Monday, December 12, 2011

Cheese, a Wisconsin Love Affair

Close your eyes and imagine cheese. Cheese on a burger, on pizza, in macaroni and cheese, in sandwiches, on crackers for times when you watch the football game. Cheese is milk gone to heaven. The website for dairy products producer Organic Valley calls it “milk’s attempt at immortality.”

Cheese is ancient and modern. It is made from milk. It lasts a lot longer than milk. Today we can find many kinds of cheeses in our grocery stores, including natural, process, artisanal and artificial cheeses (I think these are called cheese foods). It gives us cheeseheads. It is a large part of Wisconsin’s economy. I have heard that Wisconsin produces more mozzarella than any other state, and that the only, or almost only, producer of limburger is a factory in Monroe, Wisconsin.

I like cheese, but my taste for it is not very broad. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about pizza, but focus primarily on cheddar and Swiss cheese. Writers of cookbooks seem to focus on these, too.  Cookbooks for gourmets might be an exception. I use cookbooks for what I call plain cooking.

A plain cook can make many entrees and side dishes with natural cheddar cheese.  A good basic cheese sauce will dress up macaroni, potatoes, broccoli, omelets and many other foods. It’s easy to make. Simply direct your browser to , where there is a video called “How to make cheddar cheese sauce.” That recipe is a bit fussier than mine, but it gives the essentials. That website also gives a lot of interesting information about cheese. Interestingly, while I was watching the video about cheese sauce, a notice appeared at the bottom of the video screen, which said, “Four heart attack signs,” compliments of ads by Google. Wonderful pairing.

Not everyone is in favor of cheese.  Some people don’t tolerate milk products, and some are vegans. Some are doctors, like Dr. Neal Barnard, who states in his writings that people should get control of their health, and that means not yielding to the seduction of cheese. Dr. Barnard wrote a book called Breaking the Food Seduction: the Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings—and 7 Steps to End Them Naturally (St. Martin’s Press, 2003). He devotes a chapter to cheese, called “Opiates on a Cracker.” Yes, opiates.

Dr. Barnard says that researchers found in cow’s milk traces of morphine, codeine and other opiates. That’s an eye opener. It’s just enough to create desire to go back for more (p.50-51). He suggests that cheese, among other things, is making our nation fat. “…a typical 2-ounce serving has at least 15 grams of fat and about 200 calories—before it even touches your sandwich” (P. 53). “If just one of those pounds of fat lingered on your waistline, adding an extra pound to your weight year after year, you could explain nearly the entire weight problem the country is experiencing—that is, the average American is now gaining about 1.5 pounds per year, and our collective cheese fetish may be a big part of the explanation. If you’re looking for a simple way to trim your waistline, breaking a love affair with cheese can help enormously” (p.53-54).

According to Dr. Barnard, dairy products and cheese seem to be triggers for arthritis and migraines, and   avoiding dairy products can reduce the risk of some forms of cancer. Need I say more? That’s the health story. I don’t know if it is true.

Then there is the economic story. Wisconsin is about cheese. Government boards promote cheese. I don’t know if the government pays farmers to bring their milk to the cheese factory, as it pays farmers to grow corn and soybeans without considering health ramifications.

People continue to enjoy cheese. Take a look at the dairy section of your grocery store. It has shredded, grated, sliced, chunk cheese. The freezer section has pizza and cheesecake. Cheese is big business. Cheese is delicious. Thanks, Dr. Barnard. I still respect your ideas. Have another slice of cheese. But don’t overdo it. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cherries Dolores

Food and family go together sometimes. It may be true that we are what we eat, but I think it also is true that we eat what we are. Cherries Dolores is a dessert that comes straight from my parents’ lives in Door County while I was growing up.

My parents liked to entertain with fish boils. Real fish boils are done outside over a wood fire. As a person transplanted from the Chicago area, my father experienced local fish boils and quickly learned to produce them himself. We had fish boils at our summer cottage at Clark’s Lake, and after we moved to our home on Bay Shore Drive where we had a large yard on the bay, we had fish boils in our yard.  My father was the fish boil chef, and my brothers and I were assistants. My mother made salad and dessert. Both parents prepared the potatoes and onions prior to the cooking event. The fish was lake trout, and after trout became unavailable, whitefish. The guests were friends or business acquaintances. Once we entertained Governor Warren Knowles and people in politics.

 I don’t remember a fish boil without cherries Dolores. My mother’s name is Dolores; it is named after her for lack of another name for it. She gave the recipe to the world in her 1989 cookbook, Door County Recipes Old and New : and a Little Local Lore, by Dolores Allen, illustrated by Kathleen Whitt.

This dessert is easy to make. It is good anytime, and when served at a fish boil, it ends a mostly white main course (fish, potatoes and onions topped with lots of melted butter) with a tart, colorful burst of flavor.  

Cherries Dolores

1 stick soft butter
1 ¼ cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
Mix well and press firmly in the bottom of a 9-inch square cake pan. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees until a delicate golden color. Cool well before adding next layer.

Middle Layer:
1 package vanilla pudding and pie filling mix (not instant).
Prepare according to package directions. Cool well. Spoon onto the cooled crust.

Top Layer:
1-lb. can tart cherries (2 cups)(unsweetened)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ to ¾ cup sugar
Combine in a saucepan and cook until thickened and clear. Chill before spooning over the pudding later. (One can of cherry pie filling may be used instead, if you wish.)
Top with 2 cups of whipped cream or whipped topping. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

My comments:
In order for this to work, I think we need to either double the middle and top layer ingredients, or halve the crust and make it in a small baking dish, about 6 x 8 inches or 7 x 7 inches. I say this because when I follow my mother’s recipe, the middle and top layers barely cover the layers below. More dessert is needed to fill the space. If we make half a batch of crust and use the smaller dish, it works quite well, but it serves four to six people rather than a large gathering of people. I loved my mother, but I think she didn’t remember what she had been doing all those years correctly when she put it on paper.

Also, I prefer real food over manufactured mixes, so for many years I have made the middle layer out of vanilla cornstarch pudding rather than packaged pudding mix. I don’t know if packaged pudding mix is still available in the grocery stores. Recipes for vanilla pudding can be found in many cookbooks. Be sure to make it thick enough to hold its shape after chilling or the layers will collapse.

The cookbook is out of print, but it is available at some public libraries in Wisconsin, the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay until they run out, or (used) from Our family has run out of copies. Needless to say, my opinion is that this is the best cookbook in the world.