Friday, June 29, 2012

Making Mozzarella

Mozzarella is a gateway cheese, once you have tried making it and see how easy (and frustrating) it can be, you are hooked. Not every batch turns out when you are just beginning, but even the mistakes can be quite tasty. It is a very frugal way for us to make the cheese we most enjoy on our pizza, and it's fun to boot. Learn to make this and take the things you will need to a party. You are guaranteed to have one heck of a crowd gather around and be amazed at your mad cheese making skilz.

Here are the things you will need to make your cheese:

Large stainless steel stock pot, colander, stainless steel spoon, measuring cups, distilled water, citric acid, rennet, 1 gallon of milk (not pictured) and a thermometer (also not pictured).

To get started, measure out 1/4 cup water and add 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet to the water. Set aside to use in just a bit. In another measuring cup, put 1/2 cup water and 1 1/2 teaspoon citric acid. Stir it well to dissolve.

Add the citric acid/water to the bottom of your pot.

Now add your milk to the pot and stir. You may see some funky curdling happen, but don't worry, you just made the milk very acidic and that may cause the milk to curdle a little.

Place your pot into a sink and add HOT water (I put about 2 quarts of boiling water and then enough of the hottest tap water I can get to fill it the rest of the way up). Watch your milk and bring it slowly up to 90 degrees. Add hot or cold water to your water bath to adjust however you need to. I usually have to add more boiling water to make it come up to temp.

Now that it is at 90 degrees, add your rennet. You should stir for about 30 seconds in and up-and-down motion. The best way I can describe doing this is to stir like you are using a potato masher. Here I am stirring the top of the pot ("top stirring") because my milk is raw and un-homogenized.

Here I am stirring the top of the pot ("top stirring") because my milk is raw and un-homogenized. That means that the cream is trying to rise again. Buy top stirring, it keeps the cream incorporated into the milk to yield a much more tender and buttery cheese. So Good! Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
When 5 minutes have passed, check to see how your curd formation is going. By gently placing your hand on the edge of the curds and pressing *gently* down, you can see the curd start to separate from the sides of the pot. It should have a thin, clear whey beginning to happen around the edges. If you have good curd, continue on to the next step. If your's isn't quite there yet, wait a few more minutes and try again.

Now that your curd has set, you are going to cut it into 1 inch cubes. Cut first one way...

And then the other... Let it set for about 3 minutes and move on to the next step.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds into a colander. Keep the colander over a bowl to catch it, you are going to use it in just a second. Put the whey into the pot you used to make your curds. Put the colander into the pot of whey in the sink of hot water and let it rest. It might be necessary to add more hot water to keep it in the 110-115 degree range. You are now draining the whey from your curds.

When the curds start to look dry, put some boiling water into a bowl. Put the colander of curds on top of the hot water (it needs to be 175 degrees or so, you can make it cooler with come cold water), and begin to stir them around. You are heating the curds up and this will allow them to s-t-r-e-t-c-h into the mozzarella that we all love and enjoy.

Stretch the curds as far as you can. Keep doing this a few times until the cheese turns a shiny, smooth color. It will look a lot like taffy that has been pulled if you've ever done that. When it reaches smooth and shiny, shape it into a ball and place it in a  bowl of VERY cold water. I add 3 tablespoons of salt to the water to make a nice brine, but I have done it without salt and it turns out ok that way too.

Let it chill for several hours, or until firm enough to slice.

There are a lot of step involved in making cheese, but none of them are what I would term difficult. Once you have done it a few times, you get the feel for what you are doing and you won't need to foloow the time tables as strictly as you will with your first batch.

Some helpful hints:

  • I get my cheesemaking supplies and recipe exclusively from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. They are an invaluable resource for cultures, rennet, recipes and more.
  • Please visit the "good milk" list while you are at the link above. Many milks in the supermarket are Ultra Pasteurized now and they simply will not make good cheese. Milk that is as fresh as possible is always best.
  • I doubled the batch in the pictures and that is why my measurements in the pictures don't add up to the single recipe I have given here. 
  • This recipe, with more help and alternate directions for using a microwave, can be found here.
  • Don't give up! It took me several tries to get cheese consistently. It's a challenge, but it's worth it.
  • The more you work your curds, the drier the cheese will be. Keep in mind, however, the the driest homemade cheese will still be softer and moister than store-bought. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Certain Truths

I thought we would do some thing a little fun and different today. I'm going to share with you some pictures of a recent trip we took to the coast, and tell you things about me that you don't know. Let's go!

1) I can't swim.

2) I hate squirrels.

3) I'm not a morning person.

4) I would do anything possible to avoid weeding the garden.

5) My middle name is Jeanne (say it like Jean) and everyone thinks that it's pronounced Jeanie.

6) My favorite song in the whole world is Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl".

7) I love to cook, I hate to do the dishes.

8) My favorite color is teal. Or burgundy. Or maybe emerald green.

9) I love being in my 30. The best time of my life is right now. I know who I am, I'm not interested in impressing anyone and I know who loves me. Life is good.

10) I will pass up dinner to eat something sweet any day of the week.

11) I can't make a pretty pie crust to save my life.

12) Becoming a published cookbook author is my dream. Someday....

13) Having a milk cow has changed my life forever. I never thought I would want to own and run a small, artisan dairy and help people learn to make cheese, yogurt and butter for a living. We're not there yet, but maybe someday....

14) I never thought I would be a homeschooling mom, and now I can't imagine being anything else.

15) The last few years have been some of the hardest we have had to face.

16) I love this picture.

17) I'm excited for what the future holds for my family. It seems like we are being blessed in new ways every day.

18) I really, really, really, REALLY dislike having dry hands.

19) This is the first picture of Kevin and I together since we got married (10 years ago!)!

20) I take tons of pictures every day, but we have a grand total of 4 pictures on our walls inside the house. How sad is that?

21) I love jigsaw puzzles.

22) I hate sewing on buttons.

23) I go through so much chapstick I had to start making my own because it was costing a fortune.

24) I'm mostly a vegetarian. I have nothing against meat, it just has a strange texture in my mouth and I can't handle it. Weird, I know.

25) Once upon a time I wanted to be a crop and soil scientist. HA! No thank you, way too much chemistry and math for me :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Banana Bread

I got an amazing deal on bananas at the store and I couldn't pass them up, they were only $.09 a pound! you better believe I bought all that I could and then worried about what to do with them all. I froze some of them to use in baked goods and for smoothies later, and some I immediately turned into banana bread.

I have this huge bread pan, I'm not even sure what size it is, that I like to make quick breads in. You see when I use this massive behemoth to make bread in, we can eat some of it and the rest I can slice and freeze to use later in lunches or for snacks. I'm all about making my life easier whenever I can and making a huge batch of quick bread makes a nice way to add some love to those lunches without a lot of fuss on my part!

This recipe is e-a-s-y and so delicious, always moist and definitely banana flavored! Like most of my most loved and treasured recipes this one comes out of our family cookbook and is the only recipe I have ever used. Ever. It's seriously that good!

Banana Bread

1/2 cup shortening (crisco type)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3-4 very ripe bananas
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour

Mix shortening and sugar together until fluffy and light. Stir in eggs and beat until very pale yellow. Add bananas, baking soda, salt and flour and mix just until everything is moistened, do not over-mix. Pour into a greased bread pan and bake for about 1 hour at 350 degrees. Let the pan cool for 15 minutes and then remove the loaf from the pan. Let cool completely before slicing (yeah right). It really is best if you can let it sit wrapped in a clean, dry dishtowel overnight before you eat it, but we hardly ever make it that long!

Now, this time around I made a few muffins out of a little batter so my little people wouldn't have to wait so long to have a snack, but it's not something that I ordinarily do. Oh, and those banana slices on the top? They might look pretty but every. single. one. of my kids complained about having "hot nana" on top of their muffin. Just a warning :)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cooking With Kids~ Corndog Muffins

These corndog muffins are a great example of something you can cook up with your kids. We don't eat a ton of hot dogs, but for a treat these make a nice, simple lunch. They require no special skills or equipment and are perfect for little hands to help with.

I'm always being asked, "How do you cook with your kids?" The easy answer to that is that they are always in the kitchen with me. My 7 year old can measure, pour, scoop, roll, take some things in and out of the oven (with supervision of course, I don't let them run willy nilly in there), frost simple cakes, make sandwiches and other simple things, knead bread, cut biscuits and cookies, and about a million other things.

Here is how we make these great muffins:

Make your cornbread. I use this recipe cut in 1/2, but you could use your favorite recipe or box mix. It all works!

Fill your greased muffin tins 2/3 full.

Cut your hot dogs into 1/3rds.

Pop one into each muffin.

Cover the hot dog up and pop them into the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes.

Take them out and LET THEM COOL. You muffin will not fall apart and look less than perfect if you aren't rushing to feed little people and trying to get a picture at the same time :)

Your kids can help you do almost every step of this process. They can help you measure, mix and fill the muffin tins. Let them cut the hot dogs with a butter knife (hey, it's a lesson in fractions as well!), put the pieces into the batter and cover them up. Let them look at the clock and decide where the hands should be before they will be ready to take out. And, for heaven's sake, let them help you wash the dishes or load the dishwasher after you are done. You'll appreciate the help and they will be learning a valuable skill at the same time.

Even if your little ones are too little to help out much, stand them on a stool next to you and talk to them about what you are doing, why you are doing it, why unicorns fly, discuss your favorite colors and wonder why it is that boys are so gross (maybe some of these only happen at my house??).

Whatever you do, DO take time to let your kids cook with you. There is nothing sweeter than working along your kids and watching them learn. The conversations you will have are bound to be priceless :)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Lucky Leaf Adventure: Part 2

A couple days ago, I told you all about the first part of my trip to Pennsylvania to visit with Lucky Leaf/Knouse Foods. You can read about that here.

After we left the orchard, we went to the factory to see how the fruit gets processed to become the cans of pie filling that we all know and love. Here's the thing about the factory: we couldn't take pictures inside because of some proprietary equipment so I don't have any of those to show you yet. We'll be getting some a little later and I'll share them with you then.

Here's what I can tell you, the process taking the fruit to finished product is amazing. In a nutshell here's what happens:

  • The fruit is brought to the warehouse and accepted by the plant. It's then inspected by a USDA agent and given the ok to be processed. This also grades the fruit so the growers can be paid according to the quality of the fruit that they deliver.
  • The fruit is taken into cold storage and stored until it can be processed.
  • The fruit is washed, processed, put into jars and cooked.
  • The canned product is taken on a ride and ends up in a storage warehouse where it is cool enough to be labeled and hang out until it's ready to be shipped out.
It all happens amazingly fast! Being a canner, it was fascinating to me to see how so many cans can be processed in a day where I can only do maybe 4-5 canners full in a day. I was pretty darn jealous of all that great machinery!

Now, we moved on to cold sotrage, or CA (controlled atmosphere), to see how the fruit is be stored. 

These are cherries that they were bringing in as we were there. These have a very short time to be processed, just a few days, so these won't hang out in here very long. 

These, on the other hand, can be stored for quite some time. These are Rome apples and they have been in here for about a year. We were told that they can store them for up to 2 year without any loss in texture or flavor if  they need to. That was simply amazing.

They can store apples for so long by pumping out most of the oxygen in the storage rooms and putting Nitrogen in the room in its place. Here, plant superintendent Mike Jones tells us all about the process.  The machines in this room take air from the outside and extract the nitrogen out. They can then use that to replace the oxygen and release everything else back outside. 

Now it was time to visit the solar fields!

These solar panels are located in an area that been capped and couldn't be used for anything else. What a great instance of taking something that would be otherwise unusable and making it into a viable resource!

Each panel has been wired together and they collect energy from the sun and use the large white box below to convert it into usable power for the plant. These solar panels make up about 30% of the energy used by the plant. Fantastic!

From the solar fields we had our lunch break at Knouse Foods. We met with Ken Guise, President and Chief Executive Officer and Dick Esser, VP of Sales. From them we got a nice history of the company (it was founded in 1949) and learned a little more about how they value their growers and employees.

The it was off to the technical center for a chance to sample products. Here we met with Mervyn D'Souza, Director of Technical Services/Quality Assurance and Charles Bennet, Manager of Environmental Affairs. I'm proud to say that this is one company that really strives to be environmentally healthy and green.

Here are all of the Musselman's products available for us to sample. I have had the applesauce before, but I was amazed at the varieties and sizes/packaging that are available.

And here are the Lucky Leaf pie fillings we were able to sample. Some of these I had never tried before and with the exception of the Raisin Filling, which I think is an acquired taste, I really LOVED them all.

The flavors that we sampled were: Apple, Apricot, Peach, Pineapple, Cherry, Strawberry, Sweet Dark Cherry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Blueberry, Raisin and Lemon. Not only were they very tasty, they were so pretty and rich in color. I have to say that the Sweet Dark Cherry and Blackberry were probably my favorites. Cherries aren't really my most favorite in the fruit world, but this filling is superb.

There is so much that I am probably leaving out, so many facts and numbers that I wanted to share that I have simply lost because there was just so much information to process in such a short time. What I came away with, and what mattered to me most, was the way this company cares, really cares, about their growers, employees, product and safety. Those cans of pie filling sitting on the store shelves are more than just a product, they are the combined efforts of many to make the best, safest, tastiest product that they can.

I'm proud to be a Blog Ambassador for Lucky Leaf and Knouse Foods. I will forever be a loyal customer and I have no problem shouting their praises from the rooftops because I know and I have seen the comitment to quality and the drive to produce something that is a quality product. I'm so grateful for the chance to have gone on this trip and I thank everyone who worked so hard to make it happen. I loved getting to meet the other bloggers and to spend that time with them, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Have you visited Lucky Leaf and checked out their website? They have a store locator so you can find out where to get your hands on some Lucky Leaf goodies!
You can also follow Lucky Leaf on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest. Not that you have to or anything, but I would if I were you ;)

Thank you for coming along with me to the beautiful orchard of Peach Glen, I hope you enjoyed the trip as much as I did!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Lucky Leaf Adventure

I left for Gettysburg, Pennsylvania early on Monday morning. The picture above is of Mt. McLoughlin and the clouds surrounding her. It was right after my take-off and at this point I was nervously excited. It was like leaving for summer camp...what if no one likes me? What if I'm the odd girl out? What if my blog is completely out of place? I shouldn't have worried because when I got to the airport to meet up another of the bloggers (Dawn from Not Just A Mommy) and to catch our ride to the hotel, I was welcomed and felt so at ease. It was a very telling sign of how the rest of the trip would go.

At the meet and greet, we scored some seriously cute swag. The item under that cookie is an apron, and it is absolutely the sweetest thing you ever saw. We chatted, had some great food, and then had a food styling workshop, which you all know I could use some help with. I came away with some good ideas and a fire to produce better shots of my food and things for you all to see. It was a great night!

Early the next morning, we headed out the orchard. Gene Livelsberger, Field Representative Raw Fruit, hopped onto the bus with us to take us on a tour of the orchard. The cherry season is in full swing, and due to some less than desirable conditions this year, is going to be a short one for the growers. They were harvesting cherries when we got there and we got to go out into the orchards to observe the machines at work.

Cherries were perfectly ripe and ready to be plucked from the trees. We may have eaten quite a few as we meandered through the orchard seeking the perfect shots and learning about the harvesting process.

How lovely is that? What a perfect way to spend the morning!

The cherries are harvested by a machine that gently grasps the trunk of the tree and shakes the cherries off. They hit the orange-y colored part of the machine and roll down to a conveyor belt.

The belt takes the cherries up and drops them down into an ice-filled container so the cherries stay icy cold until they are shipped to the warehouse. These cherries lose texture very quickly if not kept cold and used as soon as possible. I believe that I heard that they can be kept for only 3 days at the most, so they really are fresh when they make it into your can of Lucky Leaf Premium Cherry Pie Filling!

That's fresh! One of my all time favorite shots.

All the bloggers in the Bonnie Brae Fruit Farms orchard with the grower Jim Lott and his daughter Sarah Lott.

In other orchard news, the peaches are coming on!

Speaking of orchards, how amazing does that look? Ahhhh acres of fruit trees. How beautiful.

I'm going to stop here for today and do the rest of the trip in another post. It seriously was such an amazing, wonderful experience. It's hard for me to put it all into words, but I'll try. The longer we were there and the more I learned about the orchards and the growers and the company itself, the more I knew that being a Blog Ambassador for Lucky Leaf was going to be an easy job for me. This is seriously a company that I believe in and trust 100%. You'll see more on why that is tomorrow, but for today I just want to tell you how lucky I feel to be part of something this good. 

Lucky Leaf, Lucky Me.