I recently was invited to sample a cheese box from The Dairy Girl, Rachel, who offers a monthly cheese box subscription with lots of flexibility. Now, I’m not the biggest cheese eater but I do appreciate it, and this appreciation most likely increased since I’ve been with Blai as he loves it. He loves cheese and this opportunity to try new cheeses was not one to turn down. I’ve also been tempted to try one of these monthly box schemes (I’ve been sitting on the fence as to whether to try Birchbox).

Rachel travels the country visiting producers and discovering cheeses that she introduces to customers via her boxes. You can tailor the boxes to your preferences – different scales are available when it comes to blues, sheeps, hardnesses, strengths, vegetarian, etc. Of all that was available to me, I chose ‘Blue cheese – Not convinced, introduce me gently.’. I’ve never tasted a blue cheese I enjoyed; forgive me but I think they taste of mould and feet (which, of course, is exactly what makes it blue – the mould I mean, not the feet).

The courier delivery arrived on the day agreed. Nestled inside the box were these four cheeses as well as ice packs to keep them cool. Four cheeses – four generously sized cheeses that were going to last us almost two weeks.

Cheese from The Dairy Girl

We had plans the night we got the cheeses so they first went in the fridge until the next day, when we made the cheeses the main focus of our dinner, accompanied with bread, crackers, hams, dried fruit, nuts, a salad. What helped us that night were the cheese cards that accompanied the box – each cheese card describes the cheese, where it’s made, what it’s made, suggestions on how to serve it and what to drink with it. Very helpful!

Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, made by Graham Kirkham in Lower Beesly Farm in Lancashire, was that crumbly rich cheese that goes well with strong pickles. A classic.

Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire

My nemesis showed up as a Badentoy Blue, made at Devenick Dairy in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It’s a mild blue cheese so perfect for nervous losers like me!

Badentoy Blue

See that little square below? OK, so this turned out to be my least favourite but that’s the square I managed to consume without gagging. To the cheese’s credit, Blai (a blue cheese lover) declared it delicious and he ate most of it!

Badentoy Blue

What I really liked about the box I received was that while there was clearly a focus on UK producers, there was also a sampling of what’s best from the continent. A Délice des Crémiers from Burgundy, France was an amazing triple cream cheese that stumped us at first. When cold, straight out of the fridge, the cheese has the texture of … cold butter. And eating it cold made it melt like … cold butter.

Delice des Cremiers

The trick is to have it have room temperature when it oozes and is beautifully creamy. Do make sure to take it out of the fridge early!

Delice des Cremiers

Finally, there was the Rachel (this is the same name as the founder of The Dairy Girl – coincidence?), a washed rind goats cheese made by Roger Longman and Peter Humphries at Whitelake Cheese in Somerset.

Rachel

This was our favourite of that box – it’s a very versatile cheese that’s good for both eating and cooking and had a mild, nutty, goaty flavour.

Rachel

We actually worked it into a salad that night too.

A Rachel and Flat Peach Salad

For two people, cut up one or two large little gem lettuces, slice a flat peach and toss in some chunks of Rachel cheese. Extras that really work here (we tested it out the next day again) are dried cherries or cranberries and something quite crunchy like toasted seeds or croutons. Dress with only extra virgin olive oil and good balsamic vinegar. I think we almost cried when we used up all the Rachel.

Now, the cost. A box like this one (4 cheeses, about 900g in total) costs £24.95 + delivery. 3 cheese and 5 cheese boxes are also available. I think it’s a little more than you’d buy elsewhere but then I appreciate the fact that it comes to my door and that it’s a surprise every month (or so, like I said, you can tailor how often you’d like a box). And then Rachel also chooses cheeses to your preferences and provides lots of information on each one. All in all, I think it’s an excellent box.

Thank you very much to The Dairy Girl for the cheese box! Rachel has kindly provided readers of Tamarind and Thyme with a discount that will give you £10 off any monthly box (that’s a good deal!). The code (‘T&TCHEESE‘) can only be used once per address and must be used by 9 August 2014.

The weather’s cooled again, there’s the Olympics to watch on the telly – it’s the perfect time to make perogies! If you’re not familiar with these eastern European dumplings, you’re in for a treat. These boiled dumplings are usually stuffed with potato, sauerkraut, meat, cheese, mushrooms or even fruit for a sweet version. Sometimes they’re even fried after they’ve been boiled.

Perogies

I grew up with them in Canada – it was immigrants who brought it over the Atlantic. Bags of frozen ones are easily found in most supermarkets and they are cooked up easily and they’re what I remember eating at home as a treat. (I’ve read that they’re also popular in the States though I’m not sure how available they are.) The most popular filling in Canada (and Poland) is potato and cheese. While fresh white cheese would be used in Poland (and what’s found in the frozen sections of Polish shops here), in Canada cheddar is the cheese of choice. I had to make them at home, I missed them so (don’t get me started on the bags of frozen hash browns you cannot get here in London).

Perogies

Of course, these far surpassed any of the frozen ones we used to get. I made a filling of potato, cheddar cheese and fried onions and tried a perogy dough recipe I found online. After boiling them, I tossed them with fried onions and bacon, just as my mother used to serve them (and apparently the way they also serve them in Poland). Homemade is the way to go!

Potato and Cheddar Perogies
adapted from this Canadian Living recipe.
makes about 40-45.

For the dough
3 cups (750ml) plain flour
1.5 tsp salt
1 egg
175 ml water
4 tsp sunflower oil

For the filling
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
100g mature yellow cheddar
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 medium onion, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the topping
100g lardons
2 medium-large onions, sliced
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sunflower oil

To make the dough, mix together all the dough ingredients and then knead the mixture until smooth. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

For the filling, first boil the potatoes as you would to make mash. While the potatoes are boiling, heat the oil and butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat and fry the chopped onion until they’re just starting to turn golden. Set aside. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and mash them and let them cool. When cool, mix in the onions and grated cheddar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To form the perogies, roll out a portion of dough thinly (less than 2mm thick) and cut out 3 inch rounds. On each round, place a teaspoon of filling, moisten the edges with a dab of water and fold in half, pressing the edges together to seal. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling. Don’t stack the perogies at this stage but place them in a single layer on a tea towel without their touching each other.

Perogies, Ready for Cooking

Create the topping. Heat the butter and sunflower oil together in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until golden. Add the lardons and continue cooking until the lardons are browning as are the onions. Set aside and keep warm.

Set a large pot of water to the boil. When the water is boiling, place about 6-8 perogies into the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the perogies float. Drain with a slotted spoon and mix them with the topping. Repeat until all the perogies are cooked and all are mixed together with the onions and bacon. (You can also fry the boiled perogies together with the onion and bacon.) Serve, with some sour cream/crème fraîche on the side if desired.

The uncooked perogies can be frozen (individually, so they don’t stick to each other) and cooked from frozen later.

A stratum is a layer of sedimentary rock and strata is the plural of it. A strata is also this dish made of layers of bread and eggs – it’s pretty easy to see where its name must have originated. With a few hot dog buns leftover and some kale in the fridge drawer to use up, I set about putting together a strata for our dinner.

Kale and Cheese Strata

But wait! Before you read to this point and think, oooooh, I’ve got to have that for dinner, well, stop right there. This recipe requires the strata to rest for at least 8 hours in the refrigerator so a bit of preplanning is required. This was for our dinner the following day. The rest in the fridge allows the bread to soak up all the egg and milk poured overtop. All that’s needed on the day of eating is to take the dish out of the fridge, preheat your oven and then pop it in and let it bake. Simples.

A Portion of Kale and Cheese Strata

The result was this golden puffy delight – all crusty on top and tender underneath. Think of it as a savoury bread pudding that’s very adaptable: I can picture lots of other vegetables and cheeses that would work here and can even imagine a bit of chopped ham or crumbled cooked sausage in the layers. We had it for dinner, with some charcuterie on the side, because I wanted to try the recipe midweek but it would also be perfect as part of an easy breakfast or brunch.

Kale and Cheese Strata
adapted from a recipe at smitten kitchen.
serves 3-4.

1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cups/large handfuls of chopped kale
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3 cups/large handfuls of cubed bread
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano (or Parmigiano Reggiano)
3/4 cup grated/chopped gruyere
4 eggs
300ml milk
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Throw in the chopped onion and fry until softened.

Set a pot of water boiling and boil the chopped kale until softened. Drain and squeeze out as much water as you can. (Another way to do this is to add the kale to the onion, pour in a little water and slap a lid on the pan – the kale will steam in there but it might take a while, as I learned.) Mix together with the cooked onion. Season with a little salt, pepper and the grated nutmeg.

Mix together the cheeses and set aside.

Take a small-medium baking dish and layer your ingredients in it: bread, kale/onion, cheese, bread, kale/onion, cheese, bread, kale/onion, cheese. In a bowl, beat together the eggs, mustard and milk and season with salt and pepper. Pour evenly over the layers in the baking dish. Cover the dish with cling film and place in the fridge for at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.

When you’re ready to eat it, take the dish out of the fridge and uncover it. Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius. When the oven is hot, place the dish into the centre and bake for approximately 40-45 minutes or however long it takes for your strata to be golden brown on top, hot all the way through (I slipped a knife into the middle and then tested how hot the knife tip was) and puffing up gently.

Remove from the oven and serve.

I like a good fritter; if it’s fried, there’s a good chance that I will like it. However, at home, I’d much rather shallow fry then deep fry, now that I’m especially conscious that food blogging is not generally conducive to a slim figure. And if the fried stuff can increase my veggie intake too, then all the better.

Courgette and Cheese Fritters

I bought a couple of giant courgettes at the local market one weekend and was looking to use them as a main ingredient for a light supper for the two of us. Fritters it was going to be, especially after I found this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, one that is used at his latest restaurant Nopi. His were spiced but I decided to leave mine more plain. The two courgettes served the two of us for two meals, giving me a chance to perfect their frying – a medium high frying temperature results in fritters with crisp outsides.

These make a nice brunch or light supper for two when paired with bacon and some salad, or as part of a larger meal for four. Feel free to switch the cheese around – the original recipe used manouri but I imagine that a nice feta would work too – or even leave the cheese out. I served them with a Greek yogurt with salt and piment d’Espelette but they’re also good with a chilli sauce.

Courgette Fritters with Bacon

Courgette and Cheese Fritters
adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe.
serves 2.

1 large courgette (or two small-medium ones)
1 shallot, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 heaped tbsps plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
about 40-50g Grana Padano, roughly chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsps olive oil

Grate the courgette into a large bowl, sprinkle with salt, toss to mix and then leave for about 10 minutes.

After the time has elapsed, grab handfuls of the grated courgette and squeeze over a sink to remove as much water as possible. To the now significantly drier grated courgette, add the diced shallot, crushed garlic, flour, baking powder and egg and stir well to combine. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and add the cheese and stir again to mix through.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat, pour in the olive oil and heat until the oil is slightly shimmering. Place heaped tablespoons of the courgette mixture into the hot pan, flattening them to about 1 cm thickness with the back of the spoon. You should be able to get 3-4 fritters in your pan (assuming it’s a 10 inch frying pan) comfortably. Flip when the bottoms are golden brown and continue frying on the other side. Drain on kitchen paper when fully cooked. Continue frying the rest of the mixture – you shouldn’t need to add any more oil.

This should make about 8 fritters in total.

A big hello to readers who found this blog via Charmaine Mok‘s article on food blogging in the April issue of Delicious magazine! Welcome – feel free to look around and say hi! Just a little addendum to the article: my surname is not Ong – this is an error. And now back to the previously scheduled blog post…

Did the groundhog get it wrong this year? I thought we were supposedly heading into spring with all this sunshine but the temperatures dipped this week and now I’m confused. To combat the chilliness last weekend, I took the opportunity to finally make a dish I’d had on my list for ages – and it’s a particularly wintery one.

Tartiflette

The dish of tartiflette hails from the region of Savoie in France (in the Alps: it’s no wonder they come up with rib sticking dishes) and its main ingredients are potatoes, cheese, bacon and onion. They’re a classic combination (certainly used here in the past) but to me, it’s the way the cheese is simply laid on top of the hot potatoes, its soft insides melting all over and forming a cheesy sauce that makes tartiflette quite special. As you can imagine, it’s a particularly rich dish that demands a salad on the side, dressed with a sharp mustardy vinaigrette.

A Serving

Judging from all the sneezing I’ve been doing while I was typing this up, I think this winter warmer is still quite suitable for this weather.

Tartiflette
adapted from Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook.
serves 2-3.

approximately 700g waxy potatoes
200g smoked lardons
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup white wine (I used some leftover cava)
1 clove garlic
1/2 a Reblochon cheese
3 tbsps creme fraiche
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel your potatoes and slice them all thinly. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the fats and then saute the onion until soft and translucent. Add in the lardons and continue cooking for a few minutes. Finally, add the potatoes and saute, stirring often for about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine, slap on a cover and let steam and cook until the potatoes are almost fully cooked (you’ll want to stir them from time to time).

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 240 Celsius. Lightly crush your garlic clove and use it to rub the inside of a gratin dish (big enough to fit everything! Adjust your ingredients if required for its size).

When the potatoes are tender, turn off the heat and stir through the creme fraiche. Season with plenty of black pepper and some salt (taste your lardons for saltiness).

Pour the potato mixture into your prepared gratin dish. Slice your half a Reblochon into half (as shown in the photo below) and arrange the cheese rind side up on top of the mixture.

Before Baking

Place the dish into the oven (I suggest placing it on a lined baking sheet to catch any drippings). Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 200 Celsius and continue baking for 15 minutes. At the end of this time, turn off the oven and leave the tartiflette in for 10 minutes.

Serve while hot, with lots of salad on the side! Make sure everyone gets a good helping of the toasted Reblochon rind in their serving.

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