Formaggio Kitchen Cheese/Cider Tasting

A few weeks ago, Noah and I went to a Formaggio Kitchen class. Formaggio Kitchen is a luxury food store (specialty in cheese) in the area, and they offer cheese tasting classes that often include wine pairings/tastings or other special ad-ons. The classes fill up fast, and Noah and I had to reserve our class months in advance! We signed up for a cheese tasting class done in partnership with Bantam Cider – a local ciderhouse that focuses on making fresh, all-natural ciders.

After looking forward to the class for weeks, Noah and I were excited to make our way to Formaggio’s class location (separate location from their store). When we sat down, we looked over the tasting menu for the evening and preemptively nibbled on some bread:

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The first cheese was a clothbound cheddar (from Cabot in Vermont!), and it came paired with Bantam’s classic cider – Wunderkind.

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After round one, we received a plate with the next four types of cheese: a grand cru, comte, chabichou, and charmoix (pictured below, clockwise from the top).

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Each of the cheeses came from a particular fromager that the buyers from Formaggio Kitchen have a relationship with. It was fun to hear the stories about the buyers building relationships with different farms, producers, and fromagers.

Each cheese was paired with a different cider, and the various tastes were supposed to complement and enhance one another. In order, the ciders were Rojo (aged with sour cherries and black peppercorns), Hopped Scrumpy (added hops towards the end of the fermentation period), Blackberry Sour (tart blackberries give it a sour/fruity taste), and Wild One (a funky cider that is open-fermented with wild yeasts, also a bit sour).

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Michelle da Silva, one of the founders of Bantam, was also at the class, and she provided lots of information about the cider-making process as well as the specifics of each cider. The evening was fun and informative, although I think I am not a sophisticated enough cheese eater or cider drinker to have fully appreciated the benefit of the pairings. I’m definitely glad we went and it was a fun date (the sort of thing that would be an ideal gift for a cheese/cider/wine fan), but it was a bit pricey and I don’t anticipate going to another class. We were, however, inspired to make a trip to the Formaggio Kitchen store recently where we bought some fresh mozzarella for Noah to try on his pizza masterpieces.

To close, I’ll share a pro-tip I learned about cheese eating…for the serious cheese eaters who want to take in the full flavor profile of their cheese, it is best to eat cheese on its own – not with bread or crackers. Since the bread has yeast, it can absorb/distort some of the cheese tastes, so the purists prefer eating cheese solo. BUT, for all of you who want to keep your crackers and bread, no judgement here. I like the bread too. 🙂

Day Trip to Stillwater

Stillwater is a relatively small town near the St. Croix river along the eastern edge of Minnesota. It’s only about a 40 minute drive from the Twin Cities, and I have long been eager to go for an afternoon and explore the town. My impression was that Stillwater had lots of cute restaurants, shops, and antiques, and I loved the idea of spending an afternoon in a scenic, little, Minnesota town.

When we pulled into Stillwater in the early afternoon, we saw that lots of people had a similar idea to us and the main street had a bit of traffic!

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After parking, we immediately walked down by the St. Croix river to check out the elevated water level:

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Stillwater has A LOT of hills. There are several historic staircases around the town that serve as a way to get up and down as well as a great sightseeing opportunity.

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Going up was quite exhausting, but the views were definitely worth it!

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After all the activity, it was time for a break…

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…and a trip to Nelson’s Ice Cream.

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Nelson’s is a Stillwater classic with lines out the door and a gajillion flavors to choose from. The flavor selection is impressive, to say the least, but the real madness of Nelson’s is the size of their scoops.

This is a child’s size:

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Yes, that is real life. I ordered monster cookie and zanzibar (dark chocolate) and Noah ordered java chip and cookies ‘n cream.

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Needless to say, we did not finish our child size cups. NOT EVEN CLOSE!

After the ice cream insanity, we were in need of some activity so we got out our bikes and went for a short ride:

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We started our ride on a protected path near a lake within a residential area of town. The lake path didn’t go too far (maybe only 10 minutes of riding), so we ventured out along the roads for a bit before backtracking to our starting spot and then heading to main street again for some window shopping.

Highlights of mainstreet were Tremblay’s Sweet Shop:

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And Stillwater Olive Oil Company:

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While we were walking around, Noah spotted a place called The Wedge & Wheel.

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The Wedge & Wheel is a specialty cheese shop. Rather than simply providing a wide selection of gourmet cheese, however, they also offer sit down service with custom designed cheese plates, simple dishes, and a large wine menu. Noah is a cheese fan. Or, should I say, CHEESE FAN. Read: has a lot of affection for cheese. Thus, it would have been pretty sad to leave Stillwater without visiting this store.

We waited until right before we were ready to head home and then stopped by The Wedge & Wheel for an early dinner. As soon as we walked in, we were  immediately impressed by the cheese case and then shown to our table and given a menu to peruse.

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The menu was brief but included an American cheese board, European cheese board, cheesemonger’s flight (hand picked for the customer), a grilled cheese sandwich, and a few cheese-focused salads.

We decided to order a cheesemonger’s flight and grilled cheese sandwich to share. To best assemble our flight, the waitress asked if we had any particular cheese likes or dislike (yes to chevre, no to blue cheese) and then came back with this:

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Our custom made board included a soft cheese from Jasper Hill Farm (we can’t remember exactly what type!), Red Barn Cheddar, and a goat’s milk cheese. The cheese board came with pickles, dried fruit, and toasted baguette. The grilled cheese sandwich (pictured on the right below) came on a cranberry bread and was also accompanied by pickles.

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Everything was delicious! Cheese is not a food that I generally consume in large quantities, so I did feel a little cheesed-out after having it constitute nearly my entire dinner. Nonetheless, this was a really neat and unique restaurant, and I would highly recommend it to any cheese (or food!) lovers who take a visit to Stillwater.

Surdyk’s

Surdyk’s in Northeast Minneapolis is undeniably a specialty-shop gem. The highlights are wine and cheese, but the deli, chocolates, spreads, and other odds & ends are definitely worth nothing.

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Having heard about Surdyk’s in various Twin Cities publications since moving here, when I passed by the shop I couldn’t resist going inside. Although I didn’t purchase anything, the inside view was enough to tell me this place is GREAT. And I wanted to purchase everything. Yes, everything.

First up: chocolate (naturally).

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An entire display was devoted to pretty much every variety, flavor, and cocoa concentration you could imagine. This was all high quality melt-in-your-mouth stuff: the real deal. No Hershey’s to be found. 🙂

After tearing my attention away from the chocolate, I checked out the dessert case:

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Cakes, bars, tortes…enough said.

Moving on to the deli case, there were several types of sandwiches (a turkey panini looked especially delicious!), cold salads, and a selection of soups:

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Last but not least, the cheese. Oh, the cheese.

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More cheeses than I knew existed (there’s cheddar and swiss, right?). Surdyk’s is serious about their cheese. Not only do they have literally hundreds of cheese options, they can ship anywhere in the world and there is always a cheese consultant at the counter to help you. Yes, cheese consultant is a job.

Next time I’m having a picnic, I’m stocking up here. 🙂

Veggie Lasagna

Although I generally cook from a combination of websites and my own imagination, there is one cookbook author who I have a particular affinity for: Mollie Katzen.

Yes, she is one of the only Mollie’s I know (okay…’know’) who share my spelling.
Yes, I may have fantasized that the spelling of my name was inspired by her Moosewood cookbook – a classic in my house.
Yes, her recipe for mint chocolate chip cookies in Still Life With Menu is my favorite cookie recipe of all time.
So, OF COURSE YES, when I was looking for a vegetable lasagna recipe to make this week she was my first stop.

I found this version online from Mollie’s Moosewood Restaurant’s Low Fat Favorites. The lasagna turned out delicious. I made a few simple adjustments to the original recipe as posted online.*full recipe below

First, chop 2 cups zucchini, 1 cup tomato, 1 cup red bell pepper, and 4 cups mushrooms:

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Combine in a pot with about 1/2 cup water and cook until the vegetables are tender and reduce down a bit:

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Remove the vegetables (leaving any leftover water behind) and stir together with 3 tablespoons of freshly chopped basil:

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Then, cook 5 oz. spinach in about 1/4 cup water just until the spinach starts to wilt (don’t let it get too wilted – you still need to chop it!):

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Remove the spinach from the pot, coursely chop, and add to a separate bowl:

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Add 1 cup shredded mozzarella, 2 cups cottage cheese, and 1/4 cup shredded parmigiano cheese to the spinach and stir to combine:

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Now, it’s time for the layering! First, a layer of tomato sauce (I used canned):

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Then, a layer of noodles and veggies:

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Then the cheese:

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Continue in this fashion until all of the ingredients are used up and then top with some more shredded mozzarella and parmigiano:

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Bake at 350° for 60 minutes, covered, until melty and delicious!

Vegetable Lasagna
Ingredients

– 2 cups cubed zucchini
– 1 cup chopped red pepper
– 1 cup chopped tomato
– 4 cups chopped mushrooms
– 3 tablespoons freshly chopped basil
– 5 oz. spinach
– 1 cups shredded mozzarella (plus more for finish)
– 2 cups 1% cottage cheese
– 1/4 cup shredded parmigiano (plus more for finish)
– 8 oz whole wheat lasagna noodles
– 2 cans organic no-salt added tomato sauce
Method
– Combine zucchini, red pepper, tomato, and mushrooms in a pot with 1/2 cup water. Cook until

vegetables are tender (about 10 minutes).
– Transfer vegetables to a large bowl (leaving extra water behind), and mix with basil.
– Cook spinach with 1/4 cup water until it just starts to wilt. Coarsely chop the spinach and combine with cheeses.
– Layer tomato sauce, noodles, veggies, and cheese (in that order) until all ingredients are used. I preheated my oven to 350° when I started to layer.
– Finish with some shredded mozzarella and parmigiano and cook, covered, for 60 minutes at 350°.

Quick Pizza for One

I saw this recipe for Toaster Oven Pizza for One on Carrots N Cake a while ago and liked the idea of a single serving pizza. I am also thinking it might be a good idea to make smaller quantity recipes. Even though I’m only cooking for one, I usually cook a full (or nearly full) recipe and end up eating the meal throughout the whole week. It’s a nice strategy in terms of minimizing the number of days I need to spend a lot of time cooking, but I usually end up getting tired of the meal by the fourth fifth sixth serving.

The original recipe used entirely almond meal, but I decided to try splitting the flour into half almond meal and half whole wheat. I’m still trying to figure out how much I want to use almond flour in baking. On the one hand, it’s higher in protein than regular flour and I like that. On the other hand, it’s also higher in fat and calories and makes for a much denser final product. The half-and-half method seemed like a good balance – at least for this instance. *There are pictures of two bowls and two pizzas because I wanted to make two single-serving pizzas. I used two separate bowls though, so all measurements are for ONE single-serving recipe.

First, I combined 1/4 cup almond flour, 1/4 whole wheat flour, and 1 tsp ground garlic:

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Next, I added half an egg and 1/2 tsp olive oil to each bowl (you could probably use a full egg each or just use one egg white):

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And 1 tsp ground flax:

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Mix it thoroughly until mixture becomes uniform. For me, everything didn’t really stick together until I got down and dirty with my hands (pre-wet your hands!!). Once the dough became uniform, I shaped it into balls, spread out with my hand on a cutting board, and transferred to a baking tray:

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Now…the best part…TOPPINGS!

Since I made this recipe right before leaving for vacation (what, Rome for a week?!), I used an assortment of whatever-I-wanted-to-use-up to top my pizza. First, some pesto:

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Then, tomato:

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Plus sauteed onions:

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Shredded gruyere cheese:

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And, last but not least, artichoke hearts:

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Bake at 350° for 18 minutes until cheese is cheesy and crust is crusty:

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Look at this goodness:

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yumyumyum. This was super easy and tasty – I will definitely keep on hand as a go-to for quick, small meals. The recipe should also work fine to increase and serve multiple people.

Sugar on Snow and Cabot Creamery

Even though I don’t actually like traditional pancakes that much, there are few things that conjure the idea of ‘hominess’ more than the thought of a heaping stack of pancakes served with maple syrup. Unless you are of the Aunt Jemima crowd (and why would you be?!), then that maple syrup you are thinking of probably came from Vermont. Why? Because Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States. Naturally, my recent visit to Vermont demanded we visit a sugarbush. We went to Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier.

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Before going into the main shop, we poked around in the sugar shack.

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The syrup production is done in the sugar shack by boiling sap down to syrup. There are different grades of syrup, and the various flavors are achieved through varying boiling times. Look at the difference between the grades of syrup:

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wow!

After poking around the sugar shack, we headed into the main shop.There was maple everything! Maple syrup, maple cotton candy, maple fudge, maple t-shirts, maple candy – the list goes on.

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I had a sample of maple candy and it was so sweet the little bite made my head spin:

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What we really came for though was the sugar on snow. I had never heard of sugar on snow before I started coming to Vermont. For those who, like me, weren’t educated as children about sugar on snow, it is an edible Vermont tradition during the maple syrup harvest season. There are several components to the treat. First, you need the snow:

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This is really just shaved ice. Then, you need the maple syrup:

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You also get condiments – a pickle and a cider donut:

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Once all the pieces are assembled, you pour the syrup over the ‘snow’:

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This is when the magic happens. The syrup is warm and the snow is cold – obviously – and the varying temperatures cause the syrup to thicken into a taffy-like form:

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You then eat the maple ‘taffy’ off the fork. As you might imagine, this is INCREDIBLY sweet. Hence, the pickle and cider donut. You are supposed to eat them to balance the sweetness of enjoying your sugar on snow.

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I wasn’t up for the sugar overload though, so I just snagged a couple bites of Noah’s and opted to order a different Vermont culinary treat – a creemee.

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Really, this is just soft-serve ice cream, but since they call it by a different name (creemee) it almost seems like something different. I got a swirl of chocolate and – of course – maple. It was delicious!

In addition to maple syrup, Vermont is also known for cheese. We visited Cabot Creamery for a tour where we learned about how they make the cheese.

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Cabot is a co-op, so it’s owned by the farmers who supply the milk which is pretty neat. While we waited for our tour to start, we enjoyed some samples and looked around the gift shop:

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To start the tour, we watched a brief video about the history of Cabot Creamery, the cooperative, and their production:

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Then, we walked through the hallways of the factory where we could look through big windows into the rooms where the cheese was being made right before our eyes! These are the huge bins that the milk is put in and churned:

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Eventually, the whey will separate from the curd. The whey is drained and then the curds are churned until they’re ready to be packed into cheese. The curds go into a machine and don’t reappear until they are miraculously turned into blocks of…

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They also have labs where they do quality control, test shelf life, and try to improve their products:

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Very cool! If you are going to Vermont, I would say prioritize going to a sugarbush, and if there’s time also check out a cheese house – it’s a unique experience and fun to see how everything is done. And don’t forget….

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