I’m Participating in #FromThePantryFebruary

white beans

The beans in my pantry need eating!

I have to admit—there’s a bunch of things in my pantry that need to be eaten.

I’ve got a variety of soba noodles, a pack of rice papers, myriad lentils and beans, a few different kinds of flours, and some canned goods; my freezer contains some CSA vegetables, nuts, stock, and meats (especially salmon). I went through a lot of the pantry goods last year and threw out the things that had expired, (I had one can that expired in 2012! Yeesh.) but there’s still a lot that remains—and all that deserves to be consumed. Continue reading “I’m Participating in #FromThePantryFebruary”

Muskotsnittar, My New Favorite Holiday Cookie


This year I had my act together and registered in time to participate in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. I joined in the fun several years ago and had a good experience then, and I’m really glad I played again this year. In the years that passed the cookie swap has grown and grown and there’s a nice fundraising aspect to it, too—each participant donates a small sum to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a nonprofit involved with funding research and development in the area of pediatric cancer.

Plus, it’s a chance to connect with other food bloggers and enjoy some delicious cookies. Only two of the three folks sent me cookies, but that’s ok—I loved baking mine and sending them out in pretty boxes more than anything.

This year I chose to bake muskotsnittar, a buttery Swedish cookie redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger that develops and intensifies in flavor each day. They happen to travel well, too, and I’m pleased to have learned that my cookies arrived without much, if any, breakage. This recipe for muskotsnittar is from the book Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall—you can buy it here via Powell’s or find it at your local bookstore (here’s mine, Astoria Bookshop—indie beats behemoth Amazon IMO). I have a great affinity for cooking and baking traditional foods from the Scandinavian and Nordic countries, and these cookies made me really happy. Bonus: each batch makes a lot, and they freeze better, so in my book these cookies have it all.

You can find the recipe, here. I made one little adjustment of adding a bit of salt to the dough. Here’s the list of ingredients:

From Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall

2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature (Kerrygold is my fave)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Continue reading “Muskotsnittar, My New Favorite Holiday Cookie”

Sparkly Concord Grape Lacto-Fermented Whey Soda


Each year I get concord grapes in my CSA share, and I never know what to do with them aside from just eating them fresh (I once tried pickling grapes—never again). This year I decided to expand my solo repertoire with these intensely flavored and deeply purple fruit bombs and try making a lacto-fermented whey soda with them. I am happy to say, it was seriously tasty.

For my culture, I used the whey I collected from making yogurt cheese—this kind of cheese is basically the result of hanging plain yogurt (full fat without stabilizers, pectin, or gelatin) in butter muslin for a day or so. They whey drips out and what remains is a thick and tangy spreadable cheese. The whey contains cultures that usher along the lacto-fermentation process. Here’s a shot of the delicious cheese hanging with the whey at the bottom of the container.


To start, I washed and picked all the grapes off their stems, discarding any that were overripe, damaged, or in generally bad shape; firm, ripe, and unblemished grapes were what I was looking for. In the end, I had 6 cups of grapes. I added 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup organic sugar to the grapes and brought it all to a boil, and let that simmer for about 30 minutes. I cooled the mix and then put it through a sieve, discarding pits and skins; what was left was a thick juicy liquid.  Continue reading “Sparkly Concord Grape Lacto-Fermented Whey Soda”

Learning About Natural Cheesemaking With David Asher in Brooklyn


Yogurt cheese, perfect for a beginner like me.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a day of cheesemaking workshops with David Asher, a cheesemaker who runs the Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking, a “traveling cheese school” with origins in the Gulf Islands region of British Columbia. The folks from Slow Food organized these workshops and a reception the Friday evening before. After having had a look at Asher’s remarkable book, The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, they were so impressed with the knowledge within, they felt compelled to invite David Asher to come to NYC and teach classes on his unique style of cheesemaking.

A big part of this book asserts that you do not need to buy freeze dried cultures to make cheese, and that it can all be done with kefir, which contains most bacteria needed to culture milk for cheese; using raw milk is encouraged for the most part, too. Rennet is also employed in making many of the cheeses, while a simple acid—lemon juice, vinegar, or kefir—is used in a small number of cheeses to separate out curds and whey. Bottom line—industrial practices and ingredients are unnecessary to make delicious, flavorful cheeses.


The building that houses Crown Finish Caves. The light was beautiful that evening.

I chose to attend the reception and take the first day of workshops. The reception was quite nice, and took place in one of the tunnels at Crown Finish Caves, a cheese aging facility located three stories below street level; originally the space was a brewery. Because it is so far below ground and the walls are so thick, it keeps a relatively constant temperature, perfect for affinage, or, aging cheese. A number of farms create their cheeses and age them here.


The tunnel in which we attended the reception and heard David Asher talk about kefir and cheese.

At the reception, which took place in one of the tunnels, David talked a lot about kefir, his love for it, and its usefulness in making cheese. Before the talk there was traditional music played by a small band, a little local food and drink, and lots of cheese afterwards. David even passed out kefir grains to anyone who wanted one (they were quite large). I put mine in dead (UHT) milk and it fermented it! The magic of kefir.

The next morning I returned to Brooklyn for a day of making simple cheeses—yogurt cheese (and yogurt), paneer, and chevre. Each of these is created differently—to make yogurt cheese, you hang full fat yogurt in butter muslin (or a du-rag) until the whey drips away; for paneer, you boil milk and add acid, which creates curds and whey; and with chevre, you add kefir and rennet, and hang the cheese like yogurt cheese, or you can ladle it into forms.  Continue reading “Learning About Natural Cheesemaking With David Asher in Brooklyn”

Making Berbere and Melekesha, Two Traditional Ethiopian Spice Blends


I’ve mentioned it before—both here and various other places over the years—that Ethiopian food is one of my favorite cuisines. I first tasted it when I lived in Berkeley, and fell in love immediately, in particular with the spiced red lentil dish called Yemesir Wot, also known as Mesir Wot. My first tastes were during my vegetarian years, and this dish was heaven for me.

I learned that one of the ways Ethiopian food tastes like it does is the use of berbere, a traditional spice blend made with a dozen or so spices, including chiles, ginger, and fenugreek, among others. The word berbere means “hot” in Amharic—and it is quite spicy, but so flavorful. You can buy it pre-made but I’ve decided to make it from scratch, combining the spices myself.

Starting out on this project, I thought berbere was an exact mix of spices, but in hindsight, I realize that was a bit naive. It certainly does vary, and I imagine so from town to town, kitchen to kitchen. There are recipes out there with more exotic (to this Westerner) ingredients like rue, which is bitter and apparently contributes to “gastric distress” but must be in there for some reason. I evaluated the following mixes:

  • Marcus Samuelsson—coriander, fenugreek seeds, black peppercorns, allspice, white cardamom pods, cloves, dried onion flakes, dried chiles de árbol, paprika, kosher salt, nutmeg, ground ginger, cinnamon.
  • Karl Lueck (Jabberwocky Stew)—Sweet Hungarian paprika, Spanish paprika, Indian chili power, ajwain, dried basil, cardamom seeds, fenugreek, dried ginger, nigella.
  • Celtnet—cumin seeds, cloves, Ethiopian cardamom (Aframomum corrorima) seeds (or black cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, allspice berries, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, piri-piri chillies, dried ginger, turmeric, sea salt, paprika, cinnamon, thyme leaves

There’s also the Wikipedia description of berbere that includes chili peppers, garlic, ginger, dried basil, korarima, rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella, and fenugreek.

The big constant among the recipes is fenugreek, a spice I really have never used before. It has both sweet and bitter elements to it and I understand it plays well with other spices. Ginger and chiles of some sort are also constants in most berbere recipes.  Continue reading “Making Berbere and Melekesha, Two Traditional Ethiopian Spice Blends”

The Flavor Project


Meyer lemons from the Lemon Ladies

Meyer lemons, which are great for making preserved lemons.

Over the years, I’ve encountered ingredients that have intrigued, delighted, and/or piqued my interest and palate, but for some reason, I only just considered them or enjoyed them for a short time, usually at the time I’ve tasted them. I’ve decided that I’d like to spend a little more time with some of those ingredients, getting to know them, learning about each for month or so, and of course, cooking with them. Here’s the list:

  • Berbere
  • Pomegranate Molasses
  • Fresh Turmeric
  • Bergamot
  • Tamarind
  • Yuzu
  • Preserved Lemon
  • Kaffir Lime Leaf
  • Cilantro
  • Bitter Melon
  • Black Vinegar
  • Kimchi

Interestingly enough, many of these sit on the tart/tang side of the flavor spectrum, but this does not surprise me. Normally I don’t care for bitter things, but I’d love to learn to at least appreciate bitter melon, and see this more as a challenge with the hope that I’ll even learn to like it.

The first item on the list is berbere, which is, of course, a significant element in Ethiopian food, one of my favorite global cuisines. When I lived in Berkeley, I ate a lot of Ethiopian/Eritrean food; here in NYC, it’s not as prevalent, or so it seems. For years I’ve told myself I’d learn to make berbere, so why not start with that? I’ve also got a bag of teff that is calling to me to make injera, too. More on this in future posts.

Here’s to starting a new food project!

Delicious Food at Mu Ramen


The other day I decided it was time to check out Mu Ramen, a pop-up ramen spot in Long Island City, Queens, so I met a friend there Wednesday night. By day the space is Bricktown Bagels, and at night on Tuesdays through Saturdays it transforms into an intimate ramen joint. They serve a couple kinds of ramen, a couple kinds of buns, a few appetizers. The menu is simple and the food is amazing.


The folks behind this venture, Joshua Smookler and Heidy He, started things up a couple of months ago. Joshua Smookler, who has worked at places such as Per Se and Nobu, starts working on the food each evening around 5 p.m., and they start taking reservations after 6 p.m. There are only 14 seats available, and they fill up pretty fast; we hear the busy time is between 7 and 9 p.m each night. I was happy to be there at 6:30.


We started with the short rib buns, which were meaty, rich, and delicious. Continue reading “Delicious Food at Mu Ramen”