Tag Archives: cheese

Host a Raclette Night

Melted cheese as the basis for dinner?  Yes please!!  No it’s not fondue, it’s raclette – the Swiss tradition that is becoming all the rage.  Raclette is actually a kind of semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, as well as a method of melting said cheese into a dinner party sensation.  Years ago as a wedding present, my family friend Beverly, gave us an 8 person raclette maker along with a mega waffle iron.  The genius of a large raclette maker is that the top acts as a griddle so she explained it would be great for pancakes etc but if we wanted to it also doubled as this thing called a raclette maker, something very popular up in Canada where she lives.

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The little raclette scoops go under the griddle surface to melt, while the top is left free to heat up anything you want to dip into the cheese.  Genius.

I sort of forgot about its secondary use until one day, low and behold, Crate and Barrel had an entire raclette display set up.  Up until then I didn’t realize it meant melting cheese and pairing it with all of my favorite things!  I ran home, pulled it out and raclette night has been popular in the Costello house ever since.  Friends love raclette night because it’s a fun communal way of eating that encourages sitting around, cracking into some bottles and experimenting with different combinations.  When I first started doing raclette it was hard to find the actual cheese but now I am seeing it everywhere.  If you are in DC, Righteous Cheese  carries an imported raclette from Switzerland (right) as well as one made in Vermont (left).  They also carry it at Trader Joes and Whole Foods.  As you can see it looks like Swiss cheese (duh) but has a much more nutty, rich flavor.

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You can always improvise with another kind of melting cheese if you can’t find raclette – I won’t tell anyone.  The real trick is getting one of the makers.  If you are going to get one I say go whole hog and get the one with the griddle on top so it’s a multi use item.  Now that you have your maker and your cheese you are going to need to find stuff to dip into that melty goodness.  I like to go classic with a mix of hearty vegetables, cured meats and of course BREAD.  The Swiss are also partial to pickled items with their cheese that gives it a nice tang.

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For this raclette party I served the following:  roasted brussel sprouts, prosciutto, calabrese salami, boiled baby new potatoes, cornichon, baguette slices, crackers, green grapes and grainy mustard.  Also good would be pickled onions, roasted turkey or ham, asparagus spears, chutney, kettle cooked potato chips…the list goes on and on.  That’s what is so fun about this dinner party is that all you really do is assemble.

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To go with the raclette I suggest getting some nice Belgian beer like these Chimays I picked up.  The beer makes a great foil to the cheese – we also had some nice artisanal cider from Millstone, which was particularly great with the Vermont raclette.

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Lest you think people will go away hungry, don’t – eating this much cheese really fills you up.  But just in case it is a good idea to end the night with something sweet.  I made this an amazing blood orange tart with salted caramel on top.

I have seen lots of local wine bars and cheese shops doing raclette nights so check out your local ones and see if you can get on the bandwagon.  I am sure once you have done it you will want to get a raclette maker for yourself!

A Make Ahead Dinner Party

When my friends Stefanie and Ari got engaged I knew I wanted to throw them a celebratory dinner party.  Of course coordinating the schedules of 4 busy people meant we had to wait a couple of months and do it on a Friday.  I didn’t want to sacrifice a delicious and special occasion meal just because I didn’t have all day to cook.  I do a lot of make ahead meals (just check out all the tags to that effect) but for this dinner to work EVERYTHING had to be made ahead or make in 3 minutes flat.  I did creep out of work a little early to make sure everything was perfect but it turned out to be unessecary.  If I didn’t have such curious kitties I would have even set the table the night before but no one really wants cat fur in their polenta so I just made sure everything was clean and set aside so it was easy to throw together.

Since the theme was Italian I used this fun olive themed tablecloth and napkins (shhh, they are French!).  I love the graphic nature of these large olive oil containers I get at A Litteri so once they are empty I use a can opener to take off the top, rinse them out and repurpose as a vase.  This also works really well with large cans of tomatoes.  My little mini Chianti bottles as salt and pepper shakers from our trip to Italy made another appearance as well.  We opened a bottle of Brunello we had brought back from that trip to make it extra special.  It turned out to be a wonderful stress free night celebrating great friends with lots of wine and laughter – exactly what I wish for Stef and Ari in their lives together!

A Make Ahead Dinner Party Menu

Antipasti

The easiest and most delicious way to start any meal hands down.  Buy the best ingredients ahead of time and then all you have to do is put them out.  I decided against a typical cheese board and instead took two types of cheeses and jazzed them up myself.  First I took some beautiful ricotta I bought at Righteous Cheese (who now ship nationwide!) and mixed it with meyer lemon zest, salt and pepper.  That was all it took to make store bought cheese a totally delicious spread, served with RC’s awesome rosemary crackers.

Next I drained little bocchini mozzarella (those balls of mozzarella cheese you can find at the supermarket stored in brine) and tossed them with high quality olive oil, salt, fennel seeds and crushed red pepper flakes.  To round everything out I bought some mixed olives, pistachios and sliced some Olli calabrese salamini.  They are little baby salamis made by this amazing place in VA (you can find them lots of places in the DC area but I have also seen them in other areas at Whole Foods and even Costco – check their website for the place closest to you).  Plunk some grapes in the middle and you have a nice selection for your guests to pick on before the big meal – all in less than 10 minutes.

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Osso Bucco

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The star of the night was for sure this osso bucco that I posted last month.  A special occasion dish perfect for this dinner party – I made it several days before and just popped the whole pot into the fridge once it had cooled.  The night of the party I just reheated it over low heat, covered, for about 30 minutes.  Stefanie told me Ari was crazy for bone marrow so of course I also bought some rosemary dinner rolls from Lyon Bakery in Union Market so he had bread to slather the marrow on.  I just tossed them in a 350 degree oven as we ate the antipasto and served them warm.

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

For some green on the table I opted for the super quick sauteed spinach.  Takes no more than five minutes to wilt the several mountains of spinach you will need and then tossed with raisins and pine nuts they are supremely Italian.  There are many versions of this dish, I used one from an old cookbook but this one by Martha is pretty much the same.

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I make the spinach while the bread was warming but you could also sautee it all in advance and then just warm over low heat right before eating if you cannot spare that 5 minutes!

Make Ahead Polenta

You think you can’t make polenta ahead of time?  You think you need to stand over it and stir and stir while your guests look on???  No longer – I have this great tip gleaned from Cooks Illustrated,  cook the polenta with extra liquid and you can make it ahead.  Basically for every ounce of dried polenta you use, cook it in a cup of water (ie I cooked 4 ounces of polenta in 4 cups of milk and water.  Cook for about 20 minutes just as you would normal polenta until it’s no longer raw and pour it into a baking pan.  It will be pretty soupy but that’s fine.  Chill it overnight, top with parmesan cheese and bake in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes you get a creamy cheesey polenta with zero hassle.

I used this amazing truffle polenta we still had on hand from our Italy trip but you could flavor it with herbs or garlic or just leave it plain.  Either way it will be delicious and creamy and the perfect accompaniment to the osso bucco with all that delicious sauce.

Tiramisu

This dessert actually MUST be made in advance so all the booze and marscapone can meld with the lady fingers to create a decadent dessert.  Unfortunately, the version that I made for this dinner party was a bit of a bust so I won’t be recommending that recipe but there are only about a zillion out there.  This one from Epicurious has very good reviews and really any decent Italian cookbook should have one.  Or better yet – just buy one!  Serve with some espresso and maybe an after dinner drink and the party will be complete.  By my estimation you will spend about 30 minutes reheating things and 5 minutes with actual hands on cooking which will give you lots of time to enjoy your guests any night of the week.

Happy Hour for Two

DC is a pretty over-scheduled town.  I am as guilty as the next with every weekend jam packed with plans, usually with several groups of friends at a time.  However, every once and a while it’s nice to be able to sit down and just spend time one on one.  It had been way too long since I had some quality time with my friend Ali so I had her over for a happy hour for two.  By hosting at home you can really hear each other and not have to worry about hovering waiters or people trying to get your stools at the bar.  We got together on a Friday night so I wasn’t going to have time to cook anything.  This is what I like to call an assembled menu, where you just have to pick the best products, display them nicely and dive in!

First thing is first – wine.  I picked a white and a red so we had options.  You don’t need to be a wine expert to pick a good bottle.  Easiest way is to pick your own house wine (feel free to steal mine from that post!) and have them on hand.  Here since I bought a French baguette and French tarts I picked a nice Bordeaux and a light French white to compliment the spread.  I wanted to have a little more than just a cheese board for this happy hour because there was a lot of gossip to catch up on – just wine plus cheese usually makes for a terrible next morning!  I got a nice chunk of aged English cheddar and paired it with wheat biscuits, fig jam, sliced apples and green grapes.

I simply cannot ignore my love of goat cheese so I crumbled it up and put it in lovely, tender endive leaves.  Drizzled with honey and sprinkled with crushed pink peppercorns these are the perfect one bite.  Endive leaves is a nice way to keep your carbs in check and they make a lovely presentation.

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Since I was saving calories with the endive I decided to grab a mini baguette and serve it with high quality olive oil for dipping.  Don’t get too precious here – I just tore the baguette in half and then Ali and I could rip off what we wanted and dip away.  To round out the selection I got some green marinated olives, peppadews and marcona almonds.

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I always like to add a little something special to make my guests feel really pampered and these tiny adorable fruit tarts are just the ticket.  I got these from Whole Foods but check your local bakery and grab what looks good.  This was a great way to cap off the week and connect with my dear friend – I have included a shopping list below to make it even easier for you to have a little happy hour for two.  Cheers!

Love is…Bacon Jalapeno Mac and Cheese

Valentine’s day has never been a big deal to me – probably because I was single for most of them. In fact one of my worst dinner parties was a single girl valentines dinner I made for myself and my friend Amy where I totally had to trash my first attempt at a new recipe and a cockroach crawled up the side of the wall as we were eating! Even after I found and married the love of my life Valentine’s day still didn’t really do it for me.  Sure the candy and flowers are nice but my hubby gets me flowers all the time and if I want candy I am not going to wait until February 14th to eat it!  So to me it’s really just another excuse to tell the person you love how much you appreciate them.  That’s why in the Costello household it won’t be truffles or pancakes in the shape of a heart.  The quickest way to my man’s heart is bacon jalapeno mac and cheese!  This recipe builds off of my Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese and adds two of Patrick’s favorite things in the world.  The bacon adds even more smokiness and the heat of the jalapeno cuts through the rich cheese sauce – perfection.  So cancel your reservation and stay home with your honey and this mac and cheese.

Bacon Jalapeno Mac and Cheese

  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 3/4 pound shells or other short cut pasta
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 1/2 cups of milk
  • 8 ounces smoked gouda, shredded

Turn your oven to 400 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Lay the 4 strips of bacon on the cookie sheet so they are not touching and roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.  They won’t look super crispy but they are.

Put them on a paper towel lined plate to drain and set to the side.  Turn your broiler to high.  Cut the jalapeno in half and scoop out the seeds (plastic gloves are good for this).  Place both halves on a foil lined cookie sheet, skin side up and place in the broiler.  Broil for 3-4 minutes until the skin is blackened and blistering.  Place the jalapeno in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap to trap the heat and moisture.  After 5 minutes or until cook enough to touch, peel off the skin and finely dice the jalapenos.

While you are cooking the bacon and jalapeno, cook the pasta in salted water for 10 minutes or so then – whatever time is indicated on the box – then drain.  In a large sauce pot melt the butter over medium high heat.  Add the flour and whisk both together until the flour has absorbed all of the butter (this is called a roux and the best way to thicken sauces).  Keep an eye on it and let it cook for a minute or so, whisking constantly until it darkens a bit and the raw flour flavor has been cooked out.  Really keep and eye on it or the butter will burn (like I did!  Eh, no biggie – just rinse out the pan and start again.  It’s only flour and butter).

Slowly add in the milk, whisking all the time to break up any lumps.  Raise the heat a bit and wait for the mixture to boil.  Once it has you can lower the heat to medium and let it simmer for 5 minutes or so.  Stir it occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn and you can keep track of how thick it’s getting.  You want it to be able to coat a spoon.  Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese (best to switch to a spoon here otherwise the cheese gets stuck in the whisk).

The cheese should melt in effortlessly, season with salt and pepper.  Add in the pasta and return it to medium heat for a minute or two – just enough for the pasta to take on some of the sauce.  Fold in the half the bacon and half of the jalapeno.  Serve in bowls topped with the rest of the bacon and jalapeno.

Queso and Poblano Dip

It has been a while since I have done a Fiesta Friday post so I thought it was as good as time as any to share my new favorite obsession in the form of this queso dip.  I looooooove cheese in all forms but melted with a bit of spice??  That’s just too good to be true.  The problem is a lot of queso dip is pretty terrible – either flavorless, rubbery or even worse, gritty.  I have searched for the perfect recipe for a while.  So many of them call for velveeta because of its smooth, melted texture but I gotta say that stuff just is. not. good.  Then I came across this recipe in Food and Wine magazine that mixed manchego and sharp cheddar cheese with american cheese.  Genius!

The american cheese gives it that nice smooth consistency but isn’t fake and gloopy, and the other cheeses add a ton of flavor.  Now don’t go and buy american cheese slices and spend time unwrapping enough to make 12 ounces.  Go to the deli counter and ask them to cut it for you really thick so you can cut it up in cubes.  They will probably look at you funny but that is the best way to get it incorporated into the dip.  Also when you start adding the cheeses you might get discouraged but stick with it.  After the 7 or so minutes it will all come together and be smooth, trust me.  I played around with the recipe a bit because it was lacking heat so I added some poblanos and fresnos.  I also cut out the buttermilk – while it gave the dip a slightly more tangy flavor which was nice, it thinned it out more than I wanted and meant one less thing to buy!  You could punch up the heat or lower it to your liking – the key is the base of the milk and cream with the mix of 3 cheeses.  Have a happy, cheesy, Fiesta Friday!

Queso and Poblano Dip 

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped poblano pepper (about 1/2 a poblano)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresno chili or jalapeno (about 2)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion (about 1/4 of an onion)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 12 ounces american cheese, cut thick and cut into cubes
  • 2 ounces grated manchego cheese
  • 2 ounces grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) cayenne pepper

Set a medium bowl over a pot of water and bring the water to a simmer.

Add the cream and milk to the bowl, stirring occasionally until pretty warm, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile in a small skillet warm the canola oil over medium heat and cook the poblano, fresno, onion and garlic for 5 minutes until softened.  Add all the cheeses, the veggies and the cayenne to the bowl with the cream and milk.

Continue to heat for 7 to 8 minutes more, stirring to incorporate the cheese, until it has all melted.  Serve right away – rewarm over the double boiler if necessary.

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