Thursday, May 24, 2012

Holy Cow!!! Homemade Mozzarella

This was my second time making cheese. The first time, I used commercially produced pasteurized and homogenized milk. It was a collossal disaster and I nearly swore it off for life. I read online somewhere that using non-homogenized milk was much easier. You can get pasteurized non-homogenized milk at your local food co-op or hippie organic grocery store. You wil pay a ton for it!!! I however have the luxury of working in Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) country a couple of times a week and have access to plenty of farms selling 'raw' milk. In case you didn't know, raw milk is basically milk straight from the cow, full fat and as fresh as it gets. And... the best part it is that a gallon of this Amish raw milk is that it is cheaper ($3.75/gal) than a gallon of regular milk at the grocery store. It is also great because you can basically touch the cows that the milk came from and see how they are being treated (for those of you that are into that kind of thing). This post is going to review the mozzarella process and the dish I made with it. Next I'll go over the ricotta process and that dish. Anyway... On to the cheese making!!

The first thing you will need to do is separate the cream that has floated to the top of the container from the milk. This can be a bit touchy if you don't have a siphon or a turkey baster. As we did not use our siphon and did not have a turkey baster, we ended up with a bit of a mess on our hands. I was mildly losing it and the Happy Husband was busy trying to calm me down and get the mess cleaned up. This photo was taken post mess and it was too hectic to take one during the process. Think crack in the bottom of a really full bucket spraying everywhere but in the pot. Fun... really.

The other two ingredients that you will need are citric acid and rennet. You can find citric acid in any grocery store that has a canning department or online. The rennet was a little harder to come by. Its definetly available online and comes in either tablet (animal based) or liquid (vegetable based) form. Its not cheap but a whole gallon of milk takes only a quarter teaspoon of the stuff. I managed to score the liquid version at the hippie co-op grocery store in the nearby college town. A digital thermometer will also be tremendously helpful here but you can use a traditional candy thermometer if you are really going to babysit the stuff. The first thing you will need to do is dissolve the citric acid and rennet in cold filtered water. Dissolve/dilute 1/4 tsp rennet in a 1/4 cup cold filtered water and dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid in 1 cup of the cold filtered water.

Next you will need to heat your milk to 85 degrees F. This will take a while if you have just taken it out of the fridge, so it is the perfect time to set up your straining device. Stick a colander over a large bowl and line it with cheesecloth. You will probably need a second bowl if yours isn't super deep, I did. Whatever you do, DO NOT THROW OUT THE WHEY. The whey is the yellowish liquid that is left after the curds strain out. Once your milk makes it up to 85 degrees, dump in the citric acid mixture and give it a swirl with a slotted spoon.

It will start to look a little strange and curdle but nothing exciting is happening yet. Next, continue to slowly heat to 100 degrees F. This is when you stir in the rennet mixture. This is where I varied a bit from the recipe... I was so busy trying to take pictures that I wasn't paying attention to the next step (it didn't seem to make a huge difference). Let the milk/curds continue to heat to around 105 degrees (mine got up to 130), then turn off the heat and let the mixture sit with the lid on for the next 10 to 15 minutes.

Once the time is up take a sharp knife and cut the curds into cubes. Use a slotted spoon to move the cubes into the cheesecloth lined strainer. The curds will take a while to drain and can be helped along by moving them around in the cloth. You need to let them drain pretty much all the way until they stop dripping.

While the curds are draining fill pot with water and salt it heavily. You want this water to be about as salty as the ocean. Bring the water up to a boil and watch the temp and you will be using it once it gets down to about 180 degrees. The other thing that you need to be doing while the water is heating is breaking up the drained curds into one inch even pieces.

I kind of slacked on the next pictures because I had rubber gloves on to protect my hands from teh 180 degree water. Basically, you need to dunk the curds (I did two batches) in the hot water until they get melty. Stretch the curds once they come together until they become shiny and then form a ball. I was able to get a little over a half pound out of this batch.

So now you have these two little pillows of mozzarella goodness. What to do with them?? I'll tell you, make Caprese (ka-pray-say) Salad. I saved the larger one for later but I used the smaller one to make this beautiful dish.

This little beauty may have just been a side dish that I served with grilled mahi mahi steaks but in my opinion they were the star of the evening. I split the mozzarella into two servings of three slices each (1.8 oz total), one for me and one for the Happy Husband. The tomatoes, unfortunately, are not from our garden. They are from the grocery store and came in a gourmet medley box that was the same price per pound as the boring old grape variety. Each of those tomatoes were slightly larger than a golf ball. The basil is sliced in what is called a chiffonade. To get this decorative look, you just need to stack the leaves and roll them up like a cigar. Slice the across the cigar and you will get pretty little ribbons of your leafy herb or greens. Oh and that's right... the basil is from OUR garden.

Shamless home grown herb photo :)
Soon enough I will be able to say that the three main ingredients in Caprese Salad were hand made and grown from seed at my house. That's so cool to know exactly where your food is coming from. Last but not least, dress the salad with salt, pepper and a bit of good olive oil. This is a truly yummy bite of the summer veggies to come :)

The salad is about 200 calories. 120 from the mozzarella and 60 from the oil.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Yes we really do eat chicken... and quinoa...

I'm sure you all thought that we only ate critters of the four legged variety. Hopefully this will help to convince you otherwise. We have even eaten this one straight veggie style on occaision. Just in case you were wondering (and trust me, I was when I first set eyes on the word) quinoa is pronounced KEEN-wah. It is an ancient grain which originated in South America and was considered to be a sacred grain by the Incas. This tiny grain is oozing with nutritional value compared to the boring white rice and processed flour products that we Americans have grown so used to eating. In one 1/4 cup dry serving you will get 15% (based on a 2000 calorie diet) of your daily iron (good for you non red meat eaters) and 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of dietary fiber. Oh and did I mention that the entire serving is WHOLE grain. This isn't like the stuff that they advertise as containing whole grain, it is the entire thing!! Oh and for all you celiacs out there did I mention that it is completely gluten free.

If you are asking yourself 'What are the little white spiral thingys stuck to the quinoa?' I have the answer. They are what is called the germ. It is the reproductive part the plant and is totally cool to eat. When the germ separates from the grain is how you know the quinoa is done cooking. When cooking it for this salad I cook it for about 15 minutes. I use one cup of quinoa and two cups of water, combine them in a pot with a lid and throw in a cube of chicken boullion. I bring the mixture to a boil, cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is completely absorbed. This will make 4 servings worth of quinoa to go in the salad. You can divide the final salad up as desired but if you use it for a meal with the grilled chicken it will make four dinners (or four lunches as I used a batch for a week of lunches for my self).

I will say that the first time I made this the Happy Husband was like... 'Your'e doing what tonight??'. He has become a true believer and I'm confident you will too once you try this amazing little grain. I like to cook the quinoa while the chicken is grilling and then allow both to rest while I'm chopping the ingredients for the salad. As far as chicken grilling is concerned, you do need to cook it all the way through. NEWS FLASH: Cooking chicken through does not mean making tiny chicken hockey pucks that will make you tired of chewing before you even get the first bite down. The Happy Husband always asks me 'How do you know when the perfect time to take the chicken off the grill?' My answer remains the same for all cooking.'Practice makes perfect' (or pretty consistently good anyway). You are never going to learn to cook something with out screwing it up at least once first. I still manage to over cook steak, make bad tasting experiments and really frustrate my self from time to time. You will never learn to ride the horse if you don't get back on people. So anyway... cook your chicken until its done. I ended up with 6 ounces of cooked chicken breast for the whole salad. Oh and buy a food scale. It makes life easier if you are watching what you eat.

Ok now for the fixins. And yes I just said fixins... I live below, 5 miles, the Mason-Dixon Line so its ok. This is really a matter of personal preference and of what direction you want your salad to go. You could use cucumbers and feta insetad of the avocado and goat cheese here and go greek with some added oregano. You could swap the olives and parsely for a little jalepeno and cilantro and remove the artichokes and you have a guacamole inspired salad. Its totally up to what you have on hand and what you are in the mood for. But since I have made promises to make an effort toward including recipes/quantities I'm going to tell you what I used in this one. I went with a greek-ish version on this occaision. We had halved grape tomatoes (1 cup), diced red onion (1/2 cup or less if its a strong one), diced avocado (1/2 cup), chopped pitted kalamata olives (1/3 cup) and chopped marinated artichoke hearts (3/4 cup). I like to use a cutting board topper (I don't know if that is what its really called) so that I can pick it up, fold it and dump everything into the bowl of slightly cooled quinoa at once. Make sure you use a big bowl. There is nothing worse than dumping a bunch of quinoa on the counter while stirring and trying to clean it up. I also included about 3/4 cup of chopped grilled asparagus which I cooked while I was cooking the chicken. Before you grill the asparagus toss it with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. You will want to take the asparagus off before the tops burn too much and while the asparagus still has some crunch to it.

Once you have stirred in all of the chopped veggie goodies its time for your cheese and herbs of choice. If you are using dry herbs you should probably add them to the quinoa as soon as it comes off the stove. But we have a beautiful herb garden (thanks to the Happy Husband) and I like to use my fresh picked herbs. For this salad I chose some crumbled goat cheese. You can use feta, parmesean, blue cheese or any other cheese of your choice. If you like it creamy and you are using a soft variety, add the cheese while the salad is still pretty warm and it will combine through and melt into the dish. If you are using a harder cheese it would be best to wait until cools off a little more. I used 3 ounces of the goat cheese crumbles for the salad and some fresh parsley from the herb garden.

You are probably saying to yourself... 'What is so special about a picture of fresh parsley?' The answer is 'The Happy Husband and I grew it from a tiny little seed and I'm really proud of it!' Hopefully, in the coming weeks you will get to see more fruits from our garden. Maybe I'll even manage to do a post on the garden itself. Who wants to see garden pictures????

Nutrition Facts (this is a general idea not analyzed fact)
Servings per recipe: 4
Calories per serving: 375
Fat: 14g, 4g saturated
Cholesterol: 40 mg
Sodium: 580 mg
Postassium: 216 mg
Total Carbs: 39g, 4 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugars
Protein: 19.5 g

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tacos Two Ways

The Ingredients

Originally this was going to be a one way taco post but... Today I had the privilege of having lunch with my fabulous high school friend, Katie, and her beautiful 10 month old daughter, Claire. Normally, a lunch date would not have any power over my dinner plans. However, we went to a restaurant that has crazy addictive rolls to dip in creamy crab soup. One bowl of soup and 4 rolls later, on the way back to the office, I decided that I should probably take the processed carb out of my part of the taco dinner for tonight. I had some romaine lettuce on hand and settled on a taco salad.

I'm going to try to start taking pictures of all of the ingredients together before I start cooking. I had never used the 'Stand and Stuff' type of hard taco before but they were on sale and cheaper than the store brand that I usually grab so I decided to give them a try. I will never buy a round bottom taco again!!! As you will see later, you can literally stuff these tacos to the brim with yummy fixins and they won't fall over on the trip to the dinner table. And let me tell you, fully stuffed and standing tacos make the happy husband even happier. The other thing that I don't necessarily advocate is the usage of pre-made seasonings. I did use some on this meal but it was the low sodium version. I find that the low sodium versions of the pre-made seasonings are actually pretty good and they are no more expensive. The last item that I'd like to single out now is the fresh cilantro. Our garden and potted herbs are really starting to take off with the warmer weather. The cilantro was started from seed in late winter inside and this was the first time I was able to use it :) The Happy Husband and I are working very hard on our garden this year and I hope to show you even more of our harvest throughout the summer.

Tacos are a great weeknight dinner because they are quick. I would imagine if you used the fresh salsa and prepared guacamole (Wholly Guacamole is a good brand) from the produce department of your grocery store you could get this meal done in about 20 minutes. I had the time and decided to make my guacamole and salsa at home in order to really control the flavors in my taco toppings. I also went with canned black beans to speed up the meal prep time.

I used ground beef for my taco meat today. I spoke with my sister and she was having tacos tonight too! She was having ground turkey for her taco meat and that is perfectly fine for this preparation. You could even use some, in my opinion nasty, fake, imitation ground tofu if that even exists. Although, if I were going to go vegetarian on this one, I would just bump up the black beans and maybe even add some diced mushrooms. You will want to brown the ground meat and break it up as it is cooking to 'taco meat' size. Make sure you DRAIN the fat from your ground meat before adding the seasonings. If you don't, you will more than likely end up with a gassy partner and a possible emergency bathroom situation, not to mention its straight fat and that's just plain nasty. Add the seasoning packet, or home made seasoning blend, to your taco filling as directed and set it to the side with the lid on to stay warm.

Black Bean Flavorings

I like to keep it pretty simple for the black bean seasoning. I saute some onion, garlic and jalapeno in a little bit of olive oil. If you were using dried beans you would want to add some salt here but there is no need for salt with the canned beans. Once the onion, garlic and jalapeno have softened up a bit, add the drained and rinsed black beans and a few tablespoons of water. You can also throw in some chili powder or cayenne depending on how you like your beans. 


Next you need to make the guac and salsa. If you were in a hurry and went with the prepared at the store toppings, remove the lid to the salsa, slice open the guac package and squeeze it into a bowl... DONE!! If you are an overachiever/perfectionist like me get ready to slice and dice. The guacamole, salsa and black beans all have similar ingredients so finely chop enough of each of the garlic, jalapeno and onion to cover the three toppings. For the guacamole, you will need to dice the avocado and tomato and add some lemon juice to the avocado for flavor and so it doesn't turn brown. Use a fork to mash together some salt, the avocado and lemon juice. Then stir in a little bit of minced garlic, the onion and jalapeno to taste. Add some tomato too to keep it traditional. NOTE: Lime juice is traditional in both salsa and guacamole but lemons were what I had, so that's what I used. Throw some of the freshly chopped cilantro in as well. For the salsa, just stir together a bit of olive oil, lemon juice, onion, garlic, jalapeno, tomatoes and chopped cilantro. Make sure that you don't refrigerate anything that you make with fresh tomatoes. Cooling the tomatoes causes a chemical reaction that messes with (ruins) the flavor that you just worked so hard to create. 

Now its time to assemble your yumminess!! Remember that you eat with your eyes first so you will want to make sure its pretty. For the Happy Husband, I served the beans on the side with the tacos. I like to put the shredded cheese on the bottom, flat part, of the taco. Doing this will keep the tacos from getting too soft on the bottom and cracking when you try to bite into them. Next layer is your taco meat mixture. For the toppings, put a few dollops of light sour cream on the next layer. There really isn't much difference in the flavor between the light and full fat sour cream versions and the light is soo much better for you. Next, add your guacamole and salsa... go for as much salsa as you can fit in the top. You will love it!

After my carb coma wore off this afternoon... I realized I needed something a bit fresher for dinner. If you go this route... please take the time to make it pretty. Even if you are cooking for one, or if you are like me and you plan on stirring it all together as soon as you sit down. Cooking at home and taking the time to make it look like its from a restaurant is SO worth it. You will have something to be proud of and have a reason to enjoy your food for more than just the nutritional value it provides.