Making Cheese – Neufchatel

27 05 2010

I’ve been wanting to make cheese for a while now. I finally decided to give it a shot last weekend. Since I’ve been working a lot lately with temperamental, sensitive stuff like beer and cured meats and other fermentations, I decided to forego the beginner projects like making yogurt and lebnah first and went straight for the cheese. If you’re not familiar with any of the concepts involved, I’d recommend starting from the beginning to get a grasp on handling the ingredients, what certain temperatures feel like, etc.

I found an awesome resource online by a guy who actually happens to be from Ohio and teaches at the University of Cincinnati. He has loads of great information and photos on his site – here.

I decided to go with a mixture of half goat’s milk and half raw cow’s milk. I got some liquid rennet from a cheese shop in my area but apparently you can get the tablets at a pharmacy or grocery store. Rennet is what helps the curds separate from the whey. It comes from the stomachs of mammals and contains enymes that help the milk solids coagulate.

I also varied slightly from his syllabus… I decided to scald the milk just to be sure it was free of any extra bacteria although probably not necessary because it was all pretty fresh. After the temperature fell back down to around 70F I pitched the cultured buttermilk and the rennet that I had dissolved in a little bit of cool water.

Mixed that up and let it set up overnight, or for about 12 hours. By the time I checked on it in the morning it had set up nicely and although I didn’t get a proper clean break, I think it was close enough. A clean break is when the curds have set up solid enough that a finger inserted and removed at an angle will produce a clean cut with no remnants sticking to the finger. This cheese seems to be pretty forgiving though and despite not having a totally clean break it seems to have been good enough. I didn’t have time to let it set more but I’d recommend going for the full clean break. If you don’t get it after 12 or so hours, let your curds set for another 12 hours or so. If you still don’t achieve one at that point then you probably won’t at all and need to start over. It probably means there was an issue with your rennet.

So, after the curds have set properly, it’s time to cut them and separate them from the whey. They whey is the leftover liquid that the curds have separated from. Remember Little Miss Muffet? That’s the stuff she was eating right there… she couldn’t even wait for the cheese to be finished!

I’m honestly not really sure why you cut the curds for this cheese other than just making it easier to remove them from the whey. I know in other cases it’s important to have them all be similar sizes but I doubt that it matters much here because it’s all getting mashed back together anyway.

So, after slicing the curds with a knife or spatula or something (about 1/2″ to 3/4″ slices in both directions) the curds get ladled out into the cheesecloth. This lets them drain off as much of the whey as possible to create a nice, dense, creamy cheese. The curds then get wrapped up in the cheesecloth, tied and hung to drip for another whole day in the fridge.

After that, it’s finished! You should mix in some salt at very least and if you get crazy you can try mixing in some chopped garlic, fresh herbs, dried herbs, spices – whatever you want! It’s your cheese, don’t let me tell you what to do with it.

Neufchatel Cheese
Adapted from David Fankhauser

1 quart Goat’s Milk
1 quart Whole Cow’s Milk (you can use skim but the less fat, the less rich your cheese will be…. alternatively, you could use heavy cream!)
2 drops liquid rennet dissolved in a few tablespoons of cool water (or the equivalent from a rennet tablet)
1/4 cup cultured buttermilk (check to make sure it contains active cultures, otherwise it’s useless)
salt to taste

Go forth and make cheese.


Smooth Operator

18 05 2010

For a long time I refused to even attempt to make smoothies at home because after a few terribly watered down and flavorless attempts I decided it was best left to the masters at Jamba Juice. But, recently I decided that it was actually something I could conquer. I realized that there are really only a couple of key elements to making an awesome smoothie at home:

1. One of the fruits must be frozen
2. One of the fruits must not be frozen
3. A decent blender (you don’t have to spend a ton, it just needs a powerful motor)

At the heart of it that’s the real key because it allows you skip the ice so you don’t have to thin the flavor just to get it cold. No one likes a warm smoothie so just blending warm fruit is no good either. Having the fresh fruit is also essential because you need something that liquefies easily so the blender can do its work. The fresh fruit is the catalyst to get the whole thing churning. A lot of the time you won’t even need juice to thin it out but if you do, add it a bit at a time and only as much as you need so you don’t end up with a thin liquid smoothie.

Now come the other steps that aren’t as key but in my opinion are pretty essential. For starters, I almost always have a banana in the mix. Banana just adds a perfect creamyness and really binds everything together in the perfect texture. When I buy bananas I almost never make it through the entire bunch before they go bad. So when it gets to the point where they’re almost starting to turn brown (because the longer they ripen, the sweeter they get) I slice them up and freeze them in a tupperware tub. Then when I’m ready to make my smoothie I just grab that, a little bit of fresh fruit, some yogurt and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice and I’m ready to go. Honestly I usually don’t even use more than two fruits, one of which is almost always a banana.

The other option I’ve been using lately that allows me to use the fresh bananas too is using frozen chunks of fruit from Trader Joe’s. Some of my favorite combos are below.

Frozen banana + frozen blueberry + fresh strawberry + plain yogurt + lemon juice

Frozen mango chunks + fresh banana + plain yogurt

Frozen banana + peanut butter + chocolate syrup + milk or vanilla yogurt (trust me, it’s awesome)

Useful ingredients are…

Fruit (fresh and frozen)
Yogurt (plain or flavored)
Lemon juice
Juice – orange, pineapple, carrot… whatever
Peanut butter

The trick is when fruit is in season and it’s cheap, buy a bunch and freeze what you can’t eat when it’s at the peak of its ripeness or even a bit past.

A word on blenders – I’ve tried making smoothies with shitty blenders in the past and it just discouraged me from wanting to make them at home. I’ve found two options that are affordable (compared to restaurant grade blenders) and work great. One is the super simple old-school clover shaped blender. The shape of that thing was apparently designed perfectly to encourage mixing and it does an amazing job of getting stuff mixed without needing to stir or beat the hell out of the side. The second is what I use now, an Oster Beehive. It’s relatively cheap and has an amazingly powerful motor for its price.

Arugula Pesto

16 05 2010

Ok so, sorry but I’ve been on a little bit of hiatus. Believe it or not it’s because I’ve actually been cooking more than usual. Because of that, most of what I’ve been cooking is pretty boring so I haven’t really been motivated to post any of it… but I was thinking that some of it may actually be more useful than any of the other stuff I post because most of it is easy, cheap and functional. Starting out with something super simple, adaptable and good for some nice lite fresh summer dishes. Pesto.

The best thing about pesto is that it’s so versatile and adabltable. You can make it out of so many different combinations of ingredients and there really are very few limits. The easiest way to success but by no means the only is some combination of 1) green leafy herb, 2) some kind of nut or legume, 3) garlic, 4) hard cheese, 5) olive oil and 6) salt+pepper. The classic combination is basil + pine nuts +raw garlic + parmesan + olive oil + salt and pepper. Swap out any or all of those for variations.

It’s so simple. The only thing you need really is a food processor but depending on your blender you could even do it in there… just might require a little bit of shaking around and you may have to thin it out a bit more to get things moving.

For this batch I had a bunch of extra arugula around that I knew I wasn’t going to get to before it went bad so I decided to prolong its life as pesto. I didn’t have any pine nuts but cashews are just as good and sometimes even better. The rich buttery nuttiness cuts nicely through the peppery arugula.

A nice fistful of grated pecorino romano, a few glugs of olive oil, some salt, some pepper and a few whacks from the food processor and it’s ready to go.

And the first application – chef Stef making a pesto pizza!

I’m back baby!

Fried Tilapia Banh Mi/Torta

10 04 2010

Sandwiches really are a beautiful thing… and when they’re done right they really are perfect in so many ways. I’ve realized that try as I may, I just can’t deny the fact that I love bread – it’s really not possible to make a good sandwich with bad bread… it just isn’t. And similarly, good bread makes a sandwich.

Recently I discovered that the market by my house which carries a large amount of Vietnamese ingredients, happens to sell amazing French rolls that are perfect for banh mi. I’ve always just walked right past them but lately I’ve started taking them up on the too-good-to-be-true seeming 3 for a dollar price.

They also carry lots of fresh fish that usually doesn’t look particularly fresh but on the day I made this sandwich there must have been a good haul because the whole fish were looking particularly clear-eyed. So I grabbed a tilapia – I was making a quick lunch so I didn’t have time to go catch it myself, you know… sorry, Alice!

This sandwich was really more like a banh mi meets torta. Imagine the first interlude on Ms Pacman but with two sandwiches bouncing toward each other… “they meet! <3". Two of my favorite sandwiches, squeezed into one roll. The thing that distinguishes the banh mi from other sandwiches though, is the pickled carrot, daikon and fresh cilantro. Vietnamese and Mexican flavors play really well together… lots of cilantro, lime and heavy heat in both. So I figured I might as well throw some avocado, mayo and lime in there, as if I was making a torta. And I smashed and toasted the bread a little bit too.

But I digress – back to those pickles… the pickled carrots and daikon are what really sets banh mi apart and they are so quick and easy to make it’s crazy. You can use them for so much more than just sandwiches, too. For these I just used the basic sweet vinegar mix I’ve been using that I adapted from D Chang’s Momofuku book. You just julienne the carrots and daikon and toss them in the vinegar mix before you do anything else. By the time you’re ready to put them on the sandwich they’ll have soaked up plenty of flavor and they’ll only get better the longer they sit (within reason… at least a week or so in the fridge).

So after filleting the fish, dredging the fillets in flour and pan frying them, I assembled my masterpiece…

Good slather of mayo on the bread, smashed and toasted for a few minutes in the oven. Sliced avocado spread across the top half, topped with the pickled carrots and daikon. Tilapia fillet on the bottom half topped with fresh cilantro and then all doused with lime juice. Smash together, slice and eat.

The only thing missing was the sliced fresh jalapenos…

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Snout-to-Tail, Stout-to-Pale

28 02 2010

photo by Phil

When you see those blue Eating About Beer napkins, you know you’re in for an adventure…

Earlier this month I was selected to participate in Foodbuzz’s 24 24 24 event that showcases posts from 24 different bloggers on 24 different meals in a 24-hour period. My dinner theme was a head-to-tail pork dinner with beer pairings for each course. I got together with a couple of the other guys from Eating About Beer to help make it happen. Eating About Beer is a group of friends focused on elevating food and beer pairing and just general beer and food awesomeness. To read about our first dinner that took place last November, click here.

The idea for this dinner was to do a head-to-tail pork dinner focusing on some common and some less commonly used pieces of the pig and then pairing those dishes each with a beer to highlight the flavors of the dish. After loads of running around picking up random (surprisingly expensive) pig parts, beer and veggies and doing a lot of prep, we pulled it off last night and it was great. A lot of the pictures in this post are by my friend Phil again, whose photo blog you can check out here.

photo by Phil

I think there will have to be some more posts later explaining some of these dishes in further detail because some of them were worth remembering and recreating. In place of bread and cheese as a snack before the meal, we had a few bowls of pork rinds that we spiced up a little bit. We tossed one bowl of them with hot sauce and another with Meyer lemon zest and cayenne pepper. Goooood stuff.

And then came the real food…

First Course

We started off with fried pig ears over a salad of watercress and radish dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.

photo by Phil

This was paired with Saison Dupont – a light, fresh and slightly sour Belgian farmhouse ale to complement the fresh spiciness of the salad and the crunchy fried ears.


Second Course

Next up was a fresh homemade bratwurst over homemade soft pretzels and Eric’s amazingly awesome homemade sauerkraut topped off with a beer mustard sauce and some pickled mustard seeds. Check out Eric’s blog about all things fermentation Awesome Pickle.

photo by Phil

Naturally, we had to pair this one with German style beer… it just wouldn’t have been right otherwise. We went with a Marzen from Gorden Biersch, here in town. Slightly caramel-y, bready and malty with enough hops to cut through. Marzen (meaning March beer – which was brewed in March to be served in September) is a traditional Oktoberfest beer and it was pretty much made to be consumed alongside large quantities of pork.


Third Course

Third round was trotters (pig feet!) in a Korean kimchi jigae-like stew with kimchi, daikon and rice cakes, topped with green onion.

photo by Phil

We paired this one with the Hitachino’s Nest Red Rice Ale from the Kiuchi Brewery in Japan. And not only did the flavor pair well, it was red too!


Fourth Course

Next up was the pork jowls. We did a classic Italian dish of pasta all’amatriciana. For this one we used the guanciale that I’ve had curing & drying here for around a month. We served the sauce over homemade pasta and topped it off with some Pecorino Romano.

photo by Phil

We paired this one with a Duchess du Borgogne, a Flanders red-ale style beer from Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Belgium. The slightly sweet, sour tanginess of this one really did a number on that sweet, tart tomato sauce.


Fifth Course

Finally the part you’ve been waiting for… the head! This was definitely the most fun part of all of this to prepare, but it was also the biggest shot in the dark because this was the first time I’ve ever dealt with a head of a pig… or any other beast, for that matter. I decided that I really wanted to do more of a roast than a porchetta di testa lunchmeaty type of deal so I decided to take it more the traditional porchetta route. I removed the face/jowls, trimmed it down a little, rolled it up and we roasted it pretty much all afternoon. Then to serve it we cut up a few little pieces of the different parts for each plate. The round one is snout! We served it with simple vinegar pickled vegetables and a spiced mango sauce dressed up to look like mustard.

photo by Phil

This one was paired with Russian River’s Temptation Ale. This one is a sour Belgian style ale that’s aged for almost a year in used French Chardonnay barrels. It has a really interesting and complex flavor profile because of that and it went really well with both the meat and the pickles. Nice slightly smoky malt flavors to compliment the roast pork but also some tartness to hook up with the pickled veggies.


Sixth Course – Dessert

And finally, dessert. I went pretty simple on this one but also had to keep the pig prominent. Chocolate creme brulee topped with candied bacon bits. The bacon I used was my homemade bacon.

photo by Phil

We paired this one with Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast Beer – an oatmeal stout brewed with coffee. Not really much explanation necessary… chocolate + smokey bacon + smokey stout + coffee = amazing.


And here’s the lineup of beers in order.

That was the meal. Now for the fun part… some more of the process…

Ear Salad

Whole ears that were simmered for about an hour with the trotters. (I think longer would have been better because they were still pretty tough in the middle down that white stripe of cartilage you can see in the next photo of the slices.

photo by Phil

photo by Phil

photo by Phil


Sausage & pretzels

Soaking the intestines to be stuffed…

Israel fighting with my stupid stuffer while I just hang out and catch the sausage… I think this is really what they’re talking about when they say food porn.

Testing thermometer accuracy… the digital was way off. Could have killed our yeast!

Rolling out pretzels


Trotter Jigae

Trotters were simmered for about 3 hours until they were falling apart

We attempted to make trotter cakes (inspired by In Praise of Sardines) but they just fell apart in the end. Still delicious. They were seasoned with garlic, Korean chili flakes, sesame seeds and salt to throw a little more Korean flavor in the mix.


Tagliatelle All’amatriciana

Making the pasta…

Making the sauce…

Slice the guanciale

Dice the guanciale

Sweat some fat out of it and crisp it up a bit

Slice the onions super thin and sautee them in that fattyness until they’re soft

Reduce a bottle of white wine in it and then add a big can of San Marzano tomatoes and let it simmer for a couple hours really low and then season to taste

And we had to test out the pairing in the kitchen too, of course…


Pig’s Head Porchetta

This one was my attempt at creating something like a porchetta but with the head. After removing all of the meat and face from the bone (see previous post here) and seasoning it and letting it sit for a day and a half or so, we took it out and decided that this pig’s head was just way too big to roll into itself. So we cut off one of the jowls and saved it for later. Trimmed a bit off of the one still connected to the rest of the face to make it more even, and then seasoned it with rosemary, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper.

Then we scored it, rolled it up and tied it.

Rosemary, thyme and lemon straight from the back yard – super local.

After about 4+ hours of slow roasting, it was perfectly cooked inside but the skin was a little hard so we ended up not using it. How bout that snout??

Cutting some slices

photo by Phil

Plating it

photo by Phil


Baco-choco Brulee

Candied bacon… who would have thought? I got the idea from David Lebovitz’s recipe for Candied Bacon Ice Cream. Mine didn’t look quite like his because I cut it really thick but I did essentially the same thing… covered it with brown sugar and baked it. Sooooo good.

photo by Phil

Israel, Eric & me
photos by Phil

Menu Recap:

Fried Pig Ear Salad with watercress, radish and balsamic vinaigrette – paired with Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont (Tourpes, Belgium)

Bratwurst, soft pretzel, sauerkraut, beer mustard and pickled mustard seeds – paired with Gorden Biersch Marzen (San Francisco, CA)

Trotter Kimchi Jigae with daikon and rice cakes – paired with Hitachino’s Nest Red Rice Ale (Ibaraki, Japan)

Pasta All’amatriciana – paired with Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchess du Borgogne (Vichte, Belgium)

Pig Head Porchetta – paired with Russian River Brewing Company Temptation (Santa Rosa, CA)

Chocolate Creme Brulee with candied bacon – paired with Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Beer (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Here’s a little gallery of closeups of each of the beers (click to enlarge)

photo by Phil


*All of the pork came from Range Brothers through Prather Ranch Meat Company. It’s pricey but some of the best pork I’ve ever tasted… and you can rest easy knowing that it comes from happy pigs.

Links to related pages…
Eating About Beer
Awesome Pickle
Phil –
Prather Ranch Meat Company

Roasted Brussels Sprouts… & Chips

4 02 2010

Boring and quick but really great… roasted Brussels sprouts are amazing and it’s that time of year. They’re in season and they’re everywhere. Forget about steaming them or even boiling and caramelizing, bla bla bla… just cut off the butts, cut em in half, toss in olive oil, salt, pepper and throw them in the oven. 450 for about 20 to 30 minutes. Roasted and hot but still a little bit crunchy. Perfectly cooked miniature heads of cabbage.

And then toss them with whatever you like… I like balsamic and red pepper flakes.

Now on to the fun part – every time you make brussels sprouts, when you cut them in half and toss them around you loose so many loose pieces of skin. Usually those little suckers head straight to the compost. The wheels in my tiny brain have been churning for a long time now trying to figure out what to do with them…. there has to be something! Well, finally it clicked – turn them into chips.

It’s all about utilizing the stuff you’d normally throw away and getting something that’s even better and more fun to eat from your scraps… forget about the sprouts – I’m gonna start pulling apart the entire sprouts and just making chips out of them after this revelation.

They cook at a different rate than the whole heads so you have to put them on a separate sheet and roast them on their own. I tossed them in the same bowl I used for the sprouts with a tiny bit of oil and a little more salt and pepper. Then onto a cookie sheet and roasted until the edges were turning brown.

At this point they’re totally crispy and great. Totally edible but still a little firm in the thicker parts and I wanted to see if I could really get them crispy. This is where self control comes into play – just pretend like you never had them at all. Toss them aside and forget you ever saved them.

At this point I let them cool and put em in a tupperware container until the next day. They were totally soggy by then but another five to ten minutes in the oven crisped them up to full on crispy crunchy chips. No picture of the final product but you can trust me that if I ever do have a restaurant – you’ll be eating these little crispies while you wait for your food before you ever see olives and bread or anything else…

Compost Terrine? MeatyBone Cheese?

5 11 2009

Ok so maybe I’m no good with names – compost terrine doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, I realize. But I’m finally getting this thing going either way. Sorry about the shitty image quality but the iPhone was all I had around.  Maybe I’ll take some better ones tomorrow to replace them with.

I decided I had to post tonight because I did something that to me was exceptionally cool and resourceful and something that honestly I’m surprised I’ve never thought of before.   In recent years I’ve become mildly obsessed with head cheese. I’m talking copa di testa, homemade, good stuff – not the jello mold you can buy in bulk at the grocery store. I’m talking melt-on-your tongue, fatty, delicious, gelatinous, gooey, meat-tastic head cheese. And this week we were making stock for The Pie Truck’s rapidly becoming famous meat pies and it cooked for a little longer than usual… the bones that we get from Marin Sun Farms come with a decent amount of meat on them and that is damn good meat that I hate to see wasted. All that meaty stuff had completely cooked clean off the bones and the mirepoix was good and mucked into it all and the stock had cooked down to a consistency that provided a solid amount of gelatin. So I thought “shit, let’s pull the bones out of this muck and make a loaf!” And so, that’s what I did. And it turned into some mighty fine loaf that we will be enjoying for dinner in the coming few days.  It ended up like a sort-of head cheese terrine made up of chunks of great meat and all the bits around the bone that you normally just toss in the trash along with a bunch of mirepoix and spices.

Meaty Bone Terrine

What you’ll need to do if you decide you want to make some meaty bone cheese:

Start by making a good batch of beef stock. I’m not going to go into the process of making stock now but you can research it, or maybe I’ll talk about it later at some point, because it’s actually a really useful and awesome thing to learn how to do properly. So when you go to make your stock, take the Thomas Keller madman for details approach and actually dice your veggies to a nice size. You’ll pull more flavor for your stock, for starters, your stock will be clean and you’ll end up with some nice veg to use in this terrine.

One thing that’s key about your stock is that the bones have some meat on them so if your bones are pretty clean, toss a couple chunks of a cheap cut of beef or another bone with some meat – just something for some substance. Second, make sure you have joints and bone segments. This should always be the case when you make stock but especially here. You want that deep marrowy flavor from the cut leg segments and you want that collagen from the joints to solidify this terrine and also to give your stock some nice body. Ok so I said I wasn’t going to go into stock specifics but I’m realizing that I can’t resist.  It’s important stuff, and I love making stock.

The essential point of this whole thing is that when you make a good stock and take the time to cut up the veggies like this, it allows you to use the whole lot of mess you’d normally toss after you’ve strained your stock.  So when it’s finished and your bones are coming out squeaky clean, strain the whole thing and pull out the bones and any other chunks of tough stuff or bunches of parsley that you don’t want to be eating whole.  While you’re doing all of this, take a couple cups of your new stock and reduce it down to about half of what it is so that it’s got some good body and is going to hold up nicely when it chills.

Back to that pile of crud that you’d normally toss in your compost heap…  When you’ve finished sorting through it (don’t be picky about cartilage and that – the whole point of this is that you’re not wasting anything) and add a little bit of seasoning to it.  Salt and pepper will do fine but you can also toss some freshly chopped thyme in there, some crushed red pepper, cumin, however you want to spice it – this is where you can get creative with the flavors.

Now line a loaf pan with plastic wrap with some excess hanging over the sides.  Fill it 3/4 of the way or so with your filling, and then pour that reduced down cup or so of stock over it.  Use your fingers and squish it through a little bit so you don’t have a complete pool on top and none of that good meat jello throughout the rest.  Now wrap pull that plastic wrap together on top, seal it, toss it in the fridge and go to sleep dreaming about chunky meaty jello.  Mmmmm.