Farmhouse Cheese, A How To

Hanging sheets on the line makes me feel the most domesticated, but making cheese is a close second : )

If you never made cheese because you’re intimidated, I’m here to calm your fears. I would never try to make this if it wasn’t quick and easy (I’m sure you’ve picked up on the theme of all the recipes I share). I promise you’ll be rewarded with the most delicate and smooth tasting fresh cheese, plus you’ll have the satisfaction of producing it in your own kitchen. I always feel a little sad when we cut into it, because it’s so beautiful!

The children love the whole process because it’s magic. Really. To make it even more fun, my friend came and we made it together. She’s much more confident than I am, so I listen closely to pick up on any hints I may be missing. Truly, she’s taught me the science. This farmhouse cheese is pretty fool proof. It requires no special cultures, nor molds, nor aging. You only need cheesecloth and rennet which I just order.

First begin my warming 1 gallon of whole milk and stirring constantly. You’ll want to feel it with your finger and maybe test it with a thermometer to 100 F. Turn the heat off. It’s good to know what it feels like and not need a thermometer. The milk should definitely not be boiling.

Crush a rennet tablet and dissolve in a touch of warm water or the warmed milk from the pot. Stir it into the gallon of milk. Curds will begin to form pretty quickly, but allow it all to sit (uncovered) for 1 hour. No need to stir it (don’t want to break it up yet).

Cut across the curds making a lattice pattern. Allow it to sit for 15 to 30 minutes after cutting.

Then begin to scoop the separated milk into a strainer (maybe just sitting in the sink for draining), lined with cheesecloth, a thin dishtowel (like muslin), or an old undershirt (coffee filter or nice paper towel works too, but this recipe makes a bigger batch). Scoop as many curds (clumps) as you can leaving the whey (liquid) behind.

Allow it to strain until it’s not dripping so much. Add a couple pinches of salt to taste and stir it right in the cheesecloth with a spoon careful as to not break up the curds too much. Then give it a few squeezes through the cheesecloth to encourage faster draining. Gather the cheesecloth and press the curds into a hockey puck shape (round and flat). Cover it with it’s cheesecloth and put some weight on it – a saucer and a large can of tomatoes. Allow it to become firmer for 2 – 4 hours as it drains some more.

When you refrigerate it, it will become even a little firmer. The cheese will stay fresh in the fridge for a week, but we eat it the next day. Delicious with drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of course salt!

with love. Damaris

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A Stroll Down Comfort Lane and Chicken Potpie

Why do mom’s Sunday pot roasts, buttercream cupcakes for birthdays, and home-churned peach ice cream on Independance Day fill us with comfort?

Our favortie foods connect us with people and friends whose presence made these meals so pleasurable. The real magic is in the gift of sharing and generously serving our people. Comfort isn’t merely the food, but the gathering of grateful feelings and lasting memories.

Dinner at our house is an event we look forward to all day, and when a savory pie is in the oven, everyone starts to feel good long before the first bite. The steam and aroma of creamed vegetables and chicken promise warmth through and through.

Can I offer some advice? Don’t shy away from making a pie just because you are intimated by its crust! The one I used this time is store-bought, and it was delicious. If you have time, this recipe is my favorite. I only lay a crust over the top of the creamy chicken and vegetables, but you could have a bottom and top crust for a heartier rendition. I have been making a variation of this potpie recipe for years, mostly of what I have on hand. This time I wrote down the measurements to our favorite version, so I could share the recipe with you!

Comfort food doesn’t need to be a guilty pleasure. This chicken pie is loaded with green vegetables! Simple enough to enjoy as a weeknight meal, it’s outrageously good – warm, tasty, crusty, thyme-kissed, oven-baked goodness. Make it ahead of time, keep it covered in the fridge, and bake it when you get home from errands, or when you have people over. It all cooks in one pan! A generous hot portion of this pie and a salad makes a most perfect dinner.

Chicken Potpie

  • pie crust

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil + 2 tablespoons butter

  • 1/2 yellow onion, peeled and chopped

  • 1 celery bunch, trimmed and chopped

  • 2 cups green peas (frozen)

  • 2 cups cooked chicken (perfect use of leftovers)

  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 tablespoons flour

  • 1 cup milk (any kind works well)

  • fresh ground pepper (to taste)

  • egg wash (1 yolk + a little water) (optional)

Turn the oven on to 375F. In a large skillet on medium-low heat, melt butter with the oil and cook the onions and celery until soft. Add the frozen peas, chicken, salt, pepper, thyme and flour. Mix in the milk stirring constantly as it thickens. Taste for salt and add more to your liking. Pour the creamy chicken and vegetable mixture onto a baking pie dish and cover with the pie crust. Cut little vents (make little cuts) on your crust, and brush the egg wash (optional). Bake for 20 minutes. When you see some evidence of it bubbling inside, it’s ready to enjoy!

with love, Damaris


Did You Order An Instant Pot Recently?

Shortly after we were married, we received a quesadilla maker, and it never came out of the box. Sorry gifter! We don’t have a roaster, rice cooker, donut maker, toaster oven, electric griddle, panini maker, nor a microwave which tells you that it took a long time for me to grow increasingly intrigued by this of-the-moment appliance. I’m late to the party, but I’m in and I’m stayin’. It’s easy! It works! It’s delicious! -were all my expressions after using the Instant Pot for the first couple of weeks. I’m growing confident in the results and soon will join the amazing proficient Instat Pot users society. Some cooks are making close to magic in these, and I hope to at least have a growing collection of Instat Pot simple dinners on here. Fluffy cakes and crème brulee may still required a little more seasoning than I have. Today we’ll start with a quick and easy favorite recipe that you must make tonight, please! Don’t miss it at the end of this post.

It came as a surprise to me that Nathan ordered an Instant Pot before Christmas. The next day, we began with fresh French beans and then cubed potatoes. In the next couple of days, we tried several soups and rice puddings. Lentils and all dry beans are the best in the Instat Pot! I will never, not ever, simmer dry beans on the stove top for 4 hours checking on them every 40 minutes to makes sure they’re still submerged in water. Not to mention the residue of steam and stink- ha! The time saver and hands-off approach to cooking legumes is amazing. By the way, I have the Duo 8 quart.

This post is mainly a compilation of links and resources that I have used and hope both you and I can easily come back to for reference right here. As the Instant Pot recipe collection grows, I will link all the recipes to this post.

Here’s the official Instant Pot site. They have videos and information related to all the different models that they offer. Therecipe databaseit very helpful to gain confidence in using your old recipes and converting them.

Here are some of my favorite links for recipe inspiration: Most popular Instant Pot recipes from 2017 (The Kitchn) and Heidi Swanson’s Instant Pot Recipes (101 Cookbooks). I know there are countless more, but these are the two I have used so far. The soup we keep coming back to is Zuppa Toscana. Even if it isn’t a frigid winter where you live, you must make it. So, so good.

Instant Pot Zuppa Toscana

1lb. ground mild Italian sausage

1/2 lb. bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

6 medium potatoes, thinly sliced

10 cups of chicken broth or stock

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup heavy cream or half and half

2 cups kale or spinach, for kale remove the stem and chop

Cook the Italian sausage and the bacon in the Instant Pot using the sauté function until crumbly and browned. Stir in the onions and garlic until translucent. Add the broth, potatoes and red pepper flakes. Select steam and set it to 4 minutes. Close the lid. Steam handle closed too. When the pressure cooking is done, allow 5-10 minutes of cooling and lay a folded towel over the steam handle. Turn the steam handl. When all the steam has been released, open the pot. Add the kale or spinach right away and it will wilt as you stir. Add the heavy cream or half and half. Enjoy again and again!

with love, Damaris


Families Warm The Winter Blues

January so far is anything but dull. Outside my window panes, the meadow and all her barren beauty, offer a frail salute to the new year. The maple trees need a good cold and snowy winter to produce ample sap in the spring. As we inch toward even more snowfall days, I’d say it looks a lot like a good ol’ traditional Michigan winter is underway. Today’s whirling whiteness asserts this winter is wild and woolly.

These days, we find beauty is in the stillness. We’ve settled snug for winter with a few episodes of speeding swiftly and smoothly down the cold, hard snow. Nothing could warm our hearts more than gathering close with piles of new good picks from the library and a whistling kettle nearby.

Today could appear dismal if we had grand eventful plans, but the simplicity of the smell of rosemary, sweet potatoes and apple cider fills me with gratitude for the chance to hold all my loves and keep them close. And when we do have to spend the day out, we relish the delightful consciousness of home waiting at the end.

Some of our favorite things this January are:

  • woolly socks – I wear these everyday

  • peach tea- reminds us that the sun will shine again

  • making candied nuts- recipe is at the end of this post!

  • felt sewing- hard to mess up and easy for kids

  • making indoor s’mores- first time trying, so fun!

  • new picture books for read alouds- we order online and swing by for pick up

  • game nights- this is our new favorite

  • Nathan reads missionary biographies sometimes in our bed and kids pile up- currently reading this one

  • chicken pie- our absolute favorite recipe coming soon!

  • robust soups and this crusty artisan bread

  • fleecy jogger pants- we live these 🙂

Candied Nuts

3 cups whole almonds, or halved pecans/walnuts

1 cups sugar

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside. In a large skillet combine nuts, sugar, and butter. Cook over medium heat, carefully stirring constantly for 10 minutes or until sugar melts and turns to a rich deep brown color. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Spread the mixture onto the parchment liked cookie sheet. Allow them to cool and the candy will harden. We often fill a pint jar with these and give them as a hostess gift . They are delicious eaten straight or sprinkled on salads.

with love, Damaris


Peach Jam

Hello, early autumn morning!

Leaves are changing colors, chipmunks and raccoons are making cozy nests and dens. Butterflies are taking off to warmer places, and we’re all leaning into the sun, enjoying the last juicy peach harvest. I decided on writing this post because making jam can be the most intimidating, all-consuming job, but it doesn’t have to be!

This no-cook, freezer jam is delicious! The peaches were easy to peel and mash. You should know that just as we were about to fill our jars, a little spice was in the air! We added a dash of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg – just because it’s fall.

Pomona’s Universal Pectin has been my favorite go-to for making this quick and easy jam. It has no preservatives or sweeteners, and it thickens with natural pectin (derived from citric fruits). I can find it year-around at Whole Foods, and it’s also available directly through their website. Each box makes 2-4 batches, but we always double or triple and use the whole box. It provides everything you need (including the easy to follow instructions) except for your favorite fruit, a bit of lemon juice, and the sweetener of your choice (agave, stevia, sugar). You’ll also need a little boiling water for the recipe. We’ve enjoyed using honey from our bees, and the honey flavor does come through the jam. We like 4 cups of fruit to 1 1/2 cups sweetener. It’s really delicious, and we enjoy the fresh taste and color of freezer jam!

There is no need to prepare jars for canning with freezer (no-cook) jam, which simplifies the process. Any container to fill with jam will do, but allow 1/2 inch at the top of the jar for expansion when frozen. We found that it’ll stay fresh in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or freeze it to preserve longer. We have used raspberries and strawberries in the past with great success. Remember that the jam will continue to thicken in the fridge. Pears, apples, and raspberries are in season, and this pear-vanilla jam is our next preserving adventure!

Very soon, the wind will get breezy and chill, and we’ll hear thunder’s low rumble from far away. And when the clouds loom over our quiet meadow, we’ll sink into the warmth of dinner rolls spread with sweet, spiced peach jam.

with love. Damaris


The Secret Is In The Dough

Yeast intimidates me a little – OK, a lot. A few years ago, when I had more time, I made our bread on a somewhat regular basis. It was good, but never too consistent. The recipe I used the most made three loaves, and I baked it once a week. I don’t think that would last even one day around here now! The older kids have such a passion for the smell of yeast and working with a lump of dough! I think it’s because they remember our afternoons in the kitchen and the overflowing bowls of leavened dough.

A friend of mine, Salam, stopped to visit last week. I was telling her about my fears with yeast, but she didn’t sympathize! She seemed so confident in her recipe, her skills, her results! I was intrigued and pleaded with her to stay and make it with me. This isn’t the first time I’ve gleaned massive amounts of kitchen knowledge from her! Last winter she came to teach me how to make cheese! – I know, she’s a sweetheart! She told me a couple secrets to the no-fail, no-fuss dough recipe, that has worked every time. We’ve made four pizza braids since she was here, and we’ve loved them!

I’ll let you in on her secrets to fool-proof dough:

  1. sift the flour

  2. use buttermilk, kefir, or milk with a dash of vinegar (even when recipes call for water or milk)

  3. sprinkle cornmeal on your pan for a crisp bottom

This recipe is only 30 minutes hands-on. The dough comes together in a stand-up mixer or in a food processor. No kneading by hand means no flour messes all over the counters or sticky doughy hands – YES! My family loves all things pizza, and this braid is the easiest twist (pun intended) on a pizza.

If you don’t know what to make for dinner tonight, I bet you’ve got these ingredients in your kitchen right now. We’ve served this pizza braid piping hot, but really the children prefer it after it’s been resting awhile. So, you can bake it early in the afternoon, and still serve a finger-linking supper a couple hours later! Don’t you love make-ahead meals?

This recipe makes two pizza braids, two large pizzas (14-16 inches), or three 10 inch pizzas.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 1/2 cups flour, sifted right into the mixer bowl (or food processor)

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/2 cups cultured milk (we used kefir, but buttermilk or milk-vinegar mix is perfect too)

  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon or 1 packet of instant or active yeast

  • a pinch of sugar and a couple teaspoons of warm water (around 110 degrees)

  • a sprinkle of cornmeal

  • melted butter or oil with garlic salt, Italian seasoning and parmesan to brush over the top of the braid (optional, but yummy!)

  • your favorite pizza sauce

  • your favorite topping and shredded cheese (we do pepperoni or salami)

In a small bowl, mix warm water, sugar and dry yeast. While it bubbles up, sift the flour into your bowl, add salt and cultured milk (if you slightly warm it, your dough will rise a little faster).

Add the yeast mixture and turn on the mixer with the hook attachment (I hear paddle works great too). It will begin to slowly come together into a ball, detaching from the sides. Add bits of flour if it’s still sticking.

Add the olive oil, and continue to let the machine knead for about 10 minutes total. So easy!

Add a little oil around the dough and on the sides of bowl. Cover it with clear wrap. Set it in a warm, dark (or cover with towel) place for 45 minutes to 1 hour. It should double.

With floured hands, take it out of the bowl and feel it, if it’s sticky, dust it with more flour. Divide the dough in two for the braids (or three for smaller pizzas).

Let it rest for 10 minutes while you grab the ingredients for the filling (or pizza toppings) and turn your oven on to 400 degrees.

Stretch out the dough with floured hands gently to prevent holes in the dough. Grease and sprinkle cornmeal on your cookie sheet (pizza stone is great too). Lay the stretched dough on the pan and cut two inch diagonal slits into both sides of the dough.

Spread sauce down the middle of your dough. Add shredded cheese and toppings on top of sauce.

Fold strips up and over pizza filling, alternating sides to get a braided look. Brush the top of the braided dough with olive oil and then sprinkle with the garlic, Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes then cut into slices and serve. Freezes great and reheats well too!

with love. Damaris


Save The Best For Last! – The Labor Day Pie

Is there anything more satisfying than a hearty pie slice topped with a dollop of real whipped cream? I was dreaming of strawberry-rhubarb pie as one last hurrah to summer. This pie is sweet and tart, with a side of bright. Why, it’s perfect for Labor Day!

Weeks before the first strawberry is ripe, the stalks of rhubarb have full leaves and are ready to be cut. Rhubarb grows well here in Michigan since it likes cooler climates and is a hardy, sun-loving perennial. The celery-like red and green stalks have a tangy taste but are very versatile. To harvest, cut the stalk at the base of the plant. Cut the leaves off, and never eat the leaves – they’re poisonous!

I had every intention of latticing the pie because it makes better pictures (wink), but it wasn’t working for me. If this every happens to you, and your crust isn’t cooperating, just crumble it all!

As we’re gearing up to the last weeks of summer, let’s hope a picnic and some pie are in your near future!

INGREDIENTS:

  • your favorite pie crust recipe (top and bottom)

  • 3 cups rhubarb, diced

  • 4 cups strawberries, quartered

  • 3/4 cups sugar

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

  • 1 tablespoon lemon or orange juice

  • egg wash (1 beaten egg and a splash of water)

  • sprinkling of sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven at 425 degrees. Mix cornstarch and sugar in a bowl. Combine rhubarb and strawberries. Pour lemon or orange juice over the fruit, then the mixed cornstarch and sugar. Let it rest 10 minutes for juices to run a little. Pour fruit mixture on pie crust and top with another pie crust (vented full crust, lattice, or just go with the temperament of your crust-ha!). Freeze your pie for 30 minutes (if you can). Brush with egg wash, and why not top it off with a little sugar? Bake at 425 for 20 minutes then at 375 for 45 minutes. Allow it to cool at least 4 hours before serving so the juices set. You’ll have a runny mess if you serve it too soon!

with love. Damaris


Fresh Mozzarella Orzo Salad

I came in this morning from the garden with handfuls of grape tomatoes that were hanging heavy from tender branches. If you come to our house, you’ll see green tomatoes lining the kitchen window sills. Every summer around this time, the tomatoes get heavy and drop without ripening, so we put them on the window sills until they turn red. Sometimes we’ve breaded and fried green tomatoes for a delicious dinner side. Have you heard of fried green tomatoes? Great with homemade ranch!I

On to this new recipe that I’m so excited to share! I’ve already told a couple people about it, because it’s just that good! The orzo is light and the grape tomatoes are the sweetest they’ll be all year. The cucumbers are fresh and crunchy, and if you have a garden, they may be abundant these days. Of course, the star of the show is the fresh mozzarella. I opened the tub and, let’s be honest, I could eat all the creamy, bite-sized balls! Any grocery store should carry them. Mine were from Trader Joe’s. I picked parsley to add to the salad, too because it has a mellow flavor, and our herb patch always has a robust amount of it.

Wouldn’t you agree that most pasta salads taste better when made ahead? I made this Fresh Mozzarella Orzo Salad this morning, and that kept my kitchen cool. Tonight, Nathan grilled some chili-lime chicken for a satiating supper. It was so light and tasted so good! He even asked to take the salad to the office for his lunch! I can’t wait for you to try it and tell me how you liked it!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/3 extra virgin olive oil

  • 4 or 5 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 pound orzo

  • 1/4 red onion, diced

  • 1 cucumber, diced (peeled, if has a tough skin)

  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella balls, drained and halved

  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped without the stems

Cook the orzo according to package directions (about 7-9 minutes in boiling salted water). Drain and rinse immediately. Chill the orzo in the fridge or on the counter until cool. Add all the ingredients to the orzo in a large serving dish. Mix the dressing and pour over the salad. Serve immediately, or later, or tomorrow! I added a little olive oil before serving because the orzo absorbs some of the dressing.

with love. Damaris


Family Currents

“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”- Gertrude Jekyll

Don’t you agree that juicy fruit and fresh veggies are some of the best gifts of summer? We have been harvesting everyday now and looking for new recipes to change things up a bit. This recipe took lots of cucumbers and ingredients we always have on hand except for the rye bread. Nathan, the girls, and I loved it – the boys, however, have decided cucumbers aren’t their thing right now, so they were happy to let us devour the dish! Comment below if you’ve tried this recipe or have a favorite cucumber recipe of your own : )


I’m a little overzealous about clutter (according to my husband, anyway…), and all the treasures that land on our fridge seem to pile and pile up – not enough magnets! But we think we have found a beautiful solution. This cable took all of ten minutes to install, and it even comes with the cute little clips. We usually have the latest art hanging, but have also enjoyed displaying Christmas cards, prayer requests, and birthday decorations.


The wonderful elderly lady whom we assumed ownership of our property from told us stories of the truckloads of raspberries she and her husband would haul to the local farmers market each summer. Now there is a only small raspberry patch left from the 40 year legacy. We certainly have plans of expanding it, though – when the berries are on, the enticing patch can’t sustain the foraging fingers! It’s everyone’s destination, whether we’re on a walk or out doing chores. Raspberries are so delicate, we usually eat them fresh. You’re in for a summer treat if you’ve never had them sprinkled on homemade vanilla ice cream! I’d love to hear about your family’s favorite thing to do with fresh raspberries, too – leave a comment.

with love, Damaris


Family Currents

Making jam when summer fruit is at its peak is fun and oh-so-delicious! While the boys have been busy working in the barn, the girls and I have made several batches of strawberry freezer jam and plan to make blueberry jam too. With freezer jam, there is no huge pot of boiling water, no precise timing, no sterilizing, and no extra heat in the house! Really, there is no mess. We’ve used honey and also Sucanat as the sweetener, and this pectin works well with both. I always pick it up at Whole Foods, but other health food stores should carry it too.


We thought we were ripe for a farm update! We’ve been eating early girls and grape tomatoes and sharing with our neighbor. We’ve also been enjoying the sweet green peppers and banana peppers. Six cauliflower heads are clean and ready to roast for dinner tonight, and the cabbages look enormous! Kale just keeps coming so we haven’t bought lettuce or spinach all summer. On a sad note, a raccoon feasted on the corn and knocked a few stalks down. Booooo.


Nathan and the boys just put some more hive boxes together, and Nathan placed them on the hives. The kids know that if they give him a hand, they’ll usually get to sample some honey off of his hive tool! We brought in a bowl of some comb and honey which he scraped out of the frames – it’s the best! It seems to be different every time we harvest, this time, so flowery. Mid-summer honey is a pale amber and the comb is delicious to chew on!

with love, Damaris