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Recipe Megapost: Joe’s Birthday Party

19 Mar

Yesterday was a perfectly beautiful spring day, the first we’ve had here in DC thus far. How appropriate that the warm weather decided to show up on Joe’s birthday! We had some friends over for a celebration and spent the evening enjoying wonderful company and (if I don’t say so myself) some pretty tasty food.

Since this bash fell on a Friday, I did a lot of prep in advance so that I wouldn’t have much to do when I got home from work (and so I could enjoy the party). On to the deliciousness…

Amuse-bouche: Caramelized Pearl Onions with Queso Blanco

  • 32 pearl onions, blanched and peeled
  • 1 dried cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • A few spoonfuls of liquid from canned beets
  • Sprig of fresh thyme

*Okay, here’s the thing. The recipes I referenced for this all called for red pearl onions. I can’t find them anywhere. I don’t know why. So, I cheated and dyed them red with some of the liquid from my home-canned beets. It added bonus flavor and made them an awesome color.

Put all of the ingredients into a pot and add water just to cover the onions. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, swirling the pan every so often to keep the onions from scorching.

Reduce until there is about ¼ cup of syrupy liquid left in the pan. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and reserve syrup.

Queso Blanco

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • ¼ cup white vinegar

Heat the milk, stirring frequently to keep from scorching. When it reaches 185 degrees, add the vinegar in 3 separate additions, stirring between each one. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for five minutes, then stir for another five or until the curds have firmed up a little bit. Strain into a colander lined with cheesecloth and then hang the curds to drain for an hour.

You can salt to taste and use this as is, but I really wanted it to be firm so that I could cut it into cubes. So, if you have a cheese press, line a mold with cheesecloth and press the curds at 10 lbs. for 10 minutes, redress the cheese and then press at 25 lbs. for 3 hours.

Put it all together: Thread one onion and one cube of queso blanco onto a skewer and drizzle with the reserved syrup.

Appetizer: Crostini Duo

  • 2 baguettes, bias sliced and toasted

For Spinach, Artichoke and Caramelized Onion Crostini

  • 1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 3 oz. Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts, drained
  • 10 oz. fresh spinach
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. dried cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a wide pan, sweat the diced onions in olive oil until soft, translucent and sweet. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the spinach and cook just until it has wilted. Set the pan aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt, cheese, sour cream, artichoke hearts, thyme, mustard, pepper, and a few pinches of salt. Pulse to combine. Add the spinach, onion and garlic to the food processor and pulse until it has a spreadable consistency.

Top each toasted baguette slice with the spread and serve at room temperature.

For Fromage Blanc, Basil and Roasted Red Pepper Crostini:

  • Roasted red peppers
  • Fromage blanc
  • Basil, chiffonade cut

To make the fromage blanc, heat 1 gallon of milk to 85 degrees and add a packet of fromage blanc starter. Stir vigorously for a minute or two and then cover the pot and allow the milk to ripen at room temperature for 12 hours. Scoop the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth, and then hang them to drain for 6 hours. It should have the consistency of cream cheese. Salt to taste.

Top each toasted baguette slice with a layer of fromage blanc, diced roasted red peppers, and chiffonade basil.

Appetizer: Mushroom Strudel (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

I am sorry that I didn’t get more pictures of this process, but my hands were covered with butter most of the time and photography got the shaft. These are so good and you can make them in advance, freeze, and then bake as needed. Handy.

  • 1 package phyllo dough (40 sheets)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cook the onion in the butter until translucent and then add the mushrooms and nutmeg. Saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until liquid has been released and has partially evaporated. Add the sherry and evaporate the alcohol by cooking over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, herbs, and some salt and pepper, and let cool. The mixture will be moist.

Take one sheet of phyllo at a time from their package; cover the remaining sheets with plastic and then a damp towel to keep them from drying out. Brush one half of the sheet lengthwise with butter. Fold the unbuttered side over the buttered side, carefully, smoothing out as best you can. Again, brush one half of this lengthwise with butter, and fold the unbuttered side over it again. You’ll end up with one long column.

Place spoonful of the mushroom filling near the end and sprinkle a teaspoon of parmesan over it. Begin folding one bottom corner of the phyllo strip over the filling until it meets the opposite edge, forming a triangle, as if you were folding a flag. Place the triangle seam side down on the baking sheet, brush lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with parmesan.

Bake for 15 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Main Course: Porchetta

Normally, this is seared and roasted, but oven-space was at a premium and so I went the crock pot route.

  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 4 lb pork loin roast
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth

Herb rub:

  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tbsp. lemon pepper
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp. dried fennel seed
  • 1/2 tbsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients for the rub in a food processor and pulse until they form a paste.

Cut several inch-deep slits in the roast and stuff some of the rub inside of them. Slather the roast with the remaining rub.

At this point, I vacuum sealed mine to let it marinate for a few days.

In a large pan, sear the roast on all sides and then move it to the crock pot. Dioji was hypnotized by the smell of meaty goodness:

Add the broth to the pan to deglaze (scrape the bottom to get all of the bits of herby piggy goodness) and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and then pour the liquid onto the roast in the crock pot.

Cook on high for 5-6 hours or on low for 7-8 hours. The roast ended up so tender that I shredded it and served it with the reduced cooking liquid.

Main Course: Cheese Manicotti with Zucchini Cayenne Marinara Sauce

I made the ricotta and mozzarella for these and you can find photo tutorials for them here.


  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 tbsp. water


  • 1 lb. ricotta cheese
  • ½ lb. mozzarella cheese, grated
  • A handful of grated parmesan
  • 1 egg
  • Fresh thyme and parsley to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • 2 zucchini, ¼ in. dice
  • 4 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 4 dried cayenne peppers, diced
  • Dried thyme
  • Fresh parsley

To make the pasta dough, beat together the eggs, oil and water and then stir them into the flour. Get your hand in the bowl and begin to knead the dough together.Knead until it is smooth and then flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and rest at room temperature for 30 min.

Roll the pasta into sheets, and then cut into 5 in. squares.

Boil the squares in salted water for 1-2 minutes. Drain and leave these to rest on damp towels.

Combine all of the ingredients for the filling and taste for seasoning.

Spoon a row of filling along one end of a pasta square and then carefully roll up into a tube shape. Place this, seam side down on a baking sheet while you prepare the others. If you are freezing them as I did, freeze them individually on a baking sheet before moving to a bag.

To make the sauce, sweat the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Add the zucchini and garlic and sauté until everything is soft and fragrant. Add the tomatoes, peppers and spices and simmer for a few hours or until the consistency is to your liking. Add seasonings as needed.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spoon a thin layer of sauce onto the bottom of a 9×13 in. baking dish. Arrange the manicotti in rows and then top with the remaining sauce (and some extra cheese if you like).

Bake for 40 minutes or until cooked through. Cover with foil and rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Bread: No-Knead Bread (from Splendid Table)

I like this because you can make the dough, throw it in a bucket in the fridge and forget about it for several days before baking.

  • 1-1/2 tbsp. granulated yeast
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 6-1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting dough
  • Cornmeal

In a large plastic resealable container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water. Using a large spoon, stir in flour, mixing until mixture is uniformly moist with no dry patches. Do not knead. Dough will be wet and loose enough to conform to shape of plastic container. Cover, but not with an airtight lid.

Let dough rise at room temperature, until dough begins to flatten on top or collapse, at least 2 hours and up to 5 hours. (At this point, dough can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks; refrigerated dough is easier to work with than room-temperature dough, so the authors recommend that first-time bakers refrigerate dough overnight or at least 3 hours.)

Place a broiler pan on bottom rack of oven. Place baking pan on middle rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sprinkle a little flour on dough and on your hands. Pull dough up and, using a serrated knife, cut off a grapefruit-size piece (about 1 pound). Working for 30 to 60 seconds (and adding flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands; most dusting flour will fall off, it’s not intended to be incorporated into dough), turn dough in hands, gently stretching surface of dough, rotating ball a quarter-turn as you go, creating a rounded top and a bunched bottom.

Place shaped dough on a piece of parchment and let rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Dust dough with flour.

Using a serrated knife, slash top of dough in three parallel, 1/4-inch deep cuts. Slide dough onto preheated baking sheet. Pour 1 cup hot tap water into broiler pan and quickly close oven door to trap steam. Bake until crust is well-browned and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool completely.

Dessert: Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Layer Cake

The guest of honor requested an ice cream cake with vanilla cake layers and Oreo ice cream.

  • Two layers of vanilla cake, cooled completely, wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen. I used this recipe.
  • Two layers of ice cream
  • Whipped cream

To make the ice cream layers, line two 9 in. pans with plastic wrap and scoop softened ice cream into each. Flatten out the ice cream by pressing another pan on top of it. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer to harden.

Stack the layers as such (from bottom to top): Cake, ice cream, cake, ice cream. Again, cover this in plastic wrap tightly and freeze. Before icing your cake, trim the sides as needed to make them even and neat. Frost the cake with whipped cream and return to the freezer. I decorated this one by piping tempered chocolate designs onto wax paper, letting them cool, and then applying them to the cake.

Dessert: Strawberry Jam Tart

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry cornmeal / polenta
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • ½ tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 1 1/3 cup jam (I used strawberry, but anything will do)
  • 2 tbsp. coarse sugar

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.

In a stand mixer, mix the butter and 1/2 cup sugar together until smooth. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla bean paste and beat until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together.

Transfer about one-third of the dough to a lightly floured counter and shape it into a log about 2 in. diameter. Wrap it in plastic wrap freeze for an hour.

Transfer the remaining dough to a buttered 9-inch spring form pan. Press the dough evenly into the bottom, going about 3/4-inch (2-cm) up the sides of the pan. Freeze the dough-lined pan until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread the jam or marmalade evenly over the dough in the pan. Cut the chilled dough log into very thin discs with a sharp paring knife. Arrange them in overlapping concentric circles over the jam to form a top crust.

Whisk the remaining egg white with a teaspoon of water until frothy; brush evenly over the tart lid and then sprinkle with the coarse sugar. Bake until the top crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely before unmolding.

This holds up well and can be made up to 3 days in advance. Keep wrapped in plastic at room temperature.

The Final Treat: Pecan-Walnut Caramels

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 12 tbsp. butter
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract, or one vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 12 oz. nuts (I used half pecans and half walnuts), toasted and chopped

Generously butter a 9×13 in. pan.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter, sweetened condensed milk, water, and vanilla bean paste. Stirring often, cook this mixture until it reaches 245 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salt and chopped nuts. Pour the caramel into the buttered pan and cool completely (about 2 hours).

Turn the slab of caramel out onto a cutting board and use a pizza wheel to cut into squares. I usually get 128 pieces of candy from this recipe. Wrap the candies in pieces of wax paper and store in a cool, dark place.

Hope you enjoyed checking out the menu. Thank you to everyone who joined us and made the party so much fun.

Ciao for now,


Press Your Luck: Farmhouse Cheddar

2 Mar

My dad is pretty handy. Proof? Take a look at what he built in my parents’ backyard last year:

When I decided that I really wanted to try making hard cheeses, I quickly realized that cheese presses weren’t exactly the most affordable pieces of equipment in the world. But the mechanism didn’t seem particularly complicated, and I was able to find simple plans on several websites (type “cheese press plans” into a search engine). Dad worked his magic and last weekend, I brought my press home to Arlington. (Thanks, dad!)

I decided to start with one of the simpler recipes in Ricki’s book, a farmhouse cheddar that would be ready to taste in about a month. The main reason I selected this recipe is that it offered the chance to practice many of the techniques involved in cheese making. Much like confectionery, the process is all about timing and chemistry. So, let’s cut to the cheese, err, chase:

First a note about these ingredients. The original recipe calls for double what you see here. I realized upon filling my pot with milk that two gallons weren’t going to fit and cut the recipe in half.

Click on any of the pictures to see larger versions.

  • -1 gallon whole milk
  • -One package of direct set mesophilic starter
  • -½ tbsp. cheese salt (non-iodized salt)
  • -¼ tablet rennet or ¼ tsp. rennet, dissolved in ¼ cup water. (I used double-strength rennet and needed only 1/8 tsp.)

Pour the milk into a large pot and place it in a sink of warm water. Gradually increase the temperature of the water bath, either by running more hot water from the tap or adding small amounts of boiling water, until the milk reaches 90 degrees F. Add the mesophilic starter and mix well for about a minute. Cover the pot and allow the milk to ripen for 45 minutes. Check the temperature every so often, you want to keep it as close to 90 degrees as possible. I left my pot in the warm water bath and added small amounts of hot water every 10 minutes or so to do this.

After 45 minutes, add the diluted rennet and stir, using a gentle up-and-down motion, for about a minute. Cover the pot and let it sit at 90 degrees F for 45 minutes or until the curd breaks cleanly. Cut the curd into a checkerboard pattern of ½ in. squares.

Again using the water bath method, slowly increase the temperature of the curd to 100 degrees. This can be a little tricky at first, since you don’t want to increase the temperature by more than 2 degrees every five minutes. Err on the slow side. Stir gently to keep the curds from matting together as they heat up. You’ll notice that they shrink a lot.

Once the curds reach 100 degrees, pour them into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Tie up the corners of the cheesecloth and hang the curds to drain in a non-drafty spot for an hour. You want to keep them fairly warm, so I hung them over the pot I used for heating.

After an hour, move the drained curd to a bowl and gently break into walnut sized pieces. Add the salt to the curds and toss lightly with your fingers to distribute evenly.

Firmly pack the curds into a mold (the teal pvc pipe pictured) lined with cheesecloth. Put the mold on top of an inverted plate over a pie pan. This allows the excess liquid to drain away from the cheese.

Fold the cheesecloth over the curds and place a snug fitting follower on top of them. Then add the pusher (the thinner, white piece of pvc pipe). Finally, place the board on top of the pusher and add weights as necessary.

For farmhouse cheddar, press at 10lbs. of pressure for 10 minutes, then remove, flip the cheese over and redress it in the cheesecloth…

Then 20lbs. of pressure for 10 minutes, flip, and redress…

And finally at 50lbs. of pressure (Fact: The Joy of Cooking and On Cooking weigh 10lbs.) for 12 hours. Don’t do what I did and neglect to think about how this would time out; I had to get up at 3 a.m. to take the 50lb. weights off. D’oh.

After 12 hours, you should have something that looks like this. Personally, I like the rather attractive dent left on one side from the inverted plate:

Put your cheese on a wooden board and allow it to air-dry at room temperature for 2-4 days. Turn it every so often to keep moisture from collecting on one side. Once the cheese has dulled in appearance and is no longer moist to the touch, you are ready to wax it.

Prior to waxing, refrigerate the cheese for several hours. You may also wipe it down with a paper towel dampened with vinegar to discourage mold growth.

Melt the cheese wax in a double-boiler until it reaches 210 degrees. Gently paint it on the cheese using a natural bristle or silicone brush, one side at a time.

Cover the wheel in two thin coats. My wax job was a little bit messy for a first rodeo, but I’m not really in a beauty contest here. You can always remove the wax and redo it (particularly useful if you decide to age it longer after cutting into it the first time), but we’ll see how things look in a month.

Age in a cool (below 68 degrees) environment for at least one month. Since the aging process began yesterday, I’ll be reporting back on 4-1-11 to let you know how it tastes. Hopefully it will not be a cruel April Fool’s joke.

Ciao for now,


My Cheesy Valentine: Part Deux

15 Feb

Shortly after meeting my best friend in the world, I discovered his disdain for most things vegetable-related. I’ve since learned that while he doesn’t necessarily enjoy a veggie as the star of the show on a plate, he doesn’t mind their flavors in a dish. And to his credit, he’s become much more adventurous in our six-ish years together. Still, I was a little bit shocked the first time I made these little crostini that he found them just as delightful as I did. It’s a great appetizer for a crowd, or just for you and your sweetie.

Spinach, Artichoke and Caramelized Onion Crostini

  • 1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 3 oz. Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts, drained
  • 10 oz. fresh spinach
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. dried cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 french baguette

Cut the baguette into ½ in. slices on a diagonal and lightly brush them with olive oil. Toast until golden brown and set aside.

In a wide pan, sweat the diced onions in olive oil until soft, translucent and sweet. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the spinach and cook just until it has wilted. Set the pan aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt, cheese, sour cream, artichoke hearts, thyme, mustard, pepper, and a few pinches of salt. Pulse to combine. Add the spinach, onion and garlic to the food processor and pulse until it has a spreadable consistency.

Top each toasted baguette slice with the spread and serve at room temperature. We had ours with some thin-sliced hot soppressata on the side. In the summer, I serve it as a chilled dip alongside raw carrot slices for a cool appetizer.

So that was our Valentine’s day appetizer, and you heard about the entrée in part 1, but I know what you’re really here for: Dessert.

I made this pound cake, which baked up beautifully. It’s an easy one-bowl recipe. It took a little bit longer to cook in my oven, but not by much. Maybe 1 hour and 30 minutes instead of the indicated 1 hour and 20 minutes.

The cream was whipped with some vanilla bean paste and a few teaspoons of sugar. I kept the it fairly neutral, because the cake was plenty sweet on its own.

The coulis was my favorite part (and apparently was Joe’s as well, because I caught him eating it out of the container with a spoon, haha). If your Valentine, like mine, does not love chocolate, try this!

Mash a pint of blueberries with a few teaspoons of sugar, a few drops of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste, and the juice of one lime. You can also add a little bit of the zest for a stronger lime flavor. Simmer gently until thickened and a little bit syrupy, then let it cool to room temperature.

To put it all together, spoon a few generous swirls of the coulis on a plate, and then top with a cake slice and a dollop of whipped cream. The sauce has just enough tartness to balance out the cake’s sweetness and the cream brings the whole dish together. Oh, and the cake has the most wonderful, crackly crust. Delicious.

I hope that you are all having a lovely week! Enjoy the new goodies.

Ciao for now,


My Cheesy Valentine

14 Feb

A few weeks ago, I decided to try my hand at cheese making. It’s something I’ve always wanted to give a go, but wanted to do a little bit of research before trying. (With graduate school out of the way, I’m now working through the backlog of cookbooks and recipes I neglected.) For someone who loves cheese as much as I do, the prospect of making my own was very exciting. Since I’d planned to make Joe a special meal for Valentine’s day, I saw it as an opportunity to get something extra-special on our plates.

I started with ricotta, the easiest cheese to make. If you have milk (whole and 2% yield the best consistency), buttermilk, and some cheesecloth, you can make ricotta in under a half-hour. Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and set aside. Combine a half-gallon of milk with 2 cups of buttermilk in a large pot over medium high heat. Stir every so often to keep the mixture from scorching, but once it is hot and steaming, stop stirring. When the mixture reaches about 175 degrees F, the curds will separate from the whey. Gently ladle the curds into the cheesecloth, tie up the corners, and hang the cheese to drain for about 20 minutes. Voila! You’ve made ricotta. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Next up was another favorite: Mozzarella. This required a bit more special equipment, but I was able to order anything I needed from New England Cheese making Supply Co. I must recommend Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheese Making if you’re interested in learning all about the history and science behind cheese.

So here’s what you’ll need for mozzarella:


  • One gallon of milk*
  • 1 ½ tsp. citric acid dissolved in one cup of cold water
  • ¼ rennet tablet diluted in ¼ cup of cold water
  • 1/4 cup of cheese salt

*Note: Do not use milk that is labeled “ultra-pasteurized.” Pasteurized / homogenized milk will work just fine, but UP milk has been treated at such high temperatures that it is not suitable for most cheese making. (It will work for ricotta.)


  • A large pot
  • A small colander that can fit inside the pot and a pair of tongs (or a spider if you have one)
  • A thermometer that will clip onto the pot
  • A board for kneading
  • Heat resistant gloves (I used these—I bought them for when I use my mandoline because the hand guard on it is flimsy.)

Okay, here we go!

Combine the milk and citric acid/water mixture in a pot over medium-high heat while stirring vigorously, then stir gently while the milk heats to 90 degrees F.

Take the pot off of the heat and add the rennet, mixing in a gentle up and down motion for 30 seconds. Put a lid on the pot and leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes. When you remove the lid, the curd should look like custard and should show a clear separation between the curd and whey. Test by putting two fingers between the curd and the side of the pot. If you see a clean break, the curd is ready to cut. If it is too soft, wait another five minutes and test again. It took a total of 15 minutes in my kitchen.

Cut the curds into a checkerboard pattern and put the pot back over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring the curds gently until they reach 110 degrees F. Take the pot off of the heat and continue stirring gently for 3-4 minutes.

Gently ladle the curds into the colander over a bowl so that you can reserve the whey that drains off of them. Press them gently to remove as much whey as possible and so that they begin to form a cohesive unit.

Pour the whey that has collected in the bowl back into the pot, add the ¼ cup of salt, and allow it to heat to at least 175 degrees. (Put on your gloves!)

Dip the curds in the colander into the hot whey for several seconds.

Remove, and then knead the curds like bread dough. Repeat this process several times until the cheese is cohesive and stretchable. The cheese is ready when it is shiny and has a consistency similar to pulled taffy. Roll into a ball and place immediately in a bowl of cold water for ½ hour. This will improve the texture of the cheese.

From there you can slice, grate, or melt it however you like.

So what did I make for my Valentine?

I made a batch of homemade pasta (hail Lidia Bastianich’s recipe) and filled ravioli full of fresh cheese and spices. Topped it all off with a touch of tomato & sweet pepper sauce and sprinkled on a little extra ricotta for good measure. Simple, but with ingredients so lovely I wanted to let them speak.

We also had some spinach, artichoke and caramelized onion crostini with hot sopressata, and finished the meal with a decadent little pound cake with vanilla bean whipped cream and blueberry-lime coulis for dessert. Don’t worry, recipes for the apps and dessert are forthcoming!

For now, have a happy (and cheesy) Valentine’s day. Share it with the ones you love and remind them just how special they are to you.

Ciao for now,


Mystery Food Week 17: Pickled edition

23 Sep
Fall is here. I actually needed to throw on a cardigan this morning to go outside. For the last few months, I’ve only needed one inside because my office is frequently arctic. It must be better for the books. Or they’re secretly housing penguins on Deck C. I think I’ll keep believing that—specifically, penguins in early modern costume. Adorable.
I’ve been stockpiling at least some of the last few weeks’ worth of squash and eggplant for pickling and finally got around doing that over the weekend. After suffering from some kind of chest cold that wiped me out for two weeks, I’d accumulated a whole lot of food in the fridge. Friday night was pickle-fest, and Saturday was apple-pear butter day. Fridge clean, pantry full, life good.
Sunny Squash and Eggplant Pickles

-4 cups seeded and cubed squash (I used summer, patty-pan, and zucchini) and eggplant
-1 cup sliced onion
-2 cups water
-1 cup sugar
-1 cup white vinegar
-1 tsp. plain salt (not iodized)
-1 ½ tsp. dry mustard
-½ tsp. turmeric
-½ tsp. ground ginger
-A pinch of saffron threads

-Combine all ingredients except the squash and eggplant in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables and return to a boil for 10 minutes.
-Using a slotted spoon, pack the vegetables into warm, sterilized jars, leaving ½ inch headspace.
-Add enough of the pickling liquid in the saucepan to cover the vegetables in each jar.
-Secure lids and rings onto jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Pickled Beets and Onions

-4-6 large beets (see: last week’s mystery food)
-1 large white onion, sliced
-2 ½ cups white vinegar
-1 cup sugar
-3 tbsp. pickling spice (usually in the baking aisle with other spices)

-To prepare the beets, scrub them gently and then boil for 20-40 minutes or until just tender. Rinse with cool water. Slide off the skins and quarter or halve depending on the size.
-In a large saucepan, combine the rest of the ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat slightly and boil gently for 15 minutes.
-Add the beets and return the mixture to a boil.
-Using a slotted spoon, pack the beets and onions into jars leaving ½ inch headspace.
-Add enough of the pickling liquid in the saucepan to cover the vegetables in each jar.
-Secure lids and rings onto jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

With all of that squirreled away, there was finally space in the fridge for this week’s Mystery Food. And boy is it a good one…

Tomato, cherry tomatoes, squash, sweet corn, apples, potatoes, green peppers, and swiss chard. The cherry tomatoes are so sweet. I had some in a wrap with black forest smoked turkey and provolone cheese from the deli and it was such a delicious contrast.

Joe’s folks are away at the beach for the weekend and have absconded with our dog. Yes, that’s right, he gets a vacation from his difficult life of being spoiled. But that does mean that Joe and I can go out after work on Friday without one of us having to run home to Virginia first. And I can cook squash without a pouty face staring at me begging for some (he is weird). Cool.

Ciao for now,

Mystery Food Week 1 and Twist on an Old Favorite

2 Jun

This is what was waiting for me when I got home from work today:

Onions, a potted dill plant, strawberries, a glorious amount of lush kale, and salad greens.

I ran outside and planted that dill in my garden, which has already supplied me with a generous amount of spinach this year. The other plants (zucchini, peppers, cherry tomatoes and watermelon) are all looking good as well. I’m crossing my fingers for a good harvest.

In the mood for simple comfort food, I decided to dress up one of my favorites with some of that gorgeous-looking kale.

Parmesan-Black Pepper Pasta with Crispy Olive Oil-Garlic Kale Chips

It’s a pretty basic pasta dish: Whole-wheat rotini tossed with olive oil, coarse salt, lots of freshly ground black pepper, and a few handfuls of grated parmesan cheese.

To make the kale chips:

Pre-heat an oven to 300 degrees F. Simply remove the hard ribs and stems from a bunch of kale. Toss the leaves with a little bit of olive oil and then lay them in a single layer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle the leaves with coarse salt, pepper, and garlic powder and then bake for 20-25 minutes or until crispy. Cool on a rack.

I like to crumble the kale chips over the top of the pasta. Mmm, delicious. And Tuesday-night-easy.

Not a bad way to start off the CSA season. Now to go enjoy some of those strawberries…

Ciao for now!