Archive for the ‘Cheese and Other Milk Products’

Cousin Deonna’s Perfect Mac & Cheese

July 23, 2011
By Holly Jennings

Mac & cheese is a classic side for barbecue, which of course it not the same thing as grilling, the subject of the current DCCC book (Global Grilling by Jay Solomon.) But there are some dishes in the book, burgers and baked beans, for example, that would go fabulously with an all-American mac & cheese.

This is my cousin Deonna’s recipe, which she made for multitudes of aunts, uncles, and grandchildren at one of our family reunions. It is perfect, neither too saucy nor too dry, and it tastes like the best of all the mac & cheeses you ate as a child, rolled into one. (You will be able to relate to this if gourmet four-cheese versions, such as those embellished with lardons and garnished with fresh herbs, were not the stuff of your mom’s or grandmother’s kitchen.) As soon as I tasted it, I had a sneaking (and sinking) feeling that Velveeta was involved, which turned out to be the case. Deonna says it is the only recipe she makes that uses Velveeta. Here it gives a flavor and, most importantly, a velvety texture that many of us have come to associate as characteristic of quintessential mac & cheese. But before 1927, when Velveeta became Velveeta, this wasn’t so. I am determined to find a Velveeta substitute to create a mac & cheese that mimics the classic taste of Deonna’s recipe as closely as possible. It may be a fool’s errand, since comparing a food product with, well, food, is like comparing apples and oranges. How close can I get? I don’t know (Deonna, for one, is skeptical), but I like the adventure of it all.

First step: try this recipe to see just how perfect it is, and then please let me know if you have any ideas for Velveeta substitutes. (The photograph shows me making Deonna’s recipe at home. My boyfriend quickly grabbed a camera to document me using Velveeta, for all the world to see. Notice his strategic positioning of the Velveeta box. He labeled the photo “busted.”)

No wait. First of all go to Saveur magazine to vote for the recipe. If I win, I plan to donate the prize (a gift certificate to Sur La Table) to a culinary program for under-served kids. (more…)

Tortilla Casserole of Chicken and Poblano

April 23, 2011
By Holly Jennings


I first learned of this dish, and the concept of layering tortillas with sauce, cheese, poblano chile strips, and chicken, a Mexican lasagna of sorts, from Carla Muñoz, a roommate from my Brooklyn days. (I owe a lot to Carla—she broadened my tequila drinking experience from just silver to reposado (rested) and añejo (aged), and introduced me to the joys of freezing homemade mole, which can be resuscitated with a little water for an instant sauce beyond compare.)


Queso Fresco

March 24, 2011
By Holly Jennings


(Adapted from Diana Kennedy’s recipe in The Art of Mexican Cooking)

This soft, crumbly white cheese, whose name means literally “fresh cheese,” is used in a variety of ways in Mexican cooking. According to Diana Kennedy, author of the current DCCC pick, it may be eaten uncooked as a snack with drinks, crumbled on top of various cooked foods, such as enchiladas and soups, or cut into strips for chiles rellanos and other dishes.

As queso fresco is used in a number of egg dishes and red pozole, a famous Mexican soup, that I’d planned to make, I looked for it at the specialty foods market in my town. Unfortunately, it was not available, even as a special order. (more…)

Making Feta Cheese at Home

February 28, 2011
By Holly Jennings

Back in January, when DCCC was deep into Greek cooking, my boyfriend, Mike, who is always challenging me to think outside the box, and to take things one step further, suggested I make homemade feta cheese. Because of my zeal for exhaustive research, I sometimes wonder if he later regrets these, at the time, casually made suggestions. After having made four test batches, the refrigerator is full of multiple containers of feta marked “Test 1,” “Test 2,” and so on. If it weren’t for the fact that feta keeps a very long time in brine—up to a year—I would worry how just the two of us would be able consume so much of it. Now, after allowing all the batches of homemade feta cheese a full four weeks to cure in brine, I’m ready to report my findings to you.

"Creamy," an Alpine-Saanen mix, owned by goat herder Martha Haffner. I love the quizzical look that goat's have.

Living in rural Vermont—a state known for cheese and dairy production—we have fairly easy access to farm fresh goat’s milk, so I made three batches with goat’s milk and one with cow’s milk. Sheep’s milk, the most traditional milk for making feta, is much harder to find where I live.

In addition to using two different milks, I tried two different cultures (sometimes called “starters”)—a basic mesophilic and a feta culture; lipase powder, a water-soluble enzyme added to milk to create stronger flavor in some cheeses; and calcium chloride, used to create a firmer curd.

All of the versions turned out—meaning, they all turned into cheese that looked, tasted, and behaved like feta, though some more than others. Ultimately, the decision of what culture to use, what milk, and whether to use lipase is one of personal taste. I’ll try to objectively describe my own preferences so that you can decide which version you might like to try first.

Like all types of agricultural products, cheesemaking is affected by the seasons. Though there are other variables, the single biggest impact on the flavor of cheese is the feed the animals are on, which is, in turn related to the time of year (dried grains in winter; fresh pasture in summer). According to Mary Jane Toth, author of Goats Produce Too!, lipase is more noticeable in milk during the winter months when goats stock are (more…)

Spinach and Rice Pilaf with Shrimp and Feta

January 26, 2011
By Holly Jennings

This is Georgia Cone’s family recipe for Spanakorizo, but with a twist. In this version, the classic spinach and rice pilaf is topped with cooked shrimp and feta cheese and baked until bubbling, to make a nourishing and very flavorful one-pot rice dish.

Georgia’s family likes to use converted rice for pilafs; she says that it holds up better after longer cooking times. For many years I’d thought converted rice was some sort of instant rice. Far from it. Converted rice has been parboiled and then toasted, which, despite it being partially precooked, makes it very hard—making it take longer to cook than regular rice, and hold its shape. (more…)

An Indian Birthday Feast with Surprise Paneer

November 29, 2010
By Holly Jennings

Our British friends James and Laura Perry love curry, a euphemism for Indian food. James and Laura say in Britain, every town, even the smallest villages, will have at least one “curry house.” (That’s “Indian restaurant” to you and me.) What a lovely notion. Can you imagine a small town in America, like the one I live in, with a population of 5,000, having not one but two Indian restaurants to choose from? I can dig it.