Archive for April, 2009

p4260078We leave tomorrow for a little romantic getaway in Big Sur.  And while I’m there I plan to stalk wonder, inspired by one of my favorite bloggers. I hope to come home wonder-filled.


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Hot-weather dinner

p4210031“So what did your mom make for dinner on the hot days?” I asked.  “I dunno.  We lived in Florida.  It was always hot.  She made lasagna.”  (And I found myself remembering an event two years ago, when I came home to find Scott making bolognese, bechamel and homemade noodles in the middle of July…it all becomes clear!) “Hmm.  We always had curried chicken salad with almonds and raisins, stuffed into pita.  I hated it.”  But sometimes we had egg salad. Or tuna melts. And that was pretty cool.  Or hot.  Or whatever.

But now when it gets hot, I bust out what Scott fondly calls “Emily food”.  See, you can always tell who’s done the cooking at our house.  Pasta, meat sauce, sausage….Scott.  Rice, grain, veggies…Emily…oh, and yogurt.  And “Emily food” is just so darn good when it’s hot out.  It’s light, refreshing and hardly needs any cooking.  And now even Scott has taken a liking to it.

So this week during that crazy April heat wave, we had rice salad for dinner and we ate every last grain.  It was so good.  And then we went to Ici for dessert! (But I digress.)

And this is what I did

Scott had cooked up some of Rancho Gordo’s Brown Tepary Beans with onion, garlic, marjoram and bay (and Lord were they delish all by themselves!).  Then I cooked up some white rice with crushed caraway seeds thrown in.  As the rice was cooling, I sliced 1/2 of a red onion and macerated it in champagne vinegar and salt. The onions will turn bright pink when they’re ready.  Then I drizzled in some extra-virgin olive oil to make a vinaigrette and added black pepper.  And then I just mixed.  In went the rice, the beans (save that yummy liquid for somethin’ else), those sweet English peas, and diced avocado.


Hooey, did it hit the spot. And it was delicious.

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The new man in my life is playing hard to get.  Real hard to get.  He stops by weekly, helps me out, then leaves.  Fast.  In a big truck.  And his name is Alfonso.  Or Alfonzo.  Or Alphonso.  Or something like that.  But today…today he shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and smiled.  You see, I turned my charm on today.  But it was totally necessary! Alas, I think we may be best friends.

Last Thursday, see, (that’s the day he always comes over) he just wasn’t interested in picking up all those bags of compost.  So I called.  And I called.  And I called six times.  And right around call number 5, I lost all my charm and started to find myself taking on a down-right un-charming tone.  But what is a lady to do?  It’s not as if I can say, “ya’ know what?  I’m leaving your garbage company and taking my business to the other garbage company!”  ‘Cause you know what?  There are no other garbage companies!!! My hands were tied.  Completely helpless.  Plus, how much of a pill do you really want to be to the guy who knows where you live??

So after those six phone calls, my lovely compost-picker-upper-man, dutifully returned today.  Thursday.  With his great, big truck.  And I heard that giant motor and those squeaky breaks, and I stripped off my PJ’s (and threw on my most dainty yard-work jeans), grabbed my gloves and ran outside to meet the man of the week.  We talked it over like two civilized beings, trying to make the relationship work.

And I discovered that it was all founded on poor communication.  (But isn’t it always?)  When I had spoken to his other woman (the compost-picker-upper-man’s dispatcher-lady), she said that I could put out (ahem) as many bags as I wanted. So I did.  But he said I was being unrealistic.  And I saw his point.  Really I did.  I mean, frankly, I’m an understanding person.  I’m not trying to “dog” him (his words).  I’m just trying to get the D#&% (oops, there goes the charm again) compost picked up.  So I pledged to help him.

Now I’m kinda small.  Like 5’2 (and a half????) and not even 110 pounds.  But as I like to tell those big boys at work, ” I may be small, but I sure can be feisty!”.  And I think he was surprised.  Because, there he was, easily twice my weight complaining about those heavy bags, and there I was, picking them up and throwing them in the truck.  Well, actually, the truck was way too high for me, but I did hand the bags to him so he could throw them in the truck.  (I’ve spent the last 6 years of my career learning to “run with the big boys” and I wasn’t about to stop now!) And then he smiled.  My new best friend Alfonzo. And he shook my hand.  And then…..he actually volunteered to come back tomorrow, after his shift, and help me with the rest.

And this is why it’s a win-win(squared).  I get the double-win.  My compost is gone and I get to try out a new method to improve upon my chocolate chip cookies.  And Alphonso gets the single-win because he gets to eat ’em.  (Assuming he actually shows tomorrow)  But that’s all part of the game right?  Hard to get.

And maybe by next year I’ll learn how to spell his name.  In the meantime he’s been lovingly nicknamed my-compost-picker-upper-man.

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Panir in the spring

My first taste of Panir was prompted by a co-worker.  Stunned that I’d never tasted, or even heard of the cheese, she told me that I must go pick some up.  I confess that the only one I’ve ever tasted is the one that Cowgirl Creamery makes and they call it “Niloufer’s Panir”.  That is, Niloufer Ichaporia King, the author of My Bombay Kitchen.

Cowgirl Creamery is a cheese shop located in Point Reyes Station, but they have an outpost in the Ferry Plaza Building in San Francisco, which is virtually exploding with really great cheese, and customers who want it.  The cheeses they make find their way onto restaurant menus across the bay area, and they also distribute artisan-made cheeses from small-time producers in America and Europe alike.

If you happen to live close enough to either of their locations to pick up some of their panir, do it!  But I’ll warn you of two things.  First, they don’t make it year-round, so you may want to call first.  (Though I’m sure you’ll be able to find something else you love while you’re there).  Second, a little, tiny container costs something upwards of $6.00!  But it’s well worth it, and as you’ll see if you make this recipe, cheese making can be costly.  Especially if you’re using organic milk.  A whole lotta milk gives you a little cheese and a lotta whey! (But if you’re creative, you can use that delicious whey instead of pouring it down the drain.)

My understanding is that there are two types of panir. There is a firm version that can actually be cooked with, and there is a soft version that’s more along the lines of cream cheese.  This second version is what Cowgirl Creamery makes and it is also the type that this recipe makes.

I have no idea what Cowgirl Creamery’s recipe is, but I was thrilled to open up our restaurant copy of My Bombay Kitchen and find Niloufer’s recipe there.  I made it right away and really like it.

And as for “panir in the spring”, I think it is the best season for pairing it with fruits and vegetables.  Usually I eat it on crackers, but thin slabs of toasted bread is great too.  You could top it with raw, tender peas, and a little black pepper.  Or how about thin-sliced raw asparagus?  Or even raw, young fava beans.  Plain ol’ extra-virgin olive oil is great too. But I also love to eat it with strawberries.  And as soon as the rest of the summer berries come in to season, you’ll just be in heaven!

Seriously, how can you resist these with a spoonful of Panir?

Seriously, how can you resist these with a spoonful of Panir?

It goes without saying that you should use the best quality milk, cream and yogurt you can get your hands on.  A cheese like this sings of the flavor of the dairy itself.  (Happy cows make happy cheese, right!?)

Panir from My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King
yields 1-1/2 cups cheese

Note that a good, tart yogurt works best in this recipe.  If your yogurt is fairly mild, you may need to add up to a 1/2 lemons’s worth of juice to help it curdle.  Stir it in over moderate heat.

  • 1 cup cow or goat’s milk yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons  sea salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 4 cups whole milk

Stir together the yogurt, salt and cream. Set aside. Put the milk in a pan roomy enough to allow it to climb up as it boils without overflowing. Set the saucepan over moderately high heat. When the milk comes to a boil, let it come all the way up to the top of the pan.



Lift the pan off the burner while the milk subsides.  Do this four more times. After the fifth boil subsides, add the reserved yogurt-cream mixture and quickly whisk it into the milk until it just begins to separate. It should look like a cloudy sky breaking up, not a solid overcast.  (Those are her words exactly, and I just love them!)


Pour into a non-reactive mesh strainer lined with muslin or a thin kitchen towel, placed over a large bowl.


After most of the whey has dripped through into the bowl, about 15-30 minutes, fold the cloth over the curds, and place a 1-pound weight on top. Save the whey for ricotta, making dal, or for cooking beans or lentils.

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p4190009Tryin’ to support the bee population…

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Birthday Pie

p4170114Pecan Pie just seems a little weird to me in the spring-time, but, ahh, the things I’ll do for love!  Scott loves pecan pie and has been begging for one ever since the “Pecan Pie Shortage of Thanksgiving ’08”.  There wasn’t really a shortage per se…it’s all about perspective- see?

So anyway, I figured that spring or not, he was owed a pecan pie for his birthday. And he was in heaven.  Apparently it was the best one yet.  Shrug.  I’m not really a lover of pecan pie, you see.  They’re good an’ all, but a lover, I am not.  But I make them anyway since as you know, my lover is a lover!

I’ve always followed the recipe out of Cook’s Illustrated’s The Best Recipe, which was practically my first cookbook, back before I even went to culinary school.  You’ve got to hand it to ’em for explaining their thought processes through all their testings, and for baked goods they do a pretty darn good job.

Pecan Pie adapted from The Best Recipe by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated

I used my own flaky pie dough that I so love and just poured in all that nutty goo. Make once recipe of the dough and partially blind bake it.

The only real change I make to their recipe is that I substitute brown rice syrup for the corn syrup.  There’s a huge flavor difference that I love…(well, maybe I am becoming a lover after all!)

  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs, barely beaten
  • 3/4 cups brown rice syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups pecans (8 oz), toasted and chopped into small pieces

While you are blind-baking the pie shell, melt butter in a medium heatproof bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water.  Remove bowl from pot; mix in sugar and salt with a wooden spoon until butter is absorbed. Beat in the eggs, then brown rice syrup and vanilla.  Return bowl to the pot of hot water and stir until mixture is shiny and hot to the touch, about 130 degrees. (Be sure to watch this mixture closely and stir often so that the eggs don’t curdle.)  Remove from heat and stir in the pecans.

As soon as the pie shell comes out of the oven, decrease the oven temperature to 275 degrees.  Pour pecan mixture into hot pie shell.

Bake until the center feels set yet soft, like gelatin, when gently pressed, 50-60 minutes.  Transfer pie to rack; let cool completely, at least 4 hours.  Serve pie at room temperature, with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

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Pictures of the yard

For all y’all who’ve been wondrin’….this is what it looks like now. We don’t have many plants in yet.  They’ll come eventually.  We’ll do more planting after the summer heat is done. This first picture isn’t perfectly in focus, but you’ll get the gist!



This picture is of “the farm”, as we call it.  That’s a Meyer lemon tree on the left, and on the right is a patch of Sicilian fennel that I’ve  been growing for Jon, over at Dopo.

p4150095The path leads down from two starting points, on each side of the yard.  Those are the same stones in the pathway as are in the patio.  And the cracks between the stones are planted with dymondia and wooly thyme (drought-friendly!)…And holy compost!! Those bags are full of weeds!

p4150100This is the main patio.  We’ve also planted a shade tree (that you can’t see in this picture) which will hopefully grow big and leafy to provide shade in the afternoon.

p4150105Up at the top-right you can see our little bench and “tree table”.  It sits under the giant pepper tree that was on the property when we bought it.  The branches hang down in a willow-like manner, enclosing you in a quiet, breezy, serene little space.

p4150104This is a better picture of that big ol’ pepper tree, and in the very front of the picture is our “kitchen garden” vegetable plot.

p4150102And this is a full picture of the “kitchen garden” plot. Right now it has red chard, fennel, leeks and beets.  And that pot sitting in there is my little rhubarb that still needs to be planted.  This year we’re going to put all the big vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and beans up in “the farm”, and keep this little plot for lettuces, parsley, more fennel, and other more tender, delicate things.

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