Category Archives: Preserving

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!

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January 31, 2012 · 8:11 am

Basil and Hazelnut Pesto

It has been a while since I’ve posted…and what a couple of weeks it has been! I sprained my ankle, started a new job, spent 3 fantastic days in Portland visiting my sister and her family, and generally did not have much time for cooking or sharing. I am finally getting back into action, and one of the first things I needed to do was take stock of my garden. In addition to pulling out sad tomato plants and planting some new Tuscan kale starts, I rounded up the last of my basil. I was surprised to find so much basil still growing in early November, and it’s likely that  a few cold evenings would put that to an end. It wasn’t pretty–there were holes in the leaves, and I picked off more than a few snails. But that’s ok–it was a perfect candidate for pesto!

Pesto is one of those recipes that is elegant in its simplicity. Basic ratios allow you to be flexible and use the products you have on hand, and the quality of the component ingredients seems to be the most important thing. The first thing you need is greens/herbs. Basil is the traditional one, but I’ve used arugula, spinach, parsley, or even fennel fronds. Feel free to use a combination–fresh and seasonal is the key. I harvested a combination of Italian basil and Thai basil, so that’s what went into mine.

The next typical component is nuts. I chose to use hazelnuts for my nut component, though pine nuts are the traditional choice. I’ve also used walnuts and cashews. I have been in love with hazelnuts lately–I’ve been playing around with nut butters, and my last batch of hazelnut-cashew-sunflower seed butter was fantastic! So hazelnuts it was. The other ingredients are more stable. Parmesan, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper. Again, quality is key. I like grating my own fresh Parmesan instead of using the pre-grated. It stays much fresher, and I think you can get much better quality cheese for your money buying whole. I get mine at Costco for about $10 per lb (Trader Joe’s is great, too), and it keeps for months in the fridge.

As for olive oil, I don’t use anything too fancy for something like this, but definitely want to know what I’m getting. Unfortunately, labels can be pretty misleading. Many bottles say “imported from Italy”. They don’t say made in Italy, because many producers ship inferior olive oil from other countries to Italy, package it in Italy, then ship it from there. This allows them to say that it came from Italy. Pretty sketchy, huh? I like to buy olive oil that says “made in Italy,” which means it came from there, or California olive oil. Greek and Spanish oils can be great, too, but I prefer the more subtle flavor of Italian extra virgin olive oil for pesto. I also prefer unfiltered oils, when I can find them.

Finally, I actually have a lot to say about salt. I completely stopped using traditional iodized salt for cooking a couple of years ago, and have never looked back. It has a harsh flavor and lacks the nutritional value of more traditional salts. My favorite salt for cooking is Celtic sea salt. It is harvested from the coast of Normandy in France, and dried using traditional methods that keep the natural mineral content high. It adds a lovely flavor to all of my cooking, and comes in various ways. I use their grey salt for most of my everyday cooking–it has large crystals that melt in hot foods. For baking, I use the finely ground salt, and for finishing, they have a lovely fleur de sel. It costs a bit more than traditional table salt, but its flavor and health benefits are certainly worth the extra cost.

Now that we’ve gotten through all of that, the recipe is pretty simple.

Basil and Hazelnut Pesto

  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 2 cups packed basil leaves (remove all stems, as their texture is not pleasing in pesto)
  • 3 garlic cloves (or more or less to your taste)
  • ~ 1 cup olive oil (add until desired texture is reached)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • sea salt to taste (1/2 tsp of grey salt is about right for me)
Begin by toasting the hazelnuts in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Let them cool, then rub in a kitchen towel to remove any loose skins. It is not necessary to remove all the skins. It is important to let the nuts cool before you blend them, as otherwise they will be more likely to become nut butter than the crumbled texture you want for pesto. I grated the Parmesan and prepped the other ingredients while I waited for the nuts to cool. Next add the nuts, garlic and salt to the food processor and pulse until they reach the texture shown above–make sure you do not pulse too continually, as you want a bread-crumb like texture. Then add the basil leaves and pulse until they are incorporated. Finally, add the other ingredients and pulse until they are combined. The lemon juice is optional, but will help to keep your pesto from turning brown, as well as adding a bit of acid. Feel free to add more olive oil if you want a looser texture. I tend to store it in the thick state you see above, then add oil if the recipe calls for a looser product, as when using in pasta.
I store the pesto in mason jars, and freeze all but the current jar. This recipe makes about 1.5 pints–more if you add more oil. It tends to keep for at least a month in the fridge, as long as I cover the top layer with olive oil. I love to use it as a spread for sandwiches, an add-in to eggs, or a topping for pasta. It also is a great marinade for meats. I used it for a chicken skewer I brought to a potluck yesterday, and will share that recipe soon.

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Chicken soup for now and later

After making chicken stock recently, I wanted to use some of the leftovers to make a quick soup. After the second round of heating the stock, I strained out the veggies (carrots, celery, onion and garlic), then pureed them in the food processor. I added in some of the leftover stock (I was only able to pressure can 8 pints, and had another two pints or so left).

I grabbed a bag of frozen shredded chicken from the freezer, threw in a cup of frozen cranberry beans, and then raided the fridge for fresh veggies to toss in. I cut the corn off a couple of cobs, diced a red bell pepper, and then headed outside and picked a few kale leaves, which I cut into ribbons and threw in as well. One of the best things about soup is that it is so versatile!

This soup is fantastic! It is really flavorful–I love the texture of the pureed vegetables–it makes the soup so hearty and rich. Though I encourage you to experiment on your own, here’s the basic recipe I made:

  • 1 quart chicken stock (4 cups)
  • Veggies from stock making (2 large carrots, 4 ribs of celery, 4 cloves garlic, 1 large yellow onion) either softened from making stock or cooked until tender, then pureed
  • 2 cups shredded chicken (already cooked–feel free to use rotisserie chicken if you have none made)
  • 1 cup cooked cranberry beans
  • 2 corn cobs, kernels removed
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced finely
  • 1 bunch kale (about 10 leaves), stems removed and cut into ribbons
  • salt and pepper to taste

The soup was rich and hearty, super healthy, and after eating my dinner, I had about 3 pints of soup left. I filled three pint jars with the leftover soup, and decided to freeze them for later use, as my fridge was pretty full. So now I have at least three more meals ready to take to work, and the whole process took less than 30 minutes, due to the work I put in making the raw materials in advance.

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Pressure Canning Chicken Stock

As you saw in my last post, I recently made Chicken Stock. Right now, my freezer is pretty full, so I’ve finally decided to give something a try that will allow me to preserve a larger amount of stock for future use. I know this isn’t for everyone, but I’m finally going to give pressure canning a try. I have spent years preserving using the more common method of water bath canning. For anyone who isn’t familiar with canning techniques, here’s a brief overview:

Water bath canning involves boiling jars with specially constructed two-part lids in a large pot of water, to both sterilize the contents and seal the jars and make them shelf stable. This is only safely done with high-acid foods, like jam, pickles, and some tomato preserves.

For lower acid foods, like vegetables, soups, and meats, the only safe way to can them for shelf storage is to use a pressure canner. This takes the same principle as water bath canning, but uses the mechanics of a pressure-cooker to allow for higher heat processing, to render the contents safe for storage at room temperature.

I recently bought a pressure canner on Craigslist. They are pretty expensive new, but while I was buying a few cases of used jars from a guy, he mentioned he was looking to sell his pressure canner, and I jumped at the chance. It has been sitting around getting dusty, and I finally got up the courage to give it a try. I guess the challenge is that I’ve never even used a pressure cooker, and all that super-heated steam seemed a bit scary…and the thought of poisoning myself is also frightening. But this was as good a time as any, and I have to tell you, there’s nothing to it. Just follow trusted instructions for timing and pressure, and you’re good to go. Check out this site for more details.

For the chicken stock, I used pint jars. You can definitely use quart jars, but my stock was very concentrated, and I wanted to have the flexibility to use small amounts at a time, for making sauces and adding to dishes (not just for big batches of soup). The process is pretty simple.

  • Fill the canner with at least 3 inches of water and start it heating. It should be at least simmering when you place the jars in it. You don’t want to cover the jars with water, as it is steam, not water, that causes the pressure canning process to work
  • Heat the lids and rings in simmering water (to soften the rubber). Feel free to use the heating water in the canner
  • Clean and sterilize your jars (I usually boil them in water, but you can also heat them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes)
  • Fill the jars with the stock, and then screw on the tops loosely (just finger-tight)
  • Load up the canner with the jars. Mine holds 8 pint jars, and based on the amount of time involved, I definitely always plan to fill it to capacity
  • Next you lock on the lid and turn up the heat to high. Each pressure canner has a unique process for locking on the lid. Mine has screws to tighten

The key to a pressure canner is that there is a steam vent in the lid, and a weight is placed on top of the vent to allow pressure to build up to a specified level, which lets the water inside heat beyond the normal maximum boiling point of water, 212 degrees. This super-heats the contents of the jars, ensuring that the contents are sterile and will not spoil or carry harmful bacteria. This is a basic review of the process, though it varies a bit by manufacturer.

  • Seal the lid, which in the case of my canner involves lifting up the screws and tightening them until they are all firmly sealed. The best strategy to ensure a good seal is to tighten the screws across from each other at the same time
  • Turn the heat to high, watch for the steam to begin to escape, and let the steam vent for at least 2-3 minutes
  • Then add the weight to the vent. For chicken stock, the proper weight is 10 lbs of pressure at my altitude (near sea level)
  • Watch the dial on the canner, and begin counting processing time when it reaches at least 10 lbs of pressure. Mine ended up at 11, which is fine. Then time the appropriate processing time. For stock, it is 20 minutes for pints, and 25 minutes for quarts
  • After the time has elapsed, turn off the heat, and leave the canner alone for at least 30 minutes. Then remove the weight, and see if there is any pressure released. If so, give it another 15-20 minutes to completely remove pressure.
  • Then unscrew the tabs on the lid and remove it. EVERYTHING WILL STILL BE REALLY HOT! Using a jar lifter and being careful, place the jars on a cloth to completely cool. You can always wait longer if you would rather not deal with the hot jars. I always tend to be doing these things at night, and am impatient to get finished…
  • After the jars are completely cool, check the buttons on top for a seal. When you press, they should not bounce back. If any jars do not seal, store in the fridge until use (1 week max)

Then find great ways to use your amazing chicken stock! Beyond soups, you can use it as part of your liquid when making rice or quinoa, use it as a base for making meat sauces, or whip up a fantastic risotto.

FYI, don’t worry if there is a bit of sediment on the bottom of the jar, and an off-white cloudy layer on the top, as in the picture. The sediment is harmless, but can be strained out if you like when you use the stock, and the white layer is separated chicken fat–it will re-incorporate when you heat the stock.

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Filed under Canning, Preserving, Uniquely Homemade

That’s a lot of Chicken Stock!

As I mentioned recently, one of the best parts about roasting chickens is using the leftover bones to make chicken stock. Making stock can be as simple as roasting a chicken or buying a rotisserie chicken, using the meat, and then boiling the leftover bones in some water for an hour or two (with whatever veggies I might have around), then straining it. That’s how I often make stock. I use it right away, or freeze it for later use. However, I occasionally want to sock away a larger amount, and buy the raw materials to make a big batch of stock from scratch.

So what is the difference between stock and broth? Though it is mildly controversial, the definition I’ve always understood is that stock is made primarily from bones, and that it very mildly seasoned. Broth is usually more seasoned, and made with both meat and bones. Broth is generally ready to serve, while stock is more concentrated and used as an ingredient or base (and is therefore more versatile). This is why I don’t add salt to stock–if it is reduced, it can often become too salty.

One of the most important parts of a good stock is to roast the bones before making the stock. This adds to the depth of flavor, and also allows the bones to better break down in the liquid. I started with the remains of the two chickens I roasted in my last post. Since I wanted to make a lot, I also bought about 5 lbs of raw chicken necks and backs. They are very inexpensive (even for organic), and they have a high ratio of bones to meat, which is perfect for stock.

Yes, those are chicken feet. I also roasted about 3 lbs of chicken feet. They are totally optional, but they are a fantastic source of natural gelatin, which causes your stock to be rich and have a great mouthfeel. I get mine from a local Mexican grocery store, and I’ve also found them at Asian grocery stores around Oakland. I have heard that butcher shops can be a source, but you wont find them at chain stores like Safeway.

As you may have noticed, much of what I cook is pretty loose in the recipe department. I’m certainly the type of cook who likes to throw things together, and have found that in most cases, everything works out fine. Stock is a perfect example of that. Buy some meat and bones. Roast them till they get brown and crispy. How long? It doesn’t really matter, because you will be cooking them again in the water. How hot? I think I used 400 degrees, but it’s not very important.

After you roast the meat, get out a pot that will be filled about 2/3 with your roasted bones. I used a 12 quart stock pot, and had 5 lbs of backs and necks, 3 lbs of feet, and the bones from two large roasted chickens. You certainly don’t need to make as much. I then added some vegetable scraps. I often freeze trimmings for later use, so happened to have some fennel tops and the top 1/2 of a leek in the freezer, so I added them. I also had just cut some corn off the cob, so threw in the cobs as well. At this stage, you don’t want to use good veggies–they will be boiled to death anyway, so don’t bother with your good stuff (that is phase 2).

Then fill up the pot with filtered water, and put it on to boil. Once it comes to a boil (it takes a long time in a big pot like mine), reduce to medium-low and leave it alone. For a long time. Like 6-10 hours. Did I mention this is a good Saturday project? The time is key, because you want the bones and other goodies to really break down, to give off all of their goodness into the stock. My goal is to have stock that really thickens in the fridge. You see this ?

The stock on the spoon had spent the night in the refrigerator. When it came out, it was the consistency of one of those jello jigglers, or a jello shot if you were that kind of college kid. This means it’s a really great stock, ready to be transformed into sauces, soups, and used as a base for many other kitchen adventures.

So anyway, let it cook for a long time. Poke around in there occasionally to take inventory, and don’t be afraid to nudge apart big chunks of things. Once it looks like everything is loose and broken down, turn off the heat and let it cool for a bit. Once the stock is warm but not going to burn you, strain it through a strainer and throw away all of the chunky stuff. At this point, you have a choice. You can decide you’re done and store the stock then. If so, you will want to strain it again through a finer mesh strainer, or even better, through cheesecloth or a dishtowel. This isn’t necessary, but does ensure the stock is really clear.

The other option is to store it overnight in a bowl in the fridge, then re-heat it to flavor and clarify it the next day. That is what I did this time. The next morning, I scraped off the accumulated fat from the top of the bowl (sorry–forgot to take pics of this stage…no coffee yet), then put it back into a pan to finish. I switched to my 6-quart stock pot at this point, as you lose a significant amount of volume due to evaporation and removing all the solids. Of course, you could add more water at this point, but there’s really no need. I’d rather let my stock concentrate and get really strong, so that it takes up less space. Then when I use it, I can dilute it at least 1-1 with fresh water.

I melted the stock down, then added some fresh veggies. I added a couple of sliced carrots, 3-4 stalks of sliced celery, a couple of cloves of garlic, and a sliced onion. I let it cook for about an hour to impart the flavor of the veggies, then lifted them out with a slotted spoon and transferred them to my food processor. Though they are a bit mushy to use for soup, they make a fantastic soup base as a puree (more on that coming soon!)

I then strain as described above to get rid of smaller bits, and am ready to store the heavily reduced stock. This time, I used the pressure-canner, which I’ll describe in my next post. But that’s definitely not necessary. You can certainly freeze any stock you wont use in the next few days.

I know this is a long post, but I hope it’s been helpful. The same process works with beef, veal, pork, or a combination (but have the butcher slice any larger bones to expose the marrow). Fish or shrimp stock and veggie stock are much faster and simpler, so we’ll save those for another day!

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