Spring Strawberry Salad

With maple candied walnuts and creamy goat cheese balsamic dressing.

 

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For some reason, this spring I’ve been craving the fresh new foods that come with the changing season, much more than I normally do.  The strawberries in my yard are nowhere near making fruit yet, but a few weeks ago, the strawberries in the market were suddenly glorious.  A strawberry out of season tastes Ok, but when they’re actually ready, ripe and fully red, full of sweet juice that seems composed of the very flavor of renewal and new growth, they are magical things to eat.  I was immediately obsessed.  Another good thing about food in season is that it’s bountiful, and therefore on sale, and I pretty much stuffed as many fresh ripe organic strawberries into my gullet as possible.  I also came up with this recipe, the first one in a while that I’ve invented without looking anything up or searching for ideas.  So:

 

For the salad:

Lightly shred about a handful of lettuce (I like red leaf or butter lettuce) per person.

Add 1 small or 1/2 large grated carrot per person.

Add grated radish, about half as much as the carrot.

Add sliced strawberries, as many as you like, I suggest a lot.

 

spring strawberry salad 2For the dressing:

Put about 4 Tablespoons of plain fresh goat cheese in a jar.

Add heavy cream up to about the top of the cheese.

Add 1 Tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar.

Add a pinch of salt, and stir together (a small whisk is great for this).

Add a little water, stir, and add a little more, until the dressing reaches the consistency you’d like.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

This makes a fair amount of dressing, enough for about 6 people to have salad, and maybe find some other things to spread it on.

 

For the walnuts:

Lightly crush 1 cup of walnuts (I just do this with my hands).

In a skillet, melt about 1 Tablespoon butter over medium heat.

Add two teaspoons of maple syrup, one teaspoon of brown sugar, and a large pinch of salt.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and then add the walnuts.  Stir until most of the coating is on the nuts rather than the skillet.  Let cool.

If you run out of time, this is also good with un-candied walnuts or pecans, although these lightly candied ones add a really nice touch.

 

Sprinkle the nuts on top of the salad, and let each person add the creamy dressing as it’s served.

 

spring strawberry salad 3

 

Now, if only I can find some fresh peas …

 

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Simple Homemade Cheese – Goat Cheese and Paneer too!

 

My friend Tom comes up with some good ideas sometimes (shh – don’t tell him!) especially when it comes to food.  The other day he appeared at my house with some goat cheese he made.  I have been making fresh paneer cheese for Indian food for a while, mainly because we live a fairly small town and (to my knowledge) you can’t buy it here.  So, I already had a method for fresh cheese that’s pretty foolproof and I know works with a variety of different ingredients, and thanks to Tom’s idea, I tried it with goat milk too, and it worked great!  I got a soft fresh goat cheese.

I first learned this method from reading the paneer cheese directions in Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen by Laxmi Hiremath, my favorite Indian cookbook.  Since then I have figured out a few tricks and variations.  One thing I love about this way of making cheese is that you don’t need anything you don’t already have in your kitchen or can’t easily get.  And there’s only one thing you need to know that may not be obvious if you’ve never made cheese before – read on.

 

fresh cheese 1

 

Recipe Sketch: Simple Homemade Cheese

Start with milk.  You can use whole or low-fat, cow or goat etc.  If you can get small-batch pasteurized, or non-homogenized milk, it will make a big difference in the texture of the curds and the cheese, for the better.  We used to get local dairy milk in glass bottles in Madison, which worked great.  Organic Valley has a non-homogenized “grass milk” I can get here, which also works great.  Don’t worry if you can’t find anything other than ultra-pasteurized milk though, you can still make cheese!  The only goat milk I could get was homogenized and ultra-pasteurized, and it still worked, as you can see.

Put the milk in pot with room to spare.  You can use whatever portion of milk you happen to have left in the fridge.  Most of what’s in milk is water, so be prepared for to more to become whey than cheese.  I used 1 quart of goat milk and got just over 5 oz of soft cheese, a ball about the size of my fist.

Heat the milk until it starts to boil, stirring occasionally.  Stay around the kitchen for this part, even though it will take a little while for the cold milk to heat, because as soon as it starts to boil it will want to boil over!  I like to put away the dishes or something while I’m waiting.

Also while you’re waiting, get out something acidic to curdle the cheese.  You can use fresh lemon or lime juice, or yogurt, cultured buttermilk, or even vinegar.  Each one will give a little different flavor to the cheese.  One of my favorites is a little lime with a little buttermilk.  Use whatever you have and experiment to see what you like best.

When the milk starts to boil, turn it down to a simmer and add a little bit of your acidic substance of choice.  Stir and wait for about 30 seconds, then if nothing is happening, add a little more acid, stir and wait again.  At some point a separation will occur, instead of milk you’ll have solid curds and translucent whey (yup – little miss muffet).  This is the key to knowing if the separation is complete, the whey will be yellowish and almost clear, you will be able to see distinct white curds floating in it.  The curds may be tiny flakes or huge globs, depending on the milk, but all the white milk solids will be in them, and they’ll be floating in the translucent whey.  I could have sworn I had a picture (from my not-well-lit kitchen) of what it looks like when the curds are huge, but I can’t find it anywhere.  I’ll take one next time it happens.  For this goat milk the curds are tiny.

 

fresh cheese 2

 

Once you have curds and whey, turn off the heat and let them rest for a few minutes while you get ready to drain the cheese.  Put two layers of cheesecloth (yup – that’s why it’s called that) in a colander.  If you want to save the whey, put a bowl under the colander.  You can use the whey instead of milk to make pancakes, etc., as a soup stock, or to make other kinds of cheese.

Pour the curds and whey into the colander.  If you want to make a firmer, sliceable cheese, add any flavorings you want at this point, while you can still stir them into the cheese.  For soft cheese you can do it later.  In any case, then gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and tie it together, so that the cheese continues to drain.  I have a long, plastic coated twist tie that I use, one end is twisted into a loop that goes over my faucet, and I twist the other end around the cheesecloth and let it hang it the sink, still inside the colander.  You can also tie the cheesecloth to a wooden spoon or other tool laid across the top of your colander.  You just want the cheese in its cloth to be suspended so it continues to drain.

fresh cheese 3

 

That’s about it!  Leave your cheese to drain for an hour or more, depending on how firm you like it to be.  If I’m making paneer I want it to be sliceable, so I’ll leave it longer than for soft goat cheese.  You can always open the cheesecloth and check to see if it has reached the consistency you want.  If you’d like it to be firmer, just tie it back up and leave it to drain a little longer.  You can also press the cheese after draining, between two plates with something heavy on top, and leave it in the fridge like that for a few more hours to make it even firmer.  So like I said, lots of options.

Ta-da! Cheese!  You can now scoop it out of the cheesecloth and into a bowl or container to save it.   For soft cheese, you can stir in a little salt or any herbs you would like to add to the flavor.

 

fresh cheese 4

 

So there you go, I hope that’s enough to get you started on your own cheese-making adventures!

 

Kent State Museum and Ohio Food Finds

I feel like it took me a while to figure out that if I saw, for example, a cool exhibit was happening at a museum somewhere, especially in the Midwest, chances are we could go there at some point during the year. That’s how we ended up at the Kent State Museum. What I didn’t realize was that in addition to the resist dye exhibit I read about, the whole museum (ok it’s small, but still) is costume and textiles, and they have a permanent hall of historical fashion!! For any of you who don’t already know, I’ve been obsessed with historical clothing for the longest time.

Everything is presented in the best possible way for close-up viewing, with no glass between you and the textiles. My feet were demurely (ok barely) outside the barriers, but my head was basically in the exhibits, soaking up tiny hand stitching. Things made before the sewing machine I find extra fascinating, I’m always wondering how my stitching would stack up in those days. And how did they make those tiny perfect gathers?

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As you may have guessed from the lack of detailed images of all this amazing clothing so far, this museum has a strict no photography policy. And I have a “do unto others” policy when it comes to photos and copyright. And any iPhone photos I could have snuck in on the sly would in no way capture the level of detail that you can really see. If we’re going to the area next year I may try to get advance permission to take some photos, or bring a sketchbook. But really, the only way to see this is for yourself.

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We stumbled on a couple of notable food finds in Ohio as well, namely Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. Splendid is the right word! We tried four flavors, all of which were spectacular – tart cherry sorbet made with lambic, pear sorbet with Riesling, blackberry and sweet corn, and brown butter almond brittle, and there were about 50 more that looked amazing. Well worth going out of your way for, in Columbus, Cleveland and Nashville TN, plus available in groceries around the area.

That’s actually how we found out about it, while shopping for bread and cheese to go with a free tomato. One of my goals for this trip was to snag some maple syrup local to somewhere we passed through, since we’re all out at home. On a byroad we passed a maple syrup sign at a place that mostly sells small storage buildings (I am not making this up) and stopped to get some. The man working there kindly also gave us a large tomato. So anyway, as we were picking out cognac fig goat cheese (from Mackenzie Creamery) Bryan spotted a sign, “Did you know that cognac fig is also a flavor of Jeni’s Ice Cream?”

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This picnic will make you feel decadent, even at a highway rest area. Just as good with apple as with the tomato the night before!

Enjoy your travels this week, wherever they take you.

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