The week that I stuffed my face with homemade bread…

Meatball Sandwich on Homemade Bread

Meatball Sandwich on Homemade Bread

A bit of a confession: I can be strangely intimidated by certain culinary projects. Sure, I’ve made pasta by flicking water on semolina flour and I make my own dim sum, but other fairly simple things can make me stop in my tracks — like making bread from scratch.

In fact, it’s been since culinary school (back in 2001) since I’ve made bread on my own — with the exception of last year’s surprisingly successful English muffins. In general though I leave bread making to the professionals, which means I buy a lot of bread.

And while regularly baking bread is one of those things I’ve always wanted to do, I tend to chicken out when things like yeast, knead and rise come up in recipes. It just seems like too much potential for failure.

But with my combined resolutions to try new things and to attempt recipes suggested by WordPress friends, I decided it was finally time to get off the pot. I started with a recipe for French bread, posted by my friend Liz of Food For Fun.

Happily the recipe is straightforward and easy to follow, even for someone nervous about baking bread. It does take some forethought though since the dough needs to be started the day before.

After it’s spent the evening in the refrigerator, let it come to room temperature.

Making French Bread

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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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Home Improvement: Before and After Project Patio

When my husband and I bought our house almost 5 years ago, we knew there were projects that needed to be done. One of the biggest problems was the backyard. The “lawn” was just weeds, the fence was half chain-link, half wood (and falling apart) and there was no level place for our patio furniture and grill.

Building a new fence took us two summers and we finally paid someone to level the yard and lay sod two years ago. I dreamed about a patio but we kept procrastinating until the area that we had cleared was once again covered in weeds.

Then two months ago my husband said that he wanted to build us a patio using pavers. I was emphatically opposed, wanting to hire a professional instead, but he refused to listen.

Good thing too because just last week project patio was complete and I have to admit, he did a damn good job!

Before Pics of Backyard

Our backyard four years ago — so depressing!

Backyard Now: Project Patio is complete

Love it!

Backyard Now: Project Patio is complete

Once we wheel the kegerator out here, it’s going to be paradise!

(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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If the Easter Bunny goes missing… blame me!

Rabbit Pot Pie at Local 360, Seattle, WA

Rabbit Pot Pie at Local 360, Seattle, WA

It’s hard to believe that Easter is looming in the very near future. But considering my work days have been filled with inquiries for lamb, ham and rabbits, it must be true. By the way, if the Easter Bunny doesn’t make an appearance on Sunday, he’s most likely being dished up at a restaurant in Portland or Seattle — and he’s probably delicious!

Anyways, in true procrastinator fashion, I made these adorable candy-filled nests last year…but by the time I got around to downloading and editing the photos, Easter had long since gone. The nests turned out so cute that I still wanted to share them, even if they had to wait almost 12 months for their time to shine.

Chocolate Easter Nests

Chocolate Easter Nests: Melted dark chocolate, crunchy chow mein noodles and, of course, mini Cadbury eggs!

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Branching out with Frascatelli

Frascatelli with Mustard Greens and Pecorino

Frascatelli with Mustard Greens and Pecorino

The title of this post contains a pun, though you’ll only catch it if you actually know what frascatelli is — which up until a few months ago, I sure didn’t. But when I saw this recipe for Frascatelli with Mustard Greens and Pecorino in the November issue of Bon Appetit, I was intrigued enough to do some research. Frasca is Italian for branch, which refers to the original method for making these semolina dumplings.

This is quite possibly the easiest pasta to make at home. There is no special equipment needed and only two ingredients are required, semolina flour and water. You pour about two cups of semolina flour in an 8×8 baking dish and then slowly flick it with water from your fingertips until the top of the dish is ragged with water droplets. These droplets absorb the flour and within ten seconds, become small little dumplings which are sifted out and set aside. Once you have gone through all the flour, you cook the dumplings in boiling water and that’s it — fresh pasta in minutes.

Or that should be the case anyways.

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