Archive for March, 2009


Eatwell gave us a big bunch of mint on Friday, so between that and my successful cheesemaking experiement, I knew I had to try this spread.

It’s really good.  It’s fresh and light and tastes like spring.  And, even if you make your own ricotta, it’s still really easy.  I don’t think you’d want to make this with grocery store ricotta.  If you have a good cheese counter or a Whole Foods or some place that carries fresh ricotta, go with that if you don’t want to make your own.

The recipe comes from the April 2008 Gourmet.


1/2 garlic clove
1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta
1/4 cup finely chopped mint
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt to taste


Finely mince the garlic clove and, using a fork, mash it with a tiny pinch of salt.  Mix all the ingredients together, adding additional salt if needed.

I ate it for lunch on fresh sourdough bread.  Yum.


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Easy Cheese

Not the nuclear orange stuff in an aerosol can.  Real, homemade cheese.

I had seen homemade ricotta pop up here and there and I finally decided to give it a try.  It is so unbelievably simple that you will wonder why people don’t just make it themselves all the time.  Really.   It’s like brewing your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks.  It’s that simple.  And it’s delicious.  It’s fresh and soft, and it doesn’t have that weird, grainy texture that the stuff in the plastic containers at the grocery store seem to have.

It’s also fun.  I felt like I was performing a science experiement in my kitchen.  The basic idea is to separate the milk solids (the curds) from the liquid (the whey), and you do this with heat and acid.  There’s a few different methods of doing it, using lemon juice, vinegar, or buttermilk.  But they are all fairly similar.  I got this recipe from Epicurious.

Homemade Ricotta


2 quarts whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice


In a large pot, bring the milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil, stirring occassionally.

Add the lemon juice and reduce the heat to low.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring once about halfway through, until the milk has completely curdled. 

Remove from the heat and pour into a sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter.  Let the cheese drain for about an hour and refrigerate.  It will make about 2 cups, maybe a bit more, and will keep for 2-3 days.

That is it.  That’s all it takes to make cheese. 




The commenters on Epicurious suggested omitting the salt if you wanted to use this cheese for a dessert.  I didn’t find it salty at all, so I don’t think I would, but it’s something to consider. 

I used the ricotta in a spread which I’ll post about next, and tossed the rest with some lemon pepper papperadelle from Trader Joes and sauteed spinach from Eatwell.  It was delicious.  I also think it would be great on pizzas too.

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Our CSA has given us a ton of butternut squash this year.  It started back in October or November, and we’ve gotten one or two in almost every single box since then.  I hadn’t cooked much of it in my life, just a soup or two really, but now I’m a pro.   And, it’s been wonderful having this much squash in the pantry all winter since it’s so versatile.  This risotto will be the fifth butternut squash recipe I’ve blogged about, and the soup, macaroni & cheese, and gnocchi I’ve made multiple times this winter since posting them.  Now that it’s spring, I should probably move on to asparagus and rhubarb, but Eatwell gave me two more butternut squashes last week, so here we are with another recipe.

There are quite a few versions of butternut squash risotto floating around online.  Since Martha and Ina never fail me, I immediately flocked to them.  Ironically, Martha’s is considerably more simple than Ina’s.   I opted for Martha’s version, because hers required that the squash be in the pot for the entire duration of the risotto cooking time, and I thought the end result would be squash-ier.  Ina’s looks excellent as well, so I may try that with the other squash.

If you’ve made risotto before, the recipe is a piece of cake.  If you’ve never made risotto before, here’s a good time to learn.  The recipe will probably serve 3-4 as an entree and 6 or so as a side dish.  The original recipe uses sage, which I omitted simply because that just seemed too wintery.  I think it was great without, though just about any fresh herb would be nice as a garnish.

Butternut Squash Risotto


1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) reduced-sodium chicken broth, mixed with 1/2 cup water and heated
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish


In a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add squash; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until edges soften, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add rice; stir to coat. Add wine; cook until almost all liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-low; add 1/2 cup hot broth mixture. Cook, stirring, until almost all liquid is absorbed. Add remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding more, 35 to 40 minutes total.

Stir in Parmesan and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Serve immediately, garnished with more Parmesan and herbs, if desired.

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I am a relatively new convert to the world of beets.  I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve eaten them, but I’m quickly discovering that I adore them.  Back when I made my beet and orange salad, I also flagged this recipe because it looked so tasty.  I had been waiting for Eatwell to bring us more beets, but so far, no luck.  Two weeks ago however, I found myself at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market and beets were everywhere.   Of course, I filled up a bag of gorgeous golden beets so I could finally try this dish.

It’s really good.  About halfway through the cooking, I started to have second thoughts.  “Is this really going to taste good?” I kept thinking.  I think it was because I was still not firmly convinced that I did really like beets.  I’m glad I powered through, because it paid off.  It makes for a very hearty, simple vegetarian pasta dish.

If you can’t find beets with the greens still attached and fresh, I think chard would probably be the best substitute, but spinach would probably work too, though you’d have to cut the cooking time down a bit.   You can also make this with red beets, but your pasta will be pink.

This recipe comes from the February 2009 Bon Appetit.

Farfalle with Golden Beets, Beet Greens, and Pine Nuts


1/3 cup pine nuts
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 large onions, quartered lengthwise through root end, sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 bunches 2-inch-diameter golden beets with fresh healthy greens; beets peeled, each cut into 8 wedges, greens cut into 1-inch-wide strips
12 oz farfalle (bow-tie pasta)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving


Heat heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts and stir until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to small bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons oil and onions to same skillet and sauté until beginning to soften and turn golden, about 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to sauté until onions are tender and browned, about 30 minutes longer. 

Meanwhile, cook beets in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes.  Using slotted spoon, transfer beets to medium bowl.  Return water to boil.  Add pasta to beet cooking liquid and cook until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. 

If you finish cooking the pasta while the onions and greens are still cooking, reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid before draining.  Otherwise just keep a ladle handy.

While the pasta is cooking, add garlic to the onion mixture and cook for about 2 minutes.  Scatter beet greens over onions.  Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons oil over and a couple tablespoons of the pasta  cooking water; cover and cook until beet greens are tender, about 5 minutes.

Drain the pasta ifyou haven’t already, reserving extra water, and return it back to the pot.

Stir onion-greens mixture and beets into pasta.  Add pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to moisten as needed.  You probably won’t need the entire cup, but you will probably need to add a half cup or so just so the beets and greens don’t stick together and the pasta doesn’t look too dry.   Season with salt and coarsely ground black pepper.  Stir in 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese.  Divide pasta among shallow bowls.  Sprinkle with pine nuts and additional cheese.


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Ok, not really.

While other food bloggers spent the weekend preparing all sorts of festive St. Patrick’s Day foods like Guinness Stew and Irish Soda Bread, I was on the couch, in a medicated flannel coccoon watching Law & Order reruns.  Not wanting to disappoint my forefathers, I felt like I had to do something festive to honor the occassion.  But, since I’ve been sick, I haven’t had a chance to blog about this delicious carrot-avocado salad I made with Eatwell carrots a while back.  And since it’s the colors of the Irish flag, it will have to suffice as my ancestral offering for this year.

The recipe is one that I simplified from a very complicated Jamie Oliver recipe.  The original looks wonderful, though perhaps too complicated to serve alongside burgers for a casual meal.  So, I omitted a number of ingredients and I think I managed to capture the essence of the salad with considerably fewer steps.  It’s really a wonderful salad, I don’t know why you don’t see roasted carrots and avocados paired up more frequently.

All the measurements are approximate.  This is a really flexible recipe so feel free to experiement.  That said, I recommend not skipping the roasted orange, I really think that made the salad. 

Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad with Citrus Dressing


5 carrots, peeled, sliced lengthwise and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 extra large Hass avocado
1 small orange
3T extra virgin olive oil
1T red wine vinegar
handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1t cumin
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt & pepper to season


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bring a salted pot of water to boil and cook the carrots for approximately 10 minutes.  Drain.

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing.  Whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, cumin, pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.  Toss the carrots in the dressing and place in a roasting pan.  Drain off any extra dressing and reserve for later.  Slice an orange in half and place that in the roasting pan with the carrots (you don’t have to dress the orange).   Roast the carrots and the orange for 25 to 30 minutes.

When the carrots are done, carefully remove the orange and squeeze the juice into the reserved dressing, adding a little more olive oil if needed.  Dice the avocado.

Mix the carrots, avocado, and cilantro together and gently toss in the dressing.  Season with salt and pepper if needed and serve.


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Growing up, a staple at family parties was keilbasa in grape jelly.  There was other stuff in it, like ketchup or barbeque sauce, and probably some Lipton French Onion Soup mix, because wasn’t that stuff in everything in the 70s and 80s?  The dish was usually served warm, in a crockpot or on a hot plate or something, and we’d spoon it up onto our paper plates right next to the macaroni salad dressed with Miracle Whip.  It was the type of recipe that probably originated on the back of a jar of Smuckers, designed by The Man to find new ways to help the hungry masses injest sodium and high fructose corn syrup.  It was chock full of processed pork scraps and chemicals, but it was sweet and spicy, and went perfectly with a styrofoam cup of Sprite.

Since this blog is a Sandra-Lee-Free-Zone, I’m not even going to try to recreate that dish.  But The Man did strike gold when he combined pork products with grapes.  Thankfully, Bon Appetit has come up with a version of that delicious combination that won’t make you hang your head in shame when you eat it.

The recipe is amazing.  It’s a perfect fall or winter dish, so since there’ll inevitably be another cold, blustery day before the warm weather hits, I recommend filing this away for that occassion.  The original recipe didn’t involve polenta, but I thought it needed something to absorb the broth.  Polenta was definitely the right choice, since it’s a little sweeter than rice or potatoes so it compliments the grapes nicely.    Mashed potatoes might work with this, though I think they might be too earthy for such a fruity dish.   Though, you could always go for Miracle Whip macaroni salad.

Braised Pork with Grapes and Balsamic over Creamy Polenta


For the pork

 1 3 1/4-pound boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed, cut into 3 equal pieces
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 large shallots, halved, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 3 cups)
3 cups seedless black grapes (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 large fresh sage sprigs
4 large fresh thyme sprigs
2 large fresh rosemary sprigs

For the polenta

1 cup polenta
3 cups water, broth, or a mix
2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat.  Add pork to pot and cook until browned on all sides, about 13 minutes total.  Transfer pork to plate; discard fat in pot.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in same pot over medium heat.  Add shallots and grapes; sauté until shallots are golden, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes.  Add sugar; sauté 30 seconds.  Add vinegar; bring mixture to boil and cook until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.  Add broth, all herb sprigs, and pork with juices from plate.  Bring to boil. Cover pot and transfer to oven. 

Braise the pork for 1 hour.  Using tongs, turn pork over and continue braising until meat is very tender, about 45 minutes longer. 

Meanwhile, make the polenta.  Bring the water, broth, and milk to a boil.  Add the polenta and the butter, and reduce to a simmer.  Whisk the polenta in thoroughly to make sure there are no lumps.  Keep the pan on simmer, whisking every few minutes, for approximately 25 minutes, or until it reaches your desired consistency.

When the pork is done, remove it from the oven, and using slotted spoon, transfer pork to platter; tent with foil.

Remove herb sprigs from pot and skim fat from surface of cooking liquid.   At this point, the grapes should have completely disintegrated, leaving you with a rich, flavorful broth.  Boil that over high heat until thickened.  The recipe suggested boiling for 7 minutes, but I had a lot of liquid in the pot, so I boiled it for about 15 minutes.    Season sauce with salt and pepper.   Pour over pork and serve.  Or, just place the pork back in the liquid and serve everything from that pot.

Spoon the polenta into shallow bowls and serve the pork and broth over everything.

It does not make for the most elegant presentation, but it definitely tastes wonderful.  If I were cooking this for guests, I might sprinkle some fresh thyme over the dish to give it a bit more color.


The recipe suggests pairing the dish with a 2003 Rosenblum zinfandel.  By sheer coincidence, we had a Rosenblum zinfandel on hand, just a later year and a different vineyard.  But, close enough to justify opening it. 


It went perfectly with the dinner.  If you can’t get your hands on a Rosenblum wine, I would definitely recommend sticking with a zinfandel.  The dish is fruity, and the peppery zinfandel compliments it nicely.

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img_6260A while back, I attempted a delicious looking recipe for savory parmesan shortbread cookies that included thyme and pecans.  And, the dough tasted delicious.  But the cookies just didn’t work.  The batter never really came together and the cookies came out of the oven looking all broken and crumbly. 

I really wanted to attempt a savory shortbread again, but this time I did a couple things differently.  First, no nuts.  I’m convinced the chunks of pecans led to the cookies’ crumbly demise since the dough never really stuck together well.  And second, I followed a different strategy for shaping the cookies.  The recipes all seem to call for the shortbread to be rolled into a log and sliced.  But since it’s impossible to get a perfectly round or square shape in your log, the cookies will look nicer if you slice, roll the cookie in a ball, and then gently press them down on the baking sheet.  Shortbread doesn’t really spread out like normal cookie batter, so this seemed to be the best way to get cookies that are somewhat uniform in shape.

This recipe is really easy and everyone who tried them seemed to like it.  Or, at least that’s what they told me.  I don’t think they were lying.

It comes from Ina Garten.


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1/4 heaping cup ground parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon freshly cracked/ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil or use the dried herb you like the most
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

I made a few changes from the initial list above.  First, the recipe called for salted butter, but I think unsalted is better since the parmesan is salty.  Then, since I wanted to get the flavor of my earlier failed attempt at savory shortbread, I omitted the basil, added two teaspoons of fresh thyme, and doubled the amount of pepper.  I like peppery things, so I liked the extra kick. 


Line a light-colored baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, mix together the butter, salt, parmesan, black pepper and whatever herbs you are using until creamy.

Slowly add the flour, and mix until dough holds together when pinched.   If the dough is still too crumbly, add up to 1 tablespoon of ice water. 

Turn out onto a floured counter top, roll into a ball and then into a log.  I wanted my cookies to be small, so I made two logs, each about 8-10 inches.  But, if you want larger cookies, just adjust the length.

Wrap the log in tin foil or plastic and freeze for at least 30 minutes.  You can freeze them for up to a month.

When you take the logs out of the freezer, preheat your oven to 350ºF.

Slice the logs into rounds and roll the rounds into balls.  Ina’s recipe says that it yields 36, but since mine were not much larger than a quarter in diameter, I got about 50.

Arrange in rows on the baking sheet.  While you need a little space, you don’t need a ton since they won’t spread out like most cookies do. 

Bake for 15-25 minutes, checking after about 15 minutes or so.  There’s no eggs in these, so you don’t have to worry about salmonella or other creepy things.  I found my tiny cookies needed about 17 or 18 minutes, and they were crispy on the outside and a little soft on the inside. 



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