, Ireland was able to do just that.
I own a wonderful Irish Cookbook, The Forgotten Skills of Cooking, by Darina Allen. She is considered “the Julia Child of Ireland”, and runs the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork. I love reading this book. Darina has a friendly ease in her writing that makes you feel you will always be welcome at her table. She is passionate about teaching and the slow food movement. I would love to spend a day with her, foraging through the Irish countryside then bake biscuits with the wild onions we collected.
Darina Allen’s book is my primary source about Irish cuisine. It has a vast collection and I believe I will be reading, cooking and learning from it for some time. After browsing through her section on potatoes, I am not sure what I enjoy more, the food or their names. With names like Champ, Colcannon or Bubble and Squeak, it is easy to believe there is always lively conversation during dinner time. It was hard to pick just one recipe to feature. Several traditional potato recipes were very enticing, but I decided on a recipe that is very familiar to Americans, Crispy Potato Skins.
Darina’s recipe recommends serving plain baked potato skins with dips, like you would for chips. Her dips range in flavor from sweet and spicy, to herby and creamy combinations. This sparked my imagination. However, I decided to follow my own path and create crispy potato skins as a composed appetizer recipe.
Please forgive me for my American adaptation. Darina’s Crispy Potato Skins are perfect appetizer fare on any continent. Yet, I could not stop myself from dreaming up endless potato skin recipes. Potato skins with melted cheddar cheese and crispy bacon is a familiar menu item, but what about smoked Irish salmon? Pickles and potatoes are delicious together, what about pickled jalapeños? How would hot pepper jelly taste with the crispy potato skins? Maybe crab or blue cheese would be a nice change. I am not too far off the game here as Darina’s cookbook inspired all my ideas.
One idea I had, is to serve potato skins buffet style, like you would for a taco dinner. This could be successful for a small gathering of friends. People would get the potatoes skins hot out of the oven and choose toppings as they please. I thought this would be perfect for the times when there are guests with different diet preferences. No one would feel left out.
One word of caution, do not eat green potatoes. They are slightly poisonous and will give you an upset stomach.
The important thing to remember is potato skins are informal, and help create a fun and relaxed time with friends and family. Don’t let the informality fool you. They are also quite delicious. Even though crispy potato skins are easy to make, they require planning ahead. It can take up to an hour to cook the potatoes before you cut them open and make them into crispy potato skins. These tubers are twice baked. So sadly, they are not suited for an impromptu get together.
Now that all the crispy potato skins are all eaten up, I must decide what to make with the leftover fluffy potato flesh. Let’s see… Champ, Colcannon or Bubble and Squeak? Oh joy, what’s next?
Serving Size: 2-3 slices per person for an appetizer
Two ways to serve crispy potato skins, one with smoked salmon and another with melted cheese and pickled jalapenos. The amounts of toppings for each recipe of potato skins is sized up for 8 potatoes. You can easily adjust the ingredients up or down depending on how much you want to make. The amount of topping ingredients is all relative to personal preference and the size of potato.
Serve the Crispy Potato Skins hot.
Plain crispy potato skins and the Dubliner Cheese and Pickled Jalapenos Potato skins can be made ahead and reheated in a 350˚F oven covered with foil.
8 medium size Yukon Gold Potatoes, or other medium starch potato
2 Tb melted butter or extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
For the Crispy Potato Skins with Smoked Irish Salmon
1/4 lb smoked Irish Salmon*
1/4 cup sour cream
3 Tb minced chives and more for garnish
32 extra thin slices of cucumber, cut in half
For the Dubliner and Pickled Jalapeno Potato Skins
1/2 cup (or more) of grated Dubliner cheese
32 slices of pickled jalapenos, rough chopped
For the Crispy Potato Skins
Preheat the oven to 400˚F
Scrub and clean each potato thoroughly, then dry with a paper towel.
Prick each potato with a fork or sharp paring knife in 2-3 places
Place the pricked potatoes on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until cooked about 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. The potatoes are done when pierced with a sharp knife or fork and there is no resistance. The knife will glide easily in and out of the potato.
When done, remove the potatoes from the oven and cool. Turn the oven up to 450˚F.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides. Some potato flesh should remain on the skin. Reserve the potato flesh for another use.
Slice each potato half, lengthwise in 2 pieces.
Arrange the potato slices on a sheet pan and brush the fleshy part of each slice with melted butter or extra virgin olive oil, then sprinkle with Kosher salt and ground pepper.
Bake in the oven until crisp, about 10-15 minutes.
Crispy Potato Skins with Smoked Irish Salmon
While the potato skins are crisping in the oven, slice the smoked salmon into pieces that will fit onto the potato skins.
In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with 3 Tbs of the minced chives.
Assemble the crispy potato skins. You will want to work quickly because the potato skins taste best when they are hot.
When the potato skins are crisp and hot out of the oven, spread a small spoonful of the sour cream and chives along the fleshy part. Add two cucumber half slices on top of the sour cream, then drape a generous piece of smoked salmon on top of the cucumber. Garnish with minced chive.
Repeat until you have assembled all the skins you want to complete.
Melted Dubliner Cheese and Pickled Jalapenos Potato Skins
Remove the potato skins from the oven when crisp. Keep the potato skins on the sheet pan and sprinkle grated Dubliner cheese over each piece and place the pickled jalapenos on top of the cheese. (or vice versa). Put the potatoes back in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted. Serve hot.
* You will most likely not need a full 1/4 pound of smoked salmon. Cut the smoked salmon into pieces as you need them. Enjoy the remaining smoked salmon for another use.
This month I decided to teach myself about Irish food. I know about the usual suspects, but not much else. Realizing there is probably more to Irish cuisine besides corned beef and cabbage, I set out on an Irish food journey. My journey began researching beer which led me down a delightful but windy road to discover Irish cheese.
If, like me, you are not familiar with Irish cheese, then you are in for a treat. In my area, the available Irish cheeses are from Kerrygold. I was concerned this company is a big commercial brand and not one with artisan cheese quality. Typically, large US grocery stores carry cheeses and food from major commercial companies so I wasn’t sure how these cheeses would taste. I knew their butter was outstanding and decided to have an Irish cheese tasting of three different cheeses: Dubliner Irish Stout Cheese, Irish Whiskey Cheddar and Cashel Blue Cheese. What I learned is Kerrygold not just makes delicious butter, they make wonderful cheeses.
Usually, when I make up a cheese platter I select three distinctly different cheeses. For this platter, I wanted to present a region so the types of cheeses I had are more limited. I also like to have fresh and dried fruits with the cheese because the sweetness and acid from the fruit can cut the richness of the cheese. When I have a cheese tasting I serve the cheese on very plain crackers, like Carr’s Water Crackers. That way I predominantly taste the cheese. The plain crackers are also great to clear your palate.
Three Irish Cheeses
My first Irish cheese sample was Cashel Blue. I don’t know if there is a protocol with cheese tasting, like there is at a wine tasting, but I went ahead and dug right into the strongest cheese on the plate. It is a strong blue cheese, but not a biting one. There is a wonderful creaminess to offset the musty veins. We loved it, and I later learned it is an award-winning cheese. As I was tasting it I was going through my mind of what I would want to make with it, like my Blue Cheese Baby Cheesecakes, or Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots. Yet again, Cashel Blue is just fine by itself paired with Killian’s Red Ale.
Dubliner Irish Stout Cheese was the driest in texture and mildest of the three cheeses. I would not classify this as a mild cheese though, as it has a lot of body. This is a Dubliner cheese infused with Irish stout. It has a rich and nutty taste with a hint of malty stout. The stout flavor is mild, yet blended well with the nutty cheese flavor. The color is so buttery and beautiful.
Irish Whisky Cheddar is exactly as the name states. Oh man, this cheese is delicious. It is a sharp but creamy cheddar with lots of body. There are hints of the caramel from the whisky without the boozy flavor. This is another winner, and in our opinion, one of the best cheddar cheeses we have ever had.
I am no stranger to good cheese. I worked in a gourmet cheese store in NYC and lived my entire life in the States with exceptional artisan cheese companies. There is an obvious connection between areas where there are quality dairy farms and high-end artisan cheese making. All the cheeses are balanced in flavor. You know the phrase, “You are what you ate, ate”? These cheeses deliver in quality flavor because they were made from milk of grass-fed happy cows. I wanted to travel in space and land on an emerald-green coastal pasture in Ireland.
My Irish cheese tasting was a fun and delicious discovery and I will happily do again. Yet, any one of these cheeses would be welcome on any cheese platter. As recommended, I served an Irish red ale to pair with the cheese, but snuck in tasting some stout along the way. The Irish red ale thoroughly complimented the cheeses, and I did not miss the customary wine and cheese tasting. As the saying goes, “What grows together, goes together”.
If you want to make an Irish Cheese Platter, but can’t find any cheeses in your area, I-gourmet is a very good specialty cheese and food website. They started their business in my hometown of Yorktown and offer a great choice of cheeses and other fun food and gifts items. Click on this link for their “Little Bit of Ireland” selection.
What beer and cheese pairing do you enjoy?
Full disclosure, I am not sponsored by Kerrygold or anybody. This is about my research based on what Irish cheeses and beer are available to me in NY. It is my intention to learn more about Irish cuisine, (and beer), and how I can develop this cuisine into my repertoire. Cheers!
Day 3 of Super Bowl dip recipe frenzy. What do you get when you combine two all-time favorite classic American dips? You get the ultimate onion dip and the ultimate blue cheese dip. I guess whatever camp you belong to, will determine your name for this wonderful double classic dip recipe. I call it, Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots.
Both onion dip and blue cheese dip have been around for decades, at least my lifetime and probably longer. So, bringing the two dips together seems inevitable. I love blue cheese dip and onion dip equally. To be honest, French Onion Dip made from the spice packets is a guilty pleasure of mine. I pounce on it whenever it is served.
Also, Onion dip opens my childhood memory treasure chest. One potato chip scoop of onion dip and the summer days of my childhood materializes. With each bite I am rewarded with welcomed memories of my family picnicking on our sailboat in the San Francisco Bay, dipping into onion dip, eating burgers, and drinking 7-Up. I can hear my parents voices clearly, Mom exclaiming, “Oh Dunny….,” and my dad standing at the stern on top of the deck, responding, “Whaaat?!” with a huge grin. I can feel the warmth or the welcome sun while the wind blows beyond our sheltered cove. Wind. There is always wind. Oh, what sweet memories get stirred up as I dig in.
Despite my confessed love of French Onion dip spice packet, I am going to ask you to put it down and walk away. I did. You do not need to add extra salt, onion powder, and artificial flavor to make appetizers with delicious onion flavor. Nothing more than adding caramelized onions are needed to develop that rich and sweet onion flavor. Because shallots are so small, it will take about 20 minutes to caramelize. Once the shallots of caramelized and cooled, it takes an additional 5 minutes to mix all the ingredients together. So there you have it, delicious blue cheese dip with caramelized shallots ready to dig into. It is that easy and tastes better the longer you let it rest before serving. A perfect party dip recipe.
Classic appetizer recipes are ageless and this recipe proves to be no exception. This recipe dates back to March of 2001 from Bon Appetit Magazine. The recipe is a feature by Rick Rodgers. He presented a collection of easy and delicious dip recipes, but his recipe for blue cheese dip with and caramelized shallots stood out to me. In his article, Rick Rogers says you can make this recipe three days in advance. Well you can, but the color of the caramelized shallots will bleed into the sour cream and get darker with every day. It tastes fine, but the look is not as fresh as one might want to present to a party. I would make the dip at most 24 hours in advanced and it will still look bright and creamy.
Additional ideas for Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots
All that talk about burgers made me hungry for one, and I thought how delicious the Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots would taste as a topping for a juicy hamburger. This is an easy adaptation for a hamburger with blue cheese and caramelized onions. I am craving one now.
Food memories and food dreams, who knew how powerful a simple dip could be.
Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots combines two favorite dip recipes into one easy appetizer. You have the best of both blue cheese dip and onion dip in this recipe. Serve with potato chips or as part of a crudité platter.
Finish making the dip at least 2 hours before you want to serve it. Can be served cold or room temperature.
Recipe is from Bon Appetit March 2001 by Rick Rodgers
1 Tb vegetable oil
1 ¼ cup / 4oz thinly sliced shallots (2-3 large shallots)
¾ cup mayonnaise
¾ cup full fat sour cream
4 oz blue cheese, room temperature (I used French Bleu D’Auvergne)
Place a large skillet on the stove and turn on the heat to medium high. Add the vegetable oil and shallots. Once the skillet is hot and the shallots begin to cook, turn the heat down to medium low. Continue to cook the shallots until they are golden to dark brown. You will need to stir the shallots on occasion so that they do not burn. The process of caramelizing shallots takes some time, at least 20 minutes, and you should pay attention to them. I often need to adjust my heat either up or down to prevent them cooking too fast and burning. Once done, set aside to cool slightly.
In a medium bowl add the sour cream and mayonnaise. Stir until evenly combined. Add the room temperature blue cheese and use the side of your spoon or rubber spatula to stir and smash the blue cheese into the sour cream mixture. You want to have different size chunks of blue cheese blended into the sour cream.
Stir in the caramelized shallots and taste for seasoning. It is a good idea to taste with the chip or vegetable you are serving the dip with, before you add more salt.
Cover the dip with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours for the flavors to meld together.
Serve cold or at room temperature in a decorative small dish with potato chips or crudité. This dip will keep for three to four days in the refrigerator.
Day 2 of Super Bowl Dip frenzy featuring Muhammara. This is a delicious dip recipe made with roasted red peppers, chili pepper, chopped walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Muhammara, pronounced [mu-HUMM-a-da](Maureen Abood), is an amazing discovery and could be the best party dip ever.
Roasted red pepper dip has its origin from Aleppo, Syria. It is typically served as part of mezze. To generalize, mezze is the Middle Eastern equivalent to Spanish Tapas. A selection appetizers featuring spreads, cheeses, several meats, and served with drinks. We served Muhammara with grilled chicken for dinner last night and I thought it was out of this world. I could not stop myself from spreading it over everything on my plate. I showed great restraint not to dollop this dip all over my salad.
If you are ever looking for an alternative to hummus, Muhammara is a good substitute. Nonetheless, you will have nothing to lose if you want to serve both. I believe there is always room for more. The walnuts make this dip of roasted red peppers thick and creamy, and the olive oil smooths the texture. Additionally, pomegranate molasses adds a touch of sweetness to counter the spice of the hot peppers.
My research revealed that there are as many versions of this dip as there are recipes, and almost as many different pronunciations. (Food Network pronunciation is [moo-hahm-MRAH].) So please feel free to play around with the amounts of each ingredient. After all, the more you make this dip you will develop Muhammara into your own special creation. I adapted this recipe of Muhammara from two recipes, Red Pepper Dip with Walnuts and Pomegranate by Amanda Hesser from Cooking at New York Times, and Muhammara from 101 Cookbooks.
Tips for success making Red Pepper Dip: Muhammara
Roast the peppers on a hot grill, under the broiler, or over the flame on a gas burner. You want to get the whole surface of each bell pepper really charred. It is a lot easier to peel off the skins when the peppers have a good char, followed by a good steam in a covered bowl.
I used Aleppo pepper flakes, but feel free to use any dried red pepper flakes you have. You can also use a fresh hot chili pepper. Roast the chili with the red bell peppers, peel off the skin, and add according to how spicy you want it to be. You can buy Aleppo pepper flakes at specialty spice markets or on Amazon.
Toast the walnuts. Toasting nuts brings out the flavor by releasing the oils and makes a big difference in their flavor and texture. You can toast walnuts by spreading them out on a sheet pan and place in a preheated 350˚F oven for 8 – 10 minutes. Watch the nuts carefully so they do not get scorched. The walnuts are finished toasting when they are slightly darker and have a toasty-nutty aroma.
Pomegranate molasses is concentrated pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice which is cooked down and reduced to a thick syrup. You can make it or buy it at specialty markets (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Korean Markets, Middle Eastern Markets, specialty grocery stores, or Amazon).
Muhammara is a dip made from roasted red peppers, toasted walnuts, pomegranate molasses, and dried hot pepper flakes. It has concentrated flavor of roasted red bell peppers and an amazing creamy texture. Make the dip as sweet or spicy as you like. It is the perfect party dip and very addictive.
Muhammara should rest for at least one hour after it is made to allow for the flavors to meld. Can be made a day ahead. Best served at room temperature.
2 lbs red bell peppers (2-3 red bell peppers)
1 Tb Aleppo pepper, or dried red pepper flakes, or 1 small fresh hot chili pepper
Up to 1 ½ cups toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 Tb pomegranate molasses
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp granulated sugar
2 Tb olive oil, more for garnish
Pita bread for serving
Roast the red peppers (and fresh chili pepper if using): Turn the oven on to the broiler setting. Cut the red bell peppers in half and place them on a sheet pan covered in aluminum foil, and put the peppers under the broiler*. Broil the peppers until the sides are charred all over. This will take some time, about 10 - 20 minutes. You will need to watch the peppers closely during the broiling process. The more it is charred the easier it is to peel the skin off the bell peppers.
Once the peppers are charred, immediately put them in a bowl large enough to accommodate all the peppers and quickly cover with plastic wrap. Let the peppers steam in the bowl for 15 minutes.
Once steamed and cool to touch, rub the skins off the peppers and remove the seeds and pith. Rough chop the peppers and place in the blender, or food processor.
Using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor, combine half of the chopped walnuts and the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil, into the bowl to process. You might need to add the ingredients incrementally depending on what small appliance you are using. I used an immersion blender and the dip got very thick until I added the roasted red peppers. Blend until smooth and add more of the walnuts to reach your desired consistency. If the dip is too thick you can add a small amount of water, two teaspoons at a time.
Add the olive oil and process until very smooth. The dip can have some texture to it, but you want a smooth consistency.
Let the dip rest on the counter, or covered in the refrigerator if longer than one hour. Serve the muhammara at least one hour after you make it. Muhammara is best served at room temperature. Drizzle the dip with extra olive oil, ground cumin and chopped walnuts. Serve with plain or toasted pitas.
Muhammara will last in the refrigerator for one week.
Toast the pita bread.
Turn on the oven to 350˚F and cut each pita into 8 triangles and place on a rimmed sheet pan. Place the pitas in the oven and bake until lightly browned and crispy, about 10 to 20 minutes.
*If you are using a fresh hot chili pepper, broil and remove the skin at the same time with the red bell peppers. Add the amount of chili pepper to the dip to satisfy your desired level of spice and heat.
All those questions are answered, but the most important question remains, what are we going to eat?
Whether you are staying at home or going out to friends, this central food question is on everyone’s mind. The Super Bowl is a food grazing phenomenon with established traditions that has grown in popularity for the past 51 years. Like Thanksgiving, certain foods are a must have. My friend Alan believes the Super Bowl is not the Super Bowl unless wings are served. I also believe dips fall into the must have category and Spinach Artichoke Dip with Bacon is the perfect stand-in.
It is hard to believe that Spinach Artichoke Dip needs any improvements. Still, as the saying goes, “Everything tastes better with pork,” totally applies to Spinach Artichoke Dip. Adding bacon to this traditional dip turns an “Oh yum,” into, “Wow. What is this? It is incredible.” Spinach Artichoke Dip with Bacon is a powerhouse dip. It is familiar and new at the same time, and well worth the extra time it takes to cook the bacon.
This recipe is an oldie of mine. Well “oldie” is a relative term and I can’t believe that I am considering 2005 in the oldie category. Yet, some foods and food trends have a short lifespan. Additionally, I am one to frequently change around my food ideas for any party. Spinach Artichoke Dip with Bacon is not a passing trend, but there when you need an appetizer on the quick. This recipe stands the honored test of time and continues to be a reliable recipe for a crudité platter, or chips and dip.
I got this recipe from a Food Network series, Party Line with the Hearty Boys. I enjoyed the show and was sad that it did not last very long. The hosts Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh came across as fun easy-going guys and with a collection of delicious and reliable recipes. The only changes I made to this recipe, was to mix in some yogurt with the sour cream to lighten it up.
Tips for making Spinach Artichoke Dip with Bacon
Use any combination of sour cream and Greek yogurt. The original recipe used 100% sour cream. You can also try crème fraiche. This is a thick dip, so regular yogurt will not work as well as Greek yogurt does. I also believe the full fat versions of both ingredients taste a lot better than the low-fat versions.
Cooking the shallots and garlic makes a big difference in this recipe. Raw garlic and onions can overwhelm the dip, and they do not age well. Also, cooking the shallots and garlic extends the lifespan of a dip from 24 hrs to a couple of days.
This can be served cold, but I think it is easier to dip chips, and tastes better when it is closer to room temperature.
If you have non-pork eaters, portion out some of the dip before you add the bacon so all your guests can enjoy this dip.
Spinach Artichoke Dip with Bacon and Crispy Pita Chips
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
About 4 cups
Spinach Artichoke Dip with Bacon and crispy pita chips is a recipe I have served many times. It is a family favorite and a great choice for any gathering of family and friends. Adding crispy bacon and lemon zest to this traditional dip recipe makes it stand out appetizer.
This recipe is slightly adapted from Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, Party Line with the Hearty Boys as seen on Food Network, 2005.
For the Dip
1 Tb vegetable oil
1 shallot, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 10-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 cups sour cream, or 50/50 combo of sour cream and Greek yogurt
1 6-oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
10 bacon strips, cooked up very crisp, crumbled
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the Crispy Pita Chips
1 Tb kosher salt
1 Tb dried basil
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried oregano
12 tsp ground black pepper
14 tsp celery salt
½ cup vegetable oil
8 pitas cut into 12 wedges each
For the Dip
Heat up the vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium low heat. Once warm add the minced shallots and garlic to the pan. Cook the vegetables and stir frequently until the vegetables are softened, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Put the thawed spinach on a double layer of cheesecloth*. Bring the ends together and twist
forming a tight ball. Squeeze all the excess water from the spinach. Place in a medium size mixing bowl. Add all the ingredients to the bowl with the spinach and carefully mix until all the ingredients are incorporated. Allow the dip to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. If you are not going to serve it right away, store the dip covered in the refrigerator.
Spoon the dip into a serving bowl and serve with the crispy pita chips.
For the Crispy Pita Chips
Arrange an oven rack to be in the top third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F
In a small bowl mix the Kosher salt, dried basil, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, black pepper, and celery salt until evenly combined. Add the pita triangles into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the mixed herbs and spices over the pita wedges. Using clean hands, toss the pita wedges and spice mix until it is thoroughly mixed together. Drizzle the oil over the pitas and mix thoroughly until the pita chips are evenly coated with oil and spice mix . Arrange the spiced pita triangles on a large rimmed baking sheet. Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake until the pita chips are crispy and lightly browned. Let the pita chips cool for 10 minutes before you arrange them for serving.
Serve with the spinach artichoke and bacon dip.
* If you do not have cheesecloth, you can use a fine mesh strainer and push the water out of the spinach using the back of a large spoon. If you have a clean flour sack kitchen towel, it will work just as well as cheesecloth.
January 27th, 2017 is the eve of Chinese New Year, the year of the Rooster. In honor of this auspicious day, I decided to learn how to make fried dumplings. Dumplings are traditionally served during Chinese New Year, and are a symbol for money and wealth. The legend is, the more dumplings one eats on Chinese New Year, the more wealth they will gain during the coming year (www.chinahighlights.com).
I love fried dumplings and have always wanted to learn how to make them. However, cooking a new dish with unfamiliar techniques and ingredients can be a risky endeavor. It is difficult to gauge how much time the recipe will take to cook, as well as determine how it will turn out. For the most part, I depend on my past experiences and resources to plow through any unknown territory. Fortunately, I have had more success than failures to keep my confidence up and my curiosity growing. Nonetheless, if I do mess up, the reason can usually be determined for a productive do-over.
My first decision was to buy pre made wonton wrappers and not make everything from scratch. This might be considered cheating by some, but I felt it was a wise idea to pare down the whole procedure the first time around. It appears that making dumpling dough from scratch seems easy enough, but will require a third recipe, additional time, and a special rolling-pin. Maybe next time I will tackle the dough.
The wrappers are available at most grocery stores in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Be advised, the wrappers come in different shapes and sizes. You can use either the wonton wrappers shaped as squares or circles, depending on what your store has available.
After researching several recipes, I decided upon using Mark Bittman’s recipe from his cookbook, The Best Recipes in the World as my base. Cooking with his recipes are like having a friend by your side, and teaching you along the way. The recipe for the pork filling is similar to most of the recipes I researched. However, his cooking technique proved to have the most consistent results, and created light and moist dumplings with a good sear.
The only downside to making homemade dumplings is, it is time consuming. The whole process is fairly simple, but will require your undivided attention. Overall, it took about 30-40 minutes to assemble 40 plus dumplings. This is because they need to be assembled one at a time in order for the dumplings to not dry out. Even though making dumplings is labor intensive, it can easily be turned into a fun activity to do with family or friends.
It has been my experience that children love to help with the dinner preparations. I believe the more children are involved in making the food they eat, the more likely they will be open-minded to eating different foods. Some children enjoy doing detailed tasks that is perfect for little hands and fingers. Pleating, pinching and forming dumplings is a great activity that children will enjoy.
If you do decide to make dumplings as a family activity, please be careful with children handling raw meat. You can designate mixing the filling as the adult job, or have the children wear latex gloves. Additionally, cooking the dumplings produces a lot of steam, so children should be kept away from the stove.
Each dumpling resembled a cute little boat. I was reminded of other images as well like an ancient Asian crown, a Chinese Junk, and The Flying Nun. So, who knows where your imagination will take you while you fold and pleat the time away.
Fortunately, my first try at making fried dumplings was a huge success and a great family treat. By choosing to make fried dumplings instead of buy them, I turned an ordinary dinner into a festive occasion. These fried dumplings are light, flavorful, and festive. The interaction between dunking and eating created additional activity, which spurred more socializing and a fun atmosphere. I hope you have an occasion to make dumplings for you and your family and please let me know how they turn out.
What new food adventure have you tried recently? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
Happy Chinese New Year. May good health and prosperity be your good fortune this year of The Rooster.
Serving Size: 4 dumplings per person as an appetizer
Pork fried dumplings are fun to make and create a festive dining experience. Divide the assembly of the dumplings between you and loved ones, then the work becomes a shared activity all will enjoy. Serve with a soy dipping sauce flavored with toasted sesame oil, ginger, lime zest and sriracha. Fried dumplings are at their best when served immediately after they are made.
The dumplings and dipping sauce can be easily adapted to suit your taste. You can substitute the ground pork with ground turkey, shrimp, ground lamb, or vegetables with tofu. I like a little heat and sweetness in my dipping sauce, but you can add or omit whatever you prefer. Thai chili paste can substitute for the sriracha, or omit it all together. Citrus is nice in the dipping sauce, like lime juice or zest. Sherry or rice wine, and honey are also good substitutes.
Fried dumplings can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap until you are ready to make them. They can also be frozen. Place the assembled dumplings on a rimmed sheet pan and place in the freezer. When the dumplings are frozen all the way through, remove them from the sheet pan and place in a zip lock freezer bag and return them to the freezer. They should keep frozen for 6 months.
This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe for Wor Teep, Pot Stickers or Pan Fried Dumplings, in his cookbook, The Best Recipes in the World.
The cooking time is 10 minutes per batch of 10 to 12 dumplings. Allow more time if you are making more than one batch of fried dumplings.
For the Dumplings
½ lb ground pork
1 cup chopped cabbage, or bok choy, or leeks
1 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and minced
¼ cup minced green onions (scallions)
2 garlic cloves, green germ removed, and minced
1 egg lightly beaten
1 Tb rice wine or Sherry
1 Tb reduced sodium soy sauce
1 Tb toasted sesame oil
1 tsp granulated sugar
Pinch of Kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 package wonton wrappers
Peanut or neutral oil for frying
About 2 cups of chicken stock, vegetable stock or water (divided)
For the Dipping Sauce
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Finely grated zest from ¼ of a lime
2 Tb reduced sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 Tb rice vinegar
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp mirin or rice wine
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
A couple drops of sriracha sauce (optional)
1 tsp Water
Make the Dumplings
Combine the ground pork, chopped cabbage, chopped green onions, minced ginger, minced garlic, egg, soy sauce, sherry, toasted sesame oil, sugar, Kosher salt, and black pepper in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands.
Place the wonton wrappers on a plate then cover with a moist towel. Pick up one wonton wrapper and place it on your work surface with a pointed end towards you like a diamond shape. Moisten your finger tip and paint the top two edges of the wonton wrapper.
Fill 1 teaspoon* with the pork filling and place it in the center of the wrapper. Fold the wonton wrapper in half to make a triangle. Press down on the edges and with your fingers, smooth the wrapper over the mound of filling to push out any air that is loitering around the filling. You want to make sure there are no air pockets inside the dumpling.
Pleat each dumpling by starting at one corner and fold over a small section to make a pleat. Press and seal. Slide your fingers up about a ¼ inch and pleat again. Continue to pleat the edges of the dumpling to have 3 pleats per side. The pleats will fold towards the center.
Place the dumpling on a sheet pan and cover with a clean and moist kitchen towel. Repeat until you have used up all of the pork filling. About 40 dumplings.
Cook the Dumplings
Place a 12-inch skillet on a burner and turn the heat to medium high. Lightly coat the pan with oil. Place the dumplings in the pan, pleated side up. Depending on the size of your pan you can fit 9-10 dumplings at a time. Cook the dumplings for 5 minutes, undisturbed. After 5 minutes add ½ cup chicken stock to the pan and immediately cover with a lid. Cook covered for 2 minutes. After the 2 minutes are up, take off the lid and cook the dumplings until the liquid is evaporated and the dumplings are nicely browned, about 3 – 4 minutes more.
Using a thin spatula gently remove the dumplings from the skillet, being careful to not rip the dumplings as you remove them from the pan. The dumplings will stick a little, hence the name pot stickers.
Put the dumplings on a plate and cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm.
Deglaze the pan with a ½ cup of water, scraping up any crusty bits. Dump out the water and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. Repeat the cooking process until all the dumplings are cooked, making sure to clean the pan between each batch of dumplings.
Serve immediately with dipping sauce.
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and adjust the flavor as needed. Set aside on the counter until ready to serve. Serve in a small bowl for easy dipping. Makes a shy ¼ cup.
If you make dumplings with the round wrappers or from wrappers made at home, they will be larger and you will need to fill the dumplings with close to 2 teaspoons of filling. You will get 20 -24 dumplings depending on size of wrapper.
My family knows, they can always give me a cookbook as a gift. It does not matter if the cookbook is an older publication or a new one, I will always welcome any addition to my collection. This year my husband gave me The Baking Bible Cookbook by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I am familiar with Rose Beranbaum’s work because I own another book of hers, The Cake Bible. She is a one of a kind baking guru and a significant authority about the science involved with baking. If you are curious about culinary science, she is the number one resource. Learning from her cookbooks will make you a better baker.
As I turned each page of my new book I made mental notes to myself of baking projects to try later. Ultimately, my goal was to find inspiration for something I could make immediately. Upon first sight of her recipe Stilton Baby Blue Cheesecakes, I decided this was the one. These baby cheesecakes enriched with blue cheese instantly grabbed my attention. They were beautifully photographed with slivers of Bosc pears draped over their tops. Additionally, the crust of the baby cheesecakes is made with one ingredient, crushed walnuts. They are a new twist on the classic pairing of walnuts and blue cheese. Add some champagne to serve with these baby blues and you have an elegant party spread for all to enjoy.
Another great feature of these baby cheesecakes is the blue cheese itself. The combination of blue and cream cheese creates flexibility for the cheesecakes to be served as either an appetizer or a dessert. I can add additional blue cheese to make them more savory, or less to make them sweeter for dessert. As well, they can be made in advance, which is always a plus. I am not usually a cheesecake fan, however this recipe for baby cheesecakes came across as a pleasant surprise. They are savory, sophisticated and unexpected all in one bite.
One change I made to the original recipe was to switch the type of blue cheese. The original recipe called for Stilton cheese, which I like, however I love Point Reyes Blue Cheese. It is creamier and not as sharp as Stilton, yet still maintains that distinctive blue bite. This is my favorite blue cheese, and is made in the sacred land of my childhood, the Point Reyes National Seashore in California. I can’t help myself when it comes to Point Reyes Blue Cheese or any of the other cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery. Their cheeses remind me of home and help me feel connected to this treasured seashore.
Dinner Ideas when serving Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes
Serve Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes as a cheese course along with fresh and/or dried fruits at the end of the meal.
My new book, The Baking Bible, has been christened and I have a new recipe using one of my favorite cheeses. Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes are an elegant, versatile and creamy bite of bliss.
Cheers to a beautiful, happy and healthy 2017. Enjoy!
Helpful Hints Making Point Reyes Baby Cheesecakes:
If using a metal muffin pan, do not skip the step of placing parchment paper into each muffin cup. Even if you have a non-stick pan the parchment will make it a lot easier to lift the baby cheesecakes out of the cups. Additionally, the parchment paper will stick to the pan so you will not have to pull the paper off the bottoms.
Boil water in a tea kettle and then pour into a medium bowl. Use the hot water to heat up a metal spatula or knife and then wipe clean with a kitchen towel. The heated and cleaned knife will make lifting the cheesecakes out of the tins easier and smooth out the edges.
Garnish the baby cheesecakes with fruit, nuts or minced arugula combined with chopped walnuts and pears. Lightly dress the greens with extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar.
If serving as an hors d’oeuvres, serve them on a multigrain cracker. It will taste great and will be easier to manage.
For a first course serve the Blue Cheese Baby Cheesecakes with a salad of arugula and pears, lightly dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar.
These delicious Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes can double as a dessert or an appetizer. For a personal touch, feel free to use your favorite strong flavored blue cheese. The original recipe used Stilton cheese in these baby cheesecakes. This recipe is from The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, Stilton Baby Blue Cheesecakes.
1 shy cup (3 oz/84 g) walnut halves
1/4 cup plus 2 Tb (2.6 oz/75 g) granulated sugar
1 Tb (9 g) cornstarch
Kosher salt, a pinch
1 1/3 cups (12 oz/60 g) cream cheese at room temperature and cut into pieces
1/4 cup (2.1 oz/35 g) sour cream
2 -3 Tb (35 g - 52 g) Point Reyes Blue Cheese*
2 large eggs lightly beaten
Prepare the muffin pans
2 - 6 cup silicone muffin pans set on a wire baking rack and placed into a sheet pan Or 1 - 12 cup muffin tin.
For the silicone muffin pans - lightly coat the muffin pans with cooking spray then place them on a wire rack set in a baking sheet.
For the muffin tin - coat each muffin cup with shortening or butter and cut small circles of parchment paper to set in the bottom of each cup. Lightly spray each cup with cooking oil spray.
Toast the walnuts
Set the oven rack in the middle of the oven and pre-heat the oven at 350˚ F/175˚ C/Gas Mark 4. Let the oven heat up for twenty minutes before you toast the walnuts.
Spread the walnut halves evenly over a small baking sheet, place in the oven and toast the walnuts to bring out the oils and enhance their flavor. Toast for 7 minutes turning the walnuts over a couple of times while baking.
When finished spread the toasted walnuts over a clean lint free dish towel and fold one end over the walnuts to cover. Place your hands over the covered walnuts and gently rub back and forth to loosen and remove the walnut skin. Rub off as much of the walnut skins as you can and place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor. Discard the skins.
Lower the oven temperature to 225˚ F/107˚ C
Pulse the food processor to finely chop the walnuts. You want an even consistency without turning the walnuts into flour.
Spoon 1 Tb of ground walnuts into each muffin cup and press down evenly to pack the walnuts together.
Using a stand mixer or hand held mixer, mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt until just mixed together. Add the cream cheese and beat on low speed until the ingredients are evenly combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until very smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape the batter down the sides of a bowl.
In a small bowl, mix together the sour cream and blue cheese until evenly combined. A fork is great for this job. Add the blue cheese mixture to the cream cheese and mix together on low speed until just combined, about 15 seconds.
Add the lightly beaten eggs and mix until evenly combined. The batter consistency should resemble sour cream.
Pour the cheesecake batter into each muffin cup almost up the top, about 1.8 oz/50 g in each muffin cup. Smooth over the tops of each cheesecake with an offset spatula.
Bake in the 225˚ F/107˚ C oven for 15 minutes. Rotate the muffin pan in the oven from front to back to encourage even baking and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer. The muffins are done when an instant read thermometer reads 160˚ F/71˚ C. The batter will jiggle somewhat and the centers of each muffin will spring back when touched. Put muffin tin and/or baking sheet on a cooling rack.
Allow the cheesecakes to cool in the muffin pan for 30 minutes. Cover the muffin pan(s) with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before unmolding.
For the metal muffin pan: run a small spatula or knife, heated up with hot water, around the edge of each muffin cup. Press the spatula or knife up against the side of the pan to not scrape the sides of the cheesecakes. Clean the spatula with warm water and wipe clean with a cloth for every cheesecake. Lift the cheesecakes out of the muffin cups with a spatula. Smooth the sides of each cheesecake using a small metal spatula that has been heated with hot water and wiped clean.
For silicone muffin pans: Rose Levy Beranbaum recommends placing a baking sheet on top of the plastic wrap-covered muffin pan and turn it upside down. Then place a dish towel in very hot water. Wring out the excess water and drape it over the muffin pan. Make sure to press the hot wet towel into the recesses of the pan. Let it sit for about 2 minutes. Remove the towel and carefully lift off the muffin pan. If the cheesecakes do not release, repeat the above steps, and try again after another minute. Once released, place a second sheet pan on top of upside down cheesecakes and turn them right side up.
Place the cheesecakes on a serving platter and serve.
Store, refrigerated for up to 5 days.
*To make the cheesecakes more savory add the total 3 Tb blue cheese to the batter. If you want the cheese cakes for dessert use 2 Tb blue cheese.
Hoboken NJ is the land of Mutz. Say whaaat, Mutz? Yes, Mutz pronounced with an emphasis on the sounds of the first two letters, Mmuutz, and is a local term of endearment for fresh made mozzarella. I do not mean to be disrespectful to the Bronx and Brooklyn. They each have their great Italian neighborhoods with delicious Italian cuisine and traditions, but Hoboken’s Mutz stands above all others in the area. It is so delicious in fact that every Italian Deli in Hoboken has their own house made Mutz and claims to be the best.
About four years ago Hoboken started a Mutz Festival to showcase all the freshly made Mutz from each deli and crown the winner of Best Mutz in Hoboken. Mutzfest has a secondary purpose to raise money for local charities as well. A Mutzfest? Absolutely, and the line to get in is several blocks long. Who can say no to eating fresh mozzarella from every Italian Deli in town and roll away one happy Mutz-stuffed champion? I have this vision of every deli owner with their extended family staying up all night, teaming together to pull the mozzarella needed for the Mutzfest. There probably is not a single bit of space left on the counters, shelves, floors, anywhere in all of Hoboken, to put all that Mutz.