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Homemade ricotta

2013 February 20
by Steph Lawrence

Some of you might know… I have a cheese thing. An addiction some might say. Love affair. Obsession. Whatever. I truly, deeply, love cheese. I realize I am in business school right now, and pursuing a lot of life dreams, but in another life, or maybe a little later in this one, I would just like to be a cheese farmer.

I’ve dabbled in making cheese in the past. But it’s been kind of pathetic, for someone who loves cheese as much as I do. I finally had enough this morning and decided today was the day to try my hand at ricotta. The culprit was probably last month’s Bon Appetit magazine, which had the most insanely mouthwatering good looking recipe for ricotta gnudi (like gnocchi, but made with ricotta cheese instead of potato). I decided the recipe would be infinitely better with HOMEMADE ricotta, (because I am crazy and trying to procrastinate from other “real” work), so I went out to buy the requisite milks this morning, Albus in tow, and tried my hand.

Delicious, I tell you! Homemade cheese! I think I’ll drop out of school now. Also, I occasionally have been known to attempt recipes that take hours and dozens of pans and leave you faint on your feet. But this is not one of them! It took at hour. And I didn’t use a thermometer or any fancy equipment, save some cheese cloth. It is easy, is what I mean to say. And you should go make some.

Homemade ricotta
Lightly adapted with thanks from In Jennie’s Kitchen
Yields 2 cups

    4 cups whole milk
    1 cup heavy cream
    3/4 cup buttermilk
    1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

    Heat milks and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat. Heat to a slow boil, being careful not to heat too quickly and burn the milk. When the milk just starts to boil you should notice that the curds floating to the top. Once this happens, continue to let the milk boil for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and let stand for 30-60 minutes. While resting, set cheese cloth in a strainer over a bowl. When curds are done resting, ladle them with a slotted spoon into the cheese cloth. Let rest for ~5-15 minutes, depending on how firm you would like your cheese.

    Serve on some toast sprinkled with Maldon salt and fresh olive oil. Or perhaps go make some gnudi.

Wedding cake, now in video form.

2012 October 19
by Steph Lawrence

Craig made a video of me and Elena making my sister’s red velvet wedding cake. I really can’t say anything else except that it is perfect, and Craig I love you for memorializing this day and experience in video format.

My favorite moment is definitely at 2:30. That about sums up our professional knowledge of wedding cake structural integrity.

Miso fried rice with egg

2012 September 29
by Steph Lawrence


When it comes time to writing final papers I am easily distracted. There might be some leftover takeout in the fridge, say, that needs rescuing. Luckily I am nothing if not a committed food-rescuer, so I decided to turn the opportunity into a chance to avoid writing save some leftover rice and make my new favorite go-to meal.

Miso fried rice with egg

    1 cup leftover white rice (preferably it has been in the fridge at least 24 hours)
    1 clove garlic, finely chopped
    1 tsp grated ginger
    1 tsp sesame oil
    1/4 cup finely cubed carrots
    3-4 tbs. soy sauce
    1 tsp red miso paste
    2 eggs
    1 1/2 tbs. chopped scallions

    Heat sesame oil in a heavy bottomed skillet. Add garlic and ginger and saute 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the carrots and saute 5 minutes more, until carrots just start to soften. Add the rice and mix thoroughly. Add soy sauce and cook another 5 minutes. Add miso paste and mix thoroughly. Make a small hole in the rice, leaving some room at the bottom of the skillet, and add one of the eggs to the space. Mix egg and let cook slightly, then mix together with the remainder of the rice. Cook 2-3 minutes more until egg is cooked through.

    While rice finishes, heat another small pan with 1 tsp oil or butter and add remaining egg. Cook to your preference — I like mine fried sunny side up and runny, for this dish.

    Enjoy! And then come help me write my paper.

How to Make a Wedding Cake

2012 September 1
by Steph Lawrence

A while ago, before puppies and grad school and my own engagement, my sister Alexis got engaged. It was back when Craig and I were living in China. In fact, it was back when Craig and I were traveling throughout Nepal and then taking an overland train from Tibet to Beijing, and then getting deported to Hong Kong after an epic visa fail, so I didn’t learn about the engagement until weeks after it had happened. After I did find out, I was beyond overjoyed, and immediately began plotting all the things that could be made in celebration of the impending nuptials. I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but at some point shortly after the engagement I decided the best possible thing I could possibly do would be to make Alexis and JP’s wedding cake. You know, since I had so much baking and wedding-cake-making experience. (I had none).

I spent the remaining year and a half of their engagement in planning phases. At some other undisclosed moment throughout the year I came across this cake and knew that would be the one. Moist, dense red velvet cake with creamy buttery frosting? Sign me up. Truth be told, I had already tried a half dozen other red velvet recipes when this one came along. I am nothing if not a diligent completely-inexperienced-cake-maker. This one was mind bogglingly good, and I knew it would be the one for Lex and JP’s wedding day.

Somehow, I managed to convince my wonderful and now forever-in-my-debt childhood best friend Elena to be my partner in crime with this cake. First lesson, for all you first-time-wedding-cake-bakers out there: find yourself an Elena. Not only did she save me a thousand times over during some of the many nervous breakdowns that will inevitably come when you volunteer to make your only sister’s wedding cake with exactly zero experience, but we laughed through it all (except for the times when I was in tears).

Exactly two years ago today Alexis and JP were married at our parent’s home in Annisquam, Massachusetts. The same day 33 years ago my parents married. Exactly one year from today Craig and I will be getting married. Labor Day is special and full of love for us Lawrences.

Happy Anniversary, Lex and JP, Mom and Dad. Happy minus-one anniversary, Craig. I love you, all. Let’s have some cake and celebrate.

Full recipe, photos, and step-by-step instructions after the break.

read more…

An Ode to Meatballs

2012 March 16
by Steph Lawrence

Me, left, Alexis, right

Dear Grandma,

It was you who started my love affair with meatballs. When we used to visit you in Florida, I’ll never forget the chocolate frosted marble cupcakes (refrigerated, of course), golf cart driving, and endless games of gin rummy. But the best part, my true favorite, will always be your meatball sandwiches. Pasta with meatballs was the dinnertime regular, but it was lunch the next day that was always my real favorite: leftover meatballs with your homemade tomato sauce on buttered italian bread.

When Mom called and told me you had died, I knew immediately what I wanted to do. I emailed Mom and asked for the recipe, and Craig went out and bought fresh meat from our local butcher. I wanted to honor you through the way I knew and loved you best: your cooking. I’d never made them before, I don’t know why. But it struck me as important that I remember you through food. With eggs from our chickens, and parsley from the garden, I shaped meatballs and memories with my hands, remembering your voice, and summers on Cape Cod, and so much more.

Thank you Grandma, for your delicious food; for teaching us to drive (maybe illegally) on the Basking Ridge golf courses; for your gruff and loving voice; for teaching me to play Bridge; for your support and excitement, when I last saw you and told you about the food-related business I am starting. Your encouragement meant more than you could ever know.

We’ll miss you, Grandma, and love you always. Your memory lives on in our cooking.

Love always,

Rosemary “Boots” Bartolini
March 18, 1924 – March 4, 2012

Grandma’s Meatballs

    ¾ lb. ground beef
    ½ lb. ground pork
    ¼ lb. ground veal
    ½ c. flavored breadcrumbs
    ¼ c. fresh parsley, chopped
    ¼ c. parmesan cheese
    1 clove garlic, chopped
    2 eggs
    zested rind of one lemon
    dash nutmeg
    salt & pepper

Place all ingredients in bowl and mix until combined. Shape into meatballs. Brown meatballs in oil. Cook browned meatballs in favorite tomato sauce for one hour or until cooked through. Serve over ziti or other cooked pasta. Better yet, slice and serve with extra sauce on your favorite italian bread.

Proposal by bicycle

2011 December 13
by Steph Lawrence

AN INTERRUPTION FROM OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING (which is apparently nothing, since I’ve been missing from here for months). Just in: Craig Rubens, fellow conspirator in China, father of Albus, love of my life and Scrabble Words With Friends player extraordinaire proposed to me yesterday, by bicycle. I said yes.

Perhaps I should celebrate with food and write about it here, on this blog that I supposedly keep.

To boot, he made a video about it. It is possibly the greatest gift I have ever received. I hope it makes you as happy as it makes me.

Craig, I am so excited about spending a lifetime with you. I promise, I will (probably) never throw dice at your head ever again.

I love you.

A Succulent Wall How-To

2011 August 6
by Steph Lawrence

UPDATED: I need to make clear that in my post I was re-creating a project originally posted (with video!) by Fern Richardson on her blog, Life on the Balcony. I regret not making that more clear originally.

I am very single-minded (my mom calls it stubbornness…). I am terrible at being told “no” and when I get an idea in my head can’t rest until I’ve gotten it. I fixate on whatever has captured my imagination and doggedly pursue it until it’s mine. Occasionally they are good ideas, often not. Sometimes they involve laborious do-it-yourself projects that I like to rope unwilling accomplices into helping me finish (hi Spencer and Craig).

This happened a few weeks ago when a friend sent me this link. It captured my imagination and I decided I needed one, immediately. I have been obsessed with succulents, of late (come on. cutest plants, ever. no contest), so decided our patio needed a succulent wall garden of its very own. One blog how-to, one obstinate person-who-hates-idle-weekends, and 36-hours later: BAM. Succulent wall garden of my own.

Turns out the process wasn’t actually so laborious and the fruits of the labor are WELL worth it. I am pretty in love with our latest patio addition. The whole project start-to-finish took about four or five hours. Here’s how to make your own. You’ll need:

    - A pallet (I found mine for free at a local garden store — mine measured 25 x 38 inches)
    - Roll of landscaping paper
    - Staple gun and staples
    - Potting soil (I used 2.5 cubic feet for the 25×38 pallet)
    - Adorable succulents or other plants of choice


    1. Sand down any rough spots on your pallet.

    2. (Optional) If the back of your pallet doesn’t have much support (mine was basically open on the back), you can find some scrap wood and cut it down to the width of your pallet and add a few extra supports.

    3. Double or triple up your landscaping fabric and begin the stapling fun. Staple fabric along the back, bottom and sides of the pallet, taking care at the corners to fold in the fabric so no soil will spill out.

    4. Lay the pallet flat and pour potting soil through slats, pressing soil down firmly.

    5. Begin planting, starting at the bottom of pallet and ending at the top. Make sure soil is firmly packed in each layer as you move up.

    6. Water your wall garden and let remain horizontal for 1-2 weeks to allow plants to take root. You can set it upright at this point. Remember when you water to start at the top and water each subsequent section a little less, as your water will naturally seep through to the bottom-most plants.

Pappardelle with asparagus and pancetta

2011 June 17
by Steph Lawrence

A few weeks ago marked the beginning of asparagus season. Don’t tell the other vegetables in the garden, but asparagus might be my favorite. So I get pretty excited seeing asparagus lining the farmers market stands, as is happening now, and wanted to make a dinner in honor of its arrival. This simple pasta with asparagus, pancetta and creme fraiche was the perfect thing, because not only does it involve my (shh!) favorite vegetable, but also did you read the part about the pancetta? And the creme fraiche? Enough said.

It’s been a busy past couple of months, and I have some exciting news in my life. The last week in April (incidentally around the time of my last post in which I heralded my return to blogging. Ha.) Craig and I bought (drumroll…..) a new puppy! His name is Albus, and he is the love of our lives. Here he is at 8 weeks. I think this photo was taken right before we both collapsed on the floor from exhaustion.

Just a few days after the addition of this small bundle of joy (who is very fond of eating our carpets), I also heard the exciting news that I got in to graduate school. I will be getting my MBA at Berkeley where I plan to study exciting things like nonprofit management, social innovation and New Methods in Accounting (related: I was just instructed to by this calculator. I am sure I am in for some nonstop fun). Anyway, that is the big news in my life but I digress. I believe I was talking about more important things. Namely, pancetta:

Pancetta is a magical thing, and the pasta was equally magical. I am a huge fan of pappardelle pasta, and got the local pasta shop around the corner cut some lovely thick slices for me. The meal itself is insanely simple and difficult to mess up, but somehow I managed to: sadly I was in a bit of a rush (you know, to get the asparagus and pancetta in my mouth), and I neglected to take the time to really separate the pasta and dust the flour off. I would strongly recommend you be less hasty than myself because it led to some pasta glue situations that I would rather have avoided. Other than that small road bump, the meal was delicious, and simple, and just the thing I was looking for to celebrate the beginning of the summer bounty. Lucky for you the asparagus is still coming strong so head to your local farmers market this weekend and pick some up for a tasty and simple dinner.

Pappardelle with asparagus and pancetta

    1/3 lb. pancetta
    1 lb. asparagus
    1/4 cup creme fraiche

    Put two pots of water on to boil, a large for the pasta and a small for the asparagus. Slice the asparagus as pictured into small coins. Leave the spear tips. In the small pot of boiling water, blanch the asparagus. Add the spears first, then 1-2 minutes later add the rest of the chopped asparagus, and cook until just tender. Chop the pancetta roughly and brown in a pan with heated oil. When browned, add the creme fraiche and stir. You can add a little more liquid in the form of chicken broth or wine, if needed. Cook the pasta until done and drain. Transfer pasta to the pancetta mixture, add the asparagus and toss. Serve warm with some fresh pepper and shaved parmesan.

Portobello burger with spinach and garlic aioli. (And other things that make me happy)

2011 April 10
by Steph Lawrence

Oh, hi there. Remember me? I write on this blog, sometimes. I guess it has been awhile, and I’ve missed you.

Living in San Francisco it is easy to be a glutton (I live way too close to Tartine), so some days and weeks I try to be a little more conscious about what I feed my body. This is one of those weeks, and I have been happier for it. A large part of that happiness might have been last night’s dinner. Since I have been working four jobs, applying to grad schools, and taking a calculus course my time in the kitchen has been woefully cut down. As it turns out, this has not made me very happy.

I have been thinking a lot about what makes me happy, because sometimes when you get really busy you forget about doing the important things. Like this blog, for instance. Somehow it became a thing on my to-do list and then got pushed to the bottom of my to-do list where it sat forgotten and lonely and served only to make me feel guilty about my inablity to cross things off a certain to-do list. I forgot that I just like making delicious things and taking too many photos of them and putting them here on this strange internet world for people to see. What a strange hobby. But I quite like it. I got to thinking that maybe there are other things I have been forgetting that I love, so I decided to make a list. There is nothing that I love more than a good list-making session. Here are some other things I like:

    - This boy I like. Let’s call him Kudge (there’s a story there for another time)
    - My family, who I love and adore
    - Crisp San Francisco days (today, for instance)
    - Bikram yoga. And spinning. And very occasionally running.
    - Socks that match
    - Things that are orange
    - Making quilts
    - Making anything, really
    - Human Planet (I was just introduced to this. You should probably just stop everything and go watch some right now. After you make this recipe, of course)
    - My jobs (I know, I probably have too many. But I really love them all. You can see what I do here if you’re curious)
    - The Song of Ice and Fire series. Sure, call me a nerd. You’d be right. But they’re AWESOME and I am reading them right now, on public transit and everything, for all the world to see. Man does it make me happier than nothing else to be absorbed into a new literary world (some credit goes to this man, here)
    - Calculus. (Who knew? Turns out I love math)
    - These portobello burgers. Why don’t you go and make some for yourself and be happy, too.

Portobello Burgers with Spinach and Garlic Aioli
Serves 2

    2 large portobello mushrooms
    1 to two handfuls of baby spinach leaves
    swiss or gruyere cheese (optional)

    For the marinade:
    1 1/2 tbs balsamic vinegar
    1 1/2 tbs soy sauces
    1 1/2 tbs olive oil
    1 tsp stone ground mustard
    1 tsp honey
    1 tsp fresh thyme
    fresh ground pepper pepper

    For the aioli:
    1 egg yolk
    1/2 tsp water
    2 cloves garlic
    1 cup olive oil
    1 1/2 tsp tarragon vinegar (can use champagne or other vinegar)

    About 1 hour before you’re ready to start grilling, prepare the marinade. Whisk together all marinade ingredients. Pour two-thirds of the marinade over the mushrooms, reserving some. Flip the mushrooms over and brush the remaining marinade over the tops of the mushrooms. Let marinate until ready to grill.

    While marinating, prepare the aioli. Crush the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt (you can also use the back side of a knife, if you don’t have a mortar and pestle) until garlic becomes a smooth paste. Whisk half of the garlic, 1/2 tsp. water, and the egg yolk until well combined. Now begins the tricky(ish) part: slowly drizzle the olive oil into the mixture. Start by adding a teaspoon at a time and whisking to incorporate well. When done slowly, the egg will absorb the oil and begin to thicken and lighten in color. If done too quickly (like I did, on my first try), the mixture won’t thicken and you will be left with an oily, eggy mess that looks nothing like a mayonaise and everything like a gross, liquidy egg yolk. Never fear! You can always try again. It’s worth it. In total it is probably about 5 to 10 minutes to make, although my forearms would disagree and told you it took longer. When the mixture comes together and is thick you can start to add the oil more quickly until it is all incorporated. If the mixture becomes too thick you can thin by adding 1/2 teaspoon of water at a time. Add the remaining garlic and salt and vinegar to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

    At some point during all this, perhaps during your second attempt at making aioli, have a lovely sous-chef start the charcoals for the grill. When hot, place mushrooms on the grill. Cook 3-4 minutes on one side, until the portobello begins to soften and is slightly charred. Then flip over. When flipped, place a handful of spinach leaves on each mushroom and let wilt. If serving with cheese, place cheese on top of the spinach. Serve on toasted buns when done, with a generous dollop of aioli.

    Enjoy and be happy.

    *Note: Aioli recipe adapted from Alice Waters’ In The Green Kitchen, which is a lovely cookbook that you should check out if you haven’t already

Some photos of the aioli-making process, which was lengthy and soreness-inducing but TOTALLY WORTH IT. I have never made a mayonaise or aioli before and was very pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of ingredients and the deliciousness. It was the perfect thing for a portobello (or really any kind of) burger.

Mixed greens and white bean stew with parmesan and balsamic

2011 February 17
tags: , ,
by Steph Lawrence

I came across this recipe the other week and was so excited. Finally, something to do with all of the greens! The ones taking over my fridge! I bought the remaining ingredients I needed on Sunday, prepared to make the recipe immediately. And then it became Monday. And Tuesday. And so on. Until finally it got to Friday and no mixed green and white bean stew had been created. This week was just one of those weeks where I’ve been getting home at 8 and the last thing I am thinking of doing is chopping vegetables for an hour. Some nights (or maybe all of them, if you’re me this week) you just have to order pizza.

Finally last night I had the time and energy to actually break into the kitchen and the stew of week-long anticipation was made. It did not disappoint. It was just what I was looking for. Something vegetable-y, with some umami goodness thrown in on top (poached egg, shaved parmesan, and balsamic).

Mixed greens and white bean stew with balsamic and parmesan

    1 pound chard, collard greens, or other greens
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    1 cup chopped carrots
    1 cup chopped celery
    1 cup chopped shallots (3-4 medium)
    2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    1 cup dry white wine
    2 15-ounce cans (or about 3 3/4 cups) white beans, drained and rinsed
    1 15-ounce can vegetable or chicken broth
    1 28-ounce can tomatoes (whole or crushed)
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    3 fresh thyme sprigs
    1 bay leaf

    Balsamic vinegar
    Fresh grated parmesan cheese
    Poached eggs

    Heat olive oil over medium. Add carrots, celery, shallots and garlic and saute for 15 minutes or until soft.

    While vegetables are sauteeing, bring a medium pot of salted water to boil and blanch chard or other greens for one minute. Drain and squeeze out extra water. Coarsely chop and set aside.

    Add wine and cook 3-5 minutes until reduced by three-fourths. Add beans, broth, tomatoes, a few pinches of salt, freshly ground black pepper, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add chard and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove thyme and bay leaf.

    Poach eggs. When serving stew, ladle into bowls and place one poached egg on top. Garnish generously with freshly grated parmesan, a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. And maybe some nice crusty bread to top it all off.