Cucumber Goat Cheese Grilled Cheese

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Grilled cheese sandwiches are a guilty pleasure of mine. When I lived on Capitol Hill, if Mindy and I both happened to come home sometime after midnight on the same night, you’d probably catch us drowsily eating at our kitchen table together — quesadilla in Mindy’s hands, and a grilled cheese in mine. Sharing the frying pan and teddy bear spatula was always an option (the bear spatula is no longer manufactured, but this is my favorite spatula for flipping and cutting sandwiches).

Making grilled cheese sandwiches between midnight and 4 AM has its advantages: simplicity, extra butter, and no regrets. Making grilled cheese sandwiches at brunch also has its advantages: ability to use a knife without ending up in the ER, healthier choices, and sometimes, less cheese all over the kitchen counter.

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It’s no secret that goat cheese is hands-down my favorite cheese. This does not explain why I’ve never made a grilled cheese sandwich with goat cheese before.

Perhaps it was because I was raised on an upscale classic: sourdough bread instead of white bread, and sharp cheddar instead of American. Light margarine or butter on both sides of both slices of bread.

With that, you really can’t go wrong. But we try to be creative. This grilled cheese remix is a great option for a refreshing lunch on a hot summer day. And who doesn’t love the crunch of a fresh cucumber?

Lots of photos in this post today… I couldn’t stop clicking. Cucumbers are just so pretty.

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Cucumber Goat Cheese Grilled Cheese (makes two sandwiches)

2 slices of whole wheat sourdough bread (or 4 halved slices, if the boule is large)
1 small package plain goat cheese — leave this out for an hour or so to reach room temperature
2 Japanese cucumbers, in 1/8-inch slices
Olive oil

Heat a cast iron skillet (don’t have one? this is a great affordable option you will not regret) and over the stove — first at high heat to get the pan very hot, but then reduce the flame all the way to low. We like the slow-cooked grilled cheese sandwiches.

Using a pastry brush, lightly coat each side of each slice of bread. Spread a healthy layer of goat cheese on the bottom slice, and then arrange your cucumber slices on top of the goat cheese. Carefully place the first half of your sandwich on the skillet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if you like.

Then, spread a thin layer of goat cheese on the next slice. Place this slice on top of the first one, and let it sit on the stove for about five minutes — make sure your heat is LOW. Use a spatula to lift the bottom slice — if it’s nice and golden, go ahead and flip your sandwich. Let that side sit for four to five minutes. When the second side is just as golden, go ahead and remove the sandwich from the pan. Repeat for sandwich number two, and serve with remaining cucumber slices, if you haven’t been munching on them already.

Plum and Marscapone Flatbread, Caramelized Balsamic Glaze

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This might be my favorite set of photos yet.

A couple of weekends ago, Shaeda came over to spend an entire Sunday as my sous chef. The hands you see in these photos are hers. Aren’t they pretty?

I don’t think I can ever spend an entire day cooking without a sous chef ever again. Let me know if you’re interested, because an extra set of hands (and taste buds) in the kitchen really makes my life a lot easier.

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Well, there is only one day and a handful of hours left in this old house. The movers are coming Saturday morning (or so they say…) and I’ll be picking up in an older building in an older, gayer neighborhood.

In usual Sarah-fashion, this week has been unfairly busy. One of my clients sent me their data about a week late, which threw my entire freelance calendar off, which gave me an unexpected week of freedom in exchange for a looming week of hell. Hell was this week.

But as the week winds down, I’ve found solace in pandemonium — mostly thanks to my Thursday yoga “meeting” at the Department of Energy gym. There’s something incredibly soothing about reserving one hour a week to not think about a to-do list or an annual review or a muddled mess of clients. One hour. Just sixty minutes of soothing concentration — on holding a pose, building strength, and personal growth.

At the moment, my life is in boxes. Not everything, but a good chunk of it.

At the moment, there are twelve boxes. There will probably be fifteen by this time Friday night.

But hopefully, Saturday will go smoothly, and I’ll be able to reinstate food blogger Sundays… albeit, from a new home.

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Today, I’ll keep this short. I can’t deny exhaustion, but I just had to share this recipe and my favorite photos to date. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. Happy Friday!

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Plum and Marscapone Flatbread, Caramelized Balsamic Glaze, derived from Butter Me Up Brooklyn

Ingredients
1 package active yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup warm water (might need more)
1 teaspoon oil

2 ripe plums, sliced thinly (preferably with a mandolin)
4 to 6 oz. marscapone cheese
Cornmeal, for dusting the crust
Fresh basil, sliced

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar

 

Combine yeast, sugar, flour, salt, and water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Using the dough hook, knead on medium until the ingredients form an elastic, smooth dough. That should take about ten minutes. Once that happens, cover the dough in the olive oil, place a kitchen towel over the bowl, and let the dough sit for an hour or so.

Roll the dough out on a clean surface — I kept it to about 1/2 an inch thick. Dust with cornmeal.

Heat your oven’s broiler.

Using a spatula, spread the marscapone on the crust, covering as much as you can. Then, arranged the plum slices, and be careful to not put too much fruit in any particular area. Too much will make your flatbread soggy. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the plums in olive oil.

Broil the flatbread for about 8 minutes, until the crust is crisp. Then, crack the oven door, and switch the oven to bake at 350 degrees. Let the flatbread bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, and then remove the sheet from the oven.

In a small saucepan, combine the balsamic, honey, and sugar. Reduce over medium heat until syrupy.

Top the flatbread with sliced basil, and drizzle with the balsamic glaze.

English Muffins

I have a confession to make.

I am not a morning person.  Definitely.  Not.  Me.

Weird, right?  I know.  I used to think all bakers were morning people, too.  Sorry.  I was wrong.  I’m one of those girls that has to set an alarm at 6 AM to wake up sometime between 7:30 and 8.  I really do hit the snooze button that much.  It’s a problem.  How am I ever going to own a bakery? Continue reading “English Muffins”

Adventures in Breadmaking: Focaccia

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post.

To be honest, I haven’t done very much since then… I’ve been telling myself that the metabolism from running thirteen miles more two weeks ago would carry me through.  My leftover shin splints did not help with the laziness.  And my body definitely cannot handle this carbohydrate consumption for very long.

I guess I’ll start running this week, since eating and drinking have been the only real activities I’ve taken part in for the past two weeks.

I don’t have much to write about today.  I’ll let you enjoy this focaccia, while I desperately await a decisive spring.

WHAT YOU NEED:

2 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 1/4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse sea salt

WHAT TO DO:

In a medium mixing bowl, sift the flour, salt, yeast, and sugar.  Add the water and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  When the dough forms, transfer to your counter and sprinkle with flour.  Knead until smooth, coat with the remaining olive oil, and return to the mixing bowl.  Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise for thirty minutes.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

I made two types of focaccia: cherry tomato and rosemary, and caramelized onion.

For the rosemary-tomato bread, mix two tablespoons dried rosemary into the dough before you allow it to rise.  While the bread is rising, slice your cherry tomatoes in halves or thirds.

For the caramelized onion bread, take 2 or 3 medium sized onions, in thin slices.  Saute the onions in olive oil, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of a dry white wine.  After the onions begin to darken, lower the heat, and stir frequently, until the onions are dark brown — about 15 to 20 minutes.

When the bread has risen, stretch onto a greased baking sheet.  Allow to rise for another ten minutes or so.  For the tomato bread, press the tomatoes into the dough, and sprinkle with more rosemary, coarse sea salt, and olive oil.  For the onion bread, spread the caramelized onions, and drizzle with sea salt and olive oil.

Bake for 20 minutes, then let cool on a wire rack.  Slice with a pizza cutter, and serve warm.

Mana’eesh bi Zaa’tar

In college, I was in Lebanese Club.  No, I’m not Lebanese–or any form of Arab, for that matter.  My undergrad concentration involved Arabic, and some mutual friends sucked me into Lebanese Club, where I was adopted as the honorary half-Filipino member amidst my new Arab friends (don’t worry, I contributed my own personal ethnic confusions to a UCLA dissertation study on people who identify with cultures other than their own).
A friend of mine in college had a parallel obsession.  He explained it well, claiming that because his white people had no culture, he simply opted to adopt another.  I’d have to agree.  I, personally, identify as half-Filipino because I look Filipino–but I was raised in white “culture.”  This involved a number of fun and borrowed traditions, alongside a number of relatively boring European ones and other miscellaneous fascinations.  A example of a fun borrowed tradition would be my family’s love of oldies music–most of those artists are black.  A boring European tradition would be eating potatoes, like our Irish ancestors, as we discuss how much it sucked that Irish people had to live off of them for so long.  Sometimes potatoes are great, but “white” culture didn’t have a thing that swept me off my feet like the beautiful Arabic script or Islamic architecture.  And, Catholic school doesn’t teach you a single thing about the Middle East, aside from the fact that the Hebrews were God’s chosen people.  So needless to say, the moment I stepped off a plane in Dubai, I was smitten.
Anyway, I’m years removed from my beloved Lebanese Club of Santa Barbara, and I still remember the way they would swoon over mana’eesh, a flat bread from Lebanon that is baked with za’atar, an Arab mixture of herbs.  I’ve always wanted to walk down a road in Beirut and buy it right off the street, exactly in the way they described — someday, I will.  But for now, I just live out my imagination by making it from scratch and testing it’s authenticity on my friends here in Washington.  I’m pretty sure they’ll continue to adopt me into the Arab world, and I will love every minute of it.

WHAT YOU NEED:
Whole Wheat Flat Bread:
1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
2-1//4 cups warm water
1/8 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cups whole wheat flour
Za’atar:
1/2 cup ground sumac
4 tablespoons thyme
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 tablespoons marjoram
4 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
WHAT TO DO:
First, combine the yeast and the sugar with 1/4 cup of the warm water.  Stir until completely dissolved, and then let it sit in a large mixing bowl for about five minutes, until the solution becomes frothy.  Then stir in the remaining water.
Add in half of the flour and mix into a dough.  Then, add the salt and olive oil, begin to knead, and then knead in the rest of the flour.  The dough should be relatively soft, but it should also spring back when you poke it (kind of like memory foam).  Roll the dough into a ball, and cover in olive oil.  Place it back in the bowl, cover with saran wrap, and leave it in a warm place to rise for about two hours.
In the meantime, prepare the za’atar.  If your sesame seeds are raw, you will need to roast them — doing so releases the natural oils in the seeds that supply their strong flavor.  Heat your sesame seeds in a clean, ungreased, frying pan, on low heat, for about 5 minutes or until the seeds are golden in color.  Then, pulse-grind the sesame seeds in a food processor.  Combine the rest of the ingredients in the food processor.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  When the dough has finished rising, split it into smaller pieces, and roll to about 1/4 inch in thickness.  I used a pint glass to cut round circles of dough, which I then further rolled with a rolling pin down as thin as I could get them without tearing the dough.
Mix the za’atar blend with just enough olive oil to create a thick paste.  Then spread about a tablespoon of za’atar onto the small pizza dough we’ve just rolled out.  Bake in the oven for about 4-5 minutes.  Mana’eesh is traditionally soft, so avoid letting it crisp.
Would be great with some feta — they’re like mini Levantine pizzas.  I love them.