Tag Archives: cheese

Behold the power of cheese!

Homemade American Cheese - recipe by America's Test Kitchen

I made cheese yesterday. Well, not from scratch exactly, but I did make cheese. American cheese. Good ol’ ooey gooey grilled cheese-style American cheese. I was compelled to do it when I saw an internet feed from America’s Test Kitchen promising to show me how to make homemade American cheese with no additives or preservatives (except for what may be in the block of Colby you start with). Seriously? For realz? Needless to say, I was in. All in.

The Complete Package and I love a melty grilled cheese sandwich. And since I started with a good quality all natural cheese, I’m feeling pretty content about making my own preservative-free cheese. I don’t know about you, but I find that exciting. Especially when homemade American cheese leads to homemade grilled cheese sandwiches toasted on a griddle with real butter. Excited yet? Well, I am. I’m practically drooling.

Here’s the rundown on what you’ll need:
One 2-cup mini-loaf pan lined with plastic wrap
Twelve (12) ounces of grated Colby cheese
Unflavored gelatin, combined with little water
Dry milk powder, salt & cream of tartar
Whole milk
A food processor & a rubber spatula
Approximately 20 minutes of your time

In a nutshell, you grate the Colby cheese on the ‘small hole’ side of your box grater and throw it in the food processor with the milk powder, salt & cream of tartar. You bloom the gelatin in a little water then add it to boiling milk, whisking until the gelatin dissolves. Then you start your food processor and slowly pour the milk/gelatin mixture into the cheese mixture, blending for at least one minute until the cheese mixture is smooth, creamy and a little glossy.

Grate it, blend it, mold it & fridge it. Easy peasy cheesy.

Then you simply scrape it into your prepared mini-loaf pan, pressing it to remove air bubbles and smoothing out the top. You then cover it tightly with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge to set up (for 3 hours up to overnight).

I don't want to freak you out, but you're destined for sandwich greatness, my friend.

That’s it. It couldn’t be easier. And it only took about 20 minutes from start to finish, including lining the pan, making the cheese and washing the dishes. I’m impressed. I tell ya’ – the folks at America’s Test Kitchen know what they’re doing. I’m just grateful they are willing to share their knowledge with the rest of us. For the link to the actual recipe, click here. Handy tip: have some bread & butter on hand because you’re going to want to make a grilled cheese sandwich as soon as this is ready. I like mine with a steamy mug of tomato soup. Mmmm…

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Vacation Photos, Part 2: Amsterdam Let’s just say it was…interesting.

Amsterdam - it's an extraordinarily unique city

Okay, so after 7 days in The Hague, The Complete Package and I jumped a train back to Amsterdam for a weekend of sightseeing. I was excited. I’ve seen photos of Amsterdam with its gorgeous architecture and its stunning canals and houseboats. I expected to love it. I mean really love it. Instead, I’d have to say I found it interesting. After some thought, I think a good example would be to compare it to Manhattan. If The Hague is comparable to the upper east side, then Amsterdam would be Times Square. It was crowded, vibrant, always open, and a little seedy. Where The Hague was peaceful, professional and dignified, Amsterdam was a party. And not just any party. It was more like a bachelor party in Las Vegas. It’s been many, many years since I’ve been exposed to that much beer and weed. Really. Like the early ’80s. When I wore layered Polo shirts and boat shoes and cut my hair to look like Lady Di. **nostalgic sigh**

Coffeeshops in Amsterdam don't sell coffee. Seriously. Did you know that?

We stayed in a hotel near Dam Square, which is probably why I’m comparing it to Times Square. It’s a large, open square surrounded by shopping, restaurants and bars crisscrossed by a myriad of trains, trams and buses and sprinkled with a gorgeous old church, a Madame Tussaud’s, a royal palace and this guy.

Neptune at Amsterdam's Dam Square - it's certainly one of a kind!

I think I experienced sensory overload standing in Dam Square. I’m not joking when I say we had a “coffee shop” right across from our hotel. For those who haven’t heard, a coffee shop in Amsterdam is a place to purchase and smoke marijuana. It’s not legal, mind you, it’s just tolerated. If you want that machiatto or latte, you’d better ask for a cafe. As for the weed, you don’t really need to buy it to enjoy it. I think I inhaled enough second-hand smoke around town to enjoy an unintentional two-day contact high. No wonder I was craving McDonald’s. Especially the fries. And pancakes. Oooo…Dutch pancakes are divine.

Amsterdam's canals and neighborhoods are lovely

Once you get away from Dam Square, you find peaceful neighborhoods with stunning canals, traditional architecture, street markets, quaint squares, gorgeous old churches and fabulous museums. We were lucky enough to be there just as the Winter Wonderland markets set up across town. We particularly enjoyed the one at Rembrandt Square. The food is the main draw (after the quaint holiday decorations). Our first experience was a mind-blowing waffle swimming in melted milk chocolate. Oh, my. Still brings tears to my eyes.

You're lucky we got a photo before we destroyed this thing

Waffles are a popular sweet treat here. And they cover them in everything known to man…chocolate, nuts, fruit, whipped cream, candy coatings…I could go on and on. I think we ate at least two over the weekend. Maybe more. There were so many awesome vendors. I’ll let the photos tell the story:

Waffles...oh, sweet waffles. You are so delicious!

Okay, this koffee shop actually sells coffee (with booze, no less)

Churros and popcorn being sold from a giant Santa stall

A typical sweet shop at the winter market (notice the olliebollen on the right?)

That's an 18" bratwurst on that grill. Just thought you should see it.

In addition to the winter wonderland markets, there were also great street markets in Amsterdam. From clothes to antiques to cheese and produce, you can find just about anything in a street market here. It’s a great shopping city. Here’s a peek at some of the market vendors we loved, and a look at Amsterdam’s famous flower market:

A woman on TV once said that good cheese "smells like the feet of angels". Ewww.

I can't identify some of these mushrooms, so I'll just call them delicious

There's something for everyone at Amsterdam's street markets

An example of a flower stall in Amsterdam's Bloemen Market

Amaryllis for sale at the flower market - gorgeous!

And now you know how to say DON'T TOUCH in five languages!

Cyclamen are beautiful in every country. These are stunning.

If there’s one thing in particular that Amsterdam is famous for, it has to be their canal system. It’s what keeps the city humming. Boats are everywhere, from sightseeing boats to delivery boats, houseboats to floating museums and bed-and-breakfasts. Water and controlling it are vital to Amsterdam’s existence. It also makes for some beautiful real estate (and vacation photos). Take a look:

Four main canals ring the city of Amsterdam.

A gridwork of bridges cross the canals to connect each ring.

A charming collection of houseboats line each canal.

And a handful of tour boat companies ferry visitors around the city.

And now, here’s a little collection of various photos I took from around Amsterdam. They don’t fit any specific category, but they’re still worth sharing.

I just can't get enough of this architectural style. So very charming.

A cheese cave? Holy crap! It's a cheese cave!

Our hotel room - a step down from the Hague Hilton, but that bed was comfy!

Walk these streets for long, and you'll call them hobblestones, too!

Yup. That's a public urinal, and men really use them.

Oude Church, Amsterdam - my winner for best organ pipes. Ever.

The Bulldog bills itself as Amsterdam's original coffeeshop. Coffeeshop = no coffee

I never thought the words "beautiful" & "train station" went together until now.

I would have loved to include photos from the Rijksmuseum (Dutch masters) and the Van Gogh museum, but they don’t allow any photos to be taken. I did get to see some great Van Goghs including some sunflowers, and I got to see a great collection of Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum, including The Nightwatchmen. That painting was HUGE, and it was awesome! I love art museums. Okay, kids. That’s it for Amsterdam. Thanks for reading along. Coming up next, my holiday dream trip to Germany (thank you, TCP, for making it come true). Stay tuned!

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Craving Breakfast for Dinner? Try Huevos Rancheros (Ranch Eggs)

Huevos Rancheros - A Breakfast for Dinner Favorite

This used to be our favorite “lazy weekend” breakfast – perfect for those mornings when you want to sleep late and read the paper in your pajamas and bunny slippers. Lately, however, it seems like we’re eating it more often for dinner than breakfast, which still works because it’s great any time. I just love everything about this dish. It’s simple, easy to make, and it satisfies my cravings for Mexican food and breakfast for dinner. It also brings together my favorite elements of a classic Mexican food binge – chips, salsa & cheese. If you haven’t tried Huevos Rancheros yet, it’s time. Here’s how I make it for two people:

One small bag of corn tortilla chips
Pam cooking spray
4 large or jumbo eggs
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup of grated colby jack cheese
2 Tablespoons of minced purple onion
1/2 cup of red salsa
3 Tablespoons of cilantro (optional)

Set out two plates. On each plate, arrange enough tortilla chips to cover half the plate as if you’re making nachos. If you want your chips to be more bite-sized, crunch them up a little before spreading them out. Spray a non-stick skillet with a little cooking spray and cook your eggs until the yolks are to your liking. I’ll be honest with you, this dish is best if you leave the yolks a little runny. Gently place 2 eggs on each plate on top of the bed of tortilla chips. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of grated cheese on each serving, top each with one tablespoon of minced onion, pour 1/4 cup of salsa across each serving, then top with the cilantro. Put each plate into the microwave for 30-60 seconds on high to warm everything up and melt the cheese. Serve immediately. I like to serve this with pan-fried potatoes with onions or leftover refried beans. Out of salsa? Try it with pico de gallo instead. Want it spicy? Toss a fresh, minced jalapeno on the top or give it a few shakes of Tabasco. For me, this dish has it all – crunchy, creamy, salty, and spicy. It’s just fantastic. Whether you serve it for breakfast or dinner, Huevos Rancheros is sure to warm you up.

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