Sunday, June 28, 2009

Biscuit Breakthrough

I've always loved cheese scones/biscuits even when they are, sadly, a little tough. I'm not a whiz with the dough and I often end up over working things but the results are OK nonetheless.

Today I wanted to make up something to accompany a pot of broccoli soup and my girl was itching to try her hand at making butter, so a little something bready was in order. I remembered a lovely cheese biscuit recipe I'd copied from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking which is also the source of the best brownies ever. Just saying.

Anyhow, these cheese scones are delicious due to the liberal use of chipotle powder, one of the finest flavors ever--so rich and smoky and deep and, sadly, poison to my daughter who worked so hard shaking that jar for butter. So I opted for a the similarly flavored Spanish paprika which has the same smoke, minus the heat.

The soup was nearly done and all I had was frozen butter for my scones. In a flash of brilliance, I decided to grate the frozen butter into the dough, which gave me lovely results. These were the lightest, most delicate biscuits I can remember making.

Whether you make these zippy with chipotle or mildly smoky with Spanish paprika, they're bound to be a hit. Especially if you decide to gild the lily with a little fresh butter, handmade by cheerfully enthusiastic child labor.
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Friday, June 26, 2009

Photo Break

I went back to work this week after an all-too-brief break. For reasons that have yet to be explained to my satisfaction (but most likely come down to money) I am now responsible for simultaneously planning and teaching two separate classes. In the same room. With 40 students. It is, quite simply, insane. The only reason I figure they can get away with it is that I don't get paid for prep time anyway, so who cares if the work is doubled?

Each night this week I swore I was going to come home, make myself a nice margarita, and lose myself in some Bollywood. The reality? I collapsed in a quivering heap in my bed. This term is going to be intense. And that's all I want to say about that right now. about a nice photo break? Because I didn't absolutely have to do anything this morning, I took the camera and spent some time poking around in my shamefully overgrown yard. Despite my shocking neglect, things are going quite well, especially with the herbs, greens, young tomatoes, and ruby-sweet strawberries.

Our first baby zucchini are already ripe. Isn't it early? I can't tell, but I am happy to have them.

The best part? I wasn't alone. I had some company only too happy to pose for me.

Miss Chutki:

and the recently named Romeo who seems to have adopted us for good:
He looks just a bit mean and shifty here, but he's actually a total sweetheart.

I'm planning on a couple of relaxing days of sewing, some knitting, a little yard work, and hopefully pulling my husband over to my side in The Great Freezer Debate. I think we need an extra to hold all our summer bounty but he's not yet convinced.

I hope you have a relaxing weekend full of good things!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What to do with.....

...collard greens? We got a big bunch in our CSA box and, while I can turn most leafy things into smoothies when out of other ideas, I was afraid that tough collards might just do in my blender.

I did a quick blog search for ideas and came across fresh365, a food blog that's new to me but has already joined the crowd in my RSS reader. I enjoyed browsing through the varied vegetarian recipes and ogling the lovely photos. Yesterday's entry was a collard green and green olive pesto which sounded, frankly, a little odd so I had to look closer. Upon reading the recipe it was clear how it could work and I jumped into action.

Of course I was missing various key ingredients like pine nuts and sun dried tomatoes and didn't want to dash to the store. I improvised with roasted cashews for the nuts, but couldn't think of anything to replace the tomatoes. The cashews worked well, and the final dish was quite good, but I can see where the tomatoes would balance out the tang of the vinegar and the salty olives.
I served this spread on crispy toast as part of our patio lunch today. Surprisingly, my kids liked it quite a bit. It was definitely a bigger hit than the regular old basil variety, which I thought was very interesting. I have leftovers and I'm thinking about how it might work over a good whole wheat pasta with tiny tomatoes. The idea has potential, for sure!

The printable recipe is here, with permission from fresh365. Thanks, Erin!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Persian Love Cake

I mentioned this cake last month when Epicurious did a feature on their 30 top-rated cake recipes. So many of them sounded good, but only Persian Love Cake (which, yes, I just love to say) stayed with me, almost nagging at me to give it a try. I only held off because the perfect cake-worthy event was on the horizon. Yesterday was our 19th anniversary and I finally had a chance to make this heavenly cake.

I imagine that many people, when confronted with elements like saffron whipped cream and candied rose petals might roll their eyes and move on to something simpler, say a nice pound cake. But, remember, I'm a girl who loves her three+ hour Bollywood movies. A complicated, exotically flavored cake seems only natural, at least for a special occasion.

This magical confection pulls together many flavors which I simply adore. First of all, there's cardamom. Lots of it. Based on reader comments, I added quite a bit more because that's one of my very favorite flavors. The whipping cream used for the frosting is infused with the lovely, complex flavor of saffron. There's a bit of rose water (which must be used ever so judiciously before falling in to the realm of air freshener), pistachios, and candied rose petals which I did myself using our own roses. If this is sounding just a bit too intense, keep in mind that there's a fair amount of lemon zest to keep all these flavors in check--brilliant!

In addition to adding more cardamom, I followed a number of the suggestions made in the reviews for the recipe at the Epicurious site. I didn't butter the pan, I crushed the cardamom rather than using it whole, and I added the extra egg white. What I didn't do and should have done was use superfine sugar for the rose petals. I had none on hand and mine ended up more clunky than delicate. Not that it that it kept anyone from eating it.

This combination of flavors is nothing short of heavenly. When I first read the recipe, I suspected that the flavors would combine like our favorite kulfi at Cool Moon Ice Cream--a lovely blend of cream, spicy sparkle, and nutty crunch. All those elements translate beautifully into a stunning cake, just perfect for a romantic celebration. If you need something extra special, you might want to give Persian Love Cake a try.

Recipe link here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Goodness from the Garden

One of the ongoing horrors of raising picky children is getting stuck in their ruts. At various times some or all of my children have been perfectly happy eating nothing but pasta and bottled marinara sauce topped with a blend of Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Apart from the burrito, mediocre pasta with red sauce has probably been served more often than any other dish in our house. It drives me crazy because I can make a fine tomato sauce. I even stocked my freezer with pints and pints of the good stuff at the end of last summer. But my kids turned up their nose at my summery goodness, making it clear that they much preferred the stuff in the jar.

I think may have reached a point where I can't look at another one of those jars again. But I still love pasta as much as ever. I came up with this recipe after being inspired by one published in this month's Bon Appetit magazine, but I made enough changes that I think it's safe to call it my own.

I was instantly drawn when I saw ricotta used. I had my first attempt at homemade ricotta in the 'fridge and this looked like a worthy showcase for my meager but tasty cheese. You don't have to make your own ricotta though if you are interested it could hardly be easier. Mine was a not-terribly-successful attempt at making ricotta using the whey leftover from cheesemaking. A lot of hoo ha for not much cheese, though it was tasty. There's a good, simple recipe at 101 Cookbooks that has nice clear directions and should have a much higher yield than the whey ricotta. It's on my list of things to try soon.

Back to the pasta--it's creamy and light, with lemon brightening the flavor of the sauteed veggies. I used what I had on hand in my back garden which meant only a few sugar snap peas, but my first zucchini of the year and a handful of tender young chard leaves. The combination was delicious and I'm sure you'll find your own combos which work just as well. My purple beans are coming along and will likely star when I make this dish next.
The added benefit of making this dish from what was in my garden (apart from not having to make a trip to the store) was that while I was poking around to see what was available, I got to nibble on delicious, perfectly ripe strawberries--and dessert before dinner isn't a bad thing at all!

Link to downloadable recipe


Nineteen years is an awfully long time, isn't it?

And yet, it seems like yesterday that we got married. Time flies when you're having fun.

Not that it's fun all the time. Not that there's always time for fun. But even when it isn't fun, it's always good, being married to this guy.

I don't say it often enough, but I think I must be the luckiest woman ever.

To The Spouse: Thanks for sticking by me through thick and thin, crazy and sane.

To everyone else: if you want to see a picture of our youthful, shiny-eyed selves on our wedding day, here you go.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


My first batch of goat cheese was just the tiniest bit disappointing. I was expecting the sort of creamy, tangy spreadable cheese that I associate with the term chevre. I now know it was a learning cheese. It was a quick cheese which used cider vinegar to coagulate the milk and then hung to dry for a few hours. The resulting cheese was mild tasting and much drier and firmer than I'd expected.

I'm learning a little bit with each batch of cheese I make. I now know that vinegar makes a somewhat rubbery cheese and long draining times make a drier cheese. Nearly every recipe I've tried so far has come from either The Home Creamery or Home Cheese Making, both of which are excellent books full of promise. But I also tried a little freestyle cheese making last week, adding to my goat's milk some heavy cream and homemade yogurt which I wanted to use up before a trip out of town. The resulting cheese was unlike anything I've ever tasted and I was so tickled! Ed, my source for ultra-fresh goat's milk, tells me if I created it, I should name it but so far it's just The Awesome Cheese. I don't know why, but adding the cow's milk cream and yogurt to the goat's milk seemed to enhance the goaty flavor in a really good way. The cheese was a little dry but sliced nicely and disappeared all too rapidly. I'll try again and if I can duplicate my results, I hope to share the recipe here.

I still hadn't managed a creamy, tangy chevre and after a bit more research realized that I needed a starter culture and time to let things age properly. I ordered the Fresh French Goat Cheese kit from The New England Cheesemaking Company and soon found myself in possession of two types of starters, four cheese molds, more rennet, butter muslin and a recipe booklet which talked me through all the steps for a classic chevre. It's not quick--it takes a few days what with sterilizing the milk, incubating the culture, and draining the curds, but it worked! Two full days after I started the process I was rewarded with four tiny rounds of delicious cheese. I'm so jazzed about this! I really can make cheese in my kitchen from milk purchased nearby fom the happiest goats I've ever seen. Today I tucked some thin wedges of the cheese into pitted dates and wished I could pat myself on the back for my cleverness.

You won't be surprised to learn that I've added a few new blogs to my RSS reader. Curd Nerds, I Make Cheese, and Cheese Underground really hit the spot for me these days. But after reading/gawking at this fabulous photo essay on artisan cheesemaking in the Alps, I am starting to think that maybe the world needs another cheesemaker more than it needs another ESL teacher.
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Back from the Woods

After all that carrying on about The Great Camping Trip, it turns out we were at Silver Falls State Park for all of 36 hours. The forest was beautiful, the weather was lovely, the cabin was charming (futon mattresses excepted--those were torturous), and the families with whom we went were all delightful. We ate well, and managed to not be consumed ourselve--hooray for Swyflotter--this stuff rocks!We had a lovely walk beneath the south falls where I was kicking myself for forgetting my camera. Duh!

South FallsImage via Wikipedia

The whole experience was better than I could have imagined but for one sore point. The Dark Lord was not at all happy to be there and there's nothing worse than an unhappy teen. There was no one his age on this expedition and he had to pass on invitations from friends to accompany us. While I really wished he had taken a more positive outlook to this outing, I could understand, to some degree, his displeasure. Late on the second day he began a steady nag about going home early and we finally acquiesced. I was actually disappointed to be leaving early but the up side was that The Spouse had a free vacation day at home which we fully enjoyed. We had lunch at Pambiche and a stroll through Powell's where I augmented my cheese making library with this book. Definitely more my style of vacation but I enjoyed my brief time in the forest, too.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Unexpectedly Good

There's been lots and lots of dairy action around here, now that I've met Ed, my local goat guy. I've turned 4 gallons of milk into yogurt, chevre, feta, and a my own invention which I'm just calling The Awesome Cheese . If I can duplicate my results, I'll be sharing that here since it's pretty straightforward and doesn't require exotic specialty ingredients--except for goat's milk.

Honestly, I've been just a wee bit obsessed with the cheese, but wasn't sure how many people shared my obsession and thought my next post here at Magpie Eats should be of a non-dairy nature. And so I bring you.....Turnip Soup!

Did I scare you away? I hope not. This turned out so much better than I'd imagined possible. It's rich and creamy and only lightly turnip flavored. It was such a pleasant surprise I thought I'd share this simple and unusual soup.

This is our first season with the Winter Green Farm CSA. I've always worried that my picky family wouldn't be able to handle an ever changing weekly supply of fresh veggies but one of the things that sold me on the CSA was when a friend mentioned the recipes that accompany the weekly box. Which is how I ended up with a plan for my bunch of young turnips.

The recipe is credited to Fresh from the Market which may or may not be this book. My apologies for failing to give credit appropriately--I'm just working with the information I have.

Summer seems to have left us here in Portland so it's soup weather again. Give this one a try and let me know what you think.

Printable recipe here.

A little housekeeping: I'm trying out a different way of of storing recipes and making them easily printable. Please let me know if this is better or worse than my previous setup. Also, I have a question for you. Would you like to see the entire recipe in the blog post as well as having a link to a printable recipe? I've always stayed away from that because I wanted to keep the posts trim and easy to read, but maybe having the recipe is more appealing. Please let me know what you prefer. Thanks!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Princess and The Piano

In addition to being Monkey Boy's birthday, yesterday was also recital day for The Princess. A kind friend of ours took the following video in which my daughter plays a lullaby accompanied be her teacher on the other piano and our friend Elizabeth on cello at the end of the recital.

The recital was a really lovely event especially compared to others I've attended. Tovah is one of the very youngest students so it was exciting to see what all the other kids could do after a little more time with Miss Gaye. All of them played beautifully and quite of a few of them composed the pieces they played. The Princess enjoyed herself, and it was a successfull evening all around.

Friday, June 12, 2009


My boy was up bright and early to begin celebrating his 14th birthday. I love that as he gets older he maintains his silliness. The T-shirt was my gift and the fez came from friends. I think it suits him.

The Great Thing About Being a Pessimist... that I am rarely disappointed and often even pleasantly surprised.

After arguing with one teen most of the day about this trip (yes, you ARE coming because you are part of this family) and dropping a small fortune on provisions at Trader Joe's, I am totally open to the idea of pleasant surprises.

Thanks everyone for your encouragement. To those sharing this outing with us: I promise to keep my kvetching inside the cabin.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

To The Woods

I do my best to provide my children with numerous enriching opportunities so they will grow up well rounded and full of happy memories. My great failing as a parent, as I've been told more than once, is that I have steadfastly refused to take my children camping. I can't really come up with another family activity whose mere suggestion fills me with greater dread other than something like attending a football game. Or hunting.

I have never had much interest in camping. I think the woods are fine and natural areas should absolutely be preserved and protected--ideally by humans, especially myself, staying out of them. Given a choice between a tall tree and a good book, the book will always win. My idea of nature is my garden, ideally when the blueberries are ripe. Extended treks through the woods are not appealing. The thought of slithering into a sleeping bag and trying to sleep with my family in a claustrophobic nylon tent surrounded by marauding raccoons fills me with absolute horror. My heart sinks upon consideration of meals prepared over an open fire and in fact, I hate the stink of woodsmoke.

I think it's because we camped as kids and while we had a great time, my stepmom never did. The rest of us hiked and swam and skipped through the trees while she stayed behind, washing dishes in tepid water and trying to cobble together meals before everything in the cooler went bad. She always seemed so relieved when we packed up and headed for home.

I've always been able to easily bow out of camping invitations made by more seasoned veterans who think a camping trip is a perfectly reasonable way to spend a weekend. Last year we used the impending bar mitzvah as an excuse but I can only get away with that so many times. Usually I can claim, quite honestly, that we just don't have the equipment. Well this time the lovely folks in our homeschool co-op found a place with rustic cabins so we could come along. My kids insist it isn't even camping anyway so I am not sure what I am getting so worked up about. But the thought of planning and shopping and packing and cooking and then being out in the middle of nowhere for three days is completely overwhelming to me . I'm just no suited to it. Other people pull these things off without a second thought and have a great time while I am, quite simply, out of my element and certain I'll be a harried wreck.

But I agreed. The kids are looking forward to it and the other families are lovely people. I'm kind of mortified by how incompetent I feel but hopefully I've dumped enough negativity here that I can put on a brave face and make this little outing a success. Maybe I'll be writing next week about how silly I was and start regularly heading off to REI to hang out with all the outdoorsy types and start buying performance fabrics and high tech gear. But I kind of doubt it.

At least I picked up a good book to take along, just in case.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


If there is one thing I love it's people who are passionate about whatever funky thing they're passionate about. Seriously--it just puts a smile on my face.

We've been making serious efforts to buy more locally raised food. We've joined a CSA for our veggies, but still rely on the grocery store for eggs and milk. I thought surely I could do better, especially given that Portland is such a hive of urban chicken culture. I recently got busy with a little internet research and came up with local sources for both eggs and goat's milk which I am now using for making cheese and I got to meet some interesting folks this week.

Paul lives in deep southeast Portland and has turned his little plot of land into quite the chicken operation and he was happy to describe everything in great detail. He has a variety of pastures in various states of readiness for the chickens. They get to run in one area while others are regrowing the greens they eat. There are grand old fruit trees arching over the various chicken runs and a couple of huge white dogs running around and keeping an eye on things. The place was a bit a ramshackle but I loved seeing how chickens could be humanely raised for serious egg production in the city. Now that piano lessons are over, we won't have too much cause to drive that far, but when I do find myself out that way, I'll make sure to give a call and see if eggs are available.

Ed has a small but remarkably productive goat dairy in NE Portland. He has four lovely adult females, a couple of darling kids, and a lame male goat who gets to hang around just because. Only three of "the girls" are being milked right now (because the fourth is pregnant with triplets) and he's averaging 5 gallons a day! The goats all seemed so happy--the picture of contentment, really. Along with my 2 gallons of very affordable goat milk, Ed shared all kinds of cheesemaking resources with me and, best of all, gave me samples of a tangy, creamy chevre and a lovey nutty cheese which had been pressed and aged. Highly motivating to this beginning cheesenmaker, let me tell you.

Both of these men were very different. Things felt a little chaotic with the egg guy and almost too perfect with the goat guy. But both of them were visibly passionate about their animals and eager to share their copious knowledge. I found myself grinning from ear to ear after each of these visits, delighted that there are enthusiastic micro farmers in my city.

Monday, June 08, 2009


It's June and, at our house, June is when the invisible-to-humans sign appears over our door which says (in cat language) "suckers live here". That's my theory anyway, because this is the third time a sweet, lovable stray has shown up and moved in in June.

Last year, just a couple of days before the bar mitzvah, Chutki showed up after having delivered what was likely her first litter of kittens which were nowhere to be found. She had no trouble settling in to our family and while she's playful and occasionally entertaining, she's very independent. She will rub against a leg when she chooses, but there's no way she would sit in a lap or submit to any sort of love. She hasn't been the most satisfying of cats.

Many of my readers know about Chet who showed up 4 years ago in June. He lived with us for quite some time but when Chutki showed up, he was out of here. Too many females! He mostly lives outside and has friends all over the neighborhood. He spent the coldest part of the winter in our house but otherwise has little use for us. So he's only sort of our cat.

Which is why we can surely add another one, right?

This boy showed up last week and I fell in love almost instantly. I've always wanted a huge male cat who would sit in my lap. This guy fits the bill. He's enormous and must be either all or in large part Maine Coon, both because of looks and temperament. He's a total sweetie and has a seemingly endless capacity for petting. He's clearly not a cat that's been on his own for long and he's pretty happy around people. Someone must be missing him. But I'm also kind of in love so if no one claims him I guess I will just have to keep him. How sad!

The best part is how my husband immediately understood that resistance was futile this time around.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dairy Adventures

After I wrote about my Dairy Magic class a few weeks ago, you surely knew that homemade cheese was sure to follow. I bought myself a copy of The Home Creamery and have started to experiment.

The first thing that caught my eye was chevre, a fresh cheese made from goat's milk which is actually something my entire family enjoys. I went off to New Seasons and grabbed a couple of quarts of goats milk not long ago, started heating everything up, reached the proper temperature, added the cider vinegar and....nothing happened. Nothing. I knew from making paneer and mozzarella that the curds and whey tend to separate pretty quickly so I figured something was wrong. When I dug the milk cartons out of the recycling bin I realized I'd missed one of the first details Chris mentioned to us: ultra pasteurized milk is no good for cheese. And sadly the Meyerberg goats milk so commonly available is, in fact, ultra pasteurized. I ended up tossing half gallon of warm, sour milk down the drain as I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to use it.

Earlier this week our homeschool co-op was scheduled to visit a small family farm outside of Camas, Washington. I figured we'd go and pet horses and chicks and whatnot but as it turned out, Conway Family Farm is a licensed dairy guessed it--fresh raw goats milk. Hooray! Despite their long list of customers, they had a couple of half gallon bottles to spare and I was in business!

I made the cheese yesterday morning and it really was super simple. You heat the milk (half a gallon in this case) to 175 degrees, hold it at that temperature for 10 minutes, add 1 cup of cider vinegar, watch for the curds to form, and then strain using a colander lined with a clean tea towel. You then wrap the curds in the towel and hang to drain for and additional few hours though I found mine was well drained after an hour and beginning to get quite firm.

This isn't the creamy, tangy chevre that we buy at the farmer's market. It's a firm cheese with a clean, pure dairy flavor. I was able to slice it and eat on hearty bread with a light sprinkle of coarse salt-heaven!

The goat cheese went so well I decided to give yogurt another go. My first experience a few weeks ago was using the crockpot which sounded too good to be true. My result was runny and stringy and not very tasty at all. This time I used the stovetop method outlined in The Home Creamery and it was a snap. Really--heat the milk, cool it down a bit, add some starter and stir. The big issue is keeping the milk somewhere warm for 9-12 hours while it sets up. I used a large picnic cooler and nestled my jar of yogurt among some large jars and bottles which I'd filled with hot water. Once I closed everything up in the cooler, the temperature stayed nice and warm, perfect for turning milk into yogurt. Ten hours later, I opened up the cooler to find a perfect quart of yogurt awaiting me--so exciting!

I'd wanted to make granola to eat with my homemade yogurt but didn't get to it right away so today's breakfast was a tumbler full of banana lassi. I put a cup of yogurt in the blender with a banana, some crushed cardamom seeds, and a dab of honey. So simple but so, so good. Of course ripe mangoes make a lovely lassi, too.

Now that I have the book, the thermometer, fresh rennet and starter cultures, I guarantee there will be more dairy adventures in the near future.