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.

 

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

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

The Homemade Pantry

I have a new toy cookbook.   The Homemade Pantry, by Alana Chernila, and the her blog,  Eating From The Ground Up, were mentioned on another blog I follow.   Alana and I share similar philosophies about food.  Her blog post called Easy really hit home with me and I agree that I don’t cook at home because it’s easy.

When I cook (mostly) from scratch, I can control the ingredients, which means it doesn’t include lots of chemicals and other things I can’t pronounce or spell.  I can use organic ingredients as much as possible and purchase items from local stores and farms that I want to support, instead of a big-box retailer.

Most things I cook wouldn’t be considered difficult, but aren’t in the category of 30-minutes or less, super fast or extremely easy.  But, I’d venture a guess that they taste better than packaged meals and are healthier.

Various people have put together stories about how they’ve cooked their way through a particular cookbook.  There’s Julie & Julia, where a woman cooked through one of Julia Child’s cookbooks.  There’s Alinea at Home, where she’s cooking her way through the massive Alinea cookbook.  I can’t even comprehend that.  But, I can see myself working through The Homemade Pantry and sharing my experiences with you.  Hopefully I can inspire you to make something from scratch, too.