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National Cheese Lovers’ Day

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It’s National Cheese Lovers’ Day, so here are a few of our family favourites featuring cheese!:

Cheese Fondue:

Smash a clove of garlic and rub the inside of your pot with it to infuse a lovely garlicky flavour to this dish.  (And by your pot, that can certainly mean simply a saucepan on low, a double boiler to keep the cheese from scorching, or an actual fondue pot.  It depends on what you have at home.  Of course, it’s best to have a fondue pot to be able to keep this warm and melted while everyone eats from it but it is possible to improvise if you have an individual burner or an electric skillet, warming tray, or griddle.  Also, in some cases it is better to prepare the fondue in a pot on the stove and then transfer it to the fondue pot.  It depends on the type of fondue pot you have.  I have an electric one which is quite capable of melting the cheese well enough but my mom had one when I was growing up that was heated strictly with a little votive candle.  Hers was far better at keeping it warm than it was at melting the cheese and preparing the fondue in the first place.  If you fix the fondue in a saucepan and then transfer it to a fondue pot, I like to rub both pots with the garlic.)   Melt one stick (1/2 cup) of butter and then stir in 1 T. cornstarch to make a roux.  Whisk in 1 cup of heavy cream and continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce thickens.  You can add 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper to add a little extra zing to the fondue.  Stir in the cheese until melted – it’s best to stir this in a zigzag fashion to help it melt and blend best.  Use 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and 4 1/2 cups Gruyere (you can grate it or cut it into small chunks).  Once the cheese is melted, use some beer or white wine to thin this down a bit to the desired texture.

Now for the dippers:  There are plenty of options for fondue dippers.  Here are some suggestions – cubes of crusty bread, hunks of sausage, pieces of vegetables like mini carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and Brussels sprouts (you may wish to blanch or steam these first or you can use them raw). mini new potatoes (steamed or roasted).  For an extra little touch, you can provide some “double dippers” as well.  That is, you take one of the above dippers, dip into the fondue, and then into one of these double dippers before eating:  chopped nuts, chopped dried fruits, herbs like Italian seasoning, basil, and rosemary, crumbs such as those from cornflakes, bread, crackers, dried pita or tortillas, pretzels.  You can also provide dipping sauces such as plum sauce, black bean sauce, or even making your own by combining a good quality mustard with cranberry sauce, applesauce, raspberry or apricot jam.

Ham and Swiss Lasagna  from Rachael Ray – this is delicious and is a great way to use up some leftover ham.  Instead of the artichoke hearts she calls for, I prefer to put chopped broccoli in it.  I think there are many vegetables that would work well here – again a great way to use up leftovers! 

Chicken Lasagna

This recipe never fails to impress.  My family adores it and whenever I serve it to guests or take it to a potluck, I always get asked for the recipe.  It freezes very well too.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter or margarine

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup flour

1 tsp. salt

2 cups milk

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups shredded mozzarella

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1 tsp. basil

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/4 tsp. pepper

8 oz. lasagna noodles (9-10 noodles)

2 cups creamy cottage cheese

2 cups cut up cooked chicken (another good way to use up leftovers)

2 pkgs. (10 oz. each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained very well

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Instructions:  Heat the butter in a saucepan over low heat until melted.  Add the garlic.  Stir in the flour and salt to make a roux.  Whisk in the milk and broth and heat to boiling while continuing to whisk until a smooth sauce.  Stir in the mozzarella, 1/2 cup Parmesan, the onion, basil, oregano, and pepper.  Continue to cook this over low heat, stirring often, until the cheese melts.  Spread 1/4 of this cheese sauce in an ungreased baking dish (9 by 13).  Top with 3-4 of the uncooked noodles (overlap the noodles if you need to).  Now spread on 1/2 of the cottage cheese over the noodles.  Repeat with another 1/4 of cheese sauce, 3-4 noodles, and the rest of the cottage cheese.  For the next layer, place on the cooked chicken, the spinach, 1/4 of the cheese sauce, and then the remaining noodles.  Top this all with the rest of the cheese sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan.  Bake this in a 350 degree F oven for 35-4o minutes until the noodles are cooked.  Allow this to stand for about 15 minutes before serving as this will allow it to hold its shape when you cut into it.

Pastitsio

This is a delicious Greek recipe.  We used to have an event in our city called Kavalkade – you bought a passport and then got to go around the city to various locations to experience foods, art, entertainment, and more from countries around the world.  That was where I first discovered this recipe and it has been a favourite ever since.  It’s kind of a Greek take on lasagna!

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (yes cinnamon…it’s part of what gives this its unique Greek taste)
1 lb. macaroni (or other similar pasta)
1/2 lb. (1 cup) butter
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk
3/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Instructions:
For the meat layer:  Melt 1/4 cup butter in a skillet and saute the onion in it until soft.  Add the ground beef, salt and pepper, and garlic.  Cook until the meat is browned.  Add the water and bring this to a boil.  Remove it from the heat and stir in the cinnamon.  Set this aside for now.
For pasta:  Cook the macaroni according to package directions.  Drain and rinse well. Stir this gently to keep the noodles from sticking.  Back in the same empty pot the macaroni had been cooked in, melt 1/4 cup of butter and return the macaroni to the pan.  Toss gently to coat the pasta with the butter. Stir in 2 egg whites. 
Cream sauce:  Melt the remaining butter.  Stir in the flour to make a roux.  Whisk in the milk and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens.  Stir in 1/2 cup of cheese and 4 egg yolks until well blended and the cheese has melted. 

Layer the casserole as follows:  First spray your baking pan (9 by 13) with Pam as this dish really likes to stick!  Put in half the pasta, then 1/2 the sauce, followed by all of the meat mixture, the rest of the pasta, and top it with the rest of the sauce.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese over the whole thing.  Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 45 minutes.  Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.  Variations:  The above recipe is the one I got from the Greek Canadian club at Kavalkade but apparently, as with many dishes, there are regional variations.  In some places, they add crushed canned tomatoes or spaghetti sauce to the casserole.  In others, they like to add more cheese to the dish – adding in a layer of shredded mozzarella in between each layer of noodles and sauce. 

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