blue cheese

Jan 252017
 

Grilled Endive, Blue Cheese, Pear and Walnut Salad

 

 

Growing up on both sides of the Atlantic, I have always vacillated between whether to use American spellings (ie. flavor) or British spellings (ie. flavour). I am certainly guilty of mixing it up here on my blog.

 

I have spent more time than I need to trying to decide which type of spelling to follow. And my final decision is that I can’t decide. My formative education was in the US (and American spellings are just so simple for everyone to follow) but I went to University and worked in the UK (and British spellings are just so elegant). Either way, I feel like I am betraying one side of the pond.

 

It gets even more complicated when it comes to names of food. An ‘aubergine’ in the UK is an ‘eggplant’ in the US. A ‘courgette’ in the UK is a ‘zucchini’ in the US. And don’t even get me started on ‘rocket’ versus ‘rucola’ versus ‘arugula’.

 

I am having the same issue with the ‘endives’ in this recipe, which can also be called ‘escarole’ or ‘chicory’. In the case of endives, it is not just the name but the variety which is also causing some confusion. Endives can be loose frizzy heads of lettuce but they can also be submarine-shaped tightly packed firm leaves. For this recipe, make sure that the endives (or escarole or chicory) that you get are the tightly-packed submarine-shaped ones. Choose red or white according to what you have available.

 

Endives are slightly bitter, but bitter foods are supposed to be good for you because when your tastebuds sense bitterness, they send signals to your body to start producing more digestive juices. The increase in digestive juices means that your body is able to absorb more nutrients from your food. So, a bitter salad is a great way to start a meal.

 

You can eat endives raw, but I find that if you grill them it enhances their flavour (or should it be flavor?).

 

 

GRILLED ENDIVE, BLUE CHEESE, PEAR AND WALNUT SALAD

(Serves 4 as a starter or side dish)

 

Dressing Ingredients:

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp honey (optional – it is not necessary but it will help balance some of the bitterness in the endives)

 

Salad Ingredients:

4 heads of endive (room temperature)

A little extra virgin olive oil to brush onto the endives before grilling

150-200g / 5-7 oz blue cheese, crumbled

1 pear (about 200g / 7 oz in weight)

80g / 2 oz walnut halves, roughly broken or chopped

 

Directions:

  1. Remove the outer leaves from the endives and slightly trim the base, making sure to leaves enough of the base attached so that the endive leaves remain attached. Cut the endives in half lengthwise. Brush the cut sides with some olive oil.
  2. To grill the endives, warm up a griddle pan or Panini press on medium heat. When the griddle is hot, place the endives cut-side down on the griddle and leave for 5-7 minutes. If you do not have a griddle pan or Panini press, you can also grill your endives in an oven-proof dish in a 200°C oven for 15 minutes.
  3. Prepare your dressing by combining all dressing ingredients in a jar and shaking well. Set aside.
  4. When ready to serve, arrange the endive halves on a platter. Scatter them with the walnuts and crumble some blue cheese on top.
  5. Make sure you slice the pear just prior to serving to avoid discolouration.
  6. Cut the pear into quarters lengthwise, remove the seeds and then slice each quarter horizontally (widthwise) to get small triangle slices of pear. Scatter the pear on top of the salad.
  7. Drizzle the salad dressing on top (you may not need to use all of it).
  8. This salad can be served either warm or cold.

 

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Feb 182016
 

Product-French Cheeses

 

One of the easiest ways to quickly turn a simple salad into a delicious and complete meal is by adding some cheese to it. While cheese is produced in many countries, the largest variety by far comes from France where they produce over 400 different types of cheese. By how do you know which French cheeses are good to add to a salad and which ones aren’t?

 

To help navigate the wondrous world of French cheeses, I was invited to attend a workshop at Top Chef Cooking Studio in Dubai given by award-winning cheesemonger Francois Robin (he was voted Best Cheesemonger in France in 2011 which allows him to wear the coveted tricolore collar on his chef coat).

 

Product-French Cheeses

French Cheesemonger Francois Robin

 

As Francois explained early on in our workshop, there is no bad type of cheese, there are just many varieties and you have to find YOUR cheese – that is, learn which types you prefer and which you don’t. Each variety has something different to offer, and even the same type of cheese can taste totally different depending on how long it has been aged.

 

A case in point are the two Brillat-Savarins which we tried in our workshop. First, we tasted a 6-week old Brillat-Savarin which had a butter-like texture and was very salty and slightly bitter on the sides of the tongue. About half an hour later, we tasted a 1-week old Brillat-Savarin which was totally different from its older brother – fresh and creamy with some sweetness which made it almost like a dessert.

 

Product-French Cheeses

Francois chose four very different French cheeses for us to try: a well-aged Comté (hard cheese), a 6-week old Brillat-Savarin (soft cheese), Goat’s cheese, and Roquefort (blue cheese)

 

Tasting cheese is all about using your senses (touch, smell, taste and sight) to ascertain its various qualities. Once you have looked at the cheese, just closing your eyes before you taste it can help you focus more intensely on the aromas, flavours and texture. As a general rule, hard and tangy cheeses should be tasted with the tip of the tongue while soft and blue cheese should pressed to the roof of the mouth.

 

We also experimented with pairing the cheeses with different ingredients to see how they enhanced or muted the flavour. We experimented with pomegranate syrup, honey, spice powders (zaatar, cumin and clove), sesame seeds and a variety of dried fruit and nuts. Experimenting with flavours will help you make great combinations of ingredients when pulling together a salad. Each of us came up with our own creations in the workshop. This was mine:

 

Product-French Cheeses

Le masterpiece!

 

So which French cheeses are the best to add into salads. Well, the answer really is whichever ones you like. Depending on the texture of the cheese, it can be cubed, grated, shaved or crumbled directly onto your salad. A gooey runny cheese can simply be cut into a wedge and placed on top or to the side of your salad to dip into once in a while. Cheese can also be incorporated into a salad dressing – have a go at making my easy and delicious Blue Cheese Dressing (warning: you will never buy bottled again).

 

A good cheese counter is a great place to taste different cheeses before deciding which ones to buy. According to Francois, some of the best places in Dubai to buy good French cheeses are Galeries Lafayette and Carrefour. Remember that good artisanal cheese can be expensive as it’s hand-made and often uses a lot of milk. You may be surprised to know that it takes 10 litres of milk to make 1 kilo of French Camembert de Normandie.

 

Also try and look out for the acronym AOC which stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. It means that the quality of these specific cheeses are a direct result of the geography, climate, flora and fauna of the specific area they were produced in. There are currently just over 40 cheeses which have been assigned AOC status. However, even if a cheese is not designated AOC it can still be very good.

 

Product-French Cheeses

 

My personal favourite French cheeses to add to salads include Beaufort, Brie de Meaux, Brillat-Savarin, Bûcheron, Chèvre (unripened), Comté and Roquefort.

 

To learn more about the different varieties of French cheeses available, the following book comes highly recommended on Amazon: French Cheeses – The Visual Guide to More Than 350 Cheeses from Every Region of France.

 

UK customers

 

US customers

 

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Jun 302015
 

Vegetable Canapes with Blue Cheese

 

Most people can be divided into those who have a sweet tooth and those who have a savoury tooth. While I enjoy sweet things in moderation, my strongest cravings are always for savoury food.

 

If I happen to have leftovers from dinner in the fridge, they become my quick savoury snack. But when I don’t have leftovers to fall back on, my go-to snack to satiate an attack of the savoury-tooth-monster is Vegetable Canapes with Blue Cheese.

 

Vegetable Canapes with Blue Cheese is a rather fancy name for a very simple snack. It just involves slicing some fresh cucumbers and tomatoes and adding drops of blue cheese on top. A scattering of blueberries or grapes is optional.

 

The vegetables and fruit on the plate are not simply there to be healthy. They actually play a role in enhancing the taste of the blue cheese, making the flavour resonate on the sides of your tongue even more (you’ll be familiar with that feeling if you have a savoury tooth like me).

 

There are no quantities for the ingredients. Simply assemble as much as will be eaten within an hour. These are so fast to put together that you can always make more very easily.

 

Vegetable Canapes with Blue Cheese make a delicious quick casual snack but they are also pretty enough to be used as part of a party table.

 

Vegetable Canapes with Blue Cheese

 

 

VEGETABLE CANAPES with BLUE CHEESE

 

 

Ingredients:

Cucumber, sliced

Cherry tomatoes, halved

Blue cheese, crumbled

Blueberries or grapes (optional)

 

Directions:

  1. Wash and dry your cucumber and tomatoes.
  2. Slice your cucumber into discs and arrange on a platter.
  3. Cut your cherry tomatoes in half and place them around the sliced cucumbers, cut-side up.
  4. Crumble your blue cheese and place a small amount on top of each cucumber slice and tomato half.
  5. Scatter with blueberries or grapes (optional).
  6. Serve immediately.

 

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