Sunday, May 27, 2012

A bunch of crying babies around here

This outstanding recipe for cajeta (a.k.a. dulce de leche) is adapted from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson.

1. First you will need a goat. Can I give you one of mine? In fact, I will give you all of mine. Think of the cajeta. Mmm, cajeta.

2. Milk the goat until you have a quart of milk. No need to pasteurize, though straining is always a good idea. Put the milk in a pot with 1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon light corn syrup, a big pinch of kosher salt, and the seeds and pod of a vanilla bean. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

3. Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 1 tablespoon water. Stir into the milk mixture. Return the pot to the stove and simmer gently for an hour or so, stirring occasionally, until you have a thick caramel sauce. Pull out the vanilla pod, lick clean, discard. Pour cajeta into a jar. Eat with a spoon, spread over crepes, drizzle on ice cream. Store in the refrigerator.

This a cajeta so superior you will never think of putting a can of condensed milk in a pot of boiling water again. I have done that many times and while the can never exploded, the cajeta was never this delicious. Gerson says you can use cow's milk for this recipe, but that "the goat's milk has a distinctive grassy, musky flavor. . . "

Don't you want a goat now? I think you do.

Thanks to Oz for the suggestion.

I made Fran Gage's vanilla bean shortbread this week, and the cookies are lovely, but more fragile than these cookies from Food52 which I made a few weeks ago and which are very similar in flavor. Make these. They're fabulous. My only change to the Food52 recipe would be to omit the colored sugar topping, but if you have children or really want sugar topping, try dipping the bottom of the juice glass in water. Also, let the cookies rest for 2 days. They got better. They got dangerously better.

We were busy this week, so not much other cooking happened, and what little did was not from Bread and Chocolate. It's a tiny boutique of a book and doesn't have dishes for every occasion. My cousins Luis and Ana Maria came to dinner on Friday, and they are in their seventies, Guatemalan, and gastronomically conservative. I couldn't see feeding them Fran Gage's oyster stew or crayfish gazpacho and Ana Maria is gluten intolerant, so the pasta with saffron cream sauce wouldn't work, though it sure sounds good.

Instead, I turned to The Essential New York Times cookbook and made the chicken country captain which was a dream, mostly because it was easy, but also because it was delicious. (This is not the exact recipe, but it is very similar.)  I served the chicken with salad, the so-called perfect pot of rice (also from NYT book) and caramelized endives. Very happy with the meal, though I realized afterwards that I had dredged the chicken with flour, which I hope did not make Ana Maria sick.

Getting back to goats. I try to be mostly honest in this blog, so I will say that lately the goats have had a disastrous effect on my mood. At least I think it's the goats. I feel exhausted and blue and that my life is out of control and everything is too much for me. Which is funny, because rarely has my life been so under control.

Except there's this. Every morning at 5:15 Sparkles has a noisy tantrum. It's like she feels exhausted and blue and that her life is out of control and everything is too much for her. The sun comes up and she looks around and sees that her kids are needy and misbehaving and why is this yard such a mess? Where's the grain? Who overturned the water bucket? Why is her irritating half brother still humping his sister even after he was emasculated? Gross. Calgon, take her away! So she starts yelling.

I get out of bed, prepare milking ablutions, put on manure-caked Crocs, go outside, give Sparkles grain, milk her, right the water bucket, and restock the hay. She settles down, but because now I'm up, I milk Natalie, let the chickens out, and rake the compost pile. If I lived in the country, I would roll over and let Sparkles holler. But we have neighbors.

Then I come inside. By now it's 5:45 a.m. and my husband is grumbling because the goats woke him up and I notice we're out of coffee and what the hell am I going to do with all this goat's milk? Jeez, this rug is filthy. I can't live with it one more day! But of course I will. Gosh, I wish Owen had friends, even though he seems happy enough. . . oh no. NO! Sparkles is yelling again.

And I want to have a tantrum of my own. Sometimes I do. Ask my poor husband.

Update: Sparkles and her babies are gone. An hour ago, the Craigslist ad and my dreams were answered.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quickly, for a change

We had Fran Gage's pork tamales from Bread and Chocolate for dinner last night and they were a little glitchy. I didn't get as many as she said I would, the masa dough was overly soft and difficult to manage, the wrapping instructions were a bit unclear. Plus: time-consuming. But the rich dark chili sauce -- I made it with anchos -- was incredible and I remembered as I ate them how much I love tamales. We all did. Empanada is good, but tamales are better. Sorry Spain. You should make tamales, but I would use a Rick Bayless recipe like this one. I haven't made this particular recipe, but I've cooked tamales from his books and they work beautifully. He is right to call for tying the tamales shut with a strip of corn husk.

For dessert: Gage's chocolate cherry tart. This just wasn't my thing. It was like Black Forest cake compressed into a tart and everything that is wrong with Black Forest cake was wrong with this. A big, sweet, crisp, cherry -- preferably a Bing, almost black in color -- is a mighty and perfect food, especially if it comes straight out of the refrigerator. Cooking weakens the cherry, leaches its flavor and texture, makes it stringy and watery and prune-like. And then you add dark chocolate? Dark chocolate is such bully and this is definitely not a fair fight.

That said, if you like Black Forest cake, you will probably like this tart.

On another subject, I threw away the goat reblochon this morning.
You can see the mold, but I will tell you that there is also slime.
However, the camemberts are looking lovely.

Up close they are soft and fuzzy, like cuddly little mammals.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mudbugs at Aunt Jenny's

2 pounds per person = too much
A month or so ago Justine decided she wanted to start a tradition of communal family dinners on Sundays. I was game. We swap weeks and our father brings wine. Very quickly, the standards of hospitality ratcheted up and I'm not really sure where they can go from here. Last week, Justine's husband shucked 100 Tomales Bay oysters and grilled ribeye steaks. Justine baked a rhubarb crisp. How do you top that? You don't, but you do need to make a festive gesture. I got the idea for a crayfish boil from Fran Gage's Bread and Chocolate and a great idea it was.

oh, the hilarity
Yesterday morning, I drove to a grimy little bait shop in the Sacramento River Delta and bought 18 pounds of live crayfish which I packed in a large cooler. It was somewhat distasteful buying food at a bait shop, but the attendant assured me these crayfish were fresh and delicious and he had just finished cleaning them.
Straight out of the muck, they look like roaches.
I drove home and spent the day cooking.

The menu:

-Fran Gage's mushroom puffs from Bread and Chocolate. These are twist on gougeres with chopped mushrooms standing in for cheese. Warm and pillowy, they would have been even better with mushrooms and cheese. Is anything better when you eliminate the cheese?
Is that angel having a drink?
-boiled crayfish. I was going to try Gage's recipe (onions, celery, peppercorns, etc.), but the bait shop guy handed me a packet of Cajun spices, which seemed a lot easier. In our driveway, we boiled water in a giant pot on the propane burner and stirred in the powder and crayfish along with corn on the cob. That was that.

He's a good sport, but he'd rather be having burgers.
-potato salad with sake from Bread and Chocolate. I overcooked the potatoes, which was not Gage's fault. You toss warm potatoes with sake, then add olive oil, salt and chives, and the results were very tasty, but texturally wrong. My 6-year-old niece Stella said, "Can I have some more mashed potatoes, Aunt Jenny?" I corrected her: "It's actually potato salad." Justine shot me a meaningful look and said, "Mashed potatoes."

-cherries jubilee. I was going to bake Gage's chocolate cherry tart, but the day seemed too bright and springy for chocolate so instead, I made cherries jubilee (Joy of Cooking recipe) which entails macerating cherries in kirsch, cooking them down with some sugar, flaming the crimson compote with brandy, stirring in butter, and serving over vanilla ice cream.

The cherries were good, but the homemade vanilla ice cream was beyond good. I wanted to try something out of Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones (the new Bi-Rite Creamery cookbook) even though I have an excellent vanilla ice cream recipe of my own. This one might be better. I don't know. It's impossible to judge without a side-by-side tasting and that is something I will probably never get around to.
All in all, a fine dinner.

But of course: undercurrents.

At one point, I called the crayfish "mudbugs" and for the rest of the meal my 2-year-old nephew Ben would cry out, "More bugs!" Stella was more polite. She would say, "Can I please have another bug?" Every time one of them would ask for another bug, their Aunt Jenny, who'd drunk a glass or two of wine by then, said, "Oh, I love you so much! A girl after my own heart! A little boy after own heart!" It was probably nauseating, but everyone needs an effusive, ridiculous  aunt.
not the best picture of my handsome nephew
Meanwhile, my husband ate about five mudbugs and wandered off. Isabel flatly refused to touch one and wandered off. Owen lectured me on animal cruelty and flatly refused to touch one, though he stayed at the table because he is sociable and I think he is secretly intrigued by food.

But I am probably fooling myself. He declined cherries on his ice cream. Stella, by contrast, ate up all her cherries jubilee and when it turned out there was no ice cream left for seconds, requested cherries on their own because they were so buttery and delicious.

At least I get to spend Sundays with them.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Everlasting? This kitchen (and post) is &*#(% neverending

That's, I don't know, 50 sandwiches?
For relatively small animals, goats and chickens are very productive, and not just of babies. Relentlessly productive. I don't know what I would do if I had a cow except maybe jump off the roof. Quart by quart, the goat's milk accumulates, eventually making it hard to find space in the refrigerator for other things, like half a leftover Subway Veggie Delite sandwich or 5 pounds of Meyer lemons or caprine CDT vaccine or Chardonnay.
goat reblochon? we'll see
The other day, I got my act together and used all our milk to make cheese. High five! I made reblochon and ricotta. That took some time but cleared refrigerator space and eased my conscience. Will the reblochon age into real reblochon in our crawl space? Big laugh. First of all, real reblochon is made with cow's milk. Whatever. The milk is gone.

Now there's just the whey. The cheesemaking left behind a gallon of whey and whey makes the most incredible bread. A few years ago I tested this hunch scientifically by baking two batches of bagels, identical except that one contained whey, the other, water. In a blind tasting, everyone agreed that the whey bagels had more tang and flavor and aroma. You can not just pour whey down the drain.

such a burden
So to use up whey, I opened Bread and Chocolate and made another batch of Fran Gage's country wheat bread. I let the starter sit for 20 hours again and the bread was again fantastic. Since one recipe didn't get rid of much whey, I made her polenta bread (dense, excellent) at the same time, and let that starter sit for 20 hours too.

But there was still a lagoon of whey in the refrigerator. So I made bagels.

It's all about the presentation.
There was now a smaller lagoon of whey, but also three loaves of bread and ten bagels on the counter, plus the tail end of a previous loaf of bread which we hadn't quite finished. And you can't throw staling bread away.

The next day, I made french toast for breakfast, which I think of as a "jackpot" food, because it uses not just staling bread, but eggs.

And eggs, people, eggs are the mightiest challenge of all. We have 17 chickens. It is May. I give my sister a dozen eggs a week and my father takes six and a few weeks ago I gave my neighbor Joan 25 eggs that I discovered in a nest hidden in the ivy. They come from a single Blue Andalusian hen who values her privacy.
 means there aren't rats in the ivy
If you're thinking it was rude of me to foist weird not-so-fresh ivy eggs on Joan, don't. She knew where they came from and knew there was nothing wrong with them. Ivy keeps everything cool. Would a Burgundian housewife have declined unrefrigerated ivy eggs? Non. (This fun interview with Tamar Adler explains Burgundian housewife reference.)

Even though we give away eggs, I still have too many eggs. I judge recipes based on how many eggs they use up. For instance, I was disappointed that Fran Gage's Meyer lemon poundcake only used 2 eggs.
It would have been taller if I'd used a smaller pan.
And even though I don't love chocolate, I'm very stoked to make her chocolate pots de creme, which use 10 eggs. JACKPOT.

As of a day ago, the goat's milk was all gone and the whey was on the wane and we were down to 77 eggs. Maybe we had a bit too much bread and ricotta, but everything was momentarily under control.

Then I went outside and when I came back in I was carrying eleven eggs and a quart of warm goat's milk. Yesterday morning I brought in another quart of goat's milk and by the afternoon, seven more eggs. Last night, a pint of goat's milk. This morning, another quart. And in another week, Sparkles comes on line.

Last night, we had Fran Gage's ricotta gnocchi for dinner, which rid us of half of the goat's milk ricotta and 2 eggs.
dumplings soaked in butter
I also made Gage's salade Beaujolaise which I have always known and loved as frisee aux lardons. You may be familiar with this wonderful salad: curly, crunchy lettuce with cubes of bacon, croutons, vinaigrette, all of it topped with a poached egg, the yolk of which dresses the leaves.
I will make this again.
Jackpot recipe because it used up 2 slices of polenta bread and 3 poached eggs. For dessert, we had Gage's strawberry ice cream, which used 3 eggs and was delicious.

Occasionally I leave the kitchen. The other night, Owen and I went to a restaurant in San Francisco called Volcano that serves Japanese curry,  a genre of food we were unfamiliar with but loved instantly and very, very much. While Volcano had fast-food ambiance and prices, you could see people actually cooking and preparing food from scratch behind the counter and back in the kitchen.  Owen's fried calamari and shrimp were spectacular and I can't explain why except to say that they tasted "fresh," which is a useless adjective, but the only one I can come up with. The seafood was crispy. It wasn't at all oily. It was perfect. It tasted fresh.

Owen wanted me order the spiciest sauce -- "volcano" calibre --  on the pork katsu curry because he thinks that watching people eat spicy food is hilarious. He is 11. I obliged because I love spicy food. He taped me eating without telling me he had the camera on, which he also thinks is hilarious. Almost as hilarious as taking fish-eye photos that make people look bloated.

I have never watched myself chewing nor wanted to, but I enjoyed this video because I now know that I eat just like my mom did. My grandmother eats that way as does my sister.

If it the video doesn't upload, I apologize. You're not missing much. Just the family way of chewing.

The katsu was fabulous but too fiery. If you ever have the opportunity, you should go to Volcano, but order your sauce "medium." After eating about a third of the katsu, sweat was pouring down my nose and I packed the rest of the meal into a box and when we got home I scraped it to the chickens who will convert it into eggs which will be used in Fran Gage's ricotta tartlets later this week.

To be continued. Endlessly.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What to expect when you're not expecting

And babies make seven.
So it's dusk and I'm sitting on the sofa enjoying a negroni and writing a blog post and periodically yelling to Owen, "Are you doing your homework?" even though I know he is puttering on the porch.

"Yes," he yells back, even though he knows I know he is puttering on the porch. Owen putters; puttering is his life. A few minutes later he says, "Mom, Sparkles is making a weird noise. Like an opera singer."

I go outside and hear the noise, see the interesting scene. Sparkles is sprawled out in the part of the yard we call "the dustbowl" with a giant bubble coming out of her behind. Uh oh. Can I bring the negroni with me? Split second calculation: not without spilling. I clamber down the hill and Owen gets towels out of the dryer and we lay them under the goat and I pull on the little black hooves visible inside the bubble and out slides baby number one. A few minutes later, baby number two arrives. Boy and girl. Tiny. Like rabbits.

This was a bit of a surprise. We didn't breed Sparkles, but all of our goats boarded with a very young male over the New Year and apparently something happened. Even if we had been expecting babies, we would not have expected them for another 2 weeks.

These aren't the prettiest kids. From some angles, the girl looks like an albino gorilla. From others, like a sheep. This morning Owen said, "They look so cute all cuddled up. Until you see their faces."

Trust me. This is a very flattering picture.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Laziness, lethargy, languor

a Food52 production
Monday morning. Overcast. Dreary white sky. I've been up since 5:30 on account of a goat yelling for milking and grain. It's about 11 and I've reached a natural pause in chores and various jobs and have decided to sit down for a minute and check in with the internets. Idly, I wonder whether Wet Hot American Summer is available for streaming on Netflix so I can put it in the queue. You know, efficiency. It's been on the list (cultural education) and now it belongs in the queue.

Ah, yes. Here it is. Wet Hot American Summer is indeed available for streaming. Actually, it's available right this second which is the thing about streaming. And as Benjamin Franklin said, why put something in your queue for tomorrow when . . .

I don't recommend Wet Hot American Summer and definitely not on a Monday morning because: sloppy comedy. Also: self respect. When I looked up from the movie it was afternoon and the day was now hopelessly polluted by sloth. Who watches movies on Monday morning? Be quiet.

But once a day has been hopelessly polluted by sloth, you might as well just wallow in it. Turns out Fish Tank was also available for streaming and I highly recommend Fish Tank, which is brilliant, though not on a Monday afternoon because: self respect. The kids came home from school and I was lying there watching Fish Tank on the iPad. Whenever they passed through the room I switched it off so they would think I was reading.

Streaming movies in the day is like drinking in the day: not as fun as it should be.

I'm between cookbooks and during the hiatus have been making dinners from the Food52 Cookbook. It's a great book. Speed and simplicity are valued, but not fetishized. High quality ingredients are valued, but not fetishized. Obscure products are called for, but only occasionally, when they really matter. Everything has been thoroughly vetted and road-tested and the book is right at my natural level, no reaching required. We've liked some Food52 dishes more than others, but the things we've loved have been tremendous:  kale quinoa pilaf, lemon posset, chewy sugar cookies, zucchini pancakes. The other night I made the absurdly addictive asparagus which was a huge hit, though I believe it's the pancetta that's absurdly addictive, not the asparagus.

But I can't "do" Food52. It's already been done -- at Food52. So what cookbook comes next?

Yesterday, I had to pause Wet Hot American Summer to remove a loaf of country wheat bread from the oven and I cut myself a slice while it was still steaming hot.
puts Acme to shame
Ten minutes later I had to pause Wet Hot American Summer a second time to run upstairs and cut another slice. This bread has stupendous flavor (from a starter that I let sit for 20 hours) and a hard, hard crust (from baking on a stone and filling the oven with steam.) The recipe comes from a 1999 memoir called Bread and Chocolate by Fran Gage that includes about sixty recipes. Among them: chocolate cherry tart, brioches with goat cheese custard and fruit, ricotta gnocchi, California-style pork tamales. This morning as I ate toast made from Gage's country wheat bread, I realized I had topped it with the super-tart plum jam I made two years ago using the recipe in her book. Every time I eat that jam, I think all jam should be plum.

(The recipe for the bread is here, if you scroll down to page 216. I will probably make the bread again and post the recipe, with my changes, which included letting the starter sit for 17 extra hours.)

I'm going to do Gage's book as a quick palate cleanser between the olive oil and paprika of Spain and whatever comes next.  If the other recipes are half as good as the bread and the plum jam, this will be a very pleasant couple of weeks.

On another subject, over the weekend we emasculated Jack Frost. Key words: crushing, tissue, pliers, testes, bloodless, fast, painful. No fun at all. We do love that little goat and hope someone will want him for an impish, neutered, weed-eating pet.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Cuisines of Spain: earnest summation

I'm not going to harsh on this book, which is handsome and thorough and full of information and dreamy photographs of tile-roofed stone farmhouses and braids of garlic and cafes in Sevilla and Zaragoza where I would rather be right this second drinking a glass of anything. Teresa Barrenechea did a good job. I like this book. I like to look at it and read it. I just didn't like to cook from it because the food didn't turn out very well.

I don't know if the fault lies with uninspired recipes, flawed recipes, inadequate instructions, or my own shortcomings as a cook. Probably all four. I'm pretty sure I did something stupid while I was making the caramelized orange syrup for the leg of lamb the other night. But what? It's the job of the cookbook to guide the cook through the complications, to point out the pitfalls, to explain how a mixture should look and feel at a given moment, to tell you what not to do as well as what to do. Good recipes don't just dictate or instruct, they warn, describe, encourage, explain. Barrenechea's recipes don't really do this. People have had a lot of trouble with the bread recipe in the cookbook I wrote and I believe it is my fault entirely. The bread is great; the recipe wasn't good enough.

Anyway, for whatever reason Barrenechea's torta de Santiago turned out extremely dry; the coca with parsley resembled focaccia topped with lawn mower clippings; the marmitako seemed overly oily. Dish after dish, just not quite right.

I made 15 recipes from The Cuisines of Spain.

worth the price of the book -- 0
great -- 2
good -- 4
so-so -- 6
flat-out bad -- 3

Shelf essential? Obviously I don't think so.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Not exactly a day of rest

so much reaching! what happened to "passing?" 
Sunday family dinner, cooked from Teresa Barrenechea's Cuisines of Spain, was intended to consist of:

coca with onions and honey
leg of lamb with honey and orange syrup
patatas bravas
flao (an intriguing minty cheesecake from the Balearic Islands with an anise-scented crust)

I prepared most of the meal in the morning, which was fortuitous because it meant that I knew in the morning that almost everything was bad and could then spend the afternoon cooking a whole different meal.
cousine cousine
What went wrong?

Everything. Everything went wrong on Sunday, except the patatas bravas, which were spicy and perfect. The Cuisines of Spain let me down at almost every turn.

makes me sad


-coca with onions and honey. This was my second attempt at coca, the savory open-faced pizza-like pie from the Balearic Islands. Based on reading Barrenechea's recipe for coca de cebolla con miel, I envisioned flatbread topped with a golden tangle of honeyed onions studded with plump raisins and toasty pine nuts. I took the coca out of the oven at about 11 a.m., let it cool, cut myself a 1-inch square,  and realized that I could not serve this dish. The crust was gummy and sodden with honey, the onions were simultaneously crunchy and slimy, and the the raisins were burnt.  To replace it I made: tuna empanada from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen. The fantastic recipe is printed below.
excellent cold the next day, and the day after that, for lunch
-leg of lamb with honey and orange. I tried to make the caramelized orange syrup ahead of time, but it crystallized into a solid, craggy mass of rock sugar that I could not subsequently melt. To replace it I made: plain roast lamb with neither honey nor orange.

-flao. Mixed exactly as directed, the dough for the flao crust had the consistency of milkshake. I added twice the quantity of flour that Barrenechea calls for to render the dough rollable. After it baked, I broke off a shard of crust and it was like chalk. I then took a microscopic taste of the cheese filling and found it insufficiently sweet. I could serve this flao, but not with pride.  To replace it I made: yogurt cake from Chocolate and Zucchini, which is reliable, springy, pretty, and very, very easy. I added strawberries to the batter. Last time I added rhubarb. It's that kind of cake.

I hadn't wanted to, but I ended up cooking all day. It was hot and I was tired and felt defeated and grumpy and was drinking a negroni by the time the family arrived. I thought it would be fun to bring the baby goats up to the deck to entertain Stella and Ben, and so we did, but the human children just wanted to go up to Owen's room and play with his Transformers. While I was trying to fry potatoes and carve lamb, the baby goats ate the potted geraniums and then ran into the house, depositing manure on the kitchen floor. Finally, we got the goats down, food on the table, and I dumped all the silverware and papertowels in a pile and let people set their own places. In the end, the dinner was convivial and the food good, but there went Sunday.
cake and flao and my mom's pottery
So here's the recipe for Galician tuna empanada with melting onions, barely adapted from Anya von Bremzen's New Spanish Table. I omitted the saffron. The dish is probably better with saffron, but no one will miss it if you don't use it and saffron is very expensive. Make the filling first so it has time to cool.


1/3 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large onions (she calls for white, I used yellow), quartered and thinly sliced
3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large ripe tomato, cut in half and grated on a box grater, skin discarded
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
(1 small pinch saffron threads, pulverized in a mortar and steeped in 2 tablespoons very hot water; optional)
18 ounces imported olive oil-packed tuna (I used 15 ounces, the contents of 3 cans), drained and flaked 3 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
(I added a big handful of dark raisins; optional)
kosher salt
black pepper
3/4 cup thinly sliced manzanilla olives (I used mixed olives from Whole Foods olive bar)

1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute.

2. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the peppers and cook until they begin to soften, 7 to 8 minutes, adding a little olive oil if the skillet looks dry. Lower the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are very soft.

3.  Add the tomato, paprika, and optional saffron. Cover the skillet and simmer over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are reduced to a jam-like consistency, about 15 minutes. Cool completely. Stir in the tuna, parsley, and optional raisins. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve the olives for when you assemble the empanada.


1 teaspoon active dry yeast (I used instant)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup lukewarm water
4 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large egg, beaten
(1 large pinch saffron, toasted, pulverized in a mortar, and steeped in 3 tablespoons hot water; optional)
2 scant teaspoons kosher salt
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour.

1. Mix the yeast, sugar, and water in a large bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Whisk in the butter, oil, egg, optional saffron, and salt. Mix well. Stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time.

2. Knead the dough -- on the counter or in your mixer -- until it's smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. If it's still sticky, add a bit more flour. As von Bremzen writes: "The dough will be oily and pliable." Divide the dough in two portions, one very slightly bigger than the other. Shape in balls, cover loosely, and let rest for 20 minutes. This dough will not visibly rise.


flour for dusting the work surface
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons milk

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a 17- by 11-inch cookie sheet.

2. Lightly flour a work surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the larger pastry ball to a roughly 19- by 12-inch rectangle. Carefully transfer this dough to the baking sheet; one of these is immensely helpful. The dough will overhang the edges of the cookie sheet slightly.

3. Roll out the remaining pastry to form a rectangle, slightly smaller than the first. Spread the filling evenly over the pastry on the cookie sheet. Scatter with olives. Cover with the second rectangle of dough. You seal the two crusts by folding the edges of the bottom crust over the top and crimping decoratively.

3. Whisk together the egg yolk and milk and brush evenly over the top of the empanada. With a sharp knife, cut several slits in the top of the empanada to let out steam.

4. Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Makes enough for 12.

I hope you like this as much as we did.

On another subject entirely, per Babacapra's recommendation, I ordered an emasculatone today. Our emasculatone only cost $30, so if you're in the market, shop around.

As you can see, we need one.
not cute

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Oh Isabel, I would NEVER

meat n' potatoes n' beans
Slab bacon, chorizo, greens, boiling potatoes, white beans, water, salt, heat, a couple of hours. That's the caldo Gallego from Teresa Barrenechea's Cuisines of Spain and it was a tasty, easy, and sensible weeknight meal. You could make this with any sausage, and I would vote against chorizo, or at least the greasy chorizo I bought at The Spanish Table. You could skip the slab bacon, but I wouldn't. You could use any greens, but I'd nix cabbage, which becomes water-logged and makes the house smell bad. The recipe is here, though not exactly as it appears in the book. Be sure to use boiling potatoes, which are creamier and more appealing than grainy russet potatoes in a soup like this. Also, the dish needed a lot more than 1 teaspoon of salt.

The other night Owen and I were milking Natalie when a neighbor walked by on the street with his two goats on leashes. Owen was very taken with this goat-walking concept and asked repeatedly when we could take our goats for a walk. I replied: never.

At dinner, I mentioned Owen's goat-walking idea. Isabel rolled her eyes. Then she gave me a stony look. She said, "You just want me to have a reaction to that so you can write in your blog that I rolled my eyes and gave you a stony look. You'll write: 'Owen was cheerful and eccentric and had a zany plan and then teenaged Isabel rolled her eyes and gave me a stony look.'"

I laughed. My Isabel is so smart!

Speaking of smart, this is a very intelligent post, followed by intelligent and civil debate, on the subject of raw milk.

This week I made two very good recipes, one great recipe, and one unbelievably great recipe. All non-Spanish.

First, the very good:
lemonade cookie, peanut butter-chocolate cupcake

-The lemonade cookie from Karen Barker's Sweet Stuff contains no lemonade and doesn't taste like lemonade, which was a disappointment. It just tastes like a delicious lemony sugar cookie. I'd make these again. Recipe is reprinted here.

-I must have overwhipped the frosting for the peanut butter-chocolate cupcakes from Amanda Hesser's Essential New York Times Cookbook because it curdled and didn't look so hot. But it tasted like creamed fudge. We liked the cupcakes, but liked the frosting even better. Recipe here.

Now the great:

-an 1878 recipe for johnnycake,  also from The Essential New York Times Cookbook, sounds like it will yield one large cake, but actually produces many fragile pancakes. They're trickier to fry than ordinary pancakes, so be sure to read Hesser's footnote on technique. I can't find this recipe online and don't like retyping recipes into the blog except on rare occasions. I feel like I'm stealing. But if I link to recipes reprinted without permission is it any better than printing recipes without permission? What do you think?

Finally, the unbelievably great:

-I made the breakfast pizza -- mozzarella and Parmesan, bacon, egg, chewy white crust -- from the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook a month or so ago, right after I got back from Big Sur, and I had a post half-written that I never finished. I made the pizza again this week and it was as good as the first time. I will make this again and again and again. You mix the dough the night before and while assembling the pizza the next morning is definitely harder than pouring cereal, it's not all that hard. The other day I ate a little piece for breakfast, a little piece for lunch, then a little piece for snack. It tastes even better cold than hot. I can't get the dough to stretch quite as wide as the recipe says, so my pizzas are smaller and I only use 2 eggs per pie. This is nice because you can eat the parts with egg for breakfast and the non-egg parts later in the day. (Cold eggs: yucky.) You can omit the chives, scallions, or shallots, or all three. You could even leave off the eggs, which my husband would prefer. While all the dishes I described in the post were delicious, I think this is hands down the most delicious.
love, love, love
I got the recipe out of The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, but it also appears in The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Or you can find it right here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Now you don't need to read that whole long New Yorker story!

the raw milk collection
When I'm feeling energetic and optimistic, I love having goats. Our cup runneth over, etc. When I'm feeling weary and blue, I hate having goats. Yesterday evening, the goats were yelling in the back yard, Natalie needed milking, Owen needed homework supervising, and I just wanted to sit on the sofa and shop for rugs on the internet because looking at our family room rug makes me want to cry. There is something about a really filthy rug. The main criteria for the new rug is that it not show dirt, no matter how dirty it actually is, which probably means Oriental. Owen kept asking, what's 12 times 13? and the goats kept yelling and I was so tired. The furtive hope crept into my head that maybe the neighbors will complain about the noisy goats and we'll be forced to get rid of them.

This morning, perish the thought! We've been letting them graze on the hillside right outside our front door and they are methodically eating down the invasive Scotch broom and blackberry brambles. It is strangely mesmerizing to watch goats forage, very peaceful. I can't really explain why, but I can watch them for hours.

We now have more goat's milk than I can use in flan and crema catalana and so the other day I made cheese. To produce this particular cheese, you sprinkle a pinch of culture over barely tepid milk (in our case raw; more on this momentarily) and then add some rennet. Let the pot of milk sit at room temperature for 24 hours, drain it for a few more hours, stir in some salt, refrigerate. You end up with a fluffy, snowy, spreadable dairy product, like whipped cream cheese, but tangier. If you've had Laura Chenel chevre, this is just like that, except fresher and better.

About the raw milk. I have not yet read the Dana Goodyear story because our New Yorker subscription lapsed, though I intend to find it at the library this afternoon. I do think people should be able to buy raw milk legally, although I would have no interest in ever doing so myself. I also think people should be able to buy marijuana legally, although . . .  oh wait. Perhaps a bad example.

Because we keep goats, we currently have a lot of raw milk on our hands. Stove-top pasteurization is an option, but seems like a nuisance given the pains we already take to sterilize the bucket, wash Natalie's udder with iodine, check the milk for impurities in a strip cup, strain it through a fine filter, immerse immediately in a bowl of ice, and so on. Why bother with those tedious steps if you're going to pasteurize the milk anyway?

One argument made by raw milk advocates: You treat the product with care from the very beginning and there's no need to boil the bejesus out of it.

This makes sense to me.

And yet, what exactly does it mean to "treat the product with care?" How clean is clean enough? I don't wear rubber gloves to milk. The polite word for the back yard, where we milk, is earthy. There are earthy flies and lots of earthy chickens squawking and scratching around. Or are flies and chickens just dirty? Natalie herself is extremely earthy. Sometimes a speck or two of of earthiness land in the milk. I strain it out. Fret. The fretting goes something like this:

Me: Oh, come on! A little fleck of dirt never hurt anyone. You're such a ninny. People drank raw milk for millennia before Louis Pasteur.

Me: And for millennia, people didn't live very long.

Me: You know as well as I do that most of them didn't die from drinking milk. Anyway, you live near a hospital.

Me: I would never forgive myself if something happened. Not to me, but to someone else.

Me: If you're just worried about other people, what's stopping YOU from eating the cheese? Even if you do get some bug, you'll probably kick it.

Me: That's true and the cheese does look awfully good. You know, you're right! This is stupid. I'm just going to eat the cheese. I'll be a guinea pig.

It was delicious cheese. A day passed and I felt fine. Then everyone in the family ate the cheese and everyone loved it and everyone is fine.

Upshot: We are going to continue with our current dairying practices, although we will not be offering raw goat cheese to pregnant women, small children, or my grandmother.
such a sad photo of really good bread and cheese
The bread in the photo above is the sour cream bread from Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet, an outstanding baking book. You should make this bread and you should also buy this book, but if you don't, the sour cream bread recipe is here

I would not suggest that you buy The Cuisines of Spain. I'm glad I checked it out from the library because while it's a solid compendium of traditional Spanish recipes, many very tasty, I've cooked nothing I would make again. Last night we had patatas a la Riojana which involved boiling onions, potatoes, greasy chorizo, and paprika together in a big pot of water.
all it takes to make a mediocre soup
Everyone liked this soup but me. I found it oily yet watery, which seems to be a hallmark of many Spanish soups.
no gracias
Goat kids are hard to photograph because they hop around so much, more like jackrabbits than  plodding farm animals. Not a great picture of Owen, but a fine portrait of Jack Frost.
the boys