Monday, November 8, 2010

You see milk, I see cheese....

Never have I considered that cheesemaking is something I would try, frankly it sounds rather crazy, even though I now know I have actually been part of it! The story begins in a round-about way, for my birthday (back in September) I was given a Rocco DiSpirito cookbook, Rocco's Italian American, it has beautiful color photos in it of mozzarella being hand pulled, I was curious, searched the index and found no recipe for making mozzarella....well I couldn't stop there! I started Googling around and found Ricki Carroll's fantastic website, when I saw the '30 Minute Mozzarella' recipe I knew I had to try it. So I kept digging and found out that I would need some very specific supplies, away I went, clicking my way to a Cheesemaking Kit (yup that has crazy written all over it!).

While waiting for my shiny new cheesemaking kit to arrive I started reading up on the history of cheese, both in Ricki's book Home Cheese Making and online. Being a food nerd is something I am not ashamed of and frankly reading about the history of cheese was pretty fascinating.

Cheese is ancient (technically speaking), dating back to times before recorded history, potentially as far back as 6,000 B.C.E. According to The, cheese was part of the Sumerian diet, 4000 years before the birth of Christ, made from both cows’ and goats’ milk and stored in tall jars. Egyptian tomb murals circa 2000 B.C.E. show butter and cheese being made, and other murals which show milk stored in skin bags suspended from poles demonstrate a knowledge of dairy husbandry.

Cheese is made in virtually every country on earth and is created with a multitude of animals' milk, ranging from the reindeer in Scandinavia, the boar in Africa, the water buffalo in Italy, the yak in Tibet, the mare in Russia to the cows, goats and sheep we all know.

I'm not just going to ramble on about the history of cheese, the point is, every culture, every country and nearly every animal has some kind of cheese associated with it. Two things that are key to making your own cheese, good, fresh milk and not using ultra-pasteurized milk. In Texas we are very lucky to have great local milks available to us, this time we used Promised Land Dairy Whole Milk, it's a pleasure to have such great Texas products available to us and it made a delightful choice for our first attempt at cheesemaking.

The instructions for making this cheese come directly from Ricki Carroll's website but you'll note that you won't find these ingredients at your local grocery store, for that you'll need to go to a supplier who stocks cheesemaking supplies (my recommendation is of course, I won't go into the detail here but instead suggest you check out the link I've connected and will share our photos instead.

First we had to heat up the milk with citric acid, temperature is key so we had a thermometer constantly at hand.

Then we added rennet and let it sit for a few minutes, after it reached a solid state we sliced through it and we mixed it slowly bringing it back up to temperature.

At this point the curds and whey become so clearly cheese-like it got very exciting to be able to see some semblance of the product.

After more time we had to don plastic gloves and begin to press the whey out and bring the cheese to an even higher temperature.

Once it was hot enough it was ready to stretch, the fun part.

Finally, the finished product!

We had a fantastic time making the mozzarella, it was such a cool experience to see it come together in such a short amount of time and is a truly unique thing to produce your own cheese. I can't wait to try other recipes and to further explore this niche of cooking that is really a combination of science, cooking and art that I had no idea would be so easy to experiment with.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Farmer's Market Inspired Focaccia.

We enjoy attending local Farmer's Markets though out Central Texas on the weekends. There is one booth which always intrigues us when we are lucky enough to run across it. One of the Farmer's Market vendor lives in the Texas Hill Country & drives into the Austin area weekly with fresh baked breads. The breads are fabulous & full of fresh & local ingredients. One of our favorites is the fresh baked Focaccia bread. We were especially drawn to the Mushroom Focaccia. So when we found Texas Fresh baby portabella mushrooms there was little question what we would bake up using the local mushrooms. A quick scan though the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book (more on this book later...)left us with a great recipe choice for an easy Focaccia bread which would complement the mushrooms as well as our other choice toppings. We actually had enough dough to make more than one Focaccia bread & made a variety of toppings however our favorite hands down was the Mushroom & Garlic.

From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Olive Oil Dough

Makes 4-1lb loaves.

2-3/4 cups lukewarm water
1-1/2 tablespoon granulated yeast
1-1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Toppings: Garlic, Rosemary, Sea salt, Pancetta, Sun dried Tomatos, Roasted red pepper, mushrooms are a few choices, use your imagination.

Mix the yeast, salt, sugar, and olive oil with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

Mix in the flour without kneading. I used my stand mixer with dough hook, but you can use a spoon (I used a fork).

Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and colapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours. I loosely placed plastic wrap on top of the bowl & laid a clean tea towel over the top to keep the dough warm.

The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 12 days. We used all of the dough to make 4 nice sized Focaccia breads.

Preheat the oven to 425* Each 1 pound (*grapefruit size portion) of the dough will make 1 Focaccia flat bread. Each Focaccia will make 6 - 8 appetizer sized portions.

Grease a cookie sheet with olive oil or line with parchment paper. We made our entire batch so experimented using a baking stone with a dusting of cornmeal underneath 2 of the Focaccia breads & 2 others we baked on cookie sheets greased lightly with olive oil.

Preparing the Focaccia with toppings

Dust surface of refrigerated dough with flour (the grapefruit sized pieces, you should have 4) Quickly shape the piece into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all 4 sides, rotating until the piece fits onto cookie sheet or baking stone. Flatten it into 1/2 in. thick round using your hands. With greased finger tips make dimples into the dough. Let dough rest briefly while toppings are prepared. We used slices of garlic, roasted red peppers, fresh rosemary, mushrooms which had been sauteed & pancetta. Arrange toppings over the surface of the prepared Focaccia dough. Once the breads/toppings are arranged sprinkle coarse sea salt, a few teaspoons of parmesan cheese & drizzle with olive oil(approx 1 tsp per bread) Place the cookie sheet/baking stone in the center of the oven. Bake 25 minutes. Cut into wedges & serve warm.

If you enjoy Artisan Breads in the store & wondered how you could make them, try picking this wonderful book up: Check Here

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Agua Frescas from deep in the Heart~

Drink your water! Did you drink enough water today? The resounding demand during the hot summer months is to drink your H2O. We all know we don't drink enough & our bodies need it. Over the weekend we were in San Antonio working outside in the heat during an Estate/Yard sale (what were we thinking it's August in Texas???) We all thought we were drinking liquids a plenty but not nearly enough for the heat & the moving, packing, dragging & lifting of multiple boxes of dishware, etc... Later in the day we all wondered why we hadn't forced more liquid down. Seriously, we are all smarter than that!! (Chapter 3 vs 6 of thou shalt not perish in the Texas heat all about staying hydrated...)

In Mexico the answer to quenching a thirst is often found in the Vitrolero, the large glass barrels sold from street carts & in mercados. Some restaurants will actually offer the Agua del dia free with a meal. Agua Fresca simply put means Fresh Water. So perfect this heavenly combination of water & fresh fruits, surely it must be difficult...the aguas are colorful & refreshing beyond belief. Agua Frescas are a perfect compliment to the spicy foods found in Latin American cuisine, in fact many countries have a version of Agua Fresca.

Watermelon Agua Fresca ~ Agua de Sandía con Menta

2 cups ripe Watermelon,
1/4 cup Sugar
4 cups Water
4 Tbsp. Mint

Cut melon into cubes & de-seed if not using a seedless variety. Place melon cubes into blender with 1 cup of water. Blend till the consistency is very fine. Add mint & sugar. Continue blending 1 minute more. Slowly add 1 more cup of water. Pour this mixture into a pitcher adding the remaining water. In Mexico this mixture is either strained or served with pulp. It is your choice. We enjoy the bits & pieces. Chill, serve over ice & garnished with mint leaves (optional).

**Also shown is a fresh squeezed lemon juice over sparkling water.

An old fashioned juicer makes this summer cooler a little more authentic~

Lemon Raspberry Refesca

14 oz pureed & strained Raspberries
4 Lemons of Lemons,
1/4 cup Sugar
Sparkling Water
Lemon Peel, sliced & twisted

Strain Raspberry pulp & lemon juice. Mix in sugar till sugar is incorporated. Pour 1/4 cup Raspberry, Lemon mixture in glass, add ice. Pour sparkling water over ice, garnish with lemon twist & serve immediately.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Gulf Dazed ~

We might be a little dazed & still confused but Gulf coast seafood & beach fans are in it for the long haul.

Recently the Gulf of Mexico has taken a licking & somehow kept on ticking. The eternal rhythm of the sand & sea is difficult to resist even during the summer of 2010. A summer which has kept the country riveted on deep ocean activities of the struggles between man & natural elements. No one knows the ultimate environmental scope of the oil spill in the Gulf but we all know a delicate eco-habitat has been impacted. Even greater are the lives which depend on this delicate balance of man versus nature.

Having lived on or near the Gulf of Mexico most of our lives the struggles, successes & natural disasters are very much a part of life. For better or for worse there is a strong kinship & those living along the Gulf coast are in it for life.

One of our favorite vendors at the Farmer's Market is bringing the best from the Gulf of Mexico to kitchens across Texas. Roberto San Miguel of San Miguel Seafood strives to keep Texans supplied with the best the Gulf of Mexico has to offer. His passion is fresh seafood & it shows. On a recent trip to Austin Anthony Bourdain was quoted as calling San Miguel's seafood "screamingly fresh". Most locals would concur. Why buy a product which has been caught & frozen as far away as the Indian Ocean, then shipped when our own coastline is so much closer. Buying local keeps the struggling Gulf coast fishermen doing what they do best.

Shrimp Stuffed Jalapenos

10 Large Gulf Shrimp(26-30)
10 Large Jalapeno Peppers
10 strips of Gouda Cheese, 1 in, shorter than length of pepper.
Bacon strips, 5 cut into halves

Remove shells & large back vein from shrimp. Cut off top of Jalapenos, remove seeds while keeping the jalapeno intact. Slide shrimp & cheese slice into Peppers. Wrap 1/2 slice of bacon around pepper, secure with toothpick & set upright into a pepper grilling rack or set onto foil over grill. When bacon is cooked & pepper is slightly grilled remove from heat & serve immediately. Yield 10 appetizers.

Jumbo Gulf Shrimp with Sweet Chilli Sauce

24-Jumbo Gulf shrimp, cleaned & tail left intact
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. black pepper
pinch of sea salt
Olive oil
Sweet Chilli Sauce, we use Mae Ploy (whatever is easiest to find)

Clean & skewer shimp through the center of the shrimp so the can stack up on wooden skewers sideways. Season with Garlic, sea salt, pepper & drizzle with olive oil. Keep chilled & sit for 30-45 min. Pan sear on wooden skewers over med/high heat on both sides (about 2 mins on each side or till pink & still tender.) Remove from heat, place skewers on plate & drizzle with Sweet Chilli Sauce. Do not use too much sauce. It can always be served with more sauce but the real flavor here is the shrimp, not the sauce. Enjoy! Serves 4.

"A man is never lost at sea." The Old Man and the Sea