Kel’s Grass-fed Meatloaf

Kel’s Grass-fed Meatloaf

Meatloaf is a favorite of ours, and it’s so easy to make, we wonder why we don’t enjoy it more often. We were inspired by the high quality ground beef that we purchased from Joy Dolcini — a 4th generation cattle rancher in Sonoma County. We were surprised at their affordable pricing, and happy to go “in” on the purchase with two other families. Knowing where and how our beef is raised has made a big difference in our choice to eat beef. Grass-fed beef is much healthier than the corn-fed beef raised by the large, corporate cattle lots, because it is lower in saturated fat and higher in omega-3 fats. After all, cows are naturally meant to eat grass, not corn. Healthier cows, make healthier beef.

It’s been a cold, December day. Gray and chilly. We brightened at the sight and smell of tonight’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and left the dinner table warmed and nourished.

Ingredients

2 eggs
2 lbs lean organic ground beef
1/2 cup finely diced onion
2/3 cup homemade bread crumbs (see recipe below or use your favorite store-bought)
1 to 2 teaspoons dried basil
1 to 2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 generous pinches of kosher salt (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper (or more to taste)

Recipe

Preheat oven to 375℉. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix, folding in the ingredients with both hands until completely combined. Place meatloaf mixture into bread pan (8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5) and bake for 40 minutes. During the last 5 minutes, spread ketchup to cover the top and finish baking. Let cool 5 minutes. Cut thick slices and serve with mashed red potatoes. Leftovers are great for meatloaf sandwiches!

Homemade Breadcrumbs

Place 4 to 6 slices of wheat bread directly on middle rack in a 200° oven for 20 minutes (or so) until dry but not browning. Let the bread cool on the rack. Using a food processor: First break up dried slices of bread then place into processor and pulse until bread crumbs form. Add seasonings to the crumbs in the food processor: about one teaspoon each of salt and pepper and two teaspoons of dried oregano, and pulse briefly to mix.

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Homemade Pie

Homemade pie is a yummy labor of love, but let’s face it — making pie dough causes a bit of a mess and can be frustrating.

The key?  Be fearless and no matter what happens, forge ahead. A homemade pie is worth the effort when you see eyes light up at the sight of it and when friends and family “ooh and ahh” as they bite into a buttery, flaky crust and sumptuous filling.  Pie making is as creative and artistic an endeavor as a watercolor painting or pottery project. My family lineage goes several centuries back to England where the Philpott family made their living as pottery makers and merchants, so somewhere in my genetic makeup is a strong inclination to create with my hands. Baking and cooking are the activities that inspire my creative side. When given the choice between a birthday cake and a birthday pie, my daughter chose an apple-pear pie to celebrate. The pie and glass pie plate were part of her birthday gift, and now she is working on her own pie making skills.

Pie-making is an art that you can develop with your own style; however, it also takes strategy.  Below are “tips” I have learned from family, cookbooks, trial and error, friends, cooking shows, and more trial and error. I hope they are helpful to you too.

Ingredients for basic pie crust (Pate Brisee) are:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teas. salt
1 teas. sugar (I use 1 tablespoon)2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter (keep in fridge until ready to use; good quality organic butter works best)
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup ice water (put ice cubes in with the water as well so it is good and cold)

Makes enough dough for one pie with bottom and top crust, or for two pies with single crust.

If you have one, use a food processor, and if not, a pastry cutter works just as well. I often make my pie dough one or two days ahead of time and keep if refrigerated before rolling it out and baking with it. (It can also be frozen in an airtight container.)

In food processor fitted with blade, mix flour, salt and sugar with just a few pulses. Cut each cold stick of butter into 8 cubes and place around flour mixture in food processor. Put lid on and pulse until mixed — it doesn’t take long — less than 30 seconds. You want to see small pieces of butter chunks in the flour, but it should look like coarse cornmeal. As the food processor is running on low, slowly drizzle in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of ice water through the spout on the mixer lid (so that the water streams onto the outer edge, and doesn’t collect only in the center). I usually need to use 1/2 cup, but if it’s a rainy day my dough doesn’t need as much water. The dough should begin to clump very quickly (just seconds) as the water mixes in with the flour/butter. Stop the processor (it’s important not to over mix) and pour out dough onto large sheet of wax paper, and with your hands press it into one mound. The pie dough will still look like it is crumbly until you start molding it with your hands, so don’t worry if it comes out of the food processor in pieces, that is a good sign you will have a flaky crust. After pressing and molding it into one large mound, cut into two equal pieces and put the second piece onto a large sheet of wax paper. Press each mound of dough into a small, flat disc, wrap snugly in the wax paper and put into the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour before you roll them out. The key is working with cold butter, and then chilling the dough before you roll it out.

After the dough is chilled, roll it out on a cool surface dusted with flour – enough flour to keep it from sticking and easy to work, but don’t overdo it either. Make sure you dust your rolling pin with flour as you go.  (Tip:  if your kitchen is warm, you can chill your counter surface or rolling board by placing a cookie sheet on it filled with ice). For a 9” pie, roll to about a 10 ½ inch diameter.  To prevent the dough from tearing, start by pressing the chilled disc of dough with your hands, then use rolling pin to finish. Roll from the center and out to the edge in sections to create a circle. Place rolled pie dough for bottom crust into your pie shell and place back into the refrigerator to chill again (about 20 minutes). To transfer the pie dough onto the pie plate simply roll the pie dough onto your rolling pin and unroll into the pie plate.  Do the same with the upper crust if you are using one (you can roll out the upper crust, lightly dust with flour, fold it in-half, and lay it on a sheet of wax paper or a plate and put it in the fridge and it will unfold onto your pie when the filling is ready). Then prepare your filling, take the pie crusts out of the fridge to assemble and bake according to the recipe you are using. Tip:  Always bake a pie in a preheated oven according to the recipe.

If your dough breaks apart, just pinch it back together again – no one will every know, and your crust will still be deliciously unforgettable.

Maple Pecan Pie

This pie is one of my favorites to make and to eat. It turns out glossy and dark-brown and is just perfect with the basic pie crust recipe below. (I always double the recipe because it is a single crust pie and might as well make two!) I have adapted this recipe from a lovely cookbook published by William-Sonoma:  Pies and Tarts.

Ingredients

Doubled:

Basic pie pastry for 9-inch shell                     Basic pie pastry for two 9-inch shells

(see recipe and tips below)

3 eggs                                                              6 eggs

1 cup (8 fl oz) maple syrup                             2 cups (16 fl oz) maple syrup

¼ cup (2 fl oz) dark corn syrup                       ½ cup (4 fl oz) dark corn syrup

¼ cup (2 oz) sugar                                           ½  cup (4 oz) sugar

¼ cup (2 oz) unsalted butter, melted               ½ cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted

1 teas. Vanilla extract                                      2 teas. Vanilla extract

¼ teas. Salt                                                      ½  teas. Salt

1 ½ cups (6 oz.) pecan halves                         3 cups (12 oz.) pecan halves

Preheat oven to 425°F. Roll out pastry and line pie plates. Set aside in refrigerator while making filling.

In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs until blended. Add the maple syrup, corn syrup, sugar, melted butter, vanilla and salt; beat until thoroughly combined. Coarsely chop pecans, leaving them in large pieces, and stir into the maple mixture. I like them in large pieces and prefer doing this myself than to using the smaller pecan pieces also offered in stores; however you can leave them as whole pecan halves, which makes for a pretty pie, but makes for chunky bites.

Pour pecan mixture into the pastry lined pie plate and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F.  Bake until the filling has puffed up and set around the edges, but the center is still slightly soft – about 20 to 25 minutes longer. Let pie cool for a few hours.

Serve with freshly whipped cream.

Prawn Tacos

Nicole, Mark and Zoe

Family Night

Mexican food has been a long time favorite of mine. I can still smell the rice pudding from Gonzales’ in Richmond. My parents would take me there, as a toddler, after church every week to meet my grandparents for a family meal. I thought of it as my reward for quietly enduring another Sunday service. The practice of bringing family and friends together around food started here for me. The practice of bringing family and friends together around food started here for me. Every part of the food we eat has a story: from the earth it’s grown on to the farmer who tends it all the way to the table on which it is celebrated. I like to know as much of the story as possible and I believe the fewer steps involved between the farmer and my table the better.

We had Kelly’s kids, Mark and Nicole and Nicole’s friend Zoë for Prawn Tacos last week. Kelly refers to them as my Mexican Spring rolls for the fresh veggies used. While we loved the meal, the conversations TacoVeggiessparked by the food were truly a highlight of the evening. Kelly captured Zoë on video sharing the role food plays in her family.

The Prawn Tacos were very simple to make and largely influenced by what we’d picked up at our CSA that week. Many of my favorite recipes arise from the challenge to use all of the bounty in our refrigerator, this meal was no different. We had frozen prawns from Trader Joe’s on hand a vegetable bin full of wonderful produce from Tolay Valley Farms and some corn tortillas. Hmmm…. what to do with it all?

Ingredients:
Corn Tortillas
Prawns- 1.5 per taco seemed sufficient
Carrots- shredded or chopped very thin
Mustard Greens- shredded
Red Onion- diced
Cucumber- sliced thin
Tomato- chopped

YogurtSauceYogurt Sauce
Yogurt (we like Straus Whole Milk Plain) – about a half cup
Chipotle Sauce (I love the Frontera Enchilada sauce) – to taste (I used about 6 tablespoons)
Hot Sauce- to taste

Begin with the yogurt sauce. Pour the yogurt into a bowl, mix in your favorite sauce or salsa to taste then add the hot sauce of your choice. You can put out in a serving bowl along side some tortilla chips and use this sauce as a dip as well as a topping for your tacos.

After this I set up the chopping board and got busy with my vegetables while I preheated the broiler. Once done with my chopping I popped the prawns into the broiler for 7 minutes and Nicole started heating some oil to ready the tortillas. Pop the prawns out of the oven and remove the shell, breaking each prawn into several pieces.

Place your prawns on the warm tortilla, top with the vegetables and a few dollops of the yogurt sauce. Many substitutions can be made. The ingredients for this meal were dictated by what we had on hand. Many different types of greens would work. I found the bitterness of the mustard greens was balanced nicely by the sweetness of the carrot and cucumber.PrawnsOnBroilerPan

Tacos Try ours or make your own. We’d love to hear about your creations and the stories around your dinner table.

Transitioning to Fall: Vegetable Soup

The key to great soup of any kind is really good stock. You can use a vegetable or chicken stock from the grocery store to make this soup, but if you are inclined and have the time to simmer your own, it will make all of the difference. I like to use chicken stock because the flavor is richer and balances the vegetable flavors.

Chicken Stock Ingredients

2 medium or one large yellow onion
1 red onion
2 heads of garlic
3 stalks celery
3 large carrots
2 roast chicken carcasses
Salt

Cut onions into quarters, leaving the skin on; Cut garlic heads in half; wash and coarsely chop carrots and celery into large pieces. Place vegetables into large stockpot, place two roasted chicken carcasses on top, and add water until it covers the ingredients. Bring to full boil, lower to simmer with lid on for 1 ½ hours. Let cool a little, then strain stock into another stock/soup pot, bring to boil, then lower to a simmer to reduce the stock liquid about 1 inch. Add salt to taste (i.e. 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons).

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup Ingredients

12 to 16 cups chicken stock depending on how much soup you want to make. I make extra and freeze it for a busy winter week. (See above recipe or use your favorite store bought)

3 carrots – medium to large
3 medium red potatoes
3 turnips (peel outer skin if winter turnips – it’s bitter)
1 medium star squash
1 medium to large zucchini
1 to 2 small crookneck yellow squash
Bunch of washed spinach with stems removed
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Wash and dice carrots, turnips and potatoes in large bite sized chunks and set aside in a bowl. Wash and dice the rest of the vegetables and set aside. In soup pot, bring stock to low boil and lower to simmer. Carefully add carrots, turnips and potatoes with large spoon (so you don’t get splashed with hot stock) and raise heat to bring back to a simmer, then lower to hold at a simmer for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the rest of the veggies and the dried herbs and simmer 5 more minutes. Test/taste the vegetables which should be al dente, like pasta – not too soft. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and good local bread.  I made one of my favorite fall/winter recipes for cornbread from the Joy of Cookings recipe for Buttermilk Cornbread. An easy addition to this soup is to add cooked pasta (don’t cook the pasta in the soup), which makes it a hearty main dish.

Tailgate Party with Baked Fried Chicken and Raspberry Cake

Smiling teens!

Smiling teens!

Baseball was my first love. I could find a game anywhere. Sometimes it was just catch for two, find a third and you’ve got a game of pickle, add a fourth and you can shag pop flies, one more and it’s time for batting practice. Rainy days were spent reading the box scores and memorizing my heroes’ stats from the back of their trading cards. My mother would tell you that my love for reading was found in section 796 of the library — that’s where the baseball biographies dwell.

Zack's Storytelling.

Zach's Storytelling.

I grew up in the East Bay and in the 70’s we had The Amazing A’s with Reggie, Rudi and Rollie leading the charge to three World Series titles. I did not realize what a truly amazing feat I was witnessing at the time. I’ve since witnessed many more great accomplishments and met several stars of the diamond but my most thrilling moment was meeting Hank Aaron. It was 1974 and he had just broken Babe Ruth’s home run record. The whole world was talking about him and I could tell you the number of hr’s and rbi’s he’d hit the last several years. He was on an appearance tour for Magnavox TV and my Dad handled the Magnavox account for the Oakland Tribune.

Father and son at the game.

Father and son at the game.

Not usually a glamorous job but this week he was tasked with picking up Hammerin’ Hank at the airport and ushering him around the Bay Area for the day. Hank’s wife’s birthday was coming up so he needed to pick up a gift in the mall. Store policy did not allow the cashier to accept an out of state check (she was not aware that she was standing before baseball royalty), so my father wrote out a check for Hank’s $114 Seiko watch. Hank wrote him one in return, which my father never cashed. I’ve now got that check safely tucked away with other childhood memories.  I was a wide eyed and speechless 6 year old taking it all in.

Kelly and I have four teens between us and are always trying to find interesting activities to coax them out. We’ll do anything, we even played guitar hero for an evening to get them over. My Mom’s birthday was last week and I decided it was time to take everyone to an A’s game. We not only got the four of them but they brought friends.  My Mom was thrilled with the turnout; we had enough to make our own team (nine of us) to celebrate her birthday. The game did not start ‘til 7p.m. but Kelly and I started in the kitchen at 7a.m. for our pre-game feast. We made a tangy potato salad with a French dressing, a savory beet salad, Kelly’s Baked Fried Chicken (recipe below) and a beautiful sponge cake (recipe below) with raspberry icing (raspberries from Tolay Farms) drizzled artfully over the top. We made agauas frescas with watermelon to wash it down.

Our own gang of nine.

Our own gang of nine.

The A’s won a thriller, my Mom had a  great evening, the kids ate, drank and were generally merry. We were then treated to a spectacular fireworks show. All in all the evening was a tremendous hit!

Kelly’s Baked-Fried Chicken

My kids loved this when they were little. It is a favorite of mine too.

Ingredients:

Chicken:

From your butcher (if you can and have the time), get a free-range chicken and ask them to cut it into 8 pieces or pick up the pieces you like best at the counter. (Getting it from the butcher is “greener” because you avoid the Styrofoam and plastic packaging.) One chicken will serve five to six people.

Kelly's Chicken-- Yumm!

Kelly's Chicken-- Yumm!

Quart of buttermilk

Seasoned flour:

2 Cups flour mixed well with two teaspoons of salt, one tablespoon of paprika, and two teaspoons of ground black pepper (add more or less to your taste).

Seasoned breadcrumbs

Use your favorite store bought or  make your own.  I follow the Joy of Cooking recipe: place dry slices of bread directly on middle rack in a 200° oven for 30 minutes or so until dry but not browning. Let the bread cool on the rack. Using a food processor, break up dried slices of bread and pulse until bread crumbs form. (I used one slice of bread per chicken piece). Add seasonings to the crumbs in the food processor:  about one teaspoon each of salt and pepper and two teaspoons of dried oregano.

Egg wash: Lightly scramble six eggs with two tablespoons water (for 8 pieces).

Olive oil (for baking pan)

Olive oil spray

Salt (Kosher or sea salt)

The key to really good baked-fried chicken is making an assembly line. (Pie plates work well for this because they have a flat bottom and deep enough sides to hold the flour and breading mixtures.) Preheat oven to 425° and set up five stations:  Large bowl with chicken pieces and buttermilk (let soak in the refrigerator overnight ahead of time if you like); then next to the bowl place a baking dish/pie dish with flour mixture; next to that place a baking dish with egg wash; then place a baking dish with bread crumbs; finally, at the end place a roasting pan or large casserole dish with olive oil drizzled liberally on the bottom.  For each chicken piece soaked in buttermilk, place in flour and turn to coat both sides, then place in egg wash and turn to coat both sides, then dip in bread crumbs and coat both sides. Place breaded chicken onto a large oiled roasting or baking pan. Sprinkle each piece with Kosher or sea salt, then spray the tops of each piece with olive oil spray. Bake for 25 minutes at 425° then lower temperature to 375° for 20 to 25 more minutes. (Chicken juice should run clear when pierced with a knife when done.)

The cake was a hit-- Zack had thirds, but who's counting.

The cake was a hit-- Zach had thirds, but who's counting.

Retro Raspberry Sponge Cake

This is a charming, old-fashioned cake with homemade raspberry icing that drips down the sides. I am craving it again as I right down the recipe. We had organic raspberries on hand from Tolay Valley Farms through our weekly CSA, which inspired the idea for this cake. The best part is the homemade raspberry icing, so if you wish, use a boxed cake mix and make the frosting instead. If you want a truly retro, old-fashioned cake, then use the recipe below and enjoy! This cake is perfect for making a day ahead, which is what I did for our A’s game tailgate picnic.

Amazing Retro Raspberry Cake

Amazing Retro Raspberry Cake

Sponge cake:  I looked through several cookbooks and decided on the following recipe from Joy of Cooking (1980) and the cake turned out just beautifully.

Ingredients: 1 lemon, granulated sugar, all purpose or cake flour (I used all purpose and it worked well), 6 eggs at room temperature (this is really important to do – let them sit out for an hour), boiling water, double-acting baking powder, salt, vanilla.

Preheat oven to 350°

Grate 1 teaspoon of lemon zest and in a small bowl stir lemon zest into 1 cup of sugar.

Separate the six eggs by placing yolks into large mixing bowl, and whites into electric mixing bowl or other large bowl to use later with a hand-held electric mixer.

In the large mixing bowl with the yolks, beat the yolks until very light with a hand held whisk. Gradually beat in the sugar/lemon zest mixture. Beat in ¼ cup of boiling water and let cool a minute then mix in 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

Sift before measuring 1 cup of cake flour (or all purpose) then into a medium bowl resift the flour with 1 ½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Gradually add this flour mixture to the yolk mixture with a spatula until blended.

Whip the egg whites in electric mixing bowl or with an electric hand-held mixer until they are stiff but not dry (when you lift the mixing blades up and a peak forms and stays it’s ready.) Fold the egg whites with the spatula using swift strokes moving from the center of the batter, down and up along the side of the bowl until the cake batter is just lightly blended but don’t over mix it. Pour cake batter into 9-inch tube pan that is NOT greased. (It works best to use a tube pan with a bottom that detaches.) Bake 40 to 45 minutes. Cool upside down – if your pan doesn’t have resting points on the rim that let it stand above the surface to cool, then place it on an inverted funnel or drink bottle (not plastic because that will melt.)

Raspberry icing: I created this recipe by combining two recipes – one for raspberry sauce and one for fruit icing.

Raspberry sauce (The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook)

Ingredients: 1 pint raspberries (2 cups), ¼ cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, pinch of salt.

Combine all ingredients into small nonreactive saucepan and heat on low for about 7 minutes until berries release their juices and start to break down. Using a rubber spatula, press the berry mixture through a fine sieve (discard the yucky solids). Let sauce cool and keep in refrigerator until ready to use. Makes about ¾ cup.

Raspberry icing: Mix ½ cup raspberry sauce (see above) with 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, then beat in 3 tablespoons soft butter and ½ tablespoon lemon juice. Add enough sugar to thicken, but keep it runny enough to drizzle over cake.

To ice the cake, use a hand whisk to dip into the icing and drizzle liberally over the cake, letting it drip down the sides, layering the drizzles until they form a thick icing on top.




You Can’t Beet a Good Story

Don't miss a Beet

Beet photo from ourhomeworks.wordpress.com

Garden beets have been a nutritious cultivation of human kind for a very long time – since the second millennium BC, when the pharaohs of Egypt ruled and chariots were the latest and greatest in transportation. Berkley and I love their sweet, earthy flavor, and since they are in abundance right now we are researching recipes that feature these deep purple beauties. The best place to get them is at your local farmer’s market.

Both the leafy greens and the roots are edible. The greens can be sautéed with onion or garlic in olive oil, much like spinach or Swiss chard (a close cousin of the beet) and are high in vitamin A (needed for good vision), while the roots are a great source of vitamin C (needed for a healthy immune system).

Beet Season is here!

Beet photo from blueheronlocal.wordpress.com

Beets grow best in a cool climate. Perhaps this is why we see so many delicious beet recipes from Russia and nearby countries, i.e. cold beet borscht soup.  (Not to be confused, however, with Russia’s large production of Sugar Beets, used for making sugar and not for eating.)

 

Hotties

To serve garden beets as a hot side dish, Berkley roasted beets in the oven,and after they cooled a bit, removed the skins, cut them into large chunks, and served them with a warm, buttery balsamic vinegar sauce. I highly recommend this yummy recipe to beet lovers as a good contrast to the large variety of cold salad recipes.

Russian Beet Salad

This week’s featured dish is a cold but hearty Russian beet salad. We prepared this salad for a Sunday potluck with our friends from the Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma. While we blog about cooking food to feed ourselves, families and friends, it is our UUP community that feeds our souls.

Feeding the Soul

Feeding the Soul

On that topic, if you have a recipe that “feeds the soul,” please feel free to share it with us in a comment!

Our Version: We used extra virgin olive oil instead of the recipe’s call for sunflower oil, which worked very well. There is no need to use vinegar in this salad – the root vegetables flavors of carrot, potato, and beet come alive with the fresh dill. We didn’t include peas, as the recipe calls for, and didn’t miss them, as the root vegetables seemed to go so well together. Don’t over salt – a little goes a long way with this dish. Tips for cooking the vegetables: The key to this beet salad is to boil the vegetables together so that they become just barely tender, but not soft. We recommend using Russet potatoes. Peel the potatoes and cut in half (or if they are really big, into thirds), use medium sized beets (or cut large beets in-half), and keep the carrots whole (use large carrots, not the baby carrot variety) and place them on top of the other vegetables.

Beet Salad
Beet Salad

We used a 1:1:1 veggie ratio for this salad (same number of potatoes, to beets, to carrots.) Place washed and cut vegetables into a soup pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer for 17 to 20 minutes (after 17 minutes test a beet or potato with a knife, which should pierce with ease, but also a little resistance.) Drain carefully, and let them cool. Take the skins off of the beets with your hands (they should slide off easily), and cut them into hearty dices (use an apron or wear clothes you don’t mind staining with the bright beet juice!). Place in a large salad or mixing bowl. Cut potatoes and carrots into hearty dices and add to salad bowl, then let them chill in the refrigerator ahead of time if you can. When you toss the diced vegetables with the onion, oil, dill, and salt and pepper, do it lightly and sparingly or you could end up with a reddish mashed potato salad.

 

Pizza Night in Petaluma

We planned our Friday night meal around our four teenagers. For those of you with teens you know that things can change in the blink of an eye. Of the four we managed to corral one.

Grateful for Mark!

Grateful for Mark!

Kelly’s 17 year old, Mark was gracious enough to hang with the “parents” on Pizza Night, and the rest seemingly had better offers. We were very grateful for Mark; he’s quite the entertainer and had us all in stitches as we cooked. Laughter is definitely the most important ingredient in all of our cooking. Everything is better with laughter. I’ve been known to say the same thing about butter, bacon and Kelly.

The Secret is in The Sauce

The Secret is in The Sauce

Tomato Sauce

I’ve (Berkley) been making the same sauce for the last couple of years. I don’t do anything unusual or extraordinary in making my tomato sauce but I always get great reviews. The secret to the sauce, as I once heard Alice Waters say, is in the tomatoes. I remember she liked the Shady Lady. I like the Heirloom. We got some beautiful Heirloom’s from Tolay Valley Farms in our weekly CSA pickup down at Ernie’s Tin Bar and added some organic Shady Ladies. I preheated the oven to 350 and cored eight tomatoes then tossed them in a mixture of olive oil and sea salt before placing them on a baking sheet. I threw them in the oven for 45 minutes and meanwhile diced half of an enormous sweet yellow onion along with five cloves of garlic. Once the maters were out and had cooled a bit I took the skins off half of them with my fingers. To make the sauce, I heated some olive oil in a sauce pan, added a dash of salt and a few quick turns with the pepper grinder then tossed in the garlic and onions. I sautéed until the onions softened then tossed in the tomatoes whole. I mashed the tomatoes with a potato masher (a trick that just came to me Friday) and mixed it all together.

Testing The Sauce

Testing The Sauce

I simmered the sauce for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, adding only salt and pepper to taste. I’ve frozen and canned this before.  It’s a great staple to have around the house – on pasta after a busy day or on toast for bruschetta to feed the unannounced but always welcome guest.

The Cheese

Searching for new employment in today’s changing economy has caused me (Kelly) to search within myself. Sometimes, this is a painful process.  Actually, it is a “yucky” process, but nevertheless it is necessary. To counteract the yuckiness, I find myself needing comfort food, and pizza is one of my favorite comfort foods. I like to bake, so I made the pizza dough while Berkley made his amazing sauce. This week’s story, however, is about the cheese because it is the cheese that makes pizza a comfort food.

We discovered a delicious, local source for cheese in Petaluma. We were introduced to the fabulous cheeses from the Spring Hill Cheese Company through a good friend, Ellen Beeler, who made pizza to remember one night. On Western Avenue (next to their creamery), patrons can enjoy cheese tasting in Spring Hill’s store. We’ve become big fans of their organic, absolutely yummy garlic curd, firehouse Cheddar and pesto Jack cheeses.

Although Spring Hill Cheese Company was started in 1998, it follows a long tradition of dairying in the area. Spring Hill’s ranch raises a herd of 400 Jersey cows because they produce milk with high butter fat. Jersey cows were among the early breeds raised by dairymen and women in the late 1800’s when immigrant families from Italy, Portugal, and other countries made Marin and Sonoma counties active in butter and cheese making. The lush grasses along the coast stay greener longer due to the cool ocean breezes and fog, providing a natural resource that has been perfect for dairy cows for over 150 years. Other breeds, like the black and white Holsteins, later replaced the Jerseys in the dairy industry because they produce more milk. Jersey cows produce less milk, but it is the richness that owner Larry Peter needs to produce Spring Hill’s wide variety of cheeses.

The Pizza Dough

Cormeal Crust with yogurt, YUMM!

Cormeal Crust with yogurt, YUMM!

Berkley researched pizza dough recipes online for me and came up with one I really like because it bakes into a light, crunchy cornmeal crust. The key to our pizza is the cheese; the key to this pizza dough  is the yogurt. Although I was a little intimidated at first, the pizza dough was easy to make. I doubled the recipe so that we could make two 16 inch pizzas, mixing organic whole wheat flour (1 1/2 C) and white flour (1 C), with cornmeal (1 C), baking soda (1 tsp), baking powder (2 tsp), salt (1 tsp), and dry basil (1 tsp) in a large bowl. Then in a separate bowl I stirred together Straus Family whole milk plain yogurt (1 1/2 C) and olive oil (4 T). Gently combining, I poured the yogurt mixture into the flour mix and stirred until it came together. The dough only needs to be kneaded (pun intended) for a minute or two – I just placed the mound of dough onto a piece of well floured parchment paper and used the heel of my hand (also floured) to work the dough into a ball, sprinkling a little flour as I worked it so that the dough would no longer stick to my hand. I wrapped the dough ball in the parchment paper and let it “rest” in the refrigerator for a bit. Rolling it out was easy. I cut the ball of dough in two with a knife, pressed each half of the dough with my fingers to start, and used a rolling pin to properly finish rolling each crust to 1/4″ thick. To transfer the dough to a baking sheet I lightly folded it in half to make it easier, then unfolded it onto the baking sheets.  To complete the crust, I made a 1/2″ folded edge, pressing with my fingers. We partly baked the pizza crust for 10 minutes at 400.

The Toppings

Mark putting on some finishing touches

Mark putting on some finishing touches

For the toppings, Berkley sliced green bell pepper and Italian sausage (Aidell’s) and Mark thinly sliced mushrooms and grated mounds of cheese. We chose three kinds of Spring Hill cheese for our pizzas:  Fresh Curds (crumbled on top, these become creamy when melted), Garlic Cheddar and Pesto Jack. Berkley spread his roasted tomato sauce over both pizza crusts. Mark topped his pizza with all of the above ingredients, and I made mine with the same, minus the bell pepper and plus oregano sprinkled around. These took about 20 minutes in the oven at 400.

Beets, Cucumbers n' Greens

Beets, Cucumbers n' Greens

While the pizzas baked, I put together a simple salad of diced roasted beets, red lettuce, and sliced cucumber with a creamy blue cheese dressing.

The Comfort

This pizza both crumbled and melted in our mouths as we ate outside on the patio.  We laughed some more as we heard about life through the eyes of a teenager. The pizza was just as comforting for breakfast the following morning and for lunch two days later on a hike.

Berkelly's Pizza fresh from the oven.

Berkelly's Pizza fresh from the oven.

Local food + local couple who likes to cook = yummmm

The Cooks

The Cooks

We are a couple that likes to cook, and likes to eat — and take long walks to burn the calories from all those home cooked meals. The key ingredients? Local food from Petaluma, Sonoma county and nearby growers. Tomorrow we are collecting organic vegetables from a small garden that is tended by a fourth generation Petaluma man who runs a family bar named after his grandfather, Ernie, (also his namesake) — Ernies Tin Bar.  Following that, we will pick up fresh bread and other products at the local farmers market on Wednesday in downtown Petaluma. More to come on what we create, including recipes, stories, and hopefuly some laughs (an important ingredient in all we cook together.)