Tasty Hobby

Because food matters

Mozzarella Cheese

Mozzarella and I have met twice in my kitchen.  The first time didn’t turn out well and I ended up with mozzarella cheese spread, which we didn’t end up eating.  This time, I had help from Alana Chernila’s book, The Homemade Pantry.  Her book is wonderful and makes me happy, so I suggest you go buy it so we can be happy together.

You start with a gallon of milk.  Make sure it’s not ultra-pasteurized, which has been heated enough to kill off the good bacteria as well as the bad.  Mix 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid into a cup of cool filtered (or boiled) water.  I believe the point is to make sure the water doesn’t have chlorine in it, which would get in the way of the cheese making.  Add the citric acid mix to the milk and heat over medium to 90 degrees. When the milk gets to 90 degrees, it’s supposed to be curdled.  That wasn’t really happening, so I sprinkled a bit more citric acid into the milk, I’m guessing it was about 1/4 teaspoon.

Next comes the rennet, which can be slightly tricky.  It comes in either liquid or tablets. I bought liquid last year and never used much of it, so I decided to get tablets this time so I could keep them in the freezer indefinitely.  However, once I started reading the recipe, I found that I needed 1/3 teaspoon liquid rennet.  Each tablet is equivalent to 1 teaspoon liquid.  There was a frustrating moment when I considered running out to the store to get the liquid rennet (and some more beer while I was there), but in the end I decided to wing it.  I had read that it’s difficult to measure the tablets, so I pulled out my handy scale only to find out that the tablet was less than a gram, so it didn’t register on the scale at all.

Plan B for the rennet (or maybe it’s Plan C at this point): Crush the rennet tablet, and add water to make 1 teaspoon.  Then use 1/3 teaspoon of that mixture.  The measuring and mixing worked fine, and the end result obviously worked, but I was pretty nervous about the whole rennet process.

The rennet gets mixed with 1/4 cup of water and added to the pot.  Stir it gently for 30 seconds, then take the pot off the heat.  Cover it and let it sit for 5-8 minutes.  I went with 7, but would probably give it another minute next time.

At this point, you have a large pot of white cheese curd in one solid mass.  You have to cut the curd into pieces.  I’ll apologize for the lack of action shots, but my photographer was working on laundry.

This goes back on the heat for a while.  After what feels like forever, but is probably only 10 minutes, the curds and whey will split apart.

The curds get scooped out into a colander to drain.

The whey gets heated up to 165 degrees and then you take half the curds and dunk them in the whey for about a minute to soften them.  Note that I have two hands in the picture because my photographer stopped by to help.

Once the curds are warmed again, Alana suggests putting on heatproof gloves and squeezing the cheese to release the whey.  I asked Kip if the gloves under the sink were cleaning gloves or hot pepper gloves and the look that I got in response didn’t fill me with confidence.  He didn’t take me up on my suggestion to have him lick the gloves so we could figure out which kind they were.  So, I used a spoon to squeeze the cheese.

Once it cooled down a bit, I started playing with kneading it.  I felt very sad as this picture was being taken.  I really thought it was not going to work.  But, then I remembered Alana said something about the moment when it goes from something like this to shiny mozzarella.

Look at that beautiful, shiny cheese!  Really!  I made cheese!  I’ve heard that good writers don’t need to use exclamation marks, but really… I MADE CHEESE!

I got almost a pound of cheese from a gallon of milk (I zeroed out the scale before adding the cheese to the measuring cup).  The texture isn’t as soft as the stuff I buy at the farmers’  market, but that goes for $11/lb.  Mine was about $4/lb.  Next time, I’ll probably add some seasonings during the kneading stage.


Pasta with Tuna and Capers

Several years ago, Kip and I had a meal that we continue to refer to as the ‘fish with salsa incident’.  I can’t remember which one of us cooked it, but it was bad.  So bad that we went out for dinner and are now quite cautious about mixing tomatoes and fish.  Given that background, it’s understandable that it took me a couple years of cooking out of The Food Matters Cookbook before I trusted Mark Bittman enough to take another shot at fish and tomatoes.

There are few things that can make me as happy as hearing Kip say “Lunch was wonderful,”  especially when it involves fish and tomatoes and since two hours before lunch, I had no idea what I was going to make.  Sometimes, that would prompt me to go shopping.  Not today, though.  Today, Mark Bittman saved the day so I had time to watch a movie with Kip and James.

8 oz pasta

1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes

6 oz high quality tuna in oil (imported brands are best)

2 T capers (drained)

1/4 cup white wine

Optional: 1 onion (chopped)

Start boiling some water for the pasta.  Saute the onion in some oil for 3-5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and boil off some of the liquid, then turn the heat down to simmer.  Cook the pasta and start checking it after 5 minutes.  Once the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the tomatoes.  Add the wine, tuna (and the oil) and capers then serve.


Chicken Pot Pie

This recipe was adapted from Ina Garten’s Chicken Pot Pie via Smitten Kitchen.  Sorry I don’t have any pictures; I still haven’t gotten the hang of stopping cooking to take them.

  • 2 chicken breasts, boneless or bone-in, skinless or skin-on
  • 4 chicken thighs, bone in for more flavor, bone out for less work
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes (if you use Better than Bouillon, the exchange is 4 teaspoons)
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 large or two small white or yellow onions
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 10-16 oz. bag of frozen mixed vegetables (some combination of peas, carrots, corn, and/or green beans)

For a shortcut, use a cooked rotisserie chicken from the store.  Or, you can cook the chicken a day ahead, if you want.  Either way, rub the oil on the raw chicken and season with salt and pepper.  Cook the chicken however you want.  (I used the oven, but the stove top or slow cooker would also work fine.)  Remove the chicken from the bones (discarding the fat) and chop it up.  The goal is to end up with about 5 cups of chopped chicken.  You can use the bones to make stock, either freeze the bones until you have enough to fill your pot half-way, or make a small batch and freeze it.

In a small pot, heat the stock and dissolve the bullion in it.

In a large skillet or other large pan (I used a 12″ saute pan that is about 3″ deep), melt the butter and cook the onions over medium-low heat until they’re translucent – about 10-15 minutes.

Turn the heat down to low, add the flour, and cook for 2 minutes, being sure to stir the whole time.  This essentially creates a roux, which is the base of the creamy part of the pot pie.  Add the stock, about a cup at a time and keep stirring.  You want to get the flour mixture dissolved in the stock.  Once all the stock is added, let that cook for about 2 minutes.

Add the chicken and the veggies and let everything warm through.

I like to serve this in bowls with cream cheese biscuits for a ‘deconstructed’ pot-pie.


Cream Cheese Biscuits

Once again, I’m just going to provide a link to this recipe for cream cheese biscuits.  I’ve made these a few times and they’ve been consistently great.  I didn’t brush the biscuits with butter and they turned out fine, but maybe a little pale.  Also, I used 3/4 c. whole milk with 1 T. white vinegar instead of the buttermilk.

I’ve added about a cup of shredded cheddar cheese to these and used chive and onion cream cheese.  Next time, maybe I’ll mash some strawberries in with the cream cheese and/or add some strawberries.

I’d be curious about how to adapt this to use regular (not self-rising) flour.  Let me know if you have suggestions.

Homemade Pasta

From The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila

Many pasta recipes call for egg yolks, which means you have to find something to do with the egg whites. I like this recipe because it uses whole eggs, which makes life easier.

2 cups flour
3 eggs

Mix the eggs and flour together. Alana recommends making a pile of flour on the counter, putting a well-shaped hole in the pile and cracking the eggs into the well. I envisioned 87 ways that could go wrong, so I wimped out and used the dough hook on my KitchenAid stand mixer, but you can use a bowl and fork, or the dough blade on a food processor.

Form into a ball and flatten to a disc shape. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 15-30 minutes.

Cut off a piece of the dough and keep the rest covered while you work. Roll out the dough as thin as possible, ideally with a pasta roller. It will thicken when it cooks, so thick dough means really thick noodles.  You may need to sprinkle the dough with more flour as you roll it out.

One tricky part of this process is finding space to lay out the noodles so you can cut them into pieces or strips and let them dry for a few minutes. If you have a wooden laundry rack, that would work great (not an option at our house because of the dog).

This recipe makes about a pound of pasta, which will only take about 3 minutes to cook in boiling water. If you have a kitchen assistant, have them put the noodles in the water while you stir the pot to keep them from sticking together.  My mom and I put all the noodles in a bowl, then dumped the bowl into the pot of boiling water.  Be careful as you stir, since the water will splash.

Next time, I’ll probably add in some dried herbs. I’m also thinking this would be great in a lasagna dish.  I haven’t tried this, but I’ve read that you can freeze the uncooked pasta, and then cook it directly from the freezer.

Stats: 2 down 99 to go


Summer is not the ideal time to be turning on the oven for dinner, but I’ve made some meatballs lately and really like the way they turn out when they’re baked instead of pan-fried. Here are three ways I’ve made meatballs lately.

  1. (Pictured) 1 lb. Beef w/ 1 T. miso, 1 T. soy, 1 T. oyster sauce, 1 T. garlic, 3 green onions (scallions), 1/2 c. bread crumbs.
  2. 1 lb. Beef w/ 1/2 c. bread crumbs, 1/4 c. parmasean, basil, oregano, thyme – total dried herbs of 1 t.
  3. 1 lb. Lamb and 1/2 lb. cooked bacon w/ 1/4 t. garlic powder, 1/4 t. onion powder, and 1 t. oregano, and two hot dog rolls – broken up

In a bowl large enough to hold the meat and the other ingredients, mix together everything except the meat. Break the meat into bite-sized pieces as you drop it into the bowl. I think this method helps get the flavors mixed into the meat, but doesn’t require lots of mixing, so it keeps the meat tender.

Form the meat mixture into balls and attempt to keep them sized the same.  If you want a bit of crunch, roll them in breadcrumbs as you form them.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, if you have about 16 balls. Fewer balls mean that they’re larger and will need more time.

Homemade Hummus

Last week, I made chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans) in the slow cooker and ended up overcooking them so I decided they would be great for hummus, which Kip loves.  He’s tried a couple of times to make hummus and it never turned out quite right, but since I had just picked up my copy of The Homemade Pantry on Saturday, I took some time on Sunday to put it to the test.

Alana is very clear that the recipes in the book are hers and that you should feel free to modify them to make them your own.  I would do that anyway, but I appreciate her attitude (or lack thereof).  The recipe calls for 7 cups of chickpeas, but I had about 3, which made a nice amount since there’s only one person who eats hummus in our house.

3 cups chickpeas, with the juice or broth reserved for later use
6 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup lime juice (I didn’t have lemon)
1/4 cup sesame seeds (I didn’t have sesame paste – tahini)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (use 1/4 teaspoon if you have plain salt)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon Peppadew powder (or a pinch of cayenne powder)
2 tablespoons chickpea liquid (or olive oil)

I used a little food chopper that attaches to my stick blender, since I had it out already.  I had to work in several small batches, but I had one less thing to clean when I finished.  The sesame seeds didn’t magically turn into tahini, like they would have in a food processor or our Vita-Mix blender.  Regardless, Kip thought it was the best hummus we’ve ever made.

Stats: 1 recipe down, 100 to go

Alinea Review

I’ve been thinking about what should be on my bucket list and haven’t made much progress, but I am able to add (and cross off) dining at North America’s top restaurant.  It was a confusing experience, though.  I really enjoyed myself, but I was also disappointed, and not just because I left hungry.

Maybe my expectations were too high.  I expected to be absolutely wowed with every bite and I certainly was wowed with some of the bites.  However, there usually wasn’t enough in the course to have a second taste.  I believe the chef’s philosophy is that after a few bites of something, your taste buds adjust and you don’t experience the rest of the dish the same way as the beginning.  Regardless, I would have been happier with fewer courses and larger dishes.

Many people have a hard time getting reservations at Alinea.  I’ve read stories about people using four phone lines and spending an hour hitting redial to get through.  Since I was going to Chicago for business, Alinea reservations were a nice-to-have, but not the reason for my trip.  I decided to leave a voicemail on a Sunday afternoon, three weeks before my trip.  Two days later, I got a call back saying that they had a table for me, but needed to talk to me to confirm it.  I didn’t feel the phone buzz, so it went to voicemail and I spent the next 10 minutes hitting redial until I got through.  I didn’t hesitate when she mentioned the table for two would be at 9:30 on Thursday night.  I just hoped my computer class on Friday would be an easy one.

I had done enough research to know the restaurant doesn’t have a sign out front, just the building number (1723).  Thanks to Google street view, I knew exactly where we were going.

 Continue to page 2

Alinea Menu

Here’s a teaser…Alinea Menu.  The size of the circle represents the relative size of the dish.  For reference, the Oyster Leaf through Woolly Pig were each one bite.  The direction left/right indicates the level of savory or sweet in the dish.

More details to come.

Salad Greens, Dressed Up

Chicken, spinach, apples, walnuts, olive oil, vinegar
The weather here in west Michigan was shockingly warm last week.  It put me in the mood for a tasty salad from the garden.  But, since it was the middle of March, my garden hasn’t really done much yet – and probably won’t until I plant some more seeds.

This meal came together pretty quickly, which I appreciated because I had James at work with me, which is fun but can make for a long day.  I didn’t follow a recipe, but just figured it out as I went.  I didn’t take notes, either, so here’s what I think I did.   I forgot to get the bacon out of the freezer, but I’m sure it would have been a wonderful addition.

  • 1 chicken breast, chopped and cooked
  • 1 large handful of walnuts, chopped
  • 2 small apples, chopped
  • 2 bowls of salad greens – we put the greens right in the bowls we’re going to use to eat

Kip was put in charge of the dressing and I think he followed the rule of thumb to use 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar and I told him to add 1 tablespoon of honey.  The vinegar was a white balsamic vinegar with peach flavors from Old World Olive Press.  Not surprisingly, the dressing ended up too sweet.  The tablespoon of honey is for a much larger batch of dressing than Kip made, so I added a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.

Salad of greens, chicken, walnuts, and apples

Usually I would think apples, walnuts, and peaches might be an odd combination, but the weather had me in a summer mood,  so if the only way I could have peaches was as dressing on my salad, I was going to go with it.  I’m not sure if I should call it adventurous or admit I didn’t think about the apple / walnut / peach combination.  Either way, it was great.