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  • Archive | May, 2005

    We call it Maize

    Wine is sexy.

    Cheese is sexy.

    After wine and cheese, maize is sort of a let down. No two ways about it.

    There are several reasons for this. First and foremost is the name. Corn, for the majority of us North Americans, actually refers to the fruit of any grain of a cereal. Corn is also known as Wheat (In England) and oats (In Scotland). In order for us to differentiate the three, I’ll be referring to Corn as Maize.

    Second, maize has identity issues, thanks in large part to canning folks. maize is NOT a vegetable, regardless of what the Green Giant would have us believe. Maize comes from the fruit of the grain . Learn it, live it, love it. It’s a teosinte…also known as grass. NOT a vegetable. It’s those purveyors of mediocrity, the canned and frozen food industries who have foisted this myth of vegetableness upon maize.


    I apologize. I tend to get a little cranky when I find out I’ve been eating nothing but lies. But I digress.

    Another reason why maize is far less sexier than wine and cheese is that in it’s unmilled state, there’s precious few recipes that are available. Sure, there’s corn chowder, corn pudding and corn relish. If you want to used milled corned, there’s tortillas, polenta and cornbread. But remove these items from the database, and your cooking options decline dramatically. Of course, this is akin to saying that if you removed the Empire State Building, Times Square, Greenwich Village, Little Italy and Chinatown from Manhattan, it’d be a pretty boring place.

    For being a crop with limited options, it basically allowed humanity to survive and thrive in the Western Hemisphere for thousands of years. Maize development is thought to have started from 7,500 to 12,000 years ago. Archaeological remains of the earliest maize cob, found at Guila Naquitz Cave in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico, date back roughly 6,250 years. Maize has been cultivated on this planet longer than onions, garlic, even barley. People were planting corn…err…maize before the Egyptians were even a sparkle in this planets eyes. Without Maize, this side of the world would be an entirely different place. If your prone to keeping lists of historically significant foods, maize would certainly be in your top dozen or so.

    Once it was “discovered” by the Europeans, maize was exported and its popularity took off across the world. Corn can be found on every major continent.

    We Americans like our maize, even if we don’t realize just how much. I’ll touch upon High Fructose Corn Syrup just so we all know what’s going on. There’s much to talk about with corn. But it’s still not as sexy as wine or cheese.

    2003 Marchetti Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico

    Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico

    Here’s a news flash. Italy makes some kickin’ white wines. When I started my reading and research on Italy, I only knew of Chianti, the deep red wine that comes in the bottle with the straw base. I never knew the joys of Italian whites.

    Verdicchio is another lesson in the Italian Whites syllabus. Verdicchio (overall) is slightly green-yellow in color and has a delicate bouquet. It is medium bodied with surprisingly strong flavors, a crisp acid balance and a slightly bitter finish. It is best consumed within the first two years from the vintage date. The bottle I received, a Marchetti Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico was a little bit more than that.

    Eyes:Nearly Translucent. Golden yellow with no hint of green. Solid legs that take their good ol sweet time to fall back into the wine.

    Nose: Slight herb aroma with an only slightly stronger lemony smell.

    Taste: A very light wine. Very watery. Sweet overtones with a tiny little taste of bitterness. Very citrusy, like grapefruit. Holds the tongue well, and tastes a bit lick the mineral aspects of a Pelligrino. Ends very nice.

    Overall: Probably the lightest tasting wine I’ve had to date. Very delicate, and certainly will not overpower anyone. From here on forth, when it comes to wine, I’m going to assign a point on a scale of 1-3. Three means I’d buy it again, 2 means I liked it but probably wouldn’t remember drinking it in two weeks. 1 means I hated it and would avoid it.

    I give this wine a 3. I enjoyed how delicate it was…not as sweet as a Riesling, not as thick as a Chardonney. Simply a tasty wine.

    Gorgonzola Cauliflower Gratin

    Gorgonzola Cauliflower Gratin

    Not a bad dish, and a nice way to finish the cheese topic. The walnuts are a little too dark, but it didn’t detract from the taste as the cheese sauce offset it nicely.

    Two pieces of trivia for this dish.

    1) It’s the first one baked in my new oven.
    2) The first non-salad non-bean vegetable dish. It only took me a year and a half to get to this point.

    • 1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets
    • 2 tbdsp unsalted butter
    • 1 sweet onion, chopped
    • 3 tbsp flour
    • 2 cups whole milk or cream
    • 1 cup crumbled Gorganzola (tho any blue cheese would work)
    • 1/2 tsp celery salt
    • cayenne pepper, pinch
    • 1/2 cup chooped walnuts

    Pre-heat your broiler.

    Bring a large pan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and cook for 6 -8 minutes. Drain and place the cauliflower in the gratin dish.

    Using the same sauce pan, melt the butter and add the onions, cooking over a medium heat until the onions are translucent, but not browned. Stir in the flour and cook for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of milk. Whisk milk in slowly until it incorporates well and thickens. Keep adding the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, repeating the above steps. Stir constantly.

    When all the milk has been added, you have your basic bechamel sauce. Return it to medium heat and bring to a slight boil, stirring all the while. Once at a boil, pour in cheese, celery salt and cayenne pepper. Remove from heat, and stir, ensuring that the cheese has melted. Add 1/4 cup of walnuts and fold in.

    Spoon the cheese sauce over the cauliflower. Top with remaining walnuts and place under broiler until golden (5-8 minutes).

    Serves 4

    Tasting Notes: Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk Cheese

    Official Description:A triple-cream, washed-rind, fully-flavored cheese made from organic cow’s milk from the Straus Family Dairy. Aged six weeks and washed with a brine solution that promotes the growth of a bacteria that tints the rind a sunset red-orange, Red Hawk won Best-In-Show at the American Cheese Society’s Annual Conference in 2003.

    My own notes:

    Look: Pale golden yellow, barely solid, rind is a an light orange rust color. Looks along the lines of an egg custard

    Mouthfeel: Soft and, dare I say, creamy. Very light and smooth in the mouth.

    Taste: Sweet at first crescendoing into a strong nutty taste, along the lines of a concentrated hazelnut taste. Tops out at a bitterness upon the tongue, and finishes slowly into a buttery taste.

    New “Feature” – Tasting Notes

    I hesitate to call this even a feature, as I don’t believe it will be useful to anyone but myself. Regardless, regular readers of this site will soon see innocuous posts in which I try to describe what tastes I get when eating certain foods.

    There are two purposes of this: 1) To develop my vocabulary when describing foods. And 2)To create a food diary of sorts that I can refer back to in future days.

    I got the idea from reading an article about (I think) Mimi Sheraton, who kept a diary for ten years describing everything she had tasted. It helped her create her own “knowledge base” so that she could critcally speak of foods with authority.

    I will pre-pend each post with “Tasting Note” so you can dismiss outright or read at your on leisure. I’m not sure what will come of this idea, but we shall see soon enough.

    Now, back to more food.

    Basic Cheese Tips

    For better enjoyment of your cheese:

    • - Do not freeze your cheese. Do this once and you’ll understand why.
    • - If you’re going to eat the cheese within a day or two, it can be left out at room temperature. However, if your going to have a bite on Monday and not return to it until say, Thursday, you might want to refrigerate. Store cheeses in the refrigerator, around 35° F to 40° F.
    • - When wrapping your cheese for storage, wrap tight enough to prevent drying out, but loose enough to allow the cheese to continue to develop it’s taste. Because cheeses need to breathe as they are stored, experts usually do not recommend covering them in clear plastic wrap for long-term storage. Wax paper is a better choice. Best choice? Those little plastic tuperware dishes with sealable lids, or the similar disposable variety.
    • - Serve Cheese at room temperature.
    • - The younger the cheese, the more it will taste like milk/cream and the less complex the flavors (some would say “dull”).
    • - The harder the cheese, the longer it’s shelf life.
    • - Blue cheese mold spores are alive and they will migrate to all other foods, so place blue cheeses in separate containers.
    • - If your cheese didn’t have mold when you bought it, but it does now… cut ½ inch off and use it soon. Molds are generally harmless.
    • - Natural hard rinds can be used to flavor soups and stocks. After a little time remove the softened rinds and feel free to eat.
    • - When cutting fresh mozzarella, it’s best to use a serrated knife, or the cheese will tear .
    • - To prevent a clumpy mess when shredding semisoft cheese with a box grater, spray grater with a nonstick cooking spray before you start.
    • - Measure cheese for cooking by weight for best result in recipes. General rule is 4 ounces of cheese equals one cup shredded or grated.
    • - To prevent cheeses such as Swiss and Mozzarella from becoming stringy during cooking, add a little wine or lemon juice before melting them.
    • - Cheeses are easier to grate when cold from the refrigerator.

    Welsh Rarebit

    Welsh Rarebit

    Welsh Rarebit sounds exotic, but it’s simply a cheese sauce on toast. I don’t mean “simply” as a negative connotation at all, as I’ve discovered that often the simplest recipes are the best.

    Welsh Rarebit gets its name quite literally from the words rare (meaning very lightly cooked) and bit (a small piece or portion). There’s no rabbit at all.

    • 4 slices toasted bread (traditionally sliced on the diagonal)
    • 1 cup grated Sharp Cheddar cheese
    • 5 tablespoons dark ale
    • 2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
    • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
    • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus salt to taste
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper, plus pepper to taste
    • Pinch of cayenne pepper

    Toast your bread as you deem appropriate, either via the broiler or your everyday handy toaster. If you use your broiler to toast your bread, leave it on, as you’ll need it for the final step.

    In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the Cheddar and the dark ale. When the cheese melts, add the butter, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire Sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and the cayenne, and whisk together until evenly melted and combined, 1-2 minutes.

    Arrange the toast around the edges on a flameproof platter. Pour the cheese mixture over the toasts so they are covered completely. Place the platter under the broiler and broil until the cheese bubbles and starts to scorch in places, about 2 minutes. Remove from the broiler.

    Serves 2