Cooking with the Ladies of the Ho-Ho-Kus Gourmet Club: A Cheese Tasting and Dinner

27 May

When my mom found out I was coming home from college a week earlier than I had originally planned, she asked if I would lead a cooking demo for her gourmet club.  Every month, a member of her gourmet club hosts a themed pot-luck at their house.  However, for her turn, my mom decided to have everyone over for a cooking demo by yours truly.

While planning the event, I realized that many of the dishes I wanted to make required advance preparation, so I was unsure of how to engage the guests.  After all, the budget did not cover TV magic-style cooking (so I could not show how to prepare a roast and then pull a finished one out of the oven immediately after putting in the raw one).  Therefore, I decided to take a different strategy: I would give the guests recipes and finish the dishes in front of them, but I would lead a cheese tasting first.  That way, I figured, I could teach some new and interesting ideas in flavors and pairings to the guests and then have them enjoy dinner without much of a wait.

The night turned out great.  The cheese tasting was a flight of my favorite cheeses, accompanied by some great beverage pairings.  The unique part, to me, was that I paired more cheeses with beers than wine.  For a crowd that usually goes for wine at gourmet club, I thought my beer pairings would be something new and interesting.  The tasting went as follows:

Nettle Meadow Kunik

Animal: Goat and Cow

Age: About 1 month

Origin: Nettle Meadow Farm, NY

Style: Bloomy rind

Pairing: Riesling, Red Newt Cellars, 2008

Lamb Chopper

Animal: Sheep

Age: 3 months

Origin: Holland for Cypress Grove, CA

Style: Firm, gouda style

PairingOld Guardian Ale, Stone Brewing Co., CA, Barley Wine style, ABV: 11.1%

Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Extra Aged

Animal: Cow, raw

Age: 12-18 months

Origin: Upland Cheese Co., Wisconsin

Style: Firm, alpine style

Pairing: Apricot Wheat Ale, Ithaca Brewing Co., Summer Wheat Ale, ABV: 4.9%

Stinking Bishop

Animal: Cow

Age: About 4 months

Origin: England

Style: Washed rind

Pairing: Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout, Samuel Smith’s Brewing Co., ABV: 5%

Old Chatham Ewe’s Blue

Animal: Sheep

Age: 6 months

Origin: Old Chatham Shepherding Co., NY

Style: Blue

Pairing: Cabernet Blend, Clos de los Siete, Argentina, 2007

Even though not everyone was instantly converted into beer drinkers, they appreciated the pairings and felt that each cheese and beverage went together very well.  The young, grassy Kunik with the light, clean Riesling was an easy pair, well received by all.  One of the most popular combinations was the Lamb Chopper cheese paired  with the Old Guardian ale, although many thought the beer a little too bitter.  Still, the sweetness in the cheese rounded out the bitterness from so many hops in the beer.  Everyone loved the Pleasant Ridge Reserve, especially with the Apricot Wheat Ale.  I think they really liked the fruity flavors: the cheese is sweet and caramel-like, and the beer is fruity on a light wheat background.

When we got a little more hard core, I wasn’t sure everyone would hang in there.  My favorite pairing, the Stinking Bishop with the Oatmeal Stout, was received skeptically by some but warmly by others.  In the end, most agreed that the two went well together but perhaps were too funky on their own.  The warm toastiness of the beer rounded out the footy pungency of the cheese.  Last but not least, the Old Chatham Ewe’s Blue was great with the  Cab blend.  I think that even though the blue was pretty assertive, everyone was glad to leave the Stinking Bishop.  I also think the wine was a welcome escape from so many beers.  Even if this pairing brought everyone back to their comfort zone, it was a good pairing to me.

As far as dinner went, I really wanted to serve local, sustainably raised food, wasting as few ingredients as possible.  I made a chilled asparagus soup, a roasted pork shoulder, corn and prune salad with lemongrass dressing, and a mesclun salad with cherry tomatoes, pickled cucumbers, and a pesto dressing.  Finally, for dessert, I made a nectarine-strawberry trifle with lemon thyme creme anglaise and ice wine.

I recently became a member of the Stone Barns Center in New York, which is a not for profit sustainable farm.  I’ve been inspired to make some great fresh and seasonal food, and I think my menu reflected that.  To enjoy some of the dishes I made, just recreate them using the recipes below!

Strawberry-Nectarine Trifle

Macerated fruit

Lemon cakes

Honey-lemon thyme crème anglaise, divided in two

2 T cornstarch

¼ c heavy cream

1/3 c sweet wine, such as ice wine

Lots of whipped cream

  • Combine the cream and cornstarch in a saucepan; add half of the crème anglaise
  • Whisking constantly, heat until the mixture thickens
  • Cool completely
  • Cut lemon cakes in half lengthwise
  • Place one cake layer in the bottom of a trifle bowl; sprinkle with some wine, and then drizzle a layer of the reserved crème anglaise over top
  • Evenly arrange a layer of fruit over the cake, and then top with a few dollops if the thickened crème anglaise.
  • Repeat with remaining components, ending with some fruit on top.
  • Top with whipped cream; enjoy.

Macerated Fruit

5 ripe nectarines, halved and sliced

1 qt strawberries, sliced

3 T granulated sugar

2 T sweet wine, such as ice wine

Combine above ingredients, refrigerate at least 1 hour

Lemon cakes (makes 2 8” square cakes)

1 c sugar

1 c butter

zest of 1 lemon

2 eggs, separated, plus 1 egg white

2 c flour

1 t baking powder

½ t salt

1 c half and half

½ t orange flower water or vanilla

  • Preheat oven to 350 and line two 8” cake pans with parchment, then grease
  • Cream butter and sugar with lemon zest
  • Beat in yolks
  • Combine dry ingredients, and then sift half over butter mixture and beat until homogenous
  • Add half and half and orange flower water and beat until smooth
  • Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until very foamy and white, but not to peaks
  • Fold the egg whites into the batter, and then fold in the rest of the dry ingredients.
  • Divide batter between cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes.
  • Cool completely

Crème Anglaise

6 egg yolks

2/3 c sugar

2 c half and half (1 c milk, 1 c heavy cream)

2/3 c honey

5 sprigs lemon thyme

Scald half and half with lemon thyme in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat

Let sit for at least 5 minutes; add honey and bring back to a simmer

Beat yolks with sugar until thick and pale yellow

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture; return to pan

Whisking or stirring constantly, cook the mixture until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Do not bring it to a simmer; you will curdle the egg yolks.

Pour the mixture into a bowl; let sit until cooled to room temp.

Strain into another container and refrigerate

Roasted Pork Shoulder

1 9 lb, bone-in pork shoulder

salt and pepper

10 sprigs lemon thyme

1 lemon

½ c local honey

  • Preheat oven to 325
  • Score pork shoulder through the skin and top layer of fat
  • Season with plenty of salt and pepper; place thyme sprigs in scored incisions
  • Squeeze half of the lemon over the shoulder; place in oven for 6 hours
  • Squeeze a little more lemon over the pork shoulder twice throughout the cooking process.
  • In the last ½ hour of cooking, pour honey over pork and allow to caramelize
  • Enjoy!

Corn and Prune Salad

5 ears corn

¾ c pitted prunes

3 bell peppers

3 T lemongrass, grated

  • Roast the corn with some olive oil and salt in a 350 degree oven until some parts are browned
  • Cool corn
  • Place the lemongrass and prunes in a small bowl and cover with boiling water; let sit about ½ hour
  • Finely chop bell pepper
  • Chop cooled prunes
  • Cut corn off ears and toss with prunes and peppers
  • Dress with lemongrass dressing

Lemongrass dressing

2 t Dijon mustard

2.5 T champagne vinegar

~5 T vegetable oil

½ t sugar

½ t salt

2.5 T lemongrass, grated

  • Whisk mustard and dressing
  • Gradually whisk in oil to emulsify
  • Season with salt and sugar
  • Whisk in lemongrass

Asparagus Soup

5 bunches asparagus

1 c  fromage blanc or crème fraiche

2-3 c milk, to desired consistency

1 T dried tarragon

2.5 T white miso paste

juice of ½ a lemon

salt to taste

½ t crushed red pepper flakes

  • Preheat the oven to 350
  • Cut off tough ends of asparagus, and cut asparagus into thirds
  • Roast the asparagus with olive oil and salt until tender and partially browned
  • Cool
  • Puree in batches with milk, fromage blanc, miso, and seasonings.
  • Strain and serve chilled.


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