Thursday, July 16, 2015

Medieval Makeover -- A Versatile Cheese Tart

The other day I was in a hurry.  I needed a dessert for company but I needed something that wasn't sweet.  I knew one member of the company preferred cheese and fruit at the end of his meal.  Also I wanted to try something different.

These thoughts came together to desiring something like a cheesecake but not too rich and with a good cheese flavor.

Okay, so I needed a crust.  I didn't want a pie crust; I was thinking more like a graham cracker crust.  But I didn't have any graham crackers!  So what can I do instead?  Bread crumbs!  Sweetened and spiced and buttered.

What about the filling?  I turned to a fun book, How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg, and Armor a Turnip by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook.  I have previously referenced the authors when I wrote about my Strawberry Tarte post and another on Icelandic Chicken.  Mr. Friedman is known in the SCA as Cariadoc.  By the way, as of this writing, the strawberry tarte post is one of the most popular at over 1000 page views.

ISBN 9781460924983
In the Milk an Almond book I found a recipe, "For Tarts owte of Lente" (page 42) which is basically a cheese filling between two pie crusts.  What I liked is that the filling was simple, without sugar or spices.  I hoped it would bake correctly without being encased in dough.

For a topping I had fresh strawberries and some delightfully tart pomegranate jelly. (Thanks to Mrs. R and her kitchen!)

That settled it:  I knew what I needed to do.  Now to figure out the details!

So I mixed bread crumbs with vanilla sugar and spices, then mixed that with melted butter until the mix held together when I squeezed some in my hand.  I patted that mixture into my rectangular tart pan.

Then I put cream cheese, eggs, butter, and milk into the blender and whirred it until it was smooth. I poured the filling into the crust, spilled a bunch of the filling while moving the pan into the oven, and baked it until it was light brown and set in the center.

Once the tart cooled I arranged strawberry halves on top and brushed the surface with melted jelly.  The whole thing went into the refrigerator until it was time to serve it.

I only had time to take a picture of the result
Success!  It was tasty and tart and only a little sweet.  The cream cheese flavor came shining through.  It was like a cheesecake but a simple and pleasant follow up to dinner.  The crust was a little crunchy, which was nice, and with enough sweetness and spice to make it interesting.

The last bit left; saved for my daughter!
This got me to thinking about other cheese and fruit combinations that might be good.  And then my daughter came home with a desire to cook and practice taking food pictures...

Our combined efforts produced a cheddar cheese tart with spiced apple topping.


Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

All the ingredients together:

Separate as specified

1 1/2 cups dried bread crumbs
1/4 cup sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
a few scrapes of nutmeg
1/16 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Mix the crumbs with the sugar and spices, then pour in the butter and mix until the crumbs stick together easily when squeezed in your hand.  You may need to add some extra butter to achieve this.

Pat into the tart or pie pan, trying to keep the thickness even along the bottom and remembering to press the crumbs up along the sides and into the corners.  Avoid making the crumbs too thick in the corners.  Set aside.

Push firmly

7 1/2 ounces cheddar cheese, cut in chunks
3 eggs
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
(note:  Cariadoc's recipe calls for 1 T butter and 1 cup cream, which I did not have.  So I used 1 cup reduced fat milk with one extra tablespoon butter.)

Place all the ingredients in a blender, close tightly, and blend until smooth. 

IMPORTANT:  Put the tart pan in the oven and then pour the filling into it, thus reducing the chance to spill it all over!

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is lightly brown and the center is set.

Allow to cool.

The spot in the middle is loose crust that floated upward.

2 tablespoons butter
2 medium apples, cored and chopped into chunks
1 tablespoon sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a few scrapes of nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Melt the butter in a pan and slowly saute' the apples in it.  As they are cooking, sprinkle on the sugar and spices and stir well.  If the mixture looks a little dry, pour a spoonful of water on it, stir, and then cover the pan to contain the steam.  

Note:  This makes heavily spiced apples, which my daughter and I both like.  If you don't like spices as much, reduce the quantities to as much as a half to make it more subtle.  We were thinking the spices would balance out the sharpness of the cheddar cheese.

Cook until apples are tender.  Let cool.
Pulling it all together

Once the tart and the topping are cool, spoon the apple mixture over the top, aiming for an even spread of apple chunks across the surface.  

More yum.
Put the whole thing in the refrigerator until well chilled.

The Verdict

Yes, it is good!  The cheddar flavor was luscious, the filling was not oily (as I worried it might be, using cheddar), and the apples were spiced strongly enough to balance off the cheese.  The crust had some crunchy parts, which complimented the smooth filling and tender apples.  Success!

In some ways, it was not as good as the cream cheese and strawberry version.  The cheddar made the filling denser, more like eating a piece of cheese rather than like a piece of cheesecake.  Perhaps replacing some of the cheddar with cream cheese would make that better.  The strawberries were the perfect accompaniment to the cream cheese flavor as they were juicy and sweet.  The apples were very good with the cheddar, however our taste buds were asking for smaller chunks and a wetter topping; more like chunky applesauce.  If we did this again, we would aim for that topping goal.

We also thought about other flavor combinations that might be good, like
  • blue cheese with fig jam
  • bacon bits in a cheddar filling with a caramelized onion topping
  • blue cheese with apricot jam
  • brie and fig jam
  • goat cheese and poached pears (use the ones poached in spiced wine, as in here?)
  • goat cheese with lemon curd, garnished with raspberries
I would adjust the spices in the crust to best match the flavor choices.  I might not even sweeten the crumbs at all, or just very lightly.

Let me know what you try!

This could also be a very good breakfast dish...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

More on Liquamen - Oh Wow!

Last May I wrote about my experiments with the Roman condiment called "liquamen."  You can read about it here:  Liquamen.  I was working from the book Cooking Apicius by Sally Grainger.

I didn't make it from fermented fish but used a more convenient recipe involving reduced grape juice and premade fish sauce.  My taste test showed that the best ratio of juice to fish sauce was 7 to 1.

Well, that turns out to be a good ratio if you are tasting the sauce from a spoon.  When it comes to using it as a base for a sauce, Ms. Grainger's recommendation of 3 to 1 is much, much better.

I have been experimenting with using the liquamen as a base for a variety of uses.  My favorite so far is as a steak sauce.  Another good use is as a dressing for steamed green beans.

Liquamen in a Sauce

Reduced grape juice and a purchased fish sauce or liquamen made from fermented fish
Olive oil
White wine vinegar

For the steak sauce, I used

6 tablespoons grape juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Mix well in a bowl and serve with a ladle so your guests can pour on the amount they want.

For the green beans dressing, I used

3 tablespoons grape juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Mix well in a bowl and then pour over the hot, steamed green beans.  Toss to coat.  Good to toss them again before serving.

Very peppery
The Verdict

The steak sauce is very thin and runny.  I liked it poured over the steak, using enough to have the sauce make a puddle around the meat.  It is amazingly tasty and inspires the eater to want more!

In analyzing the flavors, I would say it touches all five of the tastes our tongues can sense.  It is salty, it is sour from the vinegar, it is sweet from the grape juice, it is bitter from the pepper, and the fish sauce makes it richly umami.

I wondered if the spices I used on the steak influenced my interpretation of the sauce.  Probably they do as I use a salt-free blend with black pepper, garlic, onion, brown mustard seeds, lemon peel, chile pepper, allspice, coriander, marjoram, and oregano.  Hey, I use this blend because it tastes good on the steak!  But the steak is even better with the sauce.

One of my guest tasters smoked a tri-tip and tried my sauce on it.  He said he couldn't get enough of the sauce once he started putting it on the beef.  He was surprised at its flavor because he expected it to taste fishy and it didn't.  He was also surprised at the pleasant sweetness.

And the wine!
The dressing stuck to the green beans because of the olive oil.  I liked the stronger pepper flavor and the other tastes, most of which were like the steak sauce.  I think the dressing might be even better with some vinegar in it, like an oil-and-vinegar dressing.

These mixtures are so much of a success that, once the meat and beans were eaten, we cleaned up the rest of the sauce on our plates with the pesto crescent rolls.  A simple and yet very tasty meal.

I have the ingredients to make more liquamen, so I will post updates if I find any other uses.