Cooking without cheese

I have a sneaking suspicion my 11-week-old is insensitive to milk protein (that she gets through breastfeeding), so I’m cutting out all dairy for two weeks to see if it makes a difference.  I’m pretty sad about giving up yogurt, but the biggest challenge is going to be cooking without cheese.  I cook a LOT of things with cheese.

cheese

Last night, I made a deep-dish taco pizza.  As I grated the cheese that would be sprinkled all over the top of the pizza, I kept reaching to pinch some shreds of cheese between my fingers and eat it.  It’s usually my reward for grating cheese because I HATE grating cheese.  But of course, I had to continually slap my hand and tell myself that cheese is currently off-limits.

I scattered the cheese all over half of the pizza, because only my husband would get to eat that part.  When the pizza came out of the oven he looked at it, perplexed, and said, “How can you eat a taco pizza without any cheese?”

I should have slapped him.

(Don’t worry, there isn’t actually any husband-slapping occurring in this house.)

So, one dinner down, 13 to go.  I will be scouring Pinterest and my recipe-books for dairy-free recipes, and I will be avoiding anything that involves cheese so I’m not being teased like I was last night.  Sorry, B, if I’m going cheese-free, so are you.

Any favorite dairy-free recipes you can recommend?

 

Broiling, take two: Not-so-stuffed potatoes

The plan tonight was to make Rachael Ray’s Stuffed Potatoes with Ham, Thyme, and Gruyere.  Part of the attraction–aside from the fact that it’s mostly comprised of potatoes and cheese, two of my favorite things–is that it involves the use of Gruyere (my Ingredient of the Week) and broiling (my current Two-Week Technique).  Gotta love two-for-one deals!

I should have known by the fact that the one and only shallot I’ve ever purchased was MOLDY, that nothing about tonight’s cooking would go as planned.  I placed my potatoes in the microwave, as the recipe instructed, and struggled to come to terms with the fact that my stuffed potatoes would be shallotless.  While the potatoes “cooked” (thought I cringe to think using a microwave is “cooking”), I sliced the ham and grated the Gruyere.

Per the recipe, I should have microwaved the potatoes for “12 minutes or until tender.”  At 12 minutes, they didn’t feel very tender at all.  I let them go another two minutes before I took them out and let them cool.

Then disaster struck.

When I tried to scoop out the potato innards, the skins peeled away like dead skin off a healed sunburn.  This was terrible!  How do you stuff potato skins without any potato skins?  But it was horrifically obvious to me that these “stuffed potatoes” weren’t going to happen.

This is what I was left with:  a bowl full of mashed potato, sliced ham, grated Gruyere, thyme, butter, and milk.  (I am, however, proud of myself for researching how much dried thyme equals a tablespoon of fresh thyme.  I’ve finally learned some discipline when it comes to making estimations!)  Anyway, I was hungry as a Milton Bradley hippo and plan B was a necessity.  What was plan B, you might ask?  A mountain of ham and potatoes, that’s what.

This was literally all I could come up with.  I threw everything on the baking sheet, stuck it under the broiler, and let it sit until the top was a little crispy.  Unfortunately, while the top was perfectly done, nothing underneath really heated up.  Had I let it sit under the broiler long enough to get hot, the top would have charred, leaving me with a volcano of potatoes instead of a mountain.  Dinner was a plate of lukewarm potatoes, nearly cold ham, and half-melted cheese.

It is with great regret that I report that this attempt at broiling was nowhere near as successful as the first.  My fingers are crossed in the hopes that my next try will be a trillion times better.  I might cross my toes, too, for good measure.

Broiling, Take One: Grilled Cheese

Today begins my first “Two-Week Technique” challenge.  Because of my recent disappointment with broiled chicken (my first ever experience with a broiler), I want to broil a variety of foods to get a better feel for the process.  I have three recipes lined up and I figured I’d start with the easiest and work my way up to (what I imagine will be) the most difficult.  First up?  Grilled cheese!

First, and most importantly, I did do my research.  I compiled a list of the important things there are to know about broiling:

  • To broil is “to cook food a measured distance below direct, dry heat” (Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 14th edition)
  • Use a ruler to measure the distance between the top of the food and the heating element; when cooking meat, the thinner the cut, the closer it should be to the heat source
  • Trim off excess fat to avoid flareups
  • Keep an eye on the food while it is cooking, as it can easily be overcooked if not watched carefully
  • Steer clear of oily marinades; for broiling, rubs are a better flavoring option
  • Meat should be at room temperature when you begin broiling

Until I found a recipe on Betty Crocker’s website for broiled grilled cheese, I didn’t know the broiler could be used to make something as simple as a cheese sandwich.  I tossed my superb grilled-cheese-making skills aside and put my broiler to the test.  First, I readied my bread and cheese while the broiler preheated.

The first hiccup I encountered was that the recipe didn’t specify whether to broil the sandwiches on “high” or “low.”  I did some quick reading online and found that many people used the low setting if they weren’t cooking a big slab of meat.  I decided to play it safe and broil the sandwiches on low.  I hardly took my eyes off of them, checking them about every ten seconds.  The recipe’s instructions were to broil them for two minutes on one side, flip them, and broil for one more minute.  I had to flip mine three different times over the course of five or six minutes.  Maybe low wasn’t the right call.  The good news is, they looked like your average grilled cheese!

Even though the broiled grilled cheese was successful, I don’t think I’ll do it again.  It gave the bread a different texture than what you’d get if you grilled them on a skillet.  But I had a good bonding moment with my broiler tonight and I’m excited for our next rendezvous:  Stuffed Potatoes with Ham, Thyme, and Gruyere!

Ooey Gooey Gruyere

I came to a stunning realization last night:  I am no longer a terrible cook.

That’s not to say I’m a “good” cook.  I feel I haven’t yet risen to that status.  But to say I suck at cooking would, at this point in time, be a pretty inaccurate statement.  Therefore, I feel I must start a new chapter of my culinary chronicles.  I have stumbled through some pretty ridiculous moments, but I’ve gained enough experience that I feel it’s time to get real about cooking.  Say hello to the two newest components of my blog:

Ingredient of the Week:  Each week, I will select one ingredient with which I have had no prior cooking experience, or that I am not familiar enough with to feel I could use it without a recipe to guide the way.

Two-Week Technique:  Every two weeks, I will select one cooking technique or method that is new or unfamiliar to me (or one that I’ve plain failed at in the past), and I will give myself two weeks to master it.  The goal will be to use the technique at least three times in a two-week period with recipes as a guide, and then to use it at least once on my own, without a recipe, to see if I’ve adequately learned the technique or method.

Having said that, this week’s Ingredient of the Week is Gruyere cheese.  I’ve been watching more of the Food Network lately and it seems like Gruyere is being used in all kinds of recipes.  Of course, I had never tasted the stuff (as obsessed as I am with cheese, it’s amazing how many cheeses I have never tried; it’s borderline ridiculous).  I went on a hunt this weekend and found some (holycowexpensive) Gruyere and used it last night when I made Giada De Laurentiis’s Baked Gruyere and Sausage Omelet.

As I grated the cheese, it was a given that I had to have a sample.  My one sample turned into two, and ten or eleven samples later I finally added the grated cheese to the whisked eggs and milk.  WOW, that stuff is GOOD!

As the omelet was baking, my parents stopped by for a few minutes.  When I took the dish out of the oven, my dad’s response was, “That looks really good!  You need to take a picture of it!”  Consider it done:

By the way, something random I learned that I should have known all along:  that stuff continues to cook after you take it out of the oven if whatever it’s in is still hot.  My mom explained this to me as I fretted over whether or not my toothpick test indicated that the omelet was too runny.  I let it sit for a few minutes and once I dished it up, the debate was over.  The eggs were the perfect consistency and the omelet was phenomenal.

Later this week, I’ll be making some Gruyere-and-ham stuffed potatoes cooked under the broiler.  Oh yeah, by the way:  my first Two-Week Technique is broiling.  Because, you know, the first time was kind of…meh.

Here’s to hoping I have more successful posts in the near future!

Pinterest-free week day three: Grilled cheddar & roast beef

You know how some children are held back a grade in school because they don’t quite meet the expectations of their grade level?  Well, that’s kind of how I felt when I made dinner tonight.  I reverted back to the kindergarten equivalency of cooking:  grilled cheese sandwiches.  Have I ever mentioned that I can make a MEAN grilled cheese sandwich?  My mom will attest to it.  She’s been known to make special requests for my grilled cheese sandwiches.

Part of my culinary journey is to continuously branch out and try new things, so tonight I shook up my usual grilled cheese recipe.  I used sharp cheddar cheese (oooooooo!) and sliced roast beef (ahhhhhhhh!).  Okay, so the people who can make beef Wellington, coq au vin, and souffles are yawning or wiping away tears of laughter.  But hey, it’s a rare opportunity to give myself just a smidgen of praise.

So the good news:  my fiance and I were both able to eat all of our dinner tonight.