Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Still Afraid of Cheese?

Try this:

Accidental Ricotta

1 gallon whole goat milk
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (or 1/8 cup lemon juice)
1 Tbs. Kosher salt

The equipment: stainless steel or ceramic pot to hold the milk, a larger pot to act as the double broiler, stainless steel spoon, candy thermometer, colander, cheese cloth

How to:
Prior to the process place cheese cloth in a colander and place colander in the sink.

1) Place milk in a double broiler and heat until almost boiling (approximately 195 degrees F).

2) Slowly add the cider vinegar while stirring.

You will see a change in the milk when enough vinegar is added. The liquid whey will separate from the solid curds. The curds will look like very small globules (a little like cottage cheese) floating in a yellowy liquid. If this does not happen after 1/4 cup of vinegar is added, slowly add another 1/8 cup.

3) Pour the contents of the pot into the cheese cloth and let drain 2 to 3 minutes

4) Add salt (or other spices of your choice) and gently stir into the ricotta

5) Knot the ends of the cheesecloth and hang the "bag" over the sink for an hour or two to continue draining.

Plan on pasta for dinner and use that fresh ricotta! Try this Accidental Ricotta with a little cilantro and parsley and an olive oil drizzle over fusilli.

Learning From Our Food

Okay, okay, if making cheese still intimidates you, remember this: short of setting it on fire, almost everything you do with milk is edible (as long as you, your stuff, and your milk are clean).

Dealing with fresh from the animal milk and making fresh from the press cheese is fairly exacting if you are expecting a specific result. If you are distracted and miss a temperature here and there, you need a little creative thinking to save the day. The milk itself is fairly flexible. It's the expectations that are unforgiving, as in expecting mozzarella and ending up with a dull tasting but tolerable spread. You'll have to jazz it up somehow before it's something you'd choose as a snack. On the other hand, some missteps can lead to pleasant surprises.

Accidental Ricotta usually gets its start with multitasking. I get too busy doing too many things when I am pasteurizing the milk from our goats. Sometimes the distraction involves the children, but other times (I confess!) it involves Facebook.

Pasteurizing is pretty simple. To kill the unwanted bugs in the milk, if any, you bring the milk up to 161 degrees Fahrenheit, then cool it down rapidly. It's an easy to follow procedure involving a double broiler, a thermometer, and ice water. What could go wrong? Well, too much heat (and too many friends online). It makes the milk flat, dull, and dead tasting. It's "good" for coffee and cooking with, but even that is questionable when there is a better option available in the next milking. How do we turn something that's tolerable into something that's good?

Transform it.

If it's not quite at 195 degrees yet, add some heat, then the vinegar, and voila! Accidental Ricotta. If it's boiled, let it cool down to the 195.

So how is life like this cheese? You may have thwarted expectations to begin with, but with some flexibility and extra effort, you can be pleasantly surprised.

Now really, Chris, was that last sentence necessary?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Try Something New--Make Some Cheese

Face it, everyone gets tremendous satisfaction from accomplishing new things. Science even tells you it's good for your brain. Try your hand at something incredibly easy, though meticulous, and enjoy the bragging rights: make cheese. Yes, cheese! Right in your own kitchen.

The following recipe makes a very tasty feta cheese that freezes well. Although I have to admit I have yet to try freezing and defrosting this cheese first hand. My family can hardly stay out of the fridge when there's feta to be had!

You can use the horrible tasting goat milk they sell in the stores for this cheese. The best option is, of course, fresh goat milk from a local source. Fresh milk will hold up to make a firmer cheese, but use what you can get.

The best part about making cheese is the cheese. Of course! You can eat the results. What better hobby can there be than one that produces something so good so cheaply? (Have you priced a good goat cheese lately?!) So try this out and whip up a salad for dinner, or even a vegetable soup, and toss in your masterpiece.

A word of caution: Whey is acidic, so use stainless steel (or ceramic) pots and utensils unless you don't mind an aluminum or plastic aftertaste.

1 gallon whole goat milk
1 package mesophillic starter*
1/2 tsp liquid rennet* dilluted in 1/4 cup unchlorinated water
2 to 4 tbs cheese salt or Kosher canning salt

Heat milk to 86 degrees F (place pan in hot water in sink--works great for low temps like this or in double boiler with flame on low), add starter, stir gently for 1 minute, cover, let set undisturbed for 1 hour.

Add diluted rennet, gently stir for 3 minutes. Cover and allow to set at 86 degrees for 1 hour.

Cut the curd into 1/2 inch cubes. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Gently stir the curds for 20 minutes (to prevent premature matting).

Pour the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Tie the corners of the cloth and let hang and drip for 4 hours (over the sink or over a large bowl).

Untie the cheesecloth, remove cheese and cut into 1 inch slices, then 1 inch cubes. Salt to taste and mix gently. (It is a salty cheese so don't be shy!)

Place in a covered bowl and let age in the fridge for 4 to 6 days. It may be eaten fresh, but the flavor ripens as it ages.

If you get a mushy cheese, add 1/8 tsp. calcium chloride* diluted in 1/4 cup water (again, unchlorinated if possible) to milk just prior to making the cheese again.

*go to www.hoeggergoatsupply.com or to www.Lehmans.com or possibly a local health food store for supplies.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Settle Down

Long Lost
By Christie Martin

After years
I send you
You send me
And sheaves

We read

If I held your look
I hold your words
I read you
In the aches and spaces

Does blood run
Black and white
Or laughter slip
like paper cuts
Along the fine seams
Between paper and skin?

Where, O where
have you been?

You know you are finally home when you watch your cousin give the weather report. I am finally in a place where I have roots. The region of the country where I now live is where my parents grew up and my extended family has always lived. It was a place I used to visit now and again. I grew up in a military family and moved several times in my childhood: less than some, but enough to get the habit well established. I continued the practice in my adult years.

I love to start over. I like the clean slate. I like introductions and the thrill of discovery. Everyone is on an even playing field at the beginning. The flaws in the turf have yet to be stumbled over. The wrestling of a friendship from an acquaintance is great sport.

Yet, it has cost me as I moved from pature to greener pasture. I have lost many contacts along the way. I have lived on two coasts and several states. My geography is pegged with longing for faces and voices out of reach in time and space.

Internet inventions like Facebook, e-mail, and even Google have given me the gift of reconnections. My life has been enriched by the reintroduction of those "I knew when." History is something we outrun, but it does catch up with us eventually.

History is to the culture like friendship is to the soul. We need to have an objective look now and then at who we were to fully understand who we are and who we may wind up being. Sometimes a change in direction is necessary. Sometimes, we need to come home, wherever that may be, put our feet to the fire and be quiet.

As unmoored as one single life can become at the loss of connections with the past, a culture can as easily be cast adrift. We have a human need to stay grounded in our past. From Frederick Douglas to John Adams from Socrates to the Apostle Paul, the writers who call to us out of history act as friends to the lumbering psyche of a people. They remind us of where we've been, the failed experiments we've already tried as well as the trials that have led to success. Like a truly good friend they can point out our habits and flaws along with our strengths and admirable qualities.

We need history. Without it we forget who we are and must reinvent ourselves. When we do that we run the risk of losing sight of who we were meant to be.

A Last Thought: "Because our expression is imperfect we need friendship to fill up the imperfections." G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, June 6, 1931.