Monday, March 30, 2009

Looking At: Cheese Boards

I've had to back off cheese lately, out of sheer guilt, since getting the results of a blood test a few months ago. But really, there's nothing I like better than a carefully chosen and beautifully presented cheese board. You could lay out your cheese on just about anything -- a plate, any old kitchen board, a paper napkin -- but if you are looking for a fun way to put some pizazz into your entertaining, try one of these boards.

  1. This 12x12 cutting board sporting the face of Marilyn Monroe isn't specifically made for cheese, but it is stain- and odor-resistant and easily goes in the dishwasher. ($32, from
  2. Made from stoneware by an artist in San Francisco, this unique piece comes with a set of serving knives and is as decorative as it is functional. ($95, from
  3. A handy and affordable find, this small, square board comes with four serving tools and features a drawer for keeping the tools close at hand, but out of sight. ($26.99, from
  4. Made from distinctly patterned olive wood, this exotic board is made by Peruvian artisans. Because of the price and the beauty of the wood, I'd probably choose to serve pre-sliced cheese on this board to prevent it from getting scratches and cuts. ($45.99, from
  5. Another set that comes with its own tools, this one from All-Clad features a beautiful marble board set into a stainless steel trivet. It all looks a bit all-you-can-eat buffet to me, but I like it nonetheless. ($99.99, from
  6. I love the way you can write the names of the cheeses on this slate board with chalk. It's infinitely customizable and the slate keeps the cheeses cool after they've been set out. (£16.95, approximately $24, from
  7. This board of Mexican alabaster is made to resemble a wedge of Swiss cheese and is sure to be a conversation piece at your next party. ($100, from
  8. Handmade of walnut wood with an inlay of turquoise, I'd be careful not to get this board wet or serve a very soft cheese on it, which would necessitate washing it. ($15, from Clio)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Light Reading for a Saturday Night

Anthony Bourdain on Iron Chef America:
I have a soft spot in my heart for this show. But the judges, man... Who are these douchebags they put on there? The show gets really good chefs to go on there, and to have them judged by the likes of Mo Rocca makes me want to vomit in my mouth.

Anthony Bourdain on Sandra Lee:
She makes her audience feel good about themselves. You watch her on that show and you think, "I can do that. That's not intimidating." All you have to do is waddle into the kitchen, open a can of crap and spread it on some other crap that you bought at the supermarket. And then you've done something really special. The most terrifying thing I've seen is her making a Kwanzaa cake. Watch that clip and tell me your eyeballs don't burst into flames. It's a war crime on television. You'll scream.

Anthony Bourdain on Rachael Ray:
Rachael Ray, it appears, when booking acts for her South by Southwest indie rock-meets-sloppy Joes fest, invited the New York Dolls to perform. THE NEW YORK DOLLS!! It is an article of faith with me that the Dolls were one of the greatest, most important, criminally neglected, wildly influential bands in the history of well ...the freakin' UNIVERSE!! Most of the original members (in keeping with truest rock and roll tradition) are dead. But David Johansen and Syl Sylvain are still out there, hustling a living in a cold, cruel world. And if anybody deserves steady work, a new generation of fans, buckets of money (something they never had) and elevation to icon status-it's these guys.

This development ...following hot on the heels of Rachael saying nice things about me on Nightline has caused me no small amount of confusion, panic, and misery. I don't know whether to go out and shoot a puppy-or send Rachael a fruit basket. It just does me no good at all to think of Rachael as a Dolls fan. It's really only a matter of time now until my daughter looks up from her grilled cheese and says "Yummo!!"

Only repeated viewings of Sandra Lee on YouTube slathering canned frosting on her "Kwaanza Cake" with an insane glint in her eye (a piece of video every American should see as a cautionary exercise-like a particularly gruesome highway safety film) can make me feel like I'm playing for the right team.

(He REALLY hates that video...)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wensleydale Seeks Protection

Residents of Yorkshire are petitioning the British government to grant protected status to Wensleydale cheese, similar to the protections given to Parma ham and Champagne. If granted, it would mean manufacturers outside the Yorkshire dale would not be able to make cheese and call it Real Yorkshire Wensleydale.

Only 29 British food products have been granted protected status by the EU, compared with hundreds in countries like France, Italy and Germany.

According to Wikipedia, Wensleydale cheese was first made by French monks in the 12th century. The monks, who came from the Roquefort region and settled in Wensleydale, began with a recipe using sheep's milk, but during the 1300s cows' milk began to be used instead, and the character of the cheese began to change.

By the 1990s, sales of the cheese had sunk so low that production was at risk of being suspended. The animated characters Wallace and Gromit helped revive the popularity of the cheese in their film 'A Grand Day Out' -- but the uptick was totally unintentional. The animators said they made Wensleydale Wallace's favorite cheese because they like the way the word made him look when he was animated. The success of the films ended up bringing the factory back from the brink.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ruth Madoff Hates Papparazzi, Loves Cheese

Last night around 8:30, Ruth Madoff apparently decided to go shopping. She headed out, in a ratty old ski hat and an orange hoodie, to the local Food Emporium, on a mission for detergent and maybe some Jarlsberg cheese.

Because, you know, even when your husband is the most hated man in America and you're under investigation for bilking millions of dollars, a girl still needs her cheese, right Ruth?

Here's my question though: hasn't she ever heard of Fresh Direct? They've got a nice Jarlsberg for $8.99/lb and they'll even cut it into cubes for you!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Comfort Food: Tuna Melt

When I think of comforting, soothing, simple foods, one of the first things that springs to mind is a good old-fashioned tuna melt. Now, I'm all for haute cuisine and adventurous eating, but certain things to me are sacrosanct -- just too important to be messed with. The tuna melt has to be one of them.

Search the term in Google and (thankfully) the first two hits are safe, traditional recipes that involve little more than tuna, bread, cheese, celery and onions (with, perhaps, an occasional mention of a tomato.)

Search deeper, however, and you start to uncover ungodly concoctions such as "Tuna-Pesto Melts on Rye with Romaine Salad with Candied Walnuts and Grapefruit," a recipe that calls for cooking tuna fillets and then flaking them into a salad. This, to me, is unnecessary and verges on silly.

As far as I'm concerned, the perfect tuna melt involves making your favorite tuna salad, putting it open-faced on a slice of your favorite bread, topping it with your favorite cheese and grilling till the cheese melts.

Anyone care to challenge me?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Karim Rashid Cuts It Close

Karim Rashid is a master of cool design. Whether its a shapely, powder-blue Dirt Devil, or a clear acrylic magazine rack/side table, he brings innovation, color and whimsy to everything he does. "Design," he says in his 'design manifesto,' "is about the betterment of our lives poetically, aesthetically, experientially, sensorially, and emotionally."

In one of his latest ventures, Rashid introduces a line of cutting tools called Slice. The line features durable, stay-sharp ceramic blades in the form of a letter opener, potato peeler, grater and other useful tools.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Looking At: Oven Mitts

The first gift I remember buying my mother with "my own" money was a pot holder covered in bright red cherries that I bought while on a school ski trip in elementary school. I'm pretty sure she still has it too!

Personally, I'm a sucker for oven mitts, even though most of the time when I'm cooking I end up scalding my hand on a hot pan well before I reach for one or I grab the nearest hand towel instead. Still, oven mitts hold a certain allure... and a certain femininity, don't you think? Do real men use pot holders?

On a quick look around the web I found some completely adorable ones. I'd buy one of each if I had room to keep them. I love this happy pig for example, and I've always been a big fan of marimekko's joyful prints. For the price, you can't beat the choices at IKEA and Target. has a very stylish black and white print that comes with a matching apron, or you could opt for this one from Broadway Panhandler, which they call the Matzoh pot holder but which I think looks more like naan!

From etsy comes this lovely handmade number (so girly), and straight from Japan, this Rilakkuma oven mitt (so cute!) lets the popular Japanese character help out in the kitchen.

And for those real men who don't like to get burned but can't put their hand in something covered in flowers, there is this neoprene, stain-resistant, water-resistant glove from Williams-Sonoma that can withstand heat up to 500°F. Anyone have other suggestions?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ask the Cheesehead: I'm lactose intolerant. Can I eat cheese?

One of the main processes involved in ripening cheese is the metabolism of lactose, as milk sugars are broken down into lactic acid. Most of the lactose found in cheese is removed with the whey during the production process. Ripened cheeses like cheddar and Swiss contain about 95% less lactose than whole milk and aged cheeses contain almost no lactose.

The amount of lactose retained in a cheese is directly related to the amount of moisture retained in it. Therefore, a cheese with a higher moisture content generally has a higher amount of residual lactose, although with many cheeses, including cheddar, the residual lactose will be fermented by the starter culture during cheese making.

A good way to know if there is any residual lactose in your cheese is to read the nutritional information on the label. If the amount of sugar is 0 grams, there's no lactose! You're good to go! If you're buying cheese at a market, ask the cheesemonger. But a general rule of thumb for people who are really sensitive is to stay away from fresh cheeses like ricotta, mozzarella and chevre and opt instead for aged, drier cheeses.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sandwiches, for 'education and delight'

Thanks to a tweet this afternoon, I just discovered this site, which features sandwiches as art projects: Scanwiches.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Old School Bourbon

On our recent trip to Kentucky we visited a bourbon distillery that makes a hand-crafted, small batch product. Labrot and Graham makes Woodford Reserve, which is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. Set in horse country, the distillery was built in the 1800s and those buildings are still in use today.

They use a triple-distilling process in specially-made copper stills that come from Rothes, Scotland, which produces a smooth finished product.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Shan's Bacon Explosion

By now you've probably heard of the Bacon Explosion, the biggest food phenomenon of the year that causes minor heart palpitations just to look at it.

I've come face-to-face with a B.E. once, when a colleague brought one in to the office. It smelled smoky and tempting and looked harmless enough -- like a meatloaf, really -- but having just finished lunch I couldn't bring myself to try it.

Not so my fearless brother, who recently smoked up his own. Below, his description and a slideshow of the results!

I know you've seen this and I know you've been dying to make one yourself!

I made mine with onions, cilantro and cooked bacon, wrapped in one pound of pork country sausage and covered in a one-pound bacon weave, dusted lightly with Tony Chacere's creole seasoning. Smoked at 250* for 2 hours (maybe a bit overcooked, but fugit) Served it up with Caesar salad and parmesan risotto (out of a box, but not entirely awful) and a jug of cheap Pinot Grigio.

I'm looking forward to experimenting with different fillers next time. Maybe spinach and feta?

It's amazing how far one of these goes. Four of us ate, and there's easily leftovers for four more!

The guys behind this burly behemoth, it was reported this week, have just been offered a barbecue book deal.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Great Balls of Bourbon!

I spent this past weekend in Kentucky, on my first visit to the state most famous for horses, bluegrass and Jack Daniels.

(Interesting fact #1: Kentucky's state bird is the cardinal, but you already knew that if you're a basketball fan. The U of L mascot is a very angry looking red bird!)

I didn't know what to expect of Louisville, and to be honest I was a bit surprised. The architecture in the old part of town looked so Northeastern to me... like something out of Boston in the late 1800s. Then, of course, there were the shotgun shacks, many of which had been added on to through the years but which still showed their original, narrow bones. There were a number of really cool looking Arts & Crafts style bungalows in the west end of town that I also really loved. They'd make a great rehab project, I'm sure.

(Interesting fact #2: The state gemstone is a freshwater pearl.)

We had gone there eager to taste a Kentucky Hot Brown and eat some good, down-home barbecue. On the first count we had middling success. We didn't get a chance to eat a Hot Brown in the hotel that originated the sandwich, but instead we tried the version of it at Lynn's Paradise Cafe. I'll be honest when I say I thought I was going to love this place... It's kitschy, colorful and has a personality all its own.

I ordered a fried green tomato BLT and my hubby had the hot brown so we could share them both. My BLT was pretty darn good. The peppered bacon was perfectly crisped, but was overpowered by the overly-garlicky aioli. The fried green tomatos were a nice touch, although a bit heavy on the cornmeal. And as for that hot brown, it came in a soup bowl brimming with cheese sauce. At first we thought we had ordered the wrong thing, since we expected something that at least resembled a sandwich. The flavors were all right, but overall the dish just failed to impress. The bread was impossible to find, the cheese sauce was bland and heart-stopping and the turkey just sort of sat there.

As for barbecue, we read about some places that sounded amazing but we didn't get to try them. We even drove past a guy with a makeshift stand on Broadway that looked fantastic, but unfortunately we were too full to stop. If anyone has some suggestions, we'd be happy to hear them, in case we find ourselves back in the River City someday.

(Interesting fact #3: Kentucky's state drink is NOT, bourbon, funnily enough. It's MILK!)

I did find one foodstuff to love, however: bourbon balls. I had two versions of this sweet treat, both of which were excellent. I even came home with a box of my very own! Here's a recipe:

Bourbon Balls
1 small package vanilla wafers, crushed (1 ½ to 2 cups)
1 cup minced walnuts
2 tablespoons cocoa
3 tablespoons white corn syrup
½ cup bourbon
1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

1. Mix all ingredients except the cinnamon and one-half cup sugar, and drop scant teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Chill well.
2. Form into marble-sized balls; roll each in mixture of cinnamon and the remaining sugar and chill well.
3. Roll again in cinnamon-sugar. Serve with ice cream.

Yield: About 50 balls.

Waking Up From Hibernation

The scout has been AWOL lately, but the vacation is over... Time to revive the blog, featuring thoughts, musings, experiences and -- most importantly -- good eats!

As I sit here in the middle of my work day, busily digesting my lunchtime salad from the cafeteria and trying to resist the samples of Valrhona chocolate that recently arrived in the office, my mind goes back to last night's dinner.

We met friends at an osteria in midtown that we've frequently been to for lunch. The sandwiches, pizzas and salads at midday are impeccable -- tasty and reasonably priced -- and the restaurant's service is always excellent. But this was the first time we've been for dinner, and the results were disappointing.

I ordered a pizza topped with tomato sauce and tiny polpette -- an amusing take on 'spaghetti with meatballs.' On paper it sounded irresistible... how can you pass up bread, tomato sauce and meatballs? But in reality it was bland. I had to ask for (and load up on) crushed red pepper flakes just to give my palate something to think about. A dessert of warm apple tart with cinnamon ice cream was a similar let-down.

That's not to say that I won't go back to this place for lunch, but clearly the nighttime staff are not held to the same high standards, which is a shame.