Let’s Get Cultured! Filmjölk!

I have been making my own yogurt for about two years now and so far filmjölk, a Swedish countertop cultured yogurt is my favorite. There are several reasons why, the first is the absolute breeze it is to make. You don’t need any special equipment. To make your first batch all you need is the bacteria culture, some milk and cream and a clean mason jar. That’s it. It takes just 24 hours to culture and less than 5 minutes to mix up. It really can’t be easier to make artisan, organic yogurt at home for literally a fraction of the price of store-bought yogurt. This is a great example of a product you can make at home for so little cash and effort that you literally can’t afford not to make it yourself.

Another and equally important reason I love it is for the taste. Many people describe filmjölk as yogurt with more of a “cheese-like” flavor. In Norway it is known as kulturmelk – translation, cultured milk. But it is not like American buttermilk; it is thicker and has more of a yogurt taste, although I find it to be sweeter and less sour than yogurt in general. Filmjölk is similar to cultured buttermilk, kefir, or yogurt in consistency, but fermented by different bacterium, Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides, giving it a different taste than other cultured dairy products and giving filmjölk its characteristic consistency – thinner than yogurt, but a bit thicker than buttermilk or kefir.

Forms of filmjölk have probably been around since Viking times, but the first written records of it are from the 18th century.  Still a long history, which makes sense since Northern Europeans, especially Scandinavians have a long history with dairy animals and before refrigeration the need to culture and preserve dairy was a necessity of life.

Due to its non-committal flavor it can be used in a variety of ways from sweet to savory. We usually eat it for dessert with homemade granola. But I also use it as a substitute for sour cream, or even regular cream as a component to a creamy pasta sauce, or on top of beans and rice. If I don’t have any quark about, filmjölk can be used in its place.

In order to make my filmjölk thicker, I add about ½ cup of heavy cream to the full fat milk. Once your first batch it made, you just save some of the filmjölk to make subsequent batches. I usually save about ½ cup from my batches, and mix the subsequent batches in a 24 oz. mason jar using Vermont made Stafford Organic Creamery un-homogenized Creamline milk and heavy cream. I get my filmjölk cultures from Cultures for Health.

Make some today! This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday! Link up and share your tips and recipes for living a simple life.

Let’s Get Cultured! Quark!

Quark is my new obsession. Even the name is fun to say! It is a fresh cheese traditionally made in Germany, which makes this another exploration into the foods of my ancestors (last week I was exploring my Scottish heritage with a traditional Burns Supper ).

Quark is one of the the oldest cheeses in Europe and has been enjoyed by Germanic people since at least the first century CE, when Roman author Tacitus described it in his writings. Tacitus kind of makes my blood boil, but I do like to imagine the Barbarian hoards sweeping through Europe with quark in their saddlebags. But what can I say, our little family are just berserkers at heart. Cheese, Barbarians…I am really starting to appreciate this lineage.

Back to the cheese: Quark comes in three types – a lower fat version called Magerquark, which can be used much in the same way as yogurt and viewed as a health food in Germany and Austria, a full fat version with added cream called Sahnequark or “cream quark” that is typically a base for a variety of many delicious desserts and then regular quark made with whole milk.

I first tasted quark a few months ago when I saw it at the store produced by Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery. and quickly found many delicious uses for it. It is a bit pricey at almost $4 for a small tub. Once I realized this was going to be a staple for me, I decided to consult my favorite cheese making book, Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses to see if there was a recipe. To my delight I found a recipe on page 99, and discovered how easy it was to make using a buttermilk culture. A word about the book, if you are at all into making cultured dairy products, and don’t have this book, you should get it. For under $10 it is a real treasure trove of fantastic recipes, from really really easy, to artisanal and the instructions are very down to earth.

Be warned one recipe makes a lot of quark – so you want to make sure you have some ideas of what to do with it once it is made. I tried my hand at a no-bake cheesecake using agar-agar to create the right texture but it didn’t congeal and so I put it in the freezer and tonight we will have frozen quark cheesecake for dessert. I will keep working on a recipe though and post it once it has been perfected.

This is a very versatile cheese – you can use it like sour cream or yogurt. I like to put a dollop on homemade nachos, or add on top of a steaming bowl of beans and rice or tomato soup. For the sweet tooth, you can swirl with raw honey or maple syrup or fruit for a nice and satisfying dessert and I am sure it would be a good ingredient in a variety of cakes, muffins, pancakes and breads. This is an ingredient I will be experimenting with a lot now that we have it in such abundance.

I chose to make the full fat, cream added version of quark, and the texture is wonderfully creamy.
SAHNEQUARK INGREDIENTS:
1 gallon creamline milk
1 packet direct-set buttermilk starter
2-3 TBS heavy cream

METHOD:
Heat the milk to 88F, add the starter and mix thoroughly. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours or until set*
Ladle the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin. Tie the corners of the muslin into a knot and drain overnight (with the colander still underneath). If the quark is too dry the next day add a few more TBS of cream to the finished cheese. Store in a covered container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Makes 1-1/2 lbs of fresh quark.

*if you live in a colder climate or prepare this during winter be prepared to wait longer for the curds to thicken and develop. You basically want it to look like runny yogurt before moving on to the next steps.

This post is part of  Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop!

Let’s Get Cultured! Dairy Kefir: Our Daily Elixir

Many of you have been asking me about kefir lately. It appears often as an ingredient on this blog . I use it as a base for ice cream and smoothies, in desserts,  as a leavening agent in baking, and an acidic soaking medium for grains . I realized recently that I had never posted about my method for making it. Let’s make this the first post of my new series: Let’s Get Cultured! In my journey to go from food writer to food producer over the next couple of years, I am going to be experimenting a lot with dairy products.

As some of you know, we are going to be welcoming two Shetland sheep and two Alpine dairy goats to our menagerie in March. Although I won’t be getting milk from them for at least a year or so, I plan to get ready by trying my hand at many cultured dairy recipes, from kefir to cheese and everything in between!

(My Shetlands are part of this herd, but my Alpines have yet to be born!)

We are 100% addicted to kefir in this household. If we miss drinking it for some reason, the whole rest of the day feels “off”. When we travel, we make sure to bring kefir with us. It is that important to our health. Dairy or milk kefir is a delicious probiotic, a cultured milk drink that has over 2,000 years of history, taking us back to the Caucasus Mountains, located between Europe and Asia. Shepherds there noticed that milk carried for long periods of time in leather pouches or animal hides would sometimes ferment to create an effervescent beverage.

We have been making and drinking kefir every day for about a year. During that time we have noticed some remarkable changes since using it regularly – everything from clearing up chronic skin problems, to easier digestion and better immunity. We refer to it as an elixir because it is good for so many things.

The catalyst that creates kefir are the “kefir grains”, which are not actually grains but a colony of microorganisms which exist in a complex symbiotic relationship, in balance . The grains are formed during the process of making kefir and only from pre-existing kefir grains.

What sets kefir apart from other cultured dairy, is the number of various organisms, both bacteria and yeast, present as opposed to just one microorganism like most other cultured dairy products. Which is why in this house, we never go without.

Due to the variety of microorganisms, kefir is extremely beneficial to health. Even for those who are lactose intolerant! Kefir’s abundance of beneficial yeast and bacteria provide lactase, an enzyme which consumes most of the lactose left after the culturing process.

Kefir is an immune booster, and contains a high amount of calcium, amino acids, B-vitamins, Vitamin K and folic acid. Due to all of the chemical reactions that occur when it is cultured, it is easy to digest allowing the body to absorb all of the nutrients.As a probiotic it helps to regulate and balance intestinal flora, controlling the overgrowth of yeast. All of these friendly cultures also make kefir an excellent remedy for digestive issues of all kinds, and a great elixir for people overcoming serious illness, especially if they have been treated with antibiotics. Studies have even shown that kefir stimulates peristalsis and digestive juices in the intestinal tract. This was discovered by Elie Metchnikoff back in 1908!

The best news is that kefir is extremely easy to make at home. Here is what you need.

* Milk – any variety will do, but ultra-pasteurized milk is not recommended. I recommend raw milk (if available) or full fat un-homogenized milk aka “creamline”.

* Kefir grains

* Small unbleached muslin bag

* Clean glass jar (I use a pint size)

* Non-metal strainer

* Pourable glass jar

To Make Kefir:

Place kefir grains in the muslin bag and drop into the glass jar. Pour milk into jar until it fills the jar. Place a cloth over the mouth of the jar and allow to sit out on the counter for 24-48 hours. The first few times you use your grains, it may not culture properly. So I recommend only using a cup of milk at a time in the beginning, and changing the milk every 24 hours. Around the 3rd attempt, it should culture properly. I have noticed that in the spring and summer, my kefir cultures in about 24 hours. But in the winter it can take up to 48 hours.

Once the kefir has cultured, using a non-metal strainer, pour the kefir into a pourable glass jar. You can store the kefir in this container, or pour it into a different glass container for storage.

Then rinse the muslin bag and squeeze it to make sure that if any milk has cultured in the bag it comes out. Then you are ready to start the process all over again.

Kefir will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. But you need to make your kefir regularly. As soon as one batch has cultured, clean your tools and start a new batch. If you are going away and can’t make your kefir as soon as the next batch is finished culturing, you can store your grains, in the muslin bag in about a cup of milk in the fridge. When you want to make kefir again, just discard that milk and start again as you normally would.

I highly recommend getting your kefir grains from Cultures for Health. You can also get cheese and yogurt cultures there, as well as a variety of other products to make fermented foods like sourdough, sauerkraut, and kombucha. They are a fantastic small company with very good customer service. So if you have questions, they can help.

*Parts of this post will be appearing in the 2011 Spring/Summer issue of Hex Magazine including an additional kefir recipe! So be sure to check that out when it becomes available.

Part of Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop!

Traditional Sauerkraut w/ Juniper Berries and Lacto-Fermentation Questions Answered

Last month in my post My Life As A Squirrel, I discussed various ways of preserving foods for winter. I did an overview of various preservation methods, advantages and disadvantages to those methods. I also made the case for why we, as Americans should be preserving more food. If you missed that post, be sure to check it out, it is full of great information.

I have also been featuring lacto-fermented foods on this blog . My most recent foray is in traditional juniper berry sauerkraut. You can see the recipe at the end of this post. My posts on lacto-fermentation have raised a lot of questions and comments from my readers about this ancient art of food preservation. Is it safe? For many the process of lacto-fermentation goes against fundamental things were have been taught about food safety. We have been taught to be afraid of food, in a world of industrial big agriculture, salmonella and e-coli scares.

I really did not feel like enough of an expert to answer some of those questions, being a lacto-fermentation newbie myself. So I consulted a professional! Through my good friend Jen, I was introduced to David Klingenberger owner of The Brinery, an Ann Arbor, Michigan business focused on the ancient art of fermentation. David agreed to answer some of my questions, and yours about this process of food preservation. He and I share a lot of similar thoughts and values when it comes to not being afraid of food, and what he calls the “re-skilling” that is so important to people interested in preserving traditional foods.

Lacto-fermentation has had a very long history. What personally draws you to this ancient form of food preservation?

As a young man 10 years ago, I found my way to a local organic vegetable farm here in south eastern Michigan. I felt deeply drawn to growing food, and feeding my community. As I learned the skills of agrarian life, I was drawn to lacto-fermentation. I love that it is a raw food, teeming with beneficial bacteria that not only preserve the food, but are of the utmost benefit to our health!

The process of lacto-fermenting scares a lot of people. When I write posts about it, I have even gotten emails and comments from people claiming I will kill my readers if they make my recipes. The idea of allowing vegetables and other perishable food items to sit out at room temperature for weeks and sometimes months goes against the modern way of looking at food safety. What do you tell lacto-fermenting newbies who are interested, but at the same time afraid of these types of foods?

I think there is a re-skilling and a re-learning that is necessary for our modern culture! I like to remind people that fermented foods have been very common and continue to be so. Everyone knows yogurt, cheese, salami, sauerkraut. These are all naturally fermented foods. Yogurt is the perfect example, and perhaps the most socially acceptable in our modern age. It’s a much similar process with lacto-fermented vegetables. There is a modern myth that we must destroy all Bacteria. (for example anti-bacterial soap). We need the beneficial probiotics found in lacto fermented foods!

Once the food has gone through the fermentation process, how does it need to be stored? Many recipes and books call for refrigeration, but people have been preserving foods this way before the advent of refrigeration and some say they can be stored in a cool basement. Can these foods be stored out of the fridge, and if so for how long? At what temperature? Are there some basic guidelines that you can share based on your experience?

Good question! Theoretically fermented foods do not need refrigeration! However the warmer it is the more it ferments. I have had sauerkraut in a basement for 8 or 9 months before. It wasn’t the best texture or flavor, but was totally edible and fine! So Yes, I do believe out of the fridge is fine. The middle of summer is probably not a good time to leave it out for extended periods! Make batches in the fall, and it will ferment slowly and keep longer in the cold of winter! Fermented foods will keep better the colder they are stored! And that is where refrigeration comes in! It’s not necessary, but allows more temp. control. Remember: if a proper laco-fermentaion has occurred then, you cannot get sick! I think it just comes down to taste/texture preference!

How can you tell if something has been properly lacto-fermented? Are there any tell-tale signs?

As far as I know, proper lacto-fermentation occurs under the brine! As long as the veggie are submerged under the salty brine, they will ferment! Conditions become very inhospitable to pathogens in that salty brine! The ph lowers quickly, which means the acidity levels rise! I have an electronic ph meter that I use to measure ability levels. LACTO-FERMENTATION CREATES CONDITIONS UNFAVORABLE TO PATHOGENS! Especially when their is no hermetic sealing of the jars!

Your company, The Brinery, sells several different kinds of lacto-fermented veggies. What is the first lacto-fermented food you tried, and do you have a favorite variety today?

At the Brinery I make Sauerkraut, Pickles, and Kimchi. Within those categories, I make many variations! I started out 10 years ago with good old sauerkraut, which I think is the perfect gateway fermented veggie to make at home. It doesn’t get more simple and pure than cabbage and salt! For my business, Kimchi has become quite popular. I just started making it for the Brinery, and love it! I try and do my own variation on a traditional Korean kimchi. I use dried Korean hot pepper flakes, and fish sauce for a traditional flavor. I try and source all produce from local organic farms. I also offer a vegan kimchi with no fish sauce. I have enjoyed making cucumber pickles, and turnip pickles as well. I am constantly experimenting and attempting to come up with new recipes!

Do you have any tips, anecdotes, etc. for people that are interested in learning how to prepare fermented foods? Any advice to those who have some experience but want to broaden their fermentation horizons?

I love preserving food through fermenting! Anyone can do it with little experience or investment. I feel it’s an important step in the re-skilling of our modern culture. Do it for health, for fun, for homesteading! Don’t be afraid. Trust yourself. Food is not scary. It doesn’t have to come from a factory or a laboratory. Food was naturally fermented at home for thousands of years! Even if you see moldy funky stuff on the top of you fermented veggies, that’s o.k. Scrape it off, and most likely, what ever has been under the salty brine is o.k! Don’t be afraid!
Anything you want to share with readers that I did not cover in the questions, but that you feel is important to share?

Have fun, eat living raw food! I think the best introductory book is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz!

**********************************************************************************************

Recipe for Traditional Sauerkraut with Juniper Berries
from The Joy of Pickling

INGREDIENTS:

5 lbs trimmed and cored white cabbage- save some of the outer leaves
3TBS pickling salt
1TBS whole juniper berries

TOOLS:

5 pint sized mason jars

METHOD:

1) Quarter the head and shred the cabbage very thinly.

2) Add salt and juniper berries to the cabbage and thoroughly mix with your clean hands.

3) When it has softened and released some liquid – about 10-15 minutes, pack the cabbage into pint sized mason jars and tamp down with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula, pour the brine evenly over the cabbage.

4) Weight the cabbage to keep it under the brine. Place a clean outer leaf from the cabbage on top of teh shredded cabbage and then place a food grade plastic bag filled with more brine on top of the leaf (1 ½ TBS pickling salt for each quart of water), in case of a leak. This helps if the brine gets scummy – you can replace the leaves instead of skimming off the scum or mold. Cover the container with a cloth or pillowcase and store in a dark place.

5) Within 24 hours the cabbage should be submerged in its brine. If it isn’t dissolve 1 ½ salt in 1 quart of water and pour as much as you need to over the cabbage. Check the sauerkraut every day or two for scum. If you find it, remove it, and replace the brine filled bags and cabbage leaves.

6) Start tasting the kraut after 2 weeks. It will be fully fermented in 2-4 weeks at 70 degrees and 5-6 weeks at 60 degrees. It will have a pale golden color and tart flavor.

7) Store it, tightly covered in the fridge or cool place. Or you can freeze it for later use.

This is part of The Healthy Home Economist’s Monday Mania. Check out the other great posts!

Homemade Condiments: Mayo, Ketchup and Cranberry BBQ Sauce

Do you have 10 minutes to spare? Good, then you have plenty of time to make your own, healthy condiments to accompany your nutritious meals. Making your own condiments is cheaper and you are able to monitor exactly what goes in them, and adjust flavorings to suit you and your family’s taste buds. You can be eating grassfed beef and organic veggies from the farmers market, but if you are topping it all off with bottled condiments, you are probably un-doing much of your hard work. Bottled condiments contain corn syrup, MSG aka “natural flavors” and various other preservatives. None of which we should be eating for optimum health.

You see, eating healthy is quite simple. It is actually more simple than many of us think. People are always asking me what they should be eating to be healthier or to help this or that health problem. The reality is that there are really no magical cures specific to individual health problems. The key is taking care of our immune system and our brain health, and the battle is won. If we feed our bodies with the best possible fuel, it will be able to function optimally. How do you do this? Eat whole foods as close to their natural state as possible.

I am not a doctor, I just know what has worked for my family, and this is what I try to share on this blog.

On the path to eating healthier, there are many obstacles, most of which center on overcoming our own fears and hurdles to health. There is also a lot of un-learning to do. Some of the healthiest foods, like eggs, meat, real butter, and even olive oil have been maligned all in the name of processed foods, preservatives, industrial agriculture, over-indulging in grains and unhealthy oils. We have also been taught that eating healthy, cooking from scratch and eating locally and organic is expensive. So even if you know you should eat better, you can’t afford to. This is simply untrue. The reality is it has saved me so much money over the years, not only on food bills but also on health bills. We need to start asking ourselves hard questions as a nation. What are we willing to do as individuals to make our nation and families healthier? Can we find a few hours a week somewhere, maybe cut into our TV watching a little, to cook wholesome food for our family? Maybe then our children won’t have so many health issues. But it is up to us, as families and individuals to make those changes. So many of us are still blinded by the agendas of the food industry.

Although I am pretty hardcore when it comes to my food beliefs, I also believe in taking baby steps to get long lasting results. The way I eat now, has been years in the making, and I am still learning. Some people find success changing everything at once, but personally, I find that if I incorporate too much that is new all at once, I just get overwhelmed and frustrated and then I become resistant to change. Making condiments is something easy you can do, that takes only minutes and can really help the health of your family and your budget. So let’s get started!

Aioli (Homemade Mayonnaise)

INGREDIENTS:

3 large farm fresh yolks from free-ranging, pasture raised chickens ( I would not recommend any other eggs in a recipe using raw eggs)
¼ cup of lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
fresh cracked pepper (to taste)
1 TBS whey (optional), for longevity of the mayo
3 garlic cloves
1 cup olive oil

METHOD:

Place egg yolks, lemon juice or vinegar, salt and pepper and whey (optional) into your blender or food processor. If using a blender (the better tool for this) start on a low speed and then move up to high. While the machine is running, drop in the garlic cloves and blend for about 10 seconds. Then while the machine is still running, pour the oil in a thin steady stream, until emulsified. ( If you have used whey, allow the mayo to sit, covered on your counter for 7 hours before refrigeration – for the lactic acid fermentation process to occur). With the whey added your mayo will keep for several months. If you do not use whey, it will last in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. Refrigerate in an airtight jar. Makes about 2 cups.

******************************

Ketchup

INGREDIENTS:

2 – 8 oz. jars (organic preferred) tomato paste
½ cup canned tomatoes, crushed
¼ cup whey (optional)
1 TBS sea salt
½ cup real maple syrup
2 TBS raw apple cider vinegar
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch of oregano

METHOD:

Mix all ingredients until well blended. Place in a glass jar. If using whey, leave jar out at room temperature overnight before storing in the fridge. Makes about 1 quart.

*******************************

Cranberry BBQ Sauce

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup of homemade ketchup
¼ cup sautéed onions and garlic
2 TBS balsamic vinegar
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 handfuls of dried cranberries

METHOD:

Mix all ingredients together in a blender until smooth.

I am entering this post in the Two For Tuesdays Real Food Blog Hop. If you have a real food recipe to contribute follow the link and see all the other participating blogs and recipes!

Lacto-Fermented Pickles w/ Garlic Scapes

Fermented Pickles

I love pickles and I love all kinds of pickles, from cucumbers and onions to turnips, and everything in between. Last year I made bread and butter refrigerator pickles, which we liked, but needed some improvement to the flavor. I meant to make more, and experiment with the methods, but didn’t get around to it, until a few weeks ago.

I had purchased a Master Vegetable Fermenter from Cultures for Health a few months ago, in hopes that I would have a lot of garden vegetables this year to culture into things like sauerkraut, pickles, curtido and gingered carrots. Since we are still a few weeks away from harvesting any of these goodies, because we got a late start, I thought I would buy some cucumbers at the Farmers Market and get practicing. During that same Farmers Market trip I also got some garlic scapes, and decided to throw some in the mix as well. Just for seasonal relativity, I made these pickles about a month ago, right as garlic scapes were beginning to show up at the markets.

The process to making lacto-fermented pickles is easy because there is no cooking and so canning process involved. This food preservation technique goes back to a time where there was no refrigeration. You use sea salt or whey brine to inhibit the growth of un-friendly bacteria, and mold, until enough lactic acid is produced to keep the vegetables preserved for many months. In the old days, people kept these stored in their cold root cellars along with other winter storage veggies. These days, most people store them in their refrigerator. There are added health benefits to preserving vegetables this way as well, since the lactobaccili which produce the lactic acid enhance digestibility through supporting the growth of healthy flora and enzymes in our gut.

As with any recipe, starting with the freshest ingredients possible is very important. I used a recipe for pickles from Nourishing Traditions, and enhanced it with the garlic scapes, fresh dill from the garden, pickling spices and added raw apple cider vinegar after fermentation, since we do like the vinegar flavor of store bought pickles. My next batch, I am going to try a bread and butter version. Remember it is important not to add these other components until after the fermentation process.

This original batch was a hit. We had friends over for dinner last week, and they brought with them raw milk and fermented pickles to contribute to the dinner (we love our friends!) and we had a pickle tasting. I am not sure if they were just being nice, but everyone agreed that my pickles were the best. Think I am going to make a batch for them the next time we visit them? You betcha!

INGREDIENTS:

6 cucumbers

6 garlic scapes, chopped

1 TBS of pickling spices

2 TBS of fresh dill

2 TBS sea salt (or 1 TBS of sea salt and 1 TBS of whey)

1 cup filtered water

water

¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar

METHOD:

Wash cucumbers and garlic scapes well and place in the vegetable fermenter (or a large, half gallon wide mouth mason jar). Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the cucumbers, adding more water if necessary to cover the vegetables. The top of the liquid should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for 3-7 days and transfer to cold storage. Once the culturing is complete, add the apple cider vinegar and mix.

I have not made this recipe using the mason jar method, preferring the master vegetable fermenter method, which has a glass jar that includes an airlock set up which facilitates gas escaping your fermented vegetables while keeping air out. This allows you to make pickles, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables while greatly reducing and usually eliminating the threat of mold.

NOTES (paraphrased from Cultures for Health): Do not remove the lid from the jar during the culturing process. Removing the lid could introduce bacteria which can cause mold or scum. Check your vegetables through the glass every day to check for signs of scum or mold. If any is present just scrape it off the top, and obviously do not eat any vegetables that have mold on them.

Cheese, Glorious Raw Milk Goat Cheese

goat_cheese_on_plate

I am obsessed with cheese. I really am. I have been fond of cheese for as long as I can remember. I spent a very dismal year as a vegan once. I was already a vegetarian, but I thought that I was lactose intolerant (turned out I was SOY intolerant), so I stopped eating cheese. I was not a happy girl. Maybe it was that I was OD-ing on soy, but I like to think it was the lack of cheese that was messing with my brain chemistry. My brain really likes dairy fat, something I have proven to myself several times over. I mean, my ancestors do have a long history with dairy animals. Plus, if it works for The Slayer, it works for me.

buffy5_400

(image courtesy of DARKHORSE.COM)

Speaking of Buffy, I laughed so hard during a Buffy episode one time, I almost split my side. It went something like this:

Potential Buffy Boyfriend is talking to Buffy’s Best Friend and asks her to tell him more about Buffy – what she likes, hobbies, etc,….

Buffy’s Best Friend, Willow says: “ She likes cheese… I’m not saying it’s the key to her heart, but Buffy… she likes cheese”.

I tried to find a video, but alas it was not available. I am guessing though, that even if I found the video, my readers might not laugh. It is kind of a joke, that only the cheese obsessed could get. I mean, I’d like to think that people who know me well, might say something similar if asked about my likes and dislikes.

For someone that loves cheese and trying new cheeses as much as I do, I admit to having my favorites – Brunost, Pecorino Toscano Fresco, Vermont Sharp Cheddar, all manner of raw milk cheeses, and probably my number one favorite– Goat Cheese.

The thing that I love so much about goat cheese is that it is very easy to make, and extremely versatile. You can eat it on crackers – and enjoy it with pesto on top, just as well as raw honey, put it in eggs, use it in dips, stuff it into lasagna, etc. Plus you can use the whey to make other recipes. Which totally fits into my “Waste Not Want Not” philosophy. There is just so much to love.

I love cheese so much, that I plan on getting my own goats and sheep in a few months, so that I can have fresh raw goat’s milk and sheep’s milk to make cheese from.  That is what I call a commitment to cheese. I have several other cheesy plans in the works as well.

I told you I was obsessed.

Anyway, goat cheese is as easier to make than you would ever dream of. All you need is a gallon of goat’s milk (I got raw goat milk from the farmer’s market, but you can also used pasteurized from your grocery store, you can also make a half recipe), cultures and directions. The only equipment you need is a large pot, a kitchen thermometer, cheesecloth and a container to let it set in – I recommend this one.

This recipe makes about 16 oz. of fresh delicious goat cheese – all for about $6-8 which is about 3x the amount you get at the grocery store for the same price. Which is why you can afford to put it in lasagna. You know you want to.

Come to the dark side, we have cheese.

goat_cheese_on_plate_2


Goat Fromage Blanc with Garbanzo Crackers

home-made-cheese_ready-to-eat-wth-cracker_2

Well I have been up to a little kitchen experimentation, lately. First I wanted to tackle another batch of Fromage Blanc made with goat milk. The last time I made it , after draining it for 12 hours, I gave the cheese cloth a bit of a heavy handed squeeze which resulted in a dry and crumbly sort of cheese. I liked it. It was good for stirring in eggs and other dishes. However this time I was hoping to yield a softer more spreadable cheese. Basically I followed the same procedure as last time , except that I used pasteurized goat milk, instead of raw, let the cheese drain for about 15 hours (instead of 12) and did not squeeze the bag. It came out perfectly! Wonderful and creamy and perfect to spread on crackers…except there were no crackers!

That was an easy fix. I have been wanting to play with some of the recipes from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients. Jeff and Zoe, along with Monica from their publishing company, St. Martin’s Press, are generously hosting 2 months of giveaways of this book on Foodieblogroll.com! I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the book from Monica and really wanted to get baking. I was particularly interested in the gluten-free breads. So I was delighted to find a gluten free version of the Olive Oil bread, I use so often from their first book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. The gluten free recipe called for soy flour, and I have a soy sensitivity and I didn’t have rice flour on hand either. So I decided to make a modified version, using what I had available – since I really wanted to enjoy some cheese & crackers.

These crackers are not gluten free, but what I call transitional crackers. Although you could make them gluten free by using rice flour in place of the WW flour. I used kefir and raw apple cider vinegar to soak local whole wheat Vermont flour – from a farm we visited in Vermont this fall and then used garbanzo bean flour to cut down on some of the grains in this cracker. The garbanzo bean flour had a very strong smell and so I really wasn’t sure how it would turn out if I used exclusively garbanzo flour. I used over half of the dough to make crackers, and then used the other part to make a small loaf of bread. The bread was not great, but the crackers were wonderful! The bean flavor in the flour really complimented the nice crispy crackers. Here is my recipe inspired by both Gluten- Free Olive Oil Bread and Gluten-Free Cheddar and Sesame Crackers from Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.

Seedy Garbanzo Crackers (NOT Gluten-free)

INGREDIENTS:

1 ½ TBS yeast

1 TBS sea salt

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp raw apple cider vinegar

2 large organic eggs

½ cup of homemade kefir

2 cups filtered water

3 cups whole wheat flour

3 cups garbanzo bean flour

½ cup corn starch

Cracker toppings: seeds: white or black sesame, fennel, flax, etc, salt, za’atar spice or any other spices or dried herbs you like.

METHOD:

1) Whisk together flours, cornstarch, yeast and salt, and put in a large lidded bowl.

2) Combine all the liquid ingredients and gradually mix with the dry ingredients using a spoon, or 14 cup food processor.

3) Cover (not airtight) and allow the dough to rest at room temperature for at least2 hours, but better for those with grain intolerance, to let it rest for 12 hours and up to 24 hours.

4) The dough can be used immediately after its initial rise or you can refrigerate in the lidded container and use it over the next 7 days. The flavor will be better if you wait for at least 24 hours of refrigeration.

On Baking Day:

1) Thirty minutes before baking time preheat the oven to 400 F.

2) Cut off an orange sized piece of dough, place dough on a piece of parchment paper or a silicone mat. Then cover with more parchment paper or plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin and roll until you have a 1/16th inch rectangle. Peel off the top layer or wrap or paper, and place the dough on top of the paper or mat onto baking sheet.

3) Using a pizza cutter gently score the dough into the shape you want the crackers (be careful not to cut the silicone mat, if that is what you are using).

4) Just before baking, using a pastry brush, paint the dough with water and sprinkle the top with black and toasted sesame seeds, salt and za’atar spice.

5) Bake for 15 minutes, or until crackers are golden brown. Allow them to cool before eating.

6) Serve with fromage blanc!

home-made-cheese_preparing_2