Category Archives: Review

Victory Blackberry Pie

I made a victory pie, a blackberry pie to enjoy on Superbowl Sunday. Sadly the 49ers lost (even though they shouldn’t have but I don’t want to get into *that*) the pie was still a win because it was my own victory.

I have long had an irrational fear of pie crust, any kind of rolled dough just doesn’t work for me. I never get the consistency of the dough right, it sticks, it rips and tears, it bakes up wrong, it tastes wrong or pasty, it’s just stupid and scary. For years I have struggled with my hot, not made for pastry, hands and have grumpily given up to buying premade pie crusts and hated them.

Meanwhile my mOm bangs out perfect pie crusts with her elegant, cool hands like she’s making a bed, smoothing out the pastry with effortless strokes. I have watched her and helped her year after year and I’m still a failure.

Then a great lady in town started her handheld pie business. Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies delivered her mini sweet and savory pies using her cute bicycle and the pie crust was the bomb. I met her when I was doing culinary tours during The Great Unemployment. I couldn’t really afford them but loved the samples she gave during the tour.

When I got a job I would order her pies for myself and then I started ordering them for the office and we all scarfed them up marveling at her great crust and divine fillings. How on earth did she make her pies so well and make so many of them? Practice obviously, and a great recipe.

When she stopped her business due to exhaustion and burnout I was glad for her for taking a rest and selfishly a tiny bit sad because how could I possibly live without her Shaker lemon pies? But then, a fabulous email arrived! Natalie had written a recipe booklet!  It is probably the most adorable recipe book I have ever seen, the illustrations are so adorable and really capture the joy of Bike Basket Pies.  The instructions and recipes are well written and explained and are a joy to use.

But I was still afraid. Then the Great Allergy/Intolerance arrived and fruit was banned from my life, along with many things I loved, nuts, potatoes, eggs, who all knew what else. The doctor still doesn’t know why but one day I could eat raspberry jam, then cherry, then walnuts, then fresh berries (but not strawberries) and the occasional potato chip. This summer I ate about six pies, mostly blackberry, and life was good again.

Last year Natalie announced she was teaching a pie crust making class. I had to go! With a very gimpy ankle I got to the darling Pot and Pantry for her class and made pie crust. It was great, we all had to make a batch and it felt good. I froze the pie crusts from the class since I had yet to go grocery shopping alone.

In early February, after a month of heinous flu and secondary sinus and ear infections, I made it to the farmer’s market with D___ and bought great vegetables and $15 of blackberries and Buddha’s Hand citrus. It was fantastic to shop without a cane and not feel so petrified of being knocked over. I was weak as a jellied eel after a long fever but the sunshine felt great. The moment I got home I went hope to bed and slept for 3 hours. I sugared down the berries though before going to bed for the evening and resolved to bake a pie for the Superbowl.


On Superbowl Sunday I made breakfast and had a nap and tried to knit but that didn’t work, too tired still, but I did get up to make soup from all my vegetables, a minestrone of sorts, and to roll out the pie crust.

I was nervous but just did it, using a Silpat on my kitchen table. It rolled out pretty nicely, cracking here and there but it went okay! I made a rustic pie/tart using a tiny tin, just enfolding the giant berries inside the dough.

I brushed the crust with milk and a generous sprinkling of coarse sugar, and just remembered to add a pat of butter on the fruit. Into the oven it went.


The juices were thick and bubbling, the crust was nicely browned, it smelled good. I was excited.

The game was sad but I thought consolation by pie would be nice. It was better than nice, it was perfect. The 49ers should have won that game but it cut as keenly because the pie was my victory.

The crust was crunchy and yet flakey, it held together, the fruit was delicious and not too soggy or sweet, it was just perfect. I still have one crust left to make a savory pie this week, greens and goat cheese I think or perhaps a winter squash. I can make pie now!

My pie.

My victory.

Natalie’s pie recipe booklet for Bike Basket Pies is available here, I have given away several copies as gifts so I would recommend you buy several.


Greek Comfort Food – Gigandes Plaki (Baked Giant White Beans)

Years ago when I was just 13 and visiting family in Canada I was introduced to Greek cuisine and became obsessed. In my late teens my mom gave me a basic Greek cookbook and over the years since I have made every recipe in it and collected several more wonderful cookbooks that are getting well used. One of my favorite recipes I make again and again is gigandes plaki, or baked giant white beans.


Gigandes are not restricted to the categorization of a winter dish but when it’s cold out there is nothing I find more comforting than a hot bowl of these giant, creamy and tender beans baked in a savory tomato and aromatic sauce with chunks of feta cheese. For those who can, a fried egg on top of the beans transforms the bowl of beans into a perfect breakfast or a homey dinner. I like to eat them one bean at a time, popping it against the roof of my mouth and letting the creaminess mix with the savory tomato and onion and garlic. Each bean is a complete sensory experience, luxurious and yet rustic and healthy.

In the summer I have made gigandes plaki and served them at room temperature with fried chicken or one large overstuffed sandwich that serves 8. This is truly a fantastic dish for any season, but since it is winter, please do find a bag of dried giant white beans (or giant lima beans, as I have seen them labeled lately) and make a batch now. With no embarrassment I confess I have made them four times so far this winter (but one batch doesn’t count because I fell asleep and burnt them in the oven, my bad cooking mojo continues to haunt me.)

There is no guilt with these baked beans, the beans themselves have a great deal of fiber and this is a low fat preparation. If you are vegan you can omit the cheese easily, many versions of gigandes do not contain feta but I really like the browned outside of the baked feta with the creamy interior that emulates the creaminess of the beans themselves with the addition of the salty tang of sheep’s milk.

A note about the beans, if you read “lima beans” and think, ew, please consider that this method of cooking the beans renders them creamy and soft inside with the texture of white beans or cannelini beans.  Somehow they don’t have that grainy texture that many lima beans seem to have.  I don’t know why, I think it is Greek magic.

Gigandes Plaki – Baked Giant White Beans

1# dried giant white beans, sometimes labelled as giant lima beans, soaked overnight in lots of water with 3 T of salt
3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, diced
2T parsley, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
1 c tomato sauce, or 1 T tomato paste dissolved in 1 c H2O
extra water if desired
6 oz feta cheese, cut into large chunks (I have also made this with goat cheese)
salt and pepper

The night before you make these, or the morning before, soak the beans in a huge quantity of water with the salt added, for overnight, or a minimum of 8 hours.

Drain the soaked beans and throw away any loose skins from the beans.  Do not be alarmed if they look wrinkled, split or otherwise strange.  Place the beans in a large saucepan, cover with cold water by several inches and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.  Cook the beans at a simmer for 40 minutes, skimming the foam or scum that rises to the top of the water.  When most of water is absorbed and the beans are tender with no resistance, remove from the heat, drain a little and let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, sauté onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, over medium heat.  Then add the carrots and tomatoes and sauté for another 10 minutes.

Add the cooked beans, put in large shallow dish, add everything else, except the cheese, and taste for enough salt and pepper. The sauce should be slightly soupy but the beans should not be swimming. Gently fold in the cheese, and bake 1  to 1 1/2 hours or until beans are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Beans should be slightly burnt on top.

Serves 4.

It is highly recommended to make them ahead of time because the flavor of the sauce permeates the beans over time. I prefer them on Day 3 after cooking. Sometimes I add a 1/3 cup of water to the dish before putting into the fridge as the beans will continue to absorb liquid.

I have just finished my last batch and think I will wait a week or so before cooking more.  Maybe I will wait, that is…

Stuffed Layered Polenta from Herbivoracious

I had the pleasure of meeting a very talented Seattle chef and blogger, Michael Natkin, as he toured the United States promoting his new vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious by Harvard Common Press.


The event was geared towards local bloggers and it felt like a mini reunion with over half the people in the room I would call dear friends.

Over glasses of lovely Barbera we chatted informally with Chef Michael before he started his cooking demonstration.


Chef Michael’s book really appealed to me because despite of my great love of fruits and vegetables I feel that my execution of vegetarian cuisine is still in its infancy. I prepare a great variety of vegetable side dishes but the majority of my cooking is very meat-centric and I feel that my menu easily slips into a rut.

I have a few friends who are vegetarian and have very elevated palates. When we have get-togethers I always stress over what to make for them as my first thoughts generally run to bacon.

Chef Michael’s fresh and innovative dishes put together ingredients in a manner that made me think “Oooh, that’s terrific, now why didn’t I think of that?!!”

We were treated to three stunning dishes that night, and I have included the recipe of my favorite dish of the night for you to try: the stuffed and baked polenta.


I made it a few weeks ago before I was allowed to stand and I must admit cooking while healing from surgery was quite the Herculean task. I needed to rest after each step but I did it. I wasn’t able to do the final bake but a dear pal took care of that for me. My friends who devoured it with me were very appreciative and the kids loved it too.

I made it again yesterday for friends who were dining with me at home and it turned out so good, I think I may have to make this part of my regular rotation.

I made my mother’s bechamel, which is simmered slowly with an onion studded with cloves, bay leaf, nutmeg, and knifepoint of cayenne pepper. The minced fresh tarragon was stirred in right before using.

For the mushroom and greens filling, I had bunches of dino kale, beet greens, and rainbow chard. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use all of the greens, including the stems, if they are chopped rather finely. You can also use up any greens that you might have in your refrigerator, including lettuces that might be too limp to use in a salad.

The assembly of the dish is a lot of fun. You spread the cooked polenta into a greased dish and then top it with the greens and the bechamel. I had to use my largest stockpot to make the 9 cups of polenta the recipe called for, and since I cannot stand at the stove for very long, I sat on the seat of my scooter and stirred. It worked out rather well and was less tiring.


I also added a good handful of grated Parmesan, and the larger pieces of the soft fontina that I could not grate because the cheese is just too squishy. I let these cheeses melt into the polenta before I spread it into the pan.


The mushroom and greens mixture is spread on top. A good tip is to let it cook down until it is fairly dry to prevent any vegetable juices from softening the lower layer of the polenta after baking.


The bechamel is spread over the top of the greens. It is very important to be sure you spread the sauce into each corner.


The remaining batch of polenta is spread onto the top of the filling and smoothed over and topped with cheese.


When viewed from the side through the Pyrex casserole dish you can really see the beautiful layers of the creamy polenta, the savory greens and mushrooms, the creamy bechamel, the rich top layer of polenta and mixed cheeses on the top. It is slid into the oven to be baked until bubbling and golden brown and a little crispy on the edges.


While this was baking it smelled so divine. We could barely stand it until the timer went off but we held on for a bit longer to let it cool for about 10 minutes until it firmed up a bit so that it could be sliced into perfect straight edge slabs to be slid onto our ready plates. The next day all the leftovers were reheated briefly in the microwave and devoured for lunch. We looked at the empty dish and felt quite sad. It was gone!

The full recipe is here.

I am really looking forward to making this again. I think that I may add a fine lardon of bacon to the vegetable mix for extra porky sinfulness.

Stuffed Full of Squash

I was not going to share this article with you because of what happened but then thought that perhaps I should.  Most food blogs only show you the most perfect,  “delicious and amazing” recipes coming out of xxx’s kitchen, complete with the perfect food porn photography and drool-inducing descriptions.

Life isn’t always that way though, I think a real person has successes and failures in the kitchen but we the audience never seem to ever hear about the flops or failures or the “meh” of it all.  So, in the spirit of keeping it real, here is my recent flop.  Well, sort of flop.

I have had a pumpkin from my CSA box from the Fall and it  became part of my Christmas decorations.


I have decided that I would roast it stuffed full of tasty things, inspired by my friend Laura’s recipe from Hey What’s For Dinner Mom?.

Laura’s recipe is meatless and uses quinoa but I had some fancy pants sausages and was out of quinoa, so I checked in with my friends at the recipe swap. The recipe they suggested is by Dorie Greenspan and uses bread which is perfect because I have some artisan sourdough slab about to go stale so I adapted both recipes into my dinner.

Mis en place

Stuffed Pumpkin

1 sugar pie pumpkin, seeded
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1/2 loaf Della Trattoria Meyer lemon and rosemary bread, torn into smallish chunks
2 chicken and spinach sausages
2 Tbl pork fat
1 large leek
1/4 pound mushrooms
A bunch of dino kale
1/4 c white wine
1/3 c heavy cream (I used sour cream thinned with milk)
4 slices leftover bacon
1/2 grated Peccorino Romano
Sage leaves
1/3 bunch of parsley
6 cloves of Garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper

I cut out the stem end of the pumpkin using a sharp knife like you would to make a jack o’lantern, and then cut off the strings on the cap with the chef’s knife and set the lid aside.


Now for evisceration.  I scooped out seeds and pulp with an ice cream scoop but you can use a sturdy metal spoon.  Save those seeds if you like roasted pumpkin seeds. I was not in the mood so into the compost bin they went.  Usually this step is gooey and messy, but my pumpkin wasn’t all that gooey inside.  I should have paid more attention to this fact, but onwards I went.

I put the hollowed pumpkin on a baking sheet lined with foil and seasoned the cavity with salt and pepper and olive oil.  I poured in the oil and then threw in the salt and pepper and smeared it all around with my hands; they are Nature’s best spatula!

Olive oil, salt & pepper the inside well

Then I started assembling the stuffing ingredients. I used my Wovo salad bowl but any large bowl will do; toss in the leftover bacon and the sausages chopped into small pieces.

Leftover chopped bacon

It is hard to believe I had leftover bacon but it happens!

Aidell's chicken spinach & feta sausage, chopped

I chopped up the parsley rather roughly and added that to the bowl too along with the smashed garlic cloves and the grated cheese and a few dried porcini.

Picnik collage

On the stove heat I heated up a large frying pan and melted the pork fat (or use olive oil or bacon fat or butter, it’s up to you).  The leek was halved lengthwise, then into cut into slices about an 1/8″ thick, put in a colander and washed them well.  I like washing the leeks after they are cut because it’s easier to get the mud out if they are dirty. Lately our leeks have been really dirty. Heh.

Picnik collage

With just some of the water shaken off, I tipped the leeks into the hot frying pan and added a few pinches of salt. A swift stir with the spatula then I grabbed a clean cutting mat and sliced up the mushrooms and add them to the leeks.  Lastly, I grabbed the sheaf of kale leaves and chopped off the stems into smallish pieces and added them to the frying pan.

They all cooked together until everything was very tender.  Meanwhile, I had a glass of wine and then attacked the kale leaves. Whack-whack-whack I went with my largest chef knife to chop them roughly.  Once the other veggies were tender, I added the kale and put on the lid for a minute or two until the kale has wilted a bit.  Wine in hand I tossed and sauted the kale and vegetables until the kale was completely tender.  I let the mixture cool a little bit.  So far everything looked and tasted great, good levels of salt, the veggies were all fork-ready.  My stomach growled.

Picnik collage
(L-R: kale stems, leeks, mushrooms sauteing; a rough chop; the kale will fill the pan up but it cooks down to nothing)

Meanwhile it was time for the heart of the stuffing, the bread. I purchased this loaf of bread on a Saturday it was now Tuesday so it was just this side of being stale, perfect for a stuffing.

You could just chop it but I like the rough texture of hand-torn bread so I sliced the bread, then took a seat and over the bowl I ripped up the bread into small pieces, about 1/2″.

Della Trattoria bread ready to be shredded

The stuffing was almost done, I just needed the cream and wine and a few herbs, salt and pepper. A quick toss with my hands I was ready to stuff my pumpkin. Since this stuffing does not have egg or raw meat I was able to taste a few pieces to make sure the seasoning was right on. I wanted it to be a little heavy on the salt to offset the pumpkin which is essentially bland and would be mixed into the filling.

The stuffing for my pumpkin. Yum.

I really packed it in and it all just barely fit!

Stuffed and ready for the oven #2

Don’t forget to put its hat on!

Don't forget to put its hat on!

Isn’t that beautiful?!  Into the oven it went, at 350 for 90 minutes. I checked it then and the pumpkin was still not fork-tender so I let it go for another 30 minutes. At last a fork just slid easily through the side of the pumpkin and it smelled so aromatic with the herbs and garlic I could barely contain myself.

Ready to serve!

I pulled out the stuffing first, and sneaked a bite. Hmmm. It was delicious but not all moist and steamy like I expected.

Finished stuffing

I scooped out the pumpkin and despite it being fork tender the flesh was rigid and oddly firm. I scraped all of it out into a bowl and tasted it – it was fine but dry and more starchy and did not have the squashy pumpkin texture it should have.  Hmmm, when did I get that pumpkin again?  I realized I couldn’t remember.

Pumpkin and stuffing

Huhmmm. I sat a bit and thought and thought. And then I remembered. This pumpkin was not from November, it was from October or perhaps earlier and in my overheated apartment it probably had completely dried out and converted its sugars into starches. Whoops!

I tried steaming the flesh a bit in a steamer on the stove but realized that it really needed to be used in a soup or something. This explained why the stuffing seemed so dry. The pumpkin, which normally would have exuded lots of juices while cooking, was essentially dessicated and therefore the stuffing had the consistency of being baked in a dish and did not get hydrated from its squashy container. If I had intended to bake the stuffing in a casserole I would have added a lot more liquid and covered it while baking to emulate the interior of poultry or other moist cavity.


My dinner was completely salvageable though. I added about a cup of leftover chicken broth I had and another good slosh of wine to the stuffing and put it in a small casserole dish and covered it foil to bake for 30 minutes. Taking it out of the oven, I peeked under the foil and stood back as a cloud of steam erupted. I realized this was the stuffing I had expected. The mushrooms and garlic were soft and tender, the bread had that pleasant squish of being amalgamated with wine and cream and broth and the generous flecks of greens and chunks of bacon and sausage were like firm nuggets within each bite. It was delicious despite the absence of the pumpkin!

I saved the pumpkin for my next batch of soup. Lesson learned. I hope you try stuffing a pumpkin or other squash but please do make sure it is not Paleolithic in age!!

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 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 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 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!


The Cheese School

Cowgirl Creamery

The Epicurean Connection, cheesemaker Sheana Davis

Redwood Hill Farms

Nicasio Valley Cheese

Andante Dairy, cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan

Bleating Heart, cheesemaker Seana Doughty

DeBernardini Dairy
7955 Valley Ford Road
Petaluma, CA 94952

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company

Cool Beans – Hummus Reimagined

Hummus is a traditional middle Eastern spread or dip made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini (sesame seed paste), olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt.

You can make hummus out of any other kind of bean though, such as white beans, soy beans or edamame and even lentils.  You don’t have to be stuck with garbanzos if you don’t like them!

Last Spring I wrote about making hummus from white beans and it is truly delicious.  Instead of using expensive, heavy to carry canned beans I prefer to soak and cook my own beans for any bean-type purpose like hummus or soups.  But what do you do if you don’t have a lot of time?  You can buy white bean hummus at Trader Joes, but now we have other options.

This week the kind folks at Eat Well Enjoy Life send me some hummus to try.  (Please note that I received free product from this company and was not otherwise compensated.)


They sent me three varieties:

  • Edamame Hummus with a roasted red pepper and sesame topping
  • Tuscan White Bean Hummus with roasted red peppers, pine nut and garlic topping
  • Spicy Yellow Lentil Hummus with apricots and sunflower seed topping
Since the samples were delivered to my day job I decided to utilize my coworkers in a taste test.  If you ever want to have a thoughtful evaluation of a product I highly recommend using expert retail and consumer consultants.  A true test would not be complete without a survey, so I crafted a brief but thorough written form for my volunteers. What an enthusiastic response!


Hummus scoring

The hummus was a big hit.   I set out some crackers and pita chips and the three types of hummus.

Hummus tastingCheeeeps

The kitchen immediately was filled with the scent of garlic, herbs and olive oil.

Hummus collage(L-R: Spicy yellow lentil; white bean; edamame)

Each tub is attractively packaged and the ingredients are simple, no artificial anything and non-GMO sourced.  Given the constant news about the evil Monsanto is spreading with their genetically modified everything and how we are ingesting their products and acting as their human guinea pigs with unknown health repercussions it is wonderfully refreshing to have a packaged food company specify on their labels if their ingredients are GMO or non-GMO.  It was interesting to note that all of their products are cholesterol free.  I like it that they use extra virgin olive oil as well.

I asked my volunteers to rate the hummus on taste, texture and whether they would purchase this themselves, and overall favorite flavor on a scale of 1 to 10, one being “hate”, 5 being “meh” and 10 being “love”

Out of ten respondents (a relatively small sample), the overwhelming favorite was the spicy yellow lentil hummus with a weighted average of 8.0, followed by white bean at 7.2 and edamame at 6.7.

Most of the respondents liked the toppings on each hummus, with the sweet apricot and sunflower spread on the yellow lentil as a clear winner.  Their least favorite ranking of the edamame surprised me because I preferred the edamame because of its fresh, light flavor.  The texture of the white bean hummus was off-putting to some, they cited a thick and sticky mouth feel.  Given that I have made a lot of white bean hummus I scored it high in texture and thought the roasted peppers and pine nuts were a delicious touch.

Overall the respondents would buy the white bean and yellow lentil hummus on their own, and half of the group would purchase the edamame hummus.

I am looking forward to seeing this product in a store soon, for it offers ease and convenience, and the flavor and textures were spot on.  The hummus is also gluten-free and Kosher.  Hummus is a healthy way to add good fats and fiber to your diet, and if you don’t have the time to make it yourself then the Eat Well Enjoy Life brand is one you should seek out.

Allergy note:  Happily for me I did not have any allergic reactions to the hummus, although I did not try the topping for the spicy lentil and white beans because I am avoiding stone fruit and nuts.  Hopefully this means I can have legumes, lentils and sesame seeds going forward, or perhaps I did not react because I am taking horseloads of antihistamines.   Again, uncertainty and fear of eating anything is rearing its head, but I am being as calm and cautious as I can.   Yesterday I discovered that I had a very strong reaction to eggs and today I discovered that almonds are no bueno.   This makes me very sad, however it is better to know and to feel good than to mourn foods that are toxic to my system.