Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cutting the Cheese

Summer's here, and yes, I've been spending all of my time these days with my 2 boys, who are out of school for the summer. And, well, anyone who's raised boys knows that "cutting the cheese" is one of their favorite subjects (sigh).

I thought I'd share another type of cheese cutting with you though. A much nicer one. Anyone who knows me well knows that I enjoy the "science" behind food. Maybe it's the many years spent in a lab, or just my interest in what's actually in my food, and how it's made, but anytime I read an article about how food is made, I feel compelled to try it. I have made bread and yogurt, roasted coffee, brewed beer, canned all sorts of fruit and vegetables, and yes, made cheese.

A fellow lab-worker introduced me to cheese making after I sampled some of her home made cheese at work. She told me about The New England Cheese Making Supply Company, and soon I was making my own cheese (and cutting it). In our recent move, I tossed out all of my perishable supplies, but at the urging of my kids, I just ordered a new batch of rennet so that I can once again make cheese.

When I started, I ordered a "30 minute mozzarella kit" from the company, and yep, sure enough, it really only takes about 30 minutes to make some amazing fresh cheese right in my own kitchen. I start by heating up a gallon of whole milk on the stove top with some citric acid.

As the milk warms, it starts to curdle. At a certain temperature you add the rennet and continue heating to 100 F. After a few minutes, the curds really start separating from the whey (ala Little Miss Muffet).

The curds are then strained away from the whey (or vice versa?).

There's a few additional heating steps done in a microwave oven. By then the cheese starts to get shiny and stretchy. Kneading, along with the addition of a little salt finishes up the process.

Now it's time to eat, and believe me, this first batch didn't last more than 15 minutes!

Fresh mozzarella is a wonderful treat, is easy to make, and can be much cheaper than buying it at the store. Give it a try!!!

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's not too late...

To start a garden that is!

With a good 2 and a half months (or more!) left of full-fledged summer months, you still have time to open a pack of seeds, put them into the ground, water and watch food grow!

We started some of our food garden plants a few months ago. Ordering seeds from seed catalogs is probably the easiest part of growing a garden. There are so many companies around. Our favorite is also a "local" company, Territorial Seed Company, near Cottage Grove, Oregon.

In years past, and this year, we started some of our seeds early in a mini-greenhouse. It's quite easy... buy some seed-starting mix, put it in a tray, and plant rows of seeds to transplant later into larger pots. Since we're new to Eastern Oregon though, we didn't quite anticipate some of the cold snaps and fierce wind storms that we get here, so we had a few set-backs. All in all though we had some success, but also used our "back-up plan".... buying established plants from a local nursery.
Soil preparation is key to growing a good garden, and in our case, protecting young plants from deer and birds proved essential too. But hey, if we can do it, you can too. One of our favorite books on the subject of planning a garden is "The Square Foot Gardening", by Mel Bartholomew. There's also a website of these techniques.

We had to plant and replant, as it's been an unusually cold and wet Spring here. Don't let a few dead plants discourage you. It's not rocket science. They're just plants, and a packet of seeds doesn't really cost that much!
And the rewards are incredible! It feels so good to watch a plant grow from seeds, flower and produce something yummy to eat. My kids love to help, and enjoy eating food right from the vine or plant. We love to teach them this valuable skill. It's local, it's environmentally friendly, it's healthy, cheap and just plain nourishes the souls along with the body.

Besides sun, water and good soil, the plants need little else, besides weeding. But I must admit that weeding is my least favorite part of gardening. I've tried ways to minimize weeds, and refuse to use chemicals. Bottom line is that you just got to do it. But even if you don't, you'll still be able to harvest some food among the weeds. Just maybe not as much, or as easily.

But DO give it a try..... It's not too late to start!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Drinking Locally - microdistilleries

I've been trying for the last few years to make a real effort to buy products, especially food, made as close to home as possible. The real motivation came after reading "Animal Vegetable, Miracle", by Barbara Kingsolver. She details a year in her families life as they try to produce and eat only locally grown food. Locally grown food is fresher, healthier, better for the environment and if bought from local farmers, supports your community. I like the fact that if I grow it, I know exactly what is put on it and into the soil, and we tend to eat healthier, since we were directly involved in the effort to produce and grow it.

Recently, an empty bottle of gin brought me to the local liquor store here in town. In Oregon, all "hard" alcohol is sold only in state owned liquor stores, and luckily the one here carries a very nice selection of locally distilled spirits. I was quite surprised at just how many of these micro distilleries there are here in Oregon. I did a bit of research and found this map of US micro-distilleries, and was even more surprised at how many there are through out the US. Yes, they cost a bit more, as with most items that are made in small batches on a local scale, but they're also superior once again in taste, and travel fewer miles. The one I picked out is from Bendistillery, out of Bend, Oregon. It makes perfect sense that gin, which is made from Juniper berries, would be made in Bend, an area rich with Juniper trees. They make other spirits as well. And since we don't go through large amounts of hard alcohol, this bottle should last a while. But it is awfully good....

What other local products do you use or know about?