Burning down the house!


JUST KIDDING! That is not even our farmhouse, don’t worry….BUT we are officially starting the demolition process on the farmhouse. And by WE…I mean Simon. He was able to remove the back deck that spanned the length of the farmhouse yesterday! He’s my hero. We will be able to reclaim the wood for use on the chicken coops. It looks like when the deck was built, they used lumber from the property. It’s untreated and that makes me feel better about building with it. While it was unsafe for us to walk on, we think it is plenty sturdy enough to build the coops from. I don’t have any pictures to share right now but Simon and my Dad are at the farm as I type this post snapping photos of the ‘before’ ….we hope to take some ‘after; photos of the deck next week.  It was imperative that we get the deck done first as we can use it as a workspace when we demo the interior of the farmhouse. The farmhouse is only 1000 square feet…but with the huge deck we have a great workspace while we tackle the interior.

So fingers crossed! Life will soon get crazy busy and super fun!!!!!!!!!! Photos soon, I promise!

Oh, and one more thing. The cows are having babies! All this week, Simon has been part of some births and saved a calf when it got stuck in the spring. Of course, I missed all the fun. I love baby cows. The cows currently on pasture belong to Dan the Farmer. He rents some pasture we are not using for the time being. It’s nice to have animals out there even though we aren’t living there full time. Just proves to us that the farm is a great place to raise animals.

We’ve yet to pick a name for the farm. Still accepting suggestions! Don’t be shy!

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All Things are coming up Sheepy!


**cross-posted at Menuism

I have a secret to share. It’s not terribly juicy but it does often surprise most folks. So here it goes: You eat more sheep’s milk cheese than you think. It’s true. A good number of folks have no idea how often sheep’s milk cheeses find their way onto their plate. Have you ever stopped into your local Italian specialty market to pick up ricotta for your lasagna? If you have, you’ve had sheep’s milk cheese. Same goes for pecorino Romano—that’s a sheepy cheese as well. The Italian word for sheep is pecora. Continue reading

Lebanese cooking class with ME at The Kitchen Conservatory!


Join me on March 26th for my first cooking class at Kitchen Conservatory! We will be cooking all things Lebanese. We will be making laban, shish barak over rice , fatoush, hummus  b’thini and baklava! For more information click HERE!

Rendering beef fat to soothe the sad heart


If you follow me on Twitter, you most likely are aware that my Grandmother died on Christmas Eve. She was 100 years old and the most magnificent woman in the world. And that is not an exaggeration. She was truly amazing. She was the first person I remember telling me how important it was to get an education and engage in a fulfilling career. She was the person who taught me to cook, taught me to pray and taught me to be proud of my Lebanese heritage. She taught me to be progressive, never stagnant. Despite her age, she never rested on her laurels. Always moving with the times, trying new thing and embracing change….all the while holding on to her faith, heritage and traditions passed down from her parents. She was the youngest of four sisters, daughter of Lebanese immigrants and a pioneer in this city. She and two of her sisters owned and operated a restaurant and tavern in North St. Louis at a time where not only women didn’t own business but rarely worked and had just earned the right to vote. She was generous and philanthropic, continually giving to charities close to her heart such as St. Jude’s Hospital and American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities. She was a devout Maronite Catholic and a champion for her parish, St. Raymond’s Church. But above all, she was most proud of her family and harbored a love for us that saw no end. It was a love that I will cherish until the day I die…and one that I hope to shower upon my children and grandchildren someday. Continue reading

Farmhouse Kitchens


In our teeny tiny farmhouse, the kitchen is by far the largest room. I have been rummaging through magazines, design blogs and books looking for inspiration. Below are pictures of kitchen that have caught my eye. There isn’t one specific picture that makes me say “THAT’S IT! THAT IS THE KITCHEN I WANT!” However, each picture holds something that speaks to me and a small idea that I would like to incorporate into our farmhouse kitchen. We are not going to do a complete renovation. Just going to ‘spruce’ things up a bit….or at least that is the plan as of now….who knows what will happen if I keep perusing these magazines and design blogs!?!

Above: Courtesy of This Old House

Above: Courtesy of This Old House

Above: Courtesy of This Old House

Above: Courtesy of This Old House

Above: Courtesy of This Old House

Above: Courtesy of This Old House

idyllic dreamhouse


Since we have a itsy bitsy farmhouse to renovate..or should I say ‘update’, I have been scouring cottage living magazines and design blogs. I even have a friend searching for my perfect modern kitchen online. From time to time, I come across something that is PERFECT for the farmhouse. Today is one of those times. Behold…I give you indoor sheep!

Above: Photo via the Living Agency.

 

American Artisanal Cheesemakers: Introducing Baetje Farms


**cross posted at Menuism

Artisanal cheese can be found in pretty much every state in the union. I dare you to try and name a state that doesn’t have at least one dairy or creamery. Even the island of Hawaii is home to some great cheesemakers! Over my next few posts, I’ll talk about some of these great American cheesemakers, starting with my home state of Missouri. Continue reading

Baa Baa Black Sheep….


Well, things are still moving along with the farm, albeit in slow motion. This cold, snowy winter has put the kibosh on any farmhouse remodeling until the spring thaw. All of the technical/legal stuff that goes along with this farm is on track. Life is busy for us right now, that if for sure. Continue reading

American Artisan Cheese is back with a vengance!


**cross posted at Menuism

The United States is embarking on a revival of the craft of artisan cheesemaking. Over the past several years, American-made artisanal cheese has won back its place in the hearts of the people. Artisanal cheese can be found once again in cases at wine shops, specialty stores and at farmers’ markets. According to the American Cheese Society, there has been astounding growth in membership as well as the number and variety of American artisanal cheeses entered in its annual competition.

Some folks may dare to say that American artisanal cheese may rival those European classics that have long been thought of as the best of the best. It cannot be denied that American artisanal cheesemakers are becoming well known across the country. With the advent of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and cheese periodicals like Culture, American cheesemakers and cheesemongers are winning over America’s food enthusiasts.
Continue reading

Lebanese Meatballs over Rice. AKA: Kafta ‘qrass bi saalsit el banadoura


**cross posted at www.foodblogmafia.com

1lb minced beef

1 med/lg onion diced

1 cup spinach; stems trimmed and chopped

Salt

Pepper

Red pepper flakes

Cumin

Dried mint

1 egg

¼ cup plain bread crumbs or 2 slices bread soaked in milk

Olive Oil/butter

1 can stewed tomatoes

1 can tomato sauce

2 tbsp tomato paste

½ cup beef stock

 

In heavy bottomed large pot, add olive oil and butter to coat the bottom. Season with salt pepper, red pepper flakes, cumin and mint to taste. Brown onions on med/low heat until carmelized and sweet.  I would say it’s about 1 tsp cumin and 1 tablespoon mint. Add spinach and cook down. Move to bowl to cool. When onion spinach mixture cool..add to minced beef. Add egg and bread crumbs. Season again with salt, pepper, mint, cumin and red pepper flakes to desired flavor. Should be fragrant. Do not over mix. Form into small meatballs and brown in same pot. The meatballs are very loose…handle with care.  Will most likely have to brown them in batches. When all meatballs are browned….remove from pot. Add tomato paste and deglaze pot with beef stock. Add stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Then add one can of water to thin out sauce a bit. Add meatballs and finish cooking them in the tomato sauce. After about 30 minutes…check for seasoning. You might need to add more salt/pepper and mint. The Lebanese love mint.  Simmer another 30 minutes or so. Serve over Lebanese rice.  Here is that recipe:

 

  • 1 1/2 cups rice
  • 1/2 cup vermicelli, broken to small pieces (we used orzo last night)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 1/4 cups water

Brown vermicelli in butter in large pan. Add rice and water. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for 20 minutes, or until water is absorbed and rice is tender.

I love this stuff.  It is my go to comfort food…paired with Lebanese bread and butter and side of tabouli…I’m in heaven.

Buring down the house!


I kid…we didn’t burn down the farmhouse. But Simon did paint it…and it looks amazing. The above picture is not the farmhouse. Its a barn in Perryville, MO. I just though it was pretty and took a picture fo fit.

It’s crazy what a fresh coat of paint can do for a house. Next up is the demolition of the deck. I’m actually scared to walk on it…it has seen better days. The new deck needs to be up before we start the demo of the interior of the house so we will have a work space outside the house. It’s only a 900 square foot house. That seems very small to me. Well, mostly because it is small…but I keep telling myself I will do better with getting rid of some of the extraneous junk in my life. There is no need for two televisions. I need to thin down my closet. So…we will see how that works out.

Phase I of animal procurement with be chickens. We are doing all of our homework and trying to figure out where we want to put the coops. Our goal is to have about 200 chickens…all free range of course. There is a great stretch of pasture with some woods along the north boundary that we are thinking would be great for them. If we get the chicks in March we could possibly have some eggs by late summer.

Then the sheep, followed by cows and hogs.

I’m so excited.

7 Tips for Assembling a Basic Cheese Board


***Cross-posted at Menuism

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” I couldn’t agree more! Ending a meal with cheese is a lovely substitution (or addition) to the dessert course.

I’ll discuss some general guidelines, but first, know that the “rules” of assembling a cheese board are so subjective. You gotta do what you feel! My favorite boards highlight the different kinds of milk used to make cheese. Assembling any type of cheese board, however, is a great opportunity to introduce something new to family and friends—especially the unadventurous eaters.

Where Do I Start?

A cheese plate should be diverse, but you don’t need more than a few options. When formulating your cheese board, consider factors like the style of cheese, milk source, appearance and flavor profile. There are a bajillion ways you can go about this. One suggestion: I often stick to the triumvirate of offering a blue cheese, a hard cheese and a soft cheese. On the other hand, I also like to offer three cheeses of the same type; for example, three bloomy rind cheeses from different cheesemakers. Either way allows for a wide variety and you’ll be sure to please everyone with one of your selections.

Another approach is to stick with cheeses from a particular country. If you are having a tapas party, showcase Spanish cheeses like San Simon, manchego and Idiazabal. All three are from Spain and range from light to full-bodied. France, America, Spain and the UK all have crazy-good cheeses to choose from. The diversity within each country is broad and can make for a delicious cheese board. On the other hand, you could be a total rebel and choose different cheeses from different countries—kind of like the United Nations on a plate!

One thing is for sure: you must try the cheese you are going to serve. Any reputable cheesemonger will be more than happy to serve you up a taste. If he or she doesn’t offer you samples or refuses your request, turn on your heel and march out the door. And vow never to return.

How Much Should I Buy?

Another big question is how much cheese to buy. I go with the general rule of buying two ounces per person. Some folks eat more, some eat less, but it should even out in the end. If you are going to serve other nibbles (e.g, olives, dried fruit or chocolate) with the cheese, you might not need as much. But remember, with the leftover cheese you can always make Fromage Fort!

7 Tips for a Great Cheese Board

Here are the nuts and bolts of a fancy-schmancy cheese board. To get started:

1. Use a wooden cutting board or a marble cheese platter. Both make a good cutting surface and are pleasing to the eye.

2. Use separate cheese knives for each cheese. You don’t want to mix the flavors.

3. Allow the cheese to come to room temperature before serving your guests. Cold temperatures mute the flavors of the cheese. You spent good money on this stuff; you want to do it right.

4. Keep the board limited to three to five cheeses. Unless you are feeding 50 people, three cheeses is enough to enjoy. More than five and your guests may lose track of what’s what.

5. If you don’t have the time to discuss each cheese to each guest, label them. A simple white card with the cheese’s name, milk source and country of origin will do. You can also tuck the cheese label next to the cheese if you happen to have it. Very clever.

6. Serve cheese with water crackers, sliced baguette or any type of plain cracker. It allows the flavor of the cheeses to be in the forefront. You don’t want a garlic-and-herb cracker overshadowing your delicate triple crème brie.

7. Dried fruit, olives, chutneys, berries, almonds and sliced apples or pears accompany cheese very well. They work as a palate cleanser between cheeses, and  also taste really good with cheese. It’s a win-win.

When in doubt, call upon your cheesemonger. He or she can always suggest cheeses for your board. It’s what they love to do! Just remember to eat what you like, don’t be afraid to try new things and share your love of cheese with your family and friends!

It’s really , really real…


Well, we started work on the farmhouse this past week. And by WE…I mean The Cheesemonger. I am busy working at the hospital these days. Things are falling into place and before you know it we will be living in Festus. Next on the agenda is to paint the exterior of the house and replace the wrap-around back deck. We are going to extend the deck to connect the bunk house with the main house. After that: internal demo.

I have been scouring over loads of design magazines like Dwell and other periodicals such as Beautiful Home and Cottage Living. The farmhouse is very small. It is about half the size of the loft give or take a few 100 square feet.  I keep forgetting that we have two barns and a bunk house to store things in…that is good. But I am worried about our clothes and shoes. We have ALOT. And if you know anything about The Cheesemonger…you know who has the most shoes…I have been trading kitchen ideas with a friend of mine for the last week or so. I think he may be more excited about the renovations than I am at this point. He can be…he won’t have to live there.

There are other tidbits to consider at this time as well…like for instance: A NAME for the farm/dairy. Right now it’s just known as THE FARM. But I want to come up with something a bit more catchy and fitting. I don’t necessarily want Festus to be in the name as it reminds me of the word fester, like a festering boil. I know that is gross…but it is what it is.

Lehrer Family Farms isn’t bad…but people have such a hard time with that last name! So, if anyone has any suggestions…lay ’em out there. I have my people working on it as I type this post.  It was also brought to my attention that I need to hurry up with this ‘naming’ project as I need to secure my domain name/website. All of these little things are on my to-do list that I have filed back in my brain…but I think we are going to need to knock this part our sooner or later.  We have lots of folks asking about THE FARM and wanting to get the word out…and yet, I can’t even tell them what we call it.

We won’t have sheep until the spring. We will start with chickens.  The Cheesemonger is making the plans for the coop and we are trying to figure out the best place to put it. They will be pretty free to roam the farm. I’m hoping they will help keep bugs away.

I’m excited. I’m scared. I’m hopeful. I’m nervous. I’m just all around ready for this adventure.

 

Pairing wine and cheese…my best guesses….


I’m no expert…but I have an opinion……

****cross posted at Menuism

Ernest Hemingway one said, “Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.” We all know how I feel about beer, and the same can be said for wine. I really can’t say which I like better…each pairs with cheese in its own amazing way!

Both wine and cheese have been part of the human diet for a very long time, so there are lots of opinions on what goes with what. And again, they are both living things that change with age, so what you tasted in December will more than likely taste completely different a few months—or years—later.

The most basic guideline for pairing wine and cheese: Eat what you like with wine you like to drink. It’s as simple as that. No hard-and-fast rules. Wine and cheese is about enjoying yourself. Why would you eat what you don’t like…right?

But for those of you who want a starting point to jump from, here are some simple guidelines to base some of your first pairings.

Getting Started: Time & Temperature

First, let me say that wine must be served not too cold and not too warm. Proper cellar temperature is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and while I certainly don’t advocate serving all wines at 55 degrees, proper cellar temperature is a good starting point for both reds and whites. Reds are best when served slightly above cellar temperature but not close to room temperature. That is way too warm.

So pop your reds in the fridge the day you want to drink them and remove them about a half hour prior to popping the cork. For white wines, cellar temperature is appropriate. Any colder than that and it mutes the complex flavors of the wine. Again, 30 minutes before popping the cork, take it out of the fridge. Same goes for cheese.

Now let’s talk putting cheese and wine together.

Pairing Tips: Something Old with Something Bleu…and More!

White wine pairs well with pretty much anything, so if you like a particular cheese and particular wine, try them together. Crispy whites, like a pinot gris, pair well with creamy cheeses.

Fruity, light reds like a young zinfandel pair great with blooming rind cheese like Kunik, a goat and cow’s milk blended cheese. I also like to pair more spicy/jammy reds with funky cheeses—sometimes the funkier the better.

Roquefort goes great with dessert wines or port. I had a big hunk of Maytag blue with an aged white wine and it was delish!

When considering your options, great pairings occur when the wine brings flavor out of the cheese or vice versa. Terroir plays a role again. It’s true what people tout: Location, location, location! Choosing traditional cheeses and wines from the same region is a safe bet to a happy pairing.

Here are a few of my favorite pairings:

  • Kunik with a red zinfandel
  • Big Ed with Riesling
  • 5-year aged Gouda with a syrah
  • Gorgonzola with a pinot noir
  • Pleasant Ridge Reserve with a chardonnay

Beer and Cheese…a match made in heavan


**Cross-posted at Menuism

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” I happen to agree with that adage 100 percent. Add a platter of delicious cheese and it’s proof that God not only loves us and wants us to be happy, but also is letting us have a taste of heaven right here on earth. Many folks think that the perfect beverage to serve with cheese is wine. And surely for some, it is. But don’t discount the age-old fermented brew. Humans have been drinking beer since 9000 B.C.! Like cheese, beer is a complex and varied beverage. And like cheese, small batch, hand-crafted brew is a delight—and the perfect match for artisanal cheese. After all, they both start with the same ingredient: grass.

As we learned last month, the flavor of the cheese is derived from milk, which is flavored by the grass the animal eats. And beer is made from barley, a cereal grass often used for not only brewing beer but also for feeding animals. Two peas in a pod, right?!

Here’s the kicker: there are no steadfast beer and cheese pairings. As much as I would like to say “eat this” when you “drink that,” it just doesn’t happen. The only way you can know what goes with what is to try it out. And to be honest, that is the fun part. Now, don’t get me wrong—we can start with some basic concepts of beer and cheese pairing. There is a bit of method to this madness.

4 Ground Rules for Pairing Cheese and Beer

  1. Start by thinking about balance. You don’t want the cheese to overpower the beer or vice versa. A soft delicate goat’s milk cheese would be crushed by a sharp IPA.
  2. Next up: terrior. It doesn’t only apply to wine. If you drink beer and eat cheese from the same region, one could say that the complementary factors are what make the match work. The beginnings of each product are harvested from the same plot of land and often share some flavor characteristics.
  3. But in the same breath, let’s talk contrast. The differences in each could highlight a flavor or texture that we would have missed if paired with something too similar.
  4. Texture can play a role as well. A thick, creamy cheese may not pair well with a heavy stout. It may need a lighter, more effervescent beer, like a sparkling ale.

5 Failsafe Pairings

It can get messy if you think too hard. You just have to give it a whirl. Here is my starting point.

  1. Sharp cheddars, Colby or hard aged cheeses often go well with brown ales.
  2. Fresh chèvre or a pungent feta goes great with wheat beers (try a fruited wheat beer for fun).
  3. Smooth silky cheeses like mascarpone, Neufchatal or a triple crème stand up great with a fruity lambic or a kriek.
  4. Blue cheeses like Gorgonzola or Stilton pair beautifully with barleywines or an ultra-hopped beer like Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA.
  5. A strong Gruyère will often pair nicely with a bock beer, while milder Swiss cheeses can be enjoyed with a Märzen.

Remember, cheese and beer pairings are not set in stone. If you like it…eat it and drink it. Consider that what you like together in December might not go well in August. Beer and cheese change as they age, just like all living things. So grab a baguette or a loaf of good country bread, a nice pint of craft beer and a slice of artisanal cheese and see what you think. You will be pleasantly surprised!