Queso Chronicles

queso chronicles: homemade mozzarella

I have this fantasy that I will one day be an excellent cheesemaker. I really like cheese and I really like making things from scratch soooo … logical conclusion, right?

Well, my first two forays into the world of cheesemaking have been (sadly) less than stellar. Armed with internet research, a recipe from Ricki the Cheese Queen and the appropriate ingredients, I thought I had it in the bag.  I didn’t. After two back-to-back disappointments, I have taken a hiatus from cheesemaking. I think my milk choices may have been to blame (too high of a pasturization temperature at the milk factory), that and also the lack of a microwave to aid with the stretching process.

Here’s a little breakdown (although, if you want to attempt yourself, I would recommend you go straight to Ricki. She has quite the cult following and an awesome 80s hairdo, so she must be doing something right).

The ingredients

1 gallon whole milk, as local as you can get and not ultrapasturized

1 1/2 t citric acid, diluted in 1 c water

1/4 tab rennet

Add the citric acid diluted in water to cold milk. SLOWLY heat to 90 degrees.

Remove from the heat, add the rennet, stir 30 seconds, cover and let it sit quiet for 5 minutes.

A curd should form. Cut the curd into 1 inch cubes. Heat to 105 degrees. Take of the heat and continue to stir for 3 – 5 minutes. Strain the curd.

And this is where is all went downhill. I did not get a clean break between the curds and the whey. My curds were also finer and more grainy than they should have been. Still, I soldiered on, attempting to drain the curds and then form balls of those curds. Not successful. On my first attempt, my “mozzarella” was this funny mix between ricotta and mozzarella and would not hold any shape. On my second attempt, the cheese formed balls, but they were rock hard and dry. (Eww). Neither time was I able to stretch the cheese like Ricki shows in her pictures, neither time did I end up with a cheese that was appealing in texture.

I have to say, after the second failure I was pretty heartbroken. I hate to waste food (but I could not force myself to eat those hard, dry cheese balls). I won’t pretend that that it’s not disappointing to know that my dreams of master cheesemaking are much further away that I once thought. But, if anyone has a cow (and wants to share some super fresh milk) or even wants to offer up the use of their microwave, I may just give it another go.



spaghetti alla carbonara

Let me begin by saying that this is one of those perfect dishes; nothing is wrong with it, nothing needs to be added and nothing needs to be taken away.  Spaghetti alla carbonara is a wonderful mix of egg, pancetta, parmigiano reggiano, and black pepper which form a silky sauce for the pasta.  Not only is it a perfect meal, but it’s quick and easy to make.  Before I get to the recipe I’ll give you a sneak peek into my past and what this dish means to me.

When I was a young food nerd on my first (and hopefully not last) trip to Europe, I given some excellent advice from my father: “eat as much spaghetti alla carbonara as possible because it’s very difficult to find in the US.”  I did.  In fact, I believe I at spaghetti alla carbonara five times during my six days in Italy.  This was back in 2004, and I’ve only tried to recreate the magic once.  My first attempt probably wasn’t long after the trip and needless to say, it wasn’t quite as good as the stuff from overseas.  Fortunately, since then I’ve become much more proficient in the kitchen and, inspired by the amazingly fresh eggs in our CSA box, I decided to give it another go.

It really is an amazingly simple dish, but I still used a recipe for guide.  Emily recommended the version from Ruth Riechl’s Garlic and Sapphires, which immediately appealed to me due to her substitution of bacon for pancetta.  Now I’m sure some people would find this blasphemous, but I prefer the flavor of bacon and I think that the use of pancetta may have been my downfall all those years ago in my first attempt.  So, with the pork issue sorted out, it’s time to get cooking.

First, bring a large pot of water to boil, then add a nice handful of salt and pound two-thirds of a pound of spaghetti.

Meanwhile, cut bacon into 0.25 inch slices and cook them over medium heat.  Add 2 or 3 cloves of garlic cut in half.  Allow the bacon to render its fat and start to crisp at the edges.  Don’t cook it like you’re serving it for breakfast because you need it to be soft to incorporate into the sauce.

While the bacon is cooking, in the bowl you are going to serve the pasta in whisk two eggs together and add a pinch of salt and a pretty good amount of freshly ground black pepper.  Then grate about half a cup of parmigiano reggiano into another bowl (don’t skimp here, buy the good stuff).

When the pasta is done cooking reserve about a quarter cup of the cooking liquid and add the drained pasta to the egg mixture in about three batches, mixing each time.  This tempers the eggs (cooks them slowly) so they don’t curdle.  Once all the pasta is in, remove the garlic from the bacon and add the bacon, its fat, and the parmesan.  Toss it all together and add some of the reserved water if it needs it.  Serve immediately with more parmesan and pepper.  We enjoyed ours with Acme bread and more CSA stuff: a salad with spinach, watermelon radishes, carrots, and a simple balsamic vinaigrette.

Conclusions:  Awesome!  Just as good as Italy.  If you execute it properly, without over-thinking it, and use good quality ingredients, it will be perfect.

Also, if you have one of those pasta spoons with the long tines, it works really well when adding the pasta to the eggs because the pasta still holds onto some of the water so you don’t have to add it later.


Restaurant Reviews San Francisco

bar tartine

Emily and I celebrated our fifth anniversary last week, so we treated ourselves to a nice dinner.  Since it falls so close to the holidays, we choose not to purchase each other gifts, but we still splurged a bit for a nice meal.  After much deliberation, we settled on Bar Tartine in the mission, on Valencia between 16th and 17th.  The “bar” is more of a restaurant that happens to have bar seating; this trait usually lends itself to a cozy and intimate dining experience, and Bar Tartine is no exception.  Because of this, I would now like to apologize in advance for the lack of photos; the tables are fairly close together and the lighting from the antler chandelier was not exactly photo friendly.  As well as being cozy, the space feels calm and the creative touches are interesting.  Bar Tartine kind of sums up what the food and people are like in this part of the mission; it shares this with its sister eatery: Tartine bakery.  There’s another thing it shares with Tartine Bakery: the quality of the food.

We decided to neglect the traditional dining progression and instead shared the four things on the menu that looked best.  First was a frisée salad with prosciutto and a soft boiled egg ($9).  The greens were fresh and dressed very well, the egg was cooked perfectly, and the cooked prosciutto added a satisfying crispy component.  This was a good salad, but a bit forgettable.  Also, I’m not a huge fan of prosciutto prepared in this way; I think you lose most its the subtlety as well as the delicacy of the fat which melts on your tongue.  For this salad, I think bacon would have been a better choice.  Next was the big one: bone marrow ($15).  Three bones with a garlicky, herby, crusty top filled with what can only be described as butter of the gods.  Imagine the most meaty, perfectly salty, creamy, deliciousness and spread it on toasted Tartine bread (which is also wonderful).  We’ve had bone marrow other places and it’s almost always great, but this is something special.  For a main course, we shared the boudin noir ($24).  Blood sausage is one of my favorite treats; I fell in love with it at a parrilla in Uruguay and indulge in this porky, creamy sausage whenever I can.  It may sound gross, but trust me, it’s not.  Bar Tartine put forth a good effort resulting in probably the second best I’ve had, defeated only by my first love from Uruguay, but that was an emotional day for me (soooo much good food).  Okay, I’ll stop reminiscing and get back to the meal.  The boudin was served with braised cabbage and sweet potatoes, both of which complimented the sausage very well.  To accompany our main dish Emily and I indulged in yet more of Tartine’s lovely bread; this time it came in the form of a savory bread pudding with leeks and plenty of pepper ($6).  It was super crispy on top, and creamy and hearty in the middle.  This final course was loaded with flavor and we were ready to move onto something sweet.  Everything that comes out of the bakery is perfect, so we had to get something from Bar Tartine’s dessert menu.  While the menu looked interesting, the night we were  there they had run out of a couple things, so we settled on the Passion Fruit Lime Bavarian ($7.5).  The cake was very nice and the passion fruit and lime filling was fantastic (by the way, passion fruit is like the bacon of the dessert realm, so we MUST eat it when it’s available; it’s compulsive and not our fault), the only downside was that this cake is also served at Tartine Bakery so it didn’t seem as special or unique.

Conclusions:  The meal was great and although we didn’t follow the traditional dining format it allowed us to try all the things we wanted without spending too much or eating an obscene amount.  If I had to sum up Bar Tartine in one sentence, I would say: it’s good, simple food with the flavor dial turned up to 11.  This is definitely the place to go for uncomplicated food executed wonderfully.


Randomness San Francisco

our csa box from eatwell farms

Jordan and I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) group!  What does that mean exactly … It means we make a commitment to purchase a weekly box  of produce from a local farm, we get awesome, seasonal, picked-that-morning-produce, the majority of every dollar we spend goes directly to the people working hard to produce our food, and our money stays in our local economy. AWESOME!  Our farm is Eatwell Farms and I want to share the beautiful produce we just picked up!

This week we got: Mandarins, spinach, arugula, winter greens, savoy cabbage, celeriac, watermelon diakon, leeks, carrots, pink lady apples, and a half dozen fresh eggs.

WHAT BEAUTIFUL FOOD! (I may have gone a little crazy with the photos, but I couldn’t resist!)

Another awesome part about our CSA box … we don’t pick what we receive so we end up with ingredients that are new and unfamiliar (celeriac for example). Now, that’s fun in the kitchen!

If you are interested in joining a CSA in your area please visit



baking therapy: brownies, continued

After last week’s brownie baking adventure (with the end result of brownies that were more like chocolate cake), I decided to give it another go. This time I went to Martha.

Whole-Wheat Brownies, from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food
6 T unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/3 c cocoa powder
1 1/4 t baking powder
1 t coarse salt
1 c packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/4 c unsweetened apple sauce
8 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 8 inch square dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, stir together applesauce, sugar and egg. Place butter and 6 oz of chocolate over a double boiler to melt. Stir chocolate into sugar mixture. Stir in flour mixture. Pour into pan and top with remaining 2 oz of chocolate.

Bake 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.

Conclusions: Also delicious (and perfectly complimented by vanilla ice cream – oh so comforting), but still on the edge of cake territory. These brownies were closer, but I still long for a brownie with chewy edges, a fudgey middle and a flaky top.  Ahhhh.

After two attempts, I now have a very strong compulsion to make the perfect brownie and fulfill my fantasy. Up next: Ghiradelli’s Classic Chocolate Brownie. Let’s hope this one makes the cut!



baking therapy: brownies

I came home from work today and really wanted to bake. And when the mood strikes … I’m thankful I have an above average supply of butter on hand.

Jordan and I have also been hitting the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook pretty hard lately. Thomas Keller works magic in the kitchen and this cookbook compiles his family style recipes.  Thanks Liz and Kyle for this awesome book!

Brownies, from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home
Note: Below are the measurements for the whole recipe. I halved the recipe because I didn’t think it was wise for Jordan and I to eat an entire tray of brownies in two days (the recommended period of freshness).
3/4 c flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t kosher salt
3/4 lb unsalted butter, cut into 1 T pieces
3 eggs
1/2 t vanilla paste or extract (I used extract, although vanilla paste sounds awesome)
6 oz 61% – 64% chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces (I used some Scharffen-Berger I had laying around from a previous dessert)

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9″ x 9″ baking dish (I used a loaf pan because I halved the recipe).

Sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt.

Melt half the butter in a small saucepan. Pour the melted butter over the cold butter. Stir to melt the butter. There will be some butter chunks. These are awesome.

In a mixer, mix eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add in 1/3 of dry ingredients alternating with 1/3 of the butter. Continue with remaining dry mixture and butter. Last, add in chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared dish and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the center when poked with a tester has just a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Cool in the pan until a bit warmer than room temperature.

Invert and cut into pieces. Dust the tops with powered sugar before serving.

Conclusions: Quite good, but more of a cake-like texture then a brownie texture. The little gooey bits of dark chocolate definitely made the dessert!

Still searching for a brownie recipe!


Randomness San Francisco

sf food events

Cookie Contest at Omnivore Books

Saturday, January 29th 3 -4 pm

3885a Cesar Chavez Street

“Now that the holidays are over, we can get back into our food contest routine. So, presenting the first contest of 2011, COOKIES! Make any kind of cookie you can think of, and bring a lot of them (miniatures or cut into bite-size). We’ll all judge the best, and the winner will split the door money with me. Free to cookie entrants; $5 eaters-only.”

SF Underground Market, hosted by ForageSF

Saturday February 5th

11am-4pm : Take-homeables and gifts

6pm-11pm : Hot food, Music

Location: SomArts, 934 Brannan St, @ 8th

Admission: $5

“The SF Underground Market is a venue where you can taste and purchase the food that is being produced in backyards and home kitchens in the Bay Area.

To sell at a farmers market, you need to produce your wares in a commercial kitchen. This is an impossible expense for many of us, so the underground farmers market is about helping to get some exposure for all of our fellow producers without the cash for a commercial kitchen. These are veterans, people who’ve been making their products for years, but only able to share them with friends. We thought we’d give them a venue to share with the whole SF food community.

A market, and a live show, all rolled into one. Think a farmers market, but at night, with music and drinks.”

If you are interested in attending, be sure to sign up here. If you are interested in becoming a vendor, click here.

San Francisco Eats! Series at the SF Public Library

SF Food Carts, Panel Discussion

Thursday February 2nd 5:30 – 7:00 pm

SF Main Library, Hispanic Meeting Room A & B, 100 Larkin St.

This panel discussion will discuss the street food movement in San Francisco, the usage of locally sourced, sustainably raised, delicious and healthy food, and the emergence of food cart entrepreneurs.  Panelists include Larry Bain of Let’s Be Frank, Supervisor Bevan Dufty and Veronica Salazar and Margarita Rojas of La Cocina.  A Green Stacks program.

18 Reasons, a non-profit run by Bi-Rite Market and Creamery, also hosts totally awesome food events. So many, in fact, that I cannot list them here! Check out their monthly events calendar here.



we don’t just eat pork and desserts

Jordan loves pork and desserts. I love desserts and pork. Still, most nights we eat reasonably healthy (those just aren’t always the most fun to blog about). Last night, we ate great! (And local! And balanced! And pretty darn healthy!) It was awesome.

The menu:

Pan-seared sturgeon – salt and pepper, sear briefly on each side, rest, add a squirt of lemon

Red rice – 2 parts rice to 3 parts water, cook covered for 25 minutes, rest for 5 minutes

Sauteed green cabbage – toast some pistachios, sauté the cabbage for 3 – 4 minutes, add a little shallot, add chicken stock, cook until evaporated 4 – 5 minutes more , stir in nuts

Green salad with pesto and cara cara oranges – wash greens (and well when you get them from your CSA box and they are full of grit), supreme oranges, top with pesto (carrot tops, pistachios, orange zest, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil all mushed together in a mortar and pestle or blender)

I would recommend all the items this menu. It was delightful and satisfying. I especially loved the pesto!


P.S. It couldn’t be all healthy, so there’s a little lemon, brown butter sauce on the fish.  I simply browned about a tablespoon of butter, added some lemon zest and salt and spooned a little over the fish.



sage grilled cheese

You all know how much I love Alice Waters and Julia Child (as in I’m totally obsessed, think they are beyond awesome ladies, and wish I could meet them) … well, I have a new crush to add to that list: Judy Rodgers. Judy rocks and so does her cookbook The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.  Recently, Judy taught me the importance of salting early (do it, it will improve meat ten-fold) and how to make this incredible grilled cheese.

Everyone love grilled cheese because there is absolutely nothing bad about it. Well, this recipe is no exception.

Sage Grilled Cheese, from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Makes four sandwiches

About a dozen fresh sage leaves
2 T olive oil
1/2 t fresh black pepper
8 slices 1/4 inch thick from a chewy, peasant-style bread (we used a sour batard)
4 oz Fontina or Swiss Gruyere, coarsely grated or sliced thin

Chop the sage. Place it in your smallest saucepan, add the oil, pepper and set over low heat. Warm to the touch. Turn of heat and let the oil infuse while you assemble the sandwiches.

Blanket the bread with cheese, taking care to bring the cheese all the way to the end. Top with another slice of bread. Lay a heavy cutting board over the sandwiches to press them for about 20 minutes.

Preheat a griddle or cast-iron pan over low heat.

Use a brush to spread the oil on both faces of the sandwiches. Add to the pan and cook until golden, 2 – 3 minutes per side. Keep the heat low so you don’t burn the sage or pepper.

Eat while still hot!

Conclusions: I love you Judy! Way to take something that is already great and make it even better! So simple, so perfect. Totally worth the extra few minutes of prep. I mean, look at that sandwich!



ricotta gnocchi

Two quick gnocchi anecdotes:

1. In Argentina (where Jordan and I lived for a wonderful while), it is traditional to serve gnocchi on the 29th of every month. Gnocchi are apparently good luck. This is how it goes … You serve the gnocchi to your family on the 29th.  Under someone’s plate you hide a peso. The person who finds the peso has extra good luck for the coming month. Jordan and I never remember to eat them on the 29th, but I still love the idea.

2. When we had the most amazing, wonderful, perfect meal of our lives at Chez Panisse last year for our anniversary, we were served ricotta gnocchi in one of the courses. They were delicious!

Both of these stories (and finding a recipe in Judy Rodger’s Zuni Cafe cookbook) encouraged me to make my own homemade ricotta gnocchi. Here is a photo essay detailing the adventure. If you want to attempt yourself, consult Judy’s recipe. She does an incredible job explaining how to make them.

In a kichenaid mixer, beat eggs, ricotta, lemon zest and salt really well until it is light and fluffy. Then start “rolling” the gnocchi, using a spoon and your fingers.

Forming the gnocchi with a spoon.

Coating the little guys with flour.

Placing them on a another baking sheet to chill and firm up before cooking.

Ricotta gnocchi, home-make chicken broth and wild mushroom (black trumpet and maitake to be specific) soup!

Conclusions: While a bit tricky to make, the gnocchi were light and delicious. It was really fun and we have a bunch left in the freezer. The soup was great, but I think next time I’ll just try them sautéed in butter like Judy recommends, as to not overpower the delicate ricotta flavor.