We are getting cheesy

yield

I did it! I made mozzarella! I have to admit, I failed miserably the first two times and ended up with a whole lot of ricotta. The third time, I got what tasted like mozzarella but was a texture of brie, I assumed it was because I did not stretch it or knead it enough.  Later, after reading about cheese making, I learned the true reasons behind my delicious fails–using pasteurized milk and over heating the cheese in the microwave during stretching.

For my birthday, a dear friend gave me a book I have been eyeing for awhile, Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll.  My friends and family know me so well, I got so many great books!

cheese book

A few weeks ago, we made a trip down to a farm and bought two gallons of fresh raw milk.  It was pretty to look at.  A quarter of the gallon was pure cream! You don’t see that at the grocery store because what you think is “whole” milk, is milk that has been centrifuged and all of the cream removed. After centrifugation, “appropriate” percentages of milk fat is added back to the milk, 4% for whole, 2% , 1% and obviously nonfat (the blue milk as we call it on our house).  During this process, factory milk is also pasteurized and homogenized. What do these words mean?

Pasteurize: Heating the milk to 145 degrees for 30 minutes.  There are lots of good google articles about pasteurization.

Homogenized: Physically breaking down the fat molecules in the milk.  Cream top milk is not homogenized. Homogenization changes the molecular structure of milk and there is evidence that this process prevents the delivery of important nutrients to the body.

I read in my book that scalding the milk (bringing it to 140-150 degrees for a minute is sufficient in killing all of the bacteria in the milk and preserving the integrity of most of the protein.  When milk is pasteurized, a lot of the protein is degraded.  So using pasteurized milk may produce a soft mozzarella tasting cheese.  To solve this problem for other hard cheeses, you can add calcium chloride to aid with the clotting of the milk.  Pasteurization also destroys a lot of calcium in the milk and that is an essential for perfect clotting.  Calcium chloride is not added to mozarella because it will prevent the stretching of the cheese.

I gave mozzarella another try using the scalded farm fresh milk and was beyond thrilled that I made cheese!  I used the recipe outline in my new book and it worked great.  Here is the recipe and my experience making my first hard, unaged cheese.

The recipe calls this the 30 minute mozzarella, I would say it took me about an hour, but I am an amateur–one day!  To make about a pound of mozzarella, you will need the following ingredients and equipment:

  • 1 gallon pasteurized whole milk (make sure that your milk is never ultra-pasteurized, as cheese will never be made).   If you have access to raw milk, get it, scald it and use it
  • 1 1/2 tsp. citric acid dissolved in 1 cup of distilled water
  •  ingridients
  • 1/4 tsp. rennet diluted in 1/4 c of distilled water
  • 1 tsp. cheese salt
  • Distilled water
  • Large stainless steel pot
  • Stainless steel slotted spoon
  • Thermometer                                                                                            thermometer

I bought my rennet and  citric acid on Amazon.  A great deal and with prime shipping,  I get free shipping. We are not selling anything for Amazon, I just really like the convenience of having things come to me.

The directions are pretty easy:

      • While stirring add the citric acid solution to milk at 55 degrees if you let your milk stand at room temperature for about an hour, it will be at 55 degrees or higher.  Higher is ok, because you will be heating the milk to 90 degrees in the next step.  Adding citric acid will make the milk a little chunky.  You can use lower fat or skim milk but your yield will be considerably lower.

cheese1

    • Heat milk to 90 degrees with constant stirring. Remove from heat and slowly add the dilute rennet with an up and down motion for about 30 seconds. Cover and let stand for 5-10 minutes.  (I have left it longer and it only gets better).

      • Check the curd.  It should look like custard.  You should see clear separation from the whey (yellow liquid). Cut the curds using a cheese knife or a long thin spatula.  If the curds are too soft, or the whey is cloudy or milky, let it stand for another five minutes.

curds2 cut curds

      • Place back on the stove and bring up to 105-110 degrees (this will happen fast), while gently moving the curds with a spoon.  Remove from heat and continue to stir slowly for five-ish minutes.

cutting curds

      • Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and put into a microwave friendly bowl (2-quart).  Press curds with your spoon or hands to get off as much whey as possible. (Reserve the whey).

curds pouring

    • Microwave the curds for one minute, Drain excess whey, gently fold the cheese over and over (as if you were kneading dough) this will distribute the heat equally.
    • Microwave again for 35 seconds, add about 1 tablespoon of cheese salt, knead and redo one or two more times.
    • When the cheese is hot, knead quickly and stretch (like taffy) as much as you can.  If the curds are not stretching and are rather breaking, it means the cheese is too cold, heat again for 35 minutes.

      • When your cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into a ball or a log.  You can eat it fresh/warm or place the cheese into ice water to cool cheese rapidly, cover and store in the fridge.  Good for about a week and this recipe should yield about a pound.

cheese balls

This is the ‘fast’ mozzarella recipe. There is the traditional recipe where you use the hot whey instead of the microwave, I read that the microwave method is ideal for beginners.  I have not tried the traditional method as time is lacking most of the time at our house.

There are lots of uses for whey.  You can attempt to make ricotta, but I find that unless you have whey form one gallon of milk, your ricotta recovery is roughly 2 tablespoons but it takes an additional hour or so.  I don’t find the time investment worth while since I can make 3lbs of ricotta from 1 gallon of milk.  Other uses for whey are; substituting whey for milk or buttermilk in pancakes or baked goods, feeding it to your livestock or poultry or watering acid loving plants (blueberries).

Give cheese making a try!  It is super fun and very rewarding!  As of now, for my family I make ricotta/farmers cheese, queso blanco/casero and mozzarella.  Paul is in the process of making me a cheese press and converting a freezer into a cheese cellar (55 degrees)…once he is done…I will be attempting hard aged cheeses…stay tuned!

casero IMG_20140509_210434251

Spring Greens: Kale, Lettuces, Parsnip greens and so much more!

lettuce

It’s that time of the season, planting greens before it gets too hot! I call this section of our garden the “salad bar”. Greens such as spinach, kale, chard and lettuces do really well in shaded areas, and do not require deep rooting networks so planting them in our front yard in the pallets is ideal.  This allows the prime real estate of our garden beds to be reserved for sun demanding plants such as tomatoes, eggplants, corn, beans and cucumbers.  This year, we will use the potato cages as a fence to make sure our furry kids don’t mistake our pallets for their potty.

We have such crazy weather in the PNW so growing tomatoes is tricky here. But for greens, our climate is ideal.  If you plant anything in your garden or want to start a garden, you can’t go wrong with greens! Give them a try–you won’t be sorry.

Do keep in mind that the greens you harvest will be a bit dirtier than the ones from your grocery store, so if you plan on harvesting a bunch, it might be worth investing in a good salad spinner.  I love mine!  I can’t imagine having to wash and dry the amounts of lettuce, spinach and kale we consume any other way.

easter2015-2

Already in the pallets, I see kale, lettuces, arugula, collards, spinach and parsnip greens peeking out from the dirt in neat little rows. I can’t wait for the luscious greens to be big enough for a daily harvest for fresh salad.

I think for the most part, all of the greens grow similarly. They bolt when it gets too hot and get tougher with age.  Young leaves can be eaten raw in a salad and older sauteed or in a smoothie/juice.  Older salads tend to be bitter, if that happens, the chickens gladly eat them.

Chard:

lettuce

Known as the beet that forgot how to produce a bulb, we grow and eat this vegetable on a regular basis.  When young, it’s excellent raw and as it ages, and gets tougher, we sautee it with either egg or leftover sausage. Planting in early spring (ours just poked through the dirt) will yield plentiful harvest throughout summer and fall. Sow directly into the ground and thin out when the plants are about one to two inches tall.  I use the thinned out chard and other greens in a fresh spring salad–nothing goes to waste here!  Harvest by snipping of the outer leaves (don’t pull or you might damage the root) and the leaves will regrow for continuous harvest.  We usually have about six plants and towards the end we give a lot away because we are so sick of eating it.  Come December, we start to miss it.

Kale:

kale kale

Another favorite of mine.  Kale grows best in cool weather and if the plant is fully established, kale will withstand freezing conditions.  It can be planted as soon as the danger of frost has passed and again in late July or early August for fall and winter harvest.  If you have a cold frame, a greenhouse or anything in between, chances are, kale will survive the winter (here in the PNW) and produce fresh leaves as early as late February. Directly sow the seeds into the soil about half an inch deep and wait anywhere from 5 to 15 days for them to germinate. Thin plants out when they are big enough for a salad.  Since kale is a member of the cabbage family, avoid planting in the same spot as any of the Brassica family plants, as this can encourage whiteflies and other pests. Harvest young leaves when they are a few inches tall and enjoy fresh or sautee it as the plant gets tougher with age.

Spinach:

spinach

We eat a lot of spinach.  Raw or cooked, I love it.  I appreciate that it can be planted a month before the last spring frost and a month before the last fall frost.  If planted every few weeks, it is possible to have a continuous supply of spinach.  Thinning of the plants is necessary. We usually wait until we can collect enough for a micro salad.  Harvest the outer leaves in the morning and store in the fridge as it tend to wilt at a fast rate.

I make a delicious “green” borscht and one of the ingredients is  spinach, along with a bunch of other greens and herbs. I also love spinach in an omelet.  The only way I will NOT eat spinach is if it is boiled!

Here are planting direction from the Old Farmers Almanac

http://www.almanac.com/plant/spinach

  • Prepare the soil with aged manure about a week before planting, or, you may wish to prepare your spot in the fall so that you can sow the seeds outdoors in early spring as soon as the ground thaws.
  • If you live in a place with mild winters, you can also plant in the fall.
  • Although seedlings can be propagated indoors, it is not recommended as seedlings are difficult to transplant.
  • Spring plantings can be made as soon as the soil can be properly worked. It’s important to seed as soon as you can to give spinach the required 6 weeks of cool weather from seeding to harvest.
  • Select a site with full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.
  • Sow seeds 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep, covering lightly with soil. Sow about 12 seeds per foot of row, or sprinkle over a wide row or bed.
  • Soil should not be warmer than 70º F in order for germination.
  • Successive plantings should be made every couple weeks during early spring. Common spinach cannot grow in midsummer.
  • For summer types, try New Zealand Spinach and Malabar Spinach.
  • Plant in mid-August for a fall crop, ensuring that soil temps are cool enough.
  • Gardeners in northern climates can harvest early-spring spinach if it’s planted just before the cold weather arrives in fall. Protect the young plants with a cold frame or thick mulch through the winter, then remove the protection when soil temperature in your area reaches 40º.
  • Water the new plants well in the spring.
  • Fertilize only if necessary due to slow growth, or use as a supplement if your soil’s pH is inadequate. Use when plant reaches 1/3 growth.
  • When seedlings sprout to about two inches, thin them to 3-4 inches apart.
  • Beyond thinning, no cultivation is necessary. Roots are shallow and easily damaged.
  • Keep soil moist with mulching.
  • Water regularly.
  • Spinach can tolerate the cold; it can survive a frost and temps down to 15ºF.

Collards:

This is our first year growing collards.  It should be very interesting as the plant can withstand lots of heat but can also be frost tolerant. I don’t know much about this plant but we sure love eating them. We use them as wraps or saute them up with some bacon–mmm, bacon!

The national gardners assocition has a good site/information for growing collards, since I know very little, here is what they say about planting this delicous gem: http://www.garden.org/plantguide/?q=show&id=3344

For a spring crop, sow collard seeds directly in the garden 3 weeks before the last spring frost date. Sow seeds ½ inch deep and 3 inches apart. When seedlings are a few inches high, thin to 6 inches apart; as plants grow, thin to 12 to 18 inch spacing so they have plenty of room to develop. To get a jump on the season, you can start collards early indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost date, moving hardened-off seedlings to the garden about 2 weeks before the last frost.

Tolerant of cool conditions, collards make a good fall crop in many parts of the country. Sow seeds in late summer or early fall, about 10 weeks before the first expected fall frost date. In warmer parts of the country, late summer and fall sown collards can be harvested through the winter and into the spring.

Lettuces

Probably the easiest to grow in the PNW!  Lettuces are cold hardy for the most part. They do well in the shade.  They enjoy the sun but not too hot, as they bolt easy.  Lettuces can be grown starting early spring and into the fall.  Clipping the outer leaves and succession planting will allow for a continuous harvest.  Lettuces must be well irrigated for the best flavor.  They get bitter if they are stressed and old.  Sow directly into the ground and thin just like you would any other of the greens described above.

Lettuce needs no introduction in the culinary world.  We eat it as a salad daily, I like to snack on it or use it for wraps.

The garden is full of life

I start my day by doing all of my morning chores; feeding the chickens, dogs, cat and children, putting away dishes, packing/preparing lunches and doing whatever else is needed to get the day going. Once the chores are done, I take a few minutes in the garden as “me” time and observe and note changes…all while listening to my chickens cluck!! Does life get any better?  I suppose it could, imagine if my chores included milking my cow–a girl can dream!

Here are a few things I saw this morning.

The asparagus patch is growing.  Since we moved them this year, we are not planning on harvesting them.  All of the asparagus will go to seed and hopefully feel welcomed in their new home.  Their bed is a hugelkultur bed and when you see fungus, you are doing it right!

asparagus mushroomfungi

The cherry trees (we have two) are blooming, so are the blueberries. The raspberries are full with buds.  This makes my girls happy since they love berries.

cherry blueberries raspberries

 

The perennial plants are thriving: the salsify looks and tastes like celery. We use the stalks and leaves when making broth. The root is edible too, we hope to try it this year.  The rhubarb needs no introduction.  We are looking forward to PIE!  And the tulip, although not edible, it adds a nice soft touch, no?

salsify rhubarb tulip

Speaking of rhubarb and pie, the strawberries are doing really well in the main patch and in the old tree trunk.

strawberry1 strawberry

A happy healthy garden is a garden that welcomes native plant species and volunteer growths.  We have potatoes and onions volunteering everywhere in the garden and the wild geranium is all over the front garden–hopefully the bees will snack on them while pollinating our gardens.

volunteers wild geranium

 

The starts are not doing too hot, they are outgrowing their containers and are in dire need of fertilizer. Paul is working hard on finishing the garden beds.  We hope to move them this week.

starts

paul

Thanks for reading… it makes my heart smile to walk in my garden and see all the life and the beginning of healthy, nutritious and fresh food for my family.  I also appreciate the education my kids are gaining from being in the garden and digging in the dirt.  There is so much to be learned from a simple compost pile!  Visit us again, soon!

 

Happy Easter

 

Easter2015

Happy Easter! We follow the Orthodox calendar and celebrated today with family and friends. Our tradition is to dye our eggs using onion peels, bake sweet breads (Kulich) and other pastries and spend the day with our family!  We had a lovely dinner at my sisters house and the kids got to open a few presents.

I have many fond memories of dyeing Easter eggs with my sisters and baking yummy bread with my mom.  I remember how much fun it was to prepare for this holiday and I hope that one day, my kids will love it as much as I do.

Here is a quick demo on dyeing eggs using onion peels and plants.

You will need a grocery bag full with onion peel (from yellow or red onion, it does not matter), a large pot, pantyhose, string (for sewing), scissors, plants (young ferns, dill, cilantro, young leaves, non glossy/waxy and nothing too thick) and raw white eggs (brought up to room temperature).

In a gist, you will affix a leaf on your your raw egg, wrap it as tight as possible with the pantyhose, twist and tie with a string, boil in onion peel for about 25 minutes, take out of the water, peel off the plant before it dries on to the egg forever and enjoy.


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