Tag Archives: wine

Sharknado Pizza Party

Luna sent me a note on Facebook that said, “There’s this crazy movie coming up on the SciFi Channel called Sharknado, we have to do this.”


A bit of backstory, we had an absolutely hilarious time watching Snakes On A Plane together, screaming every single time a snake shot out of someplace unexpected, which was about every 3 minutes once the movie got started, so of course I invited Luna over to have a Sharknado party! Then more friends joined in and next thing you know my apartment is full of hungry ladies, sipping on some great wine and ready to be vastly entertained by what could be one of the best-worst scifi movies ever.

There were sharks eating people as they flew by, seemingly unfazed by the lack of water, sharks whapping people across the face and removing most of said face, and sharks eating through cars and bar stools. There was fabulously deadpan acting by Tara Reid and dialogue that was probably written by kindergartners (with apologies to the kids).

And there was pizza. Being flat broke and yet needing to be a good hostess I made up a giant bowl full of pizza dough which rose and rose and rose as we nibbled on treats from the freezer. Yes, we had foie! There was a rather sizeable foie gras mousse from a splurgy purchase in the recent past, and sparkling wine and wonderful red wine from a recent shipment I received that day and Anna brought an amazing assortment of crackers. Everyone brought various treats to top the pizza so we were set.

Making pizza

To have a successful pizza party you need lots of toppings. We had a great assortment but really the toppings can be anything you like on a pizza. You need a sauce or two, many cheeses, vegetables and lots of other savory things:

  • fresh tomato sauce canned by Anna
  • pesto sauce
  • buffalo mozzerella cheese
  • feta cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • ricotta cheese
  • basil
  • arugula
  • slivered asparagus
  • Sweety Drop peppers
  • crispy freeze-dried onion slices
  • assorted olives
  • Bacon Hot Sauce
  • capocollo salami

We would have had sauteed leeks and bacon but the movie was about to start and we felt like we had enough options at this point. The oven was roaring at 500 F, all the windows were open and the wine was flowing freely. I tore off an orange-sized ball of pizza dough from the massive bowl heaped with dough and helped each guest quickly form it into a round which was draped on my makeshift pizza peel – a flat-edged cookie sheet well sprinkled with cornmeal – and then they were free to top it with their choice of sauces, cheeses and tidbits.

Anastasia's pizza

(Anastasia’s pizza – pesto, olives, cappocolo, ricotta, basil, crispy onion)

The prepared pizza was slid carefully onto the super hot pizza stone and baked 10-15 minutes, then we cut it into wedges and everyone got to try a slice. Multiply this by five, we made a lot of pizza that night!

Pizza making hands

(post-pizza making hands)

Each pie was really fantastic, the crust was chewy and blistered black from the stone and crisp on the edges, the cheeses were browned and gooey and buttery and salty and the toppings made it all really interesting and unique.

First pie in the oven

(first pie baking away, despite the crappy apartment rental electric oven they bake up really nicely)

My pizza

(my pizza: tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, asparagus, Sweety Drops)
Luna's pizza

(Luna’s pizza: pesto, cappocolo, mozzerella, Sweety Drops, arugula)

Anjali's pizza

(Anjali’s pizza: feta, pesto, cappocolo, asparagus, tomato sauce, Sweety Drops, crispy onion)

Near the end of the movie as we were mostly sated, a bit tipsy and reeling from laughter, the final pizza of the night was put in to bake, a dessert pizza!

Strawberry balsamic glaze ricotta basil dessert pizza #pizzaparty #Sharkado

Don’t knock a dessert pizza until you try it! Anna’s creation of roasted strawberries, the sweet, creamy ricotta, the tang of the basil and the rich, chocolate jimmies from Copenhagen made this the best pizza of the night.

The movie was over and the apartment was dusted in flour and wine corks. We quickly tidied up the kitchen and inflated the aerobed and those who stayed over fell asleep almost immediately. What a great night and what a tasty dinner! I can’t wait for the next cheesy scifi movie, Koalacane?

P.S. Sharknado II is coming in 2014!

Summer in SF Means Sugo


It was 55 F last night at 6:00 pm and the fog was blowing hard. My kitchen was steamy and this made me happy. I was making a batch of Naples-style sugo for dinner later in the week and the aromas were spilling out into the hallway, torturing my neighbors. Sugo, for those of you who don’t have Italian relatives, neighbors or lovers, is the Italian word for gravy or shorthand for their hearty, meat-filled pasta sauce.

My late ex used to make his sugo twice a year for parties, which were much beloved by his family and friends. We would make up 3′ tall pots of his sugo and then freeze tubs of it for those nights we didn’t feel like cooking but wanted a bowl of heaven. I haven’t made it since he passed away and, although I thought about this a great deal, I just didn’t have the heart to pull out my notes.  They were notes of dinners we made, recipes we created, his family recipes, my family recipes, and drawings by his daughter.  I have three notebooks full of our food diaries, hiding in my bookcase.  But it has been quite a few years and I had a lot of large cuts of meat in the freezer that needed cooking, and it’s “summer” and I wanted sugo.  Ecola, the time is now.

His recipe contained a lot of ground meat and meatballs but his brother would often make it with large pieces of meet from the game he harvested and other goodies.  I pulled out the 4 pound pork neck I had in the freezer, some sausages and goat chops and also a pound of Roma tomatoes that I made last summer, the most ripe tomatoes bursting with juice, peeled and roasted slowly to concentrate their juices. With my cutting board mounded with ingredients I whipped on an apron and got started.

I browned off the meats in my largest cast iron Dutch oven with some grapeseed oil until they were richly browned, then added some butter before adding the vegetables. This was Marc’s secret to his sugo, lots of butter! I had an enormous onion, several carrots and some cloves of garlic which sauteed until they were soft. Then I added the thawed roasted tomatoes and about half of bottle of this amazing Cabernet Franc from Murrietta’s Well. It was probably too good to cook with but it tasted amazing and I knew the smooth richness of the wine would marry well with the meats. I had another tin of San Marzano tomatoes that I squeezed between my hands to crush and added some herbs – rosemary, sage, crushed chiles and California bay laurel, and a few handfuls of porchini, a gift from Anna. I snuggled the seared meats into the rich sauce and added a bit of chicken broth to fill up the enormous casserole and let it slow cook in my oven for hours.

Every once in a while I stirred up the pot and turned over the pork neck and added a bit more water to keep the liquids up above the meats. It smelled divine and I tried unsuccessfully not to burn my hands when I removed the heavy cast iron lid off my pot. The meats were so tender and falling off the bone but still sweetly juicy. The sauce was thick and dark with caramelized flavor from the long, slow cooking and an intensity from the wonderful wine.

I removed the meats to a separate bowl to cool and ladled out the sauce to a large bowl and set them by the window opened a touch to blow cool fog over them, nature’s air conditioning put to work!

the chopped meats

the sugo after a purée

the finished sauce, ready for dinner

Tonight when I got home I roughly puréed the sauce, added a touch more butter and some vermouth and the chopped meats and cooked up some pasta. I can’t wait to tuck into a steamy bowl with lashings of grated cheese on top, snuggled into the corner of my settee and watch the fog blow by.

Making this sugo is a little bit like reclaiming my past life and forging ahead with new memories. The 7 quarts of sauce will last me quite a while and I will gift some to some friends so that they can have a little sugo love this chilly summer.

Recipe to follow

Weekend Fun and This Includes Brunch

This weekend we had warm weather. This time of year in San Francisco is like the rest of the world’s summer, one can go to work without a warm jacket and suddenly ladies wearing skirts with bare legs looks like a good idea instead of scoffing at all their goosebumps. I dusted off my linen skirt, said hello to my pasty legs and took them out for a spin.

My dear friend C___ invited me to join him to a trek to the Livermore Valley. He had been gifted a wonderful bottle of wine from Murrieta’s Well Winery and wanted more. The winery is built on the site of the spring where Joachin Murrieta, the famed outlaw and bandit, used to water his horses. There is a nice little fountain built using the spring water and no more wild horses. The wine, however, was fantastic and well worth the drive.

At the vineyard
(me standing on actual dirt! It feels as if I haven’t been outside in years. Oh wait!)

Chris at the vineyard
(my dear friend C___ whom I’ve known since I was a sweet young thang of 18.)

Murietta's Well is where he camped, fascinating
(If there is a historical plaque I am compelled to read it, thanks to parental training.)

Chris at Murietta's Well
(THE spring, please note the horses and Senor Murietta depicted on the tile)

It is a beautiful spot, very hot and arid and this seems to suit the vines. Surprisingly to a few folks wine grapes, like good tomatoes, like to be stressed.

(detail of the steps leading up to the wine tasting room)

(peeking out the window to the vines and patio)

Their winemaker is Chilean and has been planting Portuguese grape varietals but making them in a Rhone style. I learned a lot about varietals I had never heard of previously. The tasting room was busy but we got the full treatment and ended up having a glass of wine on the balcony overlooking the vines while they pulled our wine from the “library” since we were allowed to buy some things not usually available. I like my wine friends and their superpowers!

Not enough of a recommendation for me.
(one of their award-winning whites, but who knew Houston had a wine competition / rodeo?)

View from the balcony
(a fine view with a glass of wine)

Me and Chris at Murietta's Well
(happy happy)

We ran into some traffic in Livermore, some of the side streets were really cute but overall the place is reminiscent of Los Angeles sprawl with housing tracts popping up on the hills. Some vines were being planted too, I would rather see the wineries expand myself.

Traffic in Livermore

I came home from winetasting and made myself some of my homemade bacon! Wow! Then I took a nap! Then, I had more wine.

Delicious! Murietta's Well 2010 Cabernet Franc
(a post-wine-tasting glass of wine)

Sunday morning I went to brunch. Please note this is the most social weekend I have had where I just did things for fun and it felt great to be “normal” and to make plans with friends and be able to actually attend them. Brunch was a popup for a local bakery, Marla Bakery, at the State Bird Provisions restaurant. If you are going to be in SF this Sunday I would recommend having their brunch, email them for a reservation or go early at sit at the counter like we did.

Marla cherry tart
(cherry and frangipane tart)

Anticipation is building for @marlabakery brunch

Marla’s pastries are incredibly beautiful. This the Marla bun which is like a palmier but made into a larger roll.

Lovely cherry & tarragon scones @marlabakery

I had dried cherry and tarragon scones with a little jar of marscapone and rhubarb compote piped in. All of these years searching for decent clotted cream in the city and I realize, stupidly, that I should have been using marscapone. It was truly brilliant. I didn’t get much of the tarragon but it is allergy season after all and my nose proved shamefully incapable of detecting aromas this weekend.  These sold out before Noon and I am very glad I had the foresight to order one to go.

Keep thinking about this lamb & fattoush @marlabakery brunch

For the brunch “entree” I had roasted rare lamb that took three days to prepare. It was rubbed in yogurt and barahat and was roasted perfectly.  Tender, thin slides were drizzled with harissa spiced yogurt. The flatbread had been brushed with spices too and was enormous and warm like a hug. The fattoush salad was herby and tart and included pickled onions and crispy flatbread crackers.

Darling coffee service @marlabakery brunch

I washed this down with a glass of cava and coffee service by Wrecking Ball. Ethopian coffee in a tiny carafe really hit the spot. The little biscotti were a nice touch too, I gifted them to my friend as they contain almonds and I can’t eat them right now.

I wish I could go back this Sunday but I will be off on another adventure!

Where to Go

Murrieta’s Well
3005 Mines Road
Livermore, CA 94550

Marla’s Bakery
Every Thursday between 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the Mission Community Market at 22nd & Bartlett in San Francisco
Watch their Facebook page for pop up brunch locations

State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

Holiday Truffled Roast Duck

I succumbed to the lure of a stuffed truffled duck 4505 Meats had for sale when I visited their manufacturing kitchen last week. How could I pass this beauty up?

It was the size of a baby! It was at least 18″ long and weighted at least 8 pounds. Once I put it on my kitchen table I realized I had a problem; no roasting pan in the Roost was large enough.


I had to cut off all of this to even get the duck close to fitting in my roasting pan. I saved these goodies for stock and future rendering for duck fat.


After trimming off 9″ of the neck and the “collar” of fat from the neck and shoulders the duck now fit into my largest roasting pan. Barely! The directions called for a little sprinkling of salt and pepper, and I added a sprinkling of thyme for good measure.


The directions were simple, I had nothing to do but have a glass of Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Muscat and wait, and then…. this…


I let the duck rest covered lightly in foil for 30 minutes, and then got ready to carve.


First, I poured off the fat from the roasting pan, strained and cooled it for future wonderful uses.


I used a bit of the duck fat and flour to make a roux, then added a good glass of wine and the truffled duck stock to make a pan gravy for my dinner. I now think that truffled duck stock is the best stuff on the planet, outside of roasted duck that is.

The stuffing was so aromatic with truffles and 4505 Meats’ sausages and Tartine’s olive bread.


It took some wrangling but I removed the legs and thighs in once piece and both breasts, one went onto the carving board for my dinner. I immediately ate both “oysters” and hacked the carcass into smaller pieces to be frozen for soup stock – duck soup! There was a lot of meat on this bird.


I carved up some of the breast meat, it was juicy and perfectly rare, and rendolent with truffle.


I served up my plate and ladled some truffled gravy over the dressing and the duck. The seasoning of the meat and the stuffing was divine. I have been kicking myself for not thinking of using olive bread in poultry stuffing.  Where was my brain?  Why didn’t I think of this myself?  Ryan Farr is a genius!

Outside of carving the bird, I had very little to do. This was the most spectacular and yet the simplest thing I have ever prepared.

A note on wine, most people serve red wine with duck but I found that the fruit of the Ca’ del Solo Muscat by Bonny Doon was wonderful with the duck,  Its citrus notes and almost floral fruit cut through the richness of the duck meat and did not overpower the truffles.


I shared the leftover stuffing and the rest  of the duck breast with my colleague at the office and we had the nicest Christmas Eve eve luncheon, despite the lack of wine. The duck legs and full breast were carefully frozen as I promised to share some with friends for a little dinner soon – seared duck leg and a petite salade and wine, what could be better?

If you have the chance to pick up a duck from 4505 Meats I could not recommend it highly enough.

4505 Meats
Ryan Farr, head genius

Roasting Directions

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

Wednesday is Girl’s Night

(Soup by candlelight)

When you get a bit older it gets harder and harder to get together regularly with your friends.

You work really hard during the week, scrape together something for dinner or succumb to the lure of takeout, collapse after a glass of wine, and somehow get all the chores, housekeeping, shopping and laundry done over the weekend in time for Monday, or not! Somewhere in there you fit in hobbies, the children’s events, family time and hopefully there is a smidgen of time left to visit with friends. Or perhaps nap!

My pal A___ and I had the luxury of spending a lot of time together when I was “between engagements” and we found it rather sad that after I found a day job plus an occasional weekend gig that between my now-busy schedule and her insane work/boyfriend/teenager/church schedule we were not seeing too much of each other any more. Well, this was not acceptable so we began trying to set aside one night a week that has become our Girl’s Night In. Somehow, miraculously, it turns out Wednesdays are relatively free for both of us and we generally hang out at the Roost where all we have to contend with is a moderately demanding cat and a seemingly endless supply of wine.

Coincidentally Wednesdays are the day of my bi-monthly produce delivery from Farm Fresh to You. This gives us the perfect excuse to cook a healthy meal using that day’s bounty, which will hopefully offset the weekly wine and bacon consumption, and give me an opportunity to experiment a little with recipes and get some honest feedback.

This week’s produce delivery coincided with my wine club delivery from Casa Rodeña from New Mexico, so I really needed a Sherpa to help me home. Feeling like my arms had been slightly overstretched I slogged home on MUNI and dumped everything on the kitchen table and chatted with A___ on the phone while I began dinner preparations.

Naturally, in my usual post-work daze yesterday while shopping, I forgot several key ingredients necessary to test drive a new soup recipe, so A__ stopped by a store on her third trip across town. Somehow seven miles can feel like a hundred if you transverse it often enough.

The object of our desire was an inventive soup recipe posted by Heidi of 101 Cookbooks blog, and shared with me on Twitter via the fantastic Carina Ost. The soup is a mélange of red lentils and yellow split peas, curry and coconut, tons of herbs and the kicker, yellow raisins plumped in curry broth.

I clattered about with pots and pans, knives and cutting boards and juggled the phone and quickly threw together the soup base. Using legumes and lentils take a bit of time together to simmer gently so I used that time to tidy the kitchen and stow the weekly abundance of veggies. We are still getting summer vegetables and fruits, this transitional time of year is my favorite as we have the best of both worlds.

Despite a rash of days with hot weather, on this night the fog crept in on massive elephant feet, the Roost was cozy with the radiator steaming away in the corner and the kitchen redolent with the scent of toasted cumin and a whiff of coconut.

Eventually A___ arrived bearing bags of cilantro, fresh ginger, Semifreddi’s sourdough and more wine, and in moments our soup supper was almost done.

We had some moody Indy rock on the iPod and sipped the last of a bottle of really excellent wine from Napa, an ’04 Cabernet Sauvignon from Atlas Peak, before opening a bottle of a Sangiovese meritage from New Mexico. Wednesday is Wine Wednesday and it was nice to toast each other with something exceptional, although our usual plonk from Folie á Deux is quite satisfying too.

I heaped bowls with spoonfuls of chewy warm farro and ladled over the creamy rich pale golden soup and then piled handfuls of chopped cilantro and green onion shards over the top.

Pogo lolled on the floor under the Japanese slat bench, peering up hopefully with an occasional white paw appearing between the slats, while we slurped our soup and used slabs of sourdough spread thickly with Irish butter to sop up the streaks of soup left behind.

After dinner, I pulled out a pretty plate with rose filled chocolates and a few liquor chocolates left over from my last Giants game (Go Giants!!), we finished the last of the wine and had our fill of discussing men, work and everything under the sun. We desultorily played with my works-in-progress on the yarn front. The hour grew late and our feet started getting hot, the indicator that bedtime was rapidly approaching.

Another lovely Girl’s Night In was complete, and after hugs goodnight I put the soup away and tumbled onto the bed fully dressed and was out like a light within seconds.

There is no better night than time spent with your best pal, good wine and a great bowl of soup.

Heidi’s Neighbor’s Coconut Red Lentil Soup (with HAL modifications)

1 c yellow split peas
1 c red split lentils (I found both at Whole Foods in the bulk section)
6 c H2O
A small bunch of carrots, diced
A 2″ piece of ginger, peeled & chopped
1 tsp powdered ginger
2 T curry powder, toasted*
2 T butter
A bunch of green onions, sliced
1/3 c golden raisins
1 14 oz jar of whole plum tomatoes, torn into shreds with your hands
2 14-ounce cans coconut milk
Salt to taste
Black pepper
one bunch of cilantro, chopped

cooked farro

Put the dried beans and peas in a mesh colander and rinse well, then dump in a large pot. Add the water, the carrots, tomatoes and the powdered ginger and simmer for 30 minutes.

Toast the curry* in a small skillet for a few minutes then pour off to a plate to let cool. In the coolish pan add the butter and sauté most of the green onions (keeping several handfuls of the green tops for the garnish) and the fresh ginger until everything is soft. Add this to the soup pot after the 30 minutes, along with the curry, the raisins and the coconut milk. Add some salt and simmer for another 30 minutes. Taste for salt again and add the pepper.

Serve over farro and add the cilantro and green onion tops.

Eat slowly with a good friend.

A confession, I used powdered ginger at first because I was out of fresh, until my friend came over with her rescue bag of groceries. I think it is good addition though, it added a warmth and depth that I really enjoyed. I also prefer thinner soups and added more coconut milk that the original recipe called for. However, as the soup stands, or after being chilled down in the fridge, it will thicken up to a stew consistency because of the legumes.

Original recipe is here

A big thank you to Carina and Heidi!

Wordless Wednesday – A Glimpse of Office Life

Snack du jour: yak jerky
(snack du jour: yak jerky from Tibet. Commodity yak?)

A sliver of warmth between the cold canyon walls
(catching a few rays at lunch; a sliver of warmth between the cool canyons)

My desk drawer
(the holy of holyies: my desk drawer)

Wordless Wednesday

Happiness Is…..

….a sunny Sunday afternoon….

On a whim I propose a visit to the farmer’s market to a friend with brunch afterward of huevos rancheros. This simple excursion turned into a full day of beautiful sights and flavors.

I hopped on the N to check out the farmer’s market in the Inner Sunset in the tiny parking lot across Arizmendi Bakery and next to my favorite shoe store. The first thing I noticed was the Valet Barking, where you can park your doggie while you shop. The gal running it was doing a snappy business and everyone was playing together nicely, which is a testament to her dog-whispering abilities.

I strolled slowly through the tiny market, sampling peaches at every opportunity, and treated myself to a basket each of red and golden raspberries. Waiting for my friend to arrive I purchased a large cup of Earl Grey tea and several croissant, some with chocolate and some with frangipani inside, and plopped down on a curb opposite from the dogs and had myself a very relaxing nosh.

Surprisingly the golden raspberries were stronger and more defined in flavor than the standard ones, they were richer and had more of an acidic edge, they were also enormous and exceedingly fragile. I made a raspberry hat for my pinky.

It was the first time I ever ate an entire basket of berries by myself. The sun was warming my shoulders, the tea was perfect on my throat and the croissant was buttery with just enough almond succulence inside. Suddenly, I felt so at peace and just fine with everything within myself. I have been feeling like a worn out dishrag of emotions lately but at this moment, this moment was fine and pleasant and all mine although I was surrounded by the frenetic hum of the City.

A__ arrived and pulled up a pew, and joined me in breakfast for a moment, then we headed out to shop. My quest was for tomatoes, and herbage to make Green Goddess dressing to accompany a chicken roasted with quince. Instead, the quest for the best peach began and we settled on the last six O’Henry peaches in the market. Perfectly ripe and almost honey like they were the best peach I have ever had. For another dollar the farmer threw in some plums that were just about ready to turn themselves into jam on the spot.

After A___ snagged the last six eggs at one stall we lingered at Pamela’s Soaps with her amusing husband Dirk. Pamela’s lemongrass shae butter soap had to come home with me and Dirk put a lanyard through it, instant soap on a rope! While A__ chatted with Pamela and made her selections, I decided upon a bar of shaving soap, infused with lime oil, shae butter, lavender and some spice, Pamela said it is creamy and soothing, perfect for summer sleek bare legs at work, with my long stems I could use some pampering! Her hand-poured flower shaped pots of lip gloss also appealed and I picked one up as a gift for my sis. Pamela’s flowers from the garden were stunning, a perfect capture of summer. Even the bees agreed.

I was fascinated by a book they had on display, an old Organic Chemistry book that they labeled as boring, but it was really clever and not at all dry. Dirk offered to give it to me, which was very kind, and maybe next time I visit the market I will take him up on his offer.

After loading up on soapy goodness, we visited a jam vendor and tasted his heavenly Blenheim apricot preserves and two different plum jams. Not being much for plums really, they remind me of that horrible motorboat accident when I was a kid when I broke my nose, but after tasting his Mariposa plum jam I bought a jar. It was fresh and bright tasting and I had visions of a tart with the plum jam as a base and the fresh peaches and plums baked on top. Suddenly we were motivated to return to the beach house!

A few stalls down I found cilantro, green onions, bell and jalapeños for salsa and winter savory for the roast chicken. I also found a huge amount of beefsteak tomatoes at a reasonable price, the first inexpensive tomatoes of the year. I planned to slow roast them and freeze some for later. A___ found a huge bouquet of chard destined for her wok, and chives and parsley for salad. Then, a fruit vendor was trying to close up and offered us huge honeydew and other melons for a dollar each! Our bags were full but one monster fit into my backpack, barely, it was already full of my work clothes, bacon, tortillas, quince and knitting. I cradled one in my arms as a counterweight and we tottered through the last few stalls. The last booth had beautiful eggs and zucchini, and next time we will shop here for these beauties.

Finally we made it to the car, after a brief (well, not so brief) visit to the shoe store. Let’s get some shoes! Let’s party!

But on the way, we made a remarkable discovery! It doesn’t look like much, an ordinary storm drain gate, right?

Upon closer examination we saw that there was a plant growing inside. And, can you tell what it is?

For Pete’s sake it’s a tomato plant! Imagine that, the unstoppable power of Mother Nature reigning forth by producing a healthy volunteer tomato shrub in the most unlikely of places.

Once at the beach house, after an enthusiastic greeting by doggies, I set to frying bacon and making my huevos rancheros. I heated up a can of drained (organic) black beans with garlic and onion granules and some spices, and a few spoonfuls of bacon fat, mashed a little. The bacon was crisped perfectly under A___’s ministrations and the tortillas were fried in the bacon fat (and carefully blotted, I might add). Given that we both have tennis elbow for varying reasons, I employed the Cuisinart for a quick salsa of heirloom tomatoes, garlic, red onion, yellow bell pepper, Anaheim chile and jalapeño, cilantro, limes and cumin – so quick to prepare and to die for. The eggs from the market were quickly fried up and I assembled our “brunch”. A__ plunked down a bottle of bubbly and we feasted (at 3:00 pm!!).

(naughty but nice)

Look at that beautiful bacon, a birthday treat from my dear friend and reigning Bacon Queen S___. This was maplewood smoked bacon, so thick and well seasoned with the tang of woodsmoke and a touch of maple.

Always on the job, A___ went back to work while I relaxed in the back yard with the dogs post-shower, the sunshine and breeze from the ocean drying my hair, while I knitted a bit on my new shawl.

As the sun started dipping below the eaves of the neighbor’s house A__ returned and did some gardening, then we took a break from these pleasantries to polish off the rest of the champagne (out of the bottle so as not to risk the Waterford flutes on the patio with swishing dog tails like rapiers). Every Sunday afternoon should be like this.

I repaired upstairs to play with the chicken and preheat the oven. A__ brought me a handful of lemon thyme from the herb bed and I minced that up with the winter savory to sprinkle over the chicken. First, I made a base of red onion, left over from the salsa preparations, and peeled, cored and sliced quince layered in a vintage Copco gratin dish A__ found at a yard sale. I juiced a few lemons for the salad dressing and stuffed the chicken with the hulls and the tops of the green onions.

The Cuisinart was pressed into service again to mince the herbs and greens for the Green Goddess salad dressing, made creamy with Russian sour cream and good old mayo. I love this salad dressing, it was even delicious with prawn cervice dunked into it.

A big thank you to Kalyn and Sean for tweeting about the Green Goddess, a local historical recipe. By the way, it is excellent on fish, mixed in for chicken salad and even on onion rings.

Speaking of salad, we grabbed the lantern and harvested baby lettuces from a gopher-proof bed and after giving the beauties a refreshing bath I arranged them in a bowl for the table. The chicken was done, perfect as usual, and I carved her up roughly. We set down to feast with our fingers, dunking lettuces into the dressing as well as the chicken and an occasional prawn or three.

We had a deep philosophical discussion about the pursuit of happiness and where we are going in our lives now that birthdays are upon us. After the sadness I’ve been feeling, plus that long stretch of uncertainty being unemployed I have been doing a lot of cleaning house, mentally, with the kind support and encouragement of my dear friends and my family. Where would I be without them? We talked about gratitude as well and keeping positive. Sadly we had forgotten all about making a dessert but didn’t miss it. A__ made me a cup of verbena, mint and rose tisane and we retired to our various rooms, leaving the dogs snoring on the couch and chair. As I drifted off to sleep in the moonlight with the sound of the surf through the window, I reflected on how grateful and lucky I am to be alive and to have such a nice little life.

Happiness is…..being with friends and appreciating all the little moments.


It’s the day before a holiday, Easter for my family, and I am up at my parents enjoying the peace and tranquility of the country and all of its relative benefits:  fresh air, birdsong, no sirens, great company and chats, and best of all amazing meals.

Since tomorrow’s a big day in the kitchen, we decided to take it easy today and have a very simple dinner.  The menu was my idea, based upon a favorite dish from my dear step-sister U___’s mom M___.

Years ago when U___ was in a play, M___ and I spent a great time chatting during the intervals about cookery.  M___ is authentically Scottish, born across the pond and a true lady.  I quizzed her in great deal about Scottish cuisine, having not had a lot of exposure to it over here besides what my family cooks as part of its standard repertoire.  She rattled off a handful of familiar dishes, and we scooted out to the parking lot to the car where, stashed in the trunk, was a tin of her shortbread.  Guiltily we snarfed finger after finger of shortbread whilst keeping an eye on the wristwatch; it wouldn’t do to be late for her daughter’s play!   Later, she brought up a dish I had never heard of, sausage rolls.  She told me they were her favorite snack for a heavy tea or a light supper or lunch.

Ever since that day, eons ago, I have been making sausage rolls for myself but apparently never mentioned them to any member of my immediate family!  Quelle horror!   Tonight I rectificed this shortcoming and made them for my parents. It was a perfect quick and easy dinner, and left the kitchen clean for other pursuits tomorrow.

dinner 2
(hmmm, apparently, butter on the camera lense produces a blurry photo, who *knew*? sorry…)

Snausage Rolls

1 # sausages – I used Lockeford apple sausages, 2 are almost a pound
1 package prepared croissant or bread dough
Spicy brown mustard
black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a small skillet, place sausages and 1/3 c water and cover, bring to a boil and cook 7 minutes.  Remove lid and then cook until water evaporates, and brown sausages well.  Remove from pan, let cook and cut each sausage into 4 pieces, then each piece in half.

sausage collage

On a work surface, unroll prepared croissant or bread dough and spread each piece of dough liberally with spicy mustard.  Top with sausage pieces, two per dough piece, and roll up, pinching with fingers along seams.  You do not need to completely seal up the dough.

Picnik collage

Place rolls on a lined baking tray and grind black pepper on top of each roll. Bake 11-20 minutes until rolls are golden brown and dough is cooked through on the bottom.

Picnik collage

This is all that was left after dinner:
all that is left after dinner!

I made a quick spinach salad with red onion, cucumbers, tomatoes and mushrooms with a blue cheese dressing, and steamed some broccoli and dressed that with olive oil and a seasoning mix from Penzey’s called Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle.

We watched a salmon hued sunset while dining on our sausage rolls and toasted M___ with some local Black Sheep Sauvignon Blanc.  This winery is a true treasure and the fruity and dry notes of the wine really hit the spot after the sweet apple and porky notes of the sausage and the tang of the mustard.

Replete and happy, we all retired to our various pursuits and later I served up some chocolate mousse from Julia Child’s classic recipe, decorated in anticipation of Easter with some pastel M&M’s.

Tomorrow is a busy day, our menu is:

  • Ginger Carrot Soup
  • Baked Ham with Raspberry Bourbon Glaze
  • Gratineed Potatoes Savoyard
  • Steamed Asparagus
  • Pull-Apart Butter Buns
  • Chocolate Mousse
  • Rosenbaum Cellars Richard Sauret 2006 Zinfandel

I hope you have a wonderful Sunday, whether it is your Easter or not, and enjoy some snausage rolls of your own sometime.

Just for fun, why I call these “snausages”!