DIY Crème Fraîche – and Kohlrabi Salad

 

Or, why I like The Joy Of Cooking so much.

 

creme fraiche and kohlrabi

I know, it looks like strange bedfellows, but keep reading . . .

 

If you’ve never had crème fraîche, I recommend trying it.  It’s kind of like sour cream, but a little less sour and much more subtly flavored.  And expensive, at least here.  It’s a cultured food, so we figured that if some of the cultures are still active, we might be able to get more crème fraîche by adding some of what we had to some plain cream.  Good quality organic heavy cream is about 1/4 the price per ounce of crème fraîche, at least in Flagstaff, AZ.

And in fact, if you look up crème fraîche in the KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS section at the back of The Joy of Cooking (I love that part of the book), they suggest as a substitute: adding one tablespoon of buttermilk to one cup of heavy cream, warming it to 110° F on the stove, and then pouring in into a jar, letting it set loosely covered “until the cream has thickened and has a pleasant mildly sour flavor,” anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days.

We tried the same thing, using one tablespoon of store-bought crème fraîche to one cup of cream.  And, almost three days later, tada!  It’s funny because it looks like nothing is happening for quite a while, the cream still very liquid, and then finally a few more solid clumps appear, and the then bam! it’s done.  Once it gets as thick and mildly sour as you would like, store it in the fridge to keep it from becoming overly acidic.

These directions say to leave it in a warm place while the cultures are working.  Our house is short on warm places in the winter, so the first time I tried it, I left the little jar near the stove, figuring that whenever I heated something up it would get a little warmth.  That was the time it took almost the whole three days, but definitely worked.  The next time, I actually forgot to heat it at the beginning, I just added 1 tablespoon of the first batch to one cup of fresh cream and stirred it around.  I thought it might benefit from a warmer place, so I put it in the middle of the burners on the stove as I was cooking dinner, checking from time to time to make sure the jar was getting warm, but not hot, and to rotate it around a bit.  That time the whole jar had become thick crème fraîche by the next morning!

 

kohlrabi salad

 

Ok, so once you have some crème fraîche, kohlrabi is probably not the first thing you are inspired to put it on.  Dolloped in soup or on waffles might sound more luscious, and both are wonderful.  But, if you’ve never had kohlrabi, I definitely recommend it.  It’s one of those winter vegetables that looks knobbly and scary on the outside, but on the inside has a lovely subtle flavor, in this case a little cabbage, a little nutty, and quite good.

I tried one recipe for kohlrabi salad earlier this winter, but I thought the amount of lemon juice in the dressing overwhelmed the soft flavors.  If you look up almost any specific vegetable in Joy, it will tell you not only whether it is good raw or cooked, and how to cook it, and whether to peel it first, but it also gives a list of flavors that compliment that veggie particularly well.  That features was a huge help when we joined our local CSA – even though I had never heard of most of the greens we got, they were almost all listed, and I could figure out at least whether they were for cooking or salad, and what they were likely to taste like.

Under kohlrabi it says, among other things, that it goes well with cream, parsley, and dill.  As do carrots, and so . . .

 

Recipe Sketch: Kohlrabi and Carrot Salad with Crème Fraîche

This makes enough for 2 or 3 servings, feel free to make more!

 

Peel, taking off the woody outside layer (chew on a bit if you are not sure), 2 small kohlrabi

Scrub one medium carrot (I pretty much never peel carrots)

Grate the kohlrabi and carrot on the largest teeth of your grater (a trick I only recently figured out is to leave the carrot top as a handle, start grating from the skinny end, and stop when you get almost to the top).

Put these in a bowl, add 2 – 3 tablespoons of crème fraîche, and mix with your fingers, it should be slightly creamy all over.

Sprinkle on about a tablespoon each of chopped fresh dill and fresh parsley.  (Remember how I keep herbs in a jar in the fridge?  Dill keeps practically indefinitely that way.)

Mix together, taste, and add a pinch of salt if desired.  If you are not serving it right away, you may find that the veggies have absorbed some the liquid and the salad is a little dry, if so you can add a little more crème fraîche or regular cream before serving.

 

I love all harmonious delicate flavors in this salad.  And, as you might guess, some crème fraîche mixed with the cream for carrot and raisin salad is pretty great as well.

If you can’t find any crème fraîche to start from where you live, you may be able to get the cultures from a source like New England Cheesemaking Supply.

I did a little research on using the same process to make perpetual yogurt, which I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never tried, but it’s now next on my list of kitchen projects.  From what I’ve read so far it seems only slightly more complicated, heating the milk, I presume to kill of any unwanted bacteria, then adding the yogurt or culture once it’s cooled back to warm.

What about you – have you made your own crème fraîche or yogurt, or other cultured food?  Any tips or thoughts?

 

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Pancakes with Greens

 

greens pancakes

Real-life pocket-camera photo of the pancakes just before they were devoured, with tomato sauce and another recipe from Plenty, roasted veggies with caper and lemon dressing – delicious! 

 

My friend Megan grew up in the south.  She loves greens; collards, kale, chard, you name it.  She loves them just cooked and piled up on a plate.  However, as I have confessed before, I just don’t like them like that, I find it too slimy, too bitter, too dark and green.  But I think of her when I find a way to eat greens that I do like, such as this one from Plenty by Yotam Otelenghi.  If you’re at all interested in eating vegetables, this cookbook is a must-read.  Lots and lots of new ideas and flavors.  I’m pretty sure that it made a great big splash when it came out a couple of years ago, but somehow I missed it.  I like finding good things that I’ve missed, and you can keep them longer from the library.  Bryan and I have been cooking together a lot lately, and we raced through this book, I don’t think I’ve ever made so many recipes from one source in such a short time.  Good thing too, because even though it’s not a new book, someone else requested it at the library and I had to give it back after three weeks.  I’ll just have to get my own copy.

In the meantime, I really wanted to make these pancakes for Megan when I saw her.  She’s eating dairy-free for a while, so I had to adapt the recipe (even more than I already had).  But to my delight the pancakes are just as good!  The key to this recipe is to beat the egg whites to soft peaks and then fold them into the batter.  It makes a lovely light texture and holds everything together.

The original recipe has you fold lime and herbs into softened butter, then refrigerate it again, and put on the pancakes.  They are delicious with the flavored butter (I used lemon and thyme), but just as good with a plain pat of butter, and/or with tomato sauce on top.  I bet they’re good with your favorite sauce and condiments as well.

 

Greens Pancakes

 

Adapted (a lot) from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Pull the greens from the stems of one large bunch or two small bunches of green stuff: collard greens, chard, kale, spinach, etc.  You should have about 8 cups.  Steam in a steamer basket over simmering water until bright green and wilted.

Meanwhile, mix together in a large bowl:

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

2 egg yolks

2 Tablespoons melted unsalted butter -or- olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2/3 cup milk -or- water

2 green onions, finely sliced

1/4 cup fresh or frozen and thawed or canned green chiles -or- sub a little of your favorite hot sauce

Chop the steamed greens fairly fine and mix them in as well.  The batter will look like mostly greens held together with a little flour and stuff, and that’s fine.

 

Beat the egg whites on medium-high speed with a mixer until they hold a soft peak when you pull the beaters away.  Fold the egg whites into the batter gently with a rubber spatula, just until everything is combined.

Put a little oil (it really doesn’t take much for them not to stick) in a frying pan, and heat it over medium-low heat.  Ladle about a quarter cup of batter into the pan for each pancake, and flatten it out a bit.  Cook until deep brown on the bottom, then flip with a metal spatula and cook the other side.  Put the pancakes on a plate and keep warm while you cook the rest.

Enjoy!

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!

 

A Good Veggie Stock, and Drawing More Regularly

Two things that have eluded me until recently come together!

The stock, I don’t know, I’d just never been happy with any that I’d tried, it was one of only maybe two times that the Joy of Cooking has outright failed me, I wasn’t sure what other recipes to try . . . I finally “got” it when reading Deborah Madison’s Greens Cookbook, for some reason the way she explained using the veggies you have and tailoring the stock by adding say ginger and garlic for curry soup, etc., made more sense to me than essentially the same advice I’d read other places . . . so I just started making it, using “basic” vegetables and adding whatever seemed good or to go with the soup.  Hooray!

The drawing, it’s something I continually mean to do more of, and occasionally set specific goals and/or read books about it from the library, but for some reason it’s hard for me to keep up on any kind of regular basis.  I know, I KNOW that if I would just practice I would get smoother and better and eventually I could make little sketches that look like what I see, which is a goal of mine (I do my own illustrations for knitting handouts, which involves drawing the human hand, but very slowly and only when I’m in the exact right mood, ie almost never).  Then just this week I happened upon this post in which Jess shares some “maps” she made for parties, little plans with drawings and words about what she plans to make and how to arrange it.  This idea clicked with me immediately since I am such a visual learner, I think images enter my brain on a fast track while words need translating first.  So I started making them as plans for the day or the week, drawing the parts that are easily visualized.  I’ll show you some – later.

 

For now: Recipe Sketch (real sketch this time!):

 

 

 

See what I mean?  The drawings don’t have to be perfect, the point is not that they achieve any particular proficiency at all (good thing because my first potato looked more like a mutant amoeba), the point is that I’m practicing and if I keep practicing I will necessarily get better!  I’m in love with these visual lists, I find them really playful, letting my brain roam in new directions rather than just spitting out one item of “to do” after another.

It seemed like a good time to bring these two together since stock is one of the few foods NOT crying out for me to photograph it.  And, if you’re cooking anything vaguely traditional for Thanksgiving, you’re likely to have a lot of these ingredients on hand.

Do you draw for fun, or add visuals to other things?  Please share what you put in your veggie stock, I’d love to have more ideas!

 

Chopping Vegetables, or “Get a Big Knife”

 

 

 

Ok, blog people, let’s talk about something important: chopping vegetables.  Nope, I’m not kidding, in fact I think that being able to do this efficiently can make a real difference in how much work it is to cut up veggies, and therefore how many we cut up and eat.  I have not been to cooking school, so I learned most of my “knife skills” just by experience, and reading cookbooks.  But there are a few simple principles I use now that really make quite a bit of difference.

First of all, get a big sharp knife.  This does not have to break the bank.  When we were renting in Madison, we went to the thrift store, got the most solid-looking/feeling knife (from a rather large and alarming bin of them) went home and sharpened it, and it worked great.  If you use a tiny knife, you will have to cut each piece of each vegetable separately, and that will take forever, and you will be grumpy and think that vegetables are too much work.

Ok, second thing, and this really the key as far as I’m concerned, chop the vegetable into sections, which you can chop together into pieces the size that you want to end up with.  I’ll demonstrate on this squash: cut the ends off (any part you don’t want), and then cut it in half.

 

 

Then, cut the halves in half again, so that you have four sections of squash.  You can pull the knife in a curve as you cut if your veggie is curved.  If you want very small pieces at the end, cut into eight sections now, dividing each one one more time.

 

 

Now, line up the sections and chop all at once!  You can chop thin or thick pieces, whatever you’d like for your dish.  Notice that the tip of your big knife can stay touching the cutting board as you lift the thicker part near the handle and chop chop chop.

 

 

At this point I should perhaps point out that I am usually holding whatever I’m chopping (not the camera) with my non-dominant hand.  And that if you are left-handed, you’ll do exactly the same things, but your chopped squash pieces would appear on the left side of the frame above.  When you’re holding something that you’re chopping, lots of cookbooks advise you to keep your fingertips tucked under, I think on the theory that if your knuckles are sticking out the furthest, they are higher above the thing being chopped, and more likely to bump into the side of the knife than being accidentally shaved by the blade.  Most of the time, I forget to do this.  Use whatever works for you without chopping your fingers.

Also at this point, you may be thinking, “Ok, fine, but not all vegetables come in such a straight and manageable shape.”  Ah ha!  True, but use the same principles to break them up.  For example, I cut this crookneck squash into a (more or less) straight part, and a very curvy part.

 

 

Cut off the ends and divide into sections as before.  If one part is noticeably thicker, I’ll cut it into quarters, and leave the thinner section in halves, to get pieces of about the same size.  That way they will all cook in about the same amount of time.

 

 

There wasn’t an easy way to line up the curvy sections flat, so I stacked them on top of each other.  It’s all about chopping more pieces with one cut.

 

 

Another thing that’s not illustrated, but helps a lot, is having a big bowl (or two if they are not all going to the same dish) to collect your chopped veggies in.  Having a cutting board cluttered with things you’ve already chopped will force you to make smaller, less efficient movements.

 

 

Apply the same principles to a round eggplant: slice first, crosswise this time, then stack and cut into pieces the same size as the squash.

 

 

A few vegetables have their own variations on these ideas, like onions.  Any other ones you’d like to see covered?

What to do with all these lovely freshly chopped veggies?  All of the ones illustrated here went into ratatouille.

 

Try it, trust me, it’s faster, it’s so worth it.

When I say “faster,” I don’t mean “hurry” or “rush” (which in my case always leads to mistakes and/or injuries, usually and), I mean more efficient, less time spent doing the same task, even though you are doing it well.  Whenever I think about efficiency as applied to hobbies (like cooking is for me), I think of this quote, it’s from a weaving and sewing book that my grandmother gave me off her shelf when I liked it.  I love the way the authors write about craft:

 

In all human pursuits there seem to be fast, efficient ways of doing things and slower ways of doing things.  Some weavers hesitate to look for and adopt efficient methods in their craft because they think of themselves as amateurs.  In their heart-of-hearts they feel that it is not appropriate for them to become more proficient.  . . . Loving the craft of weaving and wanting to pursue it more efficiently are certainly not mutually exclusive.  There is every reason, in fact, for all weavers to try to become efficient.  The first benefit of increased proficiency is the production of a better fabric.  There are very few satisfactions that compare with that of a job well done!”

– Handwoven, Tailormade by Sharon D Alderman & Kathy Wertenberger

 

There’s a lesson here for all of us who make ourselves anything as a hobby.  I’d love to spread this attitude, and the resulting more and better sewing/cooking/weaving/whatever you make.  What do you think?  How to you view efficiency in your hobbies?

 

Ratatouille

 

This time of year, at least where I live, the market is simply overflowing with fresh veggies.  While the fruits seem to come in a relatively orderly sequence, one replacing another, the vegetables apparently just multiply, more kinds, more flavors, more colors, every week until the frost.

So, a perfect time to make something delicious out of them!  Something full & rich with the flavors of all the late summer bounty.

Ratatouille

Makes enough to feed 4 as a main course

Chop into large chunks (see the next post):

2 medium summer squash; zucchini, crookneck, etc.

2 smallish bell peppers; red, orange, yellow or purple

1 medium yellow onion

4 small or two larger eggplants

1 mildly spicy chile (optional but really good) If your chile happens to be already roasted, add it with the tomatoes.  Otherwise, keep it with the peppers, squash and onion.

This many veggies will not fit in my largest skillet in anywhere close to a single layer, meaning I know they won’t all brown on the edges.  So, I put the chopped eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil, and roast it in the oven at 375° F until soft and slightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the other veggies and put them in a large heavy skillet on high, with more olive oil, enough to keep them from sticking.  Stir occasionally, letting the surfaces of the vegetables get a nice medium brown.

While the veggies are cooking in the skillet, also chop:

4 -5 large tomatoes chopped roughly, or a little more than a pint of small ones cut in half

3-4 cloves of minced garlic

When the veggies in the skillet are just about browned, add the eggplant to them.  Make a clear space in the center of the skillet, add a drizzle of olive oil, and put the garlic in it.  When the garlic just starts to color, mix it in with the rest of the veggies, and add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat down and cook until the tomatoes start to collapse.

That’s it!  Serve with a generous portion of fresh basil (fresh oregano is also nice, although I like basil best), and a few grinds of black pepper on top.  You can salt to taste as well.

 

 

This recipe is delicious with risotto, or any cooked grain with a little cheese mixed in, or just with bread and cheese for lunch.

 

Asian Coleslaw Recipe Sketch

 

This is a family recipe in a few ways.  I first got obsessed with this salad a couple of years ago when one of my aunts was making it a lot.  Hers was inspired by two different recipes (neither for Asian coleslaw), which I bothered her until she sent me, I thought it was so good I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I have been making my version of her salad (below) for long enough that it’s established its own pattern in my head of what “Asian Coleslaw” is like.

So, during our craft retreat, another aunt decided to make “Asian Coleslaw” with some veggies left in her fridge.  Great!  I offered to help, and had to laugh as soon as she started putting things in.  Parsley?  Olive oil instead of peanut or sesame?  If you’re putting that, why not add this cauliflower?  No?  As it became more and more clear that our visions differed (and of course her version was also delicious) I realized that here was one of my own lessons coming back to me, of course you can make it with whatever you have and whatever you like!  Please feel free to experiment.

 

Asian Coleslaw

This much will feed four as a side.

Combine in a bowl:

1/2 small cabbage (your favorite kind) shredded

3 medium carrots, grated

1/4 cup chopped cashews (peanuts and or/sesame seeds would also be good)

3 green onions/scallions, chopped fine (optional)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro (and/or parsley or other herbs)

Dressing (I make this in my little food processor):

1 Tablespoon shallot, or 2 cloves of garlic

1 Tablespoon fresh ginger

2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil (you can also use peanut)

Juice of one small lime (or splash of rice vinegar, although I like lime better)

2 – 3 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

2 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup

Squirt of hot sauce (or add serrano or another hot chile)

Process the dressing until everything is combined and chopped fine (you could also mince the solid ingredients by hand and combine everything in the bowl).  Pour the dressing over the salad, toss, and you are done!  This also keeps quite well in the fridge for several days.

 

 
I realized as I was thinking about posting this recipe that’s a really a year-round salad.  I tend to think of it almost more for winter, since the ingredients are still readily available, and it provides a little something fresh when almost everything seems warm and stewed.  But, it also makes me think of my cousin (sweating out the Brooklyn summer without AC) and everyone stuck in the Midwest heatwave – a tasty way to get your veggies without ever turning on the oven.  I’m still making it here, even though our monsoon-season weather has been exquisite, so close to perfect that I keep sitting on the (brick) front steps with my laptop to feel the breezes.   I’m telling you, the world’s best weather is in the mountain southwest, once it starts to rain.

One last note, my DIY envelope tutorial was featured on KP’s blog today!  We became friends in person (when we lived in the same country) now I love keeping up with her fun projects and lovely photos (plus she has a recycle project challenge)!