Snacking on cheese might just be my favorite pastime. A mozzarella stick is the first thing I grab when I get home from work to tide me over while I make dinner. Slices of cheddar washed down with OJ are the best on the weekends, in between a big breakfast and dinner out with friends. I’m a cheese fanatic and know no bounds when it comes to gruyere, brie, camembert, or chevrè.
In our indulgent post-college days, my husband and I would start off most weeknight dinners with a brie, sourdough loaf, and beer course – which we still do partake when we’re not watching our waistlines – and I used to lure friends over for havarti and ham paninis. But as much as things change, they stay the same. Now, I feed my habit by perusing the selection of local and imported cheeses at my neighborhood Nugget Market.
Don’t get me started on dishes that revolve around cheese. I have a nostalgic relationship with macaroni & cheese (just read my bio). When I travel for work, I like to sample mac & cheese off side menus, which provides a sense of home that comfort food does so well. Over the years, I’ve become fascinated by the varieties of cheese – often more than one – and pasta incorporated into different recipes. Layovers at Denver Airport require a trip to Wolfgang Puck Express for the four-cheese fix. In Chicago, I recently indulged in a gooey variation at Hotel Monaco’s South Water Kitchen.
Cheese evokes emotion and forges bonds in mixed company. Have you ever ordered a wine bar cheese plate and not had multiple hands reaching for the knife or cooing in unison? Some of my favorite memories include tasting chevre varieties from the counter at Dean & Deluca in St. Helena, or noshing on Flagship Cheese and award-winning “World’s Best” Mac & Cheese at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in Seattle’s Pike Place Market (once graced by Anthony Bourdain for an episode of “No Reservations” – my favorite foodie show!).
While my go-to party dish is my family’s notorious – and very cheesy - bean dip recipe, we’ve been known to whip out some of Cousin Carol’s “Toy Soldiers” for cocktail parties. Of a mysterious breed to some, the combination of green olive, pineapple, and Monterey Jack is a surprisingly pleasant package of salty, sweet, and savory flavors. Here’s the recipe, which couldn’t be easier to assemble for last minute party invitations.
Cousin Carol’s Toy Soldiers
1 block Monterey Jack cheese, cubed*
1 can pineapple chunks
1 jar of green olives (pimento-stuffed)
Cut cheese into ¾-inch cubes and spread out onto a cutting board or serving plate. Stick a toothpick into each cube of cheese, so the toothpicks are anchored vertically, “standing at attention” (like a soldier). Slide a pineapple chunk onto each toothpick, on top of the cubes of cheese. Next, slide a green olive on top of each pineapple/cheese/toothpick combo. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. (Note: Overnight refrigeration will make the cheese soggy from the pineapple juice, so this recipe is best served immediately.)
*For an added boost of Omega-3 fatty acids, try Omega Farms Monterey Jack Cheese. A Hayward-based client of ours, Omega Farms offers a full line of Omega-3 fortified dairy products. Check out http://MegsOmegaFarms.com for more information and a store locator.