Dinner With The Omnivore

Posts Tagged ‘cheese

Following my recent cheesecake post, I suddenly found that I could barely leave the house without bumping into further cheese dessert related recipes. A bit like buses, evidently – wait for ages and then three turn up at once. Though admittedly the resemblance between buses and cheescake begins and ends there.


The Franco Phoney - Antipodean in the Alps.

One of the best of these Johnny-come-lately upstart pudding recipes was supplied by the Franco Phoney, an Aussie journalist and blogger who lives in La Clusaz and writes about cheese for a living. And let’s face it, if you’re going to do that at all you might as well do it in France.

All things considered, I think Audrile’s baked cheesecake pips this one to first prize, but having said that, the second one makes a much better summer dessert, as the lack of egg and addition of lemon juice give it a much lighter and fresher taste. It also has the significant advantage that it needs no cooking, a boon when you’re already dealing with temperatures heading for the 30s and have no need to go getting involved with ovens.

Janelle’s vegie-friendly cheesecake

You will need: can condensed milk; 550g cream cheese; 140ml lemon juice; 2 drops vanilla essence; 150g cheapo butter biscuits; 50g butter.

Crush the biscuits, add melted butter and squish the misture into the bottom of a baking tray. Whisk all the other ingredients together and pour over the base. Chill in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight.

There, how easy was that? I might try it with a ginger biscuit base at some point – could be good with the lemon.

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Cheeeeese, Gromit!

One of the quirks of alpine eating (apart from the wall to wall pigs ‘n’ cheese) is the communal DIY element. Restaurant diners paying good money for a meal would usually expect a) to get their own dinner which they don’t have to share with the rest of the table and b) to have their food cooked for them.

But this isn’t necessarily the case in your montagnard eatery, where fondue and pierrade are billed as being for minimum two people (the clear implication being that if you’re the sort of weirdo hermit who wants solitary dinner you should probably stay at home with beans on toast).

Fondue has had something of a bad press in the UK since the seventies, when it enjoyed a bit a vogue, with fondue sets making a regular appearance on the Generation Game’s  end-of-show conveyer belt along with teasmaids and cuddly toys. Eventually it all got a bit naff in a Margo and Jerry black forest gateau kind of a way (along with most of the rest of the 70s) and has never quite managed to muster up a renaissance.

Look, just get up and make the bloody tea, will you?

This is a shame, since despite the fact that involves nothing more gastronomical than sitting round a pot dipping stale bread into melted cheese, fondue is actually pretty fabulous. Unless you’re the person doing the washing up, in which case it becomes a total nightmare, since congealed cheese fondue could probably be used to surface motorways when we start running out of oil and its derivatives.

Pierrade, on the other hand,  never really made it over to Blighty as far as I know. This is not only a communal dinner but seriously DIY as well – the diner is presented with a hot stone and a pile of raw delicacies, which he and his companions proceed to cook for themselves on the aforementioned stone. You’d think this would be a cheap option given that all the chef has to do is whack a few chips in the fryer, knock up a salad and put out some dips, but for some reason it usually costs more than the steak.

We used to do pierrade as a resort ‘theme night’ back in the mists of time, using the old fashioned stones which had to be heated up all day in the oven, removed at peril to life and limb, and which promptly went cold on the table before the guest had cooked so much as a prawn. (I say we used to do this – I think we actually did it once, decided it was a bloody silly idea and then spent the rest of the season feeding people lasagne while telling management that of course we were giving regular pierrade evenings.)

Electric stones, definitely the way forward

Fortunately things have moved on somewhat, and electric pierrade stones with properly controllable heat have become the norm, thus avoiding both the risk of suffering full thickness burns while getting them out of the oven and the possibility of poisoning your customers with half cooked seafood.

Usually you would have to fork out a small fortune on a ski holiday in some nouveau riche ghetto full of armed Russian oligarchs if you wanted to sample the delights of classic alpine fare (unless you want to do your own post-fondue washing up, which believe me is not preferable), but the Omnivore just happens to know that it will be available to the select few this very week on the Isle of Wight, of all places.

Sam and Susie Mackay, former seasonnaires and current business empire-builders, will be serving pierrade at the Roadside Inn in Nettlestone, an unusual venue for this sort of thing, but why not. Nothing ventured nothing gained and all that. And since I believe that between the two of them they are currently working several jobs, running two pubs and bringing up a pair of toddlers I would urge anyone in the vicinity to get over there and make a success of the project, because there’s a limit to how long you can carry on doing that sort of thing without dropping dead from exhaustion.

Odd place for a fondue. But much better than doing your own washing up.

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Soft fruit: very short window of edibility

Desserts don’t feature prominently on the summer menu (they’re not all that prominent on the winter menu either, what with work and skiing taking up all the available cooking time) and when they do appear they tend to consist largely of soft fruits which need to be eaten urgently before they disintegrate into small piles of green fur.

But inviting people for dinner provides a flimsy excuse for indulging in piggy pudding, particularly when you’re doing roast veggies as a main course and can therefore fool yourself into thinking that you can afford to stuff your face with mega-calories afterwards because you haven’t really eaten much. We will obviously gloss over the fact that the veg are roasted in generous quantities of basil oil.

Bossy goverment ad campaigns. Just piss off and leave me alone, will you.

Cheesecake is a fairly heatwave-friendly dessert, since it is eaten cold and can reasonably be served with fresh fruit. So it even qualifies as counting towards that five-a-day rubbish, yet another piece of idiot government advice which turns out to be based on no evidence whatsoever and isn’t about to make you immortal after all.

There are multiple different recipes for cheesecake out there in the webworld, but this one is courtesy of a Lithuanian friend in Portsmouth. She made some for our wedding, where it went down a treat, along with banoffee pie, Savoyarde cheeseboard and (in my case) for too much champagne. But let’s face it, if you can’t get ratted on expensive champers at your own wedding, when can you?

Audrile’s cheesecake

You will need: 215g of cheapo butter biscuits; 115g melted butter; 675g of Philadelphia or similar cream cheese; 175g caster sugar; 2 eggs; 1 tsp vanilla essence.

Make the base by crushing all the biscuits, mixing with butter and then squishing the mixture into the bottom of a baking tin, preferably one of those ones with a removable base. Chill in the fridge for about 20 mins. Mix together the rest of the ingredients then pour the filling over the base and bake in the centre of the oven at 150°C for about 30 minutes until set. Turn off the heat and allow the cake to cool in the oven. Chill before eating.

Since I’m making this in France I have virtually zero chance of finding Philadelphia cheese, but fortunately St Moret produces just the same result, despite what the various purveyors of expensively imported US/UK groceries would have you believe.

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Well, the sun finally put in an appearance and provided us with an unexpectedly scorching bank holiday weekend. I’m sure this must be some kind of administrative error, but no-one was complaining. Beers were drunk, barbecues lit, new flipflops bought and cotton hippie-trousers fished out of the back of the wardrobe. It didn’t last, obviously, and we are now back to torrential rain and October temperatures, but it was a pleasant interlude.

During the sunny window, I thought I might as well test drive a new salad or two, just in case summer showed any sign of sticking around for a while. As if. I found this one in a BBC book which is awash with good ideas, though you get the impression that some of them haven’t progressed past the idea stage because the final result either doesn’t quite work or needs a further tweaking. It also has an annoying habit of telling you to buy stuff which you could just as easily make for yourself. But despite these niggles it remains a terrific little book which has contributed quite a few dishes to the regular menu – red onion tart to name but one.

English garden salad

You will need: new potatoes; runner beans; broad beans; spring onion; sun dried tomatoes; cheshire or Lancashire cheese; fresh mint leaves; yoghurt; mayonnaise; grain mustard; honey

Cook the potatoes and beans in boiling water until tender, then drain and rinse with cold water. Chop the onion, tomatoes, mint leaves and cheese then mix everything together in a bowl. Mix together the yoghurt, mayo, mustard and honey in proportions to suit yourself, pour the resulting dressing over the salad and toss thoroughly.

English garden salad, complete with sundried tomatoes

See the original recipe here – you’ll notice I’ve added the broad beans, which is because I love them and I happened to see some on the market last week.

Pernickety readers will no doubt point out that sun dried tomatoes are hardly known for being the traditional produce of an English garden. This is entirely true, and I suggest that you take it up with the BBC.

Being in France, I didn’t even bother looking for Cheshire or Lancashire cheese, but substituted Cantal, which was perfectly acceptable. I imagine it could work well with feta, though that’s possibly even less English garden than the tomatoes.

If the dressing recipe is a little haphazard that’s because it was one of the things the book advised me to buy (like I’m going to buy salad dressing, ridiculous idea) and I just made it up as I went along.

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I was going to leave any discussion of pig-and-lard meals until next winter, but having found an abominable perversion of our beloved tartiflette on an otherwise rather good food blog by James Ramsden I feel the need to post a proper recipe just in case people are bamboozled into thinking it’s just any old cheesy piggy thing.

I can forgive young James for using mere streaky bacon, and it should indeed be much the same as lardons, what with it being basically the same substance, but inexplicably it really isn’t. I have no idea why. But it’s damn difficult to get your paws on lardons in the UK, for some reason (though these people will sell you some if you ask nicely and the French chef down the road hasn’t bagsied them all again).

However, I do feel I should take issue with the brie. You cannot possibly think of putting brie in a tartiflette. I mean the dish was invented by the makers of reblochon and passed off  to tourists as some age-old local speciality in a bid to boost sales, how can you put brie in it and still call it tartiflette? It’s a potato bake, James. In fact if you cook it in a saucepan as suggested it’s more like that classic student dish Tasty Slop (not that there’s anything wrong with Tasty Slop, but it’s not tartiflette).

So in the interests of culinary clarity, here’s how you make tartiflette.


You will need: 2 large potatoes; an onion; 2 cloves garlic; 100g lardons; creme fraiche; white wine; a reblochon.

Slice or dice the potatoes and parboil them. Chop the onions and garlic and fry them up with the lardons until the onions soften. Layer the potatoes with the onion/garlic/bacon mix in a baking dish. Spoon over about four dessert spoons of the creme fraiche and one spoon of white wine. Chop the reblochon in half and then slice each half in two horizontally. Put the cheese rind side up on top of the potatoes then cook for about 40 minutes at 180°C.

The cheese rind will make a crunchy crust on top of the potatoes while the cheese melts into the rest of the dish. I’ve seen veggie versions using mushrooms rather than bacon, and some restaurants offer tartichevre, which is the same thing made with goat cheese, though to my mind there are far better things to do with a nice bit of goat.

This recipe makes enough for four sensible people or two to three gluttons using the excuse of having been out skiing all day to gorge on neat cholesterol.

Culinary/sartorial fusion - all the rage at altitude.

Pig-and-lard enthusiasts and former seasonnaires missing the mountains can show their appreciation with a tartiflette T-shirt from skipass.com. They used to do car stickers as well, which you can see on old bangers all over Savoie and Isere.

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As the so-called spring marches on, we stick doggedly to our summer eating habits of lots of salad and veggie dishes, plenty of fresh fruit, minimal pig & cheese meals and so on. But if the weather fails to get its act together soon I’m going to be forced back into beef bourguignon and Tartiflette. It’s hard to rustle up enthusiasm for cold food when it’s trying to snow outside.

Meanwhile, we compromise on sort of warm things – salads with poached egg and lardons, asparagus with new potatoes, and various tarts and quiches. Like this one, which makes a change from what Nanny Ogg described as ‘them eggy pies’.

Red onion, feta and olive tart

Red onion tart

You will need: 25g butter: 2 red onions: 2 tblsp light brown sugar; 2 tblsp balsamic vinegar: 100g feta cheese: 175g black olives: olive oil: basil leaves: pastry

You can either buy your pastry or make it yourself, as you please. Either way, you want about 30x22cm of it.

Slice the onions and fry them in butter until soft, then add the sugar and vinegar, and cook until the mixture is syrupy. Leave to cool for 10 minutes and then spread the mixture over the pastry and scatter with the cheese and olives. Season and drizzle with olive oil, then bake for 20 minutes at 180°C. Garnish with shredded basil leaves and serve with salad.

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Or at least not the stuff you’re talking about, most of which is not actually food. I lose count of the number of times I’ve heard British resort staff  bemoan the lack of ‘proper bread’ (ie sliced polystyrene), ‘real bacon’ (pink spongy stuff which pours with water once in the pan) and Cheddar ‘cheese’ (by which they don’t mean decent farmhouse cheddar but those lumps of industrial cheeseoid you can buy in Tesco). For God’s sake people, you’re in France. It’s famous for bread and cheese, what are you talking about? But no, they carry on bribing coach drivers to bring them British ‘sausages’ and complaining that they’re tired of baguettes (having completely failed to spot the two dozen other types of bread on offer in every boulangerie). I despair.

French bread - not 'proper', apparently

Not that the paying public is much better. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that having forked over good money to travel abroad on holiday, people would want to make the most of the experience – eat things they can’t get at home, look out for local dishes, whatever. But no. Every major resort is littered with English bars offering over-priced Full English Breakfast made with the lowest quality ingredients. You wouldn’t dream of paying upwards of a tenner at home for budget sausages, watery bacon and frozen hash browns, so why on earth do you do it on holiday?

Long-term expats don’t seem to be a great deal better at surviving without weird semi-foods at stratospheric prices either, judging by the number of British gorcery shopping websites out there. Birds Dream Topping at nearly £5 for three sachets, tins of  ‘Celebrity Bacon Grill’ (don’t tell me, I don’t want to know), ready-to-eat orange jelly …. hideous.

So I’ve got some alarming news for everyone out there – people in other parts of the world do actually eat stuff. No, honestly, they really do. And it probably tastes a whole lot better than Crosse and Blackwell Hunger Break followed by Angel Delight and washed down with Maltesers Hot Chocolate Drink.

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Food for thought

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” ― Orson Welles

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