Category Archives: Self Indulgence

Shaker Lemon Pie

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Shaker Lemon Pie

I’ve been intrigued by this pie idea since a friend of ours came around crowing about it. Equal parts marmalade, curd, sweet and tart, all wrapped up in a two crust pie, what’s not to love? It also meant I got to get out my spectacular new mandoline and get to work.

This isn’t a pie for the faint of heart. It’s not gently lemony, it’s very assertive and aggressively citrusy, with lots of texture from the lemon slices. It sounded like the perfect end to an evening of crab eating indulgence and I was right: I received the highest order of pie-eater compliments, that this reminded someone of his Grandma’s lemon pie.

My suggestions: use Meyer lemons, use a mandoline unless you have the knife skills of a ninja (and you don’t, so use a mandoline), and be sure to pick out all of the seeds. Use your favorite all-butter pie crust recipe, and don’t look back.

Shaker Lemon Pie

From Smitten Kitchen, as she adapted from Saveur

Makes one 9-inch pie

2 large lemons, preferably Meyers
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
4 tablespons butter, melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 egg white
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling

Dough for one double-crust pie

Thoroughly wash lemons, then dry with paper towel. Finely grate lemon zest into a bowl. Using a mandoline, slice lemons as paper thin as you can get them; remove and discard seeds. Add slices to zest and toss with sugar and salt. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Roll out half the dough 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface, fit it into a 9-inch (1-quart) pie plate, and trim the edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang.

Mix the macerated lemon-sugar mixture with eggs, melted butter and flour until combined well. Pour in to prepared pie shell.

Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface, drape it over the filling, and trim it, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under the bottom crust, pressing the edge to seal it, and crimp the edge decoratively. Beat one egg white until frothy and brush over pie crust, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. Cut slits in the crust with a sharp knife, forming steam vents, and bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F. and bake the pie for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. Let the pie cool on a rack and serve it warm at room temperature.

I also served mine with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, gently sweetened and laced with vanilla and limoncello. Go big or go home, right?

Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli with Rosemary Browned Butter

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Ah, Valentines’s Day. Loved my many, loathed by many. It’s a spark of love in the middle of an otherwise dark and dreary month. Whether you spend it with your love, in the presence of those you love, a handful of giggling girlfriends, or with your lovely self, it’s a day to express those glittery, pink and red feelings.

And so I bring you these festive little ravioli. Tasty little morsels in a sweet little package that just shouts Valentine’s. If you have a small heart shaped cookie cutter here’s a place to use it, if not don’t fret, ravioli are perfect in any shape they come in. No fancy tools required here.

They don’t have to be hard, either. That’s right, you out there, the one who’s thinking I must be completely nuts for thinking anyone with a job is going to make ravioli on a weeknight. I may be nuts but you can truly do this on a weeknight. The secret? Wonton or gyoza wrappers. Available in your grocer’s refrigerated aisle (in mine, near the tofu products), they make quick work of these. You can use gyoza wrappers (which are a bit smaller but you can still use a cute cutter), round gyoza wrappers, or the larger egg roll wrappers if you’d like to cut out larger shapes. They work just like fresh pasta sheets (and in fact ARE fresh pasta sheets), and take all of the work out of making pasta.

Fresh Pasta

In fact I did make my pasta for these ravs, but up until I got a pasta rolling machine I didn’t bother to try. You just can’t get the same silky, soft, and evenly thin results with your dough if you use a rolling pin. I’ve made many ravioli with fillings as wide as my dreams with gyoza wrappers, and very few were any the wiser. For purposes of this application, go grab your gyoza wrappers and your Valentine and get to work.

Cooking together is fun and can be very sexy. The tactile work of assembling something like this, getting your hands in it and building your filling, using your damp fingers to brush water around the edges of your pasta to seal it, feeling the filled nubs to make sure there aren’t any air pockets that will burst the packets in the boiling process, it’s all very sensual. And knowing, when you sit down together for dinner, that you made this little treat with each other and your own two hands, is a sexy thing.

For those who don’t cook, this is something so simple that you can do on your own that will impress the pants off of your Valentine. (Pun intended)

A few of these tasty ravioli with a quick browned butter drizzle, a light salad with quick vinaigrette (which I’ll give you another day this week), and a nice loaf of crusty bread and even dessert from your favorite local bakery(ies), and you have a great dinner for two or more. This recipe makes a bunch of pasta, and they freeze beautifully for later use.

Beet and Goat Cheese Ravoili
Makes lots, be prepared to freeze

1 package of gyoza wrappers (round or square, your choice)
1 large red beet (skip the nasty canned ones)
Zest of half of a lemon, about 1/4 teaspoon
Salt and pepper to taste
1 4 0z. log of goat cheese (don’t like goat cheese? Use half of a brick of cream cheese, or about a half cup of good ricotta)

You’ll also need:
A small bowl of water, for sealing
Flour for dusting your work surface
A sheet pan to rest your finished pasta on
A 2″ heart shaped cookie cutter, optional

Preheat your oven to 400*F. Wash and dry your beet, wrap it in foil, and place it in the oven. Cook until a knife slipped into the side of the package (no need to unwrap, just stab it) slides in easily, about an hour. Remove beet to counter and gently unwrap, allow to cool, Can be done a couple of days ahead, cool beet completely and refrigerate.

When cool enough to handle, put on a pair of disposable gloves or a couple of plastic bags on your hands and peel the beet – the skin should slip right off. Discard the skin and using a box grater, grate the beet into a bowl. You’re gloving up because otherwise you’ll have purple hands forever. 🙂 Sprinkle the lemon zest over and combine, adding a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

In another bowl, crumble up the goat cheese log so it’s easier to handle. Fill a small bowl with water and get your flour out. Sprinkle a light dusting of flour on your cookie sheet and your work surface, I use a cutting board and usually a piece or two of wax paper for easier clean up – I forgot the wax paper this time around.

Lay out a few of your gyoza wrappers, 6-8, and keep the rest in the package or between the layers of a damp paper towel. Pasta sheets dry out quickly and become difficult to work with. Now, you have a decision to make: large or small ravioli? Large ones will have the filling in the center and another sheet of pasta placed on top of the filling, small will have the filling placed just off-center and be folded over to create the ravioli. Choice is yours, you can flip for it.

if you decide to make hearts, cut out your shapes and toss the scraps, you’re going to be making larger ravioli. I used a 2″ cutter for my hearts

Beet and goat cheese ravs

Now. If you’re making large ravioli, put a scant half teaspoon of beet and scant half teaspoon of goat cheese in the middle of the pasta. Dip a finger in the water bowl, run your finger around the edge of the pasta sheet, and lay another on top of the filling. Seal the pasta around the edges, trying to get as much air out of the pocket as possible. It takes a couple of tries to get the feel for it, and even the pros have a few that get air in them and burst when boiled. Don’t stress about it.

Beet & Goat Cheese Ravioli

If you’re making small, fold over ravioli, place a scant quarter teaspoon of beet and goat cheese, respectively, just off-center of the pasta sheet. Using your finger, dampen half of the pasta, fold over and try to get as much air out as possible. Set the pasta on the prepared baking sheet as you finish them. Repeat with remaining filling and sheets until finished.

Pasta may be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, for two days, or frozen for a month. Freeze the pasta on the sheet pan, and when solid transfer to a freezer bag.

Freezing Ravioli

To cook, bring a pot of salted water just to a boil. Slip the ravioli in gently (if frozen no need to defrost, just add 3-4 minutes of cooking time) and boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain and serve in large flat bowls with a drizzle of Rosemary Browned Butter.

Rosemary Browned Butter
Serves 2, can be doubled infinitely

4 T. butter
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary
2 t. grated grana padano or parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides and butter begins to turn brown. Stir in sage and cook, stirring, until sage is crisp and butter is golden brown. Drizzle over ravioli, dust each plate with 1 t. of grated cheese, and serve.

Hearthside Happy Hour: The Sleigh Ride

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It started with a text message, with a link to a food blog I hadn’t visited before. It continued with a trip to the store where the prime ingredient was on sale for a killer price, and concluded with an impromptu dinner around our little dining room table. The Sleigh Ride was born.

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I’m a cocktail kind of girl, especially in the winter time. Nothing says cozy like a tummy warming mixed drink, especially a hot toddy. Warm adult beverages have the tendency to freak some people out – I’m not sure if it’s because they are usually of the apple cider or hot cocoa based persuasion, or what – but in my family, and in my house, a toddy is the cure for what ails you. And when we’re sick, there’s no cold medicine better than a toddy.

This is a deeply warming drink, just a hint of sweet, and the warm gingery goodness is perfect after dinner when everyone is sitting around the Christmas tree in a holiday haze. This will also make one just sleepy enough to turn in for a long winter’s nap and a great night’s sleep, because who are we fooling here, it’s a healthy dose of booze.

And finally – rye. Bourbon and whiskey drinkers, have you ever had the great pleasure of drinking rye? Rye whiskey is made with mash of at least 51% rye in order to be called such; we are fans of the Bulleit Rye, which is 95% rye. It’s zesty and peppery and delicious, and plays so well with both ginger and lemon. Our band of buddies discovered a deep love of rye a couple of summers ago (where we spent an afternoon mixing it with ginger beer, lime and salt on the rocks and devouring every drop), and haven’t looked back. My first love of brown liquor was and will always be bourbon, but rye is catching up fast.

And so, this evening when you’re done with your chores and baking and shopping and wrapping, make yourself a nice hot Sleigh Ride, and sink into your favorite chair for a spell. I won’t even make you resist the urge to sing yourself a little Christmas carol: Just hear those sleigh bells jingle-ing / Ring ting tingle-ing too / Come on, it’s lovely weather / For a sleigh ride together with you….

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The Sleigh Ride
Makes 1

2-3 thin slices of ginger
1.5 oz. rye whiskey
2 t. honey
a nice lemon wedge (use a Meyer lemon, if you can get your hands on one)

Heat a cup of hot water and the ginger slices in a pan on the stove until boiling (scale this up, will ya – you’re going to want another I promise). While the water heats, combine the rye and the lemon in your favorite cheery mug. Pour hot water over rye and lemon, holding back the ginger. Stir in honey, find your favorite chair, and enjoy.

Get up already

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Hold the phone. In cruising the internet the other day I came across this recipe.

Yes. Bacon. Booze. Maple. Popcorn. Popcorn popped in bacon grease. With dry roasted peanuts. What’s not to love here?! I have no words, I have no description, but I have some advice: Be sure to make it when you can give it away IMMEDIATELY, because eating the whole tray is not good for one’s diet aspirations.

Why are you still sitting there? Take this in the kitchen and get busy, kids!

Tipsy Maple Corn
Adapted from Food52

This recipe makes a boatload. I found that I had a good amount of the syrup left over (which is fine, we’ll drizzle it over ice cream or something), but if you want to use the whole of the syrup for the corn, increase your popcorn by 1/4 cup, popping it in batches. Read the whole recipe first and then attack, as the coating method used here is different than regular caramel corn.

  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease, or non flavored vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/3 cup bourbon (they used Jack Daniels, and I had none. So bourbon it is.)
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts
  • 3 pieces prociutto, lightly fried until crispy, and minced (they called for pancetta; again, working with what I had here. Good smoked bacon would work too. Use about 3 oz. total)
  1. Place the bacon grease in a 3 quart dutch oven with a lid. Add the kernels and place the covered pot over high heat. Once the popping begins, gently shake the pot to keep the kernels from burning. Once it is done remove the lid and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In another small pot add the bourbon and heat it to burn off the alcohol and reduce it by half. Add the syrup and butter and heat until the butter is melted, whisking to combine.
  3. Place the popcorn, peanuts and the prociutto into a large mixing bowl. You want to sprinkle a little of the syrup over the corn a little at a time. You want to stir as you do this. Take your time otherwise the corn will saturate with syrup and collapse and just be gooey. (OK, here’s what I found: I drizzled on just over half of the syrup IN TOTAL, adding just a bit at a time and stirring thoroughly, Heed this warning and go sloooow, stirring a lot with a pair of spatulas before drizzling on more syrup. Reserve the remaining syrup.)

  4. Once it is coated put it on a sheet tray and spread it out, giving it a couple of dashes of freshly cracked black pepper (less than 1/8 tsp). Then place it in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10-12 minutes. I drizzled on just about half of the remaining syrup on the first turn, turning to coat (there was a bit left on the bottom of the pan that caramelized and crackled).  Corn will not be completely crispy on the finish, but it will dry as it cools and get a nice kettle-corn type coat on it.

I also transferred mine to a layer of paper towel on a clean baking sheet, so some of the butter could absorb off of the corn. It was a tad oily when it came out of the oven. But LOOK at this halloweeny, crispy, bacony goodness:

For the Love of Leftovers

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I read a book last week called An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. If you haven’t read this book, run out and get it, it’s a game-changer. I’ve always considered myself to be a  thrifty and frugal cook, but this book brought me up to a whole new level. I mean, I make chicken stock from my clean-picked birds, but hadn’t thought about saving the skins and ends from onions, scraps and tops of carrots and ends and tops of celery to make my stock with, I always start with whole vegetables that I go out and buy. I’m familiar with the adage Waste Not Want Not, but this, this was different. Her creative use of what’s left and what most people think of as trash is outrageously amazing. We’re talking about saving artichoke cooking water to be the basis of soup, here. Stuff like this was head-slapping realization for me. Why not? As such, I’m rereading the book this week, a bit more slowly, and taking notes. In a time when we should all be a bit more cautious with our spending, I urge you to read her book.

And beyond her uses of these cast-away items, her description of food, how it should taste, her use of salt, her use of olive oil, her encouragement of nibbling and savoring, was, in a word, beautiful. It spoke to my food obsessed soul. Yes.

In reading this book, it’s changed my view of leftovers yet again. I’m pretty good about not throwing away food, but will admit my guilt about the things that compost in the vegetable bins (whoever named them the Crisper Drawers was either a liar or horribly misinformed). Now, though, with some of the new things I learned in this book, I’m armed with some new game plans for lifeless lettuce and dying cucumbers. Not that dinner last night contained either of these things. It did make use of some rather morose looking bell peppers, though.

The weather took a turn toward cooler this week, which I’ll be honest with you is fine by me. After last week’s 100+ degree blitz for more than a couple of days, I’ll take some overcast drizzly mornings, 70 degree afternoons, and cool evenings. Last night I almost wanted to put another blanket on the bed, it was so chilly! (Un)Luckily for me, the cat decided he needed to sleep on top of my feet all night long (no matter where I put them), so I had toasty toes without getting out a blanket. He’s such a needy little beast sometimes.

And with the turn in the weather, my appetite took a turn toward comfort. Last week I could hardly bear to turn on the stove, this week I made Chicken and Rice Soup for dinner on Monday. My mom thought I was crazy but it just sounded so good. I got myself a double-coupon deep discount organic chicken on Saturday (that cost me less than $5 for a 6.5 pound bird), and though I didn’t need one I couldn’t pass up the price. A whole chicken is a poor housewife’s savior if she’s a crafty girl, and can be made into not just one but upward of 4 dinners. Warm chicken bistro salads one night, another night he was Chicken and Rice Soup, last night he was pasta, and today he’ll be chicken stock to re-up my freezer coffers. Chicken stock means polenta, quick soup, and risotto base. I blast through a ton of it any given week and making it is a skill that I’m happy to have.

For those of you freaking out that it’s Friday and that chicken was just used up last night, well, calm down. The mystical powers of refrigeration and high heat made it perfectly safe to eat. I assure you.

And oh, that pasta. Sometimes a girl has to dispatch with the healthy and just have creamy pasta for dinner. On the whole the husband and I eat pretty healthy, but you have to give in every now and again. This pasta jogs somewhere in between. And for those of you who don’t think they like leftovers, I promise you, this pasta will change your tune. You see, the thing about leftovers is that they just need a little finesse to turn them into something else. This isn’t Saturday’s Chicken, this is Thursday’s Pasta.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta
Serves 8 (easily divides in half)

1 lb. short pasta (penne, spirals, something that will hold the sauce in. I used gluten free brown rice penne.)
3 strips of thick cut bacon
1 t. butter
2 c. chopped bell pepper, whatever colors your family likes (no bell pepper? Use whatever is about to die in your ‘crisper’ drawer)
1 c. chopped onion
3 c. cooked, shredded chicken (we used white and dark meat, the choice is yours)
½ c. low fat buttermilk
½ c. sour cream or mayonnaise (use light or fat free if you’d like, I used good ol’ full fat mayonnaise because it’s what I had)
½ t. dry mustard
½ t. dried oregano
½ t. dried basil
¾ t. dried dill
¼ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar or gruyere cheese
½ c. minced green onions
½ c. bread crumbs

In a large bowl, combine buttermilk through minced garlic, mixing well to combine, and set aside. Boil pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400*F.

In a medium skillet, cook bacon until very crisp, drain and crumble into bits. Drain all but 1 t. of the bacon drippings, add in butter. Sautee’ peppers and onions in skillet over medium heat until cooked and onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Add in chicken and warm through.

Add pasta, chicken mixture, and bacon to the buttermilk mixture, stir together well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. Pour all in to a 13×9” oven safe baking dish (if you’re halving the recipe, put it in your favorite 2 quart baking dish). Top with cheese, green onions, and bread crumbs. Bake uncovered at 400*F for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and dish is heated through. To crisp breadcrumbs, run the dish under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, if desired.

Breakfast is Served

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Good Morning, and Happy Friday to you all! Are you ready for the weekend? Do you have any big plans? I think we’re just going to lay low and relax again ~ most everyone we  know is busy, so we are going to enjoy the fact that we aren’t!

And what better way to fuel a weekend than to start with breakfast. We aren’t big Every Day Breakfast people around our house; in fact the only one of us that eats his breakfast almost every day is the cat, and lately even he has been off of the idea. Nick and I are coffee with coffee people in the morning, rarely taking in more than that. One of us might muster the gumption to fry an egg every now and again, but only on the weekends. It’s such a bad habit to not eat breakfast, but neither of us wakes up hungry. He goes to work, I go about my day, and the next thing we know, lunch is upon us and our tummies are rumbling.

I’m trying to get myself to eat breakfast, as I have found that I’m less hungry later in the day when I do, thus preventing me from mowing an extra helping of dinner down. I could just eat yogurt and berries and granola, or even just yogurt and berries, but I get tired of it. Even with the endless combination of fruits and nuts and whathaveyou that you can stir in to yogurt, it just gets old. I do eat toast every now and again, but meh. We don’t have a real toaster and sometimes I don’t want to turn on the oven just to toast a slice of bread (note to self: buy toaster). And I do love oatmeal, but with the weather as hot as it has been, the last thing I want to start my day with is something hot.

Lately, I’ve taken the Swiss approach and made my oatmeal the night before (the Swiss call this Museli). There’s no cooking, and the ingredients you can add are endless. Thinking beyond the canister I searched around the internet and found this blog, which is written by the cutest little gal and is chock full of yummy vegetarian things. I’m nto a vegetarian, but for breakfast, it’s something I can get behind.

One of her overnight oats recipes floored me. Chocolate. Oatmeal. No way. For breakfast? What could me more indulgent for breakfast than ChOcOlAtE?! I was hooked. I was also down a couple of ingredients for her version, and wanted a couple bites more than what hers prepared (as I am a bigger girl, I wanted a bigger brekkie. Can you blame me?) And so, Raspberry Chocolate Smash was born.

You can make a couple of these at a time, so you have breakfast for a few days made in one short assembly line. I love my vintage Pyrex fridge dishes for this application, but  if I didn’t have them this would SO be one of those Food In Jars projects. And who doesn’t love eating things out of mason jars these days? It’s almost as fun as food on a stick.

Raspberry Chocolate Smash
Makes 1, multiply by the number of jars you’re assembling

1/3 c. old fashioned oats (you can use Instant, too, I haven’t found a huge difference in texture, but the old fashioned are more hearty. Don’t use steel cut!)
1/3 c. milk (what ever fat level you’re comfortable with, or almond, soy, coconut, etc.)
1 1/2 t. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t. chia seeds (optional, I had some laying around so I tossed them in. They add great mouth feel.)
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. maple syrup or honey
1/4 t. cinnamon
6-8 raspberries

Combine oats through cinnamon, stirring until well mixed. Gently stir in raspberries. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir just before eating.

They Say it’s Your Birthday…

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I had the great pleasure of making dinner for my dear Dad for his birthday this year. I realized the other day that I hadn’t had my mom and dad over together, and for dinner, since we moved. For shame. What better day to have them over than on Dad’s birthday, am I right? (I know some of you are saying Father’s Day but, it being his day and all, he decided he wanted to grill ribs and oysters in his own back yard. I can’t say I blame him, my parents’ back yard looks like it fell right outta Sunset magazine, no fooling). And what a birthday feast I planned for him!

Le Menu

To Start
Fig and Goat Cheese Crostini with Balsamic Syrup
Piquillo Peppers filled with Mozzarella and Basil

For Dinner
Zucchini Galettes with Fresh Ricotta and Lemon
Oven Roasted Salmon on a bed of Spring Greens

For Dessert
Chocolate Cake filled with Strawberries,
Homemade Strawberry Jam and Fresh Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Say it with me, YUM. I know, it’s kind of a lot. But Dad and I have many things in common, including the feeling that going out to dinner is overrated a lot of the time, because, well, my mom and I cook like this. I thought about taking him out for dinner but it just means so much more to have someone prepare a really beautiful meal for you. The best part about this is I had the time to do it all. Not that any one part of it (well, except for maybe the cake) was cumbersome or labor intensive, it just takes time that I wouldn’t ordinarily have on a weekday and this year I did. And I’m learning in my old age that the best gift you can give anyone, ever, is the gift of your time.

I’m proud to say that I made my own ricotta for the galettes (and for those of you who know me well, I made my own pie crust too, which I rarely do). Ricotta from the grocery is mealy at best, and tastes like grade school paste at worst (and don’t even get me started on the fat free amalgamations out there, holy crow they are so gross). Unless, of course, you buy one of the artisan containers, and those are so pricey. But if you have ever tasted the fresh ricotta, you know that the silky mouth feel and milkiness are so superior to the grade school paste that you can never go back.

Making your own ricotta is honestly easy as 1-2-3, and you can make it with wonderful, organic local milk and no weird preservatives or stabilizers for a fraction of what the already-made cheese would cost you at upscale grocer in town. A 1 lb. container of the really great, really fresh ricotta at my favorite cheese counter is upward of $6. How much does a half gallon of milk cost? Even the local organic moo? In my store, less than $3.50. Be sure that you are grabbing milk that is NOT ultra pasteurized, you want some of those little bacteria that hang around in regular old milk. It should tell you right on the front of the carton if it’s ultra pasteurized or not.

Fresh Ricotta
Makes about two cups

1/2 gallon of whole milk (Yes, whole, 2% doesn’t have enough fat to get the job done.)
6 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 t. sea salt

Heat the milk in a large pot (or in your microwave like I did) until it reaches 180*F. DON’T BOIL IT, we don’t want it scalded. Remove milk from the heat, stir in the acid of your choice plus the salt, and stir gently just once or twice. Let the milk hang out for 5 minutes; you will see the curds separating from the whey immediately (see picture above).

Line a colander with cheese cloth (or in my case, a clean flour sack towel) with a pan underneath to catch the whey. Pour the warm curds into the cloth-lined colander and let the cheese strain, for about an hour for looser cheese or up to two hours if you want one that’s a bit more firm, closer to cream cheese. (If your cheese strained for longer than you wanted it to, stir back in a bit of the whey that you captured in the pan. Or just add some olive oil!).

Use the cheese right away or store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use. Pat yourself on the back for being the ultimate homemaker, making your own cheese and saving yourself $2.50.

What’s For Dessert?

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Summer is officially on it’s way here in the wine country. We had a couple of days of scorching heat last week, and are due for a few more hot ones in the coming days as well. The heat makes my tummy think of barbecuing, cole slaw, potato salad, and fruits and veggies at their finest. Summer eating is the greatest!

At the store the other day, peaches were on sale for a decent price. These aren’t local peaches, but because they were grown within 500 miles of here and their intoxicating perfume mesmerized me, I picked out the best of them and in to the cart they went. Stone fruits are my very favorite part of summer produce. It’s still a little early, but there was no talking myself out of them once I had a whiff!

I considered making a pie, bellinis, an upside down cake, but I really didn’t want to cook them, and we had nary a bottle of bubbles in the house to make with the cocktails (for shame!). What to  make, what to make? And then it hit me: ice cream. Wait, better yet, ice cream sandwiches.

My mom makes legendary ice cream sandwiches, with all kinds of combinations of homemade cookies and the finest ice creams money can buy. We are big ice cream people in our family; my dad and I almost always had a scoop after dinner when I was a kid. My brother still requests ice cream sandwiches for his birthday dessert every year, both to eat that evening and a handful to take home and not share with anyone. I can’t say I blame him.

I settled on butterscotch chip cookies to go with my peach ice cream, and wished quietly that I hadn’t finished off the container of Trader Joe’s Praline Pecans (have you had these things? If not go buy some, like, now). They would have been the best most tasty business to finely chop and roll the exposed edges of the sandwiches in.  My cookie recipe was the one off the back of the bag, which I of course already tossed in the recycle so I can’t give you the exact one, but it was really similar to this recipe. Simply omit the white sugar, and use a bag of butterscotch chips for the chocolate ones. Easy peasy. When baking your cookies, though, try to get them as symmetrical as possible, for easier pairing and sandwich assembly. I use a #3 scoop.

For our ritualistic ice cream makings, we use a Donvier ice cream maker with great results, as I haven’t broken down and bought the ice cream maker attachment for my mixer. We like this one because it’s quiet, does the job well, and is very, very little work. And without further ado, here’s the ice cream recipe. I’m a lazy kid and try to avoid making a custard base for my ice cream at just about any cost (tempering eggs frightens me), but if you have a favorite recipe please feel free to use it. In a pinch, buy some highest quality peach ice cream or gelato from your neighborhood purveyor.

No-Cook Peach Ice Cream
Adapted from Southern Living

1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk (I used fat free)
1 5 oz. can of evaporated milk (again, fat free)
1 1/4 c. half and half*
4 medium sized peaches, peeled and sliced
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 T. sugar
1/4 t. salt
3/4 c. peach nectar
1 t. vanilla extract
2 T. bourbon (optional)

In a large pitcher or mixing bowl, combine the condensed milk, evaporated milk, and half and half. Place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill.

Combine peaches, lemon juice, sugar and salt in a food processor, whiz a couple of times until the mixture is broken into chunks, but not completely pureed.  Stir this mixture and the peach nectar into the cold milk mixture, and process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Remove from ice cream maker to a small freezer container, and freeze for 1 to 2 hours until firm.

* I have a method to my madness here with my half and half. I used fat free condensed and evaporated milks to cut calories and fat, but used full-fat half and half in the mixture for mouth feel and in the past have even used heavy cream (which of course is the most creamy and the most fattening). When I made the recipe in the past with regular whole milk and the full fat condensed/evap milks, it got really icy and didn’t have that true creamy consistency. After tinkering around I found that the half and half really helps to keep it creamy and luscious, but it is still a little more icy than a full-fat ice cream base. Oh! And the bourbon? That keeps the ice cream from getting too hard in the freezer. This is completely optional, of course, if you’re making this for kiddies or simply don’t want the alcohol in there, simply leave it out.

When you assemble your sandwiches, go ahead and pair up your cookies first so they all have nicely matching mates. Inevitably there are a couple of crooked ones that fit better together than with other cookies, thus making your batch more uniform. When all of your cookies are paired, plop a fat scoop (don’t be shy here) of the ice cream in the middle of one of the cookies, and smoosh it’s top on. Press down to stick them together, but not too hard so the ice cream doesn’t goosh out everywhere. Wrap each in a wax paper bag or plastic wrap sheet, and freeze for at least an hour prior to serving.

And here are the sandwiches, fully assembled. Maybe I’ll call up my brother and share with him.

I Want a Cookie

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I grew up in a two-cookie household, meaning that on any given day of the week, there were two kinds of homemade cookies in the jar. To this day my mom loves to tell the story of how I would trade her gorgeous and lovingly made lunch box treats for Oreos. In my own defense, Oreos were foreign and exotic and lusty; they rarely crossed the threshold into our house, and I only ever saw them at my grandparents’ house, along with Nilla wafers. Processed was never something we had much of in our house, because way back then the processed stuff was actually more expensive than conventional whole foods.

Nick, too, grew up in a two-cookie household; his mom’s cookies still bring back fond memories for the majority of men within a 4-year age span if Nick. As he was a kid that played sports, his mom was a team mom that always brought around snacks and goodies. Not only that, but they always had at least a couple of friends roaming around the house and she made sure they got cookies too. A few of these ‘kids’ still come to our house for dinner every now and again, and always recognize when we have a bag of her cookies on the counter. And shortly after they make it into that man’s crosshairs, *poof* they are gone.

Cookies, for me, are something that I bake in waves. Either I bake a batch a week for two months or I don’t bake them at all for half a year. And of course, because we both have moms that bake, we end up with things every now and again, which means that I don’t have to get my beaters dirty. But when the mood strikes, you better believe that  there will be cookies.

The other day I was perusing the racks of Trader Joe’s and picked up a bag of Almond Meal. My initial thinking is that this would be killer as a substitute for bread crumbs or panko for chicken cutlets or pork chops, and into the basket it went. When I got it home, though, and flipped the bag over, they suggested swapping it in 50/50 for flour in baked goods. WHAT. Stop the bus, I need to get off and bake chocolate chip cookies. Like, now.

My mom will be quick to tell you that I don’t partake of cookies with nuts in them, for the most part, and most especially when they are chocolate chip cookies. Why ruin perfection? The almond meal, though, adds just the tiniest hint of nuttiness to the cookie, but without the overwhelming texture change of adding chopped nuts. Which is a winner in my book.

I used a standard, full fat full sugar cookie recipe (and many of you will recognize the proportions below as The Only Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe). I’ve tried the lower fat versions, and the lighter versions, and the less sugar versions, but let’s face it, when I want a cookie I WANT A COOKIE and those other guys don’t make my mouth happy when it has it’s sights set on a cookie. I want one the way it’s supposed to taste, the way it’s supposed to feel in your mouth, they way that you remember them tasting when you were a kid with two on a plate and a glass of cold milk after school (and if you didn’t have this I’m sorry for your deprivation). The only way these were healthed-up was by using the whole wheat flour and almond meal in place of the regular flour. Other than that, I didn’t adjust a thing.

One little tip to give you: don’t over soften your butter. Let it sit on your counter for about 15-20 minutes, until it yields slightly under the pressure from a finger but not so that it’s glossy and completely soft. The issue that you’ll run in to will be that your cookies will run into each other on the pan, they’ll spread so much (which is why you aren’t getting a picture of the completed cookies today). If you like a lacy, thin, crispy cookie then by all means use very soft butter, but if you’re a fluffy cookie kid like I am, watch your butter. If it does get too soft on you, then stick it in  the freezer for a couple minutes to firm back up before getting started. I tell you this because, well, my butter got too soft and my cookies spread all over the place today. They still taste great, but I hate when things don’t come out they way I want them to.

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Almond Flour

1 c. Almond Meal
3/4 c. All Purpose Flour
1/2 c. Whole Wheat Flour
1 t. Baking Soda
1/2 t. Salt (which I omit, because I’m one of those people that only subscribes to salted butter)
1 c. Butter, softened
1 c. Packed Brown Sugar
1/2 c. Granulated Sugar
2 Eggs
1 t. Vanilla Extract
1-12 oz. Bag of Chocolate Chips
1 c. Chopped Nuts, if you’re one of those people

Preheat the oven to 350*F. In a small bowl, stir together your flours, meal, baking soda and salt (if using) and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together your butter and two sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the two eggs and vanilla extract until incorporated. Add in the flour/soda/salt mixture and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop cookies in heaping tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, spacing evenly. Bake at 350*F for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned on the edges. Let cool for 2-3 minutes on the pan before moving onto a wire rack. Completely cooled cookies store for up to 1 week in a sealed container.

Cinco de Mayo!!

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Happy Cinco, campers! One last post for you about taco bar and side dishes, then I have to dash and get to work picking up my house.

Let’s have a quick coffee chat about refried beans. Coming from a taqueria they are silky, salty and savory. Coming out of a can from the grocery store, they are the consistency of brown paste.

And who likes a side of brown paste with their beautiful taco bar? Not me. Especially when they are so easy to make. I learned just how easy they are to make at home from my aunt’s best pal on a camping trip last summer, and I haven’t bought a can of refried beans since.

Refried Beans
Serves 8 as a side

1 40 oz. can of pinto beans (I was taught to use Teasdale, if you can find them)
2 serrano peppers, washed and dried
2-3 slices of bacon, on the fatty side if you have it (alternatively, if you keep bacon grease like I do you’ll need about 2 tablespoons

Drain the pinto beans, reserving the liquid in a bowl or measuring cup. Don’t bother rinsing the beans.

In a very heavy pan (cast iron is best), render the fat from your bacon over medium low heat. The object isn’t to crisp the bacon, this is sacrificial bacon as it’s being used for it’s fat only. (Use it to make yourself a BLT while your beans are cooking, no reason to throw it out). Remove the bacon from the pan.

Alternatively, if you hoard bacon grease like I do, scoop a couple of tablespoons out of the jar in the fridge and drop it into your pan. Melt it over medium heat until it glistens.

When your bacon is rendered or your fat is melted, drop in your serrano peppers and let them blister and brown over medium heat (be careful because they will pop on you). Give them a squeeze with your spoon every now and again to get some of the oils out.

If you like your beans with some heat, leave the peppers in and add your beans. If you prefer them mild, remove the peppers from the pan and add your beans. Add about 1/4 cup of the reserved bean liquid. Give the pan a stir and let it hang out for a bit.

For these beans, you’re going to almost completely cook out the liquid before adding more, over and over until they are the creamy consistency that you want them. I like mine with some chunks still but go ahead and let them break down completely if you’d like. Resist the urge to smash the beans, as the gentle cooking will do that for you. Give them a stir every now and again, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, but they don’t need babysitting. Total cook time is about 20-25 minutes. When you’re done, your beans should look approximately like this, for taqueria style beans:

Now, go pour yourself some sangria and finish putting together your taco bar. Your party is going to be a hit!