Making pickles

I love pickles.  I usually eat them until I’m sick to my stomach.  Maybe it’s the salt, or possibly the vinegar, but something in that pickle juice makes my mouth water.  There have been a few occasions when I’ve eagerly downed the leftover brine after finishing the last pickle in the jar.  I’m not sure what’s wrong with me.  Before I met Curt, I had no idea how good a fresh, “homemade” pickle could actually be.  Curt’s mom and Aunt Rosine have pickled cucumbers for as long as he remembers and I have been lucky enough to have had some of these farm fresh pickles.  Naturally, canning my own pickles has been on my to-do list for awhile now.  And this was the summer I finally made some for my family.

No, this is not Africa

The biggest, most-energetic cuke I've ever seen

After calling around the Portland area, I found a small farm in Oregon City that has you-pick vegetables (cukes for 50 cents/lb!).  We arrived on a 90 deg day, carried our buckets (and Laird) to the rows and rows of vegetables and began finding the perfect cukes to pickle.  It was a little frustrating as the farm had a rule that we couldn’t pick ones that were smaller than 3 inches and those are typically the best to pickle.  But after about a half-hour we had roughly 13 pounds of cucumbers and a very muddy kid.  We also picked some fresh sweet corn, which turned out to be the sweetest, juiciest corn I’d ever had.  Of course Curt claims he’s had better.  But he’s from Iowa, and that’s all they know how to do in Iowa…grow corn.

Finding our pickling cucumbers

This is the recipe I followed for my pickles and I used the low-heat pasteurization method of canning to get the crispest pickles possible (nothing I hate more than mushy pickles)

Pickle recipe

  • 7 wide-mouth quart jars, lids & rings
  • Fresh dill, heads & several inches of stems shaken free of bugs
  • Cucumbers, washed, scrubbed
  • 2 cloves garlic (or more)

Our pickling cukes, all washed and ready to be packed

Fresh dill, garlic and jalapenos from our garden

Brine

  • 8 1/2 cups water
  • 3 1/4 cups white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt

Whole, sliced and spear cut pickles waiting to be filled with brine

Water, vinegar and salt

Directions:

  1. Wash jars in hot, soapy water.  Rinse and fill with hot water.
  2. Fill canning pot half-full with hottest water and set on high heat.
  3. Place lids and rings in medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.
  4. In a large saucepan, bring brine mixture to a boil.
  5. Fill the jars: Place a layer of dill at the bottom, along with a clove of garlic.  TIGHTLY load the cukes in the jar to the neck of the jar.  Add a few sprigs of dill to the top and another garlic.  I also added peppercorn and jalapenos.
  6. Once all the jars are loaded, pour the brine into the jars and leave a half-inch head space.
  7. Add lid and ring to the jar and finish filling all the jars.
  8. Place the jars into the canner and add water to cover jars by an inch.  Heat the cukes to 180-185 deg for 30 minutes.  It is critical to have the temperature within this range.  Too low and the bacteria may not be killed.  Too high and the texture of the pickles may change.
  9. Remove the jars from the water.   Allow to cool before checking the seal.  Try the pickles after 3-4 weeks!!

In the canner

Cooling down. Now the waiting begins...

Daddy showing Laird how to pick some corn

It’s been two weeks, and after checking my jars I discovered that one of them hadn’t sealed properly.  Yay!  That meant we were able to try them.  And…..they were freaken awesome!  So worth all the effort.  Laird and Curt both loved them.  Of course I tried the brine too and all I can say is yuuuuuuumy.  If I made it again, I’d probably increase the amount of vinegar.  But not bad for my first try.

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Say Goat Cheeeeeeeeeese!

After the surprising success of my mozzarella cheese, I thought I would try my hand at making goat cheese.  The cooking process wasn’t much different than the mozzarella, with the only difference being the addition of a goat cheese culture.  The final result was a tart, crumbly, creamy white chunk of yummy goodness that was quickly devoured.

Goat Cheese Recipe

Equipment:

  • Large stainless steel pot
  • Stainless steel slotted spoon
  • Colander
  • Thermometer
  • Butter muslin cloth
  • String

Most of the ingredients and equipment

Ingredients:
  • 1 gallon goat’s milk
  • 1/4 tablet rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  • 1 packet chevre (goat) culture
  • Salt
  • Herbs if desired
Directions:
  • Cleanliness is of utmost important.  Sterilize everything that will come into contact with your milk and cheese.
  • Heat the goat’s milk on low until it reaches 86 deg

Heating the milk

  • Once the milk hits 86 deg (and not any higher), add the rennet solution and culture packet.  Stir well and take off of the heat.
  • Cover and allow to set undisturbed at room temperature for 12-24 hrs.  I waited approximately 16 hrs.

Curds are now separated from the whey

  • At this point, the curds should have separated from the whey.  Spoon the curds into the butter muslin which is laying on the colander.  It is probably better to cut them in cubes before placing them in the colander, instead of doing what I did.

Placing the curds into the colander

Look at all those curds!

  • Once all the curds have been strained into the muslin, bring all 4 corners together and hang with a string to allow the curds to strain further.  Place a bowl underneath it to catch all the whey.

My hanging cheese arrangement

  • After 6-8 hrs, the cheese will have a creamy consistency and should be spreadable.  I preferred a crumbly cheese, so I waited a total of 24 hrs before taking my cheese down.

Final product made from 1/2 gallon of raw goat's milk

  • I added salt and some herbes de Provence to some of my cheese.  It was delicious.

Someone LOVED the fresh cheese

Goat cheese salad

Whole wheat pasta with zucchini, bok choy, kale, tomatoes and goat cheese!

Whole wheat bread (recipe) in 5 minutes a day

For the past few months I have been trying to find the best whole wheat sandwich bread recipe that I can make and not screw up.  This is a tall order for me because even though I do everything that the recipe asks of me, I somehow always mess up whole wheat bread.  They come out too flat, too dense and way too dry.  My secret quest is to make a bread just like Dave’s Killer Bread.  So far, though, I am not even close.  That is, until I borrowed this book from the library: Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

This book is from the authors of the popular book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes.  Whoa, whoa, 5 minutes a day?  Is that even possible?  My best answer is sort of.  The basic premise behind the book is to eliminate the kneading of the dough.  Especially with whole wheat breads, kneading can be tough to master.  Not only is the dough much denser compared to that of white flour, but it is easy to over-knead as well as under-knead or to add too much flour, or not enough.  Ask me how I know.  I have painfully eaten loaves and loaves of whole wheat bricks because something went wrong and throwing “good” food away is something I just cannot bring myself to do.

So how do you make the bread?  I made the recipe for Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread.  First, I mixed my dry and wet ingredients separately, then mixed them together until everything was incorporated, and let it rise in a bowl for roughly 2 hours.  This all took about 5 minutes and no kneading!!!  Yay!

Wet and dry ingredients mixed

After the dough had risen to about twice it’s size (during Laird’s nap), I covered it and stuck in the refrigerator.  The authors recommend keeping the dough in the fridge at least overnight, as it is much easier to handle.

Two hours of rising

The next day, I cut off a cantaloupe sized chunk of dough, formed an oval and let it rise in the loaf pan for a couple more hours while we went to church.  That took about 1 minute.  When I got home, the dough had risen considerably and I placed it in in my pre-heated oven for about 45 minutes.  When it was done, the bread had a nice golden color and the “crumb,” as they call it, was perfectly moist and not too dense.

Straight out of the oven

Curt and lil man both seemed to enjoy it (finally, no more bricks).  And the great part about it is, the other half of the dough is still in the fridge and will stay good for another 2 weeks.  The downside is the dough tends to pick up a sourdough like flavor the longer it sits, and I’m not a huge fan of sourdough.

Ahhhh....fresh bread

It’s a great concept and it works well for me, as I can just make a loaf of bread whenever I want now without all the preparation and timing involved.  I think “10 minute” bread would be more truthful though, as you really have to be quick at measuring and mixing to get it all done in 5 minutes.  But, really, what’s 10 minutes?  It beats kneading that’s for sure.

Vietnamese Bun Recipe

One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes to order is bun (I think it’s pronounced “boon”).  Bun is essentially rice noodles topped with veggies and/or meat.  The crucial ingredient in the dish is the sauce (Nuoc cham.  I have no idea how you pronounce that.) that brings it all together.  Just pour it on top and yummy in my tummy.  Flavors explode in my mouth.  Anyway, here is the recipe I borrowed from http://www.finecooking.com.  I didn’t have everything (lettuce, cucumber, mint or basil), but I improvised and it still turned out delicious.  I prefer my noodles warm, so I nuked them in the microwave.

Nuoc Cham (left) Veggie Bun (right)

Bun:

For the greens:
2 cups washed and shredded romaine, red, or green leaf lettuce
2 cups fresh, crisp bean sprouts
1-1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and julienned cucumber
1/3 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped or small whole mint leaves
1/3 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped or small basil or Thai basil leaves
For the garnishes:
2 Tbs. chopped roasted peanuts
12 sprigs fresh cilantro
Nuoc cham (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce, see below)
For the noodles:
8 oz. dried rice vermicelli
For the Topping:
Stir-fried vegetables (I used broccoli, garlic, onion, tofu and carrots) with soy sauce or you could easily use some sort of meat

For the greens and herbs: Divide the lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, mint, and basil among four large soup or pasta bowls. If working ahead of time, cover each bowl with damp paper towels and refrigerate.

For the garnishes: Set peanuts aside. Make 1 recipe nuoc cham and refrigerate.

For the noodles: Bring a medium potful of water to a rolling boil. Add the rice vermicelli and, stirring often, cook them until the strands are soft and white, but still resilient, 3 to 5 minutes. Don’t be tempted to undercook them, as they must be fully cooked to absorb the flavors of the dish. Rinse them in a colander under cold water just until they’re cool and the water runs clear. Let the noodles drain in the colander for 30 minutes, and then set them aside for up to 2 hours, unrefrigerated.

For the topping: Stir fry whatever it is you want.

To assemble the salads: Remove the salad bowls from the refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before serving. The greens and bowl should be cool, not cold. Fluff the noodles with your fingers and divide them among the prepared salad bowls. Put the cooked topping on the noodles and garnish each bowl with the peanuts and cilantro. Pass the nuoc cham at the table; each diner should drizzle about 3 Tbs. over the salad and then toss the salad in the bowl a few times with two forks or chopsticks before eating.

Nuoc Cham Recipe:
1 clove garlic
2 to 3 Thai bird chiles (or 1 small jalapeño or serrano chile), cored, seeded, and minced; more or less to taste
1/2 tsp. ground chile paste; more or less to taste
2/3 cup hot water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. shredded carrots (optional)

In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and fresh chiles to a paste. (Or mince them together with a knife.) In a small bowl, combine this garlic and chile mixture with the chile paste, hot water, and sugar. Stir well. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and combine. Float the carrots on top. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before using.

I'm not sure who "Uncle Chen" is, but he makes a good knock-off of Sriracha sauce. I like spicy.

Mozzarella Cheese Recipe

These are the ingredients and recipe I followed and I didn’t screw it up, so you can do it too!

Equipment (is that the right word? tools?)

Stainless steel pot

Candy/Brewing thermometer

Slotted spoon

Microwave-safe bowl

Colander/Strainer

Ingredients:

1 gallon unpasteurized milk

1/4 tablet vegetable rennet

2 tsp (divided) citric acid

1/2 cup (divided) unchlorinated water 1 tsp noniodized salt

Ready to go

Instructions:

1.  Dissolve 1 tsp citric acid in 1/4 cup water.  Crush 1/4 tablet rennet and dissolve in 1/4 cup water.

2. Pour milk into stainless steel pot and allow to warm to 50 deg.

3. Pour citric acid dissolved in water into the milk.  Stir.  Then add 1 tsp citric acid directly to milk.  Stir.

4. Slowly warm milk on low heat to 90 deg.  This should take 10-15 minutes.

Waiting for the milk to warm

5. Once the milk is warmed to 90 deg, turn heat off and add rennet.  Stir milk in a vertical direction to mix rennet in.

6. Cover pot and do not disturb for 15-20 minutes (I had to exercise serious restraint here).

7. Check for a “clean break” of the curds.  (Place a knife, spoon, finger into curds, nothing should stick to the object when you pull it out).  If it isn’t a clean break, allow to set for another 10-15 minutes.

8. Once you have a clean break, cut the curds into 1/2″ cubes like a checkerboard.  Alow to sit undisturbed for 5-10 min.

Curds have been cut

9. Heat curds to 105 deg, stirring occasionally.  At 105 deg, the curds should start congealing and clumping together.

Starting to look like mozzarella

10. Turn off heat and remove curds from the whey with a slotted spoon into a strainer/colander.  Continue to spoon curds until all of it is in the strainer.

Straining out the whey

11. Squeeze curds with your hands to remove as much of the whey as possible.

12. Place curds into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30-45 sec.  The curds will be warm, continue to squeeze the whey out of the cheese.

Heating the cheese

13. Place in microwave again for 30 seconds, again squeezing the whey out of the curds.  Continue to place in microwave and reheat until no whey can be expelled (this took one more time for me).

14.  Add non-iodized salt and knead together.

Kneading the cheese

15. The curds will be very pliable and can be kneaded.  Knead into a ball and ta-dah!  You have made fresh, mozzarella cheese.  Allow to cool to room temperature, or eat it warm.  Whatever isn’t eaten (is that even possible?), wrap in an air-tight container (i.e. saran wrap) and store in the fridge.  I have no idea how long it will keep.  I tried to research that answer and couldn’t find a definitive one.  I’m guessing a week to week-and-a-half.  But you can shred and freeze it too.

Voila! Cheese!
Fresh grilled cheese sandwich on Dave’s Killer bread

Happy Cheesemaking!