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December 17, 2008

Transparency of manchego cheese

The good thing about making this dish? 

It's really easy, all the ingredients are readily available, and there's one particular element of the dish that is so freakin' delicious it will make your toes curl.

The bad thing about making this dish?

I spent most of the day walking around the house channeling my inner Beavis saying, "Man-chaaayyy-goooooooh" about 500 million times.  As if any of us needed further proof I'm really a 12-year old boy trapped in a grown woman's body.

For work-related timing reasons, I made this dish over two days, so let's start with day one.  The first thing I did was make the dried olives.  'Twas rather easy, since Whole Foods sells already-pitted Niçoise olives in their cheese department.  You know if I'd have had to pit the olives myself, we would've ended up with photos that more than vaguely resembled some sort of post-surgical consult case study.  So, hug your Whole Foods employees tight, ladies and germs.  They did us all a solid.

This step was so easy, I almost want to make them every day just to feel like a regular Smartypants McGhee.  I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper, placed the olives on them, and put them in a 160-degree oven for 7 hours.  The book suggests using a food dehydrator at 150 degrees for 24 hours, but I had to improvise since I don't have a dehydrator.  I made a few extra so that I could taste them along the way to see when they got crunchy.  Seven hours on the dot, people.  I am blinding myself with all this science (beep, boop, booop).


Next, I prepped the bell peppers.  I put them on my stovetop over an open flame, and just let the fire ker-plack the bejesus out of the skins (10 minutes).  Then, I stored them in a ziploc bag for about 30 minutes to loosen the skin, then peeled and diced them.





It was time for beddy-bye, so I packed up shop for the night and continued the next day.

I roasted the garlic in a 375-degree oven for just over 45 minutes, then peeled the cloves and stored them at room temperature until I was ready to plate:



Next up?  The croutons.  Again, super-easy.  I bought a loaf of sourdough bread at the local co-op, trimmed off the crust, and diced the bread into quarter-inch (okay, I lied, they were more like half-inch) cubes (also pretty much lying about the cube shape -- see below -- more like trapezoids).  Toasted those suckers at 325 degrees for 10 minutes, tossing them around a bit after the first five minutes.



Now, for the best part EVER, and to date, my FAVORITE THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD ABOUT THE ALINEA COOKBOOK... three little words that will warm my cockles forever [/snerk, she said "cockles"].....

Olive Oil Pudding.


You have not LIVED until you have eaten olive oil pudding.

Now, I don't want to hear, "But Carol, my Great Aunt Nonny used to make olive oil pudding when we visited her every summer, using a recipe that had been handed down through 37 generations of our family, so it's not like it's a new thing."

To that I say, "Shut up about your stupid Great Aunt Nonny, and just let me pretend I discovered this for all mankind and am taking this opportunity to announce to the entire world for the very first time that this is, perhaps, the greatest pudding, ever, in the history of the universe."

Because it is.

Typically, I hate the word "pudding."  It's onomatopoeic in kind of a gross way.  Don't get me wrong, I loves me some pudding (especially homemade chocolate pudding, still warm, with a skin over the top); I just hate saying the word.  Ick.  (I mean, say it.  Really.  Isn't it kind of gross?  Like the word sounds like you actually have some pudding stuck in your throat when you say it, which makes it even more gurgly and gross.)

But gurgly and gross do not in any way define this lovely delight of a p-word.  Not even close.  It's f-ing spectacular, and in my opinion, is, on its own, worth the price of the book.  Seriously.  And the best part?  You will have LEFTOVERS in a SQUEEZE BOTTLE which means you can .... um....... squirtitrightintoyourmouthwhennooneislookingnotlikeiactuallydidthatoranything.

To make this pudding, I prepared my mise en place:


I brought the milk up to a boil, while I whisked together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a small bowl.


I then poured a wee bit of milk into the yolk mixture to temper it, then poured the milked yolk mixture into the saucepan with the hot milk, whisked like mad until it came back up to a simmer:


I removed it from the heat, whisked in the olive oil, then strained it into a bowl set inside a bowl of ice so it could cool to room temperature:




The only thing left to do was cut the cheese.


I can hear you laughing.  Nice to know I'm not the only adult 12-year old on the internet.

This step is where I wish I had a deli-grade cheese slicer, or that my mandoline would've worked (it didn't).  However, I sliced the cheese as thinly as my skills would allow and also diced a bit of the cheese to go onto the plate, as well.  I also chopped up a few anchovies to include, as well.

Here's how the plating went -- squiggles of olive oil pudding, then a scattering of red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, olive, crouton, anchovy, garlic:


Then, my neighbor friends came over and we covered this assortment with the not-really-thin-enough slices of manchego cheese, and took a torch to it to melt the cheese.  I suppose I could've put the plates under the broiler in the oven, but letting a 10-year old play with fire was far more fun:



So, not quite as pretty as the photo in the Alinea cookbook, that's for sure, but boy was this delicious.

I had to make mine without the bell pepper, but I don't think the dish suffered one bit.  The different textures and tastes worked really nicely together, and the cheese didn't overpower the rest of the dish like I thought it might.  I've never been a huge fan of manchego cheese -- I don't know why.  It's just never one I reach for.  I think it's because it's a harder cheese, and the tang of it can stick inyour sinuses longer than other cheeses.  This time, it didn't, and I really enjoyed this plate.  In fact, if you didn't want to make this particular dish, you could combine these elements into a really great sandwich -- sourdough roll, roasted peppers, anchovy, garlic-olive oil spread, olives, manchego... it would work, and you'd be the envy of your workplace.

And, if you're going to make such a sandwich, don't forget to include some arugula.

Because, you know, the recipe calls for the Transparency of manchego cheese to be topped with a few arugula leaves and some arugula flowers.  Couldn't find the flowers anywhere, but I did buy a beautiful batch of baby arugula for this dish and completely forgot to include it on top when we ate it.


Poor, sad, neglected arugula.

Although it did taste mighty fine in a salad the next day.

Up Next: Not sure, yet.  Probably Skate.  Maybe Cranberry.  Maybe Oyster.

NOTE: There's still time to make a difference in helping to end childhood hunger in America by donating to Share Our Strength.  Every little bit helps.  Seriously.  If all you can donate is $5, then I hope you'll consider doing so.  It's been so wonderful to hear from so many of you about why you donated and why childhood hunger is an issue that's important to you, too.  So, go ahead, click on that link, and do your part help end childhood hunger in America.  You might just win a copy of the Alinea cookbook, or Thomas Keller's Under Pressure.

Resources: Organic Valley milk; Smith Meadows Farms eggs; Domino sugar; Clabber Girl cornstarch; Monini olive oil; David's kosher salt; garlic, bell pepper, olives, anchovies, arugula, and cheese from Whole Foods; sourdough bread from the TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: Nikka Costa; Pebble to a Pearl.  Funky, soulful, great beats. Try not to bob your head and dance in your chair to "Stuck To You."  You can't.  I know.  I've tried.

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This looks so fun and yummy. Arugula *flowers?* You mean, er, that flower that I just pulled apart from my arugula plants in the back yard yesterday wasn't an intrusive pretty weed? Oh boy do I feel like an idiot now, but have something to look forward to once the plants mature. Carol if you have yard or window box space, there's nothing like fresh baby arugula, right off the plant. It has a MUCH more spicy bite than pre-picked store-bought arugula, trust me. Intense. The pic of your kids with the poor lonely arugula leaf is a riot. :-)


Thanks for making my Great Aunt Nonny cry. What did she do to you anyways?

Can't believe the mandoline didn't work. Crap. Oh well, looks delish and the boys finally got to play with fire in a controlled environment and not in a passive-agressive way to get back at Aunty Carol for making them eat questionable food items.

Great work!

Have a Merry Christmas.

I didn't even know that arugula had flowers! I guess it must, but I hadn't considered it before. The transparency of manchego looks really good - I can't imagine that all of those yummy flavors would be bad. Now I'm off to contemplate the possibility of squeezing a bottle of olive oil pudding into my mouth...

Olive oil pudding?- ummm YUM! That dish sounds great for an appetizer!

This post is going to make me rethink roasted red peppers. I usually tar the hell out of them, but perhaps I have been too stern; perhaps a delicate charring is more to the standard. We shall see.

You gave me a version of my childhood in this post. No, my mother didn't make olive oil pudding, but she did make chocolate pudding and leave it to cool on the counter. The skin on the top was the best thing ever.

Oh...I, too, HATE the word "pudding." So glad to read that I am not the only one with some weird word-aversion disorder!

Not sure if it would work on Manchengo, but I know that I've used a vegetable peeler on Parmesan before and it worked wonderfully.

I was led to your blog through the WaPo article several weeks back, and am enjoying it very much -- have also been catching up on FLAH (am up to September 2007). I am an enthusiastic home cook as well (and a Marylander to boot!), and find your blogs inspirational. Keep up the great cooking!

The pepper part confuses me a little bit. I always thought the taste from a fire roasted pepper was in the charred skin, and yet the recipes calls for you to remove it. I guess the charring was just to make the skin easier to remove? Or was the inside of the pepper also cooked a bit in the process?

I will have to try incorporating those flavors into a dish unless Santa is good to me and I get the Alinea cookbook for Christmas.

Thanks for the spreadsheet of links to purchase specialty items. I used it to find some ingredients for recipes out of the El Bulli cookbook. I can't wait to use them.

Hey Carol,
I lurked over on FLAH but I just can't anymore because dude, you did Beavis. Awesome.

Re: manchego. Though it's pretty hard when it's cold from the fridge, I wonder if the paste would cohere a little more (and thus be less likely to be crumbled by the mandolin) if it was at room temperature for a few hours. Or maybe the cheese would just become oily, clumpy and disgusting.

Also, I once had a (Scots) girlfriend who called every. single. dessert. a "pud." Because, you know, it's so hard to say in its un-abbreviated form, and because there's no word one would rather associate with boiled treacle and suet.

I recently found your blog via WaPo and am now addicted. I flipped through the Aliena cookbook at B&N over the weekend - what in the world made you attempt this stuff?

Anyway, best of luck. I look forward to "shaking my head while reading" in the futurew

You mean you STILL haven't gotten yourself a real grown-up mandoline instead of one of those cheap ones? You will be forgiven only if you post a pic of you, wearing those Christian Louboutins you had your eye on some time back. (And mighty fine shoes there were, too!)

Um...what part was the transparency part?

And I'm sure you know how I feel about the pudding and your description of the "skin" on top...


**Carol Says: Had the manchego cheese been thin enough, it would've been transparent enough to see through to the rest of the ingredients. Perhaps, I should rename this Opaqueness of Manchego Cheese.**

When I was going through the book this was the first recipe that made me say "hey I could do that!" Interestingly, the olive oil pudding looks suspiciously like Barry and Levon's $240 worth of pudding, and even the directions are the same - "cook and chill" ("aw yeah").

I wonder how my friends and relatives would feel if I gave them all little jars of olive oil pudding for Christmas? With an unexplained hunk of Manchego. And refused to answer any questions.

You know, I thought that after your earlier post regarding your lacking of a food dehydrator, that one of your (wealthier) readers would have purchased one for you as a gift (holiday gift or otherwise)... it would be to our benefit too, as we all have an interest in seeing you make these dishes as well as possible!

(hint, hint Mr. Achatz...)


Red (a not so wealthy reader)

**Carol Says: Actually, Chef Achatz sent me something else for the holidays, which I'll write about soon. And, dehydrators aren't all that expensive. I'm just trying to do these dishes with the tools and appliances that I believe almost every home cook has.**

I'm not sure which is worse: thinking about the skin on the pudding or the actual word "pudding". Both make me kinda nauseous.

It seems the kids didn't get burned and that's a very good thing, 'cause when you burn the crap out of your hand, Carol lovingly shoves gelled sea creature down your throat.

Question about the manchaaaaaaaaaaaaaago: I've always wanted to try it but I'm not sure how to....tackle it, I guess? I know you mentioned that it's a harder cheese and somewhat strong--is it a good melty cheese? Was it gooey and soft or stringy and a little tough?

**Carol Says: You could shred it over eggs, you could eat it plain, you could put it on a sandwich with some ham and preserves, you could do almost anything with it.... except maybe not a grilled cheese sandwich. I don't think it would be good in that. Too oily.**

Girl, today's blog made me laugh out loud. You are one good writer!

Much love, Carol; if you're ever in Denver and want to marry a 21 year old college student just come-a-knockin'.
On a less sanctimonious note, I can't wait to read about your preperation of Lamb, mastic, date, rosemary fragrance. I'm preparing a trio of lamb cuts (saddle cooked en sous vide, gigot d'agneau en sept heures, and a winter rack) for my family for Christmas with the garnishes used at Alinea, but I'm excited to eventually read about how the original dish turns out. I beg only that you'll use quality Colorado lamb; it's profanely sexy.

Oh, yeah, that was me sitting alone at my computer at home sniggering away when you said "now it's time to cut the cheese." Love the picture of the sad arugula. Too funny! I'm so all over olive oil p-word. I *heart* Otto's olive oil gelato, and I bet there's some overlap there. Mmmmm... fat with fat. So delicious.

Carol - one step u missed...seeing the forkful going into your mouth...

I am learing sooooo much and you detail perfectly...

I second the vegetable peeler (the Oxo y-peeler w/refill blades is awesome) as a possible solution for the see-through (blush) cheese issue.

Thank you for not having a food dehydrator, because this way I know I still might be able to try some drying in my oven. So not on the list of stuff to buy...but that little torch might be going on my Amazon wish list.

Happy holidays, btw!

Manchego rules! One of my favorite cheeses and one that usually is sold aged to varying degrees. Younger manchego makes great grilled cheese sandwiches (look for a straw colored rind), while older manchego (greyish purple rind) is better for uses similar to parmegan. I also recently started making cheese at home and the manchego recipe is very easy and comes out nicely (although I use a goat/cow milk blend because I can't find sheep milk).
This looks like a fun dish to make and eat. I have an inexpensive mandolin that doesn't work too well on anything but firm vegetables, but I've found that if I brush some olive oil on the surfaces and blade, I can slice cheese pretty thin.

You gotta drop the "g" and say it like Puttin' on the Ritz. Ahh puddin'. Make it with "expresso" and let all your word inhibitions go. Ahh yeah.

Sorry, I was starting to channel Barry and Levon.

Happy Holidays.

I love your posts, you crack me up.
Not sure why the word pudding gives you the willies, but talking about eating skin doesn't!

Mmmmm, olive oil pudding in a squirt bottle, dried olives, croûtons, and repeating a cheesy mantra throughout.

I'm sure there is a special place in heavan for people who invite their neighbor's kids over to use a blow torch in the kitchen. Well done.

This is my first time on your blog, and I've already added you to my favorite links. Fabulous writing, good food photos, and you really make me want to get in the kitchen!

If you make this dish again, I want to point out that with just a tiny bit of tweaking in the arrangement of the garlic/peppers/anchovy/dried olive you could create a little face (look back at the picture - it's almost there already!). Then when you melt the cheese it would look really sick and delicious and you could use the Arugula for "hair". (We do a huge Halloween party every year and always try to come up with yummy but scary-looking dishes...I think this one made the list for 2009...).
I like to play with my food too!
(You could, theoretically, have made fun of me for this, but not after those cheese-cutting comments, cockle-lady...)
Happy Holidays....

***Thanks, Kate. You too. ***

I'm going to third the peeler suggestion; I use an Oxo peeler to make shavings of all kinds of hard cheese - works great.

yum! i've only had manchego cheese at tapas restaurants and i've always enjoyed it. the olive oil pudding is intriguing. hmmm....

If you still have some Manchego left, I came across a open-face sandwich idea that sounds pretty interesting. It goes like this: Combine 1/2 stick softened butter with 2Tbsp Fig preserves. Spread onto a halved baguette, lightly toasted, and top with thinly sliced serrano ham and Manchego (which the recipe recommends slicing with a vegetable peeler). Finally, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle on some pepper. Sounds delicious to me!

A couple of other people have asked about roasted red peppers. I personally have never seen instructions that do not involve blackening them all over to kingdom come. That said, I know that blackening them on oven burners (as many recipes suggest) makes it pretty difficult to char the entire skin without making the actual pepper taste like "burned". I would recommend blasting them on 450 or 500, rotating as needed, or sauteing in a hot pan, rotating as needed. Then, seal them in something and you know the rest.

Also, sometimes you cut the peppers in half and roast at 400 for only 15 minutes. This is usually what happens for peppers that are to be cooked in a sauce or sofrito. It activates the sweetness and removes the skin, but it doesn't add charred flavor.

Made this dish tonight for some friends...came out great! Used my Oxo mandoline to get the cheese nice and thin, made melting with the blowtorch easy and quick. I didn't have any arugula either, but I think that it came out rather tasty.

Keep up the great work!

I'm crushed. Tried the Transparency last night and my olive oil pudding was a disaster. I'm not sure what went wrong, but it didn't thicken at all. I have to try again - maybe tonight.

Also made the Mango recipe with a drop of soy pudding. Again, something must be wrong. The soy flavor was too intense and overpowered everything. I did however have a blast with the dry-ice anti-griddle and it functioned beautifully.

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