Posts Tagged ‘Cheese’

Cheesy Easter

Vermont Triple Cheese Bread

Vermont Triple Cheese Bread

If you invite me for Easter dinner I promise to bring the bread. How much bread depends entirely on what you are cooking for the main course. If you’re cooking a Ham (or buying the spiral-cut kind) I’ll bring a loaf or two and some nice rolls. Lamb or mutton will mean I’ll need to rent a U-haul and make two trips. You’re serving mutton just like your Grandmother used to make? My Grandmother used to make Pickled Tongue but you don’t see me serving that for dinner. Easter dinner tip #1: stick with a main course you don’t have to explain.

In the past I’ve written that I consider a good bread basket to be the lifeboat that can rescue me from a bad meal. Talking mutton and lifeboats conjures images of a culinary Titanic.

Better yet, here’s a novel new idea: The First Annual Easter pot luck. The menu will be comprised solely of the items everyone in attendance gave up for Lent. With my friends in attendance there may be an oversupply of martinis and red wine, but that’s okay because there will also be an oversupply of cake, cookies, and ice cream. It’s called balance, people.

And yes, the point is moot for yours truly. Giving up things for Lent is literally not in my religion, but I can’t resist an occasion marked by a big meal.

How can Easter not be on my mind? Easter candy has been on the shelves of every drug store for what seems like months, the squishy, mellow neon of the Peeps calling my name like a Stay-Puft siren.

This is a good place to mention one of the landmarks of my kitchen: my recipe files. These could perhaps be mistaken for a paper recycling bin. I have a tendency to keep empty flour bags because a recipe printed on the side caught my eye. They tend to sit on the shelf for a while, waiting for an occasion when I will smooth out the wrinkles and bring them to life.

So it was that a long expired bag of King Arthur flour was reincarnated because of the words, “Triple Cheese Bread” printed on the side.

(I am not a paid spokesman for King Arthur flour and did not receive so much as a dusting of flour for this endorsement.)

I’m not sure why I felt like I needed an excuse to bake Triple Cheese bread. This is one of those recipes that deserves the reverse: a day of its own. I imagine that I’ll wake up one morning with the exhortation, “It’s Triple Cheese Bread Day!” on my lips.

In the meantime there’s Easter Dinner. Easter Dinner always holds an interesting allure for me. As much as I love winter, April always seems full of the warm promise of good things to come. (I was Bar Mitzvah-ed in April. Maybe that’s why I like April?)

Depending on the year, April can be both the last gasp of winter and the first whiff of spring, so it is time to celebrate with sun, flowers, and happy food. I think Triple Cheese bread is happy food because it makes me smile.

I repeat this often: if you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer then baking bread is really no harder than knowing how to set a timer. As this is someone else’s recipe I can only tell you my tips to success.

First: because all of the ingredients in bread can blunt the flavor of cheese, find the sharpest cheddar you can find. This can be tricky. I happened to find a Vermont cheddar by Cabot that they labeled “Seriously Sharp.” Its brininess turned out to be just right. (I’m not a spokesman for Cabot either. But I like this cheese and the implied harmony of pairing Vermont flour with Vermont cheese.)

Even though it may be counterintuitive, I avoided top shelf Parmesan, hoping that the modestly priced domestic version I used would lend enough saltiness and nuttiness to the bread—using the good stuff in a loaf of bread seems like a waste.

The third cheese seems like a cheat. Cottage Cheese? The name aside, I never think of this as cheese, but baking chemistry hints that this is a really good baking ingredient, tenderizing the dough into a pillowy soft foam.

Finally, here’s your choice: I used a loaf pan that is slightly oversized so my bread rose with flat top; use a standard load pan for the old-fashioned dome shaped loaf.

Triple Cheese Loaf isn’t just for dinner. The legendary Schrafft’s restaurants used it famous cheese bread in sandwiches, often pairing it with, what else—grilled, sliced ham.

Did I mention that it is amazing toasted?

No, I didn’t, because you’ll eat the whole loaf that way.


Here’s the Triple Cheese Bread recipe.


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Marshmallow Tweets?

“…and she asked for refills.”

Caesar Salad

Still life with croutons

Have I mentioned that during a previous century I worked for a time as a waiter? There is something profound about the experience of waiting on others. Some people believe that this kind of work prepares you well for life and the workplace as a whole, and that everyone should do it for a while. A debatable point, yes, yet I think I tend to drift to the side of those who think everyone should do it for a while. Lindsay Lohan would sober up in record time if you slapped a visor on her head and put her in charge of a McDonald’s fryolator.

Lest you think I am slighting McDonald’s, I hasten to add that a former boss of mine outside of the restaurant business spent several of his teenage years working in a McDonald’s, and he was a fine boss indeed. I’ve always wondered how many of the qualities that made him such a good boss were the result of his time slapping patties on the grill.

Waiters bear witness as otherwise intelligent, educated, seemingly mature adults revert to bratty, child-like behavior (and that’s before cocktails). It can be a rueful revelation about the human condition. But there’s more to it than that. The bratty, immature behavior of those folks who have been celebrated due to their supposed culinary skills is perhaps even more of an eye opener.

In other words: your waiter is getting it from both sides. If the customers are at times unpleasant, some chefs are truly Nasty to the point of being abusive (the capital “N” is not a mistake). There’s something life altering about being yelled at by someone who looks like they showed up for work in grease-stained pajamas. Exaggerating? I think not.

One of the fine establishments at which I worked (I will withhold names to protect all parties involved) was famous for its elaborate selection of cheese, and one of the waiters found himself elevated into the role of the cheese steward. This role was similar to that of a sommelier. Sounds good in theory, although in practice this poor guy often became the chef’s whipping boy, a performance often repeated loudly and within clear earshot of the customers. It wasn’t directed at me, yet it still made my skin crawl.

Then there are the squeezes.

Waiters often find themselves squeezed firmly in the no man’s land between what chefs are willing to do for their customers and what the customers want, a/k/a, “No substitutions.” All parties blame the waiter.

There’s also bad management: seating an entire restaurant at the same time results in all orders being sent to the kitchen at the same time, which results in very slow service as the kitchen struggles to keep up. All parties blame the waiter.

Excuse me, but I thought time healed all wounds? It has been many years, and yes, I think I still sound a little bitter. Ah well, don’t cry for me; I am all smiles. You may have deduced from this harrowing tale that I bend over backwards to treat waiters well when I eat out. I do, although I am keenly attuned to poor service, and my practiced eye knows when it is the waiter’s fault, versus when it is the kitchen’s fault. I know enough to be a danger to my own enjoyment of the meal. My dirty little secret? I am not an enthusiastic eater-outer.  And I now have bad feet.

I was a crummy waiter (pardon the pun); my mind was often elsewhere, so take what I say with a grain of salt. In the meantime, here’s a funny story (ya got a minute?):

I was working a lunch shift the day after Broadway’s TONY awards.  This was a casual restaurant that attracted a surprising number of celebrities. You name ‘em, they ate there. Who should I find at one of my tables but two of the talented, celebrated actresses who had lost the previous evening? Perhaps a planned victory lunch gone awry?

I greeted them by asking, “But it was an honor just to be nominated, right?”

My props to them for restraining themselves from pummeling me about my person. Yes, sometimes it is the waiter’s fault.

One of my favorite tasks as a waiter was table side service. The reasons for this were twofold. First, the customers were hungry, happy I was there, and often engaged me in polite conversation. Second, I enjoyed making Caesar Salad, especially when I could leave a tiny bit for myself. Some nights I must have reeked of garlic. Caesar said it best, “Veni, Vidi, I ate the salad.”

And yes, one skill I took away from my waiter years is the ability to make a good Caesar Salad–at least I think they’re good, although I’ll be the first to admit that I belong to the school of “the more garlicky and parmesan-y the better.”

Caesar Salad seems to have supplanted the old wedge of iceberg with blue cheese I remember from my childhood as the salad that must be on every menu. The trouble is that the bottled, gloppy, mayonnaise-based dressing that is used is often not very good. REAL Caesar Salad–made to order from fresh ingredients–has freshness, lightness, and a bit of zing that the kind made with pre-made dressings can’t match.

Since you rarely—if ever—see the tableside version anymore in restaurants, may I recommend it as a make-at-home treat? No special tools are required, in fact, I, Mr. Kitchen Aid Devotee, discourage their use when making Caesar Salad. Two forks and a little technique are all you need. Mashing all the ingredients in a bowl with the two forks actually does a better job than a food processor or blender.

Let me address two things that may give you pause: anchovies and raw egg. Anchovies? Buy the quality kind in the glass jar. They’re not “hairy” and are much less salty than the cheap canned kind. (Mine came with a little fork to pull them out of the jar. Who doesn’t like a free utensil?) Raw egg remains a reasonable concern what with the recent problem with salmonella. If you can find pasteurized eggs, use those. Even easier is to use Egg Beaters. I know purists may take offense at this, but Egg Beaters are made from eggs, are pasteurized, and will lend a glossy richness to the emulsion similar to real eggs.

Finally keep in mind that this is an easy recipe, yes, but one that lives or dies on the quality of all the ingredients. Use good Parmesan cheese, not the deservedly maligned kind in the green shaker bottle. Buy the plainest croutons you can find, or even better, toast your own in the oven. The overly seasoned kind will overwhelm REAL Caesar Salad. (Yeah I know–sounds like Martha Stewart. But heck, I’m not asking you to bake the bread from scratch.)

Here’s a bit of celebrity gossip you won’t find on Page Six, in the Enquirer, Star, or at Perez Hilton. You’ll only get this kind of info here gang, so buckle your seat belts:

Barbra Streisand likes ginger ale with her lobster.


Click here for the recipe for REAL Caesar Salad.


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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Ready for Carnegie Hall?

Yes. I ate the prop. Someone had to...

Yes. I ate the prop. Someone had to...

There’s a quote that gets repeated a lot lately: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result each time.”

This has been attributed variously, but inconclusively, to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, or (my favorite) a fictionalized version of Albert Einstein in a mystery novel.

But what is it if you expect the same result each time? Persistence? Practice? The triumph of hope over experience? (Oscar Wilde said that about second marriages…or was it Samuel Johnson? Or was it Oscar Wilde quoting Samuel Johnson?)

Issues of repetition are on my mind because every Sunday night I bake pizza. I’ve been doing this for so many years that I’ve lost track. No big surprise here:  growing up, Sunday was pizza night in our house. But ours came from Tony’s Italian Villa. In those days the normal answer to the question, “Do you bake your own pizza?” would have been, “What’s the matter? Is Tony’s closed today?”

Tony’s Italian Villa is indeed closed today and forevermore. This will not be one of those stories harkening back to childhood to reminisce about the best pizza I ever had. I suspect that the truth is that Tony’s pie was probably nothing better than run-of-the-mill Boston-style thin crust pizza.

If there is any insanity in my tale, it is that I live in New York. It is an understatement that there are a lot of places to find pizza in New York. But many of them are the “slice-o-pie” places that reheat already baked pizza.  That’s not for me.

I’ll take the pies that are being hand-crafted to order in coal or wood fired ovens that are so hot the pizza bakes in one or two minutes. The good news is that those places do exist here in New York.

I suppose you could call me a pizza snob, and I’ll cop to that label–but with reservations. The reservations are: 1) I don’t insist on brick oven pizza, and 2) I have a very open mind about what goes on top of a pizza.

By baking my own pizza am I harboring illusions of recreating the best that New York or Naples has to offer in my itty-bitty apartment kitchen? No. I’m home Sunday night baking pizza because it is fun, and the pizza tastes good.

That’s the “Reader’s Digest” answer.

The long answer is much more complicated. There’s something about working with the pizza dough that I find intensely gratifying. If you’ve never worked with yeast dough you’ve missed out on one of the great basic, accessible, pleasures of cooking. You communicate with the dough, and the dough lets you know in very specific terms what’s on its mind. I’ll never be a dog or horse whisperer, but I am a dough whisperer.

In spite of the fact that we’ve all seen pizza bakers punch, slap, and spin dough into shape, yeast dough actually requires a bit more respect. Dough can be somewhat stubborn, yes, but when that happens, just walk away, not unlike how you’d treat an obstreperous child. Return in five to ten minutes, the dough will have gotten a good cry out of its system and will be bright, springy, and willing to yield to your wishes. Treat it with respect, and above all, listen to it patiently.

(Yes, I’m talking about pizza dough like it’s a living thing. Who says it’s not? Yeast is, after all, a living, breathing organism.)

Let’s talk ingredients. I like to use Italian type “00” flour. “00” refers to its powdery grind, not its protein content or gluten level, and I find that it produces a crust with enough crunch and chew to make me do the happy food dance. But any good quality bread flour will also give the gift of great crust; use that happily if you can’t find type “00.”

There’s no need to learn how to spin the dough; you’ll have better control over its shape and thickness if you work the dough on your countertop, pouncing on it with your fingertips. Not to mention the fact that spinning the dough in a tiny apartment kitchen like mine will leave a snowy dusting of flour over your entire apartment. (Trust me on that one.)

Skip the pizza stones and bricks, unless you enjoy setting off your smoke alarm. Ditto the big wooden pizza peels. Messy.

I use a pizza pan. You may have seen these: they are a 16-inch round metal pan with several hundred holes punched in the bottom. I think the holes deliver the dry heat of your oven to the crust better than a pizza stone, and will give your crust a crunch that will have you running to the mirror to make sure all the teeth are still in your mouth.

Sauce? No need to grow your own tomatoes. A simple sauce with a little texture, the merest touch of sweetness, and just a breath of tomato tartness is all you need. I use a canned sauce by a small company named Don Pepino which I like as much for what’s in the can as I do for what’s on the can: a retro cartoon of a chef who looks like he could be Chef Boyardee’s slightly demented brother (In its defense, the sauce only has five ingredients, and sugar is not one of them.)

Feel free to use a simple smear of San Marzano crushed tomatoes instead. Just add a bit of salt and pepper.

Cheese? What kind of mood are you in? My standby is Asiago that I grate with an old fashioned box grater. It is zingier but less stringy than the usual mozzarella.  I know that you’re not supposed to use cheddar on pizza, but skip the tomato sauce, caress the crust with some very thin slices of Pear peppered with a complex cheddar and you’re in another world.

In the summer Pissaladière is an easy treat that will earn you some new friends. Just top the crust with some lovingly caramelized onions, cross hatch with really good anchovies (soaked to leach out their overpowering saltiness,) stud with briny black olives, and you’ll be welcome at any Provencal table.

How about clam pie? This New Haven native is simply the crust dusted with parmesan, some freshly shucked clams, and enough garlic to give the clams some mellow companionship.

Is it persistence? Is it practice? Every Sunday night I pull the pizza out of the oven and look at it for a moment, thinking, “Wow! I made that!”

Try it. Click here for my recipe.

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