Archive for the ‘Cheese’ Category

On January 8, 2011 I graduated summa cum laude from Georgia Gwinnett College with a degree in Business Administration, Finance concentration. To celebrate the event, I catered my own graduation party last Saturday night. As much as possible, I used local and/or organic food. It was a lot of work, but at the end of it all my exhausted foodie spirit was satisfied! Various food porn photos from the event are below! Click on the pics for the larger version.

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My moderate success in making mozzarella for some reason made me think I could make cheddar. And why not? Lots of people make cheese. Um…don’t they? Anyway, how hard could it be? I’ve got the kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply. Easy peasy.

Despite my confidence, the instruction book saying Farmhouse Cheddar is the “easiest cheddar to make” did make it appealing. Plus Test Subject Bill loves cheddar. I could be a super star in his eyes. I mean…I already am, but…this is cheese we’re talking about.

With Test Subject toiling away in California, I had the kitchen (and the house) to myself. If something went bad, it was just me and the kitties to save the day. No one to make a corn shield. No one to look at me like I’m half way to the nut house.

Warming the milk. Check out my sophisticated thermometer holder (that's a skewer for kabobs). I did that one all by myself.

I diligently re-read through the instructions and began heating my milk. Two gallons of milk over low heat takes a geologic age to reach 90 degrees. But I finally got it there and added my Mosphilic direct set culture. (What IS this stuff and where would I acquire such a thing if the world structure blew up and it was just me and a cow in a mountain shack?? I must investigate.)

This is where you’re supposed to leave it at 90 degrees for 45 minutes. This is also where I potentially destroyed my cheese. It took so long to heat up that after I added my culture and stirred it had dropped temperature so I put the lid on my pot (I had to use my waterbath canner because two gallons of milk is more volume that my largest regular pot can hold.) I turned around a half minute later and my temperature was over 100 degrees! I freaked out, ditched the lid, stirred, turned off the heat and cried to the kitties. I left it for 45 minutes, and it took that long just to get back down to 90 degrees.

I seldom actually get mad in the kitchen, but this time around I was PO’d. I’m still mad.

But I wasn’t ready to abandon the project. I didn’t have any more milk and didn’t want to wait and try again later. So I proceeded, hoping for the best. Like the mozzarella, I added my rennet and left it alone for a while. 45 minutes later, I had curd. I cut up the curd using a long bread knife.

Kind of looks like...nevermind.

The next part was tricky. You put the giant pot in your sink full of hot water and slowly bring the temperature up to 100 degrees, not faster than two degrees every five minutes. I have no freaking idea how you are supposed to have that much control in your kitchen sink. I added hot water from my kettle a bit at a time into the water around the pot. As expected, it didn’t raise the temp, didn’t raise the temp, then started shooting up much faster than two degrees in five minutes. *sigh*

By this time I had opened a bottle of wine. If my cheese was going to be destroyed, at least I would care less. It was time to drain. I poured the curds into a cheesecloth lined strainer, then tied it up in a bag and hung it to drain out.

The next step is mold. The container, not the living organism. I packed the drained curds (they were fairly squeezed out after an hour) into a cheesecloth lined plastic mold from the kit. This is where a real cheese maker would use their specially designed cheese press to apply the appropriate amount of pressure. Since I am doing a hack job on this cheese, I obtained some weights from Test Subject’s weight set in the basement.

Curds in mold, already draining out more whey.

The size of the five pound and two and a half pound weights were either too big (sit on the rim and put no pressure on the curds) or too small (uneven pressure). So I got the brilliant idea to use canning lids to create a surface for the smaller weight and get more even distribution.

It mostly worked.

In applying pressure to the cheese, you are to put 10 pounds on it for 15 minutes, then flip the cheese in the mold and do 20 pounds for 12 hours. Flip yet again and give it another 12 hours with 20 pounds. This part was easy. Except for when my alarm didn’t got off at 4 a.m. so I could do the second flip and it ended up going an extra four hours.

How much can YOUR cheddar bench press?

Somebody doesn’t want me to make good cheese. Who can I blame?

Finally my cheese was pressed and ready to dry. I put it on a wooden cutting board at room temperature for a little over four days, turning regularly for even drying. I put a mesh colander over it to keep away flies and cat hair.

Once the drying was done, it was time to wax on. I ordered the five pound block of red wax from the cheesemaking company. It was a little hassle to cut but not so bad. I melted it in a pan on the stove and used the brush I bought to apply the wax. This part was fun, like an art project. The wax dripped and dried in places I didn’t want it to but it ended up looking pretty darn sharp when I was finished.

Regarding cheese wax. OMG this stuff is sticky. It does NOT harden up when it dries like a candle. Do not put it in a pot that you want to use for anything else ever again. (I may have a very expensive  wax pot if I can’t figure out how to get the residue off of it.) Anything it touches may very well have wax traces on it forever. Put down wax paper over surfaces and plates to protect them. Don’t plan on ever being able to use the brush again, even for more waxing.

Cheddar after drying. It was actually pretty pale, this pic makes it look yellow because of the light level in my kitchen.

My waxing issues were forgotten though, as I stared at my beautiful red brick. I slapped a label on it and stuck it in the red wine fridge where it will age at 55 degrees until at least late October. A long time to wait to see if I killed it, if it is still cheese and if so, if it is cheddar. I may have turned it into something else. Something dark and unnatural.

So Project Cheddar was a bit traumatic. Challenging and somewhat frustrating. But also totally cool. I am SO going to do it again. I made cheese, man. Seeing that aging chunk of red wax in the wine fridge is strangely fascinating. What is going on underneath that sticky wax? We won’t know until….All Hallow’s Eve….

Sharp looking cheddar.

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If there’s one thing can make my heart go pitter-pat it’s the thought of rotten milk in the form of CHEESE. Who would have thought that adding animal stomach (rennet) to warm milk and then waiting around would produce such wonders as cheddar, parmesan or mozzarella?

My finished goat cheese. YUM.

I began my foray into the world of cheesemaking when I made some goat cheese earlier this year. That was super simple. Pretty much you stir rennet into goat milk, let it sit, then strain. It was easy, tasty, and can be frozen.

But that wasn’t hard core enough for me so I attempted mozzarella. I tried it for the first time a few months ago. It tasted good but wasn’t very pretty. Undaunted, I tried again.

I ordered the mozzarella and ricotta kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. This company offers it all (supplies, advice, ingredients) and breaks down the steps in an easy to follow booklet. This is great for people like me who are just starting to develop our cheese kung fu. We need the short bus version.

My mozzarella curding up and getting stringy.

Mozzarella is a simple cheese to make. NECS has the instructions on their website, which is nice. You pour diluted citric acid (they don’t recommend using lemon juice, maybe because they want to sell you a powdered version) into one gallon of milk, heat it to 90 degrees, add your rennet (you can buy it if you don’t want to  play with your own calf or goat stomach…even though that actually sounds appealing to me…), wait 5 minutes, cut the curd, heat the milk to 105 degrees, stir, pour off the whey and stretch the curds into beautiful, smooth, delicious mozzarella!

Right? It’s that easy….right??

Well, I will admit that the process is easy. They claim it only takes 30 minutes but it always takes me longer. And the stretching part…let’s just say I need some practice.

The first part of the process really is easy. Heating and stirring. Cut the curd. Pour off the whey and save it for lacto-fermenting stuff. No worries. But when it comes to the process after that I ran into a few issues.

Mozzarella gets KKF into hot water.

First, there are two options for heating the curd before stretching: hot water on the stove and the microwave. Since I don’t like to use the microwave much at all these days, I opt for the stove top version. You heat the water to 185 degrees. Note: this is FREAKING HOT, almost boiling. I have a high tolerance for heat and this business is HOT. You are supposed to pull the curds out of this hot water and stretch it like taffy.

Handling stuff that hot is not easy. As soon as the mozzarella is cool enough to handle, it’s not hot enough to stretch. Back into the hot water, where it gets hot enough to stretch but too hot to handle. *sigh* So I did as best I could without totally cooking my fingers.

Streching my first batch of mozzarella. Do NOT use a colander like this one!

Note: in the hot water bath you have a colander and the curds go into the colander. Do not use a wire mesh colander. I did that the first time and it took for-ev-ER to get rid of all the little cheesy bits stuck in between the wires. The second time I used an old, more solid colander like this one and it worked MUCH better. Far easier clean up.

When I got done stretching my cheese and trying to work the salt in while I did that (also not an easy task when your cheese isn’t hot enough) I put it into ice water. This is supposed to help it keep it’s shape (uh, not a problem for my cheese) and protect the silky texture from becoming grainy (since mine never got silky I don’t know why I even bothered with this step).

My finished logs o' mozzarella

So my second mozzarella effort was close to the first. My cheese was not beautiful or silky. However, it was darn tasty and I was able to grate it and use it in my stuffed shells (for which I used strained yogurt as the ricotta and it turned out delicious). Fantastic looking mozzarella eludes me, but hey…once it’s grated up, who’s to know! And there is always tomorrow….Ricki the Cheese Queen’s kit makes 30 batches….

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Yogurt Triathlon

Welcome to the frozen new year! I know I have been delinquent in recent months. The fall semester started and apparently zapped all my energy. Trust me, I would have rather been cooking and blogging than doing multivariate statistics.

Little Miss Muffett's curds and whey?

A couple years ago I procured a yogurt maker. I know Alton Brown would disapprove of this unitasker, but I like it. It’s convenient, simple and has those little individual containers that are both functional and cute. I used it several times with success. However, a few of the jars came out really separated and funky looking the last time I did it. I’m not sure why. So I successfully made yogurt cheese (more on that below) with the suspect containers.

But being me, I had to try making yogurt a different way. I mean, what if my maker broke?  So I found a recipe in my trusty copy of Nourishing Traditions. The recipe called for using a dehydrator to warm the milk, but I was disinclined to purchase a dehydrator. After consulting with some of the helpful folks on one of my real foods Yahoo groups, I came up with and executed a plan.

Home made yogurt in a Mason jar

I warmed a quart of whole milk on my gas oven to just barely 110 degrees. I stirred together in a quart sized wide mouthed Mason jar (I love those things) a few tablespoons of warm milk and a big tablespoon of purchased whole milk yogurt. I poured the rest of the milk into the jar, lidded it, and stuck it in the oven which had been preheated to about 200 degrees. I shut the oven off and turned on the oven light. Then I said a small prayer and left it overnight.

After about 12 hours, I opened the oven. With high anxiety, I reached in and grabbed my jar. It was suprisingly warm for the oven having been off for half a day. The oven light really does a good job of keeping it just warm enough. I was relieved. It didn’t taste half bad, either. I enjoyed it over a number of days with raspberries and a little granola that I picked up at the farmer’s market.

I read somewhere that the longer yogurt “cooks” the more the cultures eat the carbohydrates in the milk. Therefore, the longer you leave it in the warmth the fewer carbs you will have in your final product. Since I was trying to trim a pound or two a decided to do the same thing again but this time I left it for 18 hours instead of 12. It turned out about the same looking and tasting. If it had fewer carbs I’ll never know, but I took another step toward diet yogurt by making yogurt cheese.

Yogurt cheese initial drain

I poured the yogurt into a strainer covered with cheese cloth over a bowl and let it drain for three or four hours. Then I tied up the cheese cloth around the handle of a spoon, ditched the strainer and let it hang in the pitcher until it had drained off all the whey (apparently a source of carbs). I squeezed it out a little bit and the resulting chunk of cheese kind of had the consistency cross between ricotta and goat cheese. Firmer than ricotta, but not as solid as goat cheese.

Yogurt cheese hanging in cheese cloth. You can see some of the whey draining off into the pitcher.

Being quite proud of myself, I added the yogurt cheese to my morning eggs in little dallops for about two weeks. It was creamy and satisfying. I salted it upon use, but you could probably stir in some salt when you put it in the fridge. That might even prolong its fridge life.

I later tried the same process with a larger batch and I think I either didn’t provide sufficient surface area for the draining or it was just really liquidy and I didn’t drain it long enough because it didn’t drain well at all. It ended up looking like thick store-bought yogurt. Not really a problem, but when I tasted it, it was quite sour…quite a bit like sour cream. So I proceeded to use it like sour cream for about three or four weeks. Awesome! Serendipity! I assume you could do the same thing by just draining the would-be yogurt cheese for a shorter period of time.

Finished yogurt cheese

So I made yogurt (two different ways), yogurt cheese and yogurt sour cream. Who knew milk gone bad could produce such smashing results? Now to try it with goat milk…

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Pizza Pizza

For a while now I’ve been on a quest for the perfect homemade pizza. I tried a couple of store-bought mixes for the crust (bag over head in shame). The first was ok but it had ingredients in it that I didn’t want in my body. The second one was a gluten-free mix. It was so awful we didn’t even eat the leftover pizza (yeah, that’s bad). I was so grateful that neither of us are gluten sensitive after trying that.

I was going to try Alton Brown’s pizza dough recipe but then came across this recipe from the King Arthur Flour website. It was getting lots of good reviews so I decided to give it a shot.

Crust spread out on baking sheet

Crust spread out on baking sheet

I found that the crust I spread on the baking sheet was a lot easier to do than the one on the peel. The crust on the peel kept wanting to shrink up, plus the peel is a little smaller so I wasn’t able to make it as big as I’d wanted. Each crust got pre-baked for about 10 minutes before being pulled and topped.

I topped the thinner crust on the baking sheet with sauce (store bought, one thing at a time for me) basil and four cheeses (cheddar, mozzerella, feta and ricotta). The other one that would go on the stone received the standard pepperoni treatment (using Boar’s Head pepperoni).
Crust spread on pizza peel

Crust spread on pizza peel

I was able to safely transfer the completed pepperoni pizza to the hot stone in the oven, something I was particularly proud of. (I totally jacked that up last time.) That crust went to town in the oven – it got huge. It reminded me of the frankenstarter incident for a minute. But the crust ended up nice and crunchy coming off that stone. The four cheese pizza on the pan baked up nicely, but it didn’t really get the desired crunch.

Four cheese basil pizza

Four cheese basil pizza

Ok, so we started plowing through the pizzas before I remembered to take a picture…sorry. It was really good! At least you get to see a pic of the leftovers.

We are sold on this crust recipe. It had really good flavor and texture. But there are always lessons learned. Next time I’m going to pre-bake the crusts on the pans, then cook on the baking stone. (I may have to get another one.) I think this will give us the thinner crust we preferred with the crispness of the stone. (Plus you can pre-bake and freeze, making it quite convenient to make pizza at home.)
Pepperoni Pizza

Pepperoni Pizza

With that accomplishment under my belt, I shall next tackle the perfect homemade sauce…any tips, tricks, comments, or sad stories about pizza sauce are all welcome!

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Little Stuff

Home Made Cottage Cheese

Home Made Cottage Cheese

I’ve been up to little stuff in the kitchen lately.  Last weekend I made cottage cheese based on a recipe from this site. It was pretty easy and made for some decent cottage cheese. I did visit some other sites for help and combined some methods, which I think was the right thing to do. For example, the recipe from the above site just said to add the vinegar. Um, just dump it in or what? Other places said to stir it so I did. I think I’ll do some further experimentation as I delve deeper into the world of cheese making.  I ate some  of the cottage cheese straight up and used some in a pasta sauce along with some spinach. Turned out well and was eaten by both myself and Test Subject Bill.

Tea and crumpets, anyone?

Tea and crumpets, anyone?

Today I made crumpets from the King Arthur Flour website. These things were AWESOME. Even better, they were easy. Now I know what to do with excess starter! All I did was take a cup of starter, throw in some salt, sugar and baking soda, cook ’em up and voila! Brew a cup of tea and you’re practically sitting in the Queen’s parlor. All I did was top mine with butter (although a plethora of toppings would have worked).  I highly recommend this recipe to anyone who has some starter laying around.

I’ve also been experimenting with my new ice cream maker for the last several weeks. I’ve made mint chip, premium vanilla bean and (today) strawberry.  I love this machine way too much. The ice cream is top of the line, and I’m judging based on GOOD ice cream, not crap. I will never buy ice cream again. I would have taken pics of all of them but SOMEBODY (Test Subject Bill) ate ALL the mint chip. If I get a chance tomorrow I’ll post a pic of the strawberry ice cream (a gift from God) after it has a chance to set up a little better. I usually don’t like to buy strawberries out of season because they tend to be hard, not sweet, generally just not good, but I desperately wanted to make this ice cream so I made an exception.  I guess with the added sugar it made up for what the fruit itself was lacking. I can’t wait to make this with real, good, in-season berries in a few months!

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After a long, rough morning of doing tai chi, hsing-I and pa kua in the park by the Chattahoochee River, I came home starved. Mac & cheese would have taken too long. Lucky for me, I had picked up some lovely organic heirloom tomatoes at Whole Foods.

Fresh Tomato Salad

Fresh Tomato Salad

Ripe, fresh tomatoes should not be confused with tomatoes picked green and turned red with chemical reactions. When you’ve got a real tomato, you’ve got a meal.

I lined a salad bowl with fresh spinach, then halved and sliced the heirloom tomato and laid them out over the spinach. Costco has a great goat cheese (Ile de France) so I sprinkled some crumbles of that over the tomatoes. Lightly salted and peppered then drizzled with good olive oil and BAM. Fast food lunch. It took me less than five minutes to produce this work of art. And tasty! Woohoo! McWhoever can kiss my behind.

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