Manchego

Because of the heat and humidity I haven’t had many opportunities to make cheese lately.  I’m missing my hobby, that’s for sure.  However, a couple of weeks back we had a day break in this stifling Georgia summer and I happened to have a couple extra gallons of milk on hand, so I spent the day making a type of cheese called manchego, and boy and I ever glad I did – it’s my new favorite!

Manchego is traditionally a sheep’s milk cheese (from the manchego sheep)  that’s native to the Toledo plain of Spain.  The cheese is very creamy and comes in four distinctive stages of ripeness.  Manchego fresca is aged for 5 days or fewer.  Manchego curado is aged for 3 – 12 weeks.  Manchego viejo is aged for 3 – 12 months.  And Manchego aceite is aged in olive oil for more than a year.   This type of cheese is also a brined cheese, which means that no extra salt is added to the curds before pressing, but the entire pressed wheel is soaked for several hours in a saturated brine solution and then oiled for aging (instead of being waxed).

The process of making this type of cheese is similar to that of cheddar, Monterey jack, and other hard cheeses.  As this was my first batch of manchego I used cow’s milk and not sheep’s milk (Vestal and Gabi aren’t in production yet anyway), however the finished product was still awesome, if not a bit on the mild side. One of the things I love about traditional manchego is the distinctive sweet, nutty flavor.  Sheep’s milk is very sweet and creamy, and it contains twice the butterfat as the same volume of cow’s and/or goat’s milk, which also produces a higher yielding cheese.

**Fun Trivia Fact: In the U.S. the majority of manchego produced is made with cow’s milk as dairy sheep are uncommon.**

As with many cheeses, manchego uses a hot-water bath method, however I must confess, I didn’t follow the instructions entirely (imagine that!).  I have a very difficult time with the whole fill the sink with hot water routine so I decided to create a water jacket.  I placed my pressure canner pot on the stove and then nestled my stockpot inside of it, leaving about an inch space between the two pots.  It worked perfectly, and was much less wasteful in the water department as well.  I felt I was able to obtain a much more consistent temperature throughout the cooking process, which resulted in a creamier wheel of cheese.

Homemade manchego is definitely our new favorite cheese, and once the girls are in production I’ll likely be making extra to sell in our farm store – so stay tuned.  Yum!

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The cake stand

Several years ago I inherited this beautiful cake stand from my Oma; and with the exception of a baby shower or dessert party I rarely have the opportunity to use it.  It’s  by far one of my favorite pieces of glassware and has a designated spot on my buffet.  The etching is immaculately crisp, and yet the design is simple.  The flowers are randomly placed around the globe, and every time I gaze at it I feel as if I’m looking out onto a wildflower meadow.

I have no idea how my Oma came to possess such a delicate cake stand, but I can imagine her assembling an extra tall Black Forest cake on it, or a German chocolate cake slathered in thick caramel-coconut-nut frosting.  I myself have used this stand for a strawberry margarita tall-cake, with fluffy strawberry pink cream cheese frosting, and artistically topped off with plump, juicy, bright red strawberries.  It was beautiful and tasty, and I can imagine that my Oma would have winked her approval had she seen the masterpiece.

Yesterday, as I was tidying up the house, the summer sunlight spilled through my front windows, glinting off the cake globe, showering rainbows across my dining room wall.  And in that  moment, I knew I needed to make a cake, even if it was just to display in my Oma’s cake stand.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been hankerin’ for a Tortuga rum cake, and I thought to myself as I admired the sparkling globe, what better way to honor my Oma and her cake stand than to put one of the most flavorful, moist, scrumptious cakes under that etched glass.  I just love random inspirations!  The end result is a cake that looks better than it tastes (I used too much rum in this batch), but never-the-less, I felt honored to see my Oma’s beautiful cake stand sitting on my kitchen table, plumb full of cake; and it made me feel especially close to her today.

Exodus bread

Its been ages since I posted a new recipe on this site, and sadly, that’s really an accurate reflection of how my cooking has gone lately as well.  We’ve recently found ourselves in a cooking and eating rut.  Familiarity has become the norm around our house.  I could blame it on all the summertime chores, but in reality I think it’s just plain old-fashioned laziness.  However, there is a super quick and easy bread recipe I’d like to share with you today – I call it Exodus bread and its become a staple on our dinner table.

“So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing….With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.” Exodus 12:34 & 39

For years I’ve often wondered just what kind of bread the people of the Bible ate.  I’m pretty sure Wonder bread wasn’t available, and I know they didn’t have a Whisper Mill either.   Its only been in the last 60 years that kamut wheat has been reintroduced – thanks in part to King Tut and that amazing tomb find.  So what was ancient bread like?  Was it light and fluffy?  What it flat and gritty?  Was it sweet or savory?  Was it baked in an oven or on a flattened stone griddle?  Did it store well?  Frankly, I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know is at one point in time (during the Israelites exodus from Egypt) it was baked without yeast – and still is today during Passover.  But that’s really all I know about this bread, except that it might be the best bread in the history of quick bread.  Here’s how it came together.

Shortly after I started grinding my own wheat I found myself craving bread for lunch; and lo and behold there was no bread to be found in the house.  On a whim I decided to make a flatbread.  I wanted something similar to a tortilla or a naan bread, but not either of those things.  I didn’t want to use any leavening in it at all,and I certainly wasn’t interested in digging out the shortening or kneading a batch of dough.  I wanted something quick, savory, and small.  Thus, the birth of my Exodus bread.

I plugged in the ol’ Kitchen Aid; added the grinder attachment and grabbed about a cup of wheat berries (soft white, for those of you who know the difference and/or care).  Once the berries were transformed into soft, fluffy, finely ground flour, I poured in a good amount of olive oil, added some kosher salt, and enough water to make a soft dough.  I noticed as I stirred there seemed to be too much oil in the dough – oh well, guess the breads would be heavy.  I patted out two discs – not too thin but not too thick either – about the size of a salad plate and threw them onto a hot (dry) skillet.  The oil immediately began to sizzle on the hot iron and I’ve since discovered that having “too much” oil is really a key to keeping this bread light, tender and pliable.  Within seconds the smell of hot bread began to rise and fill my kitchen.  Once the bottom was browned and had a few welts on it I flipped the bread and cooked the opposite side.  At this point it resembled a thick tortilla and I was certain this had been a major waste of ingredients.

Removing the bread from the griddle, I tore off a small piece – unsure of what to expect.  The texture was amazing.  Grainy and soft, with a lovely nutty aroma and a slightly salty flavor – and not oily tasting what so ever.  It was love at first bite for sure.  I raved to Sam for three days about how good the breads were.  Later that same week I fixed another batch to go with our dinner, and Sam became as hooked as I was.  This has definitely become our everyday bit of bread.  It goes well with just about everything, and the ingredients are staples in my pantry (freshly ground flour, olive oil, kosher salt, and water).  The entire process takes about 15 minutes and makes a great week night addition to any meal.

My tastebuds have taken a growth spurt!

Most of you know that my passion in life is cooking and eating.  I love nothing more than to spend a day over the stove cooking and baking a feast for my family and friends.  I love holiday entertaining – tons of family and friends, everyone laughing and making memories, and lots and lots of food.  Shoot, I love cooking for people at any time of the year – it doesn’t just have to be around a holiday! Food is a common denominator no matter your age, sex, race, background, or religious/political beliefs.  If we can sit down to a meal together as friends then who needs enemies?!

However, like most people I’ve had my share of battles at the dinner table – and not just as a kid either.  I really pride myself on not being a picky eater normally – you don’t get to the size I am by being so.  But there are used to be a few foods that I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.  For example, you couldn’t pay me enough money to willingly eat spinach, or any kind of cooked green for that matter.  Lima beans literally gagged me.  Hominy – I don’t even want to go there.  I was certain that artichokes were actually poisonous.  Tofu…well, this is a family site so I won’t even describe what I thought about that stuff.  Liver wasn’t going to come anywhere near my mouth.  And mushrooms of any kind were both taste and texturally insurmountable.  And I’m sure that if I sat here long enough I could come up with several more foods that I’m not crazy about.  Lamb comes to mind…

Anyway; as a kid, I wasn’t allowed to be a picky eater.  My Mom’s philosophy (she was right on the mark, by the way) was, take a bite or two of everything – keep an open mind about it – and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back for seconds.  I’m so glad that she instilled this belief in me and didn’t allow me to be a baby when it came to foods I didn’t (think) I was going to like.  In recent years, this has become one of my pet peeves – people (adults and kids) not willing to give foods a try because they *think* they’re not going to like it.

Now I’ll admit that there were plenty of times that I actually didn’t like the food, but I was able to be polite about it and at least try it.  And there were also plenty of times when I thought I wasn’t going to like something because it ‘looked’ gross where I actually quite enjoyed the food.  Had I never been made to eat it, I would have missed out on some of life’s greatest tastes – Indian food comes to mind – some of the smells alone can put you off eating for months if you let it.  And, as a pastor’s wife I’ve certainly been invited to my share of dinner gatherings where I wasn’t in control of the food, and often included foods that I really didn’t like (green bean casserole for example is on every church potluck supper table – and usually multiple pans of it!).  For the most part, I’ve been able to ‘choke down’ the gross foods, and smile while doing it.  Thank you Mom!

I’m happy to report that in the past couple of years it seems my taste buds have done a bit of growing up.  Well, except for the liver.  But to be honest about it, I did ask Sam to cook some up for us at the first opportunity as I’ve actually been craving it.  I know, weird huh?!  He’ll have to cook it outside though – I’m not having that smell in my house for the next month!

In truth, I’m very glad about this sudden change in tastes.  I’ve been enjoying sautéed mushrooms in as many things as I can.  I’m in love with spinach and artichoke dip.  I make a wicked green bean casserole – albeit a very non-traditional one at that.  I think greens go quite well with a variety of foods – pasta especially.  And the liver, well, it’ll get its chance soon enough to prove to me how tasty it really is.

What about you?  What foods do you find yourself digging into lately that would never have crossed your fork before?

FRESH the movie

This morning as we’re getting ready for church, Sam comes bounding up the stairs nearly giddy with excitement over a new movie that’s coming out this spring called FRESH (<—–CLICK on the name to see the official website and to watch the trailers).  The movie is a happier spin-off of Food, Inc., and after watching the previews I’m so excited for it to come out.

In the past eighteen months, both Sam and I have radically changed our way of thinking in regard to the food we eat and grow.  When we moved to Georgia in 2008 we began vegetable gardening as a way to fill Sam’s sleddog void, and for something for me to do during my days at home.  With our first plateful of truly vine-ripened tomatoes back in 2008 we were hooked, and decided we wanted to try and grow all our own fresh produce.  That began a three-year plan to become completely vegetable and fruit self-sufficient.

However, in the last year or so, we’ve become increasingly and alarmingly aware of the dangers of the rest of the foods we regularly consume.  Things like “healthy” eggs, skim and 1% milk, “trans-free” margarine, “diet” sodas and “vitamin water” mix-ins, “whole wheat” pastas and breads, “low-fat” fruited yogurts and ice creams, etc.  As we began reading labels and considering how chemically, sugar, sodium, and MSG packed our diets had become (even in the foods we’ve been led to believe were healthy for us) we began to understand our various health ailments – things like slow weight loss (and in most cases weight gain), heart palpitations, kidney problems, muscle aches, migraines, water retention and bloating, and a variety of other issues I won’t bore you with.  Suffice it to say, that Food, Inc. opened our minds and eyes to what we should have seen all along, and yet didn’t because it has been elaborately veiled from us by those who stand to make the most money off of what we’re eating.

The bottom line for us is, we’re taking control.  We’re fighting back.  No longer are we content to sit back and just shrug our shoulders in defeat.  God created this brilliant ball of green-space just for us, His creation.  And, not only did he entrust us with this magnificent rock, but He even gave us a manual for living, eating, and caring for it (we like to call it the Bible).  So we will rake and hoe the soil.  We will plant seeds and trees and care for them.  We will harvest and preserve and pickle until our fingers are green and wrinkled.  We will grow our own rabbits, chickens, and beef, and we will eat it all.  We will hunt more.  We will make our own butter, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, clotted cream, and other dairy products.  We will grow our own grains and we will grind them and make our own breads and cakes.  And we are going to become beekeepers as well.   And we will do it all (or as much as possible) without hormones, steroids, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and in God’s timing, not our own.   We have determined to live our life as stewards of God’s creation, not manipulators of it.  I hope you’ll consider joining the revolution too.

I have one word for you…

Cheese. 

That’s it.  That’s all I have to say.  Have a lovely day.

Ha!  Right, if only I could say what I wanted to with one word, this blog would be a whole lot shorter, and I’d probably have a lot more readers!  But, that’s just not me.  I’m just plain wordy, in case you hadn’t noticed.

So cheese it is…or rather, it was.  It didn’t last long, that’s for sure.   My latest cooking adventures have involved milk, acids, and rennet.  And can I just say that cheesemaking isn’t as difficult as one would think.  Truly there is no mystery involved in it – it’s milk people, how scary is that?!

There is a lot of waiting though.  I mean, a lot of waiting.  You wait for the milk to come up to temperature.  Then you wait for the curds to form.  Then you wait for the whey to go clear.  Then you wait while the cheese is draining.  Then you wait while it is in the press (if you’re pressing your cheese that is).  And finally, you wait for months for your cheese to properly age before you can even get a sample taste (again, this is for aged cheeses, which really are the best ones).  Waiting.  Lots and lots of waiting.  It’s very demanding – I highly recommend it.

Other than that, cheesemaking is simple, fun, inexpensive, and can be done using store-bought whole milk (that’s not what I used, but that’s what the recipes all call for – so anyone can make cheese at home).   I purchased all my supplies (except for the milk, of course) from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company and have been completely happy with the products, the instructions, and all the free stuff they sent as well.

Like Sam with his micro-brewing, I can see this as my new favorite hobby, especially since we now have the opportunity for our own source of fresh milk….but those details will be coming in a later post (or you can pop over to Our Edible Suburb and check out the latest farm news).  Let me just offer a teaser though….if you want to see us, you’ll have to come to Georgia as there won’t be much traveling in our future!

Science Fair 101

In the last couple of weeks Sam and I have been playing around with a bunch of different recipes, and not just recipes for food.

Sam has successfully bottled his first batch of home-brew, which tastes exactly like a German-style light beer.  I used most of a bottle of it yesterday in some beer biscuits.  They were tasty as well, but what I liked most was the texture of the biscuits – they were the lightest, fluffiest, most scrumptiously delicate biscuits I’ve ever made, and I’ve made a lot of really good biscuits in my time.  I believe I’ve accidentally discovered an amazing biscuit making secret that I’ll share at a later date after I’ve thoroughly tested it.  Lets just say, it’s not rocket science, but it’s not something I’ve ever thought of before….

I’ve also been continuing my experiments with fresh ground wheat in breads.  So far I’ve only managed one roll recipe that I thought was really good.  The breads all taste alright, but they don’t have my usual fluffy and picture perfect look to them.  I’ve tried hand-kneeding, mixer-kneeding, and bread machine-kneeding, and the tops keep sinking when I cook them.  Also the texture is just too dense and bland for me.  I’m going to persevere though and find a fail proof recipe that I’ll be able to share here, because I know all of you are just looking for an excuse to go out and use your tax refund money to buy a grain mill!

Another experiment I’ve managed is making my own laundry soap and multi-purpose cleaner.   The cleaner was a cinch – distilled vinegar, water, and rubbing alcohol – no rocket science there.  The laundry soap was also not difficult to put together and since today is laundry day the soap is being field-tested as I type this out.  My first two loads of laundry seem to be just as clean, and maybe even more fresh than when I use regular, commercially produced laundry soap; minus the cost, artificial coloring, and added fragrance of course.  The clothes are white, clean, soft, and feel residue free, so I’m excited.  The recipe is super simple and only requires three readily available ingredients, plus a couple gallons of water.  I’ll post all the details here soon for those of you who are interested in trying your hand at a piece of homemade life!

And the granddaddy of experiments is going to happen in the next couple of days.  I’m going to begin making my own cheese.  Since locating an awesome, local source of fresh, raw, cow’s milk I’ve become incredibly interested in making my own cheese.  I love cheese and could eat it at every meal.  But the cost of cheese just won’t allow me to do that.  And all the preservatives, artificial colorings and flavorings just put me off too.  Not to mention the animal cruelty associated with commercial and factory farming – yes, even commercial dairy farms are cruel and disgusting places for both the workers and the cows.  Since I’m brand new at home cheesemaking I’ve decided to do something not like me – I’m going to start simple instead of diving into the hardest types of cheeses to make (that’d be the mold enhanced cheeses like blues, white, and red-bacteria cheeses).  This week I’ll be making fresh cream cheese as well as 30-minute mozzarella cheese.  I promise to post the results here.

Cheese trivia: Did you know that traditional (and authentic) buffalo mozzarella cheese comes from the milk of………..water buffaloes?  I did not know that, but I guess it makes perfect sense – hence the name ‘buffalo’ mozzarella.  In India people do not use (or eat) any products from cows as they’re sacred animals, but everyone has at least one water buffalo tied to the front of their house.  When Sam was in India a few years back he ate tons of water buffalo cheeses (not mozzarella though), butter, yogurt, milk, and meat.  He didn’t like it very much.  He said it had a stronger, soured, more ‘musky’ flavor to it.  It might have had something to do with the fact that the entire country smells like urine, but I can’t be sure….I know it’s gross, but I’m just sayin’….

So that’s what’s been happenin’ around our place in the past couple of weeks.  What new things have you tried lately?