a few photos from the April 2015 “Dinner with Daniel”

coffee tree trim

New growth on pruned coffee trees

Coffee is an interest of mine that fits right into a couple of my passions. “Soy muy cafetero” I would say in Spain. I’m all about coffee. I love the coffee culture, traditions, aroma and taste. But I also get great pleasure from growing my own coffee trees.

Coffee cultivation in the north hemisphere is, well, difficult. Especially if you take into consideration western Pennsylvania’s winters.

But I have managed to keep coffee trees here in a fashion that’s similar to bonsai. I keep them potted. Every so often I trim their roots. In the summer I put them outside, right by my fig and bay leaf trees.

Coffee trees only produce flowers–little beauties that smell like jasmine–on new wood. So, in order to control their growth and get plenty of coffee berries, I apply the Beaumont-Fukunaga system. It’s pretty scary! I cut down the tree to a stump. And then it’s all new growth from there, new wood.

The stump of a coffee tree after pruning
Cutting the coffee tree down to a stump is nerve wracking, but buds soon begin to appear.
New growth on the pruned coffee tree
New growth on the pruned coffee tree. (Whew!)

This method is practiced in Kona by Tom Greenwell at his farm, Greenwell Farms. It’s amazing to see the new growth and by next year the trees will produce more than in previous years.

Buen provecho!

What’s a “supper club?”

A "Dinner with Daniel" in progress

There are a couple different ideas about what a supper club is or should be. In the Midwest, a “supper club” is a particular kind of restaurant, a homestyle restaurant that serves food family style. In other places, “supper club” has come to be associated with “underground restaurants” or “guerrilla dining,” where word of mouth brings people to a pop-up restaurant serving dinner for just one night. Sometimes these dinners showcase the work of cooks who aren’t currently in a professional kitchen or who want to experiment with food that’s different than what gets served from their restaurant kitchens. Sometimes the cooks are talented amateurs with no professional training.

In other parts of the world, supper clubs are really taking off. They seem to value a balance between the “supper” and the “club,” aiming for good cuisine, fresh and well prepared, but giving equal attention to the social aspect of each dinner.

This idea resonates with me. My supper club has a relaxed, homey atmosphere with excellent and interesting food (if I do say so myself!). The mission is to have not only a great food selection, but the perfect mix of guests, where everyone gets to sit at the “chef’s table.”

So what’s it like to eat at a supper club? Each one is different, of course, but this is what mine is like:

A "Dinner with Daniel" in progress
A “Dinner with Daniel” in progress

Homestyle. There’s no professional waitstaff, so you may need to ask when you need butter or help yourself when you need more water. Everyone will sit together at the same table and pass dishes back and forth. Sometimes we have plated courses and sometimes we serve family style, but guests always take a little more active role than they’d have in a restaurant.

Drink selection. We serve water, wine, and coffee. Maybe an apéritif or digestif. A few kinds of tea, I guess, but you’re rolling the dice if you are hoping for tea. You are welcome to bring wine if you have a bottle you’d like to share.

Schedule. I ask my guests to come on time. Not early: I’ll still be hard at work–probably trying to find 30 seconds when I can put on a clean shirt. Not late: it’s hard to serve one or two guests who are out of sync with everybody else, eating appetizers while everybody else is starting on the entrée. On time.

Special diets. If you have special dietary requirements, get in touch before you buy a ticket. Seriously. Don’t spring an allergic or food intolerant guest on me at the last minute. I am happy to cook for anybody, even vegans (there, I said it!) and I love a challenge, but some menus just don’t lend themselves to different interpretations, especially at the last minute.

Tips and presents. Tips are a little weird. You’re in my house. But you can give me presents if you want to!

What to wear. Wear what you like. We all have to look at each other all night; wear something that you look good in. I will be wearing an apron. I look good in an apron.

Feedback. Give it to me! I want to hear what you think, whether it’s praise or a suggestion for improvement.

Buen Provecho!

farewell to the bitter end of winter

Winter sky
Daniel plucking pheasants
Plucking all these pheasants takes my back to my culinary training–a long time ago. Don’t you think my kids should be doing this? How else will they learn?!

Preparing winter meals can be more interesting than those in the summertime. In summer there’s bounty, delicious fresh food practically bursting out of the garden, everything producing and reproducing. Half the time, you use a little splash of olive oil, a little lemon juice, and you’re good to go. If you just look around you and choose what’s ripe at that moment, you can’t go too far wrong.

In the winter it’s different. This season rewards the “long game” in the kitchen, the planning and preserving, where you draw on your root cellar and pantry.  All the different options of game, large and small. All the magic of pickling, aging and preserving get me through these dark months without my garden.

To celebrate what I hope is the end of winter, I’ve scheduled a supper club meal for this Saturday, March 7. I’m using sour cherries I’ve had preserved in spirits since summer, a persimmon vinaigrette, and candied kumquats, among other things.

Also local pheasants that I plucked myself. Having the chance to experience some of these “food handling” techniques is very special to me as a reminder of where food comes from and the time honored traditions of preparing it. After a plucking a few pheasants I had a renewed respect for those who have done and continue to do jobs like this–so that most of us don’t have to!

dinner with Daniel on Saturday, 7 March 2015

  1. Serrano Ham, Daikon, Granny Smith Apple, Pimentón Jelly
  2. Salt Cod Soup
  3. Treviso, Mushrooms, Persimmon, Tomato, Jalapeño Pepper
  4. Pheasant, Foie Gras, Sour Cherry, Butternut Squash
  5. Crémeux de Bourgogne, Membrillo, Albariño, Toasted Oat Sourdough
  6. Tocinillo, Pinenut, Saffron, Lemon, Dark Chocolate

Buen provecho!

Winter sky
Winter has its charms–but they’re wearing thin. 😉

tocinillo de cielo, a traditional Spanish custard

tocinillo de cielo, a traditional Spanish custard

“Tocinillo de cielo” translates to something like “little bacon from heaven.” I’m not sure how “bacon-y” it is, but it’s definitely a heavenly dessert.

This is probably one of those recipes that came about long ago when egg whites were used to clarify wine. You can’t throw away all those extra yolks, certainly not in a thrifty and egg-loving Spanish kitchen, so somebody whipped up tocinillo with the extra yolks. Tocinillo is not as popular as flan outside of Spain, but it’s a favorite in my house.

If you’re lactose intolerant, this is a great alternative to flan without any need for milk substitutes.

tocinillo de cielo, a traditional Spanish custard
Here is a serving of tocinillo de cielo that I made in a baking dish. If you’re feeling fancy, you can use ramekins for individual servings.

The recipe is simple and very similar to flan. I left it in the metric measurements. For the most part when it comes to baking I really prefer the metric system!

tocinillo de cielo

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 400 g sugar
  • 250 ml water
  • 100 g sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan, cook 100 g sugar and 1 Tbsp water over medium-low heat and stir regularly until it comes to a medium amber color. Remove from heat and divide evenly into eight flan ramekins. Set aside. If ramekins are too fussy for you, you can use a single baking dish and it works equally well.

In another small saucepan, combine remaining sugar with water. Bring to a boil. Using a candy thermometer, cook until sugar reaches 220°-225°F. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, the syrup should coat the back of a spoon after it has cool down. If not, cook it for a few more minutes.

At this point, traditional recipes call for a little vanilla extract, lemon zest, or orange juice. Instead, I kept my recipe very plain to enjoy the rich flavor of the yolks.

In a large bowl, whisk yolks and whole eggs to combine. Whisk in cooled sugar syrup until well combined. Strain mixture into a large measuring cup or bowl with a spout so you can pour neatly into the prepared ramekins.

Pour egg yolk mixture into prepared ramekins, dividing mixture evenly between them. Ramekins may not be completely full.

Place ramekins into a shallow baking dish (I use a 9×9-inch pan) and place into the oven. Carefully pour hot water into the baking dish, making sure that the hot water comes about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Make sure no water gets in the ramekins.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until custards are set. A sharp knife inserted gently into the center of one of the custards should come out clean, and they should jiggle only very slightly when moved.

Carefully remove ramekins from water bath and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until cold, before serving.
To serve, slide a sharp knife around the edge of the custard and invert onto a serving dish.

Buen provecho!

notes from the windowsill: cocoa nibs

cocoa pod

Something very special ended up on my windowsill–a cocoa pod! Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

I decided to see what takes to get from pod to cocoa. After all, chocolate is king this time of year–though it usually comes in the shape of a heart!

cocoa pod
Here’s the cocoa pod that was on my windowsill this week. Let’s experiment!

The most fun I had was probably as I cut into the pod. The inside looks like a fuzzy experimental corn cob, and smelled very much like the inside of a pumpkin.

In following the process I gathered up the beans to let them ferment. This stops them from germinating and starts the flavoring of the nib. The white stuff on the outside helps with this, and in six days they are ready to dry. A couple more days and they are dry, and ready for roasting. This is similar to roasting coffee, and a key part of the process of giving the nib its final flavor. I think by now most everyone has had cocoa nibs in fancy candy bars or as a dessert garnish. The ones I toasted had the familiar little bitter crunch of nibs I’ve eaten before. I ground the nibs in my kitchen pestle and then I had my cocoa powder.

Long preparations like these with so many steps always make me wonder how people discovered that we could eat the final product in this particular way. Accident or not, you gotta love the inquisitive mind of those people over two thousand years ago, the first chocolatiers! It was definably worth cutting that pod open.

cocoa beans
These are the cocoa beans outside of the pod as they begin to ferment
cocoa nib
Here is a cocoa nib – a piece of the bean after fermentation and drying.
toasted cocoa beans
This is what the beans look like after they are toasted.
homemade cocoa powder
I used my mortar and pestle to grind the nibs into cocoa powder.


Northern Spain has a long tradition of flavored spirits called orujo, which is similar to Italy’s grappa. In Spain you can buy these flavored spirits at the store, but it’s also something of a family tradition and a hobby to make them at home. People use many different flavorings, from fruity to very savory, from strawberry to radish. Cherry is popular. One of my aunts has a sour cherry tree for the sole purpose of flavoring her “orujo de guindas.” I don’t think the thought of making a pie or other dessert with these cherries ever occurred to her.

When Michele Savoia from Dish Osteria told me about liquore alloro, also called laurino, I couldn’t wait to try it. Laurino is traditionally made in Sicily and bay leaves are used to flavor the spirit. It was a great after meal beverage.

I have my own bay leaf trees and I never knew of this. So, under the instruction of Michele I made my own. I used locally produced Boyd & Blair Vodka. My laurino was a little different than Michele’s. I made it less sweet but it’s still floral and delicious. Swirling a little glass of this laurino under my nose, I can be transported right into the middle of my garden on a nice summer day, even though my garden is covered in layers of snow. It’s magic.

Believe me, this only my first batch–I look forward to tinkering with the recipe.

Straining the bay leaves


Buen provecho!

notes from the windowsill: rutabaga micro greens

I continually experiment with different foods, veggies, seeds, just about anything that could be edible. Lots of times these experiments or projects reside on my kitchen’s window sill. When light and temperature are needed, I find the kitchen’s window sill ideal. Sometimes, some of these experiments might be on the window longer than others might care for, but, hey! It’s all in the name of science!

So when I noticed that one of the rutabagas in the kitchen looked like it was starting to sprout,  I had to find out: If I cut the top off and kept it moist, would it produce enough tiny leaves to be a viable source of micro greens?

This discarded rutabaga top sprouts new, edible greens when kept in water
As you can see, this rutabaga top is flourishing on the windowsill, producing edible micro greens

Young rutabaga leaves are tasty. They can be prepared in the same way as turnip greens, adding zest to a salad, stir fry, or other good old fashioned greens.

After a couple of weeks I came to the conclusion that if these rutabaga tops are kept and planted, they will produce plenty of greens. I even learned that eventually these top “cutoffs” will go to seed!