Category Archives: Cheese

An Ode to The Northwoods Inn and their Fabulous Sides

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Growing up in Southern California in the 1960’s and ‘70’s I  got to enjoy a lot of fun theme restaurants. They were somehow an extension of Hollywood and the era that ushered in Disneyland and many other area theme parks of that day. A few remain, but many have been shuttered over the years to make way for malls, freeways and most importantly housing developments as human encroachment took over the land of my birth. We had sunshine and great weather till the people came, then we had traffic, smog, inflated real estate prices and lots of other problems.

One of the few remaining theme restaurants is Clearman’s Northwood’s Inn in Covina. They also have sites in La Mirada and San Gabriel, but mine was in Covina. Opening in the height of LA fun and fancy in 1958 they still manage to draw crowds.

When you drive up on a hot southern California day, your eyes deceive you, it looks like a snow covered Alaskan log lodge. As you step into a North Woods Inn, you’ll slowly pull open a heavy wooden door and peer into a dimly lit and richly decorated room of rustic log walls, massive taxidermied bears, jewel-toned stained glass, sawdust-strewn floors and eccentric hunting-lodge kitsch. The signs tell you to “Please throw peanut shells on floor.” 

You must arrive hungry. Entrees include all you can eat of two salads, recipes below, their famous garlic cheese bread, rice pilaf, a one pound baked potato with cheese, butter, sour cream and mushroom gravy. And then there are the huge steaks!

So over the years I had to recreate the recipes since I moved thousands of miles away from these favorite salads and cheeese bread! Here are my takes on them. Some people mix the buttermilk blue cheese on iceberg with the red cabbage salad, but I like to use the red cabbage as a palate cleanser. The cheese bread is my favorite and I think it is also like the bread at a long gone nearby establishment The Trails.

The Red Cabbage Salad

The Northwoods Inn Red Cabbage Salad 

1/2 cup . red wine vinegar 
4 T. sugar 
3 tsp. kosher salt 
2 tsp. seasoned salt 
1/4 tsp. pepper 
1/4 TBS. grated onion
1/2 cup olive oil 

1 head red cabbage, coarsely shredded 

Whisk together vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and onion until sugar and salt are completely dissolved. Whisk in oil. Dressing can be made ahead and stored in fridge. Bring to room temp before using. Pour over cabbage, toss well and let sit 10-15 minutes. Toss again and serve.

The Best Cheese Bread Ever

Clearman’S Northwoods Inn – Cheese Spread 

In a food proccessor add:

1/2 ts dry mustard 
1/2 ts celery salt 
2 ts garlic salt & 6 garlic cloves
3 tb plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 
2 ts tabasco 
1 ts paprika 
1 lb butter 
1 lb cheddar cheese – grated finely 
3 oz romano cheese, grated
Mix until well blended. Refrigerate

Put onto sourdough bread, place under broiler until lightly toasted.

Keeps 6 weeks in fridge, can be frozen

The Clearman’s Blue Cheese Dressing

They serve this on Iceberg, but I prefer it on butter lettuce

· 1 cup buttermilk 
· 1 cup sour cream
· 3 cloves garlic 
· 1/8 tsp sugar 
· 1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika 
· 1 teaspoon salt 
· 6 tablespoons blue cheese
PREPARATION:
In a food processor combine buttermilk, sour cream, garlic, sugar, paprika, and salt. Blend until smooth. Add blue cheese, and pulse quickly once or twice. Do not blend. You want small chunks of blue cheese. 

Refrigerate 4 hours or more before serving to let flavors blend. 

Yield: About 1-1/3 cups 

Another one of Mr Clearman’s fantastic establisments farther West in Cucamonga, now Rancho Cucamonga still stands, The Magic Lamp Inn.



Caramelized Onion, Cheese and Phyllo Tart

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Tart on plate

This tart is so easy to make and it is scrumptious. Since I made it for two of us, I halved the recipe that I usually make for parties etc. When serving many people I cut it into one inch squares and place in cupcake papers. This full recipe is made in a half sheet pan. I use a quarter sheet pan for the half recipe.Line either size with parchment paper.

Ingredients:

  • Half a package of phyllo, thawed.
  • 6 onions
  • 4 tablespoons Sweet Onion Sugar (optional)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 box (5.2 oz) Boursin Cheese
  • 2 cups arugula
  • juice & zest of one lemon (Meyer if you can get it)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Splash of olive oil

Method:

Heat oven to 400 degrees

  • Make caramelized onions by sauteeing the sliced onions in a little olive oil. Add the sweet onion sugar. cook down on low for an hour, stirring frequently. Allow to cool slightly,
  • Lay out the Phyllo dough, cover with plastic wrap and top with a wet kitchen towel.
  • Lay out two sheets of phyllo on to the baking sheet, then brush with olive oil and continue the process until all of the sheets have been laid out. Keep replacing the plastic and towel in between layers. Some of the phyllo should hang over the edge. Brush a layer of oil on the top sheet.
  • Spread the onions out evenly on the phyllo
  • Crumble the cheese over the onions
  • Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Bake for 20 minutes
  • Toss the arugula with the lemon juice and olive oil, then top the tart with it.
  • Lay the tart out on a cutting board (just pull the paper out onto the board) and cut with a pizza cutter.

This can be served warm or room temperature. It keeps for a week in an air tight container.

Bucatini two ways!

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Bucatini

Bucatini is one of my favorite pastas. It is a long noodle (#6) and it is hollow. This makes a chewy and delicious pasta dish. The first method is with bread crumbs, garlic, olive oil and herbs, topped with cheese and bread crumbs. The second has a sauce of butter roasted tomatoes with anchovies and garlic. Both are super fast and easy. Both have two layers of garlic flavor, utilizing fresh garlic and Vik’s Garlic Fix, one of my favorite products.

garlic

Bucatini with breadcrumbs

Bucatini with Bread Crumbs and Garlic, serves 4

Ingredients:
1 cup fresh bread (Italian or sourdough is best for this) crumbs toasted in a pan with 2 TBS butter
10 cloves garlic, chopped
2 TBS Vik’s Garlic Fix
1 TBS fresh cracked pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bunch of fresh parsley or 1/4 cup dried parsley
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1/4 cup parmigiana, grated
1/2 package bucatini pasta, cooked al dente

Method:

garlic and oil

The sauce is made as the pasta cooks. While your pasta is boiling place the olive oil, Vik’s and the red pepper in a frying pan and sear till the garlic is soft and lightly browned.

breadcrumbs

When the pasta is done strain and toss with the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Then add the cheese and top with bread crumbs and parsley! It is delicious!

Bucatini with breadcrumbs
Next method: Butter Roasted Tomato Sauce, serves 4

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Ingredients:

8 cloves of garlic
1 TBS Vik’s Garlic Fix
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes (and juice)
6 small anchovies in olive oil
1/4 cup Sweet Onion Sugar
2 Tbs Italian Herb Blend
6 Tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces
Salt and Black pepper
1/2 package Bucatini Pasta, cooked al dente

Fresh Italian Parsley or Basil for garnish.
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In an oven proof pan with deep sides, place all ingredients. Roast at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. After removing from the oven, smash the garlic, tomatoes and anchovies with a fork to achieve a thick chunky sauce. Toss half of the sauce with the bucatini and a ladle of pasta water. Then dish up and put remaining sauce on the pasta. Garnish with the fresh herbs.

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Five Onion “French Onion Soup” ~ Best Recipe!

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French Onion Soup

This really is easy to do, it just takes about 40 minutes prep time and a couple of hours of cooking time. I always make a large pot of it. It freezes well and keeps in the refrigerator for at least a week.

Ingredients:

  • 8# of assorted onions: Red, Sweet & White, cut in half and sliced in 1/4 inch slices
  • I cup of TSTE dried Shallots (or 2# of fresh shallots coarsely chopped)
  • 4 leeks greens cut off, cut in half then sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons of TSTE Vik’s Garlic Fix
  • several grinds of TSTE Four Peppercorn Blend
  • 1/4 cup TSTE Sweet Onion Sugar
  • 6 stems of fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon TSTE dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil 
  • 1 bottle dry vermouth
  • 6 quarts of stock. I used duck, but chicken, beef or even vegetable stock is fine. DO get low sodium though if you buy it.
  • Splash of cognac
  • For each serving: 1/2 cup of Gruyère cheese, shredded and 1 slice of toasted baguette

Duck Stock

Method:

  • In a very large stock pot pour in the olive oil and add the onions and leeks in stages allowing the onions to caramelize a little before adding more.

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  • After all the onions are cooked deglaze pot with a bottle of vermouth. This adds immense flavor to the soup, so don’t skip this step.
  • Add seasonings, stock and the dried shallots (if you use fresh, add them with the onions).
  • Bring to a boil then allow to simmer with the lid off for about 2 hours, stirring once every 15 minutes. Liquid should reduce by about half.
  • Add the cognac to taste
  • Turn on broiler
  • Toast the baguette slices.

cheese

  • Fill oven proof crocks with soup. Place on a cookie sheet for transferring to the oven. put a baguette slice in each of the crocks. Add a tiny bit more soup on top to soften. Pile with cheese and put under the broiler till the cheese starts to brown and bubble. Remove and serve.

SO easy and so delicious!!!

Southern Macaroni Pie

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Macaroni Pie

Macaroni…. an ubiquitous word. For hundreds of years in the south it was the word for any pasta, which was basically only spaghetti until mid 20th century.

Pie… yet another all present culinary term in the south. Many “pie” recipes here are savory, not sweet and sometimes served in a variety of casserole dishes. Generally they did start out in a pie dish, but were expanded to larger dishes to feed more people.

The inspiration recipe, from my friend Nathalie Dupree, comes from Social Circle, Georgia. Her mother in law made it and Nathalie figured it out over time. I made a smaller amount, as I was only feeding 2 (plus leftovers) and so I did make mine in a pie plate. If you get Nathalie’s book, Mastering the art of Southern Cooking  you will find the original recipe on page 268, along with the original Charleston version from 200 years of Charleston Cooking. Another friend of mine who lived in Charleston many years makes hers with sour cream. I wanted to make mine with the traditional spaghetti but I was lazy, I only had penne, so that is what I used. I also added freshly grated nutmeg, it was calling out to me. I also choose to bake this in a bain marie, as that is how I usually cook custards.

A little about Pasta in America:

Pasta first came to the U.S. via Thomas Jefferson served as minister to France from 1785 to 1789, and was introduced to pasta during a trip to Naples. He returned to the U.S. with crates of “maccheroni” and a pasta-making machine (which he proceeded to redesign). In Most sources, including the National Pasta Association, credit a Frenchman with establishing America’s first pasta factory, in Brooklyn in 1848. A flour miller from Lyon, Antoine Zerega, had a horse in his basement to turn the millstone; and like the Neapolitans, he hung his spaghetti strands on the roof to dry. Today, the fifth generation of Zeregas run the leading supplier of pasta to the foodservice industry in North America.

Spaghetti and meatballs had yet to appear. Macaroni had been brought to England earlier by the Genovese sailors, and the British baked it with cheese and cream—in essence, making macaroni and cheese, a preparation also popular in the north of Italy. They also baked pasta in sweet dessert custards, similar to German-Jewish noodle puddings. These recipes crossed the pond and were enjoyed by 19th-century Americans. According to Corby Kummer, upper-class Americans also purchased pasta imported from Sicily, which then, as today, had more cachet than the domestic product. The information in the remainder of this article comes largely from Mr. Kummer’s extensive piece, Pasta: Where It Came From And How It Got There. 

As other pasta factories sprouted up, the cost of pasta became more affordable. By the time of the Civil War (1861 to 1865), even the working classes could afford a pasta dinner. Cookbooks of the period indicate that the common way to prepare pasta was still baked with cheese and cream.

  • In the mid-1880s, according to food historian Karen Hess, cookbooks published as far west as Kansas included recipes for macaroni, some involving a tomato and meat sauce.
  • But pasta did not become the beloved dish it is today: It lost its cachet once the masses could afford it. The fashionable restaurants of New York, which served Continental cuisine, did not serve pasta or any other traditional Italian dish, even though many of these restaurants were run by Italians.

The huge wave of Italian immigration that began toward the end of the 19th century was ultimately responsible for pasta becoming an American staple.

And on on to our Macaroni Pie…

This recipe is for enough to fill a large pie dish. Feeds 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cooked and drained spaghetti
  • 3 Tablespoons butter melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 a nutmeg, grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1 pound sharp Cheddar or Gruyere cheese, grated

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Boil the pasta to al dente

While the pasta boils:

  • Lightly whisk the eggs with the milk
  • Add the mustard, salt, nutmeg, peppers and half the cheese
  • Cut the pasta into 3 inch pieces and toss with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter
  • place half of the pasta into a deep pie dish
  • sprinkle with cheese to cover, then ladle on 1/2 of the custard mixture
  • Add the remaining pasta
  • Ladle on the remaining custard
  • Top with cheese and remaining butter

Bake in a water bath (bain marie) for 30 minutes. check to see if it is browning, if so, loosely top with foil. Reduce heat to 325. Bake 20-30 minutes longer. Insert a knife in the center. If it comes out clean, it is ready. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Pastitsio: Greek Lasagna

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This recipe is so good that I revisit it every few months. It makes a great centerpiece for a dinner party and the leftovers are better than the first night’s meal. The noodles are difficult to find, but I get them on Amazon.com, buying 6 bags at a time.

Greek Lasagna Pastitsio

When teaching others to make this dish, I have often joked that the word pastitsio (pa-STEE-tsee-oh) translates to “messy kitchen” in Greek. I was only kidding, but there is a hint of truth to that statement. The Greek word pastitsio derives from the Italian pasticcio, which loosely translates to a mess or a hodgepodge.

Three essential components make up this dish – pasta, meat filling, and a creamy bechamel sauce which are layered in a pan and baked to a golden brown. Each stage will require dirtying some pots and pans, but I think you will agree that the end result is well worth the clean up!

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 lbs. ground lamb
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 14 oz. can tomato puree or sauce
  • 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon Greek Seasoning Blend
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (or Kefalotyri if available)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp. breadcrumbs plus 1/2 cup for topping if desired
  • 1 pkg. #2 Macaroni for Pastitsio (500g)- available at Greek or ethnic groceries.
  • 4 egg whites (reserve the yolks for bechamel sauce)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

greek noodles

For the bechamel sauce:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk, warmed
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten lightly
  • 1/2  of a whole nutmeg, grated with a microplane

Preparation:

This recipe will yield about 12 servings depending upon the size of your pieces. I use a lasagna pan that is 9 x 13 x 3 inches deep.

Begin with the Meat Filling:

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add ground lamb and cook over medium-high heat until pink color disappears, about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes more.

Add wine, tomato sauce, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and allow sauce to simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. While sauce is simmering put water on to boil for pasta.

Cook pasta noodles according to package directions and drain well. Rinse noodles in colander under cold water to cool them slightly.

Stir in 3 tbsp. breadcrumbs to meat sauce to absorb excess liquid and remove from heat.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in pasta pot and return cooked noodles to the pot. Stir in beaten egg whites and 1 cup of grated cheese and toss lightly, being careful not to break the noodles.

Brush the bottom and sides of the lasagna pan with olive oil. Layer the bottom with half the pasta noodles and press down so that they are somewhat flat.

Add the meat filling in an even layer to the pasta. Top with remaining pasta noodles and flatten top layer as best you can.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees while you prepare the bechamel sauce.

Bechamel Sauce:

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste or roux. Allow the flour/butter mixture to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.

Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens but does not boil.

Remove from heat and stir in beaten egg yolks. Add pinch of nutmeg. If sauce still needs to thicken, return to heat and cook over very low heat while continuing to stir.

Bechamel is thicker than gravy but not quite as thick as pudding. It should be somewhere in between. One way to tell if it is thick enough is to dip your wooden spoon in the sauce and draw your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce holds a visible line then it is thick enough.

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Pour the bechamel over the pasta noodles making sure to pour sauce down in to the corners as well. I even pull back th sides of the pasta to let some go down the sides. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs if desired.  Bake in 350 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the top is a nice golden color.

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Pan De Yuca con Mantequilla de Guayaba y Chile: Yuca Bread with Cheese and Guava Chile Butter

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yuca bread close up

This gluten free recipe is an inspiration by Jose Garces from his fantastic book, The Latin Road Home. He is an Ecuadorian who was raised in Chicago. The book covers foods from Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Spain & Cuba. This bread is made all over South America, but the recipe varies greatly from country to country.

The Yuca flour is easy to find in most Hispanic Markets, it is often called Casava Flour or Tapioca. The brand I got was Brazilian and reading the label was a challenge. I do read Spanish, but Portuguese, not so much. The ratio of flour to cheese sounds kind of crazy, but it works. Serve the bread hot from the oven for a spongy texture or warm (for a denser interior with the dough settling more and forming air pockets).

yuca bread dough balls

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup yucca flour
  • 1 pound queso fresco finely grated
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbs whole milk
  • 1 Tbs butter, melted
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp granulated raw sugar
  • Guava Chile Butter (recipe follows: optional)

Method:

yuca bread baked

Preheat oven to 375

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat
  • In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Pulse a few times to combine.
  • Put the cheese in the processor, then mix all of the wet ingredients together and pour into the processor bowl while the blade is going. It will form a ball in about a minute, Take it out of the processor and lay it on a yucca floured surface.  Allow to rest a few minutes
  • Form into a log and cut into 10 equally sized pieces. Roll into balls, These will be slightly larger than a golf ball.
  • Place the balls onto the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or till golden brown

Serve warm. To re-heat place in a 200 degree oven for 6-8 minutes, loosely covered with foil

Yuca bread guava chile butter

Guava Chile Butter

Ingredients:

  • 1 21 ounce package or can of guava paste (find at Latin Markets or online)
  • ¼ cup Chinese Black Vinegar
  • ¼ cup Sriracha Sauce
  • 2 Tbs room temperature butter

Method:

  • In the bowl of a food processor, place the guava paste.
  • Pulse a few times to loosen it up.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and pulse till incorporated. This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

I served this with green chile and chicken posole. It would go great with soup, stews, chili or as an appetizer course. I will be sharing the Posole recipe next.

posole