chefrocks

chefrocks

Monday, September 22, 2014

Gettin' my char on- Roasting peppers

What is it about a roasted pepper? The smoky undertones, vibrant color, and juicy pepper flavors make it a special treat for all kinds of dishes. Roasting peppers helps bring out the sweetness that's often hidden by a pepper's heat, or in the case of bell peppers, sharpness. Much like the caramelizing of onions, roasting peppers brings a whole new flavor profile to a vegetable that is often lost in the salad bowl, forgotten as a garnish, or piled onto a veggie tray and drowned in ranch dip.  

Fresh Hatch chilies ready to be roasted. The Hatch chili is one of the tougher
skinned peppers and is almost always roasted before using in dishes.

Gypsy peppers are very similar to bell pepper in size, thickness
and flavor and make a great pepper for use in salsa and any
roasted pepper dish. The red Gypsies are especially sweet.

With a table full of tomatoes to play with, I thought I'd get some salsa going, and instead of just throwing in some raw peppers, this time I would roast them first. I have a bowl of Hatch chilies to use up and they do have a thicker, tougher skin so removing that makes a much more enjoyable experience.

So how do you roast peppers anyway? It's easy- and there are a couple ways to do it. If you've got a grill, fire it up and throw them on the grill and turn often until charred all over. If you don't have a grill, you can roast them under the broiler, also turning all over until charred and blistered all over. Either way you go, once the peppers are charred and blistered and smelling wonderful, place them in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let them cool and they will steam and wrinkle and the skins are so easy to remove when cool. What you're left with is a delicious pepper to use in just about any recipe.

What kind of pepper can you roast? Well, pretty much any pepper. You will get better results with thicker peppers- ones with more "meat" and thicker skin than you will thin-walled peppers like habaneros, although you CAN still roast them and use them with a new smoky depth of flavor. Red bell peppers are often roasted and used in spreads, dips, and on antipasti platters. Some of the spicier peppers, such as poblanos, also benefit from a trip over the fire, and are big enough to handle easily.

Let's roast some peppers-


Since I am using the broiler to roast mine, I am preheating the broiler to high. Get your peppers ready by placing on a sheet tray. Remove any leaves but you can leave the stems on so you'll have something to grasp when peeling. Go ahead and set out a bowl to place the roasted peppers in too, and grab the plastic wrap.


Watch the peppers carefully while charring. I think the broiler takes longer than the grill. When you have evenly blistered skin and charred areas (the entire peppers doesn't need to be black) remove the peppers from the oven and place in a bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow them to steam as they cool.


When the peppers are cool enough to handle, place on a cutting board. Using a knife, scrape and peel the charred and loosened skin off the pepper. 


It should come off quite easily. Cut off the stem and remove any seeds (I left the jalapeno seeds in my jalapenos but removed from the Hatch chilies) and place in a bowl. Doesn't that look beautiful? 


I've roasted my peppers, and removed the skins. Now what? You have a world of culinary options available to you at this point! Strips of roasted red pepper, marinated in a little olive oil and Italian herbs makes a fantastic addition to your antipasti. Add some to a homemade pizza with mushrooms and garlic. Add to sub sandwiches, crunchy panini or puree and create a smoky red pepper soup or dip. Add to hummus before processing. Chop up and add to tapenade when making a muffaletta for a crowd. Replace the tomatoes in a caprese salad and you get an entirely new flavor! Use your imagination- there literally is no end to how to use roasted peppers. Roasted peppers with a bit more heat make great salsas too- which is where mine are going!


My mixture of Hatch chilies, jalapeno and yellow and red gypsy peppers turned out super pretty and delicious. I almost don't want to put them in salsa! I'm quite sure if I had a loaf of crusty bread I would drizzle these babies with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and eat piled on slices of bread. Oh so good! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rockin' the movies

What do you suppose a chef and his foodie fiance do on their nights off together? Cook, of course, but sometimes we actually DO go out. Sometimes we will even splurge and see a movie. We're not big theater people, in fact, most of the time we wait for pay-per-view or Redbox before we see a movie. It's really got to be a great movie to drag us back to the city to endure the parking lot hassle and crowded theaters.

This summer we have been lured to the movies twice- twice! Not surprisingly, both times they were foodie movies. Figures, right? But seriously, how often does a movie come out that is totally centered around food? Not very often. In recent years I can only think of a couple wine-related movies that I've seen. Anyway, earlier this summer the first movie was released and after seeing the previews I KNEW we had to see it- Chef.

If you haven't heard of it, it's the story of an executive chef in an upscale Los Angeles restaurant who struggles with the confines of an overbearing and inflexible boss. Anyone who has worked in the hospitality industry surely has worked for just such an individual- stuck on their old ideas, resistant to change, "my way or the highway." Such is the premise of Chef. Jon Favreau shines as the under-appreciated Chef Carl Casper. 

Knowing that a very influential restaurant critic is visiting the restaurant, Chef Casper steps out on a creative limb to create an amazing menu for the critic to enjoy, just to be forced to follow the boss' old and outdated menu. The review is devastating, and the story unfolds from there. As Chef Casper reinvents himself as a food truck owner, his life also evolves, and we get to go on a cross-country ride with him, his friend Martin and son Percy.

The movie features an incredible cast of actors- Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Robert Downey, Jr., and more. Watching the story unfold reminded me of the many, many times my own Chef has come home from work, disgusted with the inflexibility of some bosses, obvious inexperience of others and just discouraging nights in a restaurant kitchen. The foodie in me was delighted by the food, the creation of amazing flavors, the flashy knifework, the amazing market in L.A., the recreation of himself by Chef Casper, and, of course, the happy ending. Chef made me want to chuck my job and get a food truck! 

Now on the the second movie. Summer might be winding down, but finally our little small town theater got The Hundred-foot Journey. Everything about this movie spoke to me- the French countryside, the food, the European lifestyle, the meshing of cultures, the food, the beautiful location and music, the food, the building of friendships, the overcoming of seemingly insurmountable odds, and oh yes- the food!

This story....... to me was so much more than just the feuding of two restaurant owners. Yes, there was plenty of that which became quite escalated, but the growing friendship between people of such vastly different cultures, united in a shared passion- food, spoke to me on such a deeper level. The human story is so moving and the cast is just perfect for the characters they played. Except for Helen Mirren, these actors were unknown to me, yet felt like old friends by the end of the film. Yes, some of the plot is a little expected, but it's a wonderful story with characters I really loved. And you just have to see the food!!! From the very opening scenes, the simple snack provided by Marguerite to the amazing molecular gastronomy in the Paris restaurant, the food is tres encroyable! I seriously wanted to go home and cook!

Please please please- if you have not seen these movies, please do. Please please do. You're obviously reading this blog because you have an interest in food and food culture- get out there and explore it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Cooking Class- and I need a secretary!

I'm a dingbat. I have been excited for weeks over tonight- a cooking class at the Vom Fass store in Des Moines. But not just any cooking class, this one is presented by my friend and fellow-foodie Wini Moranville. If you live in Des Moines you probably know Wini. For many years she was the Datebook Diner- the restaurant critic whose official photo was basically a paper plate and a hat with some eyes peering out. Very hilarious. You can tell we're talking sense of humor here. She is also a celebrated cookbook author, with the publication of Chez Bonne Femme in 2011. She blogs and has a website, www.chezbonnefemme.com, and since she has nothing else to do (giggle giggle) she also hosts Great Food every Friday on Des Moines' only local morning show, Great Day on KCWI Channel 23. Heck I am exhausted just writing all that!


Long story short, Wini and I became friends through Facebook, as many people do these days, and shared many conversations online and in blogger groups. It wasn't until I read that she was hosting a cooking class at the local Vom Fass store that I thought we'd finally get to meet in person. I can't understand how Des Moines managed to have a Vom Fass store for over a YEAR and I didn't know? I've been driving to Minneapolis for this!! However..... I heard about it too late. Class is full. Darn. One day I get an email from her asking if I'd like to come as her guest- with all the happy dancing and jumping around singing and having my own little happy party, brain dead ME forgot to verify THE TIME. Had the date alright, but my mind was fixed on 7 pm. You know where I'm going, right? It was not 7 pm. It was 5:30. Ugh. STUPID ME !!!! Not all is lost. I've made it in time for the dessert course, pictures of the group and a little chat time with Wini and the other folks from the class.


I learned several lessons this evening. 1- Wini is awesome! She is very kind, personable and very caring about people. 2- Always double check and then extra-verify date and time. 3- Summer Stone Fruit Clafouti is DIVINE, especially with boozy whipped cream. 4- Cerises Rouge Brandy packs quite a warming punch!  


So what did I miss? The first three courses!!!!  Bummer! Wini started off with her recipe, Caprice Salad, using heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and Vom Fass' Cru Cravenco Olive Oil and Champagne White Wine Vinegar.  (No.......I'm not giving out the recipes- you need to BUY THE BOOK) I'm sure it was absolutely amazing, as it's prime time in Iowa for amazing heirloom tomatoes, and that incredible olive oil - just yum.

The second course was Silky and Light Potato Soup. I'm especially saddened at missing this one. I have a newfound love for soups, especially potato, and with leeks and heavy cream and fresh herbs... let's just say tears are forming because I missed out. Thank goodness I have the cookbook! The next course was a fresh and light pasta dish- Market Day Tagliatelle with Goat Cheese. Pasta with goat cheese. More fresh herbs. And goat cheese. Dry white wine. And goat cheese. You might think I like goat cheese or something. 


I WAS able to try the dessert course, and so so so glad I was. Wini's Summer Stone Fruit Clafouti with a boozy whipped cream was just so decadent. So perfect, yet eggy and light. Big slices of fresh juicy peach and halves of sweet dark red cherries, oh my gosh......just........oh my gosh!!!  I also got to sample Vom Fass' Cerises Rouge brandy. Wow. I'm cheating a little, reading from their brochure: made from French Guigne cherries with a touch of sugar to emphasize the intense cherry notes. Intense is spot on. It really warms the mouth and I can only imagine that with a piece of dark bittersweet chocolate, sitting on my comfy couch with a blanket, a pile of animals on my lap, sipping while the snow blows outside. Even without the brandy, I am definitely making this clafouti this weekend.


As the class came to an end and we finally got a chance to chat, "talking shop" so to speaking- blogging, using Facebook efficiently, the Datebook Diner days. Wini signed my book and I came home to sit down for a good long read. You can count on some French cooking going on here. I'll share lots and lots of pictures, but if you want the recipes, please get a copy of her cookbook. You won't regret it!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finding inspiration in one man's dream

Lots and lots of people dream of owning their own business. It's not easy to take those first steps. Lots to consider- money, legal issues, insurance, inventory, taxes, employees, benefits, regulations- the list goes on and on. What holds most people back? For most people, for the vast majority, it's money. Somewhere along the line "crowdfunding" was created. You, and your dream, can become a reality through the generosity of friends, family, and complete strangers willing to kick a few bucks into your Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaign. I think this is the greatest thing ever, and opens the business world to many people who might otherwise not even have tried.

Which brings me to a gentleman by the name of John-Michael McCullough. I was browsing online the other night when I received a message from him. He had been referred to me by a friend and wanted to share what he is working on and if I wouldn't mind, could I help him get the word out. 

Pic from Mac's Facebook page
Mac's Burger Shack. Sounds like a simple, classic place to pop in for a burger, right But what makes it special? What makes this concept different, especially for me, than all the other burger joint out there? Let me tell you, if you have known me for any length of time you KNOW I am very involved in veterans' issues. No matter what our individual politics are, we must support our veterans. Homelessness. Hunger. Abuse in the home. All vitally important issues that need to be handled. So how does this fit in with hamburgers and fries? Mr. McCullough's plan is to staff the restaurant entirely with veterans, homeless men, women and teens and victims of domestic abuse- in all phases. As a veteran himself, he understands the challenges faced when re-entering the civilian workforce. His dream is to create the opportunity for those who truly WANT to become self-reliant. From the ground up- designing the interior, designing the uniforms, create the menu and work front and back of the house. Why? Because they deserve it. They need a chance to regain their dignity, empower themselves and become a self-reliant American again. If they are willing to work, this is the opportunity to do so. Something about this really struck a chord with me, and I want to share it with you.  

First of all, let's visit Mac's IndieGoGo campaign. Click HERE to see it. 

John-Michael has been busy!! He has an active Facebook page with lots of ideas and updates and building a steady following. He is buzzing around the Twitterverse as well sharing his idea and a mighty tasty-looking profile pic!! If you're on Google+ you can find him there too.

Often on Rockin' the Kitchen we visit local restaurants, or whatever city we happen to be in, and review the food, the locale, the atmosphere. We can't do that with Mac's yet. It is my solemn hope and prayer that his dream will come true, with the help of all of us! In watching him realize his dream, he is also fulfilling the dream of many people who right now, tonight, tomorrow, and next month, feel like they have no more dreams left. Please help if you can- donate, share, help spread the word. Share the link. Like Mac's Burgers' Facebook page. Follow on Twitter and G+. The more people who see and learn about Mac's Burgers, the sooner this dream comes true. I'm actually kinda hungry......for a Mac's Burger!!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lazy Sunday and Philly Cheesesteak Soup

The forecast calls for autumn-like temperatures and for me that means firing up the oven, baking some artisan bread and making a big pot of soup. A friend of mine recently inspired me with a soup she made for dinner and I thought I'd give it a try and put my spin on it.

I've made many many pots of soup over the years. I can't tell you how many turkey frames or chicken bones ended up in the soup pot. Ham bones and beans, lentils and kielbasa. Veggie beef, hot and sour, chili, cream of this or that. One soup I have never made from scratch before- cheese soup. No real reason why, just never have. That is where my challenge to myself begins-master the cheese soup and up the ante by making Philly Cheesesteak Soup.


I picked The Chef's brain a little for cheese soup recipes. I tell ya, it's nice having a resident expert in the house! I think he was a little crabby (allergy season) with my questions but he's a good sport anyway. I'm sure it's tough for a chef to answer these silly questions about what's such a basic recipe but my Chef is as passionate about food as I am. We talked about different cheeses to use, what melts better than others, real cheese versus the fake cheese gunk that's VERY common in Philadelphia on a cheesesteak sandwich. 

Pulling off this soup is going to be quite an event. I need to start with the croutons. Get a nice loaf of crusty bread and cut into somewhat large cubes. Melt half a stick of butter, add 1/4 cup olive oil and several cloves of fresh garlic, cut in half and crushed. Heat for 10-15 minutes to infuse the garlic. Drizzle over the bread cubes, tossing to coat evenly. We have been snacking off our baguette I bought for croutons, so I had only half to work with.



Now, here is a trick I just learned from Food Network chef Damaris Phillips- heat a big cast iron skillet for about 5 minutes until hot. Add the croutons and cook and stir until toasty allover- you end up with a crusty, chewy bite of bread and not a dessicated cube of yuck. Set aside and allow to cool. You can do this the night before even and keep them stored in an airtight container.

Now let's get started on the steak strips. My plan is to buy a small piece of sirloin to cook, but you could use leftover steak if you had it.  Let's get started on the Philly Cheesesteak part. You will need-
  • one 4-6 oz tender steak such as sirloin or New York Strip*
  • one large sweet onion
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • butter
  • salt and pepper
Slice the meat into strips, then again crosswise into bite-sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Clean the vegetables. Cut the onion into strips and again crosswise into bite-sized strips. Repeat with the bell pepper. You don't want fajitas here- just bite size pieces. I also used half a Hatch chili pepper fora little more kick.




In large skillet melt a couple tablespoons of butter. Add the steak and stir fry for a minute or two. Add a couple more tablespoons of butter to skillet. Add the vegetables, season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir over low heat for 10-15 minutes until onions have become a little caramelized. Add peppers a little later if you like more crunch. Remove from skillet to bowl and cover with foil.


* You want to make sure what you have is TENDER, so if you choose to go with say, round steak, you're going to need to cook that low and slow in some braising liquid for a good hour or two until tender. My mom often used steak like this in pepper steak or stroganoff, adding the other ingredients much later.

Now that we've got that part done, we need to get our soup going. For the cheese soup, you will need-
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup good Cognac
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 pound cheese- I am using half mild cheddar and half Monterrey Jack for smooth melting, shredded
A little cognac never hurt, right? "Airplane bottles" are perfect.
In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk to make a smooth roux. Add the chicken broth, milk and cognac. Cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and bubbles. Remove from heat. 



Using a wooden spoon to stir, add the cheese in parts, stirring until melted before adding the next handful. If needed, return to LOW heat briefly to melt. Cover pot and set aside.

To serve, in each of six deep bowls, evenly divide the steak and vegetables. Fill the bowl with soup, top with garlic croutons and serve immediately. Alternatively, you can just combine everything except the croutons, which is what I did.

The first thing you get is the ever so slight whiff of that cognac on your first bite. It adds just the perfect bit of "luxe" that cheese soup can lack. It really kicks it up from homestyle comfort food to something just a little more gourmet. Then you get the tender bites of steak and onions and peppers and those crusty, chewy homemade croutons- believe me folks, don't skimp on the croutons and buy store bought. These are like little bits of garlic toast and oh so good. This is going to be such a great dinner on a cold, snowy day. It's filling and creamy and hearty at the same time. You're going to love it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tomato time is here

I know, I know, we have been picking tomatoes for some time now, but "tomato time" at the Little Lake House is what we call the time of year when we start making regular trips to the pick-your-own farm and get our tomatoes for canning. But when we have an abundance of tomatoes in the house, the Chef must make pasta.

We also picked a TON of  fresh peppers!
Fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs and a couple surprise ingredients mean we're not talking cook-all-day sauce, but rather a quick sauce of chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs from the garden, garlic, and some seafood for a lighter take on things. Seafood is not readily available to us out in the country so we do have to make do with canned and frozen once in a while, and we usually have some tucked away in the cabinet. Let's get cooking!


For this dish, you need-
  • 2-3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 2-3 tb freshly chopped herbs- basil, oregano, thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • one can crabmeat, drained
  • one can baby shrimp, drained
  • hot cooked spaghetti
  • Parmesan cheese
In a medium saucepan combine the tomatoes, peppers, herbs and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Heat over medium heat until the tomatoes break down slightly. 


Add seafood and heat through. Toss with hot cooked spaghetti, sprinkle with Parm and enjoy this unique and fresh pasta dinner.


Now, we still have a huge table full of fresh tomatoes ready to become the next project- Habanero Pizza Sauce, but I bet you anything The Chef pilfers a few more tomatoes before all is said and done!


Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy Hour Small Plates- Rustic Zucchini Tart

In the summer months I'm all about entertaining. I love the idea of a few friends over, drinks on the patio, a selection of appetizer style foods and small plates to share. Savory and sweet, light and lush. Chilled Riesling, cold craft beers, icy cocktails, laughing and enjoying the waning days of summer.

The baker in me also loves baking. Not the best idea in the summer so much, but sometimes late at night when The Chef is at work I will get out the baking supplies and create something new and delicious. I love anything with a European flair. French foods. Rustic Italian foods. Pastry. Cheesecakes. New recipes and old favorites I've made a million times. Like this one- I make galettes (rustic, freeform tarts) all the time. With all the access I have to fruit trees and generous friends, I always have several made ahead and frozen, ready to pop in the oven at the last minute. So as I'm sitting here, surrounded by piles of zucchini, I'm thinking quiche.... but easier, lighter, fresher. 

Pastry-making is one of the more basic cooking skills everyone should master. I learned to make pastry years ago the old way- with a pastry blender. These days the food processor makes it a snap to have homemade flaky pastry in minutes,  but if you dread the pastry part, it is okay to cheat and buy the ready-made kind for this recipe. Make sure you buy the refrigerated rolled pastry and let it sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before using. Don't use the frozen pastry in the tin pans- that will not work with this recipe. If you are up to making your own though, PLEASE, I beg of you, use butter, shortening or lard to make the crust. DO NOT use margarine. You will be most unhappy if you do! I only use very cold butter cut into cubes.

I love this tart for lots of reasons. It uses up zucchini. It's easy to make and doesn't require half the kitchen in ingredients. It's perfect for a small plates dinner, sharing with friends over cocktails. It pairs beautifully with a glass of champagne. It's the perfect picnic food, individually wrap wedges and you're good to go. It goes beautifully with an icy cold Pinot Grigio. It makes a great breakfast the next day with some fresh fruit. It's very quiche-y without having $100 worth of cheese in there (I totally made that word up). It has that rustic look that I love so much- it looks so gourmet when in reality it's almost effortless to make. And most of all, it's delicious!


So let's get started on our Rustic Summer Zucchini Tart.  You will need:
  • pastry for one crust
  • 1 small  zucchini
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced
  • 4 oz goat cheese
  • 2-3 tb cream cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped fresh thyme
  • chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • a little lemon zest
Make your pastry and set aside, covered.

Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then slice zucchini VERY thinly, set aside. You can use a mandolin if you have one but honestly, I am scared to death of mine. Bad, bad experience. I am in love with my trusty ceramic knife and used that.



Heat a couple TB olive oil in skillet, add onions, cook over medium heat until softened. Add garlic and saute for 2-3 additional minutes. Set aside to cool.


Add the goat cheese and cream cheese to the onion mixture. Using a wooden spoon mix and "smash" everything together until you have a mixture that's spreadable. Add a pinch of salt, a teaspoon or so of lemon zest, a couple nice pinches of fresh thyme and parsley, minced and some freshly ground black pepper. It's much easier to mix together if you bring the cheeses to room temperature. Set aside.


Roll the pastry out into large circle, doesn't have to be perfect. Transfer pastry to large baking sheet that has been sprayed with non stick cooking spray. The easiest way to do this is fold in half, fold in half and move, centering the "point". Next gently spread cheese mixture over, leaving about a 2 inch "rim".  Layer the zucchini slices in overlapping rows to completely cover the cheese. Fold the edge of the tart over, pleating as necessary, to tuck everything in and get that rustic look. Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle lightly with shredded cheese such as mozzarella, if you like. Use just a TOUCH. Don't think pizza here. I really like the shredded parm as opposed to the usual grated stuff, it looks very nice melted and browned on the top but a little bit of mozzarella will do in a pinch.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes until crust is beautifully golden brown. Remove from oven and let stand at least 10-15 minutes before slicing. Sprinkle with more chopped fresh thyme and lemon zest. Can be served warm or at room temperature. Slice in thin wedges for appetizers or larger wedges for lunch servings. A nice mixed baby greens salad with a Dijon vinaigrette is the perfect accompaniment, or a fruit salad- fresh fruit, not the fluffy whipped topping kind. 

This is such a wonderful dish to experiment with too- try bumping up the flavor with a quick sprinkle of fresh lemon zest right before serving. Sun dried tomatoes would make a pretty addition too- chopped up and added after baking. A handful of toasted pine nuts, or walnuts. No thyme? Use whatever herb you have on hand- in this case though you really do need to go with fresh. You can add sun dried tomatoes to the softened cheese too, sprinkle on chopped sauteed mushrooms, jalapeno pepper, even seafood like crab or shrimp. Once you get started, your imagination will just go to work and you will create up a storm! Now all you need to do is set the table on the patio or pack that picnic basket.