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macaroni and cheese – with a slight twist

macaroni and cheeseI grew up on macaroni and cheese both in the homemade version and the boxed one. Both are comfort foods but it’s been years since I had the boxed one.  Every cook has their own version but is it possible to improve on a classic dish?  At first thought, no way, but after considering the additions I am about to share with you, you might think otherwise.  Continue Reading →

Smoked Cheddar Scones

applewood smoked cheddar sconesI don’t know about you, but there’s nothing mouth-watering about processed cheese. It lacks any kind of taste, looks artificial, and I doubt there’s any nutritional benefit once being processed. As a cheeselover, it pleases me to know there are cheesemakers in every province. According to the Canadian Dairy Commission, Quebec is the biggest producer of cheese, followed by Ontario.  Canadian cheesemakers produced more than 137.7 million kilograms (303 million pounds) and more than 1,050 types of cheese in 2011. Be still my cheese-beating heart! Continue Reading →

Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Ferments

grilled cheese sandwich with fermentsNothing takes me back more to my childhood than biting into a sandwich with a warm, gooey cheese center between crunchy slices of buttered toast.  As a young adult, in my first apartment, one of my favorite meals was a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of scotch broth.  Grilled cheese sandwiches these days are looking all grown up and designer-like.  I’ve seen them dressed up with prosciutto, tomato marmalade and cheese curds; artisanal sourdough with aged cheddar, Gruyère and roasted tomatoes; four cheeses with mushrooms and truffles; brie and fig jam and the ingredient list goes on.  A far cry from the quintessential American grilled cheese sandwich – white bread with processed cheese.  Americans consume more than two billion grilled cheese sandwiches a year. Continue Reading →

Cauliflower Breadsticks

cauliflower breadsticks by The Culinary ChaseI’m a big cauliflower fan but I wasn’t always…I didn’t dislike it I just wasn’t enamored with it.  As a kid and young adult cauliflower in my world was served with a cheese sauce.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the combination but I always felt that the cauliflower on its own was oh so bland.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I started experimenting with herbs and spices and realized that cooking techniques could really enhance its natural flavor.  One of my favorite and quick ways to serve cauliflower is to cut into smaller pieces (florets), toss with a splash of olive oil, sprinkle with ground cumin, salt and pepper and pop into the oven for 20 minutes.  Anyone I’ve served this to (sometimes right from the baking tray) say they loved it and never thought to use cumin (one of my all-time favorite spices).

A friend of ours is gluten intolerant and before meeting Russ I have to admit I was gluten-insensitive…it had never crossed my mind just what the term meant or the ramifications.  We eat bread, pasta, crackers, cookies without a worry.  I’m so new to this burgeoning gluten-free world that I am amazed as to what’s on the shelves for gluten-free products.  Baking gluten-free is one area I have yet to figure out…a few failed attempts and containers of rice flour, gluten free flour, almond flour sit awaiting the next attempt.   Cauliflower breadsticks was an easier task and I was hoping the mixture would hold together.  The result surprised me.  I will definitely make these again!

Makes 20 pieces
1 large cauliflower head (at least 6-inches wide), washed and cut into chunks
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup aged cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup Parmesan, grated
1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced
puttanesca or marinara sauce for dipping (optional but highly recommended!)

cauliflower breadstick ingredients by The Culinary Chase

      1. Preheat oven to 450f.
      2. Microwave cauliflower 5 minutes or until soft. Allow to cool. Place cauliflower in the middle of a clean tea towel and fold up sides. Over a sink, squeeze and twist tea towel to release cauliflower juices. Do this until little or no juice comes out. Wringing the cauliflower in the tea towel will break up the pieces. Place in a bowl and top with cheese, Italian herb seasoning, garlic – mix until combined. Do a taste test here and adjust seasonings. Add eggs and combine.
        cauliflower breadstick Collage
      3. On a parchment-lined baking tray place cauliflower mixture.  Form a rectangle and press the mixture to about 1/2-inch thick and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
      4. Sprinkle more cheese on top and bake until melted.  Remove, cut into serving pieces and serve.

cauliflower breadstick by The Culinary ChaseThe Culinary Chase’s Note: Experiment with other seasoning such as dried tarragon, thyme, cumin etc.  Enjoy!

Shrimp and Cheesy Grits

Shrimp & Cheesy Grits by The Culinary ChaseWhat are grits?  There doesn’t seem to be a standardization or labeling rules as to what grits are and are they the same as polenta or cornmeal?  If you look at Bob’s Red Mill bag of corn grits you’ll notice it says also known as polenta.  Grits are typically coarse-ground cornmeal. Polenta and grits fall under the heading of cornmeal – are you confused yet?  Cornmeal comes from steel ground dried corn (maize) and is available fine, medium or coarse grind.  The most common is fine ground.  Stone ground cornmeal, however, keeps some of the hull and germ, allowing for a bit more flavor and nutrition.  My take? When all else fails, select medium or coarse-ground cornmeal and you can’t go wrong.

Serves 4
inspired by Soul Patrol

Grits Topping –
2 cloves garlic, chopped
handful fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 to 2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons flour
6 strips bacon
16 shrimp
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped chives
chopped parsley, for garnish
balsamic vinegar reduction (optional)

Cheese Grits –
4 cups water
1 cup stone-ground grits
2 cups aged cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons butter

coarse-ground cornmeal by The Culinary Chase1. To make the grits bring water to a boil and slowly add grits, stir. Turn heat down to medium and cook, stirring occasionally 25 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat and add butter and cheese. Stir until combined. Cover.
2. In a large frying pan, cook bacon to desired liking.  Remove from pan and roughly chop.  In the same pan with bacon fat, sauté shrimp over medium-high heat until pink on both sides.  Remove from pan.
3. Add sun-dried tomatoes, celery and garlic. Sauté over medium heat 2 minutes or until celery is al dente. Add shrimp and bacon back to pan along with 2 tablespoons flour. Stir until flour is absorbed. Add 1 cup of chicken stock and stir until sauce is thickened (add more stock if too thick). Then add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice – add more if you like. Stir in chives and basil.
4. Place cheesy grits in 4 bowls and add shrimp mixture. Top with parsley, drizzle with balsamic vinegar reduction and serve immediately.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  While the gits are cooking, make the topping…you’ll have a meal ready for the table in half an hour.  Adding balsamic vinegar intensifies the flavors and you’ll be scraping the bowl clean!   Enjoy!

Lobster Macaroni and Cheese

Lobster Macaroni & CheeseIs it possible to improve the flavor of a family classic dish such as macaroni and cheese?   I didn’t think it was.  I’m a Martimer through and through and love seafood.  Boiled lobster dinners were a family tradition where I grew up…fresh lobster boiled, cut opened and gorgeous chunks of heavenly meat dunked in hot melted butter – bliss.  So simple and yet so incredibly indulgent.  The thing is, I’m not a big fan of lobster prepared other ways, it seems a sacrilege to do so.  I’m not usually so closed-minded about my food but there are some things that should remain traditional.  However, sometimes breaking with tradition once in a while is a good thing.   WOW!  That pretty much sums up how I felt after taking my first bite.

Serves 4
1 lb. penne (or favorite short tubed pasta)
2 to 3 cups whole milk, warmed up
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
4 cups Gruyère cheese, grated
2 cups extra-sharp cheddar, grated
1 1/2 lbs cooked lobster meat, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350f.

Add pasta to a large pot of boiling salted water and cook according to the directions. Drain well. In a large pot, melt butter and add the flour. Cook and stir using a whisk over medium heat for 2 minutes – watch and make sure the roux does not burn. While whisking, add 2 cups of milk and cook until thickened and smooth.  If the sauce is too thick, add more milk.  Remove from heat and add the grated cheeses.  Season with salt and pepper, if needed.   Add the cooked pasta and lobster and stir until combined. Place the mixture in individual gratin dishes, or one larger gratin dish. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and golden brown on the top.

lobster CollageThe Culinary Chase’s Note:  I like the sauce to be pourable and not too thick.  This way, when you combine the lobster meat and bake in the oven, the end result is a creamy consistency.  To save time, have your local fishmonger steam the lobster for you.  In grocery stores, this usually is a free service.  If you go this route, ask them to steam the lobster for 8 minutes for two pounds.  It will finish cooking in the oven and will come out moist and tender.  Enjoy!