I Aim to Cheese

The ever-tempting cheese case at Pastoral

Pairing wine with cheese is something that any sommelier worth their curd should be able to do quite easily but I must admit that my knowledge of cheese had always quantified as enough to be dangerous. I know how to pair the various styles of cheese with an appropriate wine match but I had always been curious to learn more about the actual producers. My interest was piqued last year on a trip to Israel as well as a trip to Canada when I had the opportunity to visit a couple of goat dairy farms. Aside from the baby goats being as adorable as possible (I wanted to take one home), I was particularly moved by the dedication and artisanship of the people behind the (cheese) wheel.

Shortly after my resignation from Lettuce, I took the opportunity to work at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread and Wine as a holiday associate. The knowledge of the staff at Pastoral is mind boggling. Each monger has the ability to rattle off all kinds of intricate details about each cheese selection.

My first few days were a bit overwhelming as I learned the ropes of being a cheesemonger. There are certain things you need to keep in mind when handling cheese. First and foremost - do not cross contaminate a blue cheese knife with a non-blue cheese product otherwise you risk spreading the mold inducing spores.  Always wrap cheese shortly after slicing it otherwise it will dry out but also keep in mind cheese needs to breathe as well - some once a day, others once a week. Wrapping cheese in plastic is an artform. It has to be really tight and you have to make sure that the side facing the customer is presentable. I will never take a beautifully presented cheese case for granted ever again. I did learn a tip for home: you can make cheese in your refrigerator last longer if you take the time to rewrap it tightly in fresh plastic. Don't reuse plastic - always fresh!

With each shift, I became more and more familiar with all the items in the cheese case as I learned about the producer and the production method. I also supplemented my education with Mastering Cheese. The best part about working at Pastoral is they encourage you to taste everything and I took them up on the offer! I often volunteered to split whole wheels as it was really awesome to be able to taste the cheese right after you slice it when the paste is extra creamy and soft. When dining out, I am more excited than ever to recognize my favorite cheeses at restaurants. I now have the ability to enjoy them knowing a lot more about what went into making them.

My time at Pastoral came to an end earlier this month and I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work there. The owners, Greg and Ken, have a created a wondeful environment to share the goodness of cheese and I can't thank them enough for including me. The entire staff was very patient with all my questions and I learned a great deal from them as they shared their knowledge. When it comes to cheese, I could not have asked for a better education. 


Ad Hoc at Home Buttermilk Biscuits

The Ad Hoc at Home cookbook - the perfect holiday gift for any culinary enthusiast

Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook was published in 2009 and has since become one of my favorite go-to cookbooks. It is filled with gorgeous food photography and the recipes are accompanied by Chef Keller's precision laced instructions to ensure complete success with each dish.

Included in this book is my favorite recipe for fluffy buttermilk biscuits. If you are sensitive to salt, you may want to cut back on the amount called for here but otherwise this recipe is perfect.

 Ad Hoc Buttermilk Biscuits (Makes 12 Biscuits)

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, plus 1-2 tablespoons for brushing
  • 2-3 tablespoons (1 to 1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Add the chilled butter and pulse until the pieces of butter are no bigger than the size of small peas. Do not over process, the dough should not come together.

Transfer dough to large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the buttermilk. Stir and lift the mixture with a sturdy spoon, gently working the flour into the buttermilk. The dough should begin to come together but not form a solid mass or the biscuits may be tough.

Dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Pat the dough into a 3/4-inch-rectangle. Using a 2 1/2-inch round cutter, cut out the biscuits. Dust the cutter with flour if the dough sticks to it. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet. The dough trimmings can be gently pushed together, patted out, and cut one more time; do not overwork the dough.

Brush the tops of the biscuits lightly with buttermilk. Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until a rich golden brown. As soon as you remove the biscuits from the oven, brush the tops with melted butter. Serve warm.


New Adventures on the Horizon 

It’s hard to believe that my time at Lettuce Entertain You is coming to an end. I joined the company after moving to Chicago to join the team at Everest as their sommelier. I will forever be grateful to Chef J. Joho for taking a chance and giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. He taught me a tremendous amount about the art of service and the culture of food and wine. Chef Joho and the staff at Everest could not have been more supportive of my endeavors, both on the floor and off, and to that end, in 2003, I completed my goal of becoming a Master Sommelier.

After five years on the floor, I joined the corporate office in 2005 as the Director of Wine and Spirits and found new challenges extending well beyond the restaurant. I have had the great privilege to work with some of the most dynamic, thoughtful, and creative entrepreneurs in the restaurant industry. The volume of talent within this organization never ceased, or ceases, to amaze me. I have made lifelong friends, and though I will miss working with them, I look forward to our continued friendship.

Wine is not a spectator sport, and seeking new ways to develop my skills is a reoccurring theme in my professional life. Ever since my earliest days as a waitress in Monterey, California, I’ve strived to learn as much as I can every day, to grow, and, with any luck, be able to inspire the same in others. Earlier this year, that familiar desire to grow returned, in the form of an opportunity outside of the organization, and just as when I took the call from Chef Joho that winter afternoon in 2000, I knew I had to answer. It was not an easy decision to make, just as it had been in ways difficult to leave my West Coast life in my twenties, but I knew the time had come, and so today is my last day at Lettuce.

I am very excited for my new adventures and will announce the details shortly. My plans will keep me in Chicago, as I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else again. 


Hummus Recipe

 The legendary hummus at Abu Hassan in Jaffa

Hummus had long ago become a staple food item that went into my grocery cart each week and for many of us, it's hard to imagine throwing a cocktail party without a bowl of it accompanied by pita chips and vegetables. 

This past summer I took a trip to Israel to learn about Israeli wines and the kosher wine system. Not only were the wines fabulous but the food was spectacular - especially the hummus! Israeli hummus is different - the texture is light, smooth, fluffy and quite simply put - change your life out of this world delicious. 

The secret to making fluffy hummus is to first soak the chickpeas and then boil them with baking soda until the chickpeas disintegrate into a soft mash. You then blend them with good quality raw tahini until smooth and creamy for Jerusalem style or you can mix it with whole cooked chickpeas for the chunkier Galilee version. I know this sounds like a lot of work but the flavor is far superior to any store bought hummus I've ever tasted.

I purchased souvenir bottles of tahini at the Carmel market in Tel Aviv 

I recently served this at a dinner party and my guests went crazy for it and I promised everyone I would share the recipe so here it is. You can make it with canned chickpeas but the texture won't be as light and creamy. Enjoy!

Basic Hummus Dip (serves 8-10)

  • 1 lb bag small dry chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup good quality raw tahini
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • salt to taste

Soak the chickpeas overnight in a large bowl with water and 1 tablespoon of baking soda. The next day drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them in a large pan. Add water until it reaches 1 inch above the chickpeas. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and bring to a boil. Cook covered over low heat for 2-3 hours until the peas become VERY soft. Be patient with this step as undercooked chickpeas will yield a lumpy texture. Cool slightly, drain and save some of the cooking liquid. 

Put the chickpeas in a food processor, add 2/3 cup tahini and process until almost smooth. Add cooking liquid if it is too thick. Season with lemon juice, garlic and salt - taste and adjust seasonings. For a creamier version, add the remaining tahini.

Hummus with full garnish 

This is the version you would receive in a typical hummusia served with plenty of warm pita bread. 

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

The Sauce:

  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper chopped (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic crushed

 Additional garnishes: tahini, olive oil, fresh parsley, chopped onion

Mix ingredients for sauce and set aside. Spoon 1 cup of basic hummus dip in a shallow bowl and spread around the rim leaving a well in the center. Fill the well with 1 tablespoon of tahini, pour 2-3 tablespoons of the sauce and sprinkle with olive oil, parsley and chopped onion. 



Rugby Fever in Lyon 

The final game for the Rugby World Cup was held last week. We were lucky enough to be in Lyon that day to witness an interesting cultural moment as the French were positioned against the New Zealand All Blacks in the match that would decide the best Rugby team in the world. Cafes and bars throughout the city were broadcasting the game and rowdy French fans were spilling out of them as they rooted for their national team.

The All Blacks would go on to defeat the French by one point but at least the French fans had some delicious local wine to drown their sorrows in.