Operation Mascarpone Day 4: Quinoa Granola with Honey Mascarpone

So many happy things happened this week - and not all of them are mascarpone related. Early on, (during one of my new favorite pastimes) in emailing Lo back and forth, she sent me her "non-recipe" for Peanut Butter Granola. This was after I sent her a forwarded email from E. about her revelation for Quinoa Granola, after I posted the recipe for the Spiced Nuts and Seeds. Peanut Butter Granola was way too tempting to resist, so of course I made time to make it on Monday. There is still a little bit left, but then this morning, I had to make another batch of Quinoa Granola, since it too was very intriguing. Both are fantastic! And both would go well with the Day 4 way of using up mascarpone cheese: mixing it with honey and serving it with granola.

Actually, R1 and her slew of Luc-aged children were here for the morning - all playing together well enough that we had adult conversations about such important things as V (the re-made TV series), the Alien Illusions scarf that I finally just gave her, and miscellaneous things that have happened since the last time we chatted. I told her about the mascarone, revelations of Crystal Ball Farms milk, and then we ate cold slivers of crostada from yesterday with that amazing Kenya AA coffee from Alterra. She suggested mixing it with honey, and adding it to the Quinoa Granola, since it was out of the oven and still sitting in plain sight as we were discussing. Of course, it was delicious. And of course, I have a just a bit more honey-mixed mascarpone which will be devoured in exactly the same manner.

Both of these granolas demand your immediate attention! And I hope Lo won't mind that I'm excitedly posting her "non-recipe" without her explicit consent. She also mentioned having made it with almond butter to great effect, and I'm sure any nut or seed butter would work similarly well. I make granola following my method outlined here, but really you can use whichever method you are preferring at the moment.

Thanks, Lo!

Lo's Non-Recipe Peanut Butter Granola

  • 2 c. oatmeal (Lo likes steel-cut, which I tried, and LOVED!)
  • dash of honey
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter
  • nuts, seeds, whatever

I guess I changed this up more than I realized as I consult my post-it note. I used:

  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 1 c. steel-cut oats
  • 1 c. nuts (pecans, walnuts)
  • 2 T. honey
  • 2 T. agave syrup
  • 1 T. oil
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter
  • handful of leftover coconut from when I made these
  • handful of raisins, since Boy-O loves them

However you do it, it is going to be wonderful - and you will not be able to stop eating it. I did heat the honey, syrup and peanut butter in a small skillet to warm up before tossing it into the dried mix. I find it particularly good in milk.

Quinoa granola, ready to go.

E.'s Quinoa Granola

  • 6 c. oats
  • 2 c. quinoa
  • 1 c. sesame seeds
  • 2 c. nuts
  • 3/4 c. honey
  • 3/4 c. oil

I changed this one too, as it seems I just cannot help myself. For the half batch I used:

  • 3 c. rolled oats
  • 1 c. quinoa
  • 1/2 c. sesame seeds
  • 1 c. nuts (almond, pecan, walnut)
  • 6 T. honey
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • pinch of salt

Boy-O had a big bowl of this for lunch, and I am happily reassured of his imminent nutrition due to the complete protein content. My mascarpone week has been fun, and I look forward to making it again. If you are in any way able, I'd urge you to check out Crystal Ball Farms milk products, and make up a batch yourself. I think I'm sold for life. I made some yogurt out of their 2%, and it turned out really well. I don't find them on a proper website, but a simple Google search will turn up many articles on their dairy.

I wonder what I'll be obsessed with next week!

Operation Mascarpone Day 3: Apricot Taleggio Crostata

Day 3 of what is turning out to be a 4 day series on Operation Mascarpone, is a bit more obscured, since it is contained within this amazing pastry crust. Truth be told, I got the recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. The night of the Alton Chocolate Sauce, I scanned around the Food Network programming and DVR'd a few shows just to see what was going on. I watched this episode more than a week or so ago, and couldn't wait to try it. It seemed to have all the elements of a good appetizer or dessert, sweet, salty and rich - so you don't want too much before moving on to a proper supper, or satisfyingly decadent to indulge a small wedge after a good meal. Paired with the correct dessert wine, I'm thinking this rustic tart could reach status-seeking potential.

While I have no motivation for a proper supper this evening, I had every motivation for making this crostata today. I spent a lovely
lunchtime hour(s) at the MATC Cuisine Dining room with Chef Malavenda, chatting excitedly over a leisurely lunch. Just being in the presence of so many cooks, heightened my need to rush home and bake something! (Though not before stopping to get some coffee and unbelievably beautiful yarn - which was an accident - at Alterra and Loop, respectively.) The MATC student-run dining room is a place I'll definitely go again, it has a weekly changing menu prepared by students, but it is best to call for reservations. They have a limited dining schedule, and operate during the fall and spring semesters.

Because I missed lunchtime
at home, I didn't really need to worry about getting dinner started, since the boys ate their lunches late - leaving me plenty of time to work up this easy dough in the food pro, and bake up this simple crostata. I bought the taleggio last week at Beans and Barley, in anticipation of this event. Just after 5, it came out of the oven, and though it was painful to wait, I let it set up for 10 minutes before slicing into it. I was surprised at how savory it was; the apricots took on a decidedly "unsweet" role, even with cinnamon and honey playing just beside. I think if I served this for dessert, I may drizzle with a bit of additional warmed honey (or, runny honey), or perhaps a little scoop of sweetened whipped cream or sweetened creme fraiche. The mascarpone lent a softness to t he crust, that I completely loved... I'll make this crust again in other applications for sure.

I now have a lonely 3 or 4 tables
poons left of that mascarpone cheese. Just enough to incite a Day 4 of imagination. As of 7 p.m., I have no idea yet what to use it for, so let me know if there is something I can't overlook!

mascarpone-stuffed french toast

Day two of operation Use Mascarpone Cheese: Stuffed French Toast. Lo gave me the idea, and what better thing to do with this stuff than eat it for breakfast?

I took one slice of Lahey bread, cut in half, and spread about a T. of mascarpone in the middle. I made two sandwiches, so I used 2 beaten eggs for the dip. Let them soak up the egg well, about 30 seconds per side, before sizzling them to golden brown seduction on a hot buttered pan.

I was surprised at the clarity of mascarpone in this! It was melted into the bread, and not heavy or overdone like restaurant stuffed French toast, since I used such a small amount. In fact, I've been making the Lahey bread with flax meal and whole wheat flour (thanks in part to Deborah at Loop!), so the whole breakfast was rather nutritious, if I do say so myself.

My Husband liked it too, so I'm counting it a double win! Thanks, Lo!

hidden mascarpone

hidden mascarpone, originally uploaded by Rcakewalk.

True to my word, here is today's usage of mascarpone: Pasta with Mascarpone-Tuna Tomato Sauce.

I heated up some frozen homemade pasta sauce, and then added a hefty spoonful of mascarpone. I know it's pathetic to get excited about watching cheese melt into hot sauce, but I was. (I couldn't help but wish I had made a Vodka Sauce, since this addition made it so silky, and Vodka Sauce is one of my favorite things.) I added one drained can of imported tuna in olive oil, my favorite, and stirred in about 2 cups cooked pasta. Topped with dried Lahey bread crumbs mixed with a bit of Parmesan cheese and olive oil, I baked it covered in foil until the carrots were done roasting: about 30 minutes give or take. It was liked by all, even the pickiest Boy-O who even ventured out of his fail-safe granola mode and ate several noodles.

Looking forward to tomorrow morning's application thanks to Lo: Stuffed French Toast. I'd better hurry up and get to bed!

Mastering Mascarpone...and the Salvaging of Salt Block Salmon

When the Daring Baker mascarpone cheese turned out less than desirable, I knew I could do better. What better inspiration than these organic jars of heavy cream from the organic Crystal Ball Farms? I got one on Saturday morning at the Winter Farmer's Market. Not only do they look fantastic, the contents are stellar. This sweet cream had to make the best mascarpone! I very excitedly started it yesterday afternoon.

I used the same recipe and method I did the first time: both from Vera at Baking Obsession. I used a double boiler (a.k.a. old pot with a Pyrex mixing bowl on top), and found I had the same problem I did the first go around... I was stirring and "gently heating" for a full 45 minutes with no temperature increase past the 180 degree mark. I wondered if my thermometer was broken. I rinsed it and tried it again from zero, still only 180. I needed that 190 mark. I finally got frustrated enough that I poured the 180 degree cream into a regular pot, and then turned the heat to medium low. Mere minutes passed, until I was at the 190 mark. I added my lemon juice (which I eyeballed to be 3/4 of a T. due to evaporation and the 450ml of cream I started with), and another minute or two and it was properly thickened. I will be transferring any future cream for mascarpone directly to a bare naked pot, after it is properly and gently heated. That is my zen moment for today.

I now know that I did not have the true 190 mark on my first try. I know I was frustrated then too, and it wouldn't surprise me if I added the lemon juice and figured it was hot enough. It never coated a spoon like this the first time!

I let it cool 20 minutes, then let it drain through my layered cheesecloth until it came down to room temperature. I stashed the whole thing in the refrigerator overnight, and then sat down to daydream about what I was going to do with this luscious cheese. Of course, I wasn't going to wait until this morning to taste it! It was so smooth and sweet, no trace of "off flavor" that my last batch had, every bit like "the thickend creme anglaise" Vera spoke of. It was even better this morning when I unearthed it from its cocoon of cloth:

Don't let that cheesecloth-textured exterior fool you, this was the softest, dreamiest thing imaginable. Firm, but creamy, and so delicious. It had every mark of the fresh taste that the plain cream had. Non-homogenized milk is the key, I think. innBrooklyn suggested in my comments that a ravioli may be a good bet, and that is rather tempting. But meanwhile, I knew I'd have to try something by lunchtime. Fortunately, this cheese stepped right in to save an otherwise unfortunate learning experience: Salt Block Salmon.

Last week, I was excited to experiment with curing salmon on the Posh Saltblock. Using tips from Chef Malavenda, who graciously coached me via email, I used my one slab instead of two, and weighted it with unglazed quarry tiles. The piece of fish I used was rather thin, and I think I let it go too long. It was rendered fully cured but, even with vigorous washing, extrememly salty.

It certainly wasn't an unpleasant taste, just overwhelmingly salmon-y and saline. Since I knew that salt was going to keep it fresh for (I'd bet) weeks to come, I stored it in my fridge and asked the good Chef M. for a couple of ideas. She suggested a cream sauce for pasta, sans capers of course, or chopping it up tartar like for canapes. I took it for a spin in the food pro, and turned it into nicely textured, though still salty, rubble:

After I tasted the mascarpone this morning, it immediately struck me to add it to some mascarpone cheese. Not too much, just a bit, since I knew I was dealing with some pretty strong flavor here. Perfection? I think so! For the past week, my poor Husband kept hearing me discuss the salmon and what to do with the salmon, and that the salmon was way, WAY too salty, and I wasn't at all surprised that he didn't really jump at the chance to be a guinea pig to my original pasta sauce or fish cake idea. He did agree, with a tiny spoonful taste, that this is really good (though still a bit salty). I froze the rest of the salmon, and am going to pull this out next time I have dinner company (provided they are savvy of salmon, that is).

Just wish there was a bit of dill growing out in the yard...

I had just a bit for lunch today, on the heal of the never-waning obsession that is Lahey bread. I baked a new loaf this morning, and also placed another Amazon order for a Lodge 5 quart cast iron dutch oven. I could write love sonnets for my red LeCreuset, and I noticed it was receiving a bit of a blow being heated repeatedly in a hot oven. For around $30, I figured it was time to "upgrade" (or "downgrade" perhaps?) to a dedicated breadbaker, one that I had no such feelings attached to. Red LeCreuset shall be restored to her former glory, and I will have a bread-baking oven in an oven...and hopefully a whole lot of salmon spread to enjoy it with.

These first glimpses in a cold but sunny start to March (definitely in like a lamb, I'd say) make me so hungry for a ripe late summer tomato; this spread on that bread with a perfect tomato would be one for the books. Then I remembered about another Wisconsin food blogger: World of Flavors. I feel so busy lately, and have a hard time reading and responding and indeed cooking and baking as many bookmarked things as I like. World of Flavors featured sprouts and sprouting recently, and I do know for sure it is the time of year for watching something sprout in the kitchen. Not to mention Otehlia's photography is second to none, and made them look as if I could pluck them off my screen. I soaked some lowly "sandwich mix" seeds from Outpost, and by the end of the week, I'll be enjoying some sprouts.

But, I'd imagine I'll need to make some more mascarpone by then. Meanwhile, if you have any other mascarpone ideas, keep them coming. My goal is to have a little bit each day, as not to overwhelm my healthiness with too much cream. I'm thinking a pasta sauce with tuna and a spoonful melted in... Call me crazy, but I'm trying it in my coffee tomorrow morning.

That reminds me to go and pluck a quart jar of strawberries out of the deep freeze... I'm sure a makeshift dessert could be had if I can muster up the strength to make more ladyfingers!