Sunday, February 26, 2012

Trial by Curds: Making Cheese

Before I finish eating all of it, I'm going to write about it.  Inspired by the last blog post about things I want to make from scratch, today I spent about an hour making Mozzarella Cheese in my friend Angie's kitchen.  I first saw this kit in the little town of Ashfield, MA when I was doing an internship with Double Edge Theatre.  Little known to me there is a cheese genius in this town of dairy farms: Ricki Carroll, who has been running the business with her husband Robert since 1978.

You can order kits to make Cheddar, Feta, Gouda, Parmesan, and more.  You can buy wax,molds, sign up for cheesemaking classes, or by some awesome books on Cheesemaking.  The website has an in-depth overview of cheesemaking, including different animal milks to use, pasteurization, raw milk, and an explanation of what the hell rennet is.

"Rennet is an enzyme derived from the stomachs of calves, lambs or goats before they consume anything but milk. It is about 90% pure chymosin." (a chemical coming from the 4th chamber of the cow's stomach)

Good to know I can thank the cow's 4th stomach, because it was certainly magical to watch curds form as we stirred in the rennet.  The 30-Minute Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit includes enough for 30 batches, including the rennet tablets, citric acid, cheese salt, a dairy thermometer, and cheesecloth.  All you need to supply is a gallon of milk!

(We used Straus Family Creamery Cream-Top Whole Milk.  I ate the cream out of the bottle with a knife! YUM!)

Whey, the byproduct of the boiling and curdling, is a very interesting substance.  It is milk-ish:  a white cloud that tastes quite tangy and is packed with protein, enzymes, and the all-important lactose.  What to do with it?  Dry it out to put in my morning smoothie?  Drink it straight up? You can also feed it to your tomatoes or your dog.  Either way, it's good to keep around.  It will surely enrich the soul.  

What is most interesting is that one gallon of milk does not yield very much cheese.   Cow's milk is 88% water, 3-5% protein and 3-5% fat.  The rest is minerals and enzymes.   My blob of Mozz turned out to be a little smaller than my fist, about 4 inches across.   No wonder cheese costs so much. (The more you know!)

We had a few technical issues: forgot to add salt, and neither of us achieved the 'custard-like' curd that is supposed to form in the pot before moving on to the forming&stretching stage, but in the end it tasted like the full-fat organic cheesy goodness.  We had to consult a website for troubleshooting.  The directions in the booklet were not as in depth as I would have liked.  Our hiccups were from overheating & overstirring.  Heat it too quickly or too much then the structure breaks down and you end of with something that is less elastic & shiny.  Ah, well.  That's what's practice is for.  I suppose it is the first pancake rule: this one's going to the dog.  Maybe by the 10th time we make it, it will take 30 minutes start to finish. Either way, it was a real thrill to learn to make something from scratch! 

Next up, ricotta!  (and more pictures)

Cheers to Cheese,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Make it From Scratch: A List

Cooking from scratch: Making food with fresh, raw ingredients and eating it tout de suite as it was intended!  For me it's a chance to say, "Hey! I know how hard it is to make this loaf of bread, this bottle of beer, or this pancake."  At one point all real, packaged food was handmade and homemade before it hit an assembly line to be wrapped in cellophane.  Cooking from scratch reminds me always of the effort and love behind really good cooking.
(Some of these aren't necessarily artisanal, but I'm including because they're complicated and intimidating and would be awesome to learn how to cook!)


Mozzarella, Parmesan, Blue, Cheddar


Tortilla Soup
Potatoes Anna

Chocolate Truffles
Apricot Jam
Dried Mangoes or Apples
Buche de Noel

Pork Rillette

Hot Sauce
Mole Sauce 
Dill Pickles

Honey Wine
Mulled Wine

To be continued,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I'll admit it: I'm eating Kale

Kale, Kale, Kale.  In light of extolling its nutritional virtues, here is the recipe for my kale salad I had for dinner.  Easy and impromptu.

1 bunch kale
1 small lemon
1 avocado
1 roma tomato
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
Italian seasoning

Rinse and dry kale leaves.  Chop into thin strips and throw in your bowl, discarding stalks.  Squeeze juice of 1 lemon onto kale.  Grabbing small handfuls, massage kale between palms until it begins to soften.  Drizzle olive oil, add salt, and pepper to taste then toss.  Cube avocado meat, then toss.  Slice tomato into chunks.  Add dash of Italian Seasoning and dash of balsamic.  Yum!

For Christmas I made a version with shaved Parmesan and Fennel.  Anyway you do it, lemon and kale make for best friends in a salad.


P.S. For the love of Kale, at about 0:30.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hot and Salty

Hot and Salty what?

Sriracha. The Rooster. Cock Sauce. The good stuff I pour over my pizza and pho. I'm a big fan of their sister sauce, Sambal Oelek. Good to stir in soups.

I read an enthusiastic blog post by Joshua Bosel at Serious Eats about Sriracha from Scratch. I mean, really, just look at those pretty red jalapenos.
All it takes is the marvel of fermenting pureed chilies, garlic, sugar, salt, vinegar. That's right, this funky hotness is so easily forgettable as a fermented product that we consume. For me, it's a strange thought. It sends shudders of the taste of kimchi down my spine, the rotting cabbage emerging from clay pots buried in the earth.

Articles upon articles do this sauce justice as to its versatility and flavor, and of course, awesomeness. (Even a cookbook, The Sriracha Cookbook.)

It made me think about one of my favorite recent nonfiction reads, Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.

It was first recommended to me years ago on a cross country train ride from Chicago to San Francisco. It reads like a series of historical anecdotes, and sometimes very textbooky without preaching themes and summaries. It goes around the world, chronicling the evolution of salt mines and salt works in China, Italy and the like, and how those societies lived and died by their longevity. It covers curing, pickling, and fermented fish pastes and delicacies like kimchi. There's also a short section on the American-made Tabasco Pepper sauce for the patriots in us. It's an interesting read if you'd ever want to get a better idea of what it takes to get Morton's Table Salt or that fancy Pink Himalayan Salt to your kitchen counter.

Fun Fact: You know why French Gray Sea Salt tastes so good? Because there's dirt in it. True story.