Wisconsin cheesemakers swept the top three spots at the U.S. Championship Cheese contest held earlier this month in Green Bay. With the title of grand champion cheese going to Sartori’s Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano, Wisconsin has won top honors at the country’s three major cheese competitions over the past year.
I love asparagus, don’t you? For one thing it is the very first thing that comes up in the garden, so that always makes me feel good. While it is just a bit early for homegrown, you can find some good asparagus in the grocery stores right now. A pound will cost around $2.50 and is enough to serve two confirmed asparaholics.
The day is celebrated in honor of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland who spent more than 30 years converting Irish pagans to the Christian faith.
The custom of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day came to America in 1737. That was the first year it publicly was celebrated in this country, in Boston, which had a large Irish population.
Today, people celebrate the day with parades, wearing green and drinking beer — sometimes green beer. One reason St. Patrick’s Day might have become so popular is that it takes place just a few days before the first day of spring. One might say it has become the first green of spring.
If you want to be lucky on St. Patrick’s Day, follow this advice: Find a four-leaf clover and wear green so you don’t get pinched.
Irish proverbs are freely bandied about on St. Patrick’s Day, including these:
“It is not a secret if it is known by three people.”
“A drink precedes a good story.”
“The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.”
The truth is, Ireland has produced more than its share of artistic souls, many of them known to be melancholy — putting it nicely — or downright tormented.
There are four Nobel Prize winners in literature from Ireland: George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and W.B. Yeats. Famous Irish writers include Francis Bacon, Jonathon Swift, James Joyce, Bram Stoker and Elizabeth Bowen, to name a few.
So, with all these great artists from Ireland, what about the food? Well, it’s not so hot, at least not in the general sense of the general public knowing great Irish chefs.
I can say, however, that Irish chef Noel Cullen was pretty fantastic. His “Elegant Irish Cooking” dispels the myth that Irish cooking is all about potatoes, cabbage and corn beef. Recipes make use of indigenous ingredients, including a good amount of seafood.
Salmon with sorrel
— From “Elegant Irish Cooking” by Noel Cullen
4 salmon fillets, 4-6 oz. each, boneless and skinless
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1 whole lemon
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 Tbsps. butter, divided
2 Granny Smith apples, diced
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 small bunch sorrel, shredded (about 8 leaves)
1 tsp. chopped parsley
1 lemon sliced, for garnish
Dry salmon on paper towels and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Add one tablespoon of vegetable oil and one to two tablespoons of butter to a large skillet and heat over medium/high heat. Place the salmon fillets (presentation side down) on the hot skillet. Fry until golden brown, turning at least twice.
In a separate saucepan, gently cook over medium heat in the remaining butter the diced apples and scallions about two minutes. Divide among four plates. Place cooked fillets on top and serve.
Use stainless steel when working with sorrel because it is high in acid and will discolor if prepared in an aluminum pan.
— From “A Little Irish Cookbook” from Appletree Press. This is similar to Irish soda bread with a bigger emphasis on the dried fruit.
1 cup porter beer
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
6 cups mixed dried fruit
4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Grated rind from one small lemon (optional)
Melt the butter and sugar in the porter in a saucepan. Add the fruit and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to go cold and add the sieved flour, baking soda, spices and lemon rind. Beat the eggs and mix in with a wooden spoon. Pour into a greased and lined 9-inch cake pan and bake on the middle shelf of a preheated 325 F oven for 1 3/4 hours. To test the cake, push a skewer into the center; if ready, the skewer will come out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan.
Old habits die hard and that’s how I think of food when the Lenten season arrives in March. When we were kids, being brought up Catholic, we never ate meat on Fridays during Lent. This wasn’t so difficult because coming from a large family, we didn’t eat meat all that often anyway. Meat was expensive, and large families needed to stretch their food budget. I never really felt this to be a penance because plenty of foods do not feature meat and are just as satisfying — even if you are a confirmed meat-eater.
These dishes include macaroni and cheese, chili without the meat, fried fish and egg dishes. Hearty vegetable soups also fit the bill. Ethnic specialties can pass on the meat with no problem. Italian dishes include spinach lasagna, cheese ravioli and spaghetti with tomato sauce. Chinese or Japanese stir-fries are easy and healthy if you emphasize the fresh vegetables without too much soy sauce. Mexican food is easy to make using refried beans or cheese and fresh tomatoes, onions and chilies.
After I really learned how to cook, it was easy to make a hearty vegetable stew or casserole without an ounce of meat. The list of meat-free dishes is really endless.
It is only that Americans eat so much meat that we miss it. Most of the world does not consume nearly as much and emphasizes a much healthier diet focusing on grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.
So, Lent is a really good time to wean yourself off of the too-much-meat habit and enjoy a lot of in-store fish specials, too.
When I cook pasta, I reach for the Barilla brand and that’s where I found this recipe for orecchiette with mushrooms.
Barilla pasta is made with semolina flour in Italy and is the most popular dried pasta brand in that country, which should tell you something.
They have whole-wheat versions and gluten-free pasta. No matter what kind you pick, Barilla consistently wins in taste tests.
Barilla pasta holds up well to sauces, even heavy ones, but lighter sauces allow the pasta to be the star.
8 oz. orecchiette pasta
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 cups cauliflower florets
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1/2 cup onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Fresh basil for garnish
1/2 cup pecorino romano, grated
Cook pasta to al dente while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Drain but do not rinse.
Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet until light brown. Set aside. In the same skillet, heat olive oil and saute cauliflower, onions and garlic until cauliflower is tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add the drained pasta and a few tablespoons of pasta water. Add parsley, pine nuts and romano cheese; toss to combine. Garnish with fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil.
Real macaroni and cheese
1 lb. macaroni noodles
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk
8 oz. real American cheese
8 oz. cheddar cheese
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
In a large pot of boiling water, cook the macaroni until just tender. in the meantime, prepare the sauce.
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook this roux while whisking for three to five minutes, but do not brown. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and continue to cook over medium heat.
Grate or chop up the American and cheddar cheeses into small pieces. Add these cheeses to the sauce mixture along with salt, white pepper and onion powder. Cook while stirring until cheese is melted and mixture is thickened.
Drain pasta, but do not rinse. Put the macaroni in a 9-by-13-inch cake pan or other appropriately sized baking dish. Pour the sauce over the macaroni and mix together.
Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Bake in a 350 F oven until bubbling hot — about 20 minutes. For a nice brown top, finish with a dash under the broiler.
Dr. Seuss’ birthday is coming up — March 2, to be exact. So, get ready to grab your hat and read “The Cat in the Hat” all over again.
It’s always a good time to have some fun. Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, explains it this way:?“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
My favorite Geisel book is “Green Eggs and Ham,” and it’s the perfect book to read before breakfast. Plus, it inspired me to create this recipe — a little bit of nonsense and a whole lot of good.
Obviously, Dr. Seuss knew about eggs. He wrote “Scrambled Eggs Super,”?in which he used this line:?“I picked out the eggs in a most careful way. I only picked those that I knew were Grade A.” Or how about this line:?“If you want to get eggs you can’t buy at a store, you have to do things never thought of before.”
I’ve always been a true believer — in good eggs and in Dr. Seuss. Nowadays, my brother Bob has been gifting me with eggs from his heritage breed chickens. The Silver Laced Wyandotte is colorful, hardy and a productive egg layer, giving up light brown eggs all winter.
I never raised this particular breed but did have brown and green egg layers. When I operated my own little restaurant, the breakfast menu was called Green Eggs and Ham, with the appropriate signature dish to go along with it.
Because my last name is Greene, I thought it only fitting. But then I went a step farther and made sure that I found the best chickens to lay those green eggs. And that is where the poor misguided, distrustful, stodgy old adults always were separated from the inquisitive, believing and nonsense-loving kids.
“These are green eggs,” I’d say, holding in my hands a pale green or maybe avocado green chicken egg.
“Cool!” the kids would exclaim.
“Yeah, right,” the adults would say.
Grown-ups! What can you do with ’em?
Green eggs and ham
6 English muffins
12 eggs, beaten
6 Tbsps. milk
2 Tbsps. butter
6 slices of breakfast ham
1 lb. fresh spinach leaves
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
3-1/2 cups milk
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Clean the spinach leaves, removing the tough stems. Chop coarse and steam or microwave until just tender. Meanwhile, make the sauce.
In saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour while whisking to form a roux. Cook for one minute to brown the flour slightly. Add milk while whisking to form a smooth sauce.
Add grated cheese and cook for five to 10 minutes, until cheese is incorporated and melted completely. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Drain the cooked spinach and add to the sauce; keep warm.
Split and lightly toast English muffins. Mix the eggs and six tablespoons of milk together and cook in frying pan with two tablespoons butter, scrambling the eggs as they cook.
Arrange the two halves of an English muffin on each plate and spoon the eggs evenly over the muffins. Cover with the spinach and cheese sauce. Serve with a side of ham.
For garnish, make a mini Dr. Seuss hat using rounds of red tomatoes and white cheese. Make a larger round for the brim by cutting a larger thin circle of any kind of white cheese. Place this “brim” on the plate first, then build the hat using cherry tomatoes — slice the ends off to make them lie flat — and rotate with equal-sized circles of cheese. Secure with a toothpick.