Given the Opportunity

Last night I made some Indian food and thought that merited some activity here other than the occasional spambot comment.

My friend John gave me a quart of raw milk on Saturday, and rather than say, drink it, I decided to make paneer, a fresh Indian cheese. I’ve made fresh cheese a couple of times; the process is very easy and adaptable with spices and herbs. (This lovely towel, which I used to wrap and press the paneer, was a thoughtful gift from my talented friend, Dawn.)
homemade paneer
The decision to make paneer proved wise, given the presence of other ingredients in my kitchen that, when combined,  make aloo matar paneer: red potatoes that were starting to show their age, a bag of frozen peas that were long overdue their use, and well-stocked spice shelves. I used this recipe as a guide.
aloo matar paneeraloo matar paneer
So, to recap — Saturday: received milk. Monday: made paneer. Wednesday: made Indian dish. Not even a trip to the grocery store was required! This is the way I like to do things, when given the opportunity.
aloo matar paneer

Basil Panna Cotta

Remember those creamsicles? While ideal for preserving individual portions, they didn’t work too well for my intended purpose: coffee creamer. For some reason, the fats from the cream floated to the top of the coffee, creating an unappetizing glassy layer on the surface and leaving a greasy residue on the lid of my to-go mug. So, I’ve mostly resigned myself to black coffee, with the occasional treat of half-and-half or fresh cream.

Eager to find another use for the cream cubes, I was already considering custard or panna cotta recipes when I came across Cathy Erway’s basil panna cotta in The Art of Eating In (which I finished last night — good book). Erway goes from coupledom to singlehood about half-way into the book, which tells of her 2-year mission to forgo restaurants, take out, food carts, etc.

Turns out, abstaining from restaurants somewhat complicates the typical first dinner-date routine. She has a guy over for dinner and endeavors to create a date-like meal and atmosphere. Apparently, she had fantastic luck inspiring romance, and credits her fresh basil panna cotta. While I didn’t experience this phenomenon, the indulgent dessert did garner appreciative moans.

Panna cotta is a good make-ahead dessert for dinner parties, date nights, pot lucks, etc. And because of the recipe‘s simplicity, you could have fun playing with the flavors. Instead of the basil-infused cream, next time I’d like to try chocolate panna cotta infused with mint.
basil panna cotta
Beautiful cream from Wagon Creek Creamery; basil from my garden.
You can see how the fat rose to the top of the panna cotta — just like what happened in my coffee, but more appetizing.

Creamsicle

As much as I enjoy Wagon Creak Creamery cream, I don’t regularly order it from the food co-op because I can’t use the entire pint before it goes bad. I like a glug of cream in my coffee and tea, though, so I buy Hiland or Braum’s half and half. Last month I decided to change that, or at least give it a try. Rah!
When I got my co-op order, I stirred up the beautiful, yellow, thick cream (You can’t find anything else like it! Well, not unless you have a cow, which I do not.) and poured it into my muffin tin cups. Then I froze the cups of cream until they solidified.
Luckily the muffin tin has a raised lid, so I was able to flip the tin upside down and bang it on the counter (hard and repeatedly) until all the cubes dropped into the lid.
This took some time, so the cubes were sweating by the time I finished. To prevent the cubes refreezing into a big cluster, I put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes or so. Then I put them in a freezer bag for permanent storage.
The only special thing about this method is it takes some planning ahead.
I retrieve a cream cube from the freezer and put it in a little container in the refrigerator. One cube is enough to provide cream for my coffee for the week, especially since I don’t make coffee on the days that I’m running late for work (So, that would be most weekdays.). That means I have beautiful cream from happy cows for 12 weeks, or less if I use some for recipes. Pretty handy!
A word about the texture, which gets altered by the freezing process: The thawed cream gets a little grainy in between uses and needs to be stirred up a bit. No biggie.

cream cubes

Making Goat Cheese

Once you start cooking, one thing leads to another. A new recipe is as exciting as a blind date. A new ingredient, heaven help me, is an intoxicating affair.
-Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (page 130)

I’m sure you were just as inspired as I was after reading the cheesemaking chapter in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She made it sound so easy! I finally garnered the confidence to give it a try and, indeed!, it is super easy.

Soft cheese are ridiculously easy to make, it turns out. The hardest part is ordering the cultures (by catalog or online). With these packets of cheesemaking bugs in your freezer and a gallon of good milk…soft cheeses are at your command.
-Kingsolver (page 139)

Ooops. I got so excited about acquiring some raw milk, that I didn’t think to order rennet or cultures until I had the gallon of milk at home—its fresh-from-the-farm factor dwindling in my mind as each hour passed. Kingsolver uses the New England Cheese Making Supply Company; if you can recommend a source closer to home, please do! Thankfully I found a basic recipe for goat’s milk cheese. The cheese was definitely edible; not mmmm-inducing, but edible. I was just happy it resembled cheese!

Lessons learned:

Salt, salt, salt. I don’t know if I messed up the recipe or what, but the cheese was bland. This was easily remedied by a generous dash of salt before serving.
Next time I’ll be sure to plan ahead and get some “cheesemaking bugs.”
It would be fun to experiment by adding different herbs.
Have a plan for the leftover whey.

1 gallon raw goat milk
1 gallon of raw, unhomogenized goat’s milk.
making cheese
Farm-fresh goodness.
making cheese
For larger curds, let the temperature rise above 190°.
making cheese
Add the lemon juice and watch it curdle.
making cheese
I’m using cheesecloth to make cheese! Brilliant!
whey
Whey left from draining curds. From what I’ve read, whey is ideal for making bread or ricotta (Italian for “to cook again”). I didn’t have time for that, so I used it to water some acid-loving plants.
cheese
After 4 hours of draining…
cheesegoat cheese pizza