Monday, September 29, 2008

On Breakfast and the Benefits of Being Well-Read

The cheese drawer can turn on you if you don’t watch it. Some of its residents don’t have a very long life span. Neufchatel cheese is particularly deceptive. Even though it comes packaged in a nice, factory-sealed foil pouch, it doesn’t like being tossed into the cheese drawer and then ignored. It wants to be used early and often until you’re left scraping the last smears of white cheese off the wrapper.

My problem is that my cheese drawer gets crowded. I love cheese, and I can hardly resist a two-for-one sale when it comes to my favorites. But unless I’m making cheesecake, 16 ounces of Neufchatel is just too much. Maybe I should make cheesecake more often? I’ll keep that idea in mind for future reference, as I rather like the idea of making—and eating!—more cheesecake. For now, though, I cast my thoughts back in time so I can tell you the story of my new favorite breakfast.

If I were a type of bread, I would be a loaf of pumpernickel. It’s an odd choice, I know. If loving pumpernickel makes me odd, then I don’t want to to be normal. I like pumpernickel’s rich distinctive flavor, laced with rye and caraway seed. Since I don’t eat pumpernickel every day, it feels like a treat when I buy a loaf. Some days I really need a treat, even if it’s just a loaf of unusual bread.

I was thinking about pumpernickel because the most delicious-looking recipe caught my eye, a recipe for “Breakfast Crostini” (what a great name!) and I found it so compelling that I knew I had to make it. By “make it,” I really mean use this recipe to make something similar to the fruit-and-cheese-covered toasts staring back at me. I figured, Hey, it’s just toast—what could be easier to tweak?

The original recipe mixes softened dried cherries, honey, cinnamon, and a tiny bit of orange zest into mascarpone cheese. Have you ever tried mascarpone cheese? It’s insanely rich—it tastes like very thick heavy cream to me, which is fine and dandy, but it doesn’t do much for me. I like my cheese to have a little more tang to it, so my first thought was to use the Neufchatel that had been languishing in my cheese drawer ever since the two-for-one sale at Jewel. Unfortunately, the Neufchatel had passed its prime, so instead of placing it in a bowl, I placed it in the garbage.

I still wanted my Breakfast Crostini the next morning, but I was running out of options. Here’s where being an avid cookbook-reader saves the day. I’m rather fond of cookbooks with hippie roots—I’m looking at you, Moosewood—and apparently, hippies are really fond of making yogurt cheese. Yogurt cheese is super-simple to make: line a colander with a coffee filter, spoon some yogurt into the filter, place the colander over something into which it can drain (like a bowl), and pop the whole thing in the fridge. Come back 10-12 hours later and you’ll have a thick yogurt with a pool of liquid whey underneath it. The texture of yogurt cheese is really luscious. Looser than cream cheese and with the tang of yogurt, it’s creamy and dreamy. You might even say it’s like masarpone cheese, all tarted up. It’s the stuff of which perfect mornings are made.

Into the yogurt cheese I stirred honey, cinnamon, lime zest, and softened cherry-flavored cranberries. The intention was to spread this mixture on toasted pumpernickel bread, but this yogurt cheese concoction is so utterly, lickably delicious that I’d like to be left alone with it, spoon in hand. It’s both sweet and tart, with hints of spice and citrus and nuggets of soft fruit. I’m totally enamored with it. And it does pair remarkably well with pumpernickel toast, adding crunch and chew to breakfast, just enough to wake you up. If breakfast can peel my eyes open while I fill my belly, then I might be tempted to start calling myself a morning person. Or at least a breakfast person.

Breakfast Crostini
Adapted from Food Network Kitchens Cookbook
Makes ~8 crostini*

These breakfast crostini are a little bit unusual, but they are ridiculously easy to make and eat. I’ve been eating them with a ripe pear and washing the whole thing down with a Chai Latte. This breakfast is a nice change of pace from my usual bowl of cereal.

For the yogurt cheese:
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt (I use lowfat yogurt)

1) Line a fine-meshed sieve or a colander with a coffee filter. Place it over something into which the yogurt can drain, like a bowl. Spoon the yogurt into the sieve and refrigerate the whole thing for ~10 hours. I get about 1 cup of yogurt cheese here.

For the crostini:
8 slices of pumpernickel bread
1/4 cup cherry-flavored dried cranberries
1/2 cup hot water
1 cup yogurt cheese (see above)
2 tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. finely grated lime peel

1) Toast the pumpernickel bread in either the toaster or an oven set to 350 degrees F.
2) In a small, heat-safe bowl, stir the cranberries into the hot water. Cover and let the fruit sit in the water for 5 minutes. Drain the water and add the fruit to the yogurt cheese. (If you are toasting your bread in the oven, now would be a good time to flip over the slices so that they will toast evenly.)
3) Measure the honey, cinnamon, and lime peel into the yogurt cheese. Stir to combine.
4) Spread the pumpernickel toasts with the fruited yogurt cheese and serve at once.

*If you are making breakfast for one, like I usually am, you can make a full batch of the fruited yogurt cheese and store it in the fridge. In that case, toast only enough pumpernickel bread for a single breakfast, perhaps 2 or 3 slices, depending on how hungry you are. The yogurt cheese keeps well for at least several days in the fridge, if not longer.


ammie said...

I am so going to make yogurt cheese soon! This sounds delicious.

Rosiecat said...

Ammie, my only regret is that I didn't make yogurt cheese earlier in life. I really like it. It's unlike any other dairy product I've eaten, and it has such a wonderful, homespun character to it. You can even increase the homespun factor if you make your own yogurt, another sign that you are a hippie.

I'll be making my own creme fraiche for the first time this week. I'm not sure if homemade creme fraiche is humble enough for hippie status--maybe it's more of a "French peasant" thing to do? But I like peasant food, so I'm okay with that!