Monthly Archives: November 2011

Soft Rolls for Thanksgiving

Last Thanksgiving I made several batches of these amazing, soft rolls for our dinner.  They were so delicious that as the first batch came out of the oven we “sampled” them so much that we did not have any left over for the next night and I just *had* to make more.

Poor us.

I love these rolls so much and tweeted their picture *a lot* last year, and this year, and my friends not-so-gently reminded me that I that did not share the recipe.

The genius thing about these rolls is how easy they are to make, especially if you have a stand mixer.  If you have never made dough in your life you can easily make these rolls.

My mom has her glorious “Red Baron”, a glossy, fire engine red Kitchen Aid that does all but the dishes for you.    You add all the ingredients into the bowl, turn it on and do other things for a few minutes (like the dishes).  The dough gets turned out to rest in a bowl for an hour or so, then formed into the rolls and popped into two cake pans.  After another rest (just long enough for a restorative glass of wine and feet up on the couch) into the oven they go.  When they’re done they’re basted liberally with melted butter, and then comes the hard part – not eating them all before dinner time.

Given my current bout of weird food allergies these are one of the few things on the holiday table I will be able to eat (with a minor modification), so you know I will be buddying up to the basket of rolls this Thursday.  And Friday.  Heh.

Soft Rolls for Thanksgiving

3 1/2 cups all purpose
2 tsp. instant yeast
2 T potato flour or 1/4 cup instant potato flakes (or in my case, I am just using more regular flour)
3 T nonfat dry milk
2 T sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 T unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 2 more T melted for basting)
2/3 c  water, warm
1/2 c milk, lukewarm (out of the fridge for an hour or s0)

Place everything (except the melted butter) into the bowl of the stand mixer and mix to make a dough, using the dough hook.  Let the machine run for 7 minutes at medium speed.  The dough should be pretty smooth at this point.

If you do not have a stand mixer, mix together everything with a spatula or wooden spoon until a rough dough is formed.  Then knead with your hands on a lightly floured surface for about 7 minutes until the dough is soft and smooth and pretty much not sticky.

Remove the dough from the bowl, form into a ball and put in a bowl that has been well buttered.  Cover the top with a little plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in a warm place ~ about an hour.

When the dough has doubled, deflate it by a gentle punch right to the midsection.  Oooph!   Divide it into 16 even pieces.  I do this by rolling the douhg into a long log, then cutting it in half, and keep cutting each half until I have 16 pieces.  Roll the balls in your hands until they are nice and round, or pull the sides down to the bottom of the ball and pinch, then roll gently.

Butter two 9″ round cake pans well and arrange eight balls of dough in each pan (see picture).   Cover the pans loosely again with plastic wrap and let them rise until doubled again and nice and puffy, about an hour or so.  If they don’t look like they are filling the pan let them rise another 20 minutes or so.

Bake at 350 F for 22 to 24 minutes, remove from the oven to a rack and brush the tops well with melted butter.

Try to contain yourself and not eat them all while hot, and I wish you the best of luck with this.

If you make the rolls earlier in the day during Thanksgiving, you can reheat them in the oven after you take out the turkey.  Turn off the oven after you extract the bird and leave the door ajar,  put in the pans of rolls in for about 10 minutes (set the timer!) and they will be beautifully warmed.  I would even go as far as brushing the tops with more butter, because there can never be enough butter on Thanksgiving.

I think this recipe might have originated from the King Arthur website but cannot find it, so please forgive the lack of attribution.



Happy Thanksgiving!

Sweet Potato Biscuit Love

This time of year the markets are overflowing with different varieties of sweet potatoes: large, orange-sherbet colored, sea lion shaped sweet potatoes, palm-sized pale yellows and the deeply orange garnets.

photo.JPG
(little yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes, about 4″ long – babies!!)

Instead of covering them with gooey marshmallows as a Thanksgiving side dish my family usually prepares an elaborate sweet potato souffle with an orange sauce, dotted with buttered roasted pecans.

This is a bit too rich for every day, so I get my fill of roasting them and eating them split and mashed with butter and sea salt, and as crunchy oven-baked fries or simmered into softness in a zippy Thai red coconut curry.

My absolute favorite way of using up the bounty of sweet potatoes is to make them into savory and sweet biscuits. They are like soft little pillows of love and comfort, crunchy on top and moist and fluffy inside.

This week I received about 8 tiny little sweet potatoes with the palest yellow flesh, and last night I got the craving for my sweet potato biscuits, so I popped into the kitchen and started my preparations.

I preheated my convection oven and started a pot with a steamer insert on the stove. About four of the baby sweet potatoes were scrubbed and peeled and cut into small chunks and steamed until very tender, about 15 minutes. I let them cool and then pureed them in my minichop.

Meanwhile in a mixing bowl I dumped in the flour, brown sugar, leavenings, salt and stirred them up, and then added cold butter that I had diced up. I also measured out some milk and added some lemon juice for a quickie faux-buttermilk.

The “buttermilk” and the sweet potato puree were mixed together and poured into the butter and flour and were quickly mixed into a soft dough.

I patted out the dough with my hands and used my ancient biscuit cutter to punch out about 12 pretty pale yellow biscuits. They went into a well oiled cake tin and were baked for about 25 minutes.

I actually got really caught up in watching the Monday International Mysteries on tv – Inspector Morse this week – and let them go just a minute longer than they should have so the tops were deeply browned this time. I keep forgetting that convection ovens cook faster than regular oven. These biscuits brown a lot more than regular biscuits due to the sugar content in the mixture plus the natural sugars in the sweet potatoes. It is also what makes them so delicious!

The timer dinged and I pulled a few hot biscuits out of the plan, split them open and buttered and slathered the halves with dollops of the last of my Potrero Hill honey, and I ate them, slightly singeing my fingers and tongue as I nibbled away watching the whodunnit.

The murderer was caught, the biscuits were delicious and a hot cup of tea finished off my impromptu snack before bedtime.

photo.JPG

Sweet Potato Biscuits

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks – enough to make 3/4 cup puree
1 3/4 cups flour
2 T brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
6 T unsalted butter, diced
1/3 cup buttermilk*

In a small pot with 2″ of water in the bottom, add a steamer insert and then the sweet potato cubes. Bring the water to a boil and steam the sweet potatoes until they are very tender when stabbed with a fork. Mash until smooth or puree in a food processor. Let cool before using. (Sometimes I fudge this step a little by just spreading them out on a plate until they stop steaming and then puree and add them to the buttermilk while still a bit warm.)

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and powder and mix well. Add the diced butter and combine and mix until the butter is mixed into the flour about the size of small peas.

In a measuring cup mix together the buttermilk and the sweet potato puree until smooth and pour into the flour/butter mixture, and mix until a soft dough is formed. Knead gently in the mixing bowl for a minute or two, then pat the dough out onto a floured cutting mat or cutting board, the dough should be about 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut into rounds using a biscuit cutter or use a knife and cut them into squares.

Arrange in a buttered or oiled round cake pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until the tops and bottoms are golden brown.

*If you don’t have any buttermilk in your fridge, you can make “faux buttermilk” by adding 1 T of lemon juice or plain vinegar to regular or skim milk. Stir the milk and let it sit for at least 5 minutes and it will thicken up pretty well to approximate buttermilk.

Bridging the Seasons: Eggplant and Squash Gratin

Summer in San Francisco decided to not show up this year (again) and fall is decidedly here.  I am pretending that the beautiful clear weather outside equates to Indian summer and that the balmy air I feel isn’t coming from the radiator.

Happily for us fog-bound people we still have an abundance of summer vegetables coming in from the farmer’s markets.  It was quite the treat to see a fat, tissue wrapped, perfect eggplant and the last of the  heirloom tomatoes  in my produce box and a few squash – pale green fat and stubby zucchini varieties – and pretty red bell peppers.

Pinnochio lives, or rather did...
(no comment…)

My mind instantly flashed to a new porcelain baking dish my dear friend A___ gave me for my birthday.  I am quite partial to Royal Worcester and the beautiful harvest fruit design is one that makes my heart sing.  It is an inherited passion.   It is also the perfect size for the quantity of vegetables I had on hand and was time for it to be christened with a beautiful eggplant and squash gratin, so I invited A___ over for dinner.

While A___ and I sipped red wine and caught up on the past few months, I sliced the eggplant and squash.  The eggplant was briefly fried in a touch of olive oil in my non-stick skillet and the squash was liberally sprinkled with salt and set out to drain in a colander in the sink.  As the browned eggplant came out of the frying pan I stacked up the floppy slices on a clean cutting mat to rest briefly.  In between flipping the eggplant around in the frying pan and drinking wine I quickly minced up a fat shallot and grated a clove of garlic and tossed them together in a small bowl.  The bell pepper was thinly sliced and set aside in a pile next to the cooked eggplant, and several of the tomatoes were roughly chopped and set out on paper towels to dry out a bit.  The preheating oven warmed the room, as the wine and conversation warmed our hearts.

Finally the eggplant was done frying and the salted squash had exuded some liquid and had drained sufficiently.  I began an assembly process in my new pretty dish.

I laid down a layer of eggplant in slightly overlapping circles, then tomato, a sprinkle of the shallot/garlic mixture and bell pepper.  I topped this with salt and pepper and about half of a 4 ounce log of goat cheese flavored with lemon zest.  Honestly it was all that the grocery store had that day and I am very happy about that now.

I repeated the process until I ran out of vegetables and cheese.  The final coup de grace was fresh mozzarella, sliced thickly and the discs spread over the top of the gratin and finished with a dash of Maldon salt and a few grinds of pepper.

It slid into the oven while we sat around munching on those crazy bright green Spanish olives and some Rainforest crackers.   We talked over all the goings-on over the past few weeks since our last dinner, opened another bottle of wine and relaxed in the perfumed air of the Roost as the gratin bubbled, sizzled and melted under its soft blanket of gooey cheese.

Finally the timer went off and then began the torturous wait for the gratin to cool and firm enough to be scooped out of the pan.   We admired the beauty of the gratin and completely forgot to take pictures!

Sometimes it is just nice to enjoy the company and enjoy the food without having to wait to photograph every step and every spoonful, it is called living in the moment, and we did just that.

Despite our precautions of draining the tomatoes and salting the squash the gratin was still a bit watery, but the leftover gratin the next day had completely absorbed the liquid which makes me think I should have made this dish the day before my pal came over for dinner!

The flavors of the vegetables really shone and the touch of lemon zest in the cheese was wonderful.  The best part, of course, was the richly browned cheesy mozzarella blanket covering the dish and we fought like pumas over bits of the cheese.

Making Evelyn's briami, with @damnfibebacon, because I can
(a version with potato)

Eggplant and Squash Gratin

1 eggplant, sliced thinly
1/2 pound zucchini, sliced thinly lengthwise
1/2 pound tomatoes, sliced thickly
1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
4 oz goat cheese (I used goat cheese with lemon zest, if you cannot find this add 1 tsp of grated lemon zest)
6 oz fresh mozzarella, thickly sliced
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F and oil a baking dish with olive oil.

In a skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil and fry a few slices of eggplant at a time until they are browned.  Set aside.

In a colander, arrange a layer of sliced zucchini and salt them well, and repeat; let the squash exude liquid and drain for 30 minutes or so.  Pat the slices dry with a paper towel and set them aside.

Arrange the tomatoes on a paper towel to drain.  Mix together the bell pepper slices, the shallot and the garlic in a small bowl.

To assemble, lay down a layer of the eggplant, followed by the squash, then tomatoes then a sprinkling of the pepper/shallot/garlic.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover with slices of goat cheese.  Repeat until you have used up all of the vegetables and cheese, and top the final layer with the mozzarella.  Add salt and pepper to the top of the mozzarella.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until all of the vegetables are very tender and the cheese is browned.   Let sit 15 minutes to allow the gratin to firm up.  Better if made the day before and brought to a bubbling temperature in a 300 F oven for 20 minutes.

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a vegetable side.

This is a very forgiving dish, if you don’t have bell peppers or want to substitute an Anaheim chile or add potatoes anything goes!

Moray eel potato
(Moray eel potato)

Feel free to play around!  I have also made this with smoked fontina as the top cheese and mozzarella as the “inside” cheese.

Drunken Gummi Bears

Gümmi bears, drunk and squishy

When I was a kid my sister and I loved Gummi bears, and one of her friends would have a family member bring in bags of them from Germany for us because they were not sold here. The horror!

Now we have so many different kinds of Gummis, worms, Smurfs and other craziness but my heart has always remained true to the classic Gummi. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I learned of the penultimate way to serve them.

Drunken.

You heard me. Drunken Gummi bears are the bomb.

After a few days of immersion in vodka they turn from the chewy and semi-rigid candy we love to chomp on into soft, squishy and highly alcoholic drunken bears. The vodka turns an unnatural pinky-Koolaid looking color, cloyingly sweet and with a viscosity that could be deemed either pleasant or unpleasant, dependent upon the specific quantity of consumption.

I prefer Sky vodka or Absolut for this concoction; simply dump a bagful of Gummi bears in a jar, top with vodka and let sit for a few days but no more than three days (based upon my highly scientific experimentation).

Chill the jar before serving and fish out the drunken Gummi bears with a slotted spoon. They are best eaten very cold with your fingers.

You will be shocked, simply shocked about how alcoholic they taste, and how delicious they are, sort of like mini no-work Jello shots. Any remaining vodka should be frozen and drunk in shots as a last resort or possibly as a dare. I did make a Gummi vodka Cosmopolitan once and sort of did not regret it.

Now go forth and make drunken Gummi bears if you have any left from your Halloween candy. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

______________

Update: Thanks to @AlwaysCookwWine aka Keely I am now making Rummy Bears, Gummi bears macerated in Puerto Rican rum. If only I could fast-forward to Friday!

Feeling Wistful…

This weekend was a complete food disaster. Instead of having a great time at FoodBuzz with all my friends from food blogging and potential new friends, I ate something that triggered my food allergy symptoms and spent the rest of the weekend home feeling like I ate bees and rolled in poison oak, amongst other unpleasant things.

I know this is not helpful but my mind keeps thinking of all the things I had planned to cook, which now I may never be able to taste or enjoy.

Thoughts of fluffy cheese gougeres, our family’s amazing pumpkin chiffon pie, A___’s chicken kutlyeti with mashed potatoes, huevos rancheros with blue corn tortillas, knock you naked brownies, my favorite birthday cake from Victoria Pastry Company – the St. Honore, Irish car bomb cupcakes, the salmon chowder I have in the freezer, game hens glazed in apricot preserves with pine nuts, Mrs. Snell’s walnut bites, Christmas almond bark, the list just goes on and on….

My skin tests for foods and inhalent pollens are tomorrow and Thursday and I am very apprehensive.

Either I will react to the foods they will test me for, or I will not. Either way, I know that so many favorite and essential foods really trigger the allergy symptoms, so despite the outcome of this week I know there are things I just cannot have anymore.

Everything I have read says that it is very important to avoid foods that trigger the allergic response because continuining to challenge yourself with them can cause the reaction to worsen, and become anaphyalctic like I have come close to experiencing with eggs.   Other symptoms that are common are depression, mental confusion, aches in joints, headaches, etc – all of this seems to click and explain why I have been feeling so poorly.

So, I am trying not let my brain “go to terminal” and to think of this as a sort of cleanse period, a six month (or longer) break where I just eat a very restricted diet and let my immune system chill out.

I really don’t know what to expect now and the fear of the unknown is petrifying. I am tired of playing Russian Roulette with food and worried my health will suffer.  Even vitamins are worrisome.  Can I even get a flu shot? They are cultured in part using egg.

It is sad to contemplate that I will have to give up doing the things I love and things that I have such a talent, like cooking and writing about food because of my body’s betrayal.  I don’t want to give up these things, they have filled my life in such a wonderful way, but I really don’t have anything to write about now.

Food seems like a pointless exercise and I wish I didn’t have to think about it or even eat anything.  If I could just take a pill for sustenance and never worry about this allergy stuff again I would do so happily.

Meantime to distract myself I have started a new site, The Inadvertent Redhead, where I am writing about my crafts, knitting, haiku and other artistic things.

I will try to continue this site on the foods that I can eat safely and wine and cocktails.

Cheers to that!

Getting Schooled on Cheese

We live in locavore’s heaven in the Bay Area and happily it is not hard to find amazing, artisinal crafted foods such as pasture-raised meats, truly free-range chickens, lovingly tended vegetables and fruits and the miracle that is hand-crafted cheese – the perfect combination of milk and bugs and mold.

I swear I practically live at Cowgirl Creamery at the Ferry Building and despite my lactose-intolerance I found that I can enjoy goat and sheep milk cheeses, buffalo cheeses to a smaller extent, and well-aged cows milk cheeses without “difficulties”.

Because of my former position giving culinary tours at the Ferry Building and my Wallace-like tendencies towards a nice spot of cheese I feel that I know rather a lot about our local cheeses. Ferran Adria wisely counseled the crowd at the Castro Theater this month that one can never really know everything (or enough) about food, so I happily accepted an opportunity to attend Cheese School with a dear friend to learn a little more.

Cheese School

The Cheese School is a charming studio space down on Powell Street where North Beach rubs shoulders with the Wharf. For a moderate sum one can spend a lovely interlude sipping local wines, nibbling on fine cheeses and Marcona almonds and listening to the tres charmante Colette Hatch talk about the history, method and flavor profiles of some of the most amazing cheeses from our Sonoma and Marin companies.

Colette is a sprite of a lady with the most delectable accent I have had the joy to listen to and is a formidable authority on all things cheese. She modestly states she is a buyer for Oliver’s Market up in Santa Rosa, but is a well respected international cheese authority. She grew up in the Compte region of France where so many lovely cheeses originate. The owner of the Cheese School is Daphne Zepos and I would love to attend one of the classes that she moderates, her background is likewise distinguished.

The setup

The space is airy and light with a demonstration area and retail space as you enter and around the corner is a classroom area.

Take a seat!

(I need to make some of these chairs)

I joined my friend and sipped on a glass of sparkling wine as we waited for everyone to gather. Each place setting was set with wine and water glasses, a lovely plate of cheese, and dishes of various accompaniments such as Marcona almonds, baguette, Champagne grapes, fresh figs, Frog Hollow dried apricots and June Taylor cherry conserve.

The classroom

cheese school collage

Here is our lesson for the evening:
The test

Each cheese was intensely scrutinized and savored according to Colette’s precise directions.

We sipped a variety of wines with each cheese at certain moments.

  • NV Domaine Chandon Brut Classic (Napa Valley)
  • 2010 Lioco, Sonoma County Chardonnay (American Canyon)
  • Marietta Cellars, Old Vine Red Lot #54 (Geyserville)

wine collage

Colette’s philosophy is that you should focus on the cheese while tasting with no distractions. You should first smell the cheese, then slowly nibble a piece, savoring the flavor, breathing a little, then having another bite.

What do you smell, taste first, is there an aftertaste, does the flavor linger on your tongue, does it taste different before/after a sip of wine?

The Cheeses

  1. Delice de la Vallee by the Epicurean Connection
  2. Pierce Point by Cowgirl Creamery
  3. Cameo by Redwood Hill Farm
  4. Square by Nicasio Valley Cheese Company
  5. Tomme Dolce by Andante Dairy
  6. Shepherdista by Bleating Heart
  7. Two Rock Valley Hard Goat Cheese
  8. “New Blue” by Pt. Reyes Farmstead

Tasting Notes

Delice de la Vallee

Delice de la Vallee by The Epicurean Connection is a soft cheese like a ricotta, a farm cheese, it is from Berkeley and uses Sonoma cow and goat milks. Like any ricotta type cheese it should be eaten within a week of purchase. It has a sweet, barely perceptible smell and tastes fresh and milk with a slight tang.

Collete’s favorite ricotta style cheese is one that she makes herself. It has a light and fluffy texture and has a bit of lemon in it. I had the pleasure (and ability) to make my own ricotta this year and it is the easiest cheese to make at home. It has so many uses, but my favorite is drizzled with olive oil and sea salt or spread thickly on sourdough toast and dolloped with preserves.

Pierce Point

Pierce Point by Cowgirl Creamery is from Petaluma and is a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese that uses Strauss milk. It is a summer specialty and is rolled in seasonal herbs and spices during the curing process and washed with white wine. It has a bloomy rind and a creamy sticky texture. It’s a camembert style cheese and soft ripens from the outside in. It tastes very creamy with a little tang when you eat the rind followed by a bite of the herbs.

This is one of my favorite cheeses and you can buy a half wheel from Cowgirl’s shop in the Ferry Building, this is the perfect quantity for two. The softer it feels when pressed the riper it is. You can buy it and let it relax in your fridge wrapped in wax paper or its original wrapping until it ripens enough but not longer than a week or so. This cheese can be frozen at this point, in fact all bloomy rind cheeses freeze very well. If the cheese it is overripe it will have an ammonia-like smell but don’t throw it out! You can make a flatbread or pizza and make sure the cheese is well melted and browned, this will pretty much remove the ammonia scent/flavor.

Cameo

Cameo by Redwood Hill Farm is an all goat cheese from Sebastopol. The owners at Redwood Hill farm name all of their goats and they are the prettiest little things. Cameo is an aged camembert style cheese, aged for a year with a pungent scent, a soft rind and tangy, creamy tender rind. The flavor lingers on your tongue and is great with red wine. The cheese is not organic but very close to it and the owners are well known for being humane breeders and caretakers of their flock-family.

Square

Square by Nicasio Valley Cheese is from Nicasio (Marin County) and is from pasteurized cow’s milk. It is in the same family as Cowgirl’s Red Hawk or an Epoisse or Tallegio cheese. It is a washed rind cheese that has a reddish appearance and a nice pungency, also known fondly as “stinky cheese”. The interior is buttery yellow and creamy and butter, the rind is a bit more aged and strong tasting with a lasting aftertaste.

The cheesemaker at Nicasio Valley learned from a master cheesemaker in Alsace, home of the Muenster cheese. Muenster cheese was my childhood favorite because we would sing “Monster Mash” as we ate it. This cheese would be wonderful with potatoes such as this potato cake.

Tomme Dolce

Tomme Dolce by Andante Dairy is from Petaluma and is made from pasteurized goat’s milk. It is an aged cheese and has a scent like a Parmesan cheese. It’s very tangy and yet smooth, it has little crystals inside like a good Parmesan but this cheese has a special twist. The rind is washed in June Taylor’s plum preserves with brandy and has a gorgeous sweet, caramelized flavor. What an incredible effect and very creative.This cheese melts very well and I would love to make a pasta with it, providing of course I don’t eat it all out of hand first.

Shepherdista

Shepherdista by Bleating Heart is from Sebastapol and is a raw sheep’s milk cheese. The cheese maker, Seana Doughty, is an amazing artist. This aged cheese has a scent like an old cave and an apple orchard. It is aged 60 days (which is why raw milk can be used, more about that later) and has fine grain with tiny holes. It is salty and has a tang with a very chewy rind which tastes like intense mushrooms or porcinis. It has a very long finish and was so delicious with the figs and the preserves.

Two Rock Valley Hard Goat Cheese

Two Rock Valley Hard Goat Cheese by DeBernardi Dairy is from Petaluma and is made from raw goat’s milk. It has a sweet, floral and almost perfumey aroma for a dry aged cheese. A crumb of it on the tongue yields a nutty and tangy flavor, almost like a Parmesan style cheese. Don at DeBernardi recommends serving Two Rock in chunks, drizzed with an aged balsamic vinegar. I have used a Parmesan similarly in the past, drizzled with a drop of champagne vinegar and truffled honey, it’s like the best part of a salad with out the greenery. Save the greenery for the olive in your martini!

“New Blue”

“New Blue” is the newest blue cheese from our friends at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Their original blue cheese is a gold medal award winner and their “New Blue” surely must be destined for the same accolades. This is a new recipe of pastureized cow’s milk and is very different from their original. It is very strongly scented, almost like a fresh truffle, with a creamy and grainy texture on the tongue. It is very rich and intensely flavored like a blue cheese should be, with a good salt balance and a sweet finish. This cheese has a slightly squeaky crust when chewed. Point Reyes is selling it at their stall at the Ferry Building farmer’s market, so if you get to try it and you like it please be sure to email them to request it is added to their regular production. Colette likes snacking on “New Blue” with Robert Lambert’s jelly, which I must now go seek out.

We lingered over the delicious wine and discussed the vineyards. The Lioco Chardonnay was quite nice, not oaked which is something I quite appreciate. The tasting room is located in Santa Rosa and an appointment is needed to visit. The Marietta Cellars Zinfandel has been a favorite of mine for a while, because I love Zins. This is not a haute couture wine but valued at a good price for the right reasons. They don’t have a tasting room so please order some wine and trust me.

Colette discussed at length the problem we have in the US with the FDA laws against unpasteurized cheeses. While the intent of the FDA’s stricture against raw milk cheeses except those aged over 60 days is commendable – protect the public against harmful bacteria like Listeria – but it has a decided negative effect against the quality of our cheeses. If you have had good cheese and wondered why the neon orange grocery store cheddar doesn’t taste like English Stilton the answer is raw milk. Of course England now faces the ban of raw milk cheeses, as perfectly illustrated in my favorite episode of Chef! from the BBC.

Many cheesemakers are lobbying to government to allow them to make and present their product in the manner in which they choose, and not to be blindly regulated nor restruct their rights and freedoms while respecting the necessity for cleanliness and sanitation. A cheesemaker will not be in business long if they do not follow tenants of proper sanitation and we rarely hear of anyone dying in France from cheese consumption, except perhaps through excess consumption.

Despite the bureaucracy the cheeses made with pasteurized milk are delicious, as I hope you will learn once you try a few of these local gems. Imagine though, in your minds eye, just how much better they could be if our cheesemakers had a free hand to legally craft the kind of cheese they aspire to create with raw milk as it has been done for hundreds of years. Sigh.

Another question people commonly have about these artisan cheeses is why they cost so much more in comparison to “commodity” cheeses. A lot of has to do with the price of materials, method and time. Sheeps milk, for example, is very expensive in comparison to cows milk. A dairy sheep only yields one gallon of milk per day! The quantity of cheese from the raw materials and the net loss in weight due to aging the cheese results in a higher cost to the cheese connoisseur. Whatever the milk used in a cheese, the hand crafted cheeses are just that, they are handled, inspected, washed, aged, and loved and the result of this work is flavor and texture that just can’t be duplicated in a huge machinated factory.

How do you keep a good cheese good at home? It is very important to consult with your cheese shop about the ripeness of the cheese you purchase and when you plan to serve it. They will advise you how long your cheese will stay in your fridge and when is it optimal to serve. Cheeses are best stored by unwrapping it from its plastic cover, should it have one, and rewrapping in waxed or parchment paper. I purchased some lovely French wrapping paper from the Cheese School that has a special permeable plastic layer fused to parchment paper but the less expensive alternative is good old waxed paper. Do not use plastic wrap or zippy bags! The cheese is a living organism and will sweat if kept airtight.

For some cheeses like cheddar the mold that forms on the outside is not a bad thing, the cheese is continuing to age and the moldy parts just need to be cut away before using. A mold on a soft cheese like a goat (other that what appears on the rind naturally) is probably not a good thing and should be discarded. The wrapped cheeses should be stored in a box, ideally, to retain moisure as a refrigerator is a drying environment. Every time you use the cheese throw out its old wrapping and wrap with fresh paper before replacing it in its box. Cowgirl Creamery has an adorabe wooden box for cheese storage, I treated myself to one and adore it passionately.

My cheese box

A few final thoughts about cheese that I believe are the most important, which is about serving cheese. Forget about an overly sweet dessert the next time you have friends over for dinner. Present a cheese plate instead! Pick a cow, a goat and a sheep’s cheese and cut thin slices like Colette did in our seminar. Allow the cheese to come to room temperature before serving, not warm but just to get the chill off. Sometimes it is best to do this after you slice the cheese because a firm, cold cheese is easier to handle. Serve with some quince paste, nuts, dried or fresh fruits, a few favorite crackers and perhaps some chocolates. Accompany your beautiful cheese plate with a dessert wine or port and you have a delicious and memorable dessert that everyone will appreciate. And if for some odd reason they don’t appreciate it, then you have more cheese for you!

Resources:

The Cheese School
www.cheeseschoolsf.com

Cowgirl Creamery
www.cowgirlcreamery.com

The Epicurean Connection, cheesemaker Sheana Davis
www.theepicureanconnection.com

Redwood Hill Farms
www.redwoodhill.com

Nicasio Valley Cheese
www.nicasiocheese.com

Andante Dairy, cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan
www.andantedairy.com

Bleating Heart, cheesemaker Seana Doughty
www.bleatingheart.com

DeBernardini Dairy
7955 Valley Ford Road
Petaluma, CA 94952
707-763-6991

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company
pointreyescheese.com

Did You Hear It?

That giant wailing echoing across the entire Bay Area?

That was me, mourning the loss of potatoes in my life.

Yes, it’s true, I can no longer eat potatoes in any form, except sweet potatoes. Stupid food allergy business…

At least I can have sweet potato fries with a burger but really, this is truly tragic. No mashed potatoes, smashed potatoes, stuffed potatoes, potato leek soup, cumin sour cream potato soup or potato rolls.  I am sobbing into my morning coffee.

Always trying to be positive I am focusing my sorrow into finding mashed potato alternatives. Has anyone tried making a soft puree of cauliflower before?

Fortunately there are other starches to use besides potatoes:

  • rices (white, brown, wild)
  • cousous
  • pasta
  • quinoa
  • farro
  • barley
  • beans
  • lentils

None of them really compare to the versatility of the grand humble potato though. What are your favorite comfort foods that don’t involve a potato?

I think I need to cheer myself up with some chocolate.