March 25, 2021

We Made Cheese!

Note: Oh, my. This post for so long fell into the category of neglected drafts along with so many others. I haven't been as on top of this blog in recent years as I once was, and so I recently found it just sitting around, last edited years ago. Seems a waste to leave it there (especially since it includes cute pictures of my then-round-faced toddler, and memories with some friends whom we still don't see often enough). So here it is-- maybe it will inspire me to make some cheese again soon...  

Fresh mozzarella! All by ourselves in our very own home in about a half an hour.

We have some good friends who we don't see nearly enough. When we saw them one day back in 2013 and the topic of getting together to try making cheese was brought up for the two-dozenth time, they, despite the fact that they had at the time a 1-month-old baby, said, "how about tomorrow?" And so we made it happen.

I never once considered the idea of making cheese until I read Animal Vegetable Miracle. Barbara Kingsolver wrote about how she and her family took a cheesemaking 101 class with the "cheese queen," Ricki Carroll, in her home in Ashfield, Massachusetts and she wrote about how cheesemaking, particularly mozzarella making, was an accessible thing for anyone to attempt in their home. It was enough to get me to take the very same class in the fall of 2012. (At the time, I idealistically thought my children would only ever eat homemade bread and that I'd always have casseroles made up in the freezer and shelves of homemade jams and sauces to draw from; making my own mozzarella fit right into this image.) The class was a great learning experience and a really fun day-long adventure meeting a great variety of interesting people. In the class we learned to make mozzarella, as well as farmhouse cheddar, and ricotta. 

I also ordered a kit from Carroll's New England Cheesemaking Company, which included a little recipe book, a thermometer, cheesecloth (not needed for mozzarella), citric acid, rennet, and cheese salt. 

On our own at home, the mozzarella process was as manageable as both Barbara and Ricki said it was, and a lot of fun. We made two batches and already were improving our technique with the second round.

Once you have the rennet or rennet tablets and the citric acid, all you need is a gallon of milk. For mozzarella, it can be pasteurized but can not be ultra-pasteurized because the cheese queen said she had tried it and that it doesn't work.  

It was a really neat and rewarding process (I mean, we MADE! CHEESE!) and a great activity to do with friends. 

I am sad to say that we haven't made it since. But, there's not a time I slice through a ball of fresh local mozz (which, thankfully, we can procure pretty easily around here) and don't briefly realize and appreciate how it was made. As with anything, this makes it taste all the better. But now that the kids are older and no one is 1 month old anymore, we should do it again and more often. It is a little like magic watching it turn from milk to soft but solid cheese in the pot. It is an activity and a meal/snack all in one.

30-Minute Mozzarella

1 gallon milk (pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized)
1 1/4 C cool, chlorine-free water
1 1/2 t citric acid
1/4 rennet tablet or 1/4 t single strength liquid rennet 
1 t cheese salt

(Supplies needed: dairy thermometer, long knife (I used one meant for frosting cakes), colander, slotted spoon, large (1 gallon) stainless-steel pot)

Dissolve rennet tablet or liquid rennet in 1/4 C cool water and set aside. (Wrap remaining pieces of tablet in plastic wrap and store in freezer.)

Mix citric acid into 1 C cool water until dissolved. Pour into pot.

Pour entire gallon milk into pot and stir vigorously. 

Heat the milk to 90 degrees Fahrenheit while stirring. 

Remove pot from burner and slowly stir in rennet solution with an up and down motion for about 30 seconds. 

Cover the pot and leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes. (This is when the magic happens!)

Check the curd by pressing down gently near the sides of the pot with the back of your hand. It should look like custard, with clear separation between the curd and the whey. If curd is too soft or whey looks milky, let it set for a few more minutes. The longer you let it sit, the easier it is to drain off the whey. 

Cut the curd with a knife that reaches to the bottom of the pot. Cut in 1-inch cubes both ways, then at a 45-degree angle. (See photo above for my imperfect version of this.)

Place the pot back on the stove and heat to 105 degrees while slowly moving curds around with your spoon. Stir gently, pulling up with the ladle to cut any remaining big ones.      

Take off the burner and continue slowly stirring for 2 - 5 minutes. (More time will make a firmer cheese.)

Ladle curds into a colander (over a bowl) and drain off as much of the whey as you can without pressing the curds too much. 

Put curds in a microwaveable bowl and microwave for 1 minute. 

Remove and drain off the whey as you gently fold the curds into one piece (knead a bit to squeeze out, stretch, fold, stretch again). Add 1 teaspoon salt.

Microwave another 30 seconds. Drain again and stretch the curd. It must be 135 degrees (or uncomfortable to hold) to stretch properly. Knead from the outside in, in a ball. Stretch it by pulling until it is smooth and shiny. The more you work the cheese, the firmer it will be. 

Form cheese into a log or ball or braid it. 

When finished, to stop it from further cooking, submerge it in 50 degree water for a few minutes, then ice water for 15 minutes. This will cool it down and allow the cheese to hold its shape and silky texture and keep it from becoming grainy. 

Enjoy in any way you would enjoy fresh mozzarella! We had ours on bread layered with pesto and some sort of tomato topping. I don't remember what exactly but I do remember it was delicious and consumed immediately.

Banh Mi Chicken Sandwiches

In summers past, the kids and I would sometimes meet up with my husband in town at lunchtime on Thursdays to watch an outdoor family concert while we enjoyed a picnic. Sometimes I'd pack food, but more often we took the opportunity to patronize a new food truck that was right nearby selling Cambodian food. We liked their sandwich especially, with a choice of protein and pickled vegetables and cilantro on top. Later, that food truck became a restaurant, and we get delicious takeout from there now and then. 

One day I was looking for fun sandwich ideas as I was planning our dinners for the coming week, and I came across this Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. I'm a sucker for anything involving rice vinegar, soy sauce, lime, and cilantro, so I had to try it. It was so good (and so easy). It reminded us a lot of the yummy food truck/takeout sandwiches we'd enjoyed. We've had it several times since and most recently because my son remembered and requested it. It is the absolute best if you love quickly-pickled vegetables and a tiny bit of spice. But the nice thing is this sandwich is simply a base of deliciously marinated chicken that everyone likes, and the other stuff can just be brought to the table as optional toppings so everyone can finish their own sandwich the way they like. The last time we had this, we happened to have leftover pickled onions from a recent taco night and those were a fabulous addition. 

We generally take this meal (and most any sandwich night) as an excuse to eat potato chips on the side. (And if you're not a bread/sandwich person, I'm sure this same basic recipe for the chicken, vegetables, and toppings would be as amazing on a salad or on a bowl of rice.) 

Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches 
slightly adapted from Little Spice Jar 
(serves 4)

for pickled vegetables:
1/2 C water
1/2 C rice vinegar
1/2 C sugar
2 t salt
cucumbers and carrots or other vegetables on hand, all thinly sliced into 1/4-in.-thick matchsticks* 
          *(original recipe called for 6 oz. daikon, 6 oz. carrots, and 2 Persian (small) cucumbers, but since 
          the first time we made this, I've skipped the daikon and used more carrot instead or added onion, 
          depending on what we had)

for chicken and marinade:
about 1 lb. chicken breast, sliced in strips
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 C soy sauce 
1 T sugar
1 T mayo
1/2 t lime zest 
2 t Sriracha (we use Cholula instead)

for sandwich assembly and toppings:
4 Vietnamese bread rolls or French baguettes (we buy "European Ciabatta Rolls" from Hannaford, which are the perfect size)
sliced jalapeno or more Cholula
chopped cilantro
For vegetables: 
Combine liquids, sugar, and salt until sugar/salt dissolve. Add vegetables. Allow to pickle while stirring occasionally for an hour, or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

For chicken: 
Combine marinade ingredients. Add chicken and allow to marinate for 20 minutes, or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Cook in a skillet until cooked through. (I don't worry too much if the marinade can't sit for long, since the chicken cooks right with its tasty marinade.)

For sandwiches:
Slice baguettes in half lengthwise and toast. Spread with mayo. Top them evenly with chicken. Serve at the table with sides of pickled vegetables, chopped cilantro, and jalapeno slices or hot sauce (and pickled onions if you have them). We eat potato chips on the side. 

March 24, 2021

Scrambled Eggs with Goat Cheese and Chives

I never thought I'd post a scrambled egg recipe, of all things. But this is a favorite, almost once-a-week go-to around here and it's a little unique, so thought I'd share it. 

Each September for several years now (except last year), our family has participated in the Tour de Taste, a bike riding and eating event in our local area. (It is the greatest concept and I don't know why there aren't so many more events of this sort!) There are three routes to choose from; we have always so far chosen the family-friendly six-mile ride around the lake. No matter which route you choose, there are many stops along the way to taste food. The food providers are area farms and restaurants. There are always a few too many sweet offerings for my taste-- donuts from a local diner, granola from a coffee shop, ice cream from a farm-based creamery. All delicious, but as I pedal I guess I crave more savory sustenance. I loved some meat and veggie pies offered by a trendy upstart restaurant, as well as apples and gourmet cheese doled out by a stop shared by an orchard and Vermont cheesemaker. One year, a local restaurant was serving scrambled egg sliders-- little egg sandwiches on brioche rolls-- that on our little piece of paper that listed all our stops hadn't sounded very original or exciting, but were so very tasty. Even my son, maybe 6 at the time, hinted that he wanted seconds, and since we were one of the last bike groups to pass through, Chef Martin obliged. We got chatting with him about what, exactly, he did with these scrambled eggs and he gave us these tips: use plenty of butter in the pan, cook them low and slow, and add in crumbled goat cheese and chives. 

Ever since, we've been duplicating these eggs at home and we all love them. (One day we were out of goat cheese, but I decided to make scrambled eggs anyway and tossed in some grated cheddar. Both of my kids picked and prodded at their eggs and claimed they tasted "weird" with "that kind of cheese." They eat cheddar lots of ways but apparently they only now take goat cheese in their eggs; I spoiled them with this dish!) In the spring and summer when we have lots of fresh chives in our garden, we use those; otherwise we use some green onions/scallions in these eggs for a similar result.   

Scrambled Eggs with Goat Cheese and Chives 
Inspired by Chef Martin from Ariana's Restaurant

eggs (about 2-3 per person, depending on appetite; we do around 10 eggs total for our family of four)
chives, freshly snipped OR green onions, thinly sliced
goat cheese: about 1/3 to 1/2 of a 4-oz. log, crumbled
salt and pepper

Whisk eggs in large measuring cup or bowl; pour into buttered or greased nonstick frying pan on low heat (number "2" on our gas cooktop). Stir occasionally with heatproof spatula but let eggs rest; don't stir constantly. When done or almost done, turn off heat, crumble in goat cheese, sprinkle with chives, and stir. Season with salt and pepper. 

Serve alongside toasted and buttered English muffin bread, toast, or bagels. 

Pasta with Green Beans and Tuna

I think of this as a spring meal. It's light, but has the oily richness of the olives and tuna, so not too light. It's full of flavor and different textures-- curly pasta, still-crisp green beans, crunchy almonds. With parsley and beans it's full of green, so doesn't even need a salad and works as a one-dish meal. It's simple, and easy, and quick, and so few things are. And it's just as delicious warm, for dinner, as cold, the next day for lunch. Don't forget to taste for seasoning. An extra sprinkle of salt on top at the table is often needed to bring all the flavors together. 

Pasta with Green Beans and Tuna
from Everyday Food, June 2010

12 oz. fusilli or short pasta
8 oz. green beans, trimmed and halved
12 oz. tuna, drained
1/4 C e-v olive oil
1/4 C natural almonds, chopped and toasted
3 T chopped fresh parsley
2 t lemon zest
4 t lemon juice
4 small garlic cloves, minced
1/4 C chopped olives or capers 

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions, adding green beans 1 minute before end of cooking. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine ALL other ingredients; season with salt and pepper. Drain pasta and beans and add to tuna mixture. Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and as salt as needed. 

June 30, 2020

Rhubarb Cosmopolitan

This is a dangerously delicious way to enjoy bright, tart rhubarb and celebrate spring...

Rhubarb Simple Syrup
adapted from kitchn

4 C chopped rhubarb*
1 C sugar
1 C water

*If you have less rhubarb than this, just measure how much you have once it's chopped and then measure sugar and water accordingly to stick with the 4 parts/1 part/1 part proportions.

Combine all three ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until fruit is soft, 15 minutes or less. Strain through a fine sieve over a bowl. (Willem eats the softened rhubarb from the sieve at this stage, which is still really flavorful and definitely not something to throw out. When we've had some leftover that he doesn't eat right away, we save it to stir into plain yogurt or have over vanilla ice cream.) The beautiful strained pink liquid in the bowl is the "syrup" used for the drink recipe below. I make the kids rhubarb spritzes with the syrup as well: sparkling water with just enough syrup stirred in to give it color.

Rhubarb Cosmopolitan 

1.5 oz. vodka
1 oz. triple sec
juice of half a lime
1 oz. rhubarb simple syrup

Shake all ingredients in an ice shaker, and pour into a glass!

June 29, 2020

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry-rhubarb should be the name of a deep pinky-red crayon. We make a strawberry-rhubarb pie about once each year, combining rhubarb from our garden with the spoils of our annual trip to a local pick-your-own strawberry farm. The result is as beautiful as it is delicious.

We have several raised beds and our single rhubarb plant takes up about a third of one of them. It is a perennial and every spring it is one of the earliest things to show a sign of life out there. It begins compact and strange-looking sometime in March-- a red and green eyeball, flush with the soil. Its stalks reach up and out until by May it shades anything near it and has gigantic, exotic leaves. It can be harvested well into summer. Each year I find new things to make with it. Still, we don't eat a ton of rhubarb. But it's not something I feel guilty about not using because it is always there and so abundant.

Willem, age six, and a rhubarb stalk with a massive leaf

This year's trip to our favorite p-y-o strawberry place was a little different than usual, with masks required, signs telling us not to eat while picking (I really missed eating the berries sun-warmed but resisted), and long lines both to be directed to our picking spot and to pay. But it was still a glorious day and it was fun to be out in the field together, filling up our flat. Willem has always been an awesome berry picker. Margaret, at five years old, still stands around and does a lot of talking about picking, but she's good company at least.

This pie recipe uses my default ingredients to accompany fruit filling: one cup of sugar and one quarter cup of flour. Some pies like blueberry require a little something more to hold them together (I use tapioca), and some pies like apple I tend to heap with as much fruit as they can hold so I do a little more sugar and flour, as well as cinnamon, in that case. But here sticking with the basic amounts of just flour and sugar yields a gorgeous, delicious pie that holds together but allows just a little ruby red juice to ooze into the pie plate after a piece is cut.

Once the pie pastry is made, this pie comes together easily. This weekend when we made this, I decided to make a lattice top to show off the bright filling.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie 
adapted from a King Arthur Flour baking class I took a long time ago

1 recipe pie pastry, with both halves chilled and ready to roll out
2 C sliced rhubarb (halved lengthwise first if large)*
2 C sliced strawberries*
1 C sugar
1/4 C flour
egg white and 1 t water mixed together to brush over crust before baking
crystallized sugar for sprinkling

*This amount makes a level pie, which was nice for doing the lattice top. But if you prefer a fuller, more rounded-looking pie with a traditional top, you could increase the amount of fruit/sugar/flour, keeping the proportions the same.

Mix together rhubarb, berries, sugar, and flour in a bowl.

Roll out bottom crust to a couple of inches bigger than the diameter of pie plate. Roll it up on rolling pin and quickly transfer to pie plate. Press lightly all around to secure it in plate.

Pour filling into prepared crust.

Roll out top crust to a size a little larger than pie plate. Then either roll it onto rolling pin and place on top of pie, tucking it under bottom crust OR create a lattice top: use a pastry wheel to trim off one side to make it straight. Continue to roll long, 3/4-inch-thick or so pieces across the whole round of pastry. Then start by laying one strip horizontally across one side of the pie plate. Overlap with another going vertically along another side at 90 degrees to the first piece. Add a third piece parallel with the first piece. Add a fourth piece parallel to the second. This time, lift up the first piece and tuck it under that so that it looks woven. Keep in mind the over-under-over-under pattern. Continue putting one piece horizontal and one piece vertical at right angles to each other, working from bottom left of the pie plate to top right and lifting up the pieces necessary to keep the woven look as you go along. When you've covered the whole top, tuck the ends under the edge of the bottom crust and pinch to seal.

Lightly brush all over the crust with egg-white wash. Sprinkle generously with crystallized sugar. Bake at 350 for about an hour or a little less, rotating halfway through.

June 28, 2020

Delicious Couscous Salad

I can not get enough of this salad any time I make it. It's crunchy, it's sweet, it's tangy. It's great alongside meat or fish at dinner. It's great as an accompaniment to a cheese platter. I bet it would make a very popular potluck dish. It was one of the first recipes that helped me realize that parsley, whose fresh taste I love, can be used in a primary role in recipes and not just as a garnish. The recipe calls for "one bunch" of parsley. I have made this before with a lot of parsley, with the couscous and everything else along for the ride. But it is just as delicious when I've made it using whatever amount of parsley I had available in my garden at the time. I think, too, it would be a great recipe to remember for when you bought parsley for a specific recipe, and then have a lot of it leftover sitting in the fridge. Any amount of parsley works, and the rest is pantry staples (I didn't used to keep pearl couscous on hand but I do now because of this recipe). This salad would make-ahead very well, although that's not the kind of thing I manage to do very often around here!

Couscous-Parsley-Dried Cherry Salad
adapted from Budget Bytes

Salad Components:
1 C dry Israeli/Pearl/Middle Eastern Couscous, cooked according to package directions and cooled
1 bunch parsley, chopped (this is flexible whether you have a lot of parsley or a little)
1/2 C sliced almonds
1/2 C dried cherries (or apricots, chopped)

2 T olive oil
2 T vegetable oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 T Dijon mustard
1/2 t sugar
1/2 t dried basil
1/2 t salt
ground pepper to taste

Combine salad components in a medium bowl.

Whisk together dressing ingredients and then pour over the top of it all.