Sunday, July 24, 2011

Make Your Own Cheese (I call it 2-1 Cheese)

Alyce's Cheese
I always wanted to make my own cheese.
I'm not talking brie. I'm somewhat aware of my limits.  (Not that I would turn down a trip to France and an apprenticeship.)
I'm thinking goat's cheese.  I've been thinking (dreaming) goat's cheese for a long while.  But was my first try or two from goat's milk?  No.  Cow's milk it was.  And a lovely, firm (or soft...) kind of ricotta was my choice.

I have to admit I made this cheese by mistake.  I had read the directions for making ricotta and misremembered them.  Note to self:  keep recipe in front of your eyes the first time you make something.  The ricotta recipe called for 2 quarts of milk.  My memory called for 2 cups of milk.  So my cheese was firmer, denser, cutable, etc.  It turned out, unbeknownst to me, more like Indian paneer, which I didn't discover until later.

To digress a second time:  Goat's cheese is next--stay tuned.  First, read Goat Song by Brad Kessler.  If I could only read one book in a year, it would be this book.  Not because it's about goats and cheese, but because it's a beautifully written testimony to one man's decision to live a new life...and also ends up teaching a lot about the history of humankind.  NPR called it, "a wondrous little miracle of a book," and I couldn't agree more.

courtesy Scribner
 Anyone can make ricotta, but not everyone realizes that you can make it with a much smaller amount of milk, a longer drain, a harder squeeze... and you'll come out with a beautiful round of cheese you can slice (rather than a soft, spooned cheese).  This firmer product is perfect topped with a bit of honey and pepper, served on grilled salt and pepper baguette.  Or you could make lemon-ricotta pancakes (if you use the cheese before it's drained too long).   But I get ahead of myself.

  Note:  To make light, fluffy, fresh ricotta (maybe better for the pancakes) try David Lebovitz' directions on his guest post for Simply Recipes.

Let's ask, "Why you want to make cheese?"  There are a ton of reasons, but here are a few:

1.  You want to.
2.  It sounds like fun.
3.  You're tired of the price of fresh cheese in the store.  (Around 8 bucks for a small portion of this cheese.)
4.  You have whole milk about to go bad or yogurt you're not going to eat.
5.  You want really good quality.
6.  You want something special to take somewhere that tastes incredibly good and is easy and inexpensive.

Note I didn't say cheap.

Here it is...the soft stuff.  Yum.
 If you're a solo cook, you're well on the road to truly cooking well for yourself if you learn the difference between inexpensive and cheap.  You just don't want cheap.  You DO want inexpensive sometimes, but you want quality for your buck all the time.  Hence homemade cheese!

If you make this cheese, it will keep a week in the frig.  You will eat it all.  A bit each day.  (Try some of the fresh, soft cheese with peaches.)  Or you can take it to a party and be a bit hit.  You can double the recipe easily; just make sure you have a big enough piece of cheesecloth, a larger colander and a big bowl.  Then you can take some to your friends' house and keep some at home for your breakfast.  It is a bit like queso fresco, but not absolutely the same because it's yours.

Equipment you'll need to make this cheese:  2-3qt saucepan, colander, 4 layers of cheesecloth big enough to fit in the colander, a large bowl in which to catch the whey (the water that drips from the cheese.)

Cheese by You  or 2-1 Cheese 
2 cups whole milk
1 cup whole milk yogurt
2t white vinegar  (or try lemon juice some time)
1t salt
  • Mix all the ingredients together in a 2-3 qt saucepan.
  • Bring to a gentle boil and simmer 1-2 minutes.
  • Pour milk mixture through a cheesecloth-lined (about 4 layers) colander or sieve into a medium bowl.
  • Let drain 15 minutes for softer cheese or 30-45 for a more firm cheese.  You can decide yourself how long you want this to drain.  It's your cheese.  The cheese police aren't coming any time soon.
  • If you choose soft (15 minutes), spoon cheese into a bowl, cool, and refrigerate until needed.
  • If you choose firm (30-45 minutes), squeeze out all of the whey (the watery liquid that drains out of the curds) until you have a  solid, firm cheese in the cheese cloth.  To accomplish this, pull  the corners of the cheesecloth up together and twist/squeeze to create a cheesecloth "balloon."  Repeat 2-3 times.  The more you squeeze, the drier and firmer the cheese.
  • Unwrap the cheese and turn it out into a bowl for eating or storing in the refrigerator.  
  • Eat soft cheese as is or use in recipes like lasagne (or just mix into hot pasta).  It's excellent with ripe stone fruits, berries, etc (as you would with yogurt).  Slice the firm cheese cheese and eat as is or top with local honey and freshly ground black pepper.  Serve on grilled or toasted baguette dusted with salt.
  • Makes one approx 6" round of cheese.
      You need more cheesecloth than this, though I made it work...just!
      This is perfect with a little fresh pasta or peaches.  Needs nothing else.  Maybe a little pepper for the pasta.

      Drain longer and squeeze for a more firm cheese

      Drizzle a good dose of local honey on top and sprinkle with black pepper.

      Wednesday, July 13, 2011

      Herb-Spinach Egg White Omelet

      Egg white omelets are not for everyone.  Some people just don't get the yolk.  (Very bad; I know.)  They need yellow.  Even orange.  Others make the trip over to white easily, "This isn't bad!"  "Hey this is good!"  depending on what's in the omelet.  If you're in a spot where you seriously have to watch either calories or cholesterol, egg whites are your fine, fine friend.  But they're also a luscious, filling meal for just anyone who's going to dinner that night or who wants an extra piece of pizza the next day.

      On Weight Watchers, 3 egg whites are 1 point.  (And yes, they do have some protein.)  No complaint at all.  PAM the pan and skip the oil point, too.  A few chopped herbs...a little spinach...a dose of salsa.  Et voila!  Excellent use of leftover fresh herbs, which are (if you buy them) so expensive you feel like a wastrel if you don't use them all to make something.

      About buying egg whites:  you can break and separate eggs yourself, using the whites and cooking up the yolks for the dog or  you can buy egg whites in the dairy case near the eggs.  They come in small pint or quart cartons.

      A little giftie from my next-door neighbor:  basil, dill, flowering thyme.

      Herb-Spinach Egg white Omelet with Salsa and Fresh Tomatoes

      3 egg whites beaten with a healthy pinch of salt and pepper (white pepper, if you have it)
      PAM or 1T olive oil
      2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, your choice (parsley, basil, thyme, tarragon--even sage), plus
          a bit extra for garnish*
      1 cup fresh spinach
      1/4 cup salsa (I like Frontera Grill's if you don't make your own.) or 1T grated Parmesan cheese
      1 small-medium tomato, sliced

      1. Slice tomatoes; place on serving plate.  Add a few fresh herbs for garnish if you have extra.
      2. Heat pan over medium-high heat for a minute or so.  Add PAM or oil.
      3. Add spinach and herbs to hot, oiled pan, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and let cook 1 minute until a bit wilted.
      4. Add beaten egg whites to pan and let the white set  20 seconds or so.  Lift omelet at one edge with rubber spatula and tip pan to allow uncooked white into pan.  Repeat quickly until omelet is cooked, making a few small holes in the whites and vegetables (the omelet will reseal) if necessary to make sure eggs in the middle are cooked as well.  
      5. Turn off heat.  To plate, tip pan toward the plate, using the rubber spatula to slide the omelet out.  You may fold the omelet as you go or after it's on the plate.  It will eat however you do it and you'll become a better omelet maker as time goes on.
      6. Garnish with salsa or Parmesan and a quick dust of black pepper. (Or more white pepper is fine.)
      7. Enjoy hot, cold, or at room temperature.
      8. *If you have no fresh herbs, add a 1/4 tsp of your favorite dried herb to the spinach.  You could even try a bit of garlic, shallot, or green onion if you'd rather.

      If you like, you can watch a British chef do it a bit differently, but basically the same. Skip the commercial first!

      Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

      Wednesday, July 6, 2011

      The Best Cheesecake (clear throat) for any Birthday

      Pagliacci's New York Cheesecake...made and photographed this year in St. Paul

      I've made this cheesecake since, I think, 1984.  Almost always for Dave's birthday, but occasionally

      for other special occasions.   I dressed it up with chocolate and toffee for Sean's 30th.  I think I even stirred in some pumpkin and topped it with cinnamon/salted crushed pecans one fall.  Dave, however, likes it plain, plein, with nada, nothing, nip, zip, zing, big 0.  Says it needs nothing but a fork.  He's probably right, but I throw a few berries or drizzle chocolate sauce on it for other folks.  I've been known to make a cranberry compote for it for Thanksgiving or a New Year's Day buffet.

      Just a note about where this came from, though I didn't think about it for years.  I did vaguely remember a restaurant in Victoria, British Columbia and a bit of the story...but it wasn't until the internet became available that I went back and looked it all up.  Incredible:  the restaurant is still there (though I didn't have time to visit when we were in Victoria last spring) and the soup of the day (today) is Vegetable with Potato... also Split Pea with Ham.  And, you know, if you make something for long enough, it just becomes yours.  Even if you know it's  not.  Dave calls it "Alyce's Cheesecake."  And I've never changed the basic recipe, despite the above special occasion twists and tweaks.

      How I wish I were a better photographer...but these colors don't lend themselves to food photography anyway.  You get the idea.
       Other people have sort of tagged on to the cheesecake over the years.  If you've lived near one of our 24 houses in July, you might have had some.  Some friends texted this last week to find out if, by chance, we were coming back to Colorado for the might have been the cheesecake.

      As The Solo Cook, you'll probably be invited to potlucks, dinners, picnics, etc., over the next how-many years. I freely give you permission to make and take YOUR cheesecake because:
      1. It's the best.  They'll love you.
      2. It's so easy to make, it's not funny.  There's no technique involved.
      3. You can't hardly ruin this.
      4. It's great any time of the year.
      5. It's flexible.  Forgiving.  Can be adapted to any flavor cheesecake.
      6. Can be made days and days ahead.
      7. Can be frozen for a month. (Cheesecakes freeze admirably well.)
      Let me know if you make it!

      You do need a 9" springform pan.  Yes, really, you must have it.
      A food processor or an electric mixer (even a hand-held one) is a must unless you're Superman.
      If you don't have a food processor for the graham cracker crumbs, you can buy them already crushed or put the crackers in a gallon sealed bag and pound or roll over them with a rolling pin.

      Pagliacci's New York Cheesecake                                         


      • 1 1/4 cups graham wafer crumbs (I prefer vanilla wafer crumbs)
      • 1/4 cup sugar
      • 1/4 cup butter, melted


      First:  Mix crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar and butter and press into a 10" spring form pan. Refrigerate until ready to use.
      1.  Preheat oven to 500º.  Make sure your oven is clean before you start!
      2.  Beat cream cheese with electric mixer in large bowl until very smooth. Blend in lemon juice and vanilla. Sift sugar, flour and salt together and gradually beat into cheese. Beat until creamy, smooth and light, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs and yolks one at a time. Blend in cream. Pour into crust.  Place filled pan on a  baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.  
      3.  Bake 12 minutes.
      4.  Reduce oven temperature to 200º. Continue baking until tester inserted in centre comes out clean. The original recipe said for 45 minutes but I find it takes much longer.  Keep testing. (You can also set the oven at 300 and it's a lot less time.  I think the 200 might have been a typo??)
      5.  Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan. Cool cake completely and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving. 

      Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

      Friday, July 1, 2011

      Taking Potato Salad to the Picnic

      Happy, fresh, perky potato salad without all the...whatever
       My husband adores potato salad.
       His mother puts pickle juice in it.
      And it's darned good.

      I still don't make it often. It smacks of fattening mayonnaise, though I often make a closer-to-French version with a mustard-tarragon vinaigrette.  But there's no reason at all not to make it.  And it's lovely made with tiny new farmer's market potatoes, baby broccoli, fresh shallots, an ear of corn, and whatever else you've drug home.  In fact, let's just think of it as a salad.  That has potatoes in it.  Be inventive and put in what you have or like.  Tarragon or thyme would be sweet in place of the parsley.. if you like one of them better.  Tomatoes could be chopped for the top.  Asparagus or green beans, chopped, could be added in place of, or in addition to, the broccoli.

      St. Paul Farmer's Mkt display

      St Paul Farmer's Mkt sugar snaps

      I will tell you that many people ruin potato salad because they have no idea how to season it.  Some cooks will just pour in salt, when it's acid (vinegar or lemon juice) that's needed to kick the salad off. 

      And if it's too hot to leave that stove on, do make this.  It's all done in the microwave, so you save/eat all the nutrients that go down the drain if you boil the veg.  It is a bit of a pain to keep cooking things separately in the microwave, but it sure beats turning on the stove when it's 90 something and 75% humidity.  As your microwave could cook more slowly or quickly than mine, use the cooking times as a guide.  Taste your vegetables and see if they're done to your liking.  The potatoes, when left covered after cooking, will cook a bit more as they hold a good deal of heat.  If you like the other vegetables fresh, don't cook them!

      You've got something yum and healthy to take to the picnic.  Happy Fourth!

      Shallots from the market

      Pencil added for scale.  These are tiny, tender toothsome babies.

      Farmer's Market Potato Salad   (Made in the microwave)  4-6 servings
      1.5 # new potatoes (1-2" or cut into that size) cooked with 1/4 c water about 6 minutes covered.  Let sit 5 minutes before using.*
      2T olive oil
      3/4 t kosher salt; 1/4 t freshly ground black pepper; Pinch crushed red pepper
      1/2 new peas, or frozen  (If new, cook in microwave covered 2 minutes and drain; run cold water; drain. If frozen, run under warm water until unthawed and then drain.)
      2-3 stalks new broccoli, chopped (Cook for 2 minutes with carrots in 1T water & covered)+
      1 carrot, peeled and cut in matchsticks (Cook for 2 minutes with broccoli)
      1 ear of fresh corn (Leave husks on and cook 3 minutes or so.  Let sit in husks another 3-5 minutes before husking, taking off silks, and cutting the kernals off the cob while holding the cob upright on the board.)
      1/2 medium zucchini, cut into matchsticks (Don't cook.)
      1/2 red pepper (sweet), finely chopped
      2 eggs, boiled and chopped (PAM a medium bowl, add eggs, prick all over, cover tightly and microwave 2 minutes.  Cool and chop.)
      2 strips bacon (Cook in microwave w/ several paper towels above and below for 1 1/2 min.) Cool and  chop.*

      2 minced shallots
      4 minced green onions (Save a bit out for garnish.)
      1/4 c chopped parsley (Save a bit out for a garnish.)
      Juice of half a lemon (2-3 tablespoons)
      2T minced fresh dill
      1/2 c sour cream (in a small bowl at table)
      • Mix warm potatoes with oil, salt, pepper and red pepper.  Add peas though parsley.  Stir and taste. Adjust for seasonings. 
      • Add lemon juice; stir.  Taste again and add more juice if needed.
      • Garnish with reserved green onions, parsley and a big grind of pepper for their good looks and taste.  Sprinkle with finely chopped fresh dill.
      • If  desired, pass sour cream at table and let each guest top their salad with a spoonful.
      +If you have older/large broccoli, trim the stems and cut them off a bit (discard trimmings) before chopping for cooking.  Young, tender stalks should be fine.
      *You can use pancetta, too, though I'd chop it and gently fry it in a small skillet instead of microwaving it, though you probably could. Some people like to boil pancetta a bit before frying remove the pancetta taste somewhat.  I don't do that, but do it if you like. Cooked, julienned ham is also an option.

      If you haven't frequented markets, here's one of my favorites:  (after the St. Paul Farmer's Market, of course)
       Photos from Pike Place Market in Seattle (taken in May, 2010)

      Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,