Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cheesemaking 101

I love making cheese. I suppose that should it be added to my daily regimen of things to do, along with milking my imaginary goats and mucking out the imaginary chicken coop, it might become a cumbersome task. But as it's not a regular occurrence, it is a rather lovely way to spend a rainy morning. And because I make cheese so infrequently, it still feels a bit I've accomplished something really, really special. And there is also the not-so-small matter that homemade cheese tastes so very good. It's like the difference between homemade bread and that stuff that comes wrapped in plastic and is sold at that giant supermarket down the street.

And while you might be really impressed that I've endeavored to do such a crazy thing, is is embarrassingly easy to make. So simple, in fact, that I always wonder why I don't just make it a part of my regular homemaking routine....

I love the way it warms up my kitchen with a sweet milky fragrance that smells a lot like baby breath. And while the milk from a goat has a distinctly goat-ish scent, it is not off putting in any way. The resulting cheese is mild and flavorful and perfect spread on some of that homemade bread in your breadbox.

Before you get going, make sure your kitchen counter, your hands, and all the pots and pans you will use are spic and span to avoid contamination. Pour your quart of goat milk (freshly milked...or freshly purchased from your favorite grocer) in a pot, heat it to just before the boiling point, add an acid (like lemon or vinegar), wait until curds form, drain, add salt, and shape. That's it! Simple, right? And so beautiful and tasty too...

Goat Cheese

This cheese is easy to make and even easier to eat. Double the recipe to make more if you want, but keep in mind that it only stays fresh for a few days.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes, plus an hour or two to drain
Yield: about 1/2 cup of cheese


1 quart of goat milk
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
pinch of salt, to taste


1. Heat milk in a large saucepan over medium low heat. Place a candy thermometer in the milk and stir occasionally.

2. When the milk reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit, stir in the lemon juice. Continue heating until small curds form, but do not let the milk boil. At this point, the milk will begin to look clearish yellow. That is the proverbial whey, which can be drunk, used in baking, or fed to your animals.

3. Turn off the heat. Line a small strainer with cheesecloth. Carefully pour the curds into the cheesecloth-lined strainer, reserving the whey in a bowl underneath if desired. Tie up the cheesecloth and gently squeeze to remove more whey. Hang the cheese from your faucet, or a wooden spoon set over a deep bowl or pot for one to two hours to continue to remove moisture from the cheese.

4. Remove the cheese from the cloth. It will be a bit crumbly. Add salt to taste and then pack the cheese into a small ramekin to store. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Use within a few days.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Comfort Me with Lentils

Both of my homelands are in the news the east, Massachusetts has elected a Republican (gasp!) to fill the beloved Ted Kennedy's seat in the senate. And in California, we are being deluged with rain, which seems, as I look out the window this very moment, a bit of an understatement if that is possible.

In either case, we are in need for some serious comforting. And this humble lentil stew certainly does the trick, especially when topped with freshly made goat cheese. Lentils are a bit of a workhorse when it comes to legumes. They are small and therefore cook relatively quickly, and they readily assume any herbs and spices with which they are cooked. This stew (or soup depending on how much broth you add), is heady with curry and loaded with chunky carrots and potatoes. It's 100% vegetarian, but if you like sausage, it would be a very good addition, I think.

I made this simple stew for lunch yesterday, and there is so much we could eat it all week if we wanted too. But I froze half to save for another rainy day, should we be so blessed to have one....goodness knows, we need all the rain we can get. Oh, and you might have noticed that I mentioned freshly made goat cheese. I made that today, and with any luck, I'll have time to share the recipe with you tomorrow. It's divine...

Curried Lentil Stew

This hearty stew has stick-to-your-ribs goodness in every bite. Though this version is vegetarian, chunks of cooked, spicy Italian sausage would make a very nice addition if you are so inclined.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: serves 6


2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 stalks of celery, sliced
4 medium carrots, halved length-wise and sliced
1 cup of cubed baby potatoes (fingerling or new potatoes)
2 tablespoons of good-quality curry powder
1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 quart of vegetable stock
2 cups of dried green lentils
salt and pepper to taste


1. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrots and potatoes and cook for five minutes or until the vegetables begin to get tender.

2. Add curry powder and cook for two minutes more, or until fragrant. Stir in tomatoes, and stock and bring to a boil.

3. Add lentils, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes or until lentils are tender. Check in periodically and add more stock if necessary.

4. Taste for seasoning, and ladle into a bowl. Top with crumbled goat cheese if desired. It is also great over brown rice or quinoa or you could serve it with a rustic loaf of bread to sop up all the delicious broth.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Feeding Haiti

Photo Jorge Cruz, AP

There are no words. Please help if you can and hold your loved ones a little bit closer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another Year Older

Eight years ago today, my baby girl was born two months early. For a month she lived away from us--a mess of wires, and needles, lights and incubators. Oh how we missed her so. She finally came home on Valentine's Day....which, not surprisingly, was one of the very best days of my life.

And look how much she's grown!!

Happy birthday to my beautiful daughter.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Oatmeal Brown Sugar Scones

The fact that I patted them a wee bit on the thin side, didn't affect their flavor at all...which was sort of a cross between an oatmeal cookie and a heavenly bowl of brown sugar sprinkled oatmeal. I brought some to my 91 year old grandmother, and to a certain teacher to make amends. After that, there were only two left, which presented quite a problem as there are many more hungry mouths in my family to feed than that. In the end, all I got were some crumbs. But those alone were enough to tell me that this is a recipe worth repeating...again and again.

The reviews were mixed on the Epicurious website where I got the recipe. But I decided to try anyway. I found them light, and not too sweet, which was fortuitous because they were baked to be smothered with lemon curd, which added plenty of sugar in and of itself. They weren't quite as biscuit-like (read dry) as usual scones, and had a light, cakey interior. In a word, I found them perfect. Perfect for my needs anyway.

One commenter complained that they don't rise up much in the oven. This is true...what you see is what you get. So pat them as thick as you would like them to be when they are finished. Brushed with buttermilk and sprinkled generously with brown sugar and oats, these simple scones were a hit with us...even the crumbs tasted good. I ought to know...

Oatmeal Brown Sugar Scones

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 8 large scones


1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
2/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk plus additional for brushing


1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In the bowl of your food processor fitted with a steel blade attachment, pulse flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1 1/3 cups of oats 15 times to combine.

2. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas. Place mixture into a large bowl and stir in buttermilk until the mixture begins to come together. Turn out the dough onto a board (it will still be floury and shaggy) and knead until it just comes together.

3. Pat into a circle about 1-inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges. Brush each wedge with buttermilk, then sprinkle on the remaining brown sugar and oats.

4. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until scones are lightly golden brown. Cool completely on a cooling rack....although they taste wonderful warm too.

When Life Gives You Lemons...The Sequel

I'm not really sure where to start with this post....I have so much to share. So I guess I'll start with what might have come first...the egg. These eggs were purchased last weekend at the farmers' market. Though I prefer the brown or blue ones, this is the only kind they had left. Their large size made up for their uninteresting color as they were huge. Almost as big as duck eggs. I was surprised to discover, as I cracked open the first egg to fry for breakfast the next morning, that hidden inside were two yolks. Twins! In fact, every egg in that dozen is a twin. Which is simultaneously exciting and disconcerting. What's in their food....or water?!?! Is this normal? I have no idea.

So anyway, I thought all that yolky goodness would make for an especially rich lemon curd. And with all those lemons I had laying around, it was a perfect way to use them up. I used Ina Garten's recipe, mostly because it didn't require a double boiler. Lemon zest is peeled and whizzed with the sugar. Then eggs and butter are mixed in. You carefully stir the mixture around in a heavy saucepan for about 10 minutes until it becomes thick, glossy, and gloriously rich and lemony.

It makes a wonderful gift for your daughter's adorable redheaded Irish teacher, especially when paired with oatmeal scones. And you might want to give a teacher a gift to make amends for missing yet another day of volunteering in the classroom because you were taking down the Christmas tree and boxing up decorations. But I wouldn't really know about that...I'm just sayin'...

Back to the curd. It's sweet and sour, and comforting at the same time. It would blow your mind if it was nestled into a tart shell, or spooned over a shortbread cookie or vanilla ice cream. I've even added it to a chicken stir fry to make lemon chicken, but mostly I like to just lick it off of a spoon. Swoon.

I suppose you'll want the recipe for the oatmeal scones.....I'll share that tomorrow. In the meantime, get started on this lemon curd. Right! Now! (Jeesh I'm bossy...)

Lovely Lemon Curd

Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

This curd is the perfect combination of sweet and sour and is so rich and glossy. Try it with scones, or as a filling for a tart.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yields: 2 half pint jars...with a bit leftover to eat right out of the bowl...shhh...


3 lemons
1 1/2 cups of sugar
4 extra large eggs
1 stick of butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup lemon juice
pinch of salt


Using a vegetable peeler, remove the rind (not the white pith) from the lemons and place in the food processor, along with the sugar. Pulse mixture until lemon peel is finely minced and blended with the sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar/zest mixture and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time until thoroughly combined. Mix in the lemon juice and salt.

Place mixture in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat over a low flame, stirring constantly for 10-15 minutes, or until about as thick as a pudding. The curd will be about 170 degrees when this happens, and not yet simmering. Pour into a container and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. You may want to place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Dollop onto anything....

Thursday, January 7, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons... make lemonade....duh! When life gives you lots and lots of lemons, you first make lemonade, then you make lemon curd. But I am getting way, way ahead of one whole post. Allow me to backtrack a bit.

The other day, some enterprising neighborhood children opened a lemon stand. At first I thought it was a lemonade stand, but when I pulled the car over, they had not lemonade, but piles and piles of freshly picked lemons from their backyard tree. At 4 for $1, they were a great value, so I loaded up. We raced home, and had to make lemonade of course.

Lemonade seems like a summer beverage, but truth is, citrus is a winter fruit. It's like a little bit of sunshine to brighten spirits during the dark, cold days of winter. You probably don't want to hear this, but while the rest of the country has been frozen with an "Arctic Blast," we here in Los Angeles and environs have been given the very best weather - the sunny, warm days that fool us into thinking that spring has sprung. The sunny, warm days that fool my daffodils into thinking that spring has sprung too. We'll see if they get any crazy ideas....hopefully not. We still have frost ahead, but this has been a very nice reprieve indeed.

So back to the lemonade. It's really very simple to make it yourself. Or to have your lovely seven-year-old daughter do it. Basically you squeeze the lemons, add some sugar and water, give it a stir and pour over ice. Ta dah! Easy, right? If you are really feeling crazy, you can blend your lemonade with some ice and make a slushie. Add some vodka for the that's what I'm talking about! Or put your lemonade in a 9x13 pan, place in the freezer, and scrape at it with a fork every hour or so to make a lemon granita. Or squeeze in a little ginger juice and add sparkling water for a more sophisticated version of the childhood favorite. You really can't go wrong, especially when you have wonderfully fresh, homegrown lemons (or lemons from the FM).

Making lemonade is really easy if you have an electric citrus juicer...especially if you have a LOT of lemons to squeeze. Also important (but not totally necessary) is a fancy pitcher that you scored from a thrift store for $3.

Put the juice, water and sugar in the pitcher and give it a good stir with a long wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved. Stage it for a photo....then pour over ice and enjoy a taste of sunshine in the dead of winter.

Makes about 6 servings

Squeeze about 4-5 lemons to get a scant cup of lemon juice (7 0z). Pour in a pitcher, along with 3/4 of a cup of (superfine) sugar. Add about 4 cups of water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar and/or water if necessary. Pour over ice and serve.