With all the sourdough experiments taking place in the kitchen over the past several months, there always seems to be a partial loaf of bread waiting to be sliced. In the quest for oven spring, crackling crust, and an irregular gelatinized crumb, my recipe books have become dotted with post-it notes and the freezer full of back up loaves. Whereas I once ate porridge or fruit or eggs for breakfast, everyday now starts or ends with toast & jam. High-hydration bread doughs have changed baking for me.
Like many people, I struggle to find my place in the world. I am, at time, my own worst enemy and fiercest critic. But I also am most my loyal comforter, my own soul sister.
As I mature, I learn. That's pretty much what I have always done and I see no reason to ever alter that pattern. Why would I want to go to cheese making school? To learn, of course! There is only so much I can soak in from Youtube, Google, Chapters, and the library and I learn by watching, listening, doing, and most importantly - sharing. We all have our limitations to what looks, smells, sounds, and tastes like good food.
But perhaps it's time to do something different.
Although not religious, I do believe spirituality is an essential element in a healthy life and very personal choice. Kind of like food is. You are what you eat. A healthy gut is a happy gut.
It may be a new year, but 2014 feels very different. Like a door is closing behind me, gently; a well lit, untrampled green lies ahead. There is no defined path, but it is lined with friendly, familiar faces. Faces of those who have taught, inspired, and guided me. Supportive, influential, positive.
I owe it to them as much as to my self to succeed. Whatever that means.
Let's eat, shall we?
My contract working in the west end of the county ended in December which freed up some time to make a long overdue trip to visit one of my older brothers and his family (I think it's safe to say they are my family too). I brought along my sourdough starter and the Tartine Bread cookbook and although my family thought I was odd for traveling with a yeasty-smelling container of bubbling flour and dough, they did appreciate the flaky, buttery croissants it helped leaven. Sourdough doesn't have to be sour.
Still working from Tartine Bread, I was able to bake some English muffins as well. I've made English muffins many times with commercial yeast, but using the starter and fermenting the dough overnight produced an incredible tasting muffin complete with random sized bubbles just waiting to be filled with melted butter or oozing egg yolk. You don't get that kind of flavour with dough that has only been proving for an hour and a half. My only trouble was I didn't bring rice flour which helps prevent the wet dough from sticking to the cloth while it rises.
Now this, this is what I think is the green path that lies before me. In this picture are three cheeses, cabecou (made by moi), le cendrillon (from Montreal), and a soft-ripened cheese from Monforte Dairy in Stratford. The bread is slices of toasted corn & spelt baguette. Using locally milled flours from both HOPE Eco Farms east of Aylmer and Arva Flour Mills north of London, I attempted a recipe from Tartine 3. Tartine 3 is a cookbook written by the same chef as Tartine Bread, but the chef focuses on using whole grains and flours, much of them ancient or heirloom varieties, to produce bread and pastry with more nutritional benefits and most importantly - deeper flavours.
The title of this post is Homage de Fromage but it could just as easily be called The Big Cheese.
I say big because it's a big deal to me. It's something I have always wanted to do and with a how-to book, the internet, and grocery store milk the magical transformation from goat to chèvre has me hooked on curds. Although I had made "30-minute mozzarella-style cheese" several times before (which always took a lot longer than 30 minutes), I had never made a real cheese, using live cheese cultures until just a few months ago. Since then the world of cheese has awakened my inner dairy-goddess and my biggest wish is to have a milking goat in the backyard (and steady employment, but I digress).
The process or making cheese is rather simple: heat milk, add a culture and/or enzymes to coagulate and acidify the milk, cut to form curds and whey (the solids and the liquid, respectively), drain off the whey, add salt, mold into a shape (if desired), age (if desired), and eat.
The many different cheeses of the world come from the infinite variables that can be altered. Cow's milk will have a different taste and fat content than sheep's milk. The cow's milk will taste different in the spring than in the fall and will also vary from what the cow ate. Different cultures, ripening times, curd size, aging time, humidity levels, temperature, and the hands that made the cheese will also alter the outcome. Coat it in wax, inject it with a mold, layer it with ash, rub it with grappa...the possibilities are endless. One thing will always stay consistent - the cheese will be influenced from where it was made.
As I stated above, the taste of the milk will reflect what the animal ate, but what the animal eats depends on where it is located and how it is raised. In studies such as viticulture (grape growing and wine making), there is a term called terroir. Terroir basically means "sense of the land" and is a word used to generally describe the regional and local qualities that make an area (or vineyard) unique. Climate, soil make-up, and location can differ lands across the world and across the farm, and those differences can affect what is grown or raised on that land. Cheese prepared from milk obtained from a specific animal or region will be influenced by the terroir.
For example, if I had a goat here in my backyard in little Aylmer, and I prepared cheese with milk I obtained from that goat, my cheese would taste different from the cheese you made with milk you obtained from your goat raised in your backyard way up north in Bancroft.
What else affects the taste of cheese? The skill, craftmanship, palate, knowledge, and touch of the artisan who prepared it.
I'm just a newbie to the hobby, but I can easily say making cheese is a fascinating and rewarding process and compliments my love of preservation and fermentation.
Cabécou: this is a goat's milk cheese developed by an American cheese maker based on a traditional French version. Cabécou means "little goat" and refers to the small discs. It's a mild ripened cheese that is marinated in olive oil and spices. Believe me, after the cheese is gone, the olive oil is just as delicious for dipping bread in.
Goat's Milk Feta: I like feta cheese so I thought I'd try to make some. The compressed firm blocks - tangy, salty, creamy, crumbled with spinach - have always mystified me on how they are prepared. It's a fairly simple process with a short ripening time... but the saltiness...ugh. I tried it after 2 weeks and found it too salty. I halved the brine and added plain spring water to dilute the salt a wee bit and will taste the results tomorrow evening.
O'Banon: This recipe was based on the style of the French cheese Banon. Creamy & mild goat's milk cheese drained into small disks. The disks are then ripened in alcohol-soaked leaves for 3 weeks. In my attempt, the cheese is wrapped in Ontario Brandy soaked maple leaves harvested from the tree in the front yard. Tomorrow night (Nov. 16, 2013) will be the official unwrapping and tasting.
Jack Cheese: Fashioned after Monteray Jack cheese. It's thought this cheese style was developed by a man in Monteray, CA, who was influenced by Franciscan monks who traveled through Mexico. The desired outcome is a creamy, mild, firm cheese without a thick rind. Aging time is anywhere from 2-6 weeks. As of today it's only been a week. I'll keep you posted. The loonie is in the picture to demonstrate the size of the compressed cheese. 2 gallons of cow's milk was used to make size.
More cheese talk: I'll be heading to Toronto this weekend to help out another local producer, Crossroad Cheese, at the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo. Crossroad's has a booth at the show and I will be sharing my love of their sheep's milk gouda with other food lovers. I'm looking forward to having my cheeks hurt at the end of the day from all the smiling and talking.
I bought a book. I bought a bag of flour.
I didn't buy a big enough bag of flour.
In the past months I've been tinkering away at a few projects. First, it's harvest season and I've been putting up as much as time permits. Along with fermenting and pickling, Joy from Empire Valley Farms has lent me her food dehydrator and it has been filled several times with tomatoes, chile peppers (I'm trying to make my own chile powder/paprika), and even strawberries.
Second set of projects include cheese making. I can tell you right now unless you own a cow or a goat it isn't any less expensive to make your own versus buying from a cheesemonger or grocery store. What is different is the sense of satisfaction of knowing you made it yourself.
Third project: sourdough bread. I know how to make it awesome, I'm just trying how to figure out how to make it more than one loaf at a time awesome without having to purchase a ten thousand dollar deck oven with steam injection. Follow me...
It's a sandwich. It's a grilled cheese. It's a grilled-cheese sandwich deserving of so much respect you call it, "Mister" or "Missus". I'd like you to meet Croque-Monsieur and Croque-Madame.
What's in a name?
The literal translation of Croque-Monsier and Croque-Madame from French to English means 'Mr. Crunch' and 'Mrs. Crunch', from the verb 'croquer'- to crunch. Other fantastic 'croque' foods include Croquembouche and Croquettes. Croquembouche are cream puffs filled with pastry cream and dipped in caramel- usually presented as a spectacular large cone-shape at weddings where the caramel hardens to a crunchy garnish (Crunch-in-mouth). Croquettes are savoury cakes of minced food- usually potato- breaded and fried until the exterior is crispy.
So what is a Croque-Monsieur? It's a fried sandwich prepared with ham & Gruyere cheese, topped with Béchamel sauce and broiled in the oven until the sauce is browned & crunchy. Add a fried egg once it comes out from the broiler and it becomes a Croque-Madame. It really is wonderful. Of course many variations exist of the recipe- keep reading for my version.
The short-range weather forecast is: c-c-c-cold. The days of thermal socks, wool sweaters, and snow pants are finally here. It's the perfect time to fire-up the oven and bake some cheddar garlic biscuits to warm the kitchen and warm your bones. Keep reading to get the recipe.
Cooking Doesn't Have to be a Chore.
If you're like me, you tend to avoid as many mass-manufactured processed products as you can. Those convenience foods often consist of artificial colours, flavours, emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, sugars, salt, palm oil, GMO's, and shelf extenders. What we get for convenience doesn't make up for the loss of nutrition, taste, or quality. Making something from scratch more often than not tastes better than any box you can find on the grocery shelf.
Cooking doesn't have to be a chore. With a few basic recipes and techniques, you can create a variety of different dishes with just a little bit of advanced planning. The next time you are craving macaroni and cheese, try this recipe for a homemade version (with plenty of options to change the flavours) instead of that little blue box of KD. To get the recipe, continue reading.
Shiitake mushroom, caramelized red onions, bacon, spinach & local gouda quiche
Day 14 in our 15 Days of Elgin Christmas features the umami-packed shiitake mushrooms from Nature's Perfection, a mushroom farm located south of Aylmer, Ontario.
Shiitake mushrooms have a rich, buttery, almost meaty flavour which complements other foods. Sauteed, steamed, baked, or stir-fried, shiitakes are recommended to be consumed cooked as they have been known to cause skin rashes when ingested raw. Pickled, dried, or fresh, the flavour of shiitakes are more intense than regular white button mushrooms. Not sure where to use shiitakes? Try them as a pizza topping, in risottos, in soups, omelets, stuffed in chicken breasts, in a grilled cheese sandwich or on shish kabobs (because who doesn't love food on a stick?).
Day #10 in our 15 Days of Elgin Christmas and I am duplicating a local artisan food product in the list- because I like it that much. Crossroad Cheese is my inspiration for this dish: Mac 'n cheese pie with bacon & broccoli.
Did you know: Canadians top the US in Kraft Dinner consumption? Consumers in this country have been eating the mass manufactured KD ,with its glowing orange colour and squishing, tubular noodles for over 60 years and there is no sign of slowing down. It's convenient to not only buy (it's everywhere), but also to prepare, kids like it, and it's cheap.
Friday, December 7
Gougeres (French Cheese Puffs)
On the 5th Day of Elgin Christmas, my true love gave to me:
FIVE GOLDEN CHEESE-PUFFS!
It's the first Friday in December and the holiday party season has officially begun. Whether you're heading out to a potluck or having the neighbours over for a cocktail, entertaining requires more than just sweets and candies. Among the platters of tarts and bowls of nuts, cheese is a must-have on every table.
All over the world, there are cheeses that are made regionally, specifically, and lawfully. Each style offers a taste of the land and each one is different from the next depending on the milk used, what the animal ate, how the curd was developed, how long the cheese was aged and hundreds of other factors. Here in Elgin County, attempting to source small-batch prepared cheese made from locally derived milk to serve at a get-together just wasn't possible. That is until now.
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.