Dye, Egg, Dye!

Naturally Dyed Eggs

Eggs have a long tradition of representing new life and welcoming spring. After a long winter, it’s easy to feel like celebrating at the sight of trees blossoming and the warmer temperatures.

The tradition of decorating and dyeing eggs is rooted in these early spring rituals and symbols, and people gave colored eggs as gifts to wish others a new beginning. Many of us grew up dyeing a ridiculous number of eggs using packaged colorings, like these. Vibrant colors are fun, but I started seeing photos of more muted colored eggs, which means different dyes; that piqued my curiosity. It makes sense that before there was Paas, there were other ways to color and decorate eggs – I had just never given it much thought. Let’s investigate!

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Food Revolution Day 2013

Food Revolution Day is a global day of action for people to make a stand for good food and essential cooking skills. It’s a chance for people to come together within their homes, schools, workplaces and communities to cook and share their kitchen skills, food knowledge and resources. Food Revolution Day aims to raise awareness about the importance of good food and better food education for everyone by focusing on three simple actions – cook it, share it, live it.” (Source)

Seeing as these are many of our own values, we had to participate. We invited our close friends to participate in a made-from-scratch pizza party, with some bonus food demonstrations.

Step one: make pizza crusts from 30-year-old sourdough starter.

Then we needed to find topping combinations that would suit a variety of eating styles as well as showcase really good ingredients. We decided to try our hand at making some sausage, using organic pork shoulder and fat, some tasty herbs and spices, and adding Roche Winery Merlot. (Merlot is a “spice”, right?)

I also wanted to take advantage of the artichoke season, so we constructed a pizza that would feature artichoke hearts steamed with lemon, bay leaves and Herbes de Provence.

Of course you also have to have a fantastic sauce for the foundation of any great tomato-based pies. We were lucky enough to have a friend volunteer to make his renowned Three Tomato Sauce, made with heirloom tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs and lots of love!

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Homemade sausage with Roche Winery Merlot; Ted's Three Tomato Sauce; artichokes steamed with lemon and Herbes de Provence

There is also the very important matter of the decision “to cheese or not to cheese”. We wanted to build both types of pizza to respect a variety of eating styles, as well as to honor our various pizzas’ flavor combinations.

Fresh mozzarella offers a textural creaminess, which complements stronger flavors such as the salty anchovy and the peppery arugula, allowing each ingredient to showcase its originality while creating a well-rounded slice of flavor.

Fontina Val d’Aosta has a slightly nutty flavor, which increases the longer it has aged, and is a good melting cheese, often used in fondues. We selected this semi-soft cheese for its ability to offer another layer of flavor while also being able to melt quickly in the oven.

The semi-hard aged provolone has a sharper flavor due to the goat-derived lipase enzyme used in its formation, which is an excellent contrast to sweeter toppings like roasted red pepper and caramelized onions.

Add 10 friends, and you get an evening full of pizza shenanigans and good conversations.

When all was said and done, we created six pizzas:

Sautéed mushrooms, leeks, olive oil and fontina
Roasted red pepper, artichoke, fresh mozzarella & Ted’s Three Tomato (Triple T) Sauce
Homemade sausage, roasted red pepper, caramelized onion, aged provolone & Triple T Sauce
Prosciutto di Parma, fresh mozzarella, arugula & Triple T Sauce
Anchovies, capers, fresh mozzarella & Triple T Sauce
Pesto, sautéed mushrooms, roasted garlic and fresh heirloom tomato slices

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Homemade sausage, roasted red pepper and caramelized onion; pesto, sauteed mushroom, roasted garlic and heirloom tomato; anchovy, caper and fresh mozzarella; prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and arugula

We concluded the evening with a couple culinary demonstrations on some appropriate pizza party drinks: kombucha and cola.

First, we showed how to make homemade kombucha, which is really quite simple. Once you have a kombucha mother, or SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), it’s really just a matter of brewing some sweet tea, swapping out the fermented tea for the fresh tea, and placing it in in a dark, cool, breathable (but fruit fly proof!) environment until you’re ready to do it all again. During the fermentation process, the mother spawns a child, which appears as a separate layer on top of the mother. When you start a new batch, it is typical to keep the “child” as the new source of fermentation and discard (or give to friends!) the original mother.

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Every good cooking demonstration involves taste testing.

Then we moved on to a homemade cola demonstration. Interestingly, cola is a spiced citrus soda. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming. We didn’t when we set out to start making our own sodas!) The recipe involves a lot of different spices, such as star anise, nutmeg, bitter orange and kola nut, steeped with the juice and zest of a lemon, an orange, and a lime. If you want to make it brown, just add some browning sauce, which is really just burned sugar, or caramel coloring. You could also try omitting the sugar from your steeped syrup and making your own caramel. (Recipe)

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day invites everyone to participate in some way, whether it means packing your lunch instead of eating out, touring a farm, sharing a home-cooked potluck with friends, families or neighbors, or learning a new culinary skill. The website makes it really easy to get involved, offering a central location where you can access resources including a map of events in your area, recipe ideas, printable information flyers, and even images to download to use on your blog and social media.

It’s not too early to think about getting involved for next year! There are loads of ideas on the Food Revolution Day website, and you’ve got plenty of time to concoct your own recipe for celebration.

FRD2013 Group Photo

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Happy Food Revolution Day!

Cook it. Share it. Live it.

Happy Food Revolution Day from the Knife & Fork Project!


Check out how other people celebrated Food Revolution Day 2013


The Secret Life of Beans

One of the best ways to improve culinary skill is to study just one ingredient or cooking method, trying to really understand how it works and how it can be integrated into disparate cuisines. I love doing this, despite the fact that it tends to lead toward me making all of the possible dishes that include, for example, lemons – and then having to eat them afterwards.

Your sacrifice shall not be in vain, my friends!

Recently, while casting about for a new subject, I decided that I didn’t know as much about beans as I wanted to. The timing was perfect – beans are considered a good luck food for New Year’s celebrations in a variety of cultures, representing money and prosperity (think about what “bean counters” are counting).

What is a bean, anyway? What makes it different than, say, peas or coffee? Is a green bean a bean? Are they really the musical fruit?

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Pastrami Comes to Those Who Wait

A fellow culinarily-curious friend recently gave us the very inspirational book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese of The Tipsy Baker fame. While there are so many things that you might never make at home, we shouldn’t lose sight that the tastiest foods have always been made at home: dishes that are cultural heirlooms, or legendary recipes, or inadvertent standbys that have just stuck around, being made for generations. Many of these things are surprisingly easy to make, and then there are the other items: things that you should make… once. Just to see how they’re done. Because your curiosity got the better of you. Because you thought, “This will be fun!” until you realize that fun left the building hours ago. Things that made you think, “This will be culturally significant”, until you discovered that nobody else even considers making such a thing at home, in their spare time, because making these things are insane. Totally and completely insane.

Jennifer Reese, who has soldiered through a number of these “what-if-we make-it-at-home recipes,” does an amazing job of corralling all of her experiences into an easy to read and helpful cookbook. It’s written much like a blog, with a narrative story that describes the time, effort, cost, and hassle of making various things – mayonnaise (make), vermouth (buy), pizza (make), chicken – as in, hand-raising live chickens in your backyard (buy – “Alas, our backyard chicken was bony and sinewy with stringy, chocolate-colored flesh”). I had been enjoying reading it cover-to-cover: I was amused and sympathetic, from a detached “light reading” point of view, to many of her reasons for making or not making something from scratch. But then I came to page 180: Pastrami.

WHAT? You can make PASTRAMI at HOME and nobody told me? This changes everything!

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Why you just don’t see some things made from scratch.

I have to admit: I have a penchant for making things from as fundamental and raw ingredients as possible. While some people like to prepare from scratch for special occasions, I tend to do it for that rare occasion called “Tuesday”. I can certainly cook, and I enjoy it, but there’s something of the engineer in me that likes the precision of activities like baking, where the process is a bit more rigorous. There is a healthy population of people who are like me in this respect: homebrewers fuss over wort temperatures and measures of liquid gravity, artisanal bakers make their own sourdough bread from carefully maintained cultures, micro chocolate makers fuss over the perfect blend of terroir in their cocoa.

OK, that last one is a bit more esoteric than the others, but that hobby really does exist. I know from experience: I do all of those things. Yep, that’s me. Food nerd.

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Urban Farming

We like to make things from scratch. If there is one trend that describes our kitchen, it’s that more and more of what we eat has come from our own hands. This year, we decided that the time has come for our garden to get more of the made-from-scratch treatment.

Inspired by the Heirloom Expo and Baker Creek Seed Bank, we’re sprouting a little garden ”from scratch”: from heirloom seeds. We are lucky enough to live in one of the few Mediterranean climates of the world, where stuff just grows. We have a porch that gets the right environment to have successfully grown cherry tomatoes, peas, green beans, basil, oregano, mint, and even a dwarf Meyer lemon tree, all more or less in spite of our novice gardening skills. It has even resurrected a few watercress orphans, which I planted on a whim after I used their leaves for salads. I would love to grow all of my own fruits and veggies, but we know where that would lead to. Exercising restraint (or some, anyway) we’ve cobbled together an indoor greenhouse to sprout a few varieties of small tomatoes, a red pepper, cinnamon basil, and nasturtiums.

OK, you got me: while not a vegetable, the nasturtiums made it in there because I wanted some climbing flowers and didn’t want to sacrifice edible garden space. Nasturtiums create edible blossoms – with nasturtiums, you can have your flowers and eat them too. Continue reading

When Life Gives You a Lemon Tree

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you a lemon tree, you might have to get a little more creative. Lemonade gets old after the hundredth glass, so each winter, when citrus is ripe, you may need to diversify into other citrusy products; anything you can do to deal with the tangy bucket of fruit that’s just been dropped on your doorstep. What does one do with seasonal produce? Even if you don’t grow them yourself, seasonal goods are far cheaper, likely much more local, and taste better because they are in season. How can you personally make the most of a feast-or-famine situation?

This is more than a hypothetical question for us. When we first moved to California, we bought a dwarf Meyer lemon tree to celebrate our relocation to the Fruit Eden that is the San Francisco Bay area. We put it in a pot, pretty much leave it alone, and it gives us 15-20 lemons each winter. It’s just the magic of what was once the Valley of Heart’s Delight, the world’s largest fruit producing region, which we now call Silicon Valley. And no, we didn’t know until our first batch of lemons that, while some species produce year round, most citrus peaks in late winter or early spring.

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Heirloom Products, Heirloom People

In my first post on the Heirloom Exposition, I gave an overview covering what heirloom means. In the second post, I covered what is the antithesis of heirloom - genetically modified organisms. To wrap up my soapbox lectures on the heirloom festival before returning to more neutral ground, I’d like to talk about the point of heirloom – why is it important? Is it sustainable – can it produce enough to feed the world? What does the concept cover that we aren’t already doing? Why do people want to farm the heirloom way?

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What does “heirloom” mean?

I just got back from the first annual National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, CA. When I was telling this to a friend, they asked, “What does ‘heirloom’ mean?”

Good question. I took a shot from my understanding: “Non-optimized produce”, but that’s an engineer’s answer. Clearly, I was ready to get a farming education.

Heirloom, in the agricultural sense, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a horticultural variety that has survived for several generations usually due to the efforts of private individuals.” Most of the definitions I heard at the festival described “plants that have come true for 50 years”; that is, they have had offspring that showed the same characteristics as the parent and are not a hybrid for half a century at least.

OK, so we have a working definition of what can be considered a heirloom. At the expo, however, it is clear that the spirit of heirloom is far more important than the definition.

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