Archive for Cooking 101

What is the difference between varieties of blue cheese?

difference between blue cheese and gorgonzola

Well before we answer that question, we should first all be on the same page that blue cheese is not a cheese all by itself. It really is just a categorization of many cheese varieties that are best known for the blue streaks of mold in them.

Yes, it is mold. Yes, it is put there on purpose. Yes, a lot of people are completely repulsed by blue cheese but there are many more who love it. I have always heard that it is a taste that must be acquired. But if that is the case, how come I’ve witnessed a 3 year old devour blue cheese and love it! Man did she stink though! Whew!!

Is it Bleu Cheese or Blue Cheese?

Well, that depends on where the cheese is from. Bleu is French for blue so if the blue cheese you are referring to is from France, I’d write it Bleu. But that’s also kind of dumb. If it is going to be written bleu, it should be called ‘fromage bleu’ instead of bleu cheese. Why mix two languages….but I digress onto my “I love the French language and get sick of how people mess it up so badly” soapbox. Excuse moi, s’il vous plait.

Bottom line, if you live in America, you should probably just play it safe and write it as ‘blue cheese’.

What is the difference between varieties of blue cheese?

In general, all blue cheeses are made from either cow, sheep or goat’s milk and have a mold added to them. The mold can be added at different times of the production process (i.e., before or after curds are formed) and can be many different varieties of mold. The most common are versions of the mold Penicillium from the local region where the cheese is made.

After that, each variety of blue cheese varies on the time it ages, type of milk used (cow, milk, goat), specifications for the variety and many other details in the process.

Gorgonzola versus Roquefort versus Stilton

The first and foremost difference between each of these is where they are made. All of these are protected to only be called Gorgonzola, Roquefort or Stilton based on being made in an specific region. It is really no different than sparkling wine made in Champagne being the only sparkling wine called Champagne or sweet onions grown in Vidalia, Georgia being the only sweet onions called Vidalia.

Gorgonzola cheese is produced in a small area of Northern Italy and is made from either cow’s milk or goat’s milk. Penicillium glaucum is what is added to the cheese.

Roquefort cheese is made in a small area of Southern France from sheep’s milk with penicillium roqueforte added during processing.

Stilton cheese is produced in a small area of England

Maytag Blue Cheese is produced in the US, Iowa to be exact. It is made by Maytag Dairies and thus gets its name from the folks who invented their version (instead of a region of the US). It is made from cow’s milk.

Cabrales cheese is a blue cheese made in Spain.

Danish Blue is made where? That’s right.

Irish Cashel – you get the point yet?

There are many other varieties of blue cheese, too many to list here.

How do you choose a mild blue cheese or a strong blue cheese?

In general, the younger the cheese, the more mild it will be. The younger cheeses are also creamier. The older cheeses are stronger and more crumbly.

According to my local cheese expert, Danish Blue and Gorgonzola are considered more on the mild side for a blue cheese and Roquefort and Maytag are generally on the strong end of the spectrum.

In McNack’s first Mystery Basket Challenge, we had an American made blue cheese from Point Reyes in the basket. Another great choice, if you like blue cheese!

As for me, I’m still trying to acquire that taste. But remember, don’t go overboard eating blue cheese at a cocktail party. If you do, bring some breath mints!!!

Tip Tuesday: How to grow tomatoes in your urban garden

It’s the first day of April!! Time to plant your urban garden if you live just about anywhere in the US other than Alaska, the Dakotas and Minnesota.

So, with planting will come awesome fresh tomatoes that have that distinctive grown in the garden taste you can’t get at a grocery store.

salt tomatoes in advance

For Tip Tuesday we are giving you:

How to grow tomatoes in your urban garden

This is not easy since tomatoes are amazing but it is hard to get fantastic tomatoes year round.

  1. When you plant them in your garden, bury them higher than the root ball is at the store. Maybe 6 or more inches up the plant. You’ll be rewarded with a very sturdy base.
  2. Although many like organic and no chemicals, in the South I find it hard to keep the bugs off without something. If you’ve got tips, let us know!!
  3. Throughout the growing season, you will need to pinch off ‘suckers’. This is where a branch of the tomatoes is growing and makes a Y at the base of the vine but then another branch tries to grow out of the middle of the Y. This is a sucker and will not let your vine be strong or your fruit grow big. Pinch those off.
  4. Use a cage or something to help support the vines as they grow. We plant ours in the front of our house so we use sticks to do it instead. It looks like a garden from Williamsburg and is very pretty.
  5. When it is time to eat your tomatoes, don’t put them in the fridge. They taste better if they don’t see the cold.
  6. Remember to always slice tomatoes with a serrated knife
  7. Salt them up to an hour before you are going to eat them. You’ll love the enhanced flavor!!
  8. Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy some fried green tomatoes too!!

what to do with fried green tomatoes

For more great tips, visit: http://mcnackskitchen.com/kitchen-basics/tips-and-tricks/

Humane way to kill a lobster

Have you ever wondered how to kill a lobster before you cook it? Should you kill it before you cook a lobster or should you just boil it? Is there even such a thing as a humane way to kill a lobster?

Well, we think there is a humane way. But the best part of this little how to video is watching someone who completely freaks out at the sight of a lobster and the smell of seafood take part in this little act. We think this is an absolutely hilariously funny video on the humane way to kill a lobster. We hope you think so too. If you do, share it!!

Now, before you watch this video, please no comments about how we are cruel people for killing one of God’s creatures. If you are a vegan or a member of PETA, you need not watch this or make us feel guilty for enjoying eating meat.

So, without further ado, here is how to kill a lobster…humanely!!

For more great videos, go here!

We also cover :

  • How long do you steam a lobster
  • What should you put in the water when you steam or boil a lobster
  • How to take apart a lobster

How to cut basil into strips

It’s Tuesday Tip Day!! We decided that it’s important to bring back on a weekly basis some of the most important tips that we have given you over the past year…just to make sure you don’t forget them!! 

This week’s tip is about how to cut basil into strips. There is nothing like fresh basil, and this is the perfect time of year for it! Well…once the cold weather stops, it will be the perfect time of year!!!

This technique applies for basil, mint and other leafy herbs. It can also be used to ‘shred’ leafy green vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, swiss chard. The technique to a classically trained chef is a Chiffonade. But, unless you like crossword puzzles, who cares.

How to cut basil into strips:

1. Wash the basil and pat dry

2. Take the basil by the stems and stack each leaf neatly on top of each other from largest leaf on the bottom to smallest on top.
Chopping Basil
2. Roll the stack. For basil and other soft stemmed greens, roll in either direction you prefer. For greens with a tougher stem you want to remove, roll from tip to stem and just cut the stem out.

3. Slice the basil into thin strips otherwise known as a chiffonade.

Chiffonade of Basil
How to Chop Basil

4. If needed for your recipe, you can turn the chiffonade side ways and cut a few more times to be more of a dice, but generally a chiffonade will do.

Important Tips:

Basil will bruise easily upon cutting so don’t cut too far in advance of use or it will look almost black. Drizzling the leaves with a little olive oil before cutting will help but the biggest help is using this technique and a very sharp knife.

A week of meals from your well stocked kitchen

I normally go to the store and do my big grocery shopping on Sundays. I hit Costco when needed (about every other week) and supplement with small trips to the store throughout the week.

Last week was so incredibly busy, my schedule was all out of whack. I did a Costco run AND the grocery store on Friday. I wasn’t buying anything really special, it was more of a “replenishing” trip. On Sunday morning, I didn’t need to go to the store. I was looking in my pantry, fridge and freezers for ideas of what to make this week. Then it hit me. Melissa and I have always stressed the importance of having a well stocked pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Let’s see how “well stocked” my kitchen really is! My goal is to see if I can pull off a week of breakfasts, lunches and dinners for a family of 4 WITHOUT going to the store until Friday.

NOTE: I will go to the store to get 2 items if we run out. 1) Fresh fruit. Since it’s healthy, I will make as many trips to the store as I need to in order to keep it in the house. 2) Coffee (and splenda and milk). It really is best for everyone that I continue to have my perfect pot of coffee in the morning and this NOT be part of my experiment. Anyone who really knows me will agree. I promise.

Now remember, I went to the store this past Friday, which was before I knew that I was going to do this little experiment. Everything I put together this week will truly be from what I already have on hand. In the spirit of full disclosure, here’s how the meals work in our house. 

My husband has oatmeal in the morning and I make  breakfast for my two children. I usually have a bar of some sort. However, I did notice that we are just about out of those, so regarding breakfast for me, I need to come up with something different.

I pack a lunch for both kids, everyday. No…they don’t always eat the same things. That would make life easy. My husband eats at work. I either eat something at the house, meet a friend for lunch, or skip it all together. 

99% of the time, I have a hot meal on the table for dinner that I have prepared. It will always contain at least a protein and a vegetable (and in our house, salad is considered a vegetable). 

FIRST NIGHT (SUNDAY):

As I was trying to figure out what to cook for dinner, I noticed I had 4 onions sitting in my produce basket, some chicken breasts in the freezer, and fresh corn on the cob and broccoli. I got it! Since the weather was actually nice, I decided to grill some chicken breasts with some of our favorite rubs. I cooked some corn and steamed the broccoli. Knowing the temperatures were going to dip into frigid temperatures in the next 24-48 hours, I took the onions and made French Onion Soup! So delicious! (Recipe for the Onion Soup to come). My guess is that the French Onion Soup will be my lunch for the next couple of days. 

First night: Success!

I love this idea, Denise, regardless of how different the two of us are. That’s what I love. I go to the warehouse store (Costco) and the grocery store (Publix) a minimum of 10 times each week combined…and I don’t see that changing. I so wish I could be that gal that planned the week out and made one trip. – Melissa

Baking Soda Puts Out Kitchen Fires

One of the dishes I was going to make for Bourbonfest was a Mixed Green Salad with Bourbon Vinaigrette. Whenever I make a recipe I have never tried before, I follow it as is and don’t deviate. I sautéed the shallots in a bit of olive oil, then I poured in the bourbon, AS INSTRUCTED. Before I knew it, POOF! I had a huge flame in my pan. I took the pan off the flame and waited for the flame to go down. I waited, and waited. I sprinkled a bit of water on it and the flame went down…then it went back up. Since I really didn’t want to burn the house down, I remembered one of the basics of cooking…baking soda puts out kitchen fires! Since I keep it in arms reach of the stove, I was able to keep an eye on the flame while I reached in the cabinet and dumped it in the pan. Fire be gone!

How to out a kitchen fire

When I told Melissa about it, she couldn’t believe I didn’t know better than to take the pan off the stove before pouring pure alcohol into it. In my defense, I told her the recipe never said to. Then I reminded her that my little mistake (although potentially deadly) was not as bad as her not knowing that there is really is a difference between a dry measuring cup and a liquid measuring cup! I mean…liquid measuring cups even have a spout!!!

Lessons learned from this little mishap:

1. Keep your baking soda in arms reach of the stove. You never know when you’re going to need it!

2. When we are writing recipes, we need to make sure we continue to add little steps like “take the pan off the flame before pouring in bourbon so you don’t burn down the house!”

3. Although I’ve done pretty well in the kitchen over the past 15 years, I still have a lot to learn!

Thanks for throwing me under the bus Denise. Appreciate that. I thought we had agreed not to air the dirty laundry (ie my stupidity) that I use liquid measuring cups to measure dry ingredients all the time. So maybe I put too little or too much dry ingredients in my recipes, so what. At least I am not an insurance risk!! -Melissa

Please! You hardly ever make a kitchen mistake or have a food disaster. I was just glad that I finally knew something that you didn’t!!! -Denise

 

Thanksgiving Week – Tips to Prepare for Family and Guests

Preparing for Thanksgiving Week

Thanksgiving week will be here before we know it and it’s time to start preparing! This week we will bring you lots of ideas of what you can make to ensure you put out a great meal. We will also throw in some of our own Thanksgiving kitchen disasters. Well…I don’t know if Melissa has had any but I know I have had my share.

Here’s a little background of how I came to make Thanksgiving dinner. About 15 years ago, I decided I wanted to try to make the holiday meal for the first time. I was living in California at the time and didn’t have a clue of what to do. My sister just happened to be coming out for a visit about a month earlier and she actually taught me how to make the entire meal with all of our favorites. Since then, I have changed the sides up a bit, but never the staples. I’m a creature of habit!

Tips to prepare for family and guests staying in your home?

The holidays often come with overnight guests which can be an added stress, but it doesn’t have to send you over the top. Here are some great ideas of how to make it through the week with flying colors so you have as much fun as your guests!

*Get your house in order before everyone comes. Clean your house and have fresh towels and sheets on the bed at least a day before your guests arrive. Make sure you have enough paper products on hand (napkins, toilet paper, paper towels, etc.) and don’t forget plenty of trash bags as you’ll use more than you think.  Keep your showers stocked with soap, shampoo and conditioner.  Put out some board games or a jigsaw puzzle to help occupy guests when you are busy.

* Stock up on beverages. Load up on milk for the kids (and coffee) and bottled water. Since it’s the holidays, you will want to take a look at your liquor cabinet to see if you need to replenish any of the favorites! Beer and wine should also be aplenty! Since it’s cold, people will drink more red than white wine. Also, don’t forget the mixes and the fruit (lemons and limes) for the liquor.

* Arrival times. If you have to pick people up from the airport, make sure you check to ensure the plane is on time. If you have to make multiple trips, keep a list of when your guests are arriving with their flight information so you don’t get confused or leave someone stranded. You should also add to that list when guests who are driving will be at your house so you won’t leave them locked out!

* Make a list of all of the meals people will be eating at your house.  It’s easy to overlook all of the “other” meals when you are busy planning for a big holiday meal. However, these are the meals that can really stress you out.

Breakfast can very easy. Just have bagels, cereal, or cinnamon rolls and biscuits that are ready to pop in the oven! Bacon is easier to make for a crowd than sausage, so if you want to serve a breakfast meat, opt for the bacon! Scrambled eggs are also cheap and feed a lot of people. If you want to make things even easier, make some coffee cake before everyone comes to town and have some fresh fruit ready to pull out of the refrigerator.

Lunches can be a little more challenging, but they don’t have to be. Have some sandwich ingredients and chips on hand and let people make their own when they want it. If you’ve got little ones coming, throw in some hot dogs, applesauce and cheese sticks. Also , there is nothing wrong with leftovers!

Remember this: guests who are staying with you are more than happy to pitch in and help, you just have to ask! I have even “allowed” guests to bring dishes to Thanksgiving dinner and I will tell you…it makes it pretty easy!!!

If you want more detailed tips of entertaining, visit the entertaining section of our website.

Links to our Thanksgiving Week Posts:

Turkey

Starchy Sides

Fruits and Vegetables

Breakfast

Desserts