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Recipe Megapost: FRACAS 2012

6 Dec

Each winter I go completely overboard and cook a bizarre amount of food in the span of 2-3 days for the Folger Recycled Arts and Crafts Annual Show (FRACAS). The Green Committee holds the event each December and displays creative art pieces made from recycled objects by Folger employees, family, and friends.

After I’m home from the first ingredient run, I have a brief “you are out of your mind” moment, get that five minute panic out of the way, and then move forward. Once prep lists are made and I’ve worked out what needs to be done when / how things should be stored, it’s go time.

I may not be a trained chef, but I’ve been cooking for groups since I was old enough to reach the counter. One of the benefits of being the location of choice for most family holidays was / is getting to spend days in the kitchen working on party food with my family. We put on music, everyone picks a task, and sometimes a bottle of wine even starts floating around. Sometimes grandmothers or aunts even appear, ready to help. We’ve been a pizzelle factory, ravioli assembly line, cookie shapers, manicotti fillers and just about everything in between.

It’s different to do it alone. Fortunately, I never feel alone, because when I’m in the kitchen my family is with me whether they’re physically there or not. There may be several less pairs of hands, but all of their experience sticks right with me. So when this once-a-year madness comes around I go at it with everything I’ve got.

This year, the FRACAS tasting plates were primarily influenced by dishes from France and the Mediterranean. I was inspired by the spirit of our Green Committee to think about being a responsible steward of the earth and used each ingredient in as many ways as possible. I also considered the sustainability and seasonality of what was planned and consulted with friends from the local Arlington County Farmer’s Market in order to prepare a thoughtful, respectful group of dishes. My most sincere thanks go to those purveyors for making available the many local herbs, meats, vegetables, and preserved foods (i.e. dried cherries and strawberry jam). Special thanks to the fine folks at Smith Meadows, Cibola Farms, Toigo Orchards, and Twin Springs.

We begin with the plate of tapenades, spreads, and rillettes…

Smoked Salmon Rillettes
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 8 oz. wild salmon filet, bones removed.
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Juice of half of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped.
  • 4 oz. of smoked salmon, cut into thin strips and then diced.
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika

Season the fresh salmon lightly with salt and steam for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mash together the olive oil and butter until very smooth and then stir in the lemon juice, chives, and smoked salmon.


Remove the skin and flake the cooked, fresh salmon over the top of the mixture then fold it in gently until well combined. Season with chili powder and salt if needed. My smoked salmon was quite salty and so I did not add any extra salt.

Cover and chill for at least two hours. Allow the rillettes to come to room temperature before serving them. They will stay fresh covered in the refrigerator for up to three days or tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two months.

Pork Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 3 lbs. fatty pork shoulder
  • 8 oz. rendered pork fat (lard)
  • 1 leek, thoroughly washed and split lengthwise, leaving one inch intact at the root end.
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 qt. water or veal stock

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Dice the pork into 1 in. cubes and place in a pot. Cover with water by 2 in., bring to a boil, and drain the pork. Return the pork to the clean pot.


Stuff the thyme and bay leaves into the split leek. Take the celery stalk and put it alongside the leek, then tie everything together with a piece of cotton twine. This is called a bouquet garni.

Stud the onion with the cloves.

Add 2 qts. of water or stock to the pot with the pork in it, add the bouquet garni and clove studded onion, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is very tender and falls apart when poked with a fork.

Remove the pork from the cooking pot and transfer it to a plate to cool. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and set aside.


Once the pork has cooled to slightly above room temperature, put it in a mixing bowl and mix on low speed, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed until it is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.


Put the spread into individual containers and refrigerate until chilled.


Melt the lard over low heat and then pour a 1/8 in. layer of it on top of each container of rillettes. This seals the containers and keeps the rillettes fresh. Put the rillettes back into the refrigerator and chill until the layer of fat has solidified. Remove from the refrigerator two hours before serving.

Covered, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to a month.

Mediterranean Olive and Vegetable Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 1 zucchini, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, quartered.
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes, quartered and seeded.
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pits removed.
  • 1 onion, diced.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced.
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup basil, chiffonade cut.
  • Salt and black pepper

Broil or grill the red and yellow peppers until the skin is black all over. Put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to cool.


Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin, core, and seeds and then ½ in. dice.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, and tomatoes with ¼ cup olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Saute the onion and garlic in 2tbsp. of the olive oil until soft, but not browned and then set aside to cool slightly.

Process the olives, garlic, and onions into a puree. Fold in the balsamic vinegar, roasted vegetables, peppers, and basil.


Season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Fig and Olive Tapenade
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 1/2 cup dried black mission figs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup nicoise or kalamata olives, rinsed and pitted.
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tsp. stone ground mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed.
  • 1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and patted dry.
  • 1 tsp. finely diced rosemary
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and black pepper

In a medium-sized pot, simmer the figs in the water until they are soft and the cooking liquid becomes syrupy. Remove the figs from the water with a slotted spoon and reserve the excess cooking liquid.


In a food processor, pulse together the olives, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, figs, capers, rosemary until a chunky paste forms. Add the olive oil until the mixture is spreadable.


The reserved liquid from the figs can be used to thin the spread if needed. Season to taste. Refrigerate for at least one day prior to serving. Covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Roasted Garlic with Marinated Dried Tomatoes

  • 1 cup dried tomatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Salt and black pepper

Combine the tomatoes and olive oil and set aside for at least 30 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly. If you have trouble getting the tomatoes to soften, you can put the mixture over very low heat for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Split the heads of garlic in half horizontally and drizzle olive oil on each half. Put the garlic back together and bundle tightly in aluminum foil. Roast the garlic for 40-45 minutes or until soft and lightly caramelized. Set aside to cool.

Squeeze the softened garlic out of the peel and mash in a bowl. Drain and roughly chop the tomatoes, then mix them into the garlic with the lemon juice and thyme. If you like a chunky texture, stop and season here. If you prefer more of a spreadable consistency, you can puree this in a food processor. Season to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


…The second plate was full of cured pork tenderloin and parma ham accompanied by a few young cheeses and special condiments to brighten everything up. Everything here mixes and matches pretty well, but my favorite was a toast topped with the cured tenderloin and mustard fruit. Salty, sweet, and a little tangy, yum!

Sage and Thyme Cured Pork Tenderloin

  • 4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and sinew.
  • ½ gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 5 tbsp. DQ Cure #1, also known as pink salt or Instacure
  • 1 cup sugar (you can use a mixture of brown and white)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh sage

Combine the water, herbs, salt, curing salt and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Set aside and chill until cold in a container large enough to hold the tenderloin.

Add the pork to the container of brine and place a plate on top of it to keep it submerged. Allow this to sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

Remove the pork from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Set it on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roast the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees, rest, and then wrap and chill. Slice thin on the bias to serve.


Ancho Chile Spiced Ricotta

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade ricotta. Once the curds have drained, add 1 tsp. ancho chile powder and mix thoroughly. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.


Queso Blanco with Roasted Piquillo Peppers

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade queso blanco. Prior to pressing the cheese, fold in 1/3 cup diced roasted piquillo peppers. Store well wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Mustard Fruit
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup stone ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and chopped into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 dried sour cherries

Place the dried cherries and chopped pears in a clean, quart-sized mason jar and set aside. Cover and shake to mix.

Combine the wine, sugar, vinegar and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the mustard until thoroughly blended and then mix in the mustard seeds.

Gently pour the hot liquid over the fruit in the jar, cover, and shake gently to distribute the liquid. It should generously cover the fruit. Store in the refrigerator for at least two days and up to one month. The longer it is stored, the more pronounced the flavors will become. The dried cherries will also plump up a little bit and they are delicious.

adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 pound celery, peeled and sliced thin.
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, cut into thin rings.
  • 2-3 cherry peppers, diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 red onion, quartered and sliced thin.
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. toasted, ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped.
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Pack into a 1 quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month, shaking gently every so often to redistribute the liquid.


Strawberry Jam Tart with Walnut Crust

Follow the recipe found here for making a strawberry jam tart, but replace the cornmeal with ½ cup finely ground walnuts.


Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
adapted from the Noble Pig

Tart shell:

  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Zest of one large orange


  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped hazelnuts to garnish

Preheat the oven to 325o F.

Melt the 12 tbsp. of butter in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and brown just a touch. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and orange zest until the sugar is mostly dissolved.


Put the flour in a large bowl and add the butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms.



To form the crust, roll the dough into a ball and then press it into an ungreased 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom using the heel of your hand. Push the crust approximately ½ in. up the sides of the pan.


Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake it for 25 minutes or until the edges are just becoming golden. Set aside on a wire rack to cool slightly. Unlike many tart recipes, the crust does not have to be completely cool before the filling is added. It can be warm, but you should be able to touch the sides of the pan.


Whisk the cornstarch with ¼ cup of the heavy cream. Make sure the cream is cold when you do this.

Combine the remaining 1 ¾ cups cream, chocolate-hazelnut spread, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cornstarch mixture and mix thoroughly.


Whisking constantly, bring the filling to a boil and boil for one minute or until it thickens considerably.


Pour the filling into the tart shell.


Top with chopped hazelnuts and refrigerate until set for at least two hours before serving. Chilling it overnight is ideal for the very easiest cutting serving. Covered, the tart will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.


Here’s the whole spread waiting to be enjoyed in our photography department. As you can see, I was not the only one contributing delicious goodies. We have a very talented staff, what can I say?


And that doesn’t even include all of the truly special artwork that was created for the event. Tote bags, planters, wreaths, mobiles, frames, dioramas, models, origami…you name it, my colleagues thought of a creative way to make it. A personal favorite was a giant paper crane made out of a proposed engineering plan. He was pretty cool looking. For my own FRACAS piece I wanted to find a way to save all of the beautiful greeting cards Joe and I received at our wedding, so I made this wreath out of those, fabric scraps left over from making a skirt, a bow from the groomer which Dioji no longer cared to wear, and a broken embroidery ring:


Well, I hope that this post will sustain you through December, since I’m fairly sure that I’ll go MIA during Christmas baking season. (Dare I try to break the record of 114 dozen treats?) All I’ll say is that a certain grandma gave me a pizzelle iron at my bridal shower and that it’s been calling to me from the cupboard ever since I deemed it acceptable to begin thinking about Christmas.

Warmest holiday wishes to all of you. Remember that what you always have is what you carry in your heart and head, so make it something fun!

Ciao for now,

Waffle Makeover!

15 Jun

The Carbo-Queen, as my family used to call me, is serious about waffles.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve tried every waffle mix there is, and have made them completely from scratch about a thousand times. There’s just something about achieving that perfect mix of sweet and savory that makes my mouth really, really happy.

But (there’s always a ‘but,’ isn’t there?) I’m supposed to focus on eating protein first at meals. Sure, a side of wheat toast with some eggs and turkey sausage is fine, but a meal of waffles? Probably not the best option for me, although I do treat myself to the occasional plate of French toast or slice of banana bread.

When I want to slay my waffle cravings without trashing my diet and going into a carb-coma, I turn to this recipe. It turns out crisp, light, and super-flavorful protein-filled waffles. You won’t miss the cups of flour, believe me. The secret to making these really delicious? Use full-fat ricotta to keep the insides rich and moist. Fresh-made would be the very best, but hey, there’s not always time for that.

Because I am usually only cooking these for me, this recipe yields a small amount (4 square waffles), so feel free to double or triple it if you’re feeding a crowd.

Pecan Ricotta Waffles

  • 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour (or brown rice flour, almond meal, rolled oats, buckwheat flour…etc.)
  • 1 tbsp. ground pecans
  • 1 tbsp. sugar, honey, or light brown sugar (or less, if you prefer more savory waffles)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 egg whites and 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, ground pecans, and a pinch of salt.

Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt and beat until soft peaks form.

Fold the ricotta mixture into the dry ingredients. The batter will seem very stiff at this point.

Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter.

Cook in a preheated waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s directions. In my waffle iron, they take about 2-3 minutes to get nice and golden brown. If they seem slightly soft when you remove them from the waffle iron, just put them in a warm oven or toaster for a minute or two to crisp up the outside. Leftovers freeze pretty well and take about 3-4 minutes in the toaster oven to reheat.

Bust out the maple syrup and enjoy. These are already on the lightly sweet side, so go light on the syrup. I barely used a teaspoon on these and it probably didn’t even need it. They’re also good with peanut butter, bananas, berries, jam, and probably whatever other toppings you can dream up. I personally like something crunchy like more chopped nuts or some chopped, crisp bacon on top.

Seriously, writing this post has already made me hungry for more of them! And at under 100 cal. per waffle, why not? Go to it, friends.

P.S. In case some time goes by and you wonder why you’re not getting your fix of food porn, just FYI Neen’s Notes is going on vacation for a little while.

“Why Neen? WHY would you do such a thing?”

Oh, I’ll be busy marrying my best friend, that’s all.

But don’t worry, I’ll write again in a few weeks…maybe about something tasty inspired by our honeymoon abroad. Until then, “mangia bene!”

Ciao for now,


Joe’s Confetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

21 Mar

Who here liked Funfetti cake as a kid? Okay, now who here still likes Funfetti cake as an adult? No shame in admitting it. There’s nothing quite like rainbow cake to bring some unanticipated cheer into our lives. And while that box of color speckled white cake is pretty tasty, the truth is that you can make it yourself with very little angst.

This is what Joe requested for his birthday, and here’s how I put it all together.

White Confetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

White Cake

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract½ tsp. almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 6 egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup of multi-colored sprinkles

Quick Buttercream Frosting

  •  6 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 16 oz. butter, softened
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup milk

Grease and flour two 9 in. cake pans and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and  1 ¼ cups of sugar and beat until light and fluffy. This will take several minutes on medium speed. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts and then add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk until everything is combined. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Clean and dry the stand-mixer bowl thoroughly and then add the egg whites and a pinch of salt to it. Whip on high speed until the egg whites are frothy and then very slowly add the remaining 1 ¼ cups of sugar. Whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and holds almost stiff peaks.

Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest. Add the colored sprinkles and fold them into the batter.

Divide the batter evenly among the two pans and then gently tap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles in the batter.

Bake the cakes for 30-40 minutes or until the tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 15 minutes and then turn them out onto a cooling rack. Let them cool completely before frosting. It is best to wrap the cooled cake layers in plastic wrap and refrigerate them overnight prior to frosting.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter on medium speed until very smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until the sugar and butter are combined, then add the vanilla extract, salt, and milk and beat on medium speed until thick. It will take about 3-4 minutes.

Frost and decorate the cake as desired! You will probably not use all of the icing, but it’s better to have extra for decorating. No one wants to run out in the middle of frosting a cake (which I did while testing variations of this recipe).

So freaking good. You can also use a Swiss Meringue Buttercream on this cake, which is a slightly more involved recipe. The upside is that it uses much less sugar and a little less butter without sacrificing consistency or taste.

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 13 oz. butter, softened and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Place a large bowl over a pot of simmering water and add the egg whites and sugar to it. Whisk them together until the sugar is completely dissolved, meaning it does not feel grainy in the slightest. Transfer this to a stand mixer and whip until the meringue is white and doubles in volume. Add the vanilla and pinch of salt.

With the mixer running, slowly add the butter, one or two pieces at a time, making sure the additions are thoroughly combined before adding more. Do not panic if the mixture starts to look like it is separating—trust me, it will come together. Once all of the butter has been added, whip the buttercream on medium-high speed until thick and creamy. It may take 5 minutes or maybe a little more, but it will come together. Scout’s honor.

Both the quick buttercream and meringue buttercream will hold up at room temperature for an extended period of time, although the latter is more susceptible to condensation. So if you have a particularly humid refrigerator I would recommend using the first recipe.

Happy birthday super-fiancé! I hope all of your wishes come true.

Ciao for now,


Oktoberfest Brew-Curds Cheddar

12 Oct

October has definitely arrived. Fortunately, that just means we’ve moved into football/beer season.

And comfort food season! Fall food is my kind of food. This weekend I decided it was finally time to combine cheese making and beer. Ever put beer in a mornay sauce? Do it and tell me if you ever make macaroni and cheese without it again.

Back in March, I made a wheel of Farmhouse Cheddar that came out pretty darn good. Good, but not great. For the last few months, I’ve been having some…issues…with cheese making. My wheel of gouda dried out because the humidity in my cheese fridge kept dropping too low. I pressed a second one over the weekend, but it will be waxed this time since my cheese making cohorts have advised me that the coating will protect it in a slightly less-than-ideal aging environment. Part of the reason it dried out so easily was due to equipment problem number 2: My pot. Because my largest pot (that fit a burner on my electric range) was still too small to fit two gallons of milk, I was halving recipes and making smaller wheels of cheese. I might have gotten away with the thicker rind on a larger wheel of cheese, but on the small ones it just meant the whole thing turned into a little brick.

Undeterred, I scoured the Internet until I found just the ticket: A 12 quart double-boiler. Now I could finally heat 2 gallons of milk evenly over a water bath with greater accuracy and better long-term temperature control. Armed with a new pot, new blocks of shiny red wax, and recently calibrated thermometer, I got back on the horse with a decidedly autumn cheese:

Brew-Curds Cheddar

 Just in time for Oktoberfest, it’s a cheddar wherein the curds are soaked in beer before pressing. Let’s do it.


  • 2 gallons whole milk
  • 1 packet mesophilic starter
  • ½ tsp. calcium chloride diluted in ¼ cup cool water
  • ½ tsp. rennet diluted in ¼ cup cool water
  • 1 bottle stout or ale of your choice , at room temperature. Pick something that you enjoy drinking!
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • Cheesecloth



Slowly heat the milk in a pot set over a water bath to 88 degrees F over a period of about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle the starter into the milk and allow it to rehydrate for five minutes before stirring it into the milk thoroughly with a whisk using an up and down motion. Maintaining the 88 degree temperature, cover the pot and allow the milk to ripen for 45 minutes.

Add the calcium chloride and mix for one minute, then add the rennet and mix for one minute. Once again, maintaining the 88 degree temperature, cover the pot and allow the mixture to set for 30-45 minutes or until the curd gives a clean break when cut with a knife.

Cut the curd into ½ in. cubes and let them sit for 5 minutes.

Over low heat, slowly bring the temperature of the curds to 102 degrees F over a period of about 40 minutes. Stir continuously throughout heating to prevent the curds from matting together. The curds will release a lot of whey and shrink to the size of peanuts. When 102 degrees F is reached, turn off the heat and rest for 30 minutes while maintaining the temperature. The curds will sink to the bottom of the pot.

Place a strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth over a pot or bucket large enough to catch the whey. Gently pour off the whey into the bucket and ladle the curds into the strainer. Let the curds drain for 10 minutes.

Return 1/3 of the reserved whey to the pot on the stove and reheat it to 102 degrees. Place the curds in a colander, set the colander over the pot of whey and cover. Maintaining the 102 degree temperature of the whey, wait 10 minutes and the curds in the colander will have melted into a slab. Flip the slab over and repeat this process every 15 minutes for one hour. After one hour, the slab of curds will look shiny and white.

Transfer the slab to a cutting board and cut into ½ in. by 2 in. strips. Place the strips in a bowl and cover completely with the brew of your choice. Soak for 45 minutes.

Drain and discard the brew. Sprinkle the salt over the strips and toss to combine.

Line an 8 in. mold with damp cheesecloth and pack the curds into it. (See: Building a cheese press and Using a cheese press). Fold over the cheesecloth and press the curds at 8 lbs. of pressure for one hour. Remove the cheese from the press, flip it over, redress in the cheesecloth and press at 10 lbs. of pressure for 12 hours.

Remove the cheese from the mold and unwrap the cheesecloth. Pat the cheese dry and set on a rack to air dry 1-2 days at room temperature or until the surface is dry to the touch.

Coat with wax (See this post for how to wax cheese), and then age at 50-55 degrees F and (ideally) 85% humidity for 4-6 weeks. Flip the wheel of cheese daily to encourage even ripening.

See you in six weeks (the cheese, not you my dear readers)!

This is a really great project for a rainy weekend when you just don’t feel like going outside and would rather huddle in the warmth of a cozy kitchen. Chart out the time you’ll need on paper and you’ll know exactly when certain steps will be ready. Breaking the process down that way really helps first-time cheese makers who might feel a little overwhelmed. As always, feel free to comment below with any questions you might have. I am more than happy to help others who want to take a stab at making their very own cheese.

Ciao for now,


Gouda Memories

3 Aug

I’ve written before about the way that certain foods bring back palpable memories. Fresh pasta makes me think of warm nights and long meals with my mom and dad when we visited Italy seven years ago. Wedding soup reminds me of my paternal grandmother’s kitchen, and stracciatella reminds me of my maternal grandmother’s kitchen. I can’t make stew without being transported to our old house in Forest Hills, feeling so warm and comforted by my dad’s version after swim team practice in mid-winter. Sirloin tips with thyme and mozzarella bring me back to Davenport (my college dormitory), and the first meal I ever cooked for Joe. And funnel cake, a food which most people associate with fairs, surrounds me with memories of my best friends from Northeastern, and one infamous powdered sugar fight.

Gouda has somehow woven its way into several nostalgic spots in my brain. When Joe and I went to the Netherlands five years ago, I had the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Fresh, bias-sliced baguette bread paired with a young, sweet gouda. Crisp and toasty on the outside with a warm, creamy inside. I paid no more than two euro for the delight, and ate it while we watched boats float effortlessly down the narrow canals.

And then, Hamlet. When I lived in Cambridge, my friends and I went to see a performance of Hamlet in the garden of one of the colleges. It was the night of the Storm Bird sauvignon-riesling (an oddly cheap, but delicious wine), strawberries, a seriously good-looking Danish prince, and a rich gouda that tip-toed the line between sweet & soft and sharp & crumbly. It was just firm enough to cut slices without breaking apart.

Last, but definitely and wholeheartedly not least was the gouda we tried just recently at the Green Goddess in New Orleans, LA. It was the day Joe and I announced our engagement to my family, and the cheese was eaten it in the midst of what I can only describe as pure, giddy joy. Green Goddess’ menu illustrates the flavor and texture of it more aptly than I ever could:

“Known as the Beemster, this walks a fine balance between creamy & salty with those crunchy crystals that aged cheeses can acquire. Rich, mellow toffee notes make the Beemster perfect with many after dinner liqueurs.”

When my dad recently procured a gallon of farm-fresh raw milk for me on my most recent trip to Pittsburgh, it seemed only appropriate to try and make a cheese to remember: My very own gouda.

We begin…


  • Two gallons of raw, whole milk*
  • One package of direct-set mesophilic starter
  • ¼ tsp. liquid rennet dissolved in ¼ cup cold, filtered water
  • Cheesecloth

Brine solution

  • 1 gallon cold, filtered water
  • 2 lbs. salt

*Can’t get raw milk? You can use pasteurized, but add ¼ tsp. of calcium chloride to improve the curd’s firmness

Pour the milk into a large pot and set it in a water bath warm enough to heat it to 90 degrees F. Once you have achieved this temperature, add the mesophilic starter and mix thoroughly. Cover the pot and allow the milk to ripen for 10 minutes, adding warm water to the bath as needed to maintain a temperature of 90 degrees.

Add the rennet and stir in a slow up-and-down movement for 1 minute. If you have used raw milk, stir for an additional minute. Cover the pot and allow the curd to set, maintaining 90 degrees F., for one hour or until the curd breaks cleanly when cut.

Heat a small pot of water to 175 degrees F.

Cut the curd into a checkerboard pattern and then crosswise into cubes, and let them sit for 10 minutes.

Ladle or pour off 1/3rd of the whey and, stirring consistently, add just enough of the hot water to bring the temperature up to 92 degrees F. Cover the pot and maintain this temperature for 10 minutes while the curd sets.

Ladle or pour off enough of the whey to bring it down to the level of the curd, and then again add hot water as needed to bring the temperature up to 100 degrees. Keep the curd at this temperature and stir on and off for 15 minutes.

Pour off the remaining whey and gently pack the curd into a cheesecloth lined mold, breaking it as little as possible. You can see how I prepare my cheese press in the demo for Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese.

Press the cheese at 20 lbs. of pressure for 20 minutes.

Remove the cheese from the cheesecloth, flip it over, re-dress, and press at 40 lbs. of pressure for 20 minutes. (No, my press is not lopsided…I just took this picture at a terrible angle. Photography fail.)

Remove the cheese from the cheesecloth, flip it over, re-dress, and press at 50 lbs. of pressure for 12-18 hours.

After 18 hours, my cheese looked like this:

Prepare the brine solution by mixing together the cold water and salt in a nonreactive container. Put the wheel of cheese into the solution and brine for 6 hours.

Remove from the brine, gently dry the cheese with a towel and move to the refrigerator.

Air dry in the refrigerator for 3 weeks, turning every 2-3 days to ensure even drying. You may then wax it or allow it to develop a natural rind. If you notice any mold forming on the surface, simply wipe it off with a cloth dampened with white vinegar.

Age the cheese in a 56-64 degree environment with 80-85% humidity for 3-4 months. The cheese will get darker and firmer with age. Honestly, I’m not really sure how long I’ll let this one go. I guess we’ll see what it looks like a little further down the road. I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop.

Who knows? Maybe this one will be a Christmas memory.

Ciao for now,


Busy June, Happy News, and Brand New Recipes!

6 Jul

Boy, have we been busy. First we ran off to Chincoteague for a weekend of fun in what I think may be the most peaceful place in the world.

Two weeks later, we hopped on a plane for a whirlwind four days in New Orleans. The days were sweltering, but the beignets were sweet and the coffee was strong. There is nothing so joy-filled and rejuvenating as a few days with the family.

As if all of that wasn’t enough excitement, somewhere in between (June 18th for precision’s sake) Joe got the wild idea to ask me to marry him. I bet you can’t guess what my answer was…

Of course, I said yes.

And so after a June full of excitement, we crashed over the 4th of July weekend. I spent most of it languishing in the joy of having nothing to do but enjoy the sun, play with the dog, and read.

But what would a summer holiday weekend be without a little outdoor cooking? Some smoky, savory chicken breasts and a bright summer salad of avocado, yellow squash and tomatoes made for a perfect Saturday picnic.

Pecanwood Smoked Chicken Breasts

  • 3.5 lbs. of bone-in split chicken breasts
  • 6 cups water, divided
  • 6 tbsp. kosher salt
  • The zest of one lemon (large strips)
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice berries
  • 1 tbsp. telicherry peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • 6-7 chives
  • 4-5 parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1.5 lbs. wood chips (I used pecanwood)

Combine 2 cups of the water with the salt, lemon zest, herbs, and spices and bring to a boil. Set aside to cool for at least one hour. Add the brine to the remaining 4 cups of  cool water in a large plastic tub. Put the chicken breasts into the brine and refrigerate for 4 hours, turning once.

1 hour before grilling, add the wood chips to a bowl of water to soak. Drain, and then place them in an aluminum foil basket.

Preheat a gas grill to 300 degrees F. with all burners on high. After preheating, maintain a temperature of between 275-300 degrees. On my grill, this took one burner set on high. Place the basket of wood chips directly over the heat source. Otherwise, you won’t get any of that wonderful smelling smoke.

Remove your chicken breasts from the brine, pat them dry, and then put them on the grill away from the lit burner. Indirect heat is key for slow smoking. Also, keep your grill lid closed as much as possible. Cook the breasts, turning 180 degrees every 40 minutes until the internal temperature close to the bone is about 160 degrees. It will take about 2-3 hours. Rest 10 minutes and then slice.

Lemony Summer Salad

I really loved this salad. Not just because it gave me a chance to use some of the (excessive) bounty of squash that appeared in my garden while I was in New Orleans, but because of the balance. It’s very zen. You get this bright, tart flavor from the lemon juice and tomato, a little bit of creaminess from the avocado, and a sweet crunchy bite from the summer squash. It played very well with the smoky, salty flavor of the chicken. Best part: five minute prep time.

  • 1 ripe avocado, chopped and treated with lemon juice or citric acid to prevent browning
  • 1 summer squash, matchstick cut
  • A handful of grape tomatoes, sliced
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 or 6 lemon-basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the lemon juice and olive oil and a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Toss with the avocado, tomatoes, squash, and lemon basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a bit of lemon zest.

Happy July to all! Hope you’re enjoying the summer as much as I am. County fair season is coming up, so hopefully I’ll have some interesting recipes to share as I start experimenting with what to make for Arlington’s competition.

Ciao for now,