Thursday, August 27, 2009

Smile and say cheese!

I feel like dancing a jig, blowing a horn or jumping up and down. I made mozzarella cheese on my first try and I am ridiculously happy.

If you have ever wanted to make your own cheese but thought it would be too hard, too complicated or take too long, stop thinking about it and make some cheese.

The whole process took less than 45 minutes, start to finish, and was easier than making pancakes.

Once you have the rennet and the citric acid, all you need is a gallon of milk, salt to taste, a thermometer and a microwave.

The recipe I followed was from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company:



1 gallon of whole milk (not ultra pasteurized)

1 1/2 level tsp of citric acid, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water

1/4 tsp liquid vegetable rennet, diluted in cool water


Dissolve the citric acid in water in a small glass or plastic cup and set aside. Dilute the rennet in a small glass or plastic cup and set aside.
Pour the milk into an 8 quart stainless steel pot and heat slowly until it reaches a temperature of 55 degrees then add the citric acid solution and stir thoroughly. I used a stainless steel whisk for this.

When the milk reaches 88 degrees, it will begin to curdle

Pour in the rennet and fold it in with gentle scooping motions.

Continue heating until the temperature reaches just over 100 degrees.

At this point, the curds should be pulling away from the edge of the pot and the whey should look clear, not cloudy.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the curds from the pot and place them in a two quart microwaveable bowl.
Press the curds gently with your hands to remove as much hey as possible - this takes a few minutes.

Microwave the curds for 1 minute on high then knead the cheese with your hands or the back of a spoon to remove more whey.

Microwave two more times for 35 seconds, kneading the curds each time to remove more whey. At this point, add salt to taste.
Remove the cheese from the bowl and knead and pull it until it is smooth and elastic. If it starts to break apart, reheat for another 35 seconds.

When the curds can be stretched like taffy, the cheese is finished and can be rolled into one large ball or several small balls. The mozzarella can be eaten right away warm or stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Don't discard the whey. You can use it to make ricotta cheese later.

The whey of the world, part 2 - Just do it

In an earlier post I mentioned Barbara Kingsolver's book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life "in which she describes the year her family devoted to growing as much of their own food as possible, eating only what was in season in their own gardens or could be purchased from local farmers markets. One section of the book details a cheese making course Kingsolver took from Ricki Carroll, author of Home Cheese Making and owner of The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.
The 30-minute mozzarella recipe she learned became a staple in their diet and reading about it started me thinking again about making my own cheese.
I spent all last week researching cheese making and cheese recipes and trying to find a local source for the two ingredients needed to make the most simple cheeses: food grade citric acid and rennet.
Rennet is a complex enzyme coagulant found in the stomach of ruminants and certain plants and is necessary to separate curd (the cheese) from whey (the protein-filled liquid left over after making cheese).
Citric acid is used to increase the acidity in the milk and to help prevent curds from falling apart.
I could probably have found the citric acid at a health food store or pharmacy but the rennet was proving elusive. It can sometimes be found in shops selling wine-making supplies or brewing supplies but, in the end, the easiest way to get what I needed was from an online source.
I placed my order for two bottles of liquid rennet and a pound of citric acid from Leeners, a supply company selling everything from wine making supplies to books on how to cure meat, and spent the next six days waiting UPS to deliver.
The box arrived Tuesday, right on schedule. Now, the only thing left was to just do it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The whey of the world, part 1

The on-going saga of my quest to make cheese

For years now I have thought about making cheese.

Every once in a while on my travels through the Internet looking for a recipe I would stumble across a recipe for one kind of cheese or another and I would save it and then forget about it. It seemed like an impossible dream. I had visions of the need for big, stainless steel vats and kitchens as sterile as an operating room - equipment beyond the average home cook.

Then, William bought me Lynne Rosetto Kasper's "The Splendid Table" and there I found a cheese I thought I could handle, Fresh Squaquerone.
Described as "A fresh cow cheese originating in Romagna, squaquerone is tangy and creamy at the same time, a cross between yogurt and cream cheese."

It's quick, simple and, speaking for myself, idiot-proof.

Fresh Squaquerone
6 oz cream cheese made without guar gum (read the label)
1/4 cup chilled sour cream
1/2 cup of chilled buttermilk
3/4 cup chilled plain yogurt made with live cultures and without pectin
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice

The instructions (paraphrased)

In a medium size bowl, blend the cream cheese and sour cream together then stir in the buttermilk, leaving pea-sized lumps of the cream cheese mixture. Gently fold in the yogurt and lemon juice, taking care not to stir so hard that the yogurt liquefies. Add salt to taste. Mellow in the refrigerator in a covered bowl for 24 to 36 hours before using.

Kasper suggests adding 2 cups of chopped herbs (basil, parsley, etc) for a savory dip or spread.
Other uses for the finished product include replacing squaqureone for mayonnaise in potato salad; as a sauce for pasta with garlic and olive oil or with sauteed onion, minced garlic and basil, as a topping for baked potatoes; a dressing for fruit salad or spread on fresh baked bread.

I was baking bread every day back then and that's how Emily and I liked it.

Ryan wouldn't touch it and William was highly suspicious so I think I only made this a couple of times. I may just give this one another shot now as William has expanded his culinary horizons.

I've realized now how this cheese must have come about - farm wives with all of those cultures hanging around their kitchens looking for ways to use up odds and ends.

Cheese is all about culture and it's simple and complicated all at the same time.
It's simple because, with access to the right milk to start with, many soft and semi-soft cheeses and cheese products can be made practically out of thin air, - literally. Or rather the bacteria which can be found floating around in it.

I myself, can't imagine a world without cheese.

Back when it wasn't as easy as driving to the grocery store and pulling it off the shelf, if you wanted it, you had to do it yourself or know someone who did.

Blessed are the cheese makers.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The lovely bones

No, not the novel or the movie which is supposed to come out based on the book, this post is an ode to homemade beef broth.
It was a quest, a mission, a crusade Emily and I embarked on while she was visiting from the far away north. I had just recently finished listening to the audio version of Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A year of Food Life " and was inspired to try and put my money where my mouth is (no pun intended) in supporting my local farmers.
On a trip to the Brooksville Farmers Market the Saturday before Emily arrived, William and I noticed a sign for Circle H Meat Masters, a small butcher shop claiming to sell locally grown meat. We followed the directions to the market but unfortunately, it was closed.

Emily and I are old hands at chicken stock so she was as exited as I was to try and make our own from beef, but first we had to get our hands on some of those bones. After a couple of days of phone tag, we finally ran Mark Herbert, the owner of the butcher shop, to earth and he supplied us with a bag of meaty bones for $5. A real bargain compared to what they want for a few anemic looking ones at the grocery store, that is, if they even have them.

We decided the best test of our labor would be a recipe where the quality of the broth would make or break the dish and came up French onion soup. While we were at it, we decided to make bread for croutons from the beautiful semolina flour Emily brought me from a farm market in Pennsylvania.
The result was the best onion soup I have ever eaten. Emily and I practically arm wrestled over the last few spoonfuls of the leftovers.

I used the remaining broth to make Pasta Fagioli one night and shredded beef enchiladas another.

Beef Stock

5 lbs. meaty beef bones

3 or 4 very large onions

4 large carrots

4 stalks celery

1 large bunch parsley

1 head garlic, whole

4 tablespoons peppercorns

2 teaspoons thyme

A few bay leaves

2 to 3 tablespoons beef base

Quarter the onions and arrange them in the bottom of a very large stock pot. Add the carrots, celery (keep the leaves), parsley and next four ingredients and fill the pot with water, about two gallons.

Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least four hours, probably closer to five, until heavily fragrant and the liquid has reduced to about half of what is at the beginning.

Strain the liquid, discard the bones and vegetables, and stir in the beef base, mixing thoroughly.

Makes about a gallon of stock.

French Onion Soup

4 lbs. sweet onions, chopped

1 stick (8 TBs) unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

2 or 3 bay leaves

2/3 cup sherry

8 cups beef stock

1 cube beef bouillon

black pepper

Gruyere or provolone

1/2 loaf semolina bread, cut into large chunks and toasted in a 350 degree oven

Heat the butter on high in a three or four-quart soup pot and add the onions,stirring frequently for at least 20 minutes, until they are deeply caramelized, taking care not to burn them.

With the heat still on high, add about half of the sherry and stir the onions some more, until the liquid has mostly evaporated.

Add the flour and incorporate until it's dissolved, then add the beef stock, thyme, bay leaves, the rest of the sherry and a generous amount of black pepper and simmer for 30minutes or so, until the onions have absorbed some of the liquid and and it has thickened. Discard the bay leaves, add the bouillon cube. To serve, ladle soup into oven-proof bowls, top with croutons and cheese and bake until cheese in melted.

Semolina Bread

Sponge - 2 cups warm water

2 packages active dry yeast (1-1/2 tablespoons)

3 cups semolina flour

Dough - 3 tablespoons sugar or malt syrup

3 tablespoons shortening or olive oil

2 to 3 cups bread flour

1 tablespoon salt

Cornmeal, for dusting baking sheet
Sesame seeds, for sprinkling (optional)


Sponge - In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and allow to soften. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cover and let stand in a warm spot until doubled in volume (30 to 45 minutes).

Dough - Stir down the sponge, then add the sugar, shortening, 2 cups of the flour, and the salt. Mix until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead, adding more flour 14 cup at a time if the dough is sticky. Continue kneading vigorously until the dough feels smooth and elastic (10 to 12 minutes). The dough should push back when pressed down.
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in volume (35 to 45 minutes). Punch down, cut in half, shape into rounds, and cover. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Shaping - Form into 2 Italian-shaped loaves about 18 inches long. Place the loaves on a baking sheet that has been dusted with cornmeal. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise until doubled in size (45 to 60 minutes).

Brush the tops with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds. When the bread has proofed, cut 3 diagonal slashes with a sharp knife or razor blade. Hold the knife at an angle to the bread and try to cut inside and underneath the crust. This will cause the bread to break open, or bloom, while baking and form a thick, crunchy crust.

Baking - Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake with steam until the loves are browned and emit a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom with your fingertips (35 to 45 minutes). If baking on an oven stone or tiles, the bread can be removed from the baking pans for the last 10 minutes to firm up the crust.

Yield: Makes 2 large loaves

Quiche Lorraine

Filling - 1 lb thick sliced bacon

1 cup evaporated milk

1 cup whole milk

6 ounces of shredded Gruyere cheese

1/2 tsp. salt

4 extra large or jumbo eggs

black pepper

dash of cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

Pie crust - 2 level cups all-purpose flour

1 level teaspoon salt

3/4 level cup all-vegetable shortening

5 tablespoons cold water

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and cut the shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter until it is blended into pea-sized chunks. Add the water, one tablespoon at a time stirring with a fork until a rough ball is formed. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and press it into a round disk. Let the dough rest for at least 10 minutes them roll out the dough on a floured counter.

Place in a 9 inch, deep dish pie plate and cut the excess dough from the edges and flute the rim of the crust by pinching the dough with your fingers.

Refrigerate the dough while you make the filling.

Cook the bacon and drain thoroughly then cut into one inch pieces.

Preheat the oven to 450.

Whip the eggs with the salt, cayenne, nutmeg and black pepper.

Scald the milk then whisk slowly into the eggs.

Sprinkle layers of cheese and bacon into the pie shell and pour the egg mixture over all. bake for 15 minutes then lower the oven to 350 and continue baking for another 35 to 40 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is there some conspiracy to keep us eating crap?

Whatever happened to oatmeal, cream of wheat, wheat germ? Do we really need Kellog, Post and General Mills and all of their additives? Why are these natural alternatives not even mentioned in this report?

Play CBS Video Video Healthy Snacking
Dr. Jennifer Ashton showed Jeff Glor some nutritious snacks that are high in antioxidants.
(CBS/The Early Show)
NEW YORK, Aug. 19, 2009
Unlikely Foods Pack Antioxidant Punch

Research Finds Whole-Grain Cereals, Popcorn Loaded with the Disease-Fighting Nutrients
(CBS) Vegetables are known to be a great source of antioxidants, but new research suggests some foods you might not think of are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, such as whole-grain cereals and snacks, such as popcorn.

Antioxidants reduce inflammation and stress on cells to help prevent or slow the process of cellular aging, CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained on "The Early Show" Wednesday.

Ashton said, "Antioxidants were known to be in fruits and vegetables, green tea and red wine, but this is the first time researchers have measured the antioxidant content in these foods, finding they're full of them."

The University of Scranton (Pa.) study by Joe Vinson, a professor of chemistry, found almost all whole-grain breakfast cereals and many common, grain-based snacks contain substantial amounts of polyphenols, a form of antioxidants that is thought to have major health benefits. Ashton said antioxidants are linked to benefits for many health issues, from heart disease to cancer.

Ashton explained some cereals with raisins, in addition to the whole-grain content, were the highest in antioxidants. The researchers also found that cereals with added cinnamon or cocoa also had high rates of antioxidants due to the polyphenols in cinnamon and cocoa.

Ashton added, "You want to make sure that you choose cereals that don't have a lot of extra sugar, and artificial ingredients that will counteract the good of the antioxidants."

As for snacks, popcorn had the highest antioxidants, followed by whole grain crackers.

Ashton said popcorn -- as long as it's not loaded with butter -- is a good source, Ashton said.

But can these foods and snacks replace fruits and vegetables?

Ashton said "no," adding the key is a balanced, well-rounded diet.

"Though this research found that whole grain products have comparable antioxidants per gram to fruits and veggies, they are often different kinds and you should eat a wide variety of healthy foods," Ashton told CBS News. "Sorry, you still need to eat your vegetables."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kind of off-topic but I wish I had written this:

Huffington Post Katherine Goldstein First Posted: 08-13-09 01:45 PM Updated: 08-13-09 01:54 PM
On The Today Show, Matt Lauer hosted dietitian Elizabeth Ward to discuss how to make "healthy" food choices on a road trip. Virtually the only measure Ward used to evaluate what was healthy was how many calories is in it.
She started out with breakfast at McDonalds, stating she was a big proponent of eating eggs. She recommended scrambled eggs and an English muffin. (This item doesn't actually appear on the menu, but these ingredients are served at McDonalds -- maybe she was suggesting making a special order, or throwing out the rest?)
For the record, scrambled eggs at McDonalds, which one could easily mistake for being comprised of well, eggs, actually contain the following:
Pasteurized whole eggs with sodium acid pyrophosphate, citric acid and monosodium phosphate (added to preserve color), nisin (preservative). Prepared with Liquid Margarine: Liquid soybean oil, water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, soy lecithin, mono-and diglycerides, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservatives), artificial flavor, citric acid, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color).
She goes onto recommend Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC Grilled Chicken and processed and packaged snacks.
While Ward and Lauer tout the value of eating fruit as a healthy snack, for the most part this dietitian throws her support behind the idea that processed fast food, filled with additives, preservatives and factory farmed meat is good for us, as long as it doesn't exceed a certain number of calories.
My favorite thing to eat while traveling, food I made at home and bring with me, was not mentioned as an option.
For a full list of what Ward thinks is healthy to eat, check out her USA Today article.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The pizza gods have answered my prayers

Dade City finally has a place that sells a pizza that is so good I will actually buy it when I don't feel like making my own.

Francesco's New York Style Pizza opened two months ago on the edge of downtown Dade City where Manolo's used to be. Emily and I decided to give it try for lunch today after getting very good reviews from the owner of the book store across the street.

During a brief chat with one of the owners, I learned that the pizza chef is from Italy and they make their dough and sauce from scratch. The menu included pizza, stromboli, calzones, hot and cold subs, pasta and dinner entrees of chicken, veal or eggplant parmesan, chicken Sorrentino and Veal Sorrentino.

The pizza we got had a lovely crip crust even after the drive home in a box (I had to bribe Emily not to eat a piece before we got it here so I could take the picture) and had just the right amount of cheese and sauce.

I don't know if anyone from my town reads this blog, but if they do, I highly recommend Francesco's and hope people will stop in and give this place some business so they are open when I need them.

They are open Monday through Thursday, 11a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The address is 14418 7th Street, Dade City

352-518-0009 or 518-0348.