Monthly Archives: January 2012

Homemade Goat Queso Blanco

I’ve been a fan of making cheese for a few years now. My go-to cheese is fresh goat cheese, which requires some culture and rennet to make the magic work (not hard to buy online, but not a spur of the moment project). I recently joined a year-long cheesemaking challenge, hosted by Rachel and Tom on the local Bay Area blog Another Year Without Groceries. Our first challenge was to make a cheese using only curdled milk. I chose to follow Rachel’s lead and make a goat-milk based Queso Blanco, which is curdled with cider vinegar. This is a crumbly fresh cheese that you often see topping Mexican dishes.

Summerhill Goat Milk

Since I don’t have my own goats like Rachel, I bought my milk. I like the Summerhill Dairy goat milk you can buy at Trader Joe’s and my local grocery heaven, Berkeley Bowl. It is not ultra-pasteurized, which is really important for good cheesemaking (the ultra high heat breaks down some of the proteins that make the cheesemaking magic happen). I used 3 quarts…don’t ask me why I didn’t round it out at a gallon…no idea! You can certainly use regular whole cow milk as well.

Dump your milk into a non-reactive pan (stainless steel or enameled is best, don’t use aluminum or cast iron). First, heat the milk to 180 degrees. You will need to use a thermometer for this step, but any meat or candy one should do. Then add cider vinegar. For a gallon, you need about a quarter cup. Since I used 3/4 of a gallon, I just under-filled the 1/4 cup measure by a bit…it doesn’t need to be an exact science. Stir slowly as you add the vinegar, and let it dribble in vs. dumping. Keep stirring slowly until you see the mixture begin to separate, with white clumps and a yellowish liquid. You now have curds and whey (see above)!

Take a large bowl and place a strainer on top. Line the strainer with a fine-weaved dish cloth (like the flour sack variety) or real cheesecloth (not the type with big holes you get at the grocery store). One of my favorite tools in the kitchen is a set of straining cloths (called “All-Strain cloths”, pictured above) I purchased from the chef Michael Ruhlman. He has a shop on the website Open Sky where he sells kitchen implements that he and local Cleveland craftsman have made. Open Sky is an amazing site where many chefs and other prominent folks sell items they personally use and endorse at a competitive prices. It’s one of those sites where you have to join to see prices and buy, but it’s really worth it–I’ve gotten many things from chefs like Tom Colicchio and Dorie Greenspan. If you are interested, you can follow this link for $10 off your first purchase.  All-Strain cloths are $22 for 3, so only $12 with the discount. They are heavy-duty, and I use them for everything from straining stocks to draining fresh goat cheese. (I do get a little referral bonus if you follow my link to Open Sky and end up purchasing, but I wouldn’t share it if I didn’t really buy a ton of kitchen things from them!)

Keep transferring the contents of the pot (emptying the drained whey as needed to keep the liquid from touching the strainer) until it is empty. If you want to salt your cheese, as I did, wait until a lot of the liquid has drained off (maybe 30 minutes), then transfer the curds into another bowl. Add salt to your taste. I added 1 tsp for this amount, and it seemed to work well. Mix well to incorporate the salt, then transfer back to the cloth to do your final draining.

It is important to tie it up to drain for the final step, as the weight of the bundle hanging will drain out more of the liquid. I used kitchen string to knot the cloth together into a bag, and hang it from the handle of the microwave above my stove. All you need is a place to tie some string and hang your bundle above a bowl. It will still be dripping for a while–it’s up to you how dry you want your cheese. You can feel the bundle and see how firm it is getting, and take it down once it’s the consistency you want. It only took a couple of hours for mine to feel right to me. It is a firm, crumbly texture, as you see from my picture on the top of the post.

I was inspired by Rachel to use my cheese on a homemade whole-wheat pizza made with pesto and sauteed rapini (aka broccoli rabe). So yummy! It doesn’t really melt (similar to goat cheese or feta), but worked great on a pizza when topped at the last few minutes of cooking with a little bit of shredded mozzarella to hold it together. It also was delicious on a quesadilla, as long as you remember it’s a bit more loose than regular melted cheese and eat carefully. I think I’m really going to enjoy this cheesemaking challenge!



January 31, 2012 · 8:11 am

Vegan Sweet Potato-Peanut-Coconut Soup

Rainy weather, like we’ve had in the Bay Area for the last week or so, always makes me want to eat hearty warm soups. I ran across a recipe for Sweet Potato-Peanut Bisque from Eating Well Magazine last week, and was inspired by the idea of an African-themed soup based on sweet potatoes. I, of course, revamped the entire recipe and included coconut milk (because what doesn’t taste better with coconut milk?). I always love recipes that allow me to use homemade ingredients, so was happy to be able to pull out a jar of my tomato passata (basically a lightly-cooked tomato puree) and use my homemade nut butter.

I make my own peanut butter using my VitaMix blender, and have started throwing in several types of nuts to make it more interesting. I buy everything raw, then roast them in the oven prior to making the butter. I use about half peanuts, then this time added in hazelnuts, cashews, and sunflower seeds. I figure it’s always good to vary my consumption of foods, and each of those nuts/seeds has its own unique health benefits and nutrient profile. I’ve found that the flavor is similar enough to peanut butter to allow it to substitute in recipes, but it’s a bit more interesting on an apple or sandwich.

This recipe is pretty easy, and so delicious. It’s a bit decadent-feeling with the coconut milk and peanut butter, but the spice cuts through the richness in a lovely way. And these are nutrient-dense foods, with lots of healthy fats–so a small bowl goes a long way to satisfy you. The soup re-heats well in the microwave, and is great for work lunches. I served it with my homemade bread, which was made with 1/2 whole wheat flour and some of the leftover whey from a cheese-making adventure this weekend. More on that next time!

African (Inspired) Vegan Sweet Potato-Peanut-Coconut Soup

Serves 6

  • 2 large sweet potatoes (10-12 ounces each)
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 oz jar or can of tomato puree
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 2 jalapenos or serrano chiles, chopped (seeded if you’re a wimp, like me)
  • pinch (or more, as desired) red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 15-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter or other nut butter
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh cilantro leaves or chives for garnish
  • Sauteed shallot for garnish

Begin by roasting the sweet potatoes. Pre-heat the oven to 400°, and peel and chop your sweet potatoes into 2″ chunks. Toss with olive oil to coat, and dust with sea salt. Roast until the cubes begin to brown, approx. 30 minutes. Roasting brings out the sweetness of the sweet potatoes and gives the finished soup a lot more flavor.

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, begin to prep your soup ingredients. In a stock pot pot or dutch oven, heat about 1 tbsp olive oil in the pan, and add the chopped onion. Cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the minced garlic and ginger, and cook for another minute. Add in allspice, pepper flakes, chiles, tomato puree, and water, and cook for about 10 minutes.

Add in the sweet potatoes and peanut butter, and cook for 5 minutes more. Puree with an immersion blender if you have one, or transfer to a food processor or blender to process in batches. I like to leave it a bit chunky, which the immersion blender does well. Finish by adding the coconut milk and stirring until it is heated and fully incorporated. Feel free to add more water if the soup is thicker than you prefer. Season with salt and pepper to taste (salt needed can vary quite a bit, depending on ingredients used).

I happened to have a shallot that needed to get cooked, so chopped it and sauteed separately, then added it at the end for some texture. This turned out to be a lovely addition.  Serve with crusty bread and top with diced chives or cilantro leaves.


Filed under Soup

Sour Cherry Cheesecake Ice Cream

I’m kind-of in love with cheesecake. Creamy, decadent, and rich, it’s definitely a special treat. However, it’s not something I can justify making just for a Sunday afternoon.  The challenge with making something like cheesecake is that it’s a little bit too easy to keep eating if you aren’t serving it to a crowd.

So I decided the safest route would be to make ice cream, and get my cheesecake in a more easily rationed frozen format. So I got out the  ice cream maker, and started brainstorming. I thought of the sour cherries I canned in a light syrup last spring, and ended up trying to recreate New York cherry cheesecake in an ice cream. This ice cream turned out to be exactly what I wanted–rich and decadent enough have a small scoop satisfy, and with the creamy and tangy combination that I was going for.

The base was pretty simple. Sour cream, cream and eggs get cooked together with the sugar, then cooled overnight (while the ice cream maker gets chilled in the freezer). The next day, throw in a bit if maraschino liqueur of you have it (or vanilla if you don’t), and some cold milk. Since the milk never gets cooked, I ended up using raw milk. I like drinking raw milk, but use pasteurized milk for cooking. I always like to use raw milk in recipes when I can, as it is much easier to digest (and better for you) than pasteurized.

While the ice cream was churning in the ice cream maker, I drained the canned cherries, reserving the liquid. I chopped the preserved sour cherries in half, then added them after the ice cream was frozen. The ice cream comes out looking like soft serve, and needs at least a couple of hours in the freezer to harden. The liqueur in the ice cream helps to keep it from freezing too hard. If you want to create a syrup for your ice cream, you can cook down the syrup from the cherries to make a sauce.

Sour Cherry Cheesecake Ice Cream

1 pint heavy cream

2 cups whole milk (I used raw milk, as this part is never heated)

16 oz cream cheese, softened

2 cups raw / organic sugar

3 beaten eggs

2 tsp maraschino or kirsch liqueur (or vanilla, if you prefer)

1 cup preserved sour cherries, drained and cut in half (reserve syrup to reduce for topping)

In a large saucepan, whisk together the cream, sugar, and eggs. Cook and stir over medium heat until it begins to thicken. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth, then gradually beat in hot mixture. Cover and chill completely.

Stir in the milk and vanilla. Freeze in a 4-quart ice-cream maker according to directions (or two rounds in a small , then scoop into a freezer-safe container to store. Stir in the cherries. Freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.

If you are interested in making a syrup to drizzle on top, here is how I made mine. In a small saucepan, heat the syrup from the sour cherries with 1/2 cup sugar (if your cherries were canned in a light syrup, like mine) until the mixture comes to a boil. Let it cook until it reduces by 25% and begins to thicken. Chill completely, then drizzle on top of your ice cream when serving.

You could definitely adapt this to a variety of berries–I think it would be fantastic with blueberries or strawberries. You could even swirl in a ribbon of jam in place of  the cherries. In fact, I may try that next time!

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Filed under Dessert

Sour Cream Banana Pancakes

I hope you’re enjoying the start of the New Year! I haven’t been blogging long enough to merit a “year in review” post, so instead, I wanted to share one of my favorite weekend breakfasts. This will be a simple and easy post, so you can take your time to welcome in the New Year, and maybe event try this for breakfast today!

These Sour Cream Banana Pancakes are from Ina Garten’s book Barefoot Contessa Family Style. She is great at coming up with new twists on familiar favorites, and these are super simple, but have a lovely tangy flavor from the sour cream that is a fun twist on pancakes. The batter is simple and quick, and not too fussy. It is important not to over-mix the batter, so leaving it a little bit lumpy like you see above is just fine.

The batter also keeps really well in the fridge, and is even better the second day. I love this, as I don’t want to eat a whole recipe in one morning. You can also make extra pancakes and re-heat in a toaster. Just make sure you let them cool completely upside-down before putting in the fridge, as the bananas hold a lot of moisture and can make the pancakes soggy if you put them in plastic before they cool.

There are bananas inside, and bananas on top. That’s a lot of bananas. (I like bananas)

Once you start cooking the pancakes, you just drop the banana bits on top.

Flip them over…

And you’re left with delicious caramelized bananas on the bottom of your pancake. Yeah, that’s pretty good. Top with more bananas and real maple syrup, and you’ve got a great breakfast!

Happy New Year!

Sour Cream Banana Pancakes by Ina Garten 

Serves 4 (3 large pancakes each)

1 1/2 cups flour

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 cup sour cream

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

2 extra-large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Unsalted butter

2 ripe bananas, diced, plus extra for serving

Pure maple syrup

In one bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt with a whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing only until combined.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat until it bubbles. Ladle the pancake batter into the pan to make 3 or 4 pancakes. Distribute a rounded tablespoon of bananas on each pancake. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned. Flip the pancakes and then cook for another minute until browned. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, add more butter to the pan, and continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used. Serve with sliced bananas and maple syrup.

Do you have a favorite weekend breakfast recipe? Share it here!


Filed under Breakfast