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.