The Cabot Challenge: Strawberry Cheddar Cheese Cake

This round of the Cabot Challenge has me creating a dish to compete with recipes sent in by other bloggers.  Not expecting a fair fight because, you know, I generally use guesswork in the kitchen and hope I don’t seriously injure anyone who tries my creations.

The challenge was to create a dessert using cheddar cheese.  I was immediately reminded of a Married with Children episode where Al Bundy gets a cheddar cheesecake from some store that is going out of business.  As usual for poor old Al, everyone mocks the cheesecake mercilessly the entire episode, he keeps getting interrupted while trying to take a bite, and eventually Peg throws it out or something.  Pretty sure Cabot didn’t expect me to lead off this post with a reference to a 20 year old controversial sitcom, but it’s honestly why I decided to make what I did.

Anyway, since I had only previously seen cream cheese based cheese cakes, I did my usual online research and got started.  Here are the key ingredients (if you just want the recipe skip to the end, we like to be wordy on the ADB blog):

Brought the Greek yogurt home from a Vermont trip last week

First order of business was chopping up 12 of the strawberries and mixing them with a couple tablespoons of sugar to start them macerating.  I am hoping to make it through a second straight post of using the term “macerating” while exercising restraint and not making jokes about similar sounding words.

This was taken just before Kristi walked in on me macerating. I couldn't even make it past the second photo caption

While those rested, I crushed a package of cinnamon graham crackers to use as the crust for the cheesecake.

Before...

...after. I narrowly avoided exploding graham cracker crumbs all over my kitchen due to overzealous smashing

The crumbs were tossed with a couple tablespoons of melted butter and a little water then molded into the bottom of a 9″ loaf pan.

Love graham cracker crusts, they rarely disappoint

With that set, I beat together a softened stick of butter and a half cup of sugar.  Once thoroughly mixed, I added two eggs to form the base for the cheesecake batter.

Although the Kitchenaid mixer has proven invaluable for bread making, I prefer the hand mixer for stuff like this

In order to have the cheddar mixed in evenly throughout the cake, I cut about a third of the block of cheddar into slices and then very small cubes.

Went with the smooth sharp, thought the extra sharp variety could be a little too strong

The half cup of cheese went into the batter.

The cubes stuck together a bit. Also, a return of the awful shadows from my Philly apartment, not sure how they found me in Boston

After beating that heavily for a few minutes to break up the stuck together cubes, I added vanilla extract, about half of the macerated strawberries and juice, baking powder, flour, and milk.

This was looking and smelling pretty good. Was hoping to have a bit more pink color but that probably isn't possible with just fresh strawberries. Would need some of the frozen ones in syrup for that

Just before pouring into the loaf pan I stirred in some lemon juice.  It was kind of an afterthought; I should have used a little lemon zest instead but as usual was just doing whatever seemed easy.

At this point I really had no idea if this would work at all, but it looked edible in raw form

The loaf pan went into a preheated 350 degree oven.  I wasn’t sure how long it would take to cook through, but after the 45 minute mark I tested it every 10-15 minutes by sticking a knife in the center.

While that cooked, I put together a sauce for the cake using the remaining macerated strawberries, Cabot Greek yogurt, and honey.

I could have eaten this on its own

Stirred together then into the fridge to set for an hour.

I seriously might make this again for breakfast tomorrow

After 75 minutes, far longer than I expected, this fully cooked product came out of the oven.

Looked more like a loaf of bread, but I still had hope

After resting for a half hour and cooling down, it looked a lot more like regular cheesecake.

Totally random note: it reminded me of the Dannon yogurt loaves that were a summer lunch staple in the early nineties. No idea what happened to those or if they even existed outside of Bernardsville New Jersey, but the orange one was amazing

Once cut, the slices popped out easily and intact.

Looked a lot closer to cheese cake than cheesecake, hence the title. Wish there were more visible strawberry chunks

Served with a dollop of the yogurt sauce.

That's a nice lookin' dessert!

If you’ve read any other posts from me you will know I don’t always like what I make, but this was delicious.  The long cooking time gave the outside a doughnut-like crispness and the inside was moist, springy and not nearly as dense as regular cheesecake.  The cheddar cheese added dairy tartness and a flavor similar to a sour cream doughnut.  I’m feeling like a freaking idiot that the two best analogies I could come up with for texture and flavor are both doughnut related.  The yogurt sauce complimented it with a nice tart flavor.

Here’s my attempt at recipe writing:

Strawberry Cheddar Cheese Cake
1 stick butter (+2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup white sugar (+ 2 tablespoons)
2 eggs
1/2 cup cubed Cabot Smooth Sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup Cabot Plain Greek Yogurt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1 package of 8 cinnamon graham crackers
1 1/2 cup chopped fresh strawberries (about 12 medium sized
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. lightly grease a 9” loaf pan.

Crush graham crackers and mix well with two tablespoons of melted butter and a tablespoon of water.  Pour into the bottom of the loaf pan and press down to form an even layer.

Stir together the chopped strawberries and two tablespoons of sugar and allow to sit for 15-30 minutes.

Beat together the softened butter and sugar in a large bowl until fully mixed. Beat in the eggs, then the Cheddar cheese until the batter appears smooth.  Beat in half of the macerated strawberries, the juice from the strawberry bowl, and the teaspoon of vanilla.  Finally, mix in combined baking powder & flour, and milk separately alternating between the two bit by bit. Stir in one tablespoon of lemon juice just before pouring into the loaf pan.

Stir together remaining strawberries, one cup of the Greek yogurt and two tablespoons of honey.  Once well mixed, place in the refrigerator to set.

Bake for 75 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool, and serve in slices with a dollop of the yogurt sauce.

Enjoy!

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The Cabot Challenge: Chocolate and Cheese

Last week I noticed that one of the commenters on the Scotch Eggs post worked at Cabot in Vermont, which was exciting since Kristi and I are big fans of their products.  The Cabot horseradish cheddar is my fav thing and, with Kristi’s family in Middlebury, we can usually count on receiving a gigantic block of the Seriously Sharp Hunters Cheddar with our Christmas gifts.

Stole this from Google images. The giant block is the one I was talking about. It was like a cheese briefcase, but what's sad is how quickly we went through it

Anyhoo, I reached out to Jacquelyn at Cabot and ended up exchanging emails with her and her colleague Wendy last week.  While we were were emailing, the idea for “The Cabot Challenge” was hatched.  The idea is that Wendy talks with some of the folks that develop Cabot recipes and together they come up with a challenge to see if I can use their product in a specific way.  The first challenge from Wendy and co: make a dish that combines chocolate and cheese.

When I saw the challenge I was a little scared; chocolate and desserts aren’t exactly in my normal wheelhouse.  Although brother Tim bought me the Ween album Chocolate and Cheese when I was in college, it wasn’t going to be any help to me here (nor can I show the album cover, this is a family site for cripes sake).  But one of the goals of the Cabot Challenge idea was to force me to attempt new things.

After receiving the free item coupons that Wendy was nice enough to send to me, I headed to the grocery store and returned with this lineup:

Yep, went with the generic nutella. I figured if I didn't call myself out for that I could expect a fair amount of, "everything OK financially Pete? Let me know if you need a loan or something"

At this point I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but there are still two ingredients in this shot I didn’t end up using because I decided how to execute it on the fly.

Before the weekend I had planned on dipping cheddar slices in dark chocolate and making a sauce to drizzle over it, but it felt kind of boring.  One idea that kept coming up when I talked to people about the challenge was a chocolate grilled cheese.  This morning I finally came around to the idea; some sort of cross between a grilled cheese and a stuffed french toast that could be served as a desert.  I envisioned the filling being a mixture of sharp cheddar, dark chocolate, macerated raspberries, and a little nutella.

First step was rinsing and chopping a handful of raspberries and mixing them with a couple teaspoons of sugar.

When I say stuff like "macerated" it makes me feel like I know what I'm talking about, but you all can see through that and know I am just mixing fruit and sugar and letting it sit for a while

While those sat in the sugar, I broke the dark chocolate pieces up using a mallet so that they would be easier to melt when cooking.

The plastic bag is key, keeps chocolate shrapnel from flying all over the place

After the broken up pieces of chocolate went into the mixing bowl, I attempted a brunoise cut on the cheddar.  Again, trying to sound fancy and not just say, “I cut the cheddar into tiny cubes”.

Kristi was happy that I didn't need to use the whole block for the challenge

That headed into the mixing bowl as well.

My goal was to have about 1.5x as much cheddar as chocolate. Looks about right

At this point I checked on the raspberries and it looked like the sugar had done the work I hoped it would.

Now dats some maceratin'

Which headed into the bowl along with a spoonful of the (faux) nutella.

I considered the raspberries the key ingredient in making this work. Their tartness goes well in pairings with chocolate or cheese and would help cut the richness of the dish

Once I stirred this together and tasted it, it was missing some sweetness and was a little thick.  So, I decided to make it a bit more Vermont pride-y and added a little Vermont maple syrup.

I wanted to make sure I didn't hide the cheddar, that would be cheating the challenge, and as you can see in this shot it's definitely still a main ingredient

While that rested together for a few minutes, I cut the loaf of bread and made the batter that the mini sandwiches would be dipped in before cooking.

I was hoping for a loaf of Italian bread, but couldn't find any that looked good. This mini baguette's size was much more fitting for the final dish

One egg, whole milk (in this case 2% and a little half and half), vanilla extract, and a lot of cinnamon beaten together. Pretty much my go-to French toast batter. This one was a lot milkier than normal since I didn't want it too eggy

After cooking a quick test batch, I decided it needed a little more tartness to balance out the flavors, so I chopped a few more raspberries and added them to the mixture.  Once that settled, we were ready to go.

While melting a little butter in a nonstick pan I cut each piece of baguette most of the way through so they could be filled.

Each piece of bread held about one spoonful of filling

After pressing the sandwiches closed, I placed them in the batter for about 30 seconds on each side.

I love when I see the cinnamon cooked into the finish product

These went into the pan for 4-5 minutes on each side.  Much like a grilled cheese, I needed to keep the pan covered while cooking to make sure the cheese and chocolate melted completely.

They look more like mini grilled cheeses than french toast, right?

After a quick rest on a paper towel to remove any excess butter, you had this delicious looking tiny sandwich:

I was happy the filling didn't ooze out too much. Seeing a little bit of the cheese, chocolate and raspberries is a nice touch, though

I had one of them as-is, just ate it like a sandwich…

It might not look like it in this picture, but the inside was a completely melted delicious mess

…But, eating them with a scoop of vanilla iced cream and a few fresh raspberries really pushed it to another level of deliciousness.

I don't make pretty food, but this comes close. Can't wait to get back to Boston and be in a kitchen that doesn't look like it's lit with a 30 year old Eveready flashlight

The combination of flavors was pretty crazy.  The dark chocolate was bitter, but when mixed with the (faux) nutella there was a nice nutty chocolate flavor.  The raspberries contributed a tart fruity flavor, while the the cheddar added a creamy sharpness.  It was almost a slightly sour flavor, but in a good way.  Overall, I was very happy with how it came out and that both of the key ingredients of the challenge were primary flavors in the final product.  Kristi enjoyed it as well.

If Kristi had her way, every food item on earth would be served in a bowl

Thanks to Wendy and the Cabot team for the cheese and the creativity provoking challenge.  I’m hoping we can make this a somewhat regular feature on the blog and keep mixing things up a bit.

And Bendle (ADB blog villain #2), please keep your comments on two weeks in a row of posts about foods with gooey insides to yourself.

Iron Chef: Sausage (feat. Scotch Eggs)

This past Friday, my friends Marshall, Buschy, and Leonard made the trip to Philly so that we could attend game 5 of the Flyers vs. Sabres.  Buschy grew up in Buffalo and we have made multiple pilgrimages to the birthplace of the buffalo wing over the past few years.  I was excited to have them all in town to visit some of my favorite bars and food spots.

Between their arrival at 5PM on Friday and going to sleep way past my bedtime, we consumed wings from Tangier, miscellaneous hot dogs and pretzels at the game, an assortment of bar snacks at Bob and Barbaras, cheesesteaks from Pats and Genos, and far too many domestic beers.  Made for a pleasant morning.

This was some hostile territory. We kept our jackets on over our Sabres shirts every time we left the seats and only celebrated audibly for the Sabres' overtime goal that ended it. Calling Philly fans intimidating is the nicest thing ever said about them

In the AM while everyone was preparing to head back to their respective cities and families, Marshall and I made plans to cook food together at his house in New Jersey.  We settled on an Iron Chef format and, despite the bloated stomachs and intestinal distress from the previous 16 hours, Marshall chose sausage as the secret ingredient.  Not his finest decision but it definitely had the makings of an A DB blog entry.

On the drive up I settled on making Scotch eggs, something I had never done before and only had once in a restaurant.  Will give more details on those later.  Kristi decided on serving mini bruscetta with a mixture of sausage, apple, onion, and a little crumbled cheddar.  Brother Tim’s entry was a mystery, but I knew he would be gunning to big time everyone with something elaborate.  Marshall likely chose the ingredient so he could do something with the sausages we brought him from the Italian Market a few weeks ago.

Kristi started her entry first since we arrived at around 5 PM hungry for an appetizer.  She started out by carmelizing some onions in a hot sautee pan before adding sage flavored Jimmy Dean.

Kristi used to hide from this blog, but she's started to enjoy the opportunity to be creative with these competitions. She got mad at me for stirring this when I took the picture because she wanted to do it all on her own

After the sausage browned a bit, she added a few chopped green apples, a little salt, and let the mixture cook down.

Hated the sausage and sweet combination when I was younger, but its grown on me in recent years due to Vermont maple sausage and Sue Perine's apple and sausage quiche

Once fully cooked, Kristi plated them on thin pieces of baguette with a little crumble of sharp cheddar on top of each.

Cabot, 'course. The only time Kristi has ever bought cheddar that wasn't from Vermont was the infamous "$65 block of DiBruno Bros cheese" story. Not sure she will ever buy non-Vermont cheddar again

These were good, the apple added a touch of tart sweetness that cut the richness of the sausage and made for a good opener to our night.

Shortly after we finished the majority of that platter, Tim strode confidently into the house smelling faintly of hickory smoke and carrying a tin foil covered dish containing this:

They looked disgusting and smelled delicious. I knew that the elaborateness of my scotch eggs had been one upped. Freakin' jerk

Apparently, these things are nicknamed “dragon turds” or “armadillo eggs”.  I had never heard of them, but it consists of a jalapeno, stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped in spicy sausage, and cooked in a smoker.  Well then.

Tim arrived with these fully cooked but was nice enough to take a few pictures during the process.  He apparently visited a few Latin supermarkets Saturday morning and ended up with some fresh jalapenos, chorizo and Honduran sausage.  From there, he cored the jalapenos and stuffed with seasoned cream cheese.

The Honduran sausage is the lighter one. Overall this is a very appetizing picture, but for the obligatory Tim insult... sweet indoor composting bin and bamboo cutting boards you freakin' hippie!

From there, each jalapeno was wrapped completely with sausage and put into Tim’s smoker for an hour and a half over hickory and mesquite chips.

Not mixing the sausage meats was a good call since they had distinctly different flavors. Did I mention Tim is a jerk?

Back to Marshall’s house.  Tim reheated the fully cooked dragon turds in the oven and sliced them up for everyone to eat.  Really hate how unappetizing the previous sentence sounds because they were actually pretty good.

Looks like a horribly fattening sushi roll. Sounds right up my alley

Marshall called these one of the more delicious things he’d ever eaten, but like everything else served that night, we hit our limit very quickly.  After your 3rd or 4th slice, the flavors got to be almost too much, particularly for the ones wrapped in Honduran sausage.

The best ones were the chorizo since the hickory flavor didn’t make them overpoweringly smokey, the combined spice of the sausage and the peppers wasn’t too strong, and you could taste the sweetness of the pepper.  Overall, very cool food item to try for the first time.

Now, onto the Scotch eggs.  A Scotch egg is an egg wrapped in sausage and deep fried.  I had to do a little research in advance, primarily on how to hard boil the eggs to the texture I wanted.  Specifically, I wanted a hard boiled white that would stay together through peeling while keeping the yolk runny.  I ended up putting them into a pot of boiling water for exactly 8 minutes and completely cooling them in ice water before peeling.

So far, so good. The shell came off easily and you could tell by the lack of firmness that the egg hadn't cooked completely inside

I put the peeled eggs in the fridge for an hour to make sure they were completely cooled and wouldn’t cook through in the next stage.

After an hour watching the Blazers 4th quarter comeback, having some Shiner Bocks, and eating some cheese, it was time to start cooking.  I turned the heat on a pot of vegetable oil for frying and started wrapping each egg in sausage.

Went with Hatfield country sausage. My goal was to make these taste like an awesome breakfast sammich

The wrapping was easier than I thought it would be, which Tim concurred with from his dish.  I thought it would stick to my fingers more than the egg, but that wasn’t the case.

I learned a good tip online for how to test if oil is ready for frying since I never have a thermometer and always jump the gun.  If you throw a scrap of bread in and it turns brown in about a minute, its ready.  On the second test, it appeared our oil was ready so I started final prep.

I had this set up for about 20 minutes before the oil was ready

On the left is an egg beaten with some worcestershire sauce for binding and flavor; on the right is a bowl of plain breadcrumbs mixed with a good amount of salt and black pepper.  The sausage wrapped eggs were rolled in the beaten egg and covered completely in the breadcrumbs.

Kristi and I had a funny heated discussion regarding these photos on Sunday. I pointed out that they are rarely in focus and she pointed out that I move too quickly when she tries to take them. Food blog disagreements weren't covered in our Pre-Canaa class

Then into the fryer.

I always make sure I am at other people's houses when I deep fry due to the smell and disposing of the oil. It's amazing I still have friends

After five minutes of frying, I ended up with this:

These looked pretty much how I was hoping, knew a light golden brown fry wasn't going to be possible

I was extremely anxious at this point.  I had a plan in place to cut each egg in half and devil the yolks if they had cooked all the way through.  But when I cut into the eggs, it was a miracle.  A chubby person miracle.

Fully cooked sausage and egg white, slightly runny yolk

I was very, very happy with how these came out.  As Tim said, it was like a condensed version of breakfast.

Will need to make these again for a brunch sometime soon. Preferably a brunch hosted at someone else's house

The crunchiness of the sausage and breadcrumb coating was a nice texture contrast for the soft egg.  Plus, the salt and pepper from the outside was the right amount for the unseasoned egg.  Really good.

And with a few more lamb sausages that Marshall cooked, we were all sausaged out.  Luckily he paired that with salad and roasted cauliflower, two of the most welcomed dishes of the night.  After eating, we sat around stuffed watching hockey and playing with Marshall and Kim’s two week old daughter Cameron.  We also watched jealously as Marshall burped her and wished we could resolve our horrifying indigestion in the same manner.

This always looks funny to me, but you can't argue with effectiveness, and my man Mooman gets the burps OUT. Also, how cute is this kid?!?

And there you have it, very fun night and enough saturated fats to last a few lifetimes.  No idea what will be up next for this blog but will come up with something.