Tag Archives: Thyme

Cantaloupe & Cambozola Cheese: Inspiration from a Supper Club

Have you ever heard of a pop-up dinner, underground dinner or supper club?   Denver has several – they are invitation-only dinners organized by local chefs who want to share the love and showcase some of their culinary skills. Earlier this month we were lucky enough to get picked for a Noble Swine Supper Club dinner.  It was our second dinner with the friendly crew (and the second time I forgot my camera!) who create and serve a culinary feast for about 30 people.  Today I was inspired to recreate a simple but flavorful course from their dinner menu: musk melon (from the Boulder Farmer’s Market) dotted with French blue cheese, and paired with an Italian Moscato.  I used a regular cantaloupe and one of my favorite blue’s, Cambozola (more on this cheese in a bit). This dish is simply prepared with cubed, market-fresh cantaloupe and a strong, creamy blue, finished off with fresh-cracked pepper, fresh thyme leaves and a bit of extra virgin olive oil.  The sweet, juicy melon is a wonderful contrast against the creamy, rich Cambozola cheese and the pepper adds an unexpected brightness.  With the Moscato, it was the perfect end to the meal!

More about the supper club: The Noble Swine team changes location for each dinner, where one long table is set up, nametags organize the seating and guests get to enjoy a meticulously prepared 5 to 6-course meal paired with several different wines.  This is an intimate dinner experience with locally sourced food that is prepared to perfection, superb wines and people who enjoy eating food as much as I do!  The August 6th venue was hosted by generous dinner guests who opened their home so they along with 25-plus other people could dine on the balcony of their downtown Denver apartment. Before dinner, we enjoyed a cocktail on the rooftop patio/garden with sweeping views of the city and Front Range. It was a fabulous evening! 

Now back to the cheese that I used with the cantaloupe: Cambozola cheese. A recent Costco discovery, this cheese has become our favorite choice for a blue. It’s a triple cream soft cheese combined with Italian gorgonzola that delivers with tons of creamy flavor and a slight tang, which is why I like this style so much; the creaminess mellows out some of the pungent blue cheese flavor. It’s best eaten at room temperature and wonderful on fresh bread or crackers, or with cantaloupe.
Cheers to new food experiences and supper clubs!

Eat well and share the love!

Sweet Boy Murphy with Auntie Dawne, visiting from Tucson

Valentine’s Day Starter: French Onion Soup

With Valentine’s Day less than one week away, it’s time to start planning something scrumptious from the kitchen.  As a small portion, this classic soup is an intimate start to an evening of food with you and your honey.  The house gets filled with aromas that delight your senses and then you get to dig into this bowl of gooey goodness!  You’ll need to set aside some time to make the soup – about 2 hours – but you will be richly rewarded with the best little bowl of homemade French Onion Soup. The star of this soup is of course the onions, which cook and cook and cook until they have released their natural sugars, get soft and creamy, and develop a rich brown color.

I love that there are few ingredients in this soup but the resulting flavors are incredible.  The onions are thinly sliced and cooked low and slow, with a bay leaf and some fresh thyme to infuse their flavors.  White wine is added, then some roux (melted butter and flour mixture used to thicken), beef stock and then it cooks a little bit more.  The soup can be made a few days ahead of time and reheated before adding the croutons.  The croutons are the highlight of French Onion Soup, with melted Gruyère cheese; the top is crispy and golden, and underneath it’s slightly soft from the juices of the soup.

If you’ve only tried this delicious soup in a restaurant, I highly recommend that you give it shot in your kitchen.  It’s the perfect Valentine’s Day indulgence that is a feast for your eyes and your senses!

Eat well and share the love!

French Onion Soup
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies (makes about 4 cups)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium sweet onions (or yellow onions)
1 large shallot
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 stalks fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ cup good Chardonnay wine (one that you would drink)
3 cups low-sodium beef stock
Roux: 1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter and 1 ½ tablespoons flour, mixed together
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 to 4 baguette slices, toasted (season with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper)
¾ cup grated Gruyère cheese

Cut off the ends and peel the onions and shallot.  Cut each onion in half and then cut each onion half (and the shallot) into thin slices, about 1/8 inch thick.

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy soup pot, turn heat to medium-low and add the butter.  Let melt and add all of the onions with ¼ teaspoon salt.  Stir a few times to coat the onions with the butter and cook for about 20 minutes without stirring.  Stir in the sugar, and add the thyme stalks and bay leaf.  Cover with a lid and continue to let the onions cook for another hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until the onions are very soft and golden brown.

Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium and add the minced garlic, cook for 30 seconds.  Add the wine and cook uncovered until most of wine is evaporated, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the beef stock, roux, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and let cook for another 30 to 45 minutes until onions are very soft and soup has thickened.

To serve, turn the broiler to high.  Add ¾ cup to 1 cup of soup in an oven-proof ramekin, soup tureen or mug.  Add the toasted bread slice (or slices) on the top of soup and top with half the cheese. Place the ramekin under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes until cheese is melted, golden and bubbly. Serve hot.

New England Clam Chowder

A good bowl of New England clam chowder never fails to brighten my day and it’s a fun surprise when I find it on a restaurant menu.  For me, it’s a feel-good soup – right up there with Adele’s Matzo Ball Soup and Minestrone.  The base is rich from the clams and clam juice, and made even better with potatoes, milk, cream and bacon.  There are so many ways to make this chowder and I wanted to create an easy recipe that I could whip up at home; I started experimenting several months ago and bombed the first batch by adding carrots, too many potatoes and too much bacon, adding sherry (yuck!) and seasoning it with fine herbs.  But I wasn’t giving up, I wrote down the recipe in my little binder, kept refining it and made a few discoveries: using clam juice in the broth gives it instant flavor, a little half & half makes it extra creamy and a pinch of sugar brings all the flavors together.  So here you have it, the well-tested version from my kitchen.

The recipe is simplified by using canned chopped clams – my grocery store carries some that are wild-caught in the U.S., so my pantry is always stocked for instant dinner options.  For more flavor, I roast the potatoes with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper rather than boiling them.  Russets were used in this batch (peeled and cubed and then slightly smashed after cooking) which worked great, but my favorites are the baby Dutch potatoes because they have thin skins, cook quickly and have a creamy flavor.  The soup starts with some rendered bacon lardons (bacon pieces cut into ¼ inch wide strips), sautéed onions, celery and fresh thyme, some garlic and sugar and then finished with clams, clam juice, milk and roux.  It’s a fairly simple recipe for such a delicious bowl of soup.

Oyster crackers are a classic finish to the chowder; they taste like a saltine cracker but with lots more flavor and crunch.  I like to garnish  with a few dashes of Tabasco sauce for a subtle kick, and some chopped fresh chives for a bit of color.  I hope this New England clam chowder recipe brightens your table and becomes a favorite in your own kitchen.

New England Clam Chowder
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, makes about 6 cups

1 ½ medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼ inch cubes
OR 1 ½ cups baby gold potatoes (large handful, roast whole)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh-cracked pepper
3 slices bacon, cut into lardons (¼ inch thick strips)
¾ cup finely diced onion (about half of large onion)
2 celery stalks, finely diced (about ½ cup)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (about 4 stems)
½ of a small clove garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon sugar
2 cans (6.5 oz. each) chopped clams plus their juice
(1) 8 oz. jar (1 cup) clam juice
2 ½ cups milk (1 %)
½ cup half & half
Roux: 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter and 4 tablespoons flour
Tabasco Sauce or Hot Sauce
Oyster crackers
Fresh chives, chopped

Roast the potatoes:
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F or toaster oven to 300 degrees F.  Add the potatoes to an oven-proof dish and toss with a few teaspoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper.  Cook for 25 to 35 minutes until just knife tender.  Let cool a few minutes and lightly smash; if using baby Dutch potatoes, cut into slices or cubes.

In a Dutch oven or large stock pot over medium heat, cook the bacon pieces until crispy and browned.  Turn off the heat and transfer bacon to plate lined with paper towel; remove all but 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings in the pan.  Let bacon cool and set aside 1 teaspoon for garnish. 

Return pan to medium heat and sauté the onions and celery with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh thyme, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes.  Add the garlic and sugar and let cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the canned clams and their juice, clam juice, milk, half & half, roasted potatoes, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and the cooked bacon pieces; let simmer on medium for 15 minutes, stirring often.   

Make the roux: melt the butter in a ramekin (or small glass bowl) in the microwave on 10 second increments until melted.  Add the flour and whisk in with a fork. Add roux to the soup and stir well to dissolve. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes until chowder thickens, stirring often. 

Serve chowder hot and garnish with Tabasco sauce, oyster crackers, extra bacon pieces and chopped fresh chives.

  • Bacon lardons: make it easy by using your kitchen shears and cut the bacon strips directly into the skillet
  • Be sure to keep the chowder at a low simmer so the clams don’t get tough