Spicy Quesadillas

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This is made similar to my Mushroom Quesadillas with Chiles and Chipotle Cheese, only instead of mushrooms and chiles, I’ve used a spicy soy protein mixture. These meatless crumbles soak up liquid and seasonings very well, and because it’s frozen loose in a package, you can scoop out as much — or as little — as you need for a dish. You do not need a quesadilla maker to make quesadillas. All you need is a good skillet (I use a big cast iron skillet, but a non-stick skillet would probably work as well.)

The trick, as always, is to not overload the quesadillas with too much filling in addition to the cheese. The whole idea is that the cheese acts as glue. There’s always a chance of filling falling out when you eat quesadillas, but if you don’t overload the tortillas, cheese will do a pretty good job of holding things together.

I used Mexene chili powder. Most pre-mixed chili powders aren’t extremely spicy, but if what you use has a strong kick, you might need to adjust to your tastes. Most chili powder combinations also have cumin, but I add a bit more to balance things out since some of the quesadillas’ spicy flavor is coming from the chipotle cheese. If using plain cheddar or some other unseasoned cheese, you could increase the spiciness of the soy crumbles by adding red pepper, Hungarian hot paprika, cayenne powder, or Tabasco, etc. Also be aware that there are now a number of different brands of chipotle cheddar cheese on the market and the heat of the cheese may vary between brands.

This makes enough filling for at least 5 quesadillas, maybe 6, depending on how much filling you use in each one. It also depends on the size of tortilla you use. I prefer the medium sized which are larger than taco-sized, but significantly smaller than the big burrito size. I’ve tried using both the smaller and larger for quesadillas and the small just seemed too small and the large was extremely awkward to turn over — even with my big spatula.

  • 1 1/2 cups Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles
  • 2 Tbls chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Block of chipotle cheddar
  • medium sized flour tortillas

20150407_190543Simmer the meatless crumbles in a small amount of water with the spices, stirring well, until it’s cooked down. Use just enough water that it can soak it up and simmer for just a few minutes. The filling will be moist but it shouldn’t be liquidy.

You can assemble the quesadillas either on a plate next to the stove, or in the skillet itself. Place a generous amount of the cheese on the tortilla, but not all the way out to the edge. I used sliced cheese; it’s faster and easier than grating and I seems like I have a better idea of how much cheese and what the coverage of the cheese will be with slices. Do whatever works best for you.

20150407_190823Spoon two generous spoonfuls of the seasoned meatless crumbles onto the cheese. Top with another flour tortilla. Toast each side of the tortilla on the ungreased skillet for a couple of minutes on medium heat. It should be browned and slightly crispy. This only takes one or two minutes, depending on your stove. Flip using the biggest spatula you have and toast the other side. (I have an enormous round spatula that I use for many things.) The cheese should be melted enough to hold the thing together when you turn it over.

Cut each round into 6 wedges and serve hot with salsa on the side. People will eat them as fast as you make ’em, so make the first one for yourself to snack on while you toast up the others. 😉 Prep on the filling (slicing, simmering) takes mere minutes and assembling and cooking just a few minutes more. This is a fast fun meal and one that can usually be made from ingredients on hand. (I always have flour tortillas, meatless crumbles, and some kind of cheddar on hand.)

 

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PsycheDillic & Sgt. Pepper

PsychoDillic & Sgt. Pepper

PsycheDillic & Sgt. Pepper

I scored more Cypress Grove chevre recently! Their cheeses use non-animal rennet, a boon for vegetarians who have a big cheese habit. (I am a mouse.) 😉 I have previously written about their Purple Haze and Truffle Tremor (with passing mention of Humboldt Fog, also good) and am always on the lookout for flavors I haven’t yet tried. I’m basically working my way through all their cheeses (not all of which are soft cheeses, by the way).

This time I got PsycheDillic and Sgt. Pepper. The PsycheDillic was a bit of a letdown in that it seemed to only have a light coating of dill on the outside, not dill throughout. The flavor was good and creamy, but not as psycho or as dilly as I had expected. The light mild flavor goes well with a crisp white wine. A good choice for summer. 🙂

…And what would summer be (at least in Texas) without peppers! The Sgt. Pepper appeared to have tiny threads of red pepper throughout. (I say appears because I sort of smeared it everywhere.) The cheese has a slight orangy tint to it which backs this up. The flavor is spicy, but I wouldn’t call it hot. Pleasantly spicy and delicious, but not something that will make your eyes water. If you want a cheese that will light you up, this isn’t it. If you want a spicy flavorful cheese that will enhance the flavor of food without overwhelming it, this is the cheese. It’s an excellent choice for a party with guests that vary between chili-heads and people who don’t like hot stuff. It’s mild enough that no one is likely to complain of the heat, but has such a terrific flavor that even chili heads will be charmed.

I fear that I didn’t do the mild PsycheDillic any favors by buying it in conjunction with the show-off Sgt. Pepper, but both cheeses are ones I will buy again any time I can find them. Paired with a crisp, light, bright, white wine the PsycheDillic shines, so it will feature prominently in my summer plans and Sgt. Pepper is a wonderful change from spicy hard cheeses; pairing the peppers with chevre gives a whole new flavor to the concept of spicy cheeses.  Check out all Cypress Groves cheeses on their website!

Enhanced Cheese Scones

Cheese Scones. Warm, dense and delicious.

Cheese Scones. Warm, dense and delicious.

Want something a bit more substantial than sweets to go with your tea? You can’t beat cheese scones. I’ve “enhanced” these with unflavored protein powder to add a bit more nutrition. The reason I use Cheshire for cheese scones is simple: it tastes good with a flavor similar to Cheddar (which is the default cheese for most cheese scone recipes) and it’s hard and crumbly. American cheddars usually require grating; you can’t just break off a piece and crumble it up. I’ve tried a couple of different Cheshires and they can always be crumbled. Which saves time and effort. No tools or appliances necessary.

2 cups flour
1 Tbls baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup unflavored whey protein powder, not packed
1/2 cup margarine
approx 1/4 lb Cheshire cheese
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven 425.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and unflavored protein powder in a bowl. Cut in the margarine with a fork, pastry blender, or — better still — your hands, mixing it until the margarine lumps are gone and the mixture feels slightly damp and clingy. Crumble in the Cheshire cheese.

Add approximately 1/2 cup water (it may take just a tiny bit more) and knead into a firm dough. You can do this bit right in the bowl. Divide the dough into two more or less equal pieces. Shape into rounds.

Place rounds on an ungreased baking sheet, flattening them out a bit. (Probably 6 inches in diameter. It’s not like I take a ruler to my scones!) Slice each round into 6 wedges. Try to make them close to the same size otherwise some will be done sooner than others.

Separate the wedges to about 1 inch apart at least.

Bake 425 for 12-15 mins, depending on your oven and how thick the scones are.

Makes a dozen scones. Served with tea or…soup! (Soup tag for blog.) This goes really well with hot hearty soups, sort of a cheesy biscuit (in the American sense of the word).

Began the New Year with Truffle Tremor…

Later in the day after the Hair of the Dog brunch and the Hazelnut Scones, lingering and lounging with friends on New Year’s Day, I broke out a wedge of Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor for us to snack on. I’ve mentioned Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze before. All their cheeses use vegetarian rennet. I hadn’t had Truffle Tremor before but it was a very sumptuous scrumptious way to start the new year. It was delish! Sort of a salty earthy flavor, a soft white cheese with a white rind. I think it would be an excellent cheese to serve as an appetizer. The salty savory flavor made me think that it might be good alongside olives and other such savory tidbits. Unlike the Purple Haze which is almost addictive, Truffle Tremor was a cheese that I wanted to eat just a little of at a time. A cheese to be consumed slowly and savored. I folded a little bit of it — I didn’t have much left — into an omelet and the omelet was utter transformed. 🙂

(If you want to know more about the cheese, the link above takes you right to the page for Truffle Tremor on the Cypress Grove site.)

Vegetarian Cheese: Purple Haze

Purple Haze chevre! The package looks a bit crumpled and deflated because, yes, I opened it and snacked already!

August is national goat cheese month, and as it happens one of my favorite chevre cheeses is a vegetarian cheese. Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze is an unusual cheese, and I daresay it’s not to everyone’s taste, but it is worth tasting. (Despite the name, it is not purple. It is, in my opinion, a trippy flavor combination, however.) I picked up a small package on a whim a couple of years back, with no great expectations. The package said that it was made with lavender and fennel pollen. I literally could not imagine what that would taste like. So of course I had to taste it. 😉 To my utter surprise I loved it! I’m still at a bit of a loss to tell you what it tastes like, but the flavor is unique and oddly compelling. It doesn’t taste herbal, and it doesn’t taste quite like what I’d first think of as “floral”, but floral is the closest word I can think of to describe it. It tastes like a sunny summer garden, or perhaps a picture of a garden, as there are no earth notes to the flavor. It’s as light as sunshine on the tongue. I have to dole out small dabs on crackers and count out the crackers before I sit down or I fear I will eat the entire package! Really, I very nearly did the first time I tried it. I ate in a delicious dream of creamy cheese with a delicate unusual flavor, and when I came to I was blissed out and had consumed almost all of it.

This isn’t Cypress Grove’s only vegetarian cheese: all the cheeses they currently make use non-animal rennet. They make a number of different types of cheeses (all with enticing names). A friend of mine likes their Humboldt Fog. I liked it too, but not nearly as much as the Purple Haze. There are even more cheeses on their website which I’m keeping an eye out for in local stores. Their cheeses are somewhat hard to find (at least in my area). It’s hit and miss locally and months may pass before I can snag more. They are apparently a small artisanal cheesemaker and probably don’t have a wide distribution, but if you love cheese and are an adventurous eater, keep an eye out for their cheeses. If, or when, you try them please drop a comment on this post and let me know what you got and what you think! 🙂

Homemade Pimento Cheese

There’s nothing like a cold sandwich on a hot day! My Mom and I got to talking about pimento cheese sandwiches recently. I can remember my mother making pimento cheese spread from scratch when I was a kid. In my memory it’s always better than store-bought pimento cheese. I asked her about the recipe and found that she’d never written it down, and scarcely remembered how she made it. She said she used a medium or mild cheddar because she doesn’t like sharp cheddar (I do like sharp cheese, though I use a milder cheddar for pimiento cheese so it will taste like hers). Of course there were pimentos in it, and she said that she thought she added some cream cheese, to to make it soft and spreadable. But she couldn’t tell me the amounts or proportions of the ingredients. She said she just mixed it up until it looked right.

This was before the days of food processors, so she grated the cheese by hand, that much I do know. I use a food processor for things that require a lot of grating (though I do have a hand grate that’s both fast and comfortable to use). After some experimenting this is what I’ve come up with. I tried making it with varying amounts of cream cheese and that did not, by itself, make it spreadable, but rather just stickier. So, I had to add a bit of mayonnaise. I use a low-fat mayo; goodness knows this has enough fat in it already! 😉

Homemade Pimiento Cheese

Homemade Pimiento Cheese

8 oz cheddar (mild or sharp, your preference)
4 oz cream cheese
5 tsp pimentos
1/2 cup low fat mayonnaise
1/4 tsp (or more) paprika or Hungarian Hot Paprika (optional)

Set out cream cheese to soften before making the pimiento cheese. I use a block of cream cheese rather than spreadable varieties because this is what my mother used. Grate cheddar cheese. (I don’t recommend using pre-grated packages of cheese. The cheese is too dry and has less flavor.) Mix and mash cheeses in a bowl with pimientos and the mayo. Add paprika or Hungarian hot paprika to taste. 1/4 tsp will make it very mildly seasoned, use more if you want it to really have a kick. Mix and blend with a fork or other suitable utensil (or put on food handling gloves and mix with your hands).

This makes a lot of cheese spread. Unless you’re crazy about pimiento cheese sandwiches or are making the spread for a party you might want to make a half-batch. Besides being a classic sandwich filling, this pimiento cheese mixture can be used as a casual appetizer spread on crackers or as a filling for stuffed celery sticks. (If that sounds too dull for your taste — or your friends’ taste — that Hungarian Hot Paprika option will liven things up!)

Go Retro with Meetloaf!

Meet (adjective)
1. suitable; fitting; proper.

(Via dictionary.com, which surprisingly — and gratifyingly — did not note this as an archaic usage.)

Meatloaf when I was growing up was made with a jar of Ragu and saltine crackers (not to mention meat). I’m not sure what was used prior to the advent and discovery of prepared Ragu sauce. You could probably make the recipe below using a store-bought sauce, but I hit on the idea of making this meatless loaf (or “meetloaf” as it is “fitting, suitable, and proper” for vegetarians) after one time when I had some filling left from making stuffed bell peppers. I made it into a sandwich the next day, thinking that it reminded me of a cold leftover meatloaf sandwich.

So, if I want to have meetloaf (as I call this soy version) sandwiches, then I had to come up with a meatless loaf. I had used Smart Ground (from LightLife) for the stuffed bell pepper. Lightlife makes another soy meat substitute called Gimme Lean. I decided to try it because it comes in a tube, indicating that its texture is less crumbly than the Smart Ground and might hold together better. It’s very sticky. It comes in at least two versions: I use “Sausage Style” Gimme Lean for this recipe.

For the meetloaf I sauted a chopped onion in a small amount of olive oil, then added 1 15oz can of tomato sauce and a small amount of water (so the sauce doesn’t cook down and thicken too much). I then added 1 tsp marjoram, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp paprika,  and a pinch of hungarian hot paprika, and black pepper. If you want, you can run fresh garlic through a garlic press and saute it along with the onions. I simmered for at least 10 mins, maybe 15.

Combine the sauce with the Sausage Style Gimme Lean in a bowl. Stir and break up the soy thoroughly before added the 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs and 1 Tbls olive oil. Grease loaf pan with 1 Tbls olive oil. Spoon the mixture into the loaf pan and bake 350 for 1 hour. Let sit for 5-10 minutes after taking it out of the oven.

Meetloaf, cooling (slightly) on the counter before serving.

Meetloaf, cooling (slightly) on the counter before serving.

It’s good hot from the oven, but leftovers also make good cold sandwiches. Stuffed into pita pockets, it’s perfect picnic food for hot summer days. 🙂 If you want something warmer and spicier for those picnic pitas, try next week’s recipe for Spicy Meetball Pitas!

Cookout: Portobello Burgers and Grilled Corn

This is what’s on the grill for our basic casual summer cookout: Portobello burgers and corn-on-the-cob. There are some excellent veggie burgers out there and I often have some on the grill too, but Portobello mushrooms are irresistible, so no matter what else you throw on the grill, make room from some of these!

Portobello burgers for two (increase amounts according to the number of people).

2 large Portobello mushroom caps, stem removed. I prefer marinating the mushrooms in white wine, having experimented with both white and red. Vinho Verde is a crisp, citrusy, effervescent wine from Portugal. Casal Garcia is my favorite winery for this, but there are others which are good. It makes a good marinade for the mushrooms, when you add a little olive oil to it. I use 1/2 cup wine and a drizzling of olive oil (sorry, I never measure this) for 2 big ‘shrooms. A baggie is good for marinating: I can swish it all together and around to make sure the liquid gets into the gills and coats the cap. You can get away with a relatively modest amount of marinade if you’re using a baggie, whereas I’ve found that it takes a lot to get coverage in a bowl. If I use a big bowl, it takes a large volume of liquid and when I used a small but deep bowl, to my chagrin I discovered that the mushrooms were wedged in hovering above the marinade in the bottom! The mushrooms should marinate in the fridge for at least a few hours before cooking. If you want to marinate them the day before, that’s okay, too.

What about seasonings? What you put in the marinade depends on what you’re going to put on them later, on the grill. You can marinate them in flavored olive oil and or add dried herbs to the marinade, but if you’re going to add any seasonings or embellishments while grilling it’s real easy to get flavor overkill and clashes. Having herbed the living hell out of the marinade and then added herbed cheese when they’re on the grill, I’ve learned my lesson.

My own preference is to go light on the marinade herbs and added Cheesy Girl vegetarian chevre to the mushroom caps halfway through the cooking time. Cheesy Girl makes cheese with a variety of seasonings and though you could echo some of those in the marinade, that’s not necessary and may be too much. Really, for my tastes, the herbed cheese with the simple unseasoned marinade described above, is perfection. You will, of course, want to experiment with your own herbs and local cheeses. 😀

Grill the mushrooms, gill side down first, for about 6 minutes on each side. When you turn the mushroom gill side up, add the cheese, then grill another 6 minutes. We usually grill with the grill covered for both mushrooms and corn. The mushrooms will be very juicy and will continue to leak juice for some minutes after you take them off the grill. (For this reason I don’t recommend slapping them on a bun straight from the grill.) I like mayo on these burgers: it does a good job of keeping the bun from getting soggy and the mild flavor complements the mild cheese.

For grilling corn I prefer unhusked corn: it’s just easier to season and deal with. If the corn hasn’t been shucked, shuck the corn, stripping off the silks. If you don’t get every single one, don’t worry, they’ll usually cook off on the grill. Put two spoonfuls of spreadable margarine on a plate, splash on some lime juice, then sprinkle on your favorite chili powder. (I use Mexene chili powder.) Mush and stir it all together on the plate, then roll the corn in it, slather it on with your hands if you want to, to get the corn cobs covered well.

Grill the corn directly on the grill for about 6 minutes total, turning frequently, with the grill covered between turnings. The corn will be nicely seasoned with smoke. 🙂

Other side dishes you may want to make, particularly if you’re feeding a crowd: BBQ Baked Beans, Frankenslaw, and Potato Salad.

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Mushroom Quesadillas with Chiles and Chipotle Cheese

Quesadillas, ready to serve with salsa!

Quesadillas, ready to serve with salsa!

These are a favorite around here and are eaten as fast as I can cook them up! This recipe makes four. You may want to keep the first ones someplace warm as you cook the rest — if you’re not serving them out as you make them! You can make quesadillas with smaller or larger tortillas. Adjust the amount of cheese and filling accordingly. The medium-sized tortillas seem the best choice to me; the small ones just seem too small and the bigger ones are really tricky to turn over, even with my super-sized spatula. The skillet pictured below is a 12 inch skillet and medium sized tortillas are just about the right size for it.

1 poblano pepper
5-7 white button mushrooms
8 tortillas, 7-8″ diameter
1 block Cabot chipotle cheddar

There are a number of variations you can make to moderate (or increase) spiciness. You don’t need a “quesadilla maker”, just a skillet. The trick to quesadillas with any kind of vegetable inside is to cook the veggies first, because the actual cooking time for each quesadilla is mere minutes — just enough to toast the tortilla a bit and melt the cheese.

Deseed and slice the poblano pepper in strips, then cut the strips in pieces not more than a couple of inches long. Saute in a small amount of oil while you clean and remove stems from the mushrooms. Slice the mushrooms, then give them a brief coarse chopping to make the pieces a bit smaller (unless the caps are very small). Throw them in with the poblano peppers and saute until the mushrooms have changed color and the peppers are done. Remember: they’re not going to get any significant amount of cooking after they’re added to the quesadillas, so cook them to the amount of doneness you want.

You can grate the cheese for this, but I just slice it. For this amount (four 8 inch quesadillas) you won’t use up the whole block. Put the cheese in the center on the tortilla, leaving an inch or an inch and a half around the edge. Scoop a small amount, about a quarter of the amount cooked up, on top of the cheese, leaving the same margin around the edge. Place another tortilla on top, then place the quesadilla in a moderately hot skillet. (I cook these on about 4 on my electric stove.) See slideshow below for pics of  cheese, amount of filling, cooking, etc.) Let it cook briefly, pressing with a spatula a bit, until the tortilla has gotten toasty and brown on the bottom and the cheese is melted. This will only take a minute or two. Turn it over carefully. (I use my favorite round spatula, which is larger than the usual.) Brown the other side, taking care not to scorch either side. You may want to turn them more than once until you get a feel for how long they need on each side based on your stove. The cheese is the glue that holds the ingredients and tortillas together. Give it time to melt before you flip the first time.

Cut into quarters and serve hot with salsa.

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You can make these with just the chipotle cheese, if you need to throw something together a little more quickly. The spicy cheddar makes even plain cheese quesadillas special.

If you want a much milder version of these quesadillas, substitute a milder cheddar, one that doesn’t have peppers in it, or perhaps a plain jack cheese or queso blanco. The poblanos are mild peppers, but flavorful. If you want a hotter quesadilla, substitute a hot pepper for the poblano, but be careful!

I like the combination of flavors with the chipotle cheddar, poblano, and mushrooms but there are a lot of combinations of different types of cheese and other ingredients that can be put into quesadillas. The only things you need to keep in mind is to cook the vegetables first and not to over-load the tortillas when filling them. The filling should be a single layer, not heaped up on the cheese, nor should it completely cover the cheese. Never use more filling than you have cheese to glue it all together.

Armenian String Cheese!

Armenian String Cheese from Gh

Armenian String Cheese from Gharibian Farm, Carlstadt, NJ

When I go to downtown Houston I like to get Armenian string cheese at the downtown Phoenicia Specialty Foods. Despite the name it does not come from Armenia, but from Gharibian Farm in Carlstadt, NJ. It doesn’t say on the package what it’s seasoned with, but the Gharibian website confirmed my original suspicion that it’s red peppers and parsley. I first used it to supplement the mozzarella on pizza, but if you really want the full effect of the cheese use it as a substitute for all the mozzarella! It’s wonderful on the pizza! (If, in another life, you loved pepperoni pizza, this cheese will add some of that spiciness to a vegetarian pizza.) I also just loved the cheese itself: very spicy and a lot of fun to play with. It comes twisted, like a skein of yarn, but then I untwist it, pop one end loose and there are these amazing loooooooong loops of cheese, which separates into strands which could be separated into more strands. I love string cheese and this stuff tastes amazing. Look for this cheese at stores with a good selection of cheese…it makes the best spicy pizza cheese!