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Volume 42 Issue 16 • Aug. 23-29, 2012
now in our 42th season
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Squeaky Cheese

by Chef Jenn Farmer

My close friend Noel and I were lamenting about old style drive in restaurants. We both miss going to them. They weren't just novel, the food was usually great. One of my largest guilty pleasures growing up was getting fried cheese at these drive-ins. I come from the Midwest United States
where cheese reigns supreme. I also grew up on my grandparent's dairy farm, so I am fond of the stuff. Cheese is an obsession with some, and a staple in nearly every household. Fried cheese curds are taken seriously, and in some restaurants you may order white or yellow fried cheese curds, or a
combination of the two.

My mother is obsessed with the squeak of a fresh cheese curd. For anyone who has not eaten fresh cheese curds, they taste a lot like any other cheese, but a little on the tangy side, and they squeak when chewed. I know it sounds odd, but it is a sign that the curd were made very recently. My mother claims she can tell you how fresh the little curds of salty goodness are based on the level of squeak and her expertise in the matter. It does not matter if they are the yellow or the white cheese, she knows. I can tell how fresh they are by her reaction of happiness or disapproval when she sneaks the first one out of the little plastic baggie in the car—the bag rarely makes it home unopened. In fact sometimes she goes so far as to microwave them for a few seconds (she has a secret magical number that she doesn't disclose) to regain a bit of the squeaky factor if the curds are getting a bit "old."

Maybe I should have warned my step-father about this food ritual that my mother performs. In fact I am sort of surprised I haven't received a phone call from him inquiring about my mother and her fascinating cheese curd behavior. As a matter of fact I am surprised I haven't gotten a call about her
smoked carp habit either, but that is a story for another day. I can't give her too much grief. We all have our little odd obsessions. Hers just happens to be cheese curds. The list of my little eccentricities is much longer. I have a fear of clowns, to name one, (ever wondered why I never write about the circus or rodeo food? Now you know why).

The following recipe is much like what is served in most drive in style restaurants in the Midwest. It is also a good recipe for day old cheese curds, when the squeak factor has diminished. Plus warm cheese is usually a real crowd pleaser, especially at parties. This recipe is a pretty small batch and
can be doubled, except the beer should only be increased to three quarters of a cup in that case.

FRIED CHEESE CURDS

  • About 2 quarts corn oil
  • One eighth cup whole milk
  • One cup all-purpose flour
  • One half a cup of beer
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound of cheese curds, broken up

Make a batter from the milk, flour, beer, salt and eggs. Whisk till velvety smooth. If the batter seems to be a bit thin, don't be surprised. Meanwhile heat the oil in a fryer or a deep heavy bottomed pan or skillet. The oil is ready for frying when it reaches375 degrees. Drop several curds into the batter at a time, and stir well to coat the pieces of cheese. Shake off excess batter, and carefully place into the hot oil. Deep fry the curds until they are golden brown, which takes 1 or 2 minutes. Place on a wire rack over a sheet pan or on paper towels to drain off excess oil. Serve while hot. They are often accompanied by ketchup or ranch dressing as dipping sauces.

Speaking of my mother, she has mentioned that she would like to see me continue to put a few healthier recipes in my column. Plus she wants recipes to utilize the produce in her garden. The following are a few that I think even my mother would approve of, if not I will be hearing all about it
soon.

PEACH AND TOMATO SALAD

  • 3 white peaches
  • 3 tomatoes (about the same size as the peaches)
  • 3 Basil leaves
  • One half of a lemon
  • Freshly Ground black pepper
  • Hazelnut oil

First remove the skin of the peaches and the tomatoes- this is most easily done by the following method. Cut a tiny x in the bottom of each fruit, and then pour boiling water over them, and allow them to sit for a few seconds before shocking them in cold water. The peels should be fairly easy to slip off the fruit. Thinly slice the fruit and arrange on serving plate or platter alternating the peaches and tomatoes in an attractive pattern. Sprinkle them with salt, then squeeze one lemon over the fruit and drizzle with oil. Gently chiffonade the basil leaves and scatter over the salad. , grind a little freshly cracked black pepper and drizzle with hazelnut oil. Serve immediately. Serves 4-6 people

WARM GREEN BEANS WITH POACHED EGG VINAIGRETTE

  • 1 pound of green beans washed and trimmed
  • 2 eggs
  • One tablespoon white vinegar
  • Half of a shallot, minced
  • One half tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
  • One half tablespoon pickle, finely chopped
  • One half tablespoon capers, finely chopped
  • Olive oil of good quality

Cook the green beans in lightly salted water, until they are bright green, and slightly crisp, shock in ice water and set aside. Simmer some water with the vinegar, and poach the eggs until they are just past the runny stage, and pull from the water. Crush the eggs with a fork and add the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil. When everything is well mixed, use the olive oil to help bind the egg mixture together, season with salt and pepper. Toss the green beans in the vinaigrette, and serve immediately. Serves 4

SAUTÉED BABY ZUCCHINI AND SHRIMP

  • 1 pound baby zucchini, washed and halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 to 3/4 quarters of a lb peeled & deveined raw shrimp (21/25 is a good size)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove sliced very thinly
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh thyme sprig

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. When the oil is hot, carefully cook the shrimp, pull out of the pan and set aside. Add a little more olive oil, and get the pan hot again. Add the zucchini cut side down, first, carefully. Season the zucchini with salt and pepper, and sauté for two or three minutes on each side. Add the garlic and thyme sprig, and allow them to cook for a couple more minutes, so the garlic is not raw, but not burnt. Toss the shrimp and baby zucchini together.

 

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