30-Minute Mozzarella

Clearly I have been on somewhat of a cheesemaking streak lately. I know that as I have been yammering on, lately, about the joys of making your own cheese, various friends have been looking at me like I have two heads. They will tell me that it sounds pretty cool, but they think that I am crazy for embarking on such an ambitious task. While I recognize that not everyone in the world is ever going to be super excited about making their own cheese, I need to reiterate, as I always do, that it is really, really, really easy. Like stupidly easy. I hesitate to say this as I do like the props I get for taking on something so seemingly “advanced”, but you guys. It is EASY. Now that I’ve tried a couple of beginner cheeses, I am definitely keen to explore the more challenging ones, and they certainly can get complicated, but stuff like mozzarella is easier to make than say, a loaf of bread.

In fact, mozzarella can take only 30 minutes to make. Seriously. So I command you to stop being intimidated by it right now.

Here is what I love about making my own cheese:

First, I love any kind of cooking that feels like a science experiment, or alchemy, depending on your take on these things, in that you take a couple of very simple ingredients, and through a chemical process, transform them into something new and very special. It feels like magic and I love it and get a huge sense of accomplishment from doing it.

Second, as I said in my post on ricotta, I genuinely believe in learning by doing. Cheese is one of my favourite foods, and I think I learn a lot about the cheese I buy from others and consume by learning to make it myself. I am down with any and all angles that allow me to deepen my love and understanding of cheese.

Finally, it tastes good. Really, really good.

If you are curious to try making cheese, then I strongly encourage you to try this mozzarella recipe. Because it is so easy, and you can make it for a weeknight dinner, it comes together that quickly. It will demystify the whole prospect of home cheesemaking immediately. The only caveat is that you’ll need to buy some rennet, which is hard to find in stores. I highly, highly recommend purchasing some online from cheesemaking.com. It is run by the great Ricki Carroll, the same woman who wrote the wonderful book that I am learning to make cheese from. Her prices are great, she ships really fast, and has no problem shipping this stuff to Canada. I think I had my supplies in less than a week. I bought the smallest container of this liquid vegetable rennet, which is enough to make a few dozen batches of cheese.

I have made Carroll’s “30-minute mozzarella” twice now. The first time, we ate it on grilled pizza, and then just the other night, I tossed it, still warm, onto a gorgeous caprese salad composed of heirloom tomatoes and basil fresh from our garden. The mozzarella has the most wonderful smooth texture, and it complemented the tomatoes beautifully. We ate it alongside sausages that Graeme had just made from scratch, also using our bounty of garden herbs, and it felt really, truly wonderful to savour this meal that had been so profoundly prepared from scratch. When making (as well as growing) your food yourself, it doesn’t need to be fancy to be something that you savour and enjoy with great pride.

I look forward to sharing more cheesemaking adventures with you in the future. In the meantime, enjoy the mozzarella.

30-Minute Mozzarella
Adapted from Home Cheesemaking. Makes approximately 200 grams mozzarella.

Ingredients:

  • 0.75 tsp citric acid, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
  • 2 litres/0.5 gallon whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized, that stuff is useless)
  • 1/8 tsp lipase powder (optional, also available for purchase on cheesemaking.com, just adds a bit of flavour), dissolved in 1/8 cup cool water and allowed to sit for 20 min.
  • 1/8 tsp liquid rennet, diluted in 1/8 cup cool water

When all your ingredients are ready, start heating your milk in a big saucepan on medium-high heat, and add the citric acid solution (and lipase, if using) when the temperature reaches 55F. Stir thoroughly.

Heat the milk to 90F, stirring often. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the rennet slowly with an up-and-down motion for about 30 seconds. Cover the pot and let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Uncover the pot, and check to see if the curds and whey have separated. It should look something like this:

The curd should not be too soft and the whey should not be too milky. If it is, let it sit a few more minutes until it separates more. Cut the curd so that it’s not one big lump.

Put the mixture back on the stove and heat until 105F, stirring very gently. Remove from heat and stir gently for 2-5 minutes, depending on desired firmeness (I think about 3 minutes is perfect).

Scoop the curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon, or drain in a sieve. Put the curds into a microwavable bowl*. Press the curds gently with your hands or a big spoon to pour off as much of the whey as possible.

Microwave the curds on HIGH for approximately 1 minute. Take the bowl out of the microwave, drain off the whey, and gently fold the cheese over and over with your hands or your big spoon (I tend to do the latter because it’s hot!) as though you’re kneading bread. You are trying to make sure the heat distributes evenly throughout the cheese. (It does not require nearly as much kneading as bread, though! Just a minute or so.)

It will look something like this:

Microwave the cheese twice more for 35 seconds each (and add salt after the second time if you are using it). Knead it after heating each time. After the third heating, it should be getting nice and smooth. Knead it until it’s elastic, and stretches like taffy.

If it’s not stretching properly, and is breaking instead, then it may have cooled down too much. Microwave it again.

When the cheese is ready, roll it into balls. It is AWESOME to eat fresh like this, while still warm, and I recommend that you do so. If you are not planning on eating it right away, place the balls in a bowl of ice water until they’re properly cooled down, as this will ensure it keeps a smooth, lovely texture.

*There is a way to do this without the microwave, if you don’t have one, but I haven’t tried it! With the microwave, it is super duper simple.

Lorne Sausage

Here is a recipe for one of my favorite breakfast foods: Lorne sausage, also known as square sausage or sliced sausage. Lorne sausage is a Scottish food and can be found everywhere in Scotland. It is an uncased sausage made of a mixture of beef and pork, bolstered with rusk, and seasoned with coriander and nutmeg.  The meat is formed into loaves and then sliced.

When I lived in Scotland, I most often bought rolls filled with slices of square sausage from the café next to the office I worked at in Glasgow (sometimes they would run out of rolls and serve it on baguette), or sometimes I would buy a Styrofoam tray of fry-up meats–slices of Lorne sausage, some black pudding, and some fruit pudding–from the supermarket and have that on a weekend morning with some fried eggs and maybe a couple of slices of bacon, some sautéed mushrooms, and fried tomato.  For all of its ubiquity there, I’ve never seen this type of sausage outside of Scotland.

Even though I can’t buy Lorne sausage here, it’s really one of the easiest sausages to make, and I whipped up a batch this weekend. I bought whole cuts of meat and ground them myself, but you can just as easily make this with pre-ground meat as long as it is fatty enough.  There do seem to be plenty of variations on the recipe, though I made what seems to be a fairly basic one.  I found mention that some versions of Lorne sausage use “a couple of fingers” of whisky as an aspect of the seasoning, and while I’m sure that this would be delicious, it’s a little more refined than I would generally like for a breakfast food.  I used breadcrumbs for this recipe, but I’ve seen some recipes calling for oats instead and I would like to try that the next time I make a batch of sausage.

This is a nice, slightly sweet, robustly-flavoured sausage that is great for starting off the day.  For me, it has more than a touch of nostalgic appeal as well: there are some things like a certain kind of light on an otherwise damp and grey day, the complex aromatics of a glass of whisky, and yes, the taste of coriander and nutmeg, that really make me miss the couple of years I spent in Scotland and the friends I made there.

Lorne Sausage
Makes about two loaf tins worth of sausage

Ingredients:
1 kg not overly lean beef, cubed
1 kg pork shoulder butt, deboned
250g pork back fat, cubed
150g finely ground bread crumbs

1 tsp onion powder
3 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
3 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
2 tsp freshly-ground nutmeg

1/2 cup chilled water

Grind the meat through the large die on your grinder. Add the bread crumbs, the seasoning, and the water and mix until everything is well combined and sticky. Add more water if necessary. Fry up a little bit of the mixture and check for seasoning. Correct if necessary. Press the mixture into a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap, taking care to not have any air bubbles in the sausage, then put the loaf pan in the freezer for an hour or two. When the sausage has frozen slightly, remove it from the freezer and slice it. Keep what you’re planning on cooking in the near future in the fridge, the rest can be frozen, ideally with pieces of parchment paper between the slices for easy thawing and frying.

Fry the slices and serve them on rolls with a squirt of brown sauce or ketchup.

Smoke-roasted pork tacos


I love smoked foods. There are few things that can’t be made better with the addition of smoke. The problem is that it’s not viable for us to have a smoker right now–we don’t have enough storage space outside so we’d have to worry about junkies wandering off with it–so I mainly daydream about when we will be able to have one so I can make my own bacon, and can smoke ribs and sausages and fish and whatever else I feel like.

Or at least I daydreamed about that until I figured out that it’s actually pretty easy to smoke food on a barbecue.  All you need is woodchips and a grill large enough to be able to cook your food with indirect heat, and since we have literally the cheapest non-portable propane grill that Canadian Tire sells and can smoke on it, that means pretty much any two-burner barbecue.

Apparently this is actually “smoke-roasting” because it happens at a higher temperature than hot smoking, but if it tastes great, who cares about nomenclature, right?

The night I made these smoke-roasted pork tacos I was actually planning on making shrimp tacos with a small amount of shrimp we had in the freezer but when I went to the local fruiterie to get some vegetables and tortillas, I spotted a pork tenderloin on sale and thought that this would be a great addition to the meal.  And since I’d just found a bag of applewood chips that I’d previously bought and had forgotten about, I figured that I might as well try combining the two.

I marinated the tenderloin in a mixture of tequila and lime juice for about an hour, and soaked a couple of cups of wood chips in water for about fifteen minutes.  I drained the wood chips and put them in a foil pouch, making sure that it was open at both ends.  The pouch went in at the bottom of the barbecue.  I started up the barbecue with only one burner until the chips started smoking, turned the heat down to it’s lowest setting, then put the tenderloin on the side opposite the burner until it cooked to an internal temperature of 145F.

We served it on tortillas with pico de gallo, avocados and onions marinated in lime juice and tequila because the avocados were too hard to use for guacamole, cheese, and sour cream.  I ended up cooking the shrimp as I had initially planned and we had that as well.  For sides we grilled some corn and served it with a chile-infused butter and I also made quick-friend zucchini with toasted garlic and lime from Rick Bayless’s Authentic Mexican cookbook.

The meat took on a wonderful orange-ish colour from the smoke and had a beautiful smoky flavour.  It wasn’t difficult to prepare or cook and really made the tacos something special.  They may have been nicer texturally had I shredded the pork instead of slicing it, but the flavour was great.  We will definitely try this again.

Smoke-roasted Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4.

Ingredients:
1 pork tenderloin
A generous splash of tequila
The juice from two or three freshly squeezed limes
Salt and pepper
2 cups applewood chips

Season the tenderloin with salt and pepper and put it in a sealable container with the tequila/lime juice mixture.  Let this sit in the fridge for about an hour.  In the meantime, soak the wood chips in water for fifteen minutes, drain, and make a foil pouch for them.  Close the pouch, leaving the ends open, place it on the bottom of your barbecue and heat the grill until the chips begin to smoke.  Place the marinated tenderloin on the side of the grill opposite the wood chips–the tenderloin shouldn’t be over a flame.  Cook with the lid closed until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145F, about 45-60 minutes.  Serve with tortillas and your favourite taco fixings.

Quick-friend Zucchini with Toasted Garlic and Lime
Serves 4. Adapted from Rick Bayless’s Authentic Mexican.

Ingredients:
1 pound zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/4″ cubes
1 scant tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
A generous 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (I used fresh oregano from the garden)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Sweating the zucchini. In a colander, toss the zucchini with the salt; let stand 1/2 hou over a plate or in the sink. Rinse the zucchini, then dry on paper towels.
2. Browning the garlic and frying the zucchini. About 15 minutes before serving, heat the butter and oil over a medium-low heat in a skillet large enough to hold the zucchini in a single layer. Add the garlic and stir frequently until light brown, about 3 minutes. Do not burn. Scoop the garlic into a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl, then scrape the strained butter mixture back into the pan; set the garlic aside. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the zucchini to the pan and fry, stirring frequently, for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned and tender but still a little crunchy. Remove from the heat.
3. Finishing the dish. Add the lime and toasted garlic; toss thoroughly. Sprinkle with the pepper, oregano and parsley, then mix, taste for salt and serve in a warm dish.

Strawberries with Pernod and Black Pepper

I love summer desserts. I can be counted on to devour every pie, crumble and cobbler in sight with near-psychotic enthusiasm. It is hard to go wrong with fresh fruits and berries, a butter based crust or topping, and some sweetener. The only problem with these desserts, however, is that there comes a time in every Montreal summer when it is so hot that it would be suicidal to turn on the oven. As any locals reading this blog will know (or really anyone in the northeast of this godforsaken continent), that time came last week.

Of course, beyond the issue of cooking in this heat, summer fruit is also so fantastic that you often just want it relatively unaltered (or completely unaltered), rather than baked into even the simplest recipe. And so one of our summer dessert standbys, when we do want a little something special that doesn’t involve turning on the oven, is this incredibly simple recipe of strawberries soaked in Pernod (pastis liquor) and black pepper. We have been especially into it in recent weeks, as Quebec strawberries are everywhere, and so delicious, and new ones are finding their way into our fridge on an almost daily basis.

Graeme and I discovered this tradtional French way of preparing fresh strawberries when it was served to us last summer at our favourite French bistro in town, Au Petit Extra. I was very skeptical at first, as I hate the taste of black licorice, and therefore tend to hate the taste of licorice-flavoured liquors, but in this case those three simple ingredients–strawberries, Pernod and black pepper–all combined to create something coherent and special, and just licorice-y enough to make an impression but not enough to alienate me and my palate. Au Petit Extra called them “fraises pépé” (grandfather’s strawberries?), but I am not sure at all if that is a commonly used name for them or just one they came up with; as far as I can tell as an ignorant anglophone, it comes from the expression, “chercher les fraises [pépé]” which, for some reason that I do not at all understand, means to become senile. I would welcome any francophones reading this here entry to comment and clear up some of this linguistic confusion, because google and my beloved wordreference.com really let me down on this one.

Anyway, ever since that fateful dinner, Graeme and I have been trying to figure out how to recreate this incredibly simple strawberry dish. It has been a truly Goldilocks-style process; the first time I made this, the Pernod was far too subtle, and then when Graeme tried his hand at it, it was so strong that I found it inedible. After going back and forth a little bit, I finally found a balance that works for our taste buds, although I’m sure other folks would want to alter it one way or another for theirs. I present to you the recipe we came up with below.

At its best, the Pernod and black pepper should not overpower the strawberries, but rather they should give them this extra punch that makes them taste… even more like strawberries. Like super-strawberries. To me, that’s what summer desserts are all about; when fruit is so fresh and so tasty on its own, it is a shame to do much to it unless you are emphasizing what is already there. You certainly don’t want to take anything away from the beauty of a fresh, ripe strawberry.

Strawberries with Pernod and Black Pepper
Serves 2-3. Or maybe more, if you served them with good vanilla ice cream, which is an EXCELLENT idea.

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh strawberries, stemmed and halved
3 tbsp Pernod or pastis liquor
A few generous turns of your black pepper mill

Put all the strawberries into a bowl, and pour in the Pernod, stirring to make sure they are properly covered. Grind your pepper into the bowl, stir, and let sit for at least 30 minutes, ideally an hour or two. (I find that it’s perfect to prepare this just as you’re getting ready to sit down for dinner, and then it is good to go by the time you are ready for dessert.) Serve on its own, or with ice cream.

Damm Inedit

When we were leaving Spain, we were browsing the duty free in the Barcelona airport, looking at their meagre selection of whiskies, trying to find a nice bottle to bring home with us, I spotted a display of Estrella Damm’s Inedit. Inedit is a beer created by, according the the little booklet that comes with every bottle to hammer home the point you will be purchasing and drinking a truly remarkable beer, “globally acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià, Juli Soler and sommeliers Ferran Centelles and David Seijas from El Bulli Restaurant.”  It also boasts that it is a “beer specifically created to pair with food”.  I first saw this beer when we had lunch one afternoon at a great paella place by the sea.  At a table near us was a family of tourists with a couple of young children.  The dad ordered a bottle of beer; it was apparently some fancy beer despite the Damm label around the neck, because after serving it was kept in a bucket of ice at the end of the table, much like a nice bottle of wine.  One of the kids, who looked to be about six years old, asked the dad if it was dry-hopped, which Anna thought was hilarious because in that moment she saw our future. I was curious about it because while Spain isn’t exactly famed for its beer, I do like to try as many local beers as I can.

I’ve hinted at craft beer’s “wine envy” here and in comments here, and while this isn’t craft beer by any reasonable definition of the term, don’t we have in Damm Inedit the most literal example of beer trying to prove that it is sophisticated enough for wine drinkers?  That finally we have a beer refined enough that it can be drunk with fine food?

This idea is, of course, nonsense.  There are plenty of beers that go excellently with food.  Yes, even high-end food.  Last fall we went to New York and had a superb meal at wd-50. For my main, I had Wagyu steak with barley and malt and it went wonderfully with a malty German lager.  And here I am at Au Pied du Cochon’s cabane à sucre–maybe not fine dining, but gourmet nevertheless–feeding beer to a chicken head:The idea that there is now finally a beer good enough to accompany fine food says more about Ferran Adrià’s ignorance about beer than it does about anything else.  But, hey, it was four euro a bottle, so why not try it?

We decided to try it with one of the best foods to pair with beer: (homemade) sausage on a bun.  Of course, had I looked more closely at the Inedit booklet before starting dinner I would have realised that such a fine beer wasn’t made for such rough and ready proletarian fare as sausage on a bun, but was rather “created to pair with the most exquisite and challenging foods. Foods that contain: citrus and oils: i.e. salads, vinegar based sauces. Bitter notes: i.e. asparagus, artichokes, rucula. Oily textures: ie. salmon, tuna, fatty cheese.” Though from the beer’s website we see that “this beer can take acidic, sweet and sour flavours by the hand. the symphony of flavours in each dish is different, but there can be a common thread capable of unifying them all, for a sense of continuity so there is no need to switch drinks.” So maybe it can go with most foods?  Sausage it is, with a side of grilled potatoes and zucchini.

Maybe we should have eaten something closer to the recommended foods to get an idea of how this beer pairs with food because it brought very little to the complex seasoning of the sausage. It is, in effect, a pretty ordinary Belgian-style blanche with subtle coriander and orange peel notes, and a clean finish that suggests a bottom-fermenting yeast.  The subtlety of the spicing verges on blandness.  It was okay, but not something I feel inclined to try again.  There are far better examples of this style: Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly is a locally-brewed blanche that far surpasses the Damm version.

I’m struggling to find things to say about the beer because there really isn’t anything remarkable about it. If this was a wine, and the beer and its presentation really do beg the comparison, I can’t see it having a place on a high-end wine list.  There’s just not enough going on with it.  The very idea that there is a beer that can pair with food, instead of a variety of beers with different flavours–bitter, sweet, sour, spicy–suggest a lack of seriousness put into conceiving the ways in which beer and food can work together. This beer and its conception seem completely ignorant of the brewing world, and it basically does a very mediocre job of attempting to reinvent the wheel. I suspect that a large reason why the beer exists, and is distributed as widely as it is (for example, you can purchase bottles in Quebec at the SAQ) is because El Bulli was hemorrhaging money–the New York Times reports here that annual losses of a half a million Euros were what led to the restaurant closing–and the beer doubtlessly generates a decent amount of income.  That doesn’t mean that it’s groundbreaking or exceptional.

Mint Lemonade

As a general rule, Graeme and I try not to eat out just for the sake of eating out. Lately, though, it has been so damn hot in this city of weather extremes, that on some days it has been difficult to muster up the energy to cook anything at all. This past Sunday evening, for example, we found ourselves sweaty and exhausted and so we decided to give ourselves a break and seek out food prepared by other people. We wandered down to Sainte Catherine street, which, in our neighbourhood–alternately titled Centre-Sud or the Gay Village–is wonderfully pedestrianized for the entire summer. As such, practically every restaurant on the strip has a terrasse spilling out onto the street, and it seemed like an ideal place for some muggy summer dining.

The village is not known for its restaurants, although there are so many around these parts that I often feel like it is overlooked as a food neighbourhood because there are definitely some gems hiding amongst various chains. On Sunday, we stumbled onto the terrasse of Lallouz, a new-ish addition to the neighbourhood, and a really well-run, charming, yet impressively inexpensive Middle Eastern eatery. We cannot recommend it enough. We feasted on a variety of little salads to start, and then enjoyed really well-prepared grilled beef, chicken and lamb kebabs on warm lafa bread. It was a perfect, not too heavy meal for such a hot night. And what really sealed the deal for me was that, included in their $12 (!!!) set-menu price, was a pitcher of mint lemonade.

I get a little bit excited about mint lemonade, and so this was a fabulous surprise. And was it ever some good mint lemonade. We downed it speedily. It instantly brought me back to the mint lemonade I drank in Israel, when I travelled there in early 2010. It is ubiquitous in the region, and for good reason; could there be any more refreshing combo than lemon and mint? Sweetened, but not too sweet? I would not shut up about how exciting Lallouz’s mint lemonade was, and so on the way home Graeme insisted we stop at the nearby fruiterie and pick up a big bunch of lemons. Surely this was something I could recreate at home?

I am happy to report that–duh–yes, mint lemonade is super easy to make, and a perfect refreshing drink to help you deal with the summer heat. If you are like me, and have mint growing in the garden so fast that you can’t keep up with it, this is a great use for some of it. I completely winged the recipe below and it turned out totally to my liking, so you should feel free to wing it too, and get it just how you like it. And stay cool.

Mint Lemonade
Makes 1 pitcher full.

Ingredients:
1.5 cups lemon juice (about 7-8 lemons)
1.5 cups simple syrup*
a bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
3 cups water

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher and serve in glasses over lots of ice.

*I warn you, I like my lemonade nice and tart. Adjust the simple syrup to your tastes, and definitely sweeten it if you think I’m a crazy sourmouth or something.