Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Something American for your cheesetooth and something British for your sweet tooth

Those who read this blog regularly know that I’ve mentioned SF’s newest food attraction, The Cheese School, on more than one occasion. And now, having been there twice, it’s time to reflect, record ….and go on a diet. See, what happens when you attend this forum of fromage is that you’re met by a flight of wines and a dinner plate of cheese samples, which are arranged around the perimeter like numerals on a clock. Then, at the instructor’s bidding, you work your way around the plate, starting at 12:00. Two hours later, you’re delirious. In a cheese sweat, if you will. And for me, that’s somewhat literal because when I eat a lot of the stuff, my face gets red and my cheeks feel hot, sort of like after an enzyme facial. It may be some mild form of an allergy, but I refuse to find out. I mean, me being allergic to cheese would be like Tammy Faye finding out she was allergic to make-up. Tragic and life-altering. Anyway, I digress.

My most recent foray to The Cheese School was a belated holiday gathering with 3 of my girlfriends. We usually plan a holiday dinner, but this year we decided to just pay our way to a class at the Cheese School and give that to ourselves in lieu of gifts. So, there we were at the class on American Cheeses, taught by the doyenne of domestic cheese, Laura Werlin. If you don’t know her name or read her books, you should. This one-woman dynamo took it upon herself to learn about, sample and appraise all the artisan cheeses being made stateside and then she wrote it all down. The result was a James Beard award, which is like the Nobel Prize in the culinary arts.

Needless to say, it was a highly engaging and spirited class--this owing not only to Laura’s knowledge and witty repartee, but also to the bottomless glasses of wine in front of us. As we all loosened up, class participants began belting out their impressions. "It's goaty!" they cried. "I hate riesling" one wimpered. Graciously, Laura welcomed the comments one and all, though I don’t know whether she was charmed or scandalized when, from our corner of the room, came the revelation that the “nose” on one particular cheese was distinctly redolent of bongwater. She only acknowledged that such an association was “a first” in her experience. I shall refrain from naming the cheese in question, lest I offend the maker. I will however post my fave cheeses from this class shortly.

And as far as recipes go, I’m cheese-free at the moment. My latest creation was a traditional British sticky toffee pudding. We always seek it out when we’re “across the pond” or when we’re at our fave tea house in NY, Tea and Sympathy. It’s so sticky-sweet, your teeth will ache, but your belly will surely smile. I made this on a dreary, rainy day while I cranked up some equally sticky-sweet pop tunes and sung my lungs out. For those who enjoy sugary power-pop confections, treat yourself to Brendan Benson’s album, The Alternative to Love... It’s a delicacy I can devour all day long.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
(Note: this one’s not my own. It’s from Gourmet, via and, as you can see from the photo, I used 5 individual ramekins, rather than one 8" cake pan--your choice).

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing pan
1 cup self-rising cake flour plus additional for flouring pan
1 cup pitted dates (5 oz), finely chopped (I used medjool)
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8- by 2-inch round cake pan.

Simmer dates in 1 cup water in a 1-quart heavy saucepan, covered, until soft, about 5 minutes. Let stand, covered, off heat 5 minutes.

Beat together 1 stick butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in egg until combined. Add flour and 1/8 teaspoon salt and mix at low speed until just combined. Add dates and mix until just combined well.

Pour batter into pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt remaining stick butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in remaining cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup water, and a pinch of salt. Boil over moderately high heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and sauce is reduced to about 1 1/4 cups, 2 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and cover.

Transfer pudding in pan to a rack and poke all over at 1-inch intervals with a chopstick. Gradually pour half of warm sauce evenly over hot pudding. Let stand until almost all of sauce is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Run a thin knife around edge of pan. Invert a plate over pudding and invert pudding onto plate. Pour remaining warm sauce over pudding and serve immediately.


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