Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Grilled Cheese of Manliness

All of these goodies that I’ve been baking lately have been quite feminine; sweet and darling. That’s not to say that a dude wouldn’t eat these things.  (I know for a fact that there is one guy in particular who is very disappointed that he’s not here to enjoy them.) It is to say that there is always a need for balance. I needed to make something macho and manly. Rub some dirt in it, all that jazz.

On average, it requires about a five minute conversation with me to realize that I’ve got a thing for cheese.  I’m pretty vocal about it.  On my first date with Brian, I asked if we could order the cheese plate appetizer, and then proceeded to talk about cheese for the next 20 to 30 minutes. A few weeks later, because he is the gift-giver to end all gift-givers, he gave me THREE cheese journals to document the various cheeses that I try, so naturally, I’m required to always buy all the cheeses, right? Right! My most recent purchase was an Italian cheese called L’ottavio, otherwise known as beer cheese.  I repeat: beer cheese.

L’ottavio cheese contains flecks of malted barley.  During the curing process, the rind is brushed with brown ale and more malted barley. The result is the smell of a local pub and the taste of a nice pint of beer. Let me emphasize that "smell of a local pub" isn't a very pleasant smell.  You're going to want to triple or quadruple bag this block of cheese to contain the smell in your fridge.

In my cheese-journal, I noted that this cheese is kind of “unpairable." I usually like to pair a nice fruit or jelly or meat with the cheeses that I try, but this one really seemed to want to stand alone.  But then, "ah HA!" This is a manly cheese here. It needs manly compliments, not fru-fru things like fruits and French jams. 

It needs manly compliments like BACON.

What followed is the macho-est, manliest grilled cheese you’ll ever eat.
Behold, the Beer & Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  (Note: I did not rub dirt in it.)

The Beer and Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich 
2 slices of your bread of choice, I used Buckwheat
Sliced L'ottavio cheese 1/4" thick to cover one slice of bread
3 to 6 slices of natural bacon, depending on bread size
  • Heat deep cast iron skillet to medium heat, then turn to low. Throw on your bacon and cook it low and slow, constantly moving around so it doesn't stick. (It's best to use a grease shield if you have one. I don't...womp womp.)
  • While your bacon cooks, cut necessary slices of cheese and spread butter on the two outer sides of your bread slices.
  • Once bacon is cooked, remove to a paper towel. Drain all but one teaspoon of the grease. The remaining grease will make your bread crispier, and will give your sandwich more taste.
  • Set a slice of bread butter-side down. Top with your cheese and cooked bacon, and top with your other slice of bread, butter side up. 
  • Once the cheese begins to melt, flip your sandwich so it begins to melt through the bacon. 
  • Continue flipping until both sides are crispy and golden.
  • Slice into halves and enjoy!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Frootshoot in the Caribbean

A refresher course:

Fruit-shoot (/fro͞ot - SHo͞ot/) noun :: Amanda's term for a photo-shoot during which she dissects/murders various fruits for photographic analysis.  This process often advances to hours of editing before creating a graphically-pleasing collage.

As any new culture does, moving to the Caribbean has exposed me to new foods.  Here are some tropical goodies:


A food staple throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, the breadfruit emerges on flowering trees that can grow up to 85 feet tall.  The fruit's name is derived from the texture of the cooked, moderately ripe fruit, which has a potato-like flavor, similar to freshly baked bread. It is high in starch and is traditionally eaten as a substitute for rice.  There are tons of ways to prepare breadfruit, whether roasted and sliced as a nice side dish, or made into breadfruit chips (better than potato chips!), or boiled and served as a main dish with scraped coconut and chilies. 

Fun fact: When you remove a breadfruit from the tree, you have to set it top-down because there will be a fair amount of sap that needs to drain out first...or else your cutting board and knife will be forever sticky. *eyeroll*

Passion Fruit 

The passion fruit is widely grown around the world.  It is round to oval in shape and can be either yellow or dark purple - a fact that I did not know.  I took photos of a purple-skinned fruit, and the next week, our selection was yellow! There aren't many things that you can bite into for the first time and have your eyes spring wide open causing you to immediately dive in for bite #2.  The passion fruit is one of those rare things. I had never tasted one before, and the taste and texture blew my mind.  It's like a ball full of candy, really. 

Fun fact: Passion fruit is so called because it is one of the many species of Passion Flower, the national flower of Paraguay. 
Source :

Otaheite, Jamaican Apple
First, a little back story.  When I studied in Taiwan for 3 months, I discovered that one of my favorite fruits is a Wax Apple or a Bell Fruit - it has two names.  Then! I found out that it actually has 3 names, or so I thought.  I've not been able to find once since; I pick through every farmer's market I go to - I thought for sure I'd find it at one of the two international markets in Atlanta - nope! Then one day after moving here, I was talking about this fruit with my coworkers, and showed them a picture, and they all exclaimed "Otaheite!" "...Oh, whatawhat?" They all got so excited that they had helped me track down this fruit at long last, and that all along it was actually a Jamaican Apple, or in Jamaica, an apple. 
Sadly, I have to report that, though it is yummy, this is not the same as the Wax Apple and Bell Fruit that I had in Taiwan.  They look exactly the same, so they have to be relatives! The Otaheite has a very light and fluffy texture inside with crisp, mild apple-like taste. The Wax Apple packs a punch with apple taste, and has a crunchy, airy texture like a pear. *mouth waters and the search continues*

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Jam Shortbread Cookies

The weather has been strange these days.  When I moved to the Caribbean, the South had only just become chilly.  My body seemed to accept the lack of seasons; the prolonged, never-ending summer.  
There's the saying "April showers bring May flowers," but that doesn't exist here. Instead it marches more to the beat of "Well, May rolls around and then there is rain and only rain forever and ever, the end." More specifically, rainy season (otherwise scarily known as Hurricane Season *shutters*), lasts from May to November, and with it comes sporadic showers and storms that come and go whenever they please. (Also, giant land crabs?! Land crabs that knock on your door in the middle of the night!? I digress: another story for another day.)

The sky has become a temperamental patchwork of clouds, but more often than not, it's overcast. These overcast skies are the "strange."  I see the overcast skies, I feel the familiar tropical heat, the usual humidity thick enough to cut with a butter knife, but deep inside, outside of my control, my mind is perceiving these skies as the seasonal change it's used to. A seasonal change I never realized how much I required. 
Overcast, dreary skies have always brought with them bright pea-coats and knit scarves and brown boots. Detailed Jack-o-Lanterns and too much candy. Smokey fire pits and an ice cold beer. And Momma's pie and cookies. And family and Christmas trees. But it's none of these things. This year's overcast skies are hot, and it's just me and my little apartment and unwanted land crab visitors. The weather has been strange, and I've been strange - in this weird funk that I just can't shake. Missing him, missing them, and craving cold-weather cookies and things. 

So, in a fairly successful attempt to "shake it," I made said cookies, and I shared them with some of my Cayman family. 
I decided that I was craving Jam Cookies. And then, as always, I could not decide on just one way to do it, resulting in 4 variations of jam cookies. Behold:

Note :: That top-left Strawberry Preserves variation was supposed to be salted caramel, but the caramel had other diabolical plans.

Old-Fashioned Jam Shortbread Cookies from The Cafe Sucre Farine
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 c. pure cane sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract (or 2 tsp. vanilla bean paste, or beans scraped from one vanilla bean - I used extract.)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. all-purpose flour

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • Beat butter and sugar until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add salt and vanilla extract and mix for a few seconds to combine. 
  • Add flour and mix for 1-2 minutes, (stopping a few times to scrape the sides of the bowl) until large crumbs form. Pour mixture out onto a work surface and knead several times until a smooth ball forms. 
  • Scoop small balls of dough, about 2 tablespoons each. Roll the ball in your palms to form smooth, round balls.  (If you find that you are having trouble rolling the dough, refrigerate for 10 minutes, then proceed.) Place dough balls on prepared cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart and pressing on each one just a bit with the palm of your hand to be about 1/2" thick. 
  • The next step is really completely up to you and what you plan to do with your cookies. I had over 40 small cookies. I flattened them each with my palm, considered flattening more with the base of a cup, but decided that I liked more of a dome.  My plan was to have a dozen jam sandwiches (using 24 cookies), a dozen indented salted caramel cookies, and have the leftovers as regular iced shortbread cookies. I indented the necessary amount, and used a fork to make cute ruffled textures along all of the edges.
  • Note: when you make an indentation, you can use your thumb or the back of a spoon. If your cookie cracks along the edges, which it will, just push the dough back together. Your indentation should, in theory, be 1/2" in diameter.
  • Place sheet pans with prepared cookies in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.  This will keep them from spreading out too much while baking.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes or until beginning to turn golden at bottom edges. If you've indented your cookies, when cookies come out of the oven, you can reinforce the indentations a bit, if needed. 
  • Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly. 
As I said, I had planned to use salted caramel, but that didn't work out.  I've concluded that I need a candy thermometer, and pronto.  My caramel cooked just seconds too long, and hardened and turned into Werther's Originals; equally as yummy, but nonfunctional for what I required. This just meant I was going to have a lot more jam sandwiches. 
I chose two flavors, and to differentiate between the two, I cut holes in the tops of half of them.  This was no easy task, and I broke numerous cookies.  I suggest that you bake larger cookies if you're aiming to cut shapes in them, because small ones just barely cooperate. (To cut the holes, I used a tiiiny tiny-bladed knife to carve a square, and then I spun my knife in that square to drill it into a circle.  And then I ate the leftover shortbread crumble because of course I did.  

The carved sandwiches housed Dickinson's Pure Pacific Mountain Strawberry Preserves, and the solid sandwiches were filled with Bonne Maman Red Currant Jelly. I topped the cookies with a simple powdered sugar icing.

 And here, I leave you with this: the failed caramels of deliciousness.

Next up might be some FrootShoots!
Thanks for reading,