Friday, September 3, 2010

Homemade Mozzarella

So here's how it happened.  The first time I made this it worked beautifully.  My curds weren't ever so firm that I could cut them with a knife, like the instructions said, but it worked well. 

The second time I tried to make it with 1% milk and accidentally added 1 c. water for some insane reason.  BAD.  I ended up with boiling milk all over my arms and no cheese.

The third time it worked pretty well.  I experimented with a whole bunch of things and sort of figured things out.

The fourth time I had six other women watching me and I was extremely nervous.  Fortunately, it worked.  And I think I've figured it out.  I really really hope you all try this, because it is SO COOL to see it actually working!  Cheese!  In your kitchen!  In half an hour!!!  It's like the pinnacle of domestic awesomeness. 

Things to know before you start:  

  • The milk available in most grocery stores is probably not going to give you a cuttable curd.  It will, however, give you a curd that you can dip out with a slotted spoon (and then pour the rest into a strainer to separate the curds from the whey).
  • The longer you let it sit, the firmer your curds.  Some recipes say 3-5 minutes, some say 1-2 hours.  I've found that about 10 minutes is a pretty good compromise.
  • Knead for several minutes--I found that it takes at least 3-4 minutes of kneading to get the silky consistency out of the chunky little curdy lumps.

Homemade Mozzarella

Ingredients:  1 gallon whole milk
                   1.5 t. citric acid (available at ethnic grocers [Swad brand] or health-food stores)
                   1/2 tablet Junket Rennet (grocery store near the Jell-O) OR 1/2 t. liquid rennet

Approx. 30 minutes from start to finish

1.  Sprinkle 1 1/2 t. citric acid over 1 gallon whole milk (in a large non-reactive pot); gently heat to 90 degrees F, stirring occasionally.  I do this on medium-high heat.

2.  As the milk is heating, dissolve 1/2 rennet tablet in 1/4 c. cool water.

3.  When the milk reaches 90, add the rennet water and continue to stir occasionally until the milk reaches 105 degrees.

4.  Turn off the heat and let the milk sit 7-10 minutes, or until large curds have separated themselves from the whey. Supposedly if you let it sit 1-2 hours it will really firm up, but it works at the shorter time too.  I really wish I'd taken a picture at this stage, but the curds are probably between dime and quarter-sized and still quite soft.  The real giveaway is that the surrounding liquid is no longer really milky-looking; it's sort of greenish-yellow thin whey. 

5.  Dip curds out of the whey and into a large glass bowl (microwaveable).  I dipped out as much curd as I could, then poured the rest into a strainer.  If you want to make ricotta (with the Junket Rennet tablets instructions), save the whey.

6.  With your hand, press out as much whey from the curd as you can.

7.  Microwave the curds for 1 minute.  Press the whey from the curd again, then knead the hot mozzarella with your hands until it is cool to the touch (at which point it will be harder to knead).

8.  Microwave the curds again for 35 seconds, draining the whey and kneading the curd.  Add about 1 t. salt as you're kneading. 

9.  Microwave again for 35 seconds (3rd time in the microwave, 2nd time for 35 seconds), draining the whey and kneading the curd. 

10.  Stretch the cheese between your hands like taffy.  Continue stretching and folding until it begins to break a bit (or until you think it's done!)--just a couple of minutes.  Shape the cheese into balls--you're done!!

11.  To save for later, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. 

Here's a website that you may find helpful--it has a bunch of pictures of the different stages.  Please note that  I don't follow those instructions exactly, since I've gotten a better curd by continuing to heat the milk to 105 after adding the rennet; the instructions on the other site are better suited to raw milk, I think.  

Friday, August 27, 2010

Zucchini and tomato tian with parmesan bread crumbs

As we were sitting down to eat this, my mom said, "Don't you want to take a picture?" 

"No," I said, a little grumpily.  "I just want to eat."

So...this is what it looks like before the breadcrumbs and the baking.

This recipe is from Fresh, Fast, & Green; the author says that the key to a really delicious tian is letting it bake a little longer than usual so that the juices have time to carmelize.  I can attest to this being completely and utterly delicious; much to my dismay, there were zero leftovers.

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. finely chopped fresh mint (I used 1 t. dried)
1 T. fresh orange juice
1 t. balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
12 oz zucchini (about 2 small)
1 1/2 lb small ripe tomatoes (about 5)
2 medium onions
1/2 c. fresh coarse bread crumbs (I threw one slice of bread in the blender)
3/4 c. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 T. chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 375.  Grease a shallow 2-quart gratin dish with olive oil.

Whisk together the mint, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, 1 T. oilive oil, and 1/4 t. salt.  Slice the zucchini thinly (1/8 and 1/4 inch) and slightly on the diagonal.  Add to the bowl and toss well.  Core and slice the tomatoes crosswise a little thicker than the zucchini; arrange them on a large plate, and sprinkle with 1/4 t. salt.  Let both zucchini and tomatoes sit while the onions are cooking, or at least 15 minutes.  Toss the zucchini in the marinade every so often.

Meanwhile, heat 2 T. olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and 1/4 t. salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and turn golden brown, 10-12 minutes.  Transfer to the gratin dish and spread in a single layer.

Combine the bread crumbs, 2 t. olive oil, 2 T. Parmigiano, parsley, and a pinch of salt.

Drain the juices from the zucchini and tomatoes.  Arrange the vegetables in rows with the slices slightly overlapping each other.  Sprinkle a bit of the Parmiagiano over the zucuchini as you go.  Press gently to make sure the rows are level; sprinkle any leftover Parmigiano over the vegetables and drizzle the remaining 2 T. oilive oil over them.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top, letting the vegetables peek out a bit.

Bake until well browned all over and the juices have reduced considerably, 60 to 70 minutes (the edges of the gratin will be very dark.  Cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Zucchini stir-fry with coconut and basil

This dish was designed to use up one of those monster zucchini--so don't hesitate if you've got one lurking on your counter!  Young, tender zucchini would work equally well, but I am forever forgetting to pick zucchini when they're lovely and petite.

1 yellow onion, cut in half, then both halves chopped thinly into half-rings
1 yellow pepper, chopped into thin slices (I like the look of the longer slices rather than dices)
1 T. garlic
1 large zucchini, diced (or at least 2 smaller ones)
1 medium yellow squash, diced
1 handful fresh basil, chiffonaded
2/3 c. coconut milk
1 can diced pineapple, drained, juice reserved
shredded coconut for garnish
**I also used 2 T. jarred pad thai sauce for a hint of heat--I would tell you the brand but it's in Chinese so I have no clue. 

extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper to taste

Heat olive oil, then saute the zucchini and yellow squash in batches, adding salt to taste (I also added balsamic vinegar at this stage but couldn't taste it later).  Remove zucchini and squash when tender, then saute the garlic for thirty seconds (I had to add more oil).  Add onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, then add peppers.  Continue to cook another 3-4 minutes until the peppers have begun to soften slightly.  Add coconut milk and some of the pineapple juice (maybe 1/4 c.?); let sauce reduce slightly.  Add diced pineapple, heat through.  Serve with chiffonaded basil and coconut as garnish (although the basil really adds a lot of flavor, so don't skimp!)

Serve with brown rice (2 c. water to 1 c.rice; plan on cooking for about 40 minutes) and some delicious fruit!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Panini with grilled zucchini and mushroom-chive mayonnaise

A note on panini breads: you can buy or make foccacia or ciabatta rolls, which are the traditional choices for panini. We have also had great success with sourdough, light rye, and--believe it or not--thinly sliced bagels (pictured). If you don't have a panini press, seriously consider acquiring one, as they're fairly inexpensive--I use mine constantly.  My children (even the mushroom-hater) love this sandwich, so that's a definite plus for any quick meal!

This recipe comes from the book
Panini Express--which I love. 
Mushroom mayonnaise
8 oz white button mushrooms, wiped clean and finely minced
1 t. chopped fresh chives
3 T. mayonnaise
2 t. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

For the sandwich
2 zucchini (you could also add in an eggplant; treat it exactly as you would the zucchini--I love grilled eggplant and I save the leftovers to use on pizza)
White cheese (we've used provolone, Swiss, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and Gouda with equal enjoyment on this particular sandwich.  Gouda is pictured.)

Saute the mushrooms in olive oil until they begin to release their juices (2 minutes).  Sprinkle with the lemon juice and continue to cook another 3-4 minutes until they're brown (brown as in cooked down, not brown as in getting crunchy and burned).  Remove from pan and let cool, then mix in mayonnaise, chives, and salt/pepper.

Slice zucchini (or eggplant) lengthwise in 1/4 inch thick strips.  Brush each side with olive oil (I simply use spray olive oil from a can--less mess!) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill on a panini press until browned and softened, approximately 5 minutes.

Compose the sandwich by spreading mushroom mayonnaise on one slice of bread, layering in the zucchini, then topping with the cheese and another slice of bread.  Grill on the press until browned and golden, approximately 3-5 minutes, depending on your press.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Dad's whole-wheat bread

Confession:  it took me about three years to get this bread just right (including lots of hovering while my dad was baking).  I've found that success really depends on several things:  a) the fineness of your flour b) the amount of time you knead and c) your altitude (I had to finesse it all over again when we left Utah).  So if you're just beginning to bake bread and it doesn't work the first time--or the second--or the tenth--just keep trying.   Bread is my very favorite thing to make, even though I've had way more bread failures than any other "genre" in the kitchen.  There's just something so satisfying about turning flour and yeast and water into something so warm and welcoming, so redolent of safety and love.  When I bite into a slice of bread, I can close my eyes and I'm six years old, it's Saturday night, and Dad's just pulling another loaf pan out of the oven. 

Dad's recipe:
2 T. yeast
2 1/2 c. warm water (about 110 F)
2 T. sugar
2 T. oil
2 t. salt
5 c. flour (I use whole-wheat; depending on the fineness of your flour you may need to use 1 c. white to ensure a good rise)

Dissolve the yeast in warm water.  Add the sugar and oil, then set aside yeast mixture until it foams up.  Add flour and salt.  Knead--I highly recommend using a stand mixer (I have a KitchenAid) for this.  The trick is really letting it knead for a long time--longer than you'd think.  I typically add 2 cups of wheat flour, let it knead for about three minutes, then add a cup of white (if I'm using it), knead for another couple of minutes, then add the rest of the flour and let it knead for another 5-10 minutes.  Bread dough made with whole-wheat will be stickier than doughs made with white flour, so don't keep adding flour until it's totally balled up on the hook like you would for a white-flour dough. HOWEVER, it should not be a wet slush. As you get more experienced, you'll develop more of an eye and a feel for how the dough should look/feel when it's finished.
Let rise to double (about 45 minutes if you're using instant yeast).  Knead again, form into longish ovals and put into greased and floured loaf pans.  Let rise again (I just do the second rise while the oven is heating, about 10 minutes), then bake at 350 for 35 minutes.  Immediately remove from pans, let cool on rack until cool enough to serve (if you cut it too soon, it will crumble apart--but if you wait too long, it won't melt butter.  You decide where you want to cut on this continuum!  I usually wait about five minutes and figure if it crumbles, it crumbles). 

A couple of other notes:
  • If you let the dough rise too long, it will fall and look a little deflated.  This means your final loaf won't rise as well.
  • On that note, there's a little thing called "oven spring" which means your dough will continue to rise slightly once you put it in the oven.  I let my second rise go until the dough is peeking over the top of the loaf pan, then put it in.
  • My dad's recipe is formulated for smaller loaf pans than they sell now.  What I generally do (for one loaf of bread) is adjust this recipe so I'm making (roughly) a 3/4 amount.  This is just right for my pans to get one good-sized loaf.  So I use 1 3/4 c. water,  1 3/4 T. yeast, etc. 
  • I have an Ultramill, which is the kind of mill that grinds a #10 can of wheat into flour in about two minutes.  Super fast, but a coarser grind than my dad's stone mill.  This also impacts rise.  Again, this is part of why I plan to make more dough per pan.  EDIT:  I'm now using a Nutrimill, which is much much better and gives a finer flour that doesn't need the addition of any white)
  • For a whole-wheat dough, use cool water on your hands rather than flour (as you would for a white-flour dough) as you're shaping the dough into a loaf.
  • If you don't like whole-wheat bread, this also works really beautifully with all white flour. 

    PLEASE feel free to ask questions!!  This is something that's a little difficult to convey without a nice lump of dough in my hand and you standing next to me at the counter.   :-)  And if you're local, shoot me an email and we'll find a time when you can come over and we'll make bread together, because it's much easier to learn hands-on.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Grilled lemon artichokes with spinach and fettucine

I used fresh artichokes to make this recipe because that's what I had on hand; you could also use canned artichoke hearts to shorten the prep time, but they won't have the smoky depth of flavor that you get from grilling fresh artichokes.  For more information about preparing the artichokes for cooking, go here.  Basically, you need to get rid of all the poky parts; you'll know if you missed any because you'll stab your fingers and it will hurt way out of proportion.

1 lb baby artichokes, trimmed and stemmed, with outer petals removed
5 oz fresh spinach
8 oz fettucine noodles
fresh Parmesan cheese

1/4 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. olive oil
1 T. Dijon mustard

Heat up your grill (I used my panini press so I wouldn't lose any artichokes through the barbeque grill grate, since they sort of fell apart as I was preparing them.  You could also use a George Foreman or other countertop grill.  But seriously--I love my panini press and I use it to grill constantly, not just for think about getting one.  :-)

Boil prepared artichokes until fork-tender, approximately 10 minutes.  Drain artichokes and immerse immediately in cold water to prevent further cooking.  Drain again once they've cooled; toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper (I use a Ziploc bag for this and just dump everything in together so I can be sure things are evenly coated).  Grill artichokes for about five minutes or until they're visibly browned. 

Start cooking your pasta.

Toss the artichokes with the dressing and let sit for half an hour or so, if possible (or you can just eat right away).  Toss with cooked pasta, several generous handfuls of torn-up spinach, and another generous handful or two of fresh Parmesan.  Voila!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Roast Garlic Soup

This soup comes from Martha Stewart Living.  Despite the large quantity of garlic, this soup is a mellow velvety broth (picky eater-approved!).  It makes an elegant first course for a fancy meal; alternately, pair it with a loaf of crusty bread and a green salad for a weeknight meal that requires only minutes of prep time.  I like to snip fresh chives over the top to give it a little extra pizazz.

Roast Garlic Soup
serves 4

2 garlic bulbs, cloves separated (about 40)
1 large russet potato (12 oz), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large yellow onion (12 oz), trimmed, peeled, and cut into wedges
1 1/2 t. ground sage
1 T. olive oil
1 1/2 t. coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
1/3 c. apple juice (or sherry if you prefer)
3 1/2 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 t. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400.  Toss whole garlic cloves, potato, onion, sage, oil, 1 t. salt, and a pinch of pepper in a large ovenproof skillet or dish.  Cover and transfer to oven.  Roast, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.  (I use a Corningware baking dish for the oven step and then transfer to a stockpot for the stovetop steps.)

Remove pan from oven; stir in 1/3 c. water.  Cover, return to oven, and roast until potato is deep gold brown and garlic and onion are very soft (about 30 minutes).  Transfer garlic cloves to a plate, let cool slightly.  Squeeze garlic from skins into skillet; discard skins.

Heat skillet over medium-high heat.  Add sherry or juice and cook, stirring to scrape up browned bits (this is where the flavor is!) about 1 minute.  Add stock and 1/2 c. water, bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly. 

Puree soup in a blender in batches, or use an immersion blender in the dish itself (my preferred method).  Heat over low heat; stir in lemon juice and remaining 1/2 t. salt, and 1/4 t. pepper.