Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Not so jammin'

So just a few updates on what I've been doing lately. As for my beloved ricotta salata I was trying to attempt, the curds were way too overcooked, and so they didn't press so well, giving me a cheese that was tasty, but really crumbly in texture and dry in an uneven way. Next time I'll definitely up the citric acid and hope I get better yields. But definitely not adding any more heat is the way to go. Hey, it was worth a shot though. Only cost me about the price of a gallon of milk and some time to experiment.

As for an earlier post involving my apple pectin stock, it did set up. Sort of. But when the big test came for it to be used as pectin stock in a black cherry with pinot noir jam recipe, I got....that's right, cherry sauce. So I now have lots of tasty, runny black cherry sauce and pretty much useless apple pectin stock (but decent apple jelly, if you like that sort of thing). Oh well, maybe I just need to resign myself to using a little bit of commercial pectin for certain recipes.

in other food epiphany news, on Friday I used a coupon at the new Bristol farms to buy some very pretty albacore tuna steaks since they looked good at the store, but wasn't sure what to do with them. I decided to lightly sear the top and bottom of each piece (after seasoning it with salt and pepper and adding toasted sesame seeds) till the inside was about med rare, and serving it with a wasabi compound butter on top. For a side, I did a personal house standard of shredded carrot and shredded radishes, sometimes thinly sliced green onion, with some ginger and rice vinegar (let sit for a bit to get everything all nice and vinegary). It was so incredibly good! And the wasabi butter part totally contrasted with the fish in a nice, smooth way. I love asian-style cuisine.

As you can see form the picture, it made quite a nice sight sitting on a plate. Of course, I'm still experimenting with good ways to take food pics, but now I have a new fancy camera to take better pics of. Yup, we finally succumbed to a new small, sexy camera, the Canon Powershot SD600. It's so pretty and shiny! But now I actually have to get better at taking food pics because I no longer have the "I have a crappy camera" excuse. Oh well, hopefully people won't be afraid to give me lots of tips.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Curds and Whey

Weekends appear to be my busy Amish times, because this time around I made cheese! I made ricotta again in order to make ricotta salata, which is a dry, salted ricotta that apparently is very good for eating out of hand. Right now its happily being pressed in the fridge, and will soon begin it's salting and aging process for the next few weeks.

I really hope it turns out because when I made it this time, I think I overcooked the curds. I was trying to get it not only to the curdle stage (which it did, beautifully), but also to the "no milky whey" stage like the book suggests. Alas, I still had milky whey, but I finally gave up when I realized the curds were turning a bit rubbery. I think perhaps I just need more curdling agent on the front end to maximize my yield from grocery store milk. Basically, the recipe is as follows (paraphrased courtesy of Home Cheesemaking, a great book by Ricki Carrol):

Whole Milk Ricotta
-1 gallon whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
-1 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated water
-1 tsp salt

Mix salt and citric acid solution together. Add to milk, stirring well. Heat milk slowly to 185-195 degrees (should take at least 20 min), stirring often to prevent scorching. Once curds and whey separate and no milky whey is left, turn off heat and let sit for 10 minutes undisturbed.

Gently transfer curds into butter muslin-lined colander , and hang for 20-30 minutes above bowl (to catch drips) until desired amount of whey has drained off. Store in sealed plastic container in fridge for up to 2 weeks, if it lasts that long.

Note: Citric acid can be ordered online (see link at left) or found in any homebrewing shop for beer or wine. Butter Muslin can be ordered online, or storebought cheesecloth can be folded several times over for drainage. Jersey cotton shirt material also works nicely. Just make sure holes aren't too large, or all the cheese will drain right through.

So next time I think I'll try adding 1 1/2 tsp of citric acid and see how that works. Hopefully my yield will improve without imparting too much of a rubbery texture

Monday, August 21, 2006

Jam Fever

Apparently the PTBs (powers-that-be, for all you Angel fans) have decided that my purpose in life is to make jam. Because all I seem to want to do these days is make lovely, delicious confitures. This weekend I made a few types of raspberry jam, all of which are very yummy. Besides plain raspberry, I made raspberry with lemon verbena and raspberry with star anise. The plain raspberry is very tasty and raspberry-ish, always a good basic jam. But the lovely and surprising thing is how different and good the other two flavors are. The lemon verbena one is all summer, with tart raspberries and hints of fresh lemon taste and smell. The star anise one reminds me of fall, with its faint hint of licorice and an earthiness I didn't know raspberries had.

How could I afford to use so many fresh, delicate, expensive raspberries for jam, you ask? Why, I used frozen of course! Stealing the idea from The Great Alton Brown, I have discovered how good using frozen fruit can be when making jams and jellies. After all, they are picked at the peak of freshness then frozen, so sometimes they're even better than fresh, hassle-wise.

And since this was apparently not enough confiture making for me, I felt the need to try my hand at a pectin stock/green apple jelly. After trying to contact local apple farmers in Julian to ask for unripe apples, and being rudely shot down, I decided to try and make the pectin stock with granny smith apples. Basically, you take 4 lb of apples, slice them (leave seeds and skin intact), and simmer for about 30 min in just enough water to reach top (about 6-7 cups). Once done, place mash in colander and collect juice. Then place mash into jelly bag and strain more thoroughly to get all the juice/pectin out. Once done straining, boil on stovetop with sugar (3/4 to 1 cup sugar per cup of juice) and juice of 1 lemon per 4 cups juice. Let boil down and reach jelling point (approx half will evaporate), place in jars, process and cool. Tadaa! Now you should have homemade pectin stock to use in place of prepared pectin from the store.

Or at least that's the idea. I made it last night, and I'm still not sure how well each jar will set up. It was still runny last night, but the jars were pretty warm, so maybe when it cools all will be good? Well, if not I'll have very very sweet apple juice that's a little thick. Maybe I could just label it apple juice concentrate and nobody will know what it should be. Well, I did add a handful of tiny black corinth grapes (labeled "champagne grapes" at Trader Joe's) to one of the jars and then added apple jelly mix, so maybe I'll have a cool new jelly thing to try.

Of course, the real sad thing was having to throw away the beautiful apple mush! Okay, so maybe only I think it's pretty, but that's cause I see its potential...applesauce! Oh, if only I had a food mill. Or the KichenAid fruit/veggie strainer. Or a food mill. Or a... okay, so the real problem is I'm not sure what would be best. On one hand, the food mill is decades old and guaranteed to work...but hand operated. And the KitchenAid attachment would be shiny and new and mixer operated...but maybe not clean as easy or work as well at straining things like blackberries. Any suggestiongs, for anyone who might be reading and knows of these things?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Greek attack!

So last night was our turn to host the Wed night revelry of friends, and I decided to make Greek food. Because I can never seem to get the timing right, I started prepping dishes a few days before, and I actually made a schedule of when everything needed to be done. Yes, I am a total dork, but it did work and I got dinner all ready to serve at the same time, by 7:30pm.

I made a delicious, and easy, Greek salad with cucumber, tomatoes, red onions, feta cheese and Greek olives (dressing: 1 part lemon juice to 2 parts olive oil, with dash oregano and minced clove of garlic and tbsp honey) which was excellent and fresh-tasting. I also made a spanakopita clone called a borek from a Turkish cookbook I checked out from the library. And if that wasn't enough, I made a lamb ragout in my awesome dutch oven. And of course, what's a night of Greek food without baklava! It was very yummy and very bad for me! But so worth it.

Overall, it was a great night with lots of yummy food and free-flowing wine and hanging out with great friends. I think I enjoy the Wed without Lost and ANTM more than with them simply because we can all just chat and relax with each other.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Cheese & Jam

I must say, the hardest thing about this blog (well, any writing) is how to start? I mean, since I don't post very often, a lot does tend to happen in my weeks away. Well, a lot for me anyway. Do I start by talking about the mozzarella cheese I made, and show everyone the yummy pics that I took during production? Or perhaps I can regale everyone with tales of my plum jam and the unfortunate cut that occurred? Or maybe talk about the cool new restaurant Kyle and I found that makes its own sausage?

Well, I guess I'll just start from the top, as I am a list person. About a week ago I made mozzarella cheese again, which is important because...I have pics to prove that it happened.

And of course, the cheese was tasty as always. Next time I really want to try and make feta cheese, so hopefully this coming weekend. What else, what else? Oh yes, I made plum jam as a friend of mine kept raving about her grandma's plum jam everytime I mentioned jam. So I decided to make some, since the stone fruit crop is really good this year, and alas, misfortune happened to me.

That's right, while chopping some plums, I decided to chop my thumb a bit too. Knife went right through the nail and started bleeding something fierce. Of course, my first thought was "no blood on the food!" so I was quickly able to avoid any blood on the food and get my thumb all wrapped up so I could finish the jam. So funny how anymore when I hurt myself, it's more an inconvenience than painful and all I can think of is how annoying cooking with a bandaid will be. The plums did get chopped, albeit slowly, and I managed to make plum jam with a bit of cinnamon in it.

I also just ordered a book by Christine Ferber, all on small batch, interesting jams (or confitures, how French!) and I can't wait to try new and exciting combinations.

Hmmm, what else? Well, Kyle's birthday was yesterday, and to celebrate over the last weekend, we went to a great place in North Park called The Linkery. Why is it called The Linkery? Well, they make their own sausage in house. I mean, how great is that! Plus, they're dedicated to local, sustainable produce with high quality for a reasonable price. And it was all very, very tasty. Someday, when I have more room, I can make my own sausage and truly become a Renaissance woman of the hearth. Most people think I'm crazy, and I can't really tell them I'm not, because I do know how odd it is that I have started making my own cheese and jam and want to make sausage and someday learn how to butcher meat, and all sorts of other stuff. Oh well, maybe I really am "Amish" like my friends tease me :)