Category Archives: cheese

The Wrong Thing to Do

photo by Lara Ferroni

Finally: Dishing Up Washington, the book I worked on for most of 2011, is coming out. It’s a month away. So while I’ll be spending the next few weeks in and out of Seattle (New Yorkers, come see me this weekend!), I thought I’d give you a little glimpse into the book, including the gorgeous photos by Lara Ferroni – and a few perfect recipes for your Thanksgiving table. In fact, the things I’ll be posting here are just what I’d cook, if I hadn’t already planned on being the lazy one this year.

At Vashon Island’s Kurtwood Farms, owner Kurt Timmermeister makes a bloomy-rind cow’s milk cheese called Dinah’s Cheese. When it was first released in 2009, Seattle swooned; nowhere in the state is there a farmstead Camembert-style cheese so clearly fit for international fame.

In my official opinion, it would be an atrocity to do anything to Dinah’s Cheese besides eat it at room temperature at its peak ripeness, when the middle succumbs to a thumb’s soft pressure and the inside has the consistency of thick homemade pudding. But should your path cross a certain gooey cheese good enough to make you voluntarily lie prostrate in a busy street, and you promise not to tell anyone that you’d consider putting half a wheel into a simple potato gratin with little bits of pancetta and a glug of cream, read on.

This is just the right way to do the wrong thing.

Potato Gratin with Dinah’s Cheese and Pancetta (PDF)
8 servings

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup (about 3 ounces) diced pancetta
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces not-quite-ripe Camembert–style cheese (about ½ wheel), chilled
2⁄3 cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
1 egg

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat an 8- by 8-inch (or similar) gratin dish with the oil and set aside.

2. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile, toss the potato slices and flour in a large bowl, using your hands to distribute the flour evenly. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper (the amount of salt you use should depend on how salty your pancetta tastes). Cut the cheese into thin slices. (You can leave the rind on.)

4. Spread one-third of the potatoes along the bottom of the dish, overlapping them as necessary. Scatter one-third of the cooked pancetta over the potatoes, followed by one-third of the cheese, broken up into little bits. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, making two more layers, ending with pancetta and cheese. Whisk the cream, milk, and egg together in a small bowl, then carefully pour the liquid mixture over the potatoes.

5. Cover the gratin tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, increase the temperature to 400°F, and bake 40 to 45 minutes longer, or until the potatoes are lightly browned on top and a skewer can pierce through the layers easily. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.


Filed under cheese, Dishing Up Washington, gluten-free, recipe

Late Bloomer

Quinoa and Lentil Salad with Mint, Feta, and Cauliflower 1

When it comes to the vegetable world, cauliflower is a bit of an underdog. Not in a chubby turnip way, or even in a dread-headed celeriac way, but in a could-have-been-greener broccoli wanna-be sort of way. It doesn’t have the drama of an artichoke or the diva personality of spring’s first asparagus. (It would never dare to be bunched up with 15 of its closest pals and put on display at the front of the grocery store, Rockettes-style.)

Not cauliflower. Cauliflower is modest. Cauliflower got her ears pierced at sixteen. She’s been sheltered all her life—in so many places, in that suffocating plastic wrap—and shoved into step beside more pedestrian vegetables like carrots and celery. But oh, people. This girl’s got hidden talent.

It’s not that I never wanted to get to know cauliflower. I met with her occasionally, pureed for soup, or pickled for a salad, or perhaps roasted, with raisins and garlic and pine nuts and lemon. But only today, after a run-in with grilled cauliflower showered with homemade almond dukka, did I realize she’s a natural-born star. And she was discovered late enough that she’s somehow still classy. Still genuine. Full of flavor, but not one to flaunt it. She keeps her right leg to herself, this one.

Maybe you’re a step ahead of me. Maybe you’ve been downing cauliflower all this time—since before your son discovered that if you squeeze lemon juice on it and let it sit for a bit, it turns pink, the same way the greener, more svelte vegetables turn brown in the same situation. (This girl’s used to adversity. She lasts a good ten days in the fridge, if you insist upon it.)

But suppose all that isn’t true. Suppose you’re still walking right by (like my husband, who refuses to believe she’s just a late bloomer, like me. He thinks she plays Bingo in Velcro shoes with eggplant, but we’ve agreed to disagree.) In that case, you’ll need to stop, the next time you see her, and bring her home, along with some quinoa and two handfuls of little green lentils. Grab some feta and fresh mint, while you’re at it; you’ll be making a giant salad that tastes as good spooned out of Tupperware in the ski area parking lot as it does warm, sitting at the dinner table. You’ll notice the cauliflower is still herself here, despite all the other things going on.

Yup. She’s a keeper.

Quinoa and Lentil Salad with Mint, Feta, and Cauliflower 2

Quinoa and Lentils with Mint, Feta, and Cauliflower (PDF)
Lentils have never made me swoon the way, say, chickpeas can. Ditto for cauliflower, an underdog of the vegetable world. But my friend Dan taught me that if you pair the two with crunchy quinoa, bright mint, salty feta, plus a swirl of olive oil and the punch of white vinegar, and you’ve got a main-course salad that puts the words “quinoa bowl” to shame. If you’re making this salad ahead, let the lentils and quinoa mixture cool to room temperature before folding in the cauliflower, mint, and cheese.

I suppose a can of lentils would work here in place of the home-cooked kind, but like most beans, they require very little actual work time.

Makes 6 servings

For the lentils
3 cups water
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup green lentils
1 teaspoon salt

For the quinoa
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup quinoa

For the salad
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets, steamed until tender
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground pepper

First, cook the lentils: combine the water and vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the lentils, return to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer the lentils until tender, 45 to 60 minutes, adding the salt after about 30 minutes. Strain the lentils.

While the lentils cook, make the quinoa: combine the broth, water, and salt in another small saucepan. Bring to boil, then add the quinoa and cook over low heat, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Stir the hot quinoa together in a large bowl with the shallot, vinegar, and olive oil. When they’re done, add the lentils, then the cauliflower, feta, and mint. Stir to combine, and season with salt and pepper, if necessary, before serving.


Filed under cheese, egg-free, garden, gluten-free, grains, Modern, recipe, soy-free, vegetables, vegetarian


Pulled Pork Enchilada Casserole (piece)

My friend Kelly moved from Seattle to Pasadena last weekend. I knew it was coming, of course, but I didn’t anticipate how much it would affect me. She showed up at our house last Friday, when we hosted a party for my husband’s graduate students, and handed me our house key. “We probably won’t need this anymore,” she said. Or something like that. Her little half smile.

We had a living room full of people. I took the key into my bedroom and burst into tears. More than anything, I was surprised—neither of us are big on goodbyes, and I assumed I’d give her a great big hug and trust I’d see her soon enough. No biggie. But all at once, in those few words, I conjured up this big crater in my life, a Kelly-shaped space where she used to fit so well. I imagined my dog, who has very few favorite people, pining after her, and started my own little moping session. No more midday Discovery Park walks. No more Battleship-style work sessions at the local coffee shop. No more, “Hey, I just tested some lamb. Want lunch?”

I met Kelly when our husbands were in graduate school together. The first time Kelly made me dinner, I think, was the time she made her mom’s taco casserole. Back then, we were still the hangers-on, the female counterparts to a relationship our now-husbands had already cultivated. You know how it is: the guys get along, so they figure the gals might, too. It doesn’t always work that way, but the more I hung out with Kelly, the more I liked being friends with her. Slowly, we started doing things together without the boys around. When she and her husband moved to Seattle a couple years ago for a post-doc, we were all thrilled.

But we knew it would be short-lived. Which is why, red and teary in front of all my husband’s colleagues, I was a little frustrated with myself. She’s not going away forever, silly, I thought. Much of her family still lives here. Somehow, in my own semi-private hallway crisis, it calmed me to think about the casserole. We’d come a long way since that night, maybe about 6 years ago now, and I figured that if I still remembered the first thing she made us—and Jim and I talk about it regularly, maybe once a month—she probably wouldn’t just up and disappear from my life altogether. A woman doesn’t make you a taco casserole unless she intends to stay in the picture, right?

It’s probably time to tell you about the dish itself. First, throw away any preconceptions you have about the word “casserole.” (Here are mine: Casseroles are for other families. They all start with a can of soup. They don’t taste good.)

Trashed? Okay.

Start with an empty pan. Layer it with corn tortillas, taco meat, cheese, maybe some salsa, and just enough sour cream to tip your nutritional barometer past the “unhealthy” mark. Then slide it into the oven, and say “bake at 350 degrees, until golden bubbly” with a Southern accent, the way Dolly Parton does in Steel Magnolias (only she’s talking about a dessert made out of canned fruit cocktail).

We loved it. I don’t think we put anything on it, really. It’s not just that you don’t need to adorn something like a taco casserole, it’s that it might even be wrong to garnish it. I often think of it when I cook dinner for people for the first time, because somehow, simply taking one single pan out of the oven, instead of juggling four of them and organizing the clean linens and getting out the good wine and turning on the right music, makes a house feel more like a home to me. A casserole is a sort of edible welcome mat, woven from a household’s history with the fibers of time, and care, and in most cases, calories. I clearly don’t make them enough. Kelly’s made me feel at home.

Earlier last week, my neighbor had come to me with a challenge. She’s cooking dinner for about 55 people in a couple weeks, for a Mexican-themed party. She needed an easy, tasty, make-ahead dish that would satisfy the stereotypical Mexican-American card without requiring any mid-meal work or attention. Ideally, she’d be able to make it a week ahead and freeze it. And ideally, it would stay hot for a long time.

There in the hallway, all streaky, it hit me that a slightly upscale version of Kelly’s taco casserole would fit the bill. The only problem? I’d mentioned the casserole to Kelly’s mom at her going away party, and her mom doesn’t remember it in the slightest. That’s the way it goes with these things, I suppose—one person’s legend is another person’s evanescence. Kelly didn’t seem to remember where the recipe came from, either, so I had no real starting point.

But pork. I had a gorgeous pork shoulder in the freezer. I thought of the neighbor. Fifty-five people. It needed to be easy, and she needed to both try it, to see if she liked it, and test it from frozen, to see how long it would take to reheat on the party day, so I needed two pans. I braised the pork, painfully simply, in two jars of store-bought salsa. I pulled it, and layered it into the pans with cheese, tortillas, sour cream, and an enchilada sauce made from combining the braising liquid, canned sauce, and canned tomatoes. (Okay, the truth here: In the middle of all this, I got a wicked case of food poisoning, let the pork sit in the fridge all cooked for 3 days, then asked our nanny, whose Texas roots qualify her as an almost professional pork puller, to shred the pork for me because when I started the project, I thought my stomach could handle it, but when I opened the pork, I realized I’d jumped the gun. Miraculously, I had a huge appetite for it when the casserole came out of the oven, and 5 days after the illness struck, it’s still the only meat I’ve been able to eat.)

It was perfect—browned and bubbling, moist and filling, interesting but kid-friendly, and irrepressibly homey. I scooped into it for lunch, and the neighbor came over to taste, and loved it. I had it again with a friend for dinner, and my sister stopped by unexpectedly, and there was enough for her, too. The last went to Graham, who shoved it into his mouth like a Neanderthal, then ceremoniously flung the leftovers onto the walls, windows, and curtains so a different neighbor would see that he’s a miniature taco casserole gladiator. For the record, this dish sticks to walls as well as it does to ribs.

The next time I see Kelly, possibly at my in-laws’ house in Maine this summer, possibly with other friends we don’t see often enough, I might make it again. I’ll drape the good carpets with plastic, when Graham’s eating, and tell stories about changing my mind, in the end, and making Dave and Kelly keep the house key after all, and about helping the neighbor make pulled pork enchilada casserole for 55, and I’ll probably forget that Kelly no longer lives in Seattle.

And for a short period, I’ll feel, deeply and completely, why some foods make people feel like they’re at home, no matter where they live.

(I’ll let you know how long to bake from frozen, in the comments section, as soon as my neighbor retests!)

Pulled Pork Enchilada Casserole 2

Pulled Pork Enchilada Casserole (PDF)
Alter the spiciness of this homey, cheese-crusted casserole—really a lazy way of making enchiladas—by using a hotter salsa. I used Trader Joe’s Double Roasted Salsa and mild enchilada sauce, and it had only a touch of heat, which hit the mark for serving a big crowd. You can always fancy it up with chopped scallions, cilantro, and avocado, too.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: Two 8”x8” casseroles, each serves 6

2 pounds boneless pork butt or shoulder
2 (12-ounce) jars salsa
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14-ounce) can enchilada sauce
Vegetable oil spray
20 corn tortillas
1 cup sour cream
4 cups shredded Mexican-style cheese

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the pork (with strings, if applicable) in a large ovenproof pot with a lid (such as a Dutch oven), pour the salsa over the top, and bake for 3 hours. (Yes, that’s all.) Let cool to room temperature. Remove any strings.

Transfer all the salsa and liquid to a food processor, and puree with the diced tomatoes and enchilada sauce. Pull the pork into bite-sized shreds and set aside, removing any large pieces of fat.

Change the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Spray two 8” square pans with the vegetable oil. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of each pan. Tear 5 corn tortillas in half, and arrange them in a couple layers in one pan, turning some of them so the flat sides touch the edges of the pan, then repeat for the second pan. Add half the pork to each, then divide the sour cream between the two pans, spreading it right over the pork. Add 1 cup shredded cheese, then 1 cup of the sauce, to each pan. Add another layer of 5 halved tortillas to each, then divide the remaining sauce between the two pans, and top each with another cup of shredded cheese.

Bake the casseroles for 45 minutes, until the cheese is melted and browned. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

You can also wrap casseroles first in foil, then in plastic, then freeze and reheat at 350 degrees in just the foil for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake until browned.


Filed under cheese, gluten-free, mexican, pork, recipe

A salad that plays pretends

Yesterday, I wanted a nice summer salad. A sharp-dressed pasta salad, maybe, or a creamy potato salad, something playful and flavorful and easy to scoop up with a spoon.

But in case you haven’t noticed, it’s not summer yet. (I do have arugula sprouting in the garden, though.)

Here’s a salad that plays pretends. It’s warmth comes not from the garden, but from last summer’s sun (and, well, from California), so it’s sort of an imposter. But it shouts with summery color and flavor in just the way I needed to hear, and it also happens to be quite healthy. I topped mine with toasted, chopped walnuts, for good measure.

Warm Red Quinoa Salad

Warm Red Quinoa Salad (PDF)
Sweet butternut squash and crunchy red quinoa make surprisingly good panfellows – as the quinoa cooks, the squash steams, and releases its soft edges into the grain, like it does in risotto. Spiked with the bright flavors of grape tomatoes and feta cheese, the salad makes for an easy, nutritious lunch.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 1 to 2 servings

1/4 cup red quinoa (white would work just as well)
1/2 cup water
Pinch salt
1/2 pound chopped, peeled squash (about 1 1/2 cups of 3/4” chunks)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
8 grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground pepper

Combine the quinoa, water, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to low, stir in squash, cover, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the quinoa has popped and the squash is soft. (You may need to add another tablespoon or two of water, depending on how juicy your squash is.)

Remove from heat and fold in the olive oil, tomatoes, feta, and basil. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper.

Quinoa Salad Going Gone


Filed under cheese, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, salad, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

Stop being such a shallot

Agrumi and Cheese

On Saturday morning, I woke up with the list (always the list!), filled with this and that, and the determination to have a nice, relaxing Saturday lunch. (Yes, even that goes on a list.)

I bought a fat bag of shallots at the market on impulse, deciding then and there to coax their sweetness out in a slow oven, moistened with just a faint gurgle of balsamic vinegar, and use them in a warm roasted beet salad, or in a gooey panini – something I could curl up around.

But later, at home, waiting for something else to come out of the oven, I flipped past Mark and Clark’s superfast recipes in F&W, where they recommend roasting shallots with honey and lavender, and my balsamic-roasted shallots took a little detour.

Now, if you’ve seen Mark & Clark’s gardens at Arrows (and tasted their food), you know better than to question the use of any ingredient, but I was torn: I loved the idea of adding a bit more sweetness to a pan of roasted shallots, but flowers? In January?

Maybe another time.

But honey. Yes, I’d use honey instead of vinegar. I’d need an end product with a bit of a bite, something spreadable, to complete an easy winter lunch of the good cheese and bread and salad I’d collected. I’d also stocked up on agrumi at Salumi a few days before (blessed be the person who thought to put cardamom and orange peel in salami!), and fantasized about a real, slow lunch, grounded at the dining room table with my husband and a certain New Yorker piece, crunching toasts smeared with weak-kneed, honey-kissed shallots between bites of cured meat.

I peeled half the bag, wondering before I started if the task would be worth my while. I hate doing this, I thought. In the kitchen, shallots are indispensable, really, giving up flavor and sweetness many dishes just can’t be without. But damn, what a chore they always are for me, picking at all those papery husks, layers and layers of them, with achy, wintry, fingernail-challenged hands. And shallots’ bad habit of turning mushy on the very day you’d promised to finally use them. . . they have nerve, shallots do.

Honey-Roasted Shallots raw

I tried to ignore my stinging eyes, and shoved them into a baking pan with good Nicoise olives, a bit of chopped oregano, and a smear of local honey, feeling personally offended by the fact that I couldn’t enjoy eating them without going through physical aggravation. I wanted so badly to swear at them, but what good would that do either of us? As I washed my hands, I turned the word – shallot – around in my mouth, briefly considered banishing them from my kitchen forever, but then decided that they’re worth keeping around, because – oh, my – they’d make the most marvelous insult.

I mean, really, have you heard a more spouse-appropriate jibe? Stop being such a shallot means I love you, I can’t live without you, you mean the world to me, but stop being such a pain in my ass. None of the desired effect comes from the word onion, though perhaps leek comes close.

Yes, stop being such a leek works, too. Or might work. I haven’t actually tried either yet. But it’s always a possibility.

And besides. The moment the shallots came out of the oven, sputtering sweet, earthy fumes around the kitchen, I knew the peeling had been worth it. Maybe I was the one being such a shallot.

Honey-Roasted Shallots pan

Greek-Inspired, Honey-Roasted Shallots (PDF)

Roasted with oregano, olives, and a thin veneer of honey, then finished with lemon juice and a sprinkling of feta cheese, sweet whole shallots make a great winter treat. Spread the mixture on toast for caramelized shallot bruschetta, or pile it on top of arugula for lunch.

MAKES: 2 servings
TIME: 15 minutes active time

1/2 pound shallots (about 10 medium), trimmed at root ends, peeled, and separated into natural segments
1/4 cup drained, pitted Kalamata or Niçoise olives
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the shallots in a baking dish, drizzle with honey, and sprinkle with oregano, salt, and pepper. Roast 5 minutes, and toss all ingredients to coat evenly with the honey. Roast an additional 30 to 45 minutes, stirring once or twice, just until the shallots are brown and the honey begins to caramelize. Squeeze the lemon juice over the shallots, and shower the feta over everything, allowing it to soften in the pan. Enjoy warm.

Honey-Roasted Shallots 1


Filed under appetizers, cheese, gluten-free, recipe, side dish, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

Two Potato

Fingerling potatoes are like bunnies. I bought 15 pounds of them this fall. I must have used 25 pounds by now.

The other night, I started making one thing, and two things jump out of the oven. I’d wanted fat, toasty fingerling potato coins, for dipping into a creamy homemade aioli, but then the Parmesan got involved, and . . .well, I ended up with two potato recipes, and no aioli.

I could give you one tomorrow, but I have something else in mind. It’s sort of a cheater recipe, though, so use one of these in its place, if you’re a stickler for details.

Parmesan potato coins 2

Parmesan Fingerling Coins (PDF)
Recipe 364 of 365

Serve these as a side dish if you’d like, but I loved them as party bites. They’re still delicious after they cool. I used La Ratte fingerling potatoes, but you could achieve the same effect using sliced Yukon Golds.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1/2 pound (1” thick) fingerling potatoes, cleaned and dried, sliced into 1/4” coins
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Toss the potatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Arrange them (flat) on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes. Flip the potatoes, and bake for another 10 minutes.

Using half the Parmesan, pile cheese high on each potato, and bake 10 minutes. Flip again, add the rest of the cheese, and bake 10 minutes more. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Potato goat cheese bites 1

Fingerling, Goat Cheese, and Olive Bites (PDF)
Recipe 364.5 of 365

Sliced, roasted fingerling potatoes make great appetizer substrate. I topped these with a salty mixture of goat cheese, capers, parsley, and olives, almost a cheesy riff on tartar sauce, but they’d be delicious with a huge array of toppings.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: Appetizers for 10

1 pound (1” thick) fingerling potatoes, cleaned and dried, sliced into 1/4” coins
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 ounces goat cheese, softened
1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 scallion (green and white parts), finely chopped
1/3 cup (about 8 ) Kalamata olives, finely chopped, plus more for garnish, if desired
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Toss the potatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Arrange them (flat) on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes per side, or until well browned. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature

Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients well in a small bowl, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Top each potato slice with a small mound of the cheese mixture, and garnish with a sliver of olive. Serve at room temperature.

Note: You could also make just the goat cheese mixture, roll it into a ball, and serve as a (Eek! Wrong era?) cheese ball.

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Filed under appetizers, cheese, gluten-free, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian