Czech Beer-Cheese Bread

Our friends from Prague have been visiting this week.  At our final potluck gathering last night they treated us to a typical Czech pub snack called beer-cheese.

Beer-cheese is a variety of extremely pungent cheese and it is also the name of a dish that is the result of mixing and smashing the cheese with chopped onions, paprika, mustard, and a little actual beer to create a dish that is called beer-cheese.  Here is a short video showing the technique.

Actually, it’s NOT as bad as it looks, or smells.  I tried it spread on a Tunisian baguette and it was tasty.  It was so tasty that the flavor lingered in my mouth through the next five marinated olives I ate.  It really has staying power.

As we were saying goodnight and goodbye, they gave us our own packet of beer-cheese (Pivni syr) to enjoy at home.  It was already factory sealed in plastic, but because its odorous qualities were escaping the seal,  I immediately double-wrapped it when I got home and put it in the fridge.

The next morning…

When I opened the fridge this morning to get milk for my coffee, my first thought was, good Lord, a mouse has died and decomposed behind (or in) the fridge.   Then I remembered my friend talking about packing this cheese (smaller than a stick of butter) in baking soda and multiple bags to transport it to Tunis and I truly understood what she had been working with.

Using this cheese, today(!) came to the immediate top of my priority list.  Leaving it in our fridge to bring out as a novelty at our next social gathering was not an option.  I felt I needed to use it in combination with tempering ingredients that could hopefully soften and diffuse the pungency.  A cheese bread came to mind.  Dispersing the cheese throughout the mellow flavors of whole wheat flour, browned leeks, and toasted walnuts with a bite of paprika on top seemed like a good way to bring out its best qualities.

Cheese, Leek and Walnut Bread

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 4 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 medium leek
  • 6 ounces walnuts
  • Paprika, 1 tablespoon
  • 12 ounces cheese (Stilton, Gorgonzola…) or ½ that much Pivni syr

Directions

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wire whip, combine the yeast, water, 1 tablespoon of the oil and molasses. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Combine the flours and salt together.

Change the mixer attachment to a dough hook. Add the flours and mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and climbs up the dough hook.

While dough is rising, toss walnut halves in 2 tsp. olive oil, 1 tablespoon paprika, and 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Turn out onto a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree F.  oven for approximately 10 minutes.  When slightly brown, remove from the oven, turn out onto a cutting board and roughly chop.  Reserve.

Chop leek.  Saute in 2 teaspoons olive oil until lightly brown.  Reserve.

Grease a larger mixing bowl with the remaining teaspoon of oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning once. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free area. Allow the dough to rest until double in size, about 2 hours.

Divide the dough in half. Set one half aside. Roll or pat the dough out into a rough rectangle or circle. Sprinkle half of the nuts and 4 ounces of the cheese over the dough.  Work filling with fingers to thoroughly mix cheese into the leeks and walnuts.   Fold the sides in toward the center and knead the dough several times, working in all ingredients. Repeat with the remaining dough, walnuts, leeks and cheese. Form the balls of  dough into two small rectangles.

Grease 2 rectangular bread pans with the remaining oil. Place the dough in the prepared pans; press the dough to form to the pan. Sprinkle the top with more cheese, if desired.   Cover lightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise again until double in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Place the pans in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. and continue to bake for 20-30 minutes more or until brown. Remove from the heat and cool on a wire rack.

Allow the bread to cool before slicing.

Extravagance with Artichokes

I want to do wildly extravagant things with artichokes.  They are so cheap and plentiful that this is my time, if ever, to try all of those artichoke recipes I’ve always dismissed as being for people who live in California.  One little hurdle in my mind can be getting past the separation of leaves and stem.  First, it is physically challenging to peel and de-choke an artichoke.  It’s not impossible, but I wish I had a better technique.  Second, if I don’t use the whole artichoke, I feel like I’m wasting the meat on those leaves.  I am currently steaming them off separately and Allan and I will either just sit and have a big artichoke leaf fest or I will try scraping the meat off of each individual leaf to add a layer of artichoke paste to a lasagna.  That’s my current plan.

Concurrently, I have been saving nutrient rich greens from the cutting room floor all week.  The vegetable sellers here are very quick to cut the greens from the bulbs of carrots and fennel, and on to beets and turnips, which we know are delicious.  I bought a bunch of beets a few days ago and had my back turned when the owner chopped off the greens and tossed them in a bundle on the shop floor.  When I asked for the greens, he put the decapitated heads of two other customers’ bunches in my bag, too, so now I have plenty of beet greens.  Plenty.

I bought a beautiful cookbook last summer, Turquoise, by Greg and Lucy Malouf that I am long overdue to start learning from.  The subtitle is A chef’s travels in Turkey.  Greg is an experienced Australian chef, Lucy is an evocative writer and they also had a fantastic photographer along because every page makes you want to crawl right inside.  They try everything they can, but then Greg puts a little Australian spin on the dish so it’s just a tiny bit fusionized for Western cooks.  This is my first recipe to actually cook from the book and it’s perfect for what’s available to me at the moment.  Rather than chicory and chard, I used beet and turnip greens.

Bitter greens, artichokes, and shallots with poppy seeds

Adapted from Turquoise, by Greg and Lucy Malouf

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 fresh artichoke hearts, cut into quarter and kept in acidulated water
  • 12 small shallots, peeled and halved
  • 1 leek, white part only, cut lengthwise into thin strips and washed
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds, lightly crushed
  • ¼ teaspoon hot paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Ground sumac
  • 1 1/3 pounds chicory, roots trimmed
  • 5 ounces Swiss chard, shredded lengthwise
  • 5 ounces chicken stock
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter

Directions

 Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan and add the drained artichokes, shallots and leek.  Saute over a low heat for a few minutes, then add the poppy seeds, paprika, pepper and 1 teaspoon sumac and cook for a further couple of minutes.  Add the chicory, Swiss chard and stock.  Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes until the artichokes and onions are tender.

Remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the lemon juice and butter well and put into a warmed serving bowl.  Sprinkle with a little more sumac and serve.

Serves 6

I prepared this using two separate pans to keep the beets from turning everything pink.  If you use chicory, kale, or endive, you can just use one pan.  I had never sauteed raw artichokes before and I love this method.  I will do this more often this winter.