Monday, July 23, 2012

Fried Feta Cheese with Fig and Brandy Jam—Opa!

Saganaki—it sounds to me like some kind of sushi, but it’s Greek. Meaning, “little frying pan,” saganaki refers to a number of Greek dishes that are cooked in just that. Among all different kinds, there’s shrimp saganaki and sausage saganaki, but the most popular—and it’s not hard to see why—is cheese saganaki. Oh yes, it’s fried cheese, and I’m not talking mozzarella sticks.

Cheese saganaki is a traditional Greek meze, or small plate. Similar to Spanish tapas or Italian cicchetti, meze can be served like appetizers before a big meal or with a table full of other meze to be shared with friends and family for a social eating experience that is entirely its own. Though I often dream of enjoying many meze on a cliff side of Santorini, my only experience with them so far has been making Zucchini Feta Fritters.


When making saganki, it is best to use a cast-iron pan and firm cheese (preferably Greek) so that it can stand up to the high heat of frying, while also yielding a slight melt. There are many fancy options that fit this description; halloumi and feta are two of the more easily accessible. Of course, I used feta. If you read Cook’s Book often, you may have noticed that I put feta on/in almost everything. I don’t even realize that I’m doing it.

After rinsing the cheese under some cold water and simply dredging it in some seasoned flour, there is some fun showmanship that goes along with making cheese saganaki. Many restaurants that serve it will often prepare it tableside, adding brandy and a squeeze of lemon at the end and shouting “Opa!” for a flambĂ© finale. Come on now, you know I had to do that. In addition to putting on a good show, the brandy and lemon also add nice background flavor.


I made a fig and brandy jam to dip the cheese in and it was an everliving nightmare, so I hope that you enjoy it. It took me three tries before I got it right. The first batch tasted awful, and the second batch was hard as a rock (overcooked). But, looking on the bright side it helped to make the final final result that much sweeter. Listen to me, I’m such an optimist. Bet no one in near proximity of my second batch fail would have thought that. On that note, don’t catch me when I’m in “chef mode.” You have been warned.

The jam really did come out good though. The fig and brandy flavor was a great compliment to the “Opa!” brandy added at the end of the saganaki, and was also a great contrast to the salty cheese and the lightly breaded fried coating. Bon AppĂ©tit! Or as they say in Greek, Kali Orexi!

Cheese Saganaki
Yield: 2 Servings
- 1, 8 ounce firm feta cheese block, split if necessary to ½” thick thickness, halved into 2 triangles
- All Purpose flour for dredging
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ounce brandy
- ½ lemon
1) Rinse the cheese under cold water and dredge in the flour to coat.
2) Add the olive oil to a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, and heat over medium-high heat. Add a sprinkle of flour into the oil to test that it is hot enough; it should start to sizzle. Add the cheese and sear on one side until nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip and sear other side.
3) Remove the skillet from the heat and add the brandy. Carefully ignite the brandy with a lighter (shouting, “Opa!” optional.) Squeeze the lemon over the cheese. Serve with Fig and Brandy Jam.

Fig and Brandy Jam
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Yield: about ½ cup
- 5 fresh figs (if black figs, peel the skin, leaving just a little for color)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- ½ teaspoon butter
- ½ teaspoon brandy
1) Mix all of the ingredients together in a small glass bowl or measuring cup. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes to allow the figs to macerate.
2) Add the mixture to a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until thickened and slightly reduced, about 6 minutes. Transfer the jam to small bowl or jar to cool. Tastes great served as a dip with firm cheeses, especially chunks of Parmigianno Reggiano.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Chorizo Mac and Cheese

It is as excessive, indulgent and downright delectable as it sounds. Finely chopped smoky, spicy chorizo sausage is cooked to render out the fat, which then serves as the base for a rich and gooey cheese sauce of melted Parmigiano Reggiano, Cheddar and provolone cheeses. The sauce cozily blankets perfectly cooked pasta, hiding the pleasant surprise of tasty chorizo bits inside. And what would a proper homemade macaroni and cheese be if it didn’t have a toasted, buttery breadcrumb topping? Please. This ain’t no blue box blues.


Nope, chorizo mac and cheese is clearly not for anyone who is on a diet, but it is for everyone who loves treating themselves to cheesy comfort food deliciousness once in a while. For a second I kind felt like I had to feel guilty about making it, but then I kind of didn’t at all. If making chorizo mac and cheese is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

Here is a guilty confession: for a second, while rendering all that chorizo, I had a quick vision of myself on an episode of Epic Meal Time, the YouTubers famous making and devouring creative meat-loaded recipes topped with bacon strips and bacon weaves, and rack up calories like you wouldn’t believe. Popping and sizzling, the chorizo smelled so good as it oozed all of its wonderful fatty goodness into the pan. And then I added butter, milk, cheese and pasta. It kind of made me want to make a video of myself shoving my face with it.


Chorizo Mac & Cheese
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Yield: about 10 servings
- 1 pound fusilli pasta (or other), cooked al dente
- 2 links chorizo sausage (6-7ounces), casings removed, finely chopped
- ¼ cup onion (about ½ medium onion), small dice
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus two tablespoons
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups milk
- ½ cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 cup shredded yellow cheddar
- 1 cup shredded provolone
- 1 teaspoon dry yellow mustard
- Nutmeg, salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup unseasoned breadcrumb
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2) Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring frequently, until the fat renders out. Add 6 tablespoons of butter and stir until melted. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.
3) Add the flour and cook, stirring continually, for about 1 minute. Add the milk. Bring to a boil, using a whisk to stir continually. Reduce to a simmer and cook, whisking, until thickened.
4) Reduce the heat to low. Add the cheeses and stir until smooth. Add the mustard along with the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste and cook for 1 minute.
5) Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce; toss to coat. Pour the pasta into a 7x11-inch baking dish.
6) Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the melted butter to the breadcrumb; mix well. Top the mac & cheese with the breadcrumb. Bake 10 minutes, or until the breadcrumb is toasted.