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I love my oatmeal. I usually cook McCann’s on the stove and add mashed banana, walnuts, raisins and almond milk. But sometimes I’m lazy and just want something super quick and easy to make. Like instant oatmeal! I recently came across a cereal brand called Three Sisters. The packaging caught my eye at Whole Foods (where it is sold exclusively) and so did the flavors. Besides the typical cinnamon and apples and brown sugar and maple flavors, Three Sisters instant oatmeal is also made in dark chocolate, chai spiced and cinnamon plum spiced. So far I’ve tried the cinnamon and apples and the chai spiced. They are both so good! Three Sisters uses the thicker, heartier type of oatmeal (which my dad couldn’t couldn’t stand because he likes his oatmeal finer and mushier) and touts their products as “natural, sensible, sustainable cereals” which I totally support.

I was a little surprised to see that Three Sisters is a Malt-O-Meal brand because it has the appearance of a small start-up (very clever, Malt-O-Meal…). But of course, almost everything sold at Whole Foods has that mom-and-pop look about it.

Perhaps the best thing about this oatmeal is the fact that the pouch the cereal comes in doubles as a measuring cup. There’s a fill line on the wrapper so you know exactly how much water to use and it couldn’t be handier. I love the fact that I don’t have to guess whether I’ve added enough water to the bowl. All the work is done for me.

And I can’t wait to try the other flavors. Except plain. Yuck.

~Christina

Okay, no pictures today. Just a good old fashioned opinion. I have to write this. Last week a few girls and I went to a wine tasting at a well-known wine bar in the 14th/U Street area in DC. Not just well known, but one of the best, winner of many awards. And it sucked. This wine bar recently added a tasting room and market, and had a space above the market to taste the wines. They brought in a group of wine importers, based in Italy, who spoke about the wines they selected and why. I was excited. I love Italy, and all things Italian (see my pasta addiction…). The instructor studied winemaking at UC Davis and moved to Italy. He spoke Italian fluently. Amazing. But when we had one wine glass on the table, and ten wines to taste, I should have known something was wrong.

I’ve been to wine samplings where you are given one glass. I say samplings because that’s what they were. They were free. Because the point was to just taste something, see if you liked it, and purchase something. Not to teach the participants about wine.  At Bottle Rocket in NYC, Christina and I went to a self-guided sampling, where the bottles and the descriptions were set out and they had staff on hand to answer any questions. But, with one wine glass, there were pitchers of water to rinse the glasses. Considering Bottle Rocket is a bottle shop, it made perfect sense to have a less fancy setup. And the point was to taste the wines to find a bottle to buy. At the Whole Foods in Fairfax, Virginia, they have an enomatic machine, where you can squirt out little single tastings of the 50+ wines they have and try before you buy. Same at Union Square Wines in NYC.

At this DC wine bar, I felt like I was in an infomercial. After every tasting, we heard: “this wine is available downstairs”. Great, but put it out there that what we’re doing is trying to find a bottle of wine for you to go buy. Don’t call it a guided wine tasting. Say, I’m going to give you a sip of 15 bottles of wine for you to figure out what you like. Good luck, sort it out, and if you want to learn about wines, go somewhere else.

If you happened to not like the wine that was in the glass, or drank a little slow, you were finding yourself having to chug the wine before the guy came around with the next bottle. The descriptions were all out of order and I honestly stopped paying attention halfway through the reds section.

The point of tastings is to learn what you like to drink, so you can start to recognize characteristics in wine that you like or don’t like. You start to learn things about what you’re tasting. For instance, as you may know, I don’t like sweet wines. So once I understood the adjectives that described these wines, like “has residual sugars”, or the region that makes these wines like Germany or Austria, I knew which wines to  stay away from. But if you don’t spend any time on the characteristics of the wine itself, and only focus on the pricepoint and anecdotes about the grower, what really is the point?

So in short, I was super disappointed. Really, DC, this is all you have to offer? Email me if you want to know what wine bar it was, to save you the trouble and money. And email me if you have some suggestions for good wine tastings in DC — I’m not giving up yet.

Here are a few places that have outstanding tastings.

Guided:

Artisanal Cheese, NYC

483 10th Avenue
New York, NY

Institute of Culinary Education, NYC

50 West 23rd Street
New York, NY

Murray’s Cheese Shop, NYC

254 Bleeker Street
New York, NY

Self Guided:

Bottle Rocket, NYC

5 West 19th Street
New York, NY

Bin 38, San Francisco

3232 Scott St
San Francisco, CA

Bin 36, Chicago

339 North Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL

Whole Foods Wine Market, Fairfax, VA

4501 Market Commons Dr
Fairfax, VA 22033

Union Square Wines, NYC

140 4th Avenue
New York, NY

Now as much as I love to just eat a hunk of cheese, I am also totally down with savoring it bit by bit with an accompaniment. Yes, you can always do nuts and fruit, but everyone does nuts and fruit. And you’re cooler than that. Or at least I thought you were. But then again I don’t know you that well… A lot of people have opinions on this. I talked to Max McCalman, of Artisanal Cheese, after a class at their center, and he said he is a cheese purist. He likes to enjoy the essence of the cheese by itself. And I get it – I totally do. But I also think that if an accompaniment makes the cheese a little more interesting, makes the eater form a memory with the cheese, and maybe makes them try a cheese they otherwise wouldn’t, I am all for it. As the days go on, I’ll be posting some recipes to create pairings with a few of the more common cheeses that you can easily get at Whole Foods.

One person who truly inspires me on this topic is Tia Keenan (@kasekaiserina). She was the head fromager/chef at Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen. And her cheese plates were world-renowned (Literally, there are articles about her in German…). She creates these amazing taste combinations that make you want to eat more and more cheese. Without sounding corny, having one of her cheese plates there changed the way I looked at cheese. I started to look at it as more of an experience/food memory versus just a hunk of protein. It made me be more present with what I was eating. (I had a lemongrass fudge there that is forever imprinted in my memory.)

Here are some of Tia’s combinations:

Image from Makeroom NYC

Cato Corner Farm Hooligan with Sage Bread Pudding and Mustard Whipped Meadowbrook Farm Cream

Image from Makeroom NYC

Twig Farm Square Cheese with Seed “Caviar” and Dragonfruit Chip

Image from Makeroom NYC

5 Spoke Creamery Browning Gold with Massaman Curried Sunflower Seed Brittle and Black Curry Syrup

I talked to her about this topic, and here’s what she had to say:

“I always seek to create new and unexpected flavors.  The element of surprise is something I want to have in my food.  It has to taste good — of course — but there is something really great about surprising someone.  Being a chef is a conversation between myself, the guest and the ingredients.  It’s three “people” sharing their values through the dining “experience”, through the plate.  Pairings are how I share my “opinion” or point of view.  It’s how I “show off” my knowledge of the product.  It’s how I seduce you into the “conversation”.  Who doesn’t love to talk to someone with a unique opinion or point of view?  I want you to eat my food in part because it intrigues you, make you curious.  You want to know more.

I have always been someone who hates rules.  “This cheese should be served with THAT” or “this is the perfect pairing” always irked me.  Why?  Why does a pairing (or anything for that matter), HAVE to be a certain way.  I have never been one for orthodoxy.  Cheese is steeped in tradition, and while I respect that tradition and have worked within its parameters, I always found myself asking “Why?”  or, “Why not?”.  Also, there’s something irrational about rules about how things “must” be in food.  For instance, if you pair a tomato with a lychee it’s probably not going to be very tasty, but what’s the harm?  So you learned that tomato and lychee are not a good combination…you move on.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that process and discovery are very important to me, as much as the end result or “perfect pairing”.  I think I have a good palate and a lot of knowledge of the product, but at the end of the day I think my biggest culinary asset is my curiosity and my courage to act on that curiosity.  The best thing about working with food as a medium is that it literally turns to shit the next day, so every meal is a chance to make something new, to have a new experience.  When I make cheese pairings I want to give you an experience that is delicious but also encourages you to be curious.

 There’s one other point I’d like to make about pairing:  the flavors of every cheese changes throughout the seasons, throughout its lifespan with many external factors having an influence — how it was stored, how old it is, etc.  If one understands that cheese in ALWAYS in flux, how can we definitively say what the “best” pairing is?  It seems to me that the pairing would potentially change along with the cheese.  Again, this is an approach which reveres curiosity and discovery.  I work with cheese because every time I put a piece of cheese in my mouth, no matter how many times I’ve had it before, it’s a new experience, a new flavor.  I am inspired by that inherent characteristic in the product.  I pay homage to its essential mutability with my pairings.”

Umm, yeah, so in comparison to that, the pairings I came up with don’t look so amazing. But the thought is there. The whole idea is to bring out a new dimension of the cheese.

My pairings, with recipes to follow:

  1. Humboldt Fog with Dried Cherry Almond Cookies
  2. Saint-Nectaire with Rosemary Pine Nut Brittle
  3. Gruyère with Red Onion Jam
  4. Gorgonzola with Dates, Bacon and Marcona Almonds

~ Dana

 
When I told my husband I was making ricotta from scratch, he looked confused, said “why?”, and shrugged. Clearly he was not going to be impressed by my cheese-making skills. But someone was going to be. So I forced my friend Litonya to have a fake wine bar night with me, where I’d prepare appetizers and she’d bring wine, and we’d pretend we were somewhere cool besides my new house that is full of empty boxes from unpacking. And you know what? It kind of worked. I made Ricotta-Lemon-Hazelnut Crostini among other things, and the wine was great. The ricotta cheese was amazing — light and fluffy, and nowhere near anything you could buy in the store. I used a recipe from epicurious and was super surprised at how easy it was. The cheese was lemony and fresh, and somewhat sweet.
You will need:
  • 2 quarts whole milk (Note: Make sure it’s not ultra-pasteurized. If the milk could be fresh from the cow, that would be even better, but ultra pasteurized won’t curdle.)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Special equipment: large colander, fine-mesh cheesecloth (Note: You can get this at most better grocery stores. Whole Foods carries these.)
1. Line a large colander with a layer of heavy-duty (fine-mesh) cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.
2. Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

3. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes. (Note: You’ll see the texture in the picture above. When it looks like cottage cheese, it’s ready to come off. It’s not supposed to be thick yet.)

4. Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered; it will keep in the refrigerator 2 days. This makes about 3 cups of cheese.

What to do with a bowl of fresh ricotta? I was tempted to make a dish of lasagna, but instead I picked a more sweet route. I decided to make lemon-ricotta-hazelnut crostini. They were super easy. (Side note: I tossed a spoonful of the ricotta into my pasta pomodoro the next day. Divine.)

Lemon-Ricotta-Hazelnut Crostini

What’s great about these from a balance standpoint is that it all works. The honey contrasts with the salty hazelnuts. The smooth ricotta balances with the crunchy nuts and bread, and the lemon pulls out the citrus from the cheese. It is super light (but full fat at the same time…). Drink with a light, citrusy white wine that doesn’t overpower the flavors, like an Albariño.

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
  • vegetable oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1 lemon to zest
  • Orange-blossom honey
  • baguette

1. First you have to blanch the hazelnuts. To do this, preheat the oven to 350 and place them on a lined cookie sheet. Toast them until they are slightly brown. Using a dishtowel, rub the hazelnuts until the outer shell comes off of them, and they are smooth.

2. Crack the hazelnuts to create smaller pieces. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle a little oil over them. Sprinkle salt over them and toss to coat.

3. Slice the bread and toast in the oven until crusty and light golden brown.

4. Assemble the crostini by placing ricotta on top of the crostini, drizzling the honey and zesting the lemon on top of it.

5. Sprinkle crostini with salted hazelnuts and serve.

Enjoy!

~ Dana

My friend Dean and I were talking (arguing) on the phone the other day — He was asking me if Polly-O string cheese was seriously a legit cheese. In his question, I could hear tones of judgement in his voice. He, a connoisseur of Whole Foods and sugar in the raw, would never dream of eating this processed stuff. Now yes, it’s manufactured, and yes, it comes in plastic, which is against all that I believe in, but….while Polly-O is gross, I’m saying that ugly or not, it still falls under the classification of a pasta filata cheese. A pasta filata (pulled curd) cheese is the type of cheese that provolone and mozzarella fall into. Whether Polly-O falls into this category depends on if you consider processed cheese real or not. Now not the fanciest cheese, certainly, and not my favorite cheese for sure. So hate on it if you must, but this is the poor man’s pasta filata.

More on pasta filata cheeses: This is a style of cheese that is served fresh, and usually consumed within a day or two of making. (Yes, Polly-O has preservatives that make it last freakishly long…but work with me here.) So, as we know, all cheese starts with fresh milk. Rennet is added to make curds (milk solids) and whey (milk liquids). For pasta filata cheeses, the curds are then softened in hot (scalding hot) water and then pulled and stretched so that all the curds fall in the same direction. The treatment of the curds helps to create layers, which are stringy. Now, disclaimer here: real artisanal pasta filata cheeses are made by hand, and Polly-O is certainly not. Also, for pasta filata cheeses, that rubbery, plastic-y trait is not considered good, and you won’t find that in good mozzarellas and provolone or Mexican Oaxaca cheeses.

So because Christina and I are crazy, we decided to try to make mozzarella ourselves. I thought because I had taken a Mozzarella Class at the Brooklyn Kitchen, that I was an expert. You can’t tell by the pictures, but the cheese wasn’t the softest ever. Okay, it was straight up hard. But it’s the thought that counts, right? Or is that just for gifts? Now mind you, while we’re doing this, our landlord (from Sicily, remember) is speaking in Italian to the other Sicilian lady across the street who makes her own mozz daily. Her directions were exactly the same as below, with a few “it’s easy”s thrown in there. I have come to the conclusion that to Italian women, everything is “easy” because cooking is in their blood, and takes little to no effort. Christina and I, meanwhile, were cussing the day those damn curds were born, because the water was scalding hot and the damn things wouldn’t melt.

From top left, clockwise:

Step 1: Get some good curds. Like literally, go into a good cheese shop and say “Give me some curds.” We got these from our favorite Astoria spot, Rosario’s. Remember the amount of curds you buy will net the same amount of mozzarella.

Step 2: Cut the curds and salt them. You can see a recipe here for an idea on how much salt to add.

Step 3: Melt the curds in hot water. By hot I mean boiling. Christina has a freakish ability to dip her hands into hot water and squish, so I let her do this. You want to add a little squishing and stirring action to get the curds to melt before the water cools down.

Step 4: This is what the curds look like melted.

Step 5: Pull the curds. Don’t pull them a lot, just maybe one time, then fold and pull again. This is like pizza dough — the more you knead, the tougher it becomes. This is really the tricky part. By pulling, you’re laying the curd into that one direction, like we talked about above. We found that the hotter you can get the curds, the more pliable they are, and the lighter the end product. But be careful because the more you pull, the more whey is expelled.

Step 5: Form the individual cheeses. Using two hands, kind of form and section off little balls. You want to tuck the loose ends under the bottom, and it’s okay if you capture a little water inside.

Step 6: This is what the mozzarella looks like finished. You should store these in water until you’re ready to use. If you store in the fridge, make sure you bring to room temperature by putting them in warm water. The colder the mozz, the harder it is.

I swear if Christina and I can do this, you can do this. And don’t be discouraged if they’re not perfect. When you melt it, it all tastes the same.

~ Dana

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