How to make butter and buttermilk: a cultured experience

butter on plate.jpg

Monday, October 20, 2014

Synchronicity? A coincidence program running in the background of my life? Whatever it is, this time it brought out the nerdy food geek in me. I wanted to make butter. Not just any butter, but cultured butter.

It started with a trip to The Market, a restaurant in Annisquam, Massachusetts on Cape Ann along the Annisquam River. A turn off the main road that circles Cape Ann descends to the twisted lanes of a postcard village that is almost a parody of itself: a village church, a lighthouse, a one-hundred-year old yacht club, and of course, a footbridge, Add to that, views of boats and rocks and water everywhere. What is unexpected in this, the land of fried clams and predictable seafood, is a restaurant that quietly serves spectacular food from May to October. Chefs Amelia and Nico Monday, with experience between them at Chez Panisse and a few European food meccas, offer a different menu every day and let me just say, you will wish to clone yourself several times over to be able to taste more at one sitting.

before service.jpg

I had a lovely afternoon as a fly on the wall in their tiny kitchen (thank you Amelia and Nico.) I watched them peel shrimp, roast fennel and eggplant, transform carrots into perfect, slender julienne, even make their own butter both to cook with and serve at the table. They take uncommonly tender care of each dish preparation, and you, the diner are the beneficiary. Watching them elicited memories of myself a few decades ago in a small country kitchen, where the produce came from our garden, eggs and milk from a nearby farm, and homemade bread from our own ovens. It gave me an itch, but I’m not about to scratch it.

Here comes the synchronicity part. The drive home from Annisquam was about the length of an episode of The Splendid Table on Stitcher Radio. What should Lynne Rossetto Kasper be talking about that day? Buttermilk! And butter! Nico and Amanda get their cream from an Ipswich dairy farm, so I detoured on my way home to pick up some of that Jersey cow goodness. Back home, I did the food geek nerdy thing, and I highly recommend it. I cultured the cream with buttermilk overnight and whipped it in a stand mixer the next day. It wasn’t such a big science project after all, but it was exceptional. Why do it? Cultured butter has a high fat content and a rich, tangy flavor--great for spreading and baking. I also made it to find out what real buttermilk tastes like. Wowzers.

As the to the itch I’m not about to scratch? Well, maybe just a little. I don’t want my own restaurant (been there, done that) but I’m about to launch a new mini-sideline I’m calling Bespoke Dinners. That’s a fancy schmancy way of saying I’ll come to your house and cook you a fantastic, simple, beautiful meal that we design together (heads up, my local friends!) I have Nico and Amelia to thank for that inspiration. Now everyone, put a trip to The Market on your calendar for next year. You will thank me.

creme fraiche.jpg

I took a shot at this and it worked! I made a lot; but you can halve the recipe if you like. I’m not sure you need to bother with the waterbath in the cooler, especially if your room temperature is around 68 to 70 degrees, but I wanted to see if it would work. (It did.) If you have a cold kitchen, then I would suggest using the cooler method (or a yogurt maker, if you have one.)

How to make cultured butter and buttermilk (adapted from Diane St. Claire’s book An Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook)
Makes about 1 1/4 pounds butter and 6 cups buttermilk

4 pints (8 cups) heavy cream (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
2 cups buttermilk (organic is best)

1. Have on hand an instant-read thermometer, a large glass or microwave-safe container, 3 (1-quart) mason jars, and a waterproof, sturdy cooler into which the jars will fit. You will also need a stand mixer or a food processor and a fine-meshed strainer.

2. Run the faucet in the sink to 70 degrees. (Hold the thermometer under the faucet while you adjust the temperature.)  Fill the jars with the water and set them in the cooler. Now fill the cooler with 70 degree water to a level of about two-thirds up the sides of the jars.

3. In a 2-quart microwave-safe container, gently heat the cream to 70 degrees. (1 to 3 minutes, depending on your microwave.)

4. In a separate microwave-safe container, gently heat the buttermilk to 70 degrees.

5. Mix the cream and buttermilk together.

6. Remove the jars from the water bath and dump out the water. Fill them with the cream mixture. Cover them loosely with a lid or plastic wrap. Set them in the cooler in the water bath and close the lid. Leave for 12 hours, or until thick. Now you have creme fraiche with which to make butter. Set aside some creme fraiche for another use if you like.

7. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or in a food processor, pour in the cream. Beat or process for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the butter separates from the cream and clumps together.

8. Set a fine-meshed strainer over a bowl and pour everything into it. Save the buttermilk that falls into the bowl. Pour it into a glass jar and refrigerate.

9. Remove the butter and press it together into a mass. Rinse it under cold water, then place on a cool surface and fold it over and press it a few times to extract the liquid. Repeat a couple more times, until you have pressed out as much liquid as possible.

10. Form the butter into a log and wrap it in parchment or plastic. Refrigerate until firm. Slice into rounds. Butter can be wrapped again in foil and frozen for up to a three months.

11. Butter and buttermilk will keep for up to at least 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Posted on October 20, 2014 and filed under Odds and ends.

Good-bye August, hello summer: Chicken under a brick on the grill

Goodbye August.

With the cool, dry days of the past month, we were well into thoughts of roast chicken and warming harvest soups. But wait! There’s more.

Summer’s back this week (and actually, to be precise, will be around for another three). The heat and humidity are returning, and we are not retiring the grill quite yet.

Pollo al mattone, chicken under a brick, comes from the Italians. Remove the backbone (or ask the butcher to do it), flatten the chicken, and weight it on the grill with bricks or a heavy cast-iron pan. The result is a shorter cooking time, crispy skin, and juicy meat. Because the temperature of a charcoal grill is harder to control than that of a gas grill, adjust the time as necessary and use a thermometer. If the coals are too hot and the skin starts to burn, rake them to one side and set the chicken on the other side away from direct heat.

Grilled chicken under a brick with oranges and saffron (Serves 4)


1/8 teaspoon saffron threads

2 tablespoons hot water

Finely grated rind of 1 orange

Juice of 2 oranges

Juice of 1 lime

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1/8 teaspoon salt

1. In a small bowl, crumble the saffron threads. Cover with hot water and let stand for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the orange rind, orange juice, lime juice, ginger, olive oil, honey, and salt.


1 (4-pound) chicken. preferably organic


Freshly ground black pepper

Marinade (above)

Oil for the grill

1. With kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut along each side of the backbone and remove it. Save for stock. Turn the chicken over and press firmly on the breastbone to flatten it. Pat dry, and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.

2. In a gallon-size zipper bag, place the chicken. Add the marinade and close the bag. Tip the bag back and forth to distribute the marinade. Set on a plate and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

3. Prepare a gas or charcoal grill at medium heat (350 degrees.) Wrap 2 bricks with aluminum foil. With tongs, wipe the grill grates with a small folded piece of paper towel dipped in oil.

5. Remove the chicken from the marinade. Set it on the grill with the skin side down and weight each half with the bricks. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and golden. Remove the bricks.

6. With grill mitts or tongs, turn the chicken over and replace the bricks. Cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer registers 165 degrees.

7. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and cut into serving pieces. 

Posted on August 31, 2014 and filed under Main dish, Chicken and Poultry.

Wish you were here: chowdah, salmon, and vacation food

There’s only so much fried food you can consume in a week, but I did my best to fill a year’s quota in seven short days. Fried clams, fried Pemaquid oysters, fried calamari, and of course, French fries by the plateful. A little coleslaw for balance. That’s mostly what’s on offer on the peninsulas that jut out all along the Maine coast like slender fingers. Lobster marinas and their attached dockside picnic tables proffer platters of boiled lobsters with coleslaw, sometimes with steamed clams, and if you’re lucky, corn on the cob. What’s not to like?

Yet there comes a time for a break. I had brought the remnants in my refrigerator in a cooler, just in case we were feeling too lazy to leave the cottage after a day of doing a whole lot of nothing. Well that day did come.

I started with the intention of making corn chowder since it requires only a few ingredients. We had local corn and potatoes….but Man of the House, not quite sated, thought lobster would add a nice touch, so he went down to the marina about half a mile away, and asked for a cooked lobster. By the time he dropped the $5.50 (!) for the lobster, I was well along with the rest of the soup.

You only need a large saucepan or small soup pot to make this, and most cottages, though poorly equipped, manage to provide a pot and a microwave. We made this for two, but ended up with enough for two meals.

Corn and/or seafood chowder recipe by the seat of your pants (Serves 2 to 4)

2 tablespoons butter

2 bunches of scallions, or 1 onion, chopped

2 handfuls of small potatoes, diced


Salt and pepper, to taste

4 ears of corn


1 one-and-a-half-pound cooked lobster, or clams, or fish (all optional)

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the scallions or onions and sauté until soft. Add the diced potatoes, salt, pepper and enough water to barely cover the potatoes. Cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are soft. With a potato masher or spoon, break up some of the potatoes to add body to the soup.

2. Meanwhile, cook the unshucked corn in the microwave. Check out the how-to here on Simply Recipes (thanks, Elise.) Once the corn has cooled, slice off the kernels.

3. Set the cooked lobster in a colander over a bowl to catch the juices. Remove the meat and cut it into bite sized pieces. Add the juices that collect in the bowl to the soup pot.

4. Add the corn to the soup, and enough milk to your satisfaction. Bring it to a simmer and stir in the lobster.

Note: You can omit the seafood and enjoy plain ol’ corn chowder. If you want to use clams, steam them and add the steaming water to the pot. Shuck the clams and add them as you do the lobster above. Fish in chunks, shrimp, or scallops can all go into the pot when the milk heats up. Cook for a few minutes, or until seafood is done.

****** *******

Here’s another recipe (I’m deluging you dear friends) that should go on your vacation menu. You can do it with or without the potatoes and tomatoes.

Roast potatoes and cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet, and after about fifteen minutes, pop the fish in the oven for a no-stress quick supper. Use whatever herbs you have on hand.

Salmon with summer herbs, potatoes, and tomatoes (Serves 4)

Oil for the baking sheet and baking dish

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

3 scallions, finely sliced

1 pound small potatoes, halved

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1 1/2 pounds salmon fillet

Juice of 1 lemon

1 lemon, quartered, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Oil a rimmed baking sheet and a large ceramic or glass baking dish.

2. In a small bowl, combine the dill, parsley, oregano, and scallions.

3. In a medium bowl, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread on half of the baking sheet in a single layer.

4. In the same bowl, toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread on the second half of the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and the potatoes are browned.

5. Meanwhile, in the baking dish, place the salmon with the flesh side up. Sprinkle with the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with the chopped herbs. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, or until the salmon is opaque in the center.

6. Transfer the fish to a platter and serve surrounded by tomatoes and potatoes.

And now for the vacation pictures. Wildflowers, docks, cottages, water views, rocky shorelines—all very cliché. What is a cliché other than a truism that has too often been repeated? Luckily, you can skip this part without hurting my feelings—I’ll never know!

Good morning

Room with a view

Posted on August 10, 2014 and filed under Seafood.

Sunday supper and more: Eggplant gratin and a pasta dish (a two-fer!)

If Man of the House doesn’t complain too much about repetition, I am going to make this as often as I can get away with from now until the time of last tomato standing. It’s that good. I’ve been contributing regularly to the Sunday Supper and More column, a feature in the Boston Globe Wednesday food section, for quite some time now and I can tell you, this one’s a keeper. You have to give yourself a little time, but it’s not a lasagna-type effort. The time is in the oven—peeled eggplant slices go in it twice: first baked until tender on a baking sheet, and then baked in the gratin. But like I said, the time is in the oven, and the endgame is meltingly soft eggplant that dreamily blends into the tomato and ricotta. You could use goat cheese if you want something a bit more flavor forward, but consider cutting it with ricotta to tone it down.

The “and more” part of the dish are the leftovers, a mostly maligned concept. Here they morph into a sensational (and quick) pasta dish. More basil and fresh cherry tomatoes brighten it up, and dinner is done, presto!

This was the first dish I made in our “new” kitchen, which is not new at all, but a throwback to the seventies, in the style of the duct-tape approach to living of the elderly couple who preceded us. I’m happy to report, despite trepidations, it went well.

Now I have complained a bit about being homesick for “my house,” which a month ago we willingly and knowingly turned over to someone else (for a price, of course.) I can’t deny that it was the right move, but anyone who has lived and become attached to a certain place and then uproots, knows that it is disorienting. It’s easy to turn down the old street when you’re on autopilot, and then remember, duh, that’s not my house any more. So I’m transitioning and it’s a mixed bag.

In the don’t-look-back-look-on-the-bright-side department, I'll introduce you to our new neighbors, Cheerio and Peeper. These hens belong to the urban farmers next door, who have been away ever since we moved in. The house and chickensitters (and yes, I am aware that word is only one letter away from being a naughty one) are lovely people, interesting and friendly. In fact, they were the first guests to grace our newly screened porch. They even brought a delicious Nepalese dinner with them, so it wasn’t clear who the guests were. See what I mean? Moving is disorienting.

Cheerio explores the other neighbors deck

Peeper Incarcerated

Cheerio and Peeper were recently busted for free ranging, and I am quite sure I know who squealed. Beware of neighbors with perfect front gardens, is all I can say. Anyway, poor Peeper and Cheerio were relegated to their coops for a while. Then the owner came back and let them loose yesterday for a few hours. Presumably he didn’t know about the visit by the town poultry patrol—or more likely, he just disregarded it. Power to the people.

The ladies like to poke around a bit and stopped by the back porch.

When they realized no one was home, they hightailed it across the driveway towards greener pastures on their home turf. Those girls are all about the food.

Which brings us back to the subject at hand: food, and specifically, this recipe—don’t let the summer go by without trying it. Since there are only two of us, I cut it exactly in half (to test it) and it worked just fine, so if you want to make a smaller quantity you could do that. But why would you? We made several meals out of a couple of tests, no complaints.

Eggplant, tomato, and ricotta gratin

Serves 6 (or 4 with leftovers)

2 large eggplant (about 3 pounds), peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices

1 large red onion, cut into thick slices

Salt and pepper, to taste

About 1/3 cup olive oil

5 medium tomatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut into 3/8-inch thick slices

1 1/2 cups best quality ricotta

1 egg

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Oil two rimmed baking sheets or line with parchment. Line a third baking sheet with paper towels

2. Spread the eggplant and onion slices in a single layer on the parchment lined sheets. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tender. Cool briefly.

3. Spread the tomatoes on the paper towel lined baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Let drain for about 25 minutes. Press with paper towels to remove excess moisture.

5. In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg, parsley, basil, Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.

6. Lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a large (9 x 13-inch) baking dish.

7. In the bottom of the baking dish, spread half the eggplant slices, and top with half the onions. Spread dollops of half the ricotta mixture over the onions, and top with half the tomatoes. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, onions, ricotta, and tomatoes. Drizzle the top with olive oil, and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Let rest for about 30 minutes before serving. Cut into 12 squares. Reserve 4 squares for the linguine, and serve 2 squares per person.

Linguine with eggplant and tomatoes

Serves 4

1 pound linguine


1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

4 squares leftover gratin, cut into bite size pieces

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil

Parmesan cheese, grated or sliced into thin shards with a vegetable peeler

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the linguine for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook for 30 seconds, or just long enough to warm them. Add the leftover gratin and 1/4 cup pasta water. Cook until hot all the way through.

3. Scoop out 1/4 up of the pasta water. In a colander, drain the pasta. Add it to the skillet and toss with the eggplant and tomatoes. Stir in half the basil and salt to taste. If the pasta seems dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water. Divide among 4 serving plates. Sprinkle with remaining basil, freshly ground black pepper, and Parmesan.


3-ounce piece of Parmesan

1 1/2 cups best quality ricotta

1 egg

2 large eggplants (about 3 pounds)

5 medium tomatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds)

1 large red onion

1 pint cherry tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

1/4 bunch fresh parsley

1/4 bunch fresh basil

Kosher or coarse salt

Black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

1 pound linguine

Posted on July 30, 2014 and filed under Vegetarian, Vegetables.

Kale and hearty (Apple and kale salad recipe)

It took some time for me to warm up to raw kale in a salad. It was always an eat-it-cuz-it’s-healthy winter staple, sautéed it in a little olive oil with garlic and some lemon or vinegar. In fact, kale’s rise in popularity mystifies me. Despite its healthful qualities, its bitterness is an acquired taste.

For some, kale’s rise in status has a downside. A mention of the vegetable elicits an eye-roll from my Brooklyn-living Ace Reporter son, always the contrarian.

Cliché or not, kale is here to stay, so I made a stab at coming up with a salad I would want to revisit time and again, especially now that it’s in all the farmers’ markets. One could argue that it is a beautiful leafy green that is hard to resist.

Cut into ribbons, sturdy kale can stand up to a strong, tangy dressing like this one, made with cream and lemon instead of oil and vinegar, and spiked with plenty of mustard. Toast some walnuts, throw in thirst-quenching apples, add spicy radishes to the mix, and you have an abundance of flavors that will awaken your taste buds. That long, cold winter is finally ancient history.

Chopped kale salad with apples and creamy mustard dressing (Serves 4)


1/2 cup heavy cream

2 to 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard (to taste)

1 teaspoon grainy mustard

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a bowl, stir the cream, Dijon mustard, grainy mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper together.


1/2 cup walnuts

1 bunch lacinato (Tuscan) kale

1/2 small head radicchio, cut into thin ribbons

1 Granny Smith apple, cut into bite-size matchsticks

4 radishes, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Spread the walnuts on a pie pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until toasty and fragrant. Cool.

3. Fold the kale leaves in half lengthwise, and with a knife, strip out the stems. Stack the leaves and cut them into thin ribbons.

4. In a bowl, combine the kale, radicchio, apples, radishes, and walnuts. Toss with the dressing and serve.

Posted on July 11, 2014 and filed under Salad, Salad Dressing.