Kitchen comebacks are almost as easy as renaming a cheese

Homemade Goat Cheese Ball

Homemade Goat Cheese Ball (from zero to hero!)

Lemons to lemonade…The standby cliché that has encouraged optimism for years is certainly a useful one to keep in mind in the kitchen.

Even though I’m pretty confident in my culinary prowess, every so often my cooking projects don’t turn out the way I expect them to. Occasionally, no matter how determined I am in conquering certain recipes or ingredients, they remain untamed and I am forced to dine on humble pie instead.

This is where some culinary finesse comes in handy — if you’ve spent enough time in a kitchen, shouldn’t you be able to take a problematic dish and turn it into a  delicious success?

I’ll say with total and utter assurance…sometimes.

One of the more frustrating food failures I’ve experienced was a few years ago, involving a chicken leg, sweat and tears. The picture in the magazine was of a perfectly lacquered piece of poultry, whereas mine (even after plenty of last-ditch efforts) remained lackluster and insipid. It was edible, sure, but I didn’t enjoy eating it. The taste of disappointment was too strong.

My most recent foray into the land of food flops came with a slightly ironic twist. Back in 2007, I ripped out a recipe for a Crisp Salami Cocktail Mix from the December issue of Food & Wine. I don’t know what about it intrigued me so much, but it seared itself in my brain. I wasn’t sure when I would make it, but I knew it would happen.

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When you gotta lotta burrata… make cheesy salads

…and write even cheesier blog post titles!

Burrata Salad with Strawberries, Radicchio and Nasturtium Leaves

Burrata Salad with Strawberries, Radicchio and Nasturtium Leaves

I can only stop thinking about food for so long — so I’m taking a break from posting about Alaska to show you some of the fabulous things I ate before I left Portland.

A week before my flight back home, my husband decided to make me dinner. It was a wonderfully delicious meal, starting with a salad of cherries, radicchio and burrata cheese. The salad was dressed simply in a combination of Agrumato extra virgin lemon olive oil and some aged balsamic vinegar I bought in Modena, Italy years ago. The bottle isn’t looking so pretty but I promise you, the vinegar inside is like candy.

This was the only major purchase I made on this trip -- I was about 23 years old and saved $100 for the bottle.

This was the only major purchase I made on my third trip to Italy — I was about 23 years old, fresh out of culinary school and saved $100 for the bottle. Twelve years later, it’s still delicious!

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Homemade pupusas turned me into a greedy food hoarder…

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

In the past few years I’ve gotten really into pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish. They have taken over my mind and made me do things like brave a rather shady looking pupuserie that shares its parking lot with an even shadier looking porn store. (Totally worth it, by the way.) I’ve also eaten pupusas from a few food carts around town. Each pupusa journey ended in happiness, but the more I ate, the more determined I became to make them myself.

Finally last Saturday, after spending the morning googling recipes, I decided the time was right.

I picked up a huge bag of masa (I’m envisioning tamales, tortillas and endless pupusas in my future) and some queso fresco. I decided to skip making the typical pupusa accompaniment, curtido (a pickled or fermented cabbage salad), since I had some homemade pickled veggies to use up. I also had some braised beef that needed a good home and so the project was a pretty affordable one — always a good thing when you don’t really know what you’re doing!

But regardless of my inexperience, by following the recipe and instructions from The Kitchn carefully, my pupusa adventure was a delicious success.

Masa!

Masa!

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Homemade Quince Paste: Making cheese plates happy

Homemade quince pasta

While I often tell my husband that the last thing we need is another cookbook, I’ll admit I didn’t put up too much resistance when he offered to buy me a copy of America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook. I had flipped through it briefly at the Book Larder in Seattle and was immediately smitten.

It’s got recipes for just about everything you can imagine: bacon jam, corn chips, yogurt, beer, fresh chorizo and so much more. Really, it’s almost overwhelming.

But I knew at once what recipe I would try first, seeing as I had five quince staring at me from the kitchen counter. My husband had bought them at the season’s last farmer’s market and we had yet to do anything with them (I could practically sense them judging me). It was time for them to meet their maker become delicious quince paste.

Since I had a weekend plan to cook with my friend DB — we were making candied orange peels and Parisian gnocchi — I figured one more culinary project couldn’t hurt. And the good thing about the recipe, besides the fact that it’s pretty fool proof, is that it’s easy to do while doing other things.

Quince paste is also great for holiday gift giving so if you’re a total procrastinator or have a cheese lover in your life, consider giving them a wedge of this. It’s a great accompaniment to a cheese plate and also will last for up to 3 months in the fridge. Hard to beat that!

Start by cooking the fruit down until tender, puree, strain and cook a second time with sugar. Pour into a pan lined with parchment paper and allow to cool. To get the exact recipe, order a copy of the cookbook! To see a fairly similar one online, click here! The main difference is that ours doesn’t have any vanilla and we passed the puree through a fine chinois to get rid of any lumps before cooking it with the sugar.

Cooked quince -- cored but unpeeled

Cooked quince — cored but unpeeled

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Now this is the life…

Image

A snack of French cheese, fruit and jamon, sitting on our balcony. Grand Case, St. Martin.

A snack of French cheese, fruit and jamon, sitting on our balcony. Grand Case, St. Martin.

(Homemade) Cheese Please!

Homemade Lavender Rubbed Goat Cheese

Homemade Lavender Rubbed Goat Cheese

A year or so ago, my husband bought my mom one of those DIY kits to make goat cheese. While things like cheese molds and citric acid were included, she wasn’t sure where to buy the goat milk necessary for the project. Since Portland has ample co-ops and natural food stores, it seemed like the perfect adventure for her most recent trip down to visit me.

I’ve actually made cheese before….a single batch of paneer cheese in culinary school more than 10 years ago. So, yeah we are far from professionals!

And yet, our very first attempt turned out much better than I could have ever hoped. The kit has directions for two different types of goat cheese, one firm and one creamy. It’s good to keep in mind though that the goat milk used as well as other variables can affect the texture of the cheese. And so the guide tells you “if your creamy cheese is firm, and your firm cheese is creamy, just rename them” — advice I can get behind!

We tried to make more of a creamy cheese but it turned out fairly firm, more of the consistency of feta though less tangy. My husband said this most because our goat milk was raw, instead of pasteurized. But the salt content was right on the mark so we were successful with that aspect at least!

Our batch actually produced two small wheels. We cut one into cubes which were then marinated in EVO, chili flakes and lemon zest. After sitting overnight, we tossed them in a simple green salad for lunch the next day. So good!

The other wheel was cut down the center. One half I rolled in lavender and the other in fennel pollen. I’m not sure which I liked better — they were both pretty fabulous.

Anyways here’s some pictures from our adventure:

Raw Goat Milk for Cheese Making

Raw Goat Milk for Cheese Making

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