Saturday, October 22, 2011

Making fresh mozzarella

It's not much to look at, but it sure is tasty...
Over the past few years, I've been delving into making my own fresh cheeses. One of my favorites is fresh mozzarella, I enjoy it with tomatoes as a caprese snack, or for my boyfriend to use on his homemade Neapolitan style pizza.

I find it takes about an hour requires some basic supplies, and it's very rewarding. Here are the hardest things to find:
  • Citric Acid (I get it from the beer brewing supply store, but it's also readily available from Indian grocers)
  • Rennet (Rennet or Junket can be found with the canning supplies at the grocery, or get liquid rennet from a cheese shop, mine's made from Stinging Nettel)
  • Good milk, I like to get Strauss milk from the local grocers in San Francisco
I like to use this recipe as a guide, but here's the gist:

  1. Boil water for stretching as you start heating the curd. 
  2. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid to 1/2c water, add this to 1 gallon of milk.
  3. Stir gently, lifting up & down until the milk comes to 90 degrees.
  4. After the rennet is added (3-5 drops of my 3x rennet or 1/8 tsp, in 1/8c water), don't touch it.
  5. To test if the curd has set (about 5 min), check with very clean fingers - it should feel similar to silken tofu.
  6. Cut the curd into cubes using your knife vertically, and your spoon horizontally through the curd.
  7. Strain the curd by scooping it carefully into the colander.
  8. Save some of the whey for storing the cheese.
  9. Take a small scoop of cheese curd (I use a small 1/4 or 1/8 measuring cup), and lower it into very hot salty water. The salt in the water is your only real chance to add any salty flavor the cheese.
  10. Once the cheese has heated up, gently stretch it a few times with your fingers. This will give you a very delicate cheese. 

    1. Knead it more if you want a thicker cheese for shredding. 
    2. You might want to wear rubber gloves if your hands are sensitive. This helps form it into a ball, like you see at the store.
  11. Salt the whey, and store the balls in the whey in the fridge.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dessert... on angels wings

When it comes to cake, my favorite is angel food. It's light and airy, simple and straightforward, and not too sweet or too rich so you can enjoy a nice big slice. Making such a delicate cake from scratch might seem daunting, but really the hardest part is simply beating the egg whites into submission.

Here are a few tricks I've found that make all the difference:

  1. I save the extra egg whites from all the dishes that call for yolks (cakes, cookies, choux pastry, egg nog). I separate the whites into a small bowl, then when I am confident no yolk (yellow) got into the egg white, I put it into a small glass jar that I keep in the freezer. If the yolk broke don't use it for angel food, it won't whip up right.
  2. Start with nearly room temperature degree egg whites, it really does make all the difference when whipping them. So give them time to warm up a bit.
  3. Make sure the bowl and whisk are squeaky clean! Grease prevents the whites from whipping up properly.
  4. Sifting the dry goods really does make a difference, you can use a screen-type strainer but don't skip this step.
  5. If you don't already have a stand mixer, call in some reinforcements to help you hold the hand mixer - your arm will thank you.
  6. Use a dash of amaretto! It adds a really nice warmth to the final cake, and doesn't taste like almonds at all.
  7. Don't grease the pan! It will end in flat, dense ruin.
Here's my favorite recipe for angel food cake, from scratch.

My favorite is to enjoy it with whipped cream and fresh blueberries, or as pictured topped with sweet, tangy rhubarb sauce - or a plain slice for breakfast! 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

In search of the perfect margarita

5 of us assembled - in search of the perfect margarita, that blend of sour and sweet, of agave and lime, of tequila and truth.

We gathered a range of tequila, both blancos and reposados ranging from the accessible Jose and Sauza Gold to the more high brow Legunas Blanco or el Espolón Reposado. We conducted an evening full of experimentation and mixology permutations to identify a few tenants of margarita mixing:
  1. Just because something tastes great as a sipping tequila doesn't mean that complexity makes a good margarita..
  2. Agave syrup (1:1 nectar to water) is the best sweetener for a tequila.
  3. Salt (in moderation) on the outside of the rim does add to the margarita's flavor and long term drink-ability, diminishing bitter notes and smoothing out the acid from the lime.
The Outcome
We preferred 3:2:1 as a good unsweetened margarita ratio, and the 6-4-3-1 ratio for sweetened. Where the ingredients include Tequila, Cointreau, Fresh squeezed (strained) lime juice, and possibly agave syrup.

The favorite unsweetened margarita
1.5oz el Espalón Reposado tequila
1oz Cointreau
.5oz fresh squeezed lime juice (strained to remove pulp)

Pour over 4 fresh whole ice cubes in a boston shaker
Shake vigorously
Strain immediately through a fine mesh strainer 
into a lightly salted martini glass

The favorite sweetened margarita
1.5oz el Espalón Reposado tequila
1oz Cointreau
.75oz fresh squeezed lime juice (strained to remove pulp)
.25oz agave syrup

Pour over 4 fresh whole ice cubes in a boston shaker
Shake vigorously
Strain immediately through a fine mesh strainer 
into a lightly salted martini glass

Our method
We carefully measured & mixed 15 margarita samples, sharing each 5 ways in small tasting glasses, half rimmed in salt. Each margarita was shaken with 4 large fresh ice cubes (melty broken ice is a drink killer!).

Testing Ratios - First researched all the various recommended ratios from different sources. We mixed 3 ratios of tequila: Cointreau: lime: unsweetened 3:2:1, 7:4:3, and 3:1:1; followed by tequila: Cointreau: lime:simple syrup 6:4:3:1, 4:2:2:1 using Tequila Legunas Blanco.  We found Legunas Blanco to be a very nice sipping tequila, all of these drinks had an unpleasant slightly metallic, peppery note.

Testing Tequilas - We then chose our 2 preferred unsweetened ratios, 3:2:1 and 7:4:3, and our favorite sweetened 6:4:3:1 to try with el Espalón Reposado and Jose Cuervo Silver Especial.

After comparing our notes on these 11 combinations we came to the difficult conclusion that while the Legunas Blanco was delightful for sipping, it didn't play nice with others, and brought a metallic, bitter flavor to the party. All of us, being scotch and whiskey lovers were drawn to the depth and aged flavors of a margarita made with the reposado.

But wait, there's more!

Testing Sweeteners - We then tackled the question of what sweetener to use. We compared the 6:4:3:1 mix with the el Espolón Reposado using simple syrup made with white sugar, simple syrup made with turbinado sugar, and agave syrup (1:1 agave nectar and water). For good measure, we also re-tried our preferred silver tequila (Jose Cuervo Silver Especial) with the same sweeteners. Hands down, agave sweetener was the best, lending a sweetness with subtle herbal notes and blending nicely with the tequila and lime to form a heavenly elixir.

Breaking out the blender!
For our margarita hunt, we kept it classy, limiting ourselves to hand shaken margaritas served neat. But sometimes you need to break out the blender and mix yourself a pitcher of frosty blended margaritas!

Here's my tried & true recipe for making a tasty blender margarita (complete with secret recipe!); it's great for parties!

Blended Margarita
6oz. not-fancy tequila (I use Sauza Gold)
6oz. frozen limeade
6oz. beer (Tecate or Corona work well)
3oz. triple sec

Throw it in the blender with some ice (do not fill the pitcher past 2/3 full)
Turn the blender on a low speed for 10 seconds, then kick it up to high speed for 30-45 seconds.

It comes out frosty and smooth, while the beer adds a nice zing and fizziness to it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

This toolbox might just save your life

OK, more likely this toolbox will help cure your headache or bandage your boo-boo. Space for medicine and first aid supplies is at a premium in my small Victorian home. I needed a way to keep all my copious first-aid supplies together and accessible in case of an emergency, yet out of the way for everyday.

I love the sturdy, vintage feel of my red metal toolbox. At 19 inches, it's big enough to hold everything I need from medications to band-aids, creams and ointments, a thermometer, bandages, and gauze.

Its low profile stores under my bed, and if someone catches a glance it doesn't look as unsightly as plastic bins. It's easy to spot in fire engine red, and comfortable to carry by the handle when the need arises.

I got this Excel tool box from, and I especially like that this model has the lift-out shelf for double-decker storage. I was originally enamored with iconic first aid tins like this one from Kikkerland, or this vintage style pre-filled kit from Best Made Co, but they're either too small, or come stuffed with things I already have, or both.