Camembert Mashed Potatoes

If you’re on the hunt for a new, exciting mashed potato recipe for Thanksgiving this year, look no further. Every bite of these mashed potatoes is infused with the special tang of Camembert cheese, and it’s a noticeable (yet mild) surprise for the taste buds. This recipe is unique because the Camembert (with its high fat content) adds all the creaminess that butter and cream would add – so all the mashers need is the cheese and a little milk and you’re set.

I just used a simple Camembert from the grocery store for this recipe, and while it turned out very well, I know a higher-quality cheese would have been even more amazing. A triple-cream cheese, such as Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, would be lovely, and a fresh chevre would add a lot of extra tang if your family is more on the adventurous side.

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Taleggio-Stuffed Mushrooms

I’ve got to admit it – I’m a total cheese snob. I blame my foodie parents – I got wedges of brie in my preschool lunchbox when the other kids got string cheese. My first winery job, at Vihuela in downtown Paso Robles, was fabulous because we shared a space with Vivant Fine Cheese – therefore, I lived on a strict diet of wine, cheese, and baguettes for almost a year (sorry, arteries!). I learned so much from Danika, from wine and cheese pairing to the particularities of making the perfect platter – what an education!

“More Taleggio? Do I need to stage an intervention?!” Yes, this is what Danika said to me when I was last in her shop. My mom and I have been obsessed with Taleggio lately! We usually just eat it on slices of baguette or on Triscuits, but this weekend I decided to get creative and tried it on stuffed mushrooms. If you like earthy, you will love this combo!

Taleggio is a soft, Italian, washed-rind cheese. A washed rind means just that – the cheese is periodically washed in a saltwater brine (or wine or beer!), which creates the ideal conditions for a red-colored bacteria to grow and impart a pungent smell and taste onto the cheese. Taleggio is nice and stinky, but has a surprisingly mild flavor. It is great on its own, and also makes a great gourmet grilled cheese. Visit your local cheese shop and try it – I think you’ll love it!

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Butternut Squash Bisque with Gruyere Croutons

As many of you know, I manage the tasting room/bistro Vihuela, which is located in downtown Paso Robles (see the Media page for a press clipping about it!). In addition to being a tasting room, cheese shop, and bistro, we are also the North County pick-up spot for the Cal Poly Organic Farm CSA program! We are lucky enough to be able to use their delicious produce to make some of our menu items…including the soups we have been offering all winter!

To be honest, I didn’t even think I liked butternut squash soup or bisque, but I started making it because I knew it would be well-received. The versions I had tried in the past were always too heavy and rich. After trying a few different things, I decided this way of making the bisque is my favorite – it’s surprisingly light and fresh, and I grew to love it. All of our customers raved about this dish, it definitely became our most popular soup! So warming for winter! Enjoy!

Baby Bella Soup with Parmesan Croutons

mushrooms

Storm’s a blowin’ in California – we’ve got inches of rain on the way and severe wind warnings here in San Luis Obispo County.  I don’t know much about Harvest, but I feel like the remaining grapes must be blowing off the vines…there are tree branches down everywhere and the power is on and off.  Our driveway is even littered with paint that has literally been blown/power-washed off the fence.  Yikes.

So what does a terribly rainy day remind you of, besides for dangerous driving conditions and possible flooding?  To be honest, I’m considering popping open a bottle of wine – why not?  If you are not so inclined….soup is absolutely the next best thing!  Luckily we have propane out here in the country and my stove still works, because this is a delicious recipe for a miserable day.

mushroom soup

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Authentic Swiss Fondue

fondue!

One of my very best friends in the world was born and spent his childhood in Bern, Switzerland.  Sergej is, by default, a master of many traditional Swiss recipes, one of which is this delicious fondue.  He recently came over one evening and taught me how to make it…and now, darling reader, you better be feeling pretty lucky that he has allowed me to share this!

This is a great party food – it’s pretty thrilling to gather around a pot of cheese with good friends and wine.  In fact, one of my best friends – hi, Andrea! – always got a big group together to go to Melting Pot for her birthday during college. Yummm.

So yeah, go ahead and make this really soon.  The only deterrent is probably the availability of a fondue pot, but I bet you can find a set on ebay or at a thrift store for cheap.  So worth it!

cheers to the chef

cheers to the chef

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Pesto Pasta with Peas and Ricotta Salata

Pesto pasta with peas and ricotta salata

I recently bought a bit of ricotta salata cheese at Di Raimondo’s Italian Market, a great local cheese shop located in Paso Robles, California.  Ricotta salata has the same basis as the ricotta you are probably thinking of – the delicious soft cheese that is used in lasagna – but ricotta salata is salted and aged, and it has a texture similar to feta.  Personally, ricotta salata doesn’t do anything for me on its own…BUT. In pastas and salads, it is amazing.  Inspired by this recipe from The Kitchn, I knew just what to do with it.

Pasta is something that can get very unhealthy, very easily.  In the past few years I have come to master the art of keeping pasta low-cal and healthy.

How to Keep Pasta Healthy:

1. What you get in a restaurant is not – I repeat not! – a normal serving size. Most pasta dishes probably should feed like six people.  A good tip for dining out is to eat half and get the rest to go.  This is better for the waistline and the bank account, because a large entree can make a couple more meals!  Yess.

2. When cooking pasta at home, a typical serving size is two ounces, which is more than it sounds like!  Pay attention to nutrition labels to make sure you aren’t overdoing it.

3. Add veggies! This is a very low-cal way to eat a lot more, bulk-wise, and it gets some healthy nutrients and fiber in there, too, so your body will thank you and you’ll stay fuller longer.

4. Fat isn’t bad if it is healthy fat.  A tablespoon of olive oil adds flavor, good-for-you fat, and (bonus!) fat helps you stay fuller, longer!  You can sautee garlic in olive oil, use it in pesto, add it to flavor tomato or other sauce, and even just have plain pasta and olive oil with a bit of Parmesan.  Yum!

5. Not all pasta is created equal. For a non-special occasions, I use Barilla Plus Pasta – it is made with legumes, egg whites, and whole grains, so it has more protein and fiber than regular pasta…so it’s not as carb-y and the taste isn’t much different.  I wish it came in a larger variety of shapes, but I’ll take what I can get.

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Grilled Gruyère-and-Zucchini Sandwiches with Homemade Pesto

zucchini_gruyere

Confession: I’m a vegetarian.  I eat eggs, cheese, chicken broth, and ahi tuna, but no actual meat (besides the raw tuna).  My family grills out a lot, especially in the summer, and sometimes I get sick of the old veggie burger routine (although I’ll never say no to a Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie Burger…so delish).  Tonight was one of those nights, so while the kids I nanny for were at swimming lessons, I looked up some good grilling recipes and found this gem.  Swiss Gruyere, Grilled Zucchini, Pesto, and an English muffin – sounded like perfection to me, and then I saw the wine pairing.  Robert Mondavi’s Fume Blanc!! My favorite wine!!  Just let me tell you, it was amazing, and so easy to throw together.  ENJOY!  You definitely will!!

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