Category Archives: From the Kitchen

sun-dried strawberry preserves


I've been remiss in writing here. A combination of being in the garden every chance I get (yea!) and then some health issues that had me out of commission for a few days (boo.) Yesterday I was feeling a bit better but it was so hot here (95F) that I could only bear to be in the garden in the early morning and evening hours. So in between I thought I'd take advantage of the hot sun plus all the strawberries in season and make some sun-dried strawberry preserves. I used Alice Waters' recipe but went a little lighter on the sugar. It was great watching (and smelling) the sun do all the cooking for me. Tonight I ate some on top of plain Greek yogurt for dessert. Delicious!

eggs in a cloud


My love of cooking started at an early age. By age eight I was avidly collecting recipe cards (that one of the gas station chains were giving out as a promotion) like some kids collect baseball cards. I ended up with an entire recipe box full (boy would I love to see those now!) that I actualy used for cooking the occasional family dinner.

I also had a children's cookbook with the more typical kid-type recipes, like Rice Krispy treats. The other day I was thinking about a breakfast dish I used to make from that cookbook. I remembered it was this god-awful pink color because you mixed ketchup into egg whites before beating them. Who knows why, but as a child I loved that breakfast. So I thought it would be fun to try and replicate it for my kids. But what was it exactly?

In some portion of the "useless facts" section of my brain, I recalled (I think) that the dish was called "Eggs in a Cloud." I did an online search and came up with a number of recipes for "ham and eggs in a cloud" but nothing that resemblanced the strange ketchup creation of my memories. I decided that this was a project that would need to be temporarily shelved for further research (perhaps an archaelogical dig into the dusty crevices of my parents garage in hopes that the original cookbook is still stored in a box somewhere)

In the meantime I thought I'd make a "clean" version of eggs in a cloud for the kids since they still get such a kick from the transformation of egg whites when beaten. I found an easy recipe on (of all places) My Pet Chicken. I made them this morning and they were not only dramatic to look at but also very quick to make and tasty (the parmesan cheese on the egg whites is a must).

Now the research for the strange ketchup concoction continues…

perfecting pizza


Almost every Friday I try to have "pizza and movie night" at home with my kids. So each week I keep working to improve my pizza-making technique. I almost dare not say it, but yesterday I think I finally reached perfection (or at least as close as I can get without a wood-burning oven.) Gasp!

After my great composting adventure in the morning, I had a few friends and their kids join us for an expanded version of our usual family pizza night. Since we had a small group I decided instead of just making my usual one large pizza I would make a variety of smaller pizzas–tomato and mozzarella, pesto and mozzarella, potato with prosciutto and fontina, and pear with gorgonzola.

Over the years I've experimented with various doughs but a few months ago I decided that Peter Reinhardt's was by far the best. (For details see my previous post on breakfast pizza.) Then last month I read an article in the LA Times about how to make a better pizza by transforming your home oven with firebricks. The idea of a crude DIY home project with a culinary slant made the idea irresistible!

A few weeks (+ $10 and a trip to the local building supply company) later, I had my firebricks in hand and was ready to try out the new cooking technique. Last night was the virgin run and did not disappoint. I used one full brick on each side of my trusty pizza stone and laid six split bricks on the rack above.

With this makeshift brick oven set at 550F I was able to crank out perfectly crispy thin crust pizzas every eight minutes. Definitely the best pizzas I've ever made at home. We gobbled up six of them before we knew it. Now my mind is spinning about all the future pizza possibilities!

spring meal in the garden


There really needs to be a word for an afternoon meal that's between lunch and dinner. I realize "lunner" doesn't quite have the same ring to it that "brunch" does, but there ought to be something more descriptive than "afternoon meal." I suppose "supper" somewhat gets at the idea, but not in a way that's uniformly understood.

Anyway, semantics aside, yesterday I had friends over for a lovely spring afternoon meal in the garden. They arrived at two o'clock and we ate and drank until the evening. Afternoon is actually my favorite time of day for entertaining because you have the morning to prepare and the evening to clean up and still get to enjoy a good part of the day with your guests. There's also something about the afternoon that feels like the most relaxed time of day. People usually aren't as tired, or rushing and tend to like to hang out longer. It also works well with kids (who can run around while the adults are socializing.)

When I was planning what to serve I knew I wanted the menu to revolve around spring, the herbs in my garden, and of course on the cheese I had made earlier in the week. I also wanted to have a collection of light vegetable-based "first plates" that could be eaten casually over time rather than a formal sit down meal. Here's what I came up with:

  • Ricotta crostini with fresh thyme (based on a recipe from the NY Times)
  • Pesto pizzette (with pesto made from last summer's garden and my fresh goat mozzarella)
  • Ricotta ravioli with sage butter
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Dandelion salad with anchovy dressing and herbed croutons
  • Meringues with zabaglione and strawberries in red wine

I think the best evidence of how the meal turned out is that I didn't manage to get one photo taken of any of the food! (Partly the result of it being gobbled up quickly and partly because I was too busy enjoying myself and my Campari and grapefruit soda!)

limoncello intermission


During the cheesemaking process there’s a lot of waiting-around time–when the milk is getting up to the right temperature, when the curds are forming, when the curds are draining etc. So during yesterday’s cheesemaking downtime, Amy and I kept busy by making limoncello from lemons from her mother’s tree.

I haven’t made limoncello in a very, very long time, and when I last did it was from a very simple recipe I had read in Fine Cooking. But Amy had recently stumbled on a random website called Limoncello Quest (clearly made by someone who is limoncello-obsessed!) and wanted to try out their recipe. The technique seemed very well researched and quite promising. I’ll know more in 80 days when it’s ready to drink!

cheesemaking and more


Yesterday the Spring rains returned. Wonderful for the environment but a little depressing from the mood perspective. To beat the blues, my friend Amy and I made a trek up to The Beverage People in Santa Rosa. Despite what the name might suggest, we didn't go there to drown our sorrows by hitting the bottle. We went to buy cheesemaking supplies.

There's a wide selection of cheesemaking products online (cheesemaking.com is a great resource) but given the choice I think it's so much more enjoyable to browse in person and support a local business. We also discovered (thanks to Amy's resourceful researching) that The Beverage People is where the venerable Cowgirl Creamery buys some of their supplies. That was all the endorsement we needed to head on up there.

So today we got together with our supplies and five gallons of whole goat's milk and made cheese. First we made a goat's milk ricotta (shown draining in the photo above). I wanted to try this variation on the standard cow's milk ricotta for several reasons–one is because I'm lactose intolerant and can better digest goat's milk (which has about a 10% lower level of lactose than cow's milk). The other reason is because I actually prefer the taste of goat cheeses but have never seen a goat version of ricotta. I like making things by hand just for the sheer love of it but it's an added bonus if it also results in something you just can't get by any other means.

For all the same reasons, the next thing we made was a goat's milk mozzarella. Of course I wish we could have made the traditional buffalo mozzarella (not only the tastiest but also low in lactose) but unfortunately there's just nowhere to buy buffalo milk around here. (If anyone has a secret source, please let me know!)

Amy and I were both a little concerned about how the goat's milk would hold up in mozzarella form (wondering if maybe there was a good reason why we don't see this product anywhere?) but our fears proved unfounded, both technically and taste-wise. As far as the technical aspect as the cheesemaking process, even though goat's milk produces a smaller, lighter curd than cow's milk, it set up just fine.

Here is the curd separating from the whey and then the beginning of the draining process:

And then the final straining and unformed curd (before making it into the actual smaller balls):

As far as taste goes, we actually were surprised by how incredibly good both the ricotta and mozzarella made with goat's milk were. Even though I really like the strong "gamey" taste you usually find in goat cheese, it was completely absent from both our cheeses. They tasted sweet and fresh and not goat-like at all (not that that's a bad thing!)

Of course the success of this experience has only further fueled my deep-seated desire to raise Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats. Sigh. Well, until I can make that dream come true at least I have the Pholia Farms goat webcam to keep me company.

homemade breakfast sausage


I usually don’t eat much in the mornings, but today I started the day with fresh squeezed orange juice (from a local tree), Yukon Gold hashbrowns, fried eggs (from a friend’s chickens) and homemade breakfast sausage that the boys and I made yesterday afternoon. It makes me happy that my kids are almost always interested in a cooking project and when there are “power tools” involved (in this case, the food grinder attachment on my KitchenAid mixer) they really get into it.

The recipe we used for the sausage was basically like one I had read awhile back on the blog, Homesick Texan, except that instead of ground pork we started with 2 pounds of whole pork butt plus a half pound of fat back. I also changed up the spices a bit using fresh sage, thyme and rosemary from the garden as well as a little grated nutmeg. We ground it all up using the fine blade on my grinder, and then made a tray full of patties to freeze.

We don’t really eat this kind of heavy “country breakfast” very often (in fact, it’s pretty rare) but I try to expose the kids to a wide variety of foods as well as to the full scope of how things are prepared. It was definitely a tasty breakfast but in the interest of health we’ll probably end up keeping just a few patties and giving the rest to friends. Afterall, half the joy of cooking is in the sharing!

potato veggie balls


I’m a big fan of fritters and croquettes. There’s just something about mixing up a few simple ingredients and giving them new life by frying. It’s also a great way to re-purpose leftovers. (See last November’s post on Turkey Croquettes.) Crispy pop-in-your mouth-size foods also seem to ease kids in eating things they might not otherwise like. (And you can keep it reasonably healthy by using a non-stick pan and a slight amount of olive oil for the frying.)

The other day I was reading a recipe for Paneer Koftas in Creamy Saffron Gravy on the blog, Monsoon Spice. It looked absolutely delicious, but I knew I wouldn’t have the time (or the energy) to make the full recipe this week. So yesterday I decided to make a variation of the Koftas (without the gravy) and serve them with just a fresh salad for dinner.

I modified the recipe a little further by substituting Queso Fresco for the Paneer (just because it was easier for me to pick up on my way home) and I also didn’t deep fry them. Turning the soft “balls” from side to side in the pan unfortunately made them lose their spherical shape (hence the strange triangular forms shown above) but that didn’t make them any less tasty. The potato and cheese mixture was creamy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. The kids loved them and I lost count of how many I ate!

breakfast pizza


I’m constantly trying to migrate my children away from the great weekend breakfast triad (pancakes/waffles/french toast) toward savory dishes–for no other reason than that’s what I prefer! (Give me salt and some form of animal fat over sweets any day.) Since they love pizza I hoped a breakfast version might do the trick. But when I suggested this on Friday afternoon they gave it the big thumbs down, at least as far as Saturday breakfast was concerned. They were, however, willing to entertain the concept for dinner.

When I lived in Italy one of my favorite pizzerias made a wonderful pizza Margherita that you could also order with the addition of fresh ricotta and eggs. Thinking of that inspired my creation. I started with a great dough recipe from the blog 101 Cookbooks (originally from Peter Reinhardt’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice“). While the original recipe calls for an overnight rest for the dough, I’ve found that a decent two hour rise still makes a perfectly delicious thin-crust pizza.

I made half the dough recipe (using an equal mix of all-purpose unbleached four and white whole wheat)) and divided the results in half again (one for now, one to freeze for later). After stretching the dough out onto parchment paper coated with cornmeal, I topped it with a simple tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and fresh ricotta. I baked on a pizza stone at 550F for about four minutes and then poured each of the eggs (from a cup) onto the pizza and baked again for another five minutes. The crust was crisp, the cheese was melted and the eggs were perfectly cooked (slightly firm but still runny).

All and all a big success. Now I just have start serving it an hour earlier each day until we arrive at breakfast time!

happy thyme


Yesterday morning when I stepped out my kitchen door into the garden, I was delighted to see how healthy and vigorous my herbs are at the moment. The thyme is like a thick fuzzy carpet and the sage is so full and downright plush. The cilantro is practically tree-like. Since the herbs grow right up to my kitchen door, I really think of this section of my garden as my true potager. Just musing over that French word for a moment (and feeling slightly silly about it) put me in the mood to cook something French. Which made me focus in on the thyme. Then the beautiful sunny day with the crisp chill in the air made me think of spring leeks.(Which regretfully I’m not growing.)

Happily I remembered recently reading a delicious sounding recipe for braised leeks on the Smitten Kitchen blog (which she adapted from “Sunday Suppers at Lucques.”) Within a few hours my kitchen was filled with the wonderful smell of roasting leeks and shallots sauteing in butter and thyme. (And if there’s a better smell than this, I’m sure I don’t know what it is.)

I also ended up making the chicken thighs that were part of the original recipe. They were very tasty too but frankly not really worth all the extra effort (not to mention fat) involved. The leeks were by far the star of the meal–fragrant, buttery and delicious. Like Deb at Smitten Kitchen suggested, these would be a great main course accompanied by a hard or soft-cooked egg, a mustard vinaigrette, and a¬†sharp salad and crusty bread. The perfect soothing transition from winter to spring.