Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Waxing the Cheese

The day has finally arrived, time to wax the monterey jack cheese.  I melt the cheese wax in an old pie plate over a pan (a cheap double boiler set up) and dip the cheese in the wax.  First I dip the top, to make sure it is fully coated - usually takes 3-4 dips with 10-20 second rests between dips allowing the wax to semi-harden.  Then I dip the bottom of the cheese - again 3-4 dips with 10-20 second between dips.  Finally, I hold and roll the cheese on its side in the wax to coat the sides working my way all around the cheese 3-4 times.  I hold the cheese for a minute or two to allow the wax to harden and then place the newly waxed cheese on some plastic wrap- into the cheese cave it goes to harden some more.  I write the type of cheese and date waxed on some blue masking tape and paste the tape on the cheese for easy reference. 

The cheese cave now contains 1 lb. of stirred curd cheddar waxed, 1 lb. of monterey jack waxed and 1 lb. of manchego drying for a few days before waxing.  The regular fridge has 2 lbs of drunken goat cheese (made up with cows milk and lipase for test purposes) and 2 lbs of lavender ricotta salata.  So, the cheesy adventures continue.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Cheese Cave

Yesterday Michael put my little old dorm fridge outside so I could clean it up and get it ready for cheeses.  I had briefly used it as a cheese cave 2 years ago and it promptly populated my cheeses with gobs of blue/green mold.

This time I cleaned out the fridge with warm soapy water and then sprayed every inch of it down with starsan ( I love that stuff for sterilizing cheesemaking equipment, also good for sterilizing beermaking stuff).  It dried out in the sun for an hour or so and then we hooked it up to the Johnson controls thermostat set at 45F ('cuz the darn thing needs to be set 10 degrees lower so it will cool the fridge to 55F).   The stirred curd cheddar I made earlier this month is sitting in the cheese fridge now in its waxed glory.  The next resident destined for the cave is the monterey jack cheese air drying on my kitchen counter on a cutting board and sushi mat.  The brine for the manchego cheese is sitting in the cave coming down to 55F so it will be ready when the cheese is removed from the press.. 

To keep the mold beasties at bay, I'm going to keep the cheeses in individual plastic containers on their own little cheesy mats!  That should also help with humidity control as fridges are notoriously dry environments.  We will see if that works.  I sincerely hope so.  If not, I'm not sure what the next steps will be.  Stay tuned for more cheesy adventures!

Making Manchego Cheese Today

I decided to try making a manchego style cheese today.  Michael likes manchego alot and it's pretty pricey so if I can put together something that works well that only costs $4/lb. instead of $20, I'll be ahead of the game. 

The recipe I used is on the website I recommend this site to anyone looking for good tested recipes for many types of cheeses.  Two years ago it really was a forum where folks met to discuss all topics cheesy, but now it's more a 'wiki' type information only site. 

Right now the cheese is in the press for its final pressing at 33 lbs.  The brine has been made up and once the cheese is removed from the press, it will be brined at 55F for 6 hours turning 2-3 times during that period.  My cheese cave is ready and waiting!  Also, my 10 cheese boxes arrived today (actually rubbermaid 7 cup containers that are stackable in the cave).  This will hopefully mitigate mold on cheeses as they age.

What's In the Box? 8/31/2011

This week we will be receiving:

Cherry Tomatoes
Shady Lady Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes
Italian Large Leaf Basil
Summer Squash
German Butterball OR Yellow Finn Potatoes
Red or Green Bell Peppers
Sweet Peppers
Hot Peppers
Strawberries OR Peaches OR Plums

The fruit will go to yogurt smoothies for breakfast, except the melon which will make great snacking throughout the week.  I'm going to roast up those tomatillos with garlic and some tomatoes to make a salsa from Rick Bayless's website, The tomatoes will make a great Greek salad and a wonderful pasta dish with capers, garlic and anchovies (see Lidia Bastianich's website, )  I think another potato gratin is in our future with lamb chops and summer squash.  The hot peppers will be frozen for use during the year.  The sweet peppers will be great with some sausage.  Lastly those bell peppers will be roasted and frozen for later use - I put them in olive oil last year but they didn't last as long as I had hoped.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Today's Fun - Monterey Jack Cheese Making

Today I made a batch of monterey jack cheese with 1 gallon of milk (yield 1 lb of cheese) from a recipe on Gavin Webber's website/blog His recipe differs substantially from Ricki Carroll's recipes in both her book and her website.  I'm starting to accumulate cheese making recipes that I like and actually work for me.  So far I've got a 30 min. mozzarella, feta, drunken cheese, and a stirred curd cheddar.  I'd like to get a parmesan and a manchego working as well as the monterey jack.  With those cheeses I'd be pretty happy (in addition to the ricotta salata, of course).

The jack cheese is in the press for its final 40 lb. 12 hour press before coming out and then air drying before waxing and then aging in the cheese cave(aka small fridge).

As always I tried to make ricotta with the whey from the cheese making and received a meager 1/3 cup for my troubles.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lavender Ricotta Salata

I just finished rewrapping and putting a 2 lb. block of lavender ricotta salata into the cheese mold for its final 12 hour pressing.  I made Ricki Carroll's recipe for ricotta salata from her book Home Cheesemaking.  Instead of using regular cheese salt, I used 2 tablespoons of Eatwell Farm Lavender Salt.  After the 12 hour press, Michael and I will cut the 2 lbs into 2 1 lb blocks, salt liberally with kosher salt, and age for a week - salting and turning the cheese daily.  Then once, it has dried, I'll wrap in wax paper and hopefully 'age' them some more in the fridge.

Pears just came into season and I'm hoping to have pear and arugula salad with lavender ricotta salata this year.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chicken Enchilada Casserole with Green Tomatillo Sauce

Tonight's dinner is chicken enchilada casserole with green tomatillo sauce.  I make two layers poached, shredded chicken , shredded monterey jack cheese and green tomatillo sauce with 3 layers of corn tortillas in a 11 x 13 pan, top with more jack cheese and bake for 30 minutes at 350F.  Serve with your favorite Mexican trimmings and/or a green salad.  The green tomatillo sauce was made this morning from a tortilla casserole recipe in the Tassajara Recipe Book.  Right now I'm poaching the chicken, it should be done shortly.  After the chicken cools, I'll shred it and layer the casserole, ready for the oven tonight.

This is one of my favorite meals, it's some work but, you get 6 or more servings from one whole chicken and it tastes soooo good.  Along with some homemade guacamole, you can't go wrong.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reminders of Home

As I made tonight's dinner I was reminded of all the times my mom made the same recipe, sausage and  peppers.  Mine's a little different as I added garlic to the mix (my mom was Italian but she never cooked with garlic - go figure!)  The sausage and peppers are being served up on homemade whole wheat bread and then topped with a bit of homemade mozzarella.  The plate is sitting beside me right now and I can't wait 'til it cools enough to dig in.  Hmmm, maybe this calls for a glass of red wine too!  Buon Appetito!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's in the upcoming Box 8/24/2011

This week's box from Eatwell Farm will feature:

Cherry Tomatoes
Roma Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes
Italian Large Leaf Basil
Summer Squash or Middle Eastern Cucumbers
Mixed Potatoes
Red or Green Bell Peppers
Banana Peppers

Cherry Tomatoes will become some pasta with pesto and these beauties added for color and wonderful flavor.  The romas will be in a greek salad with kalamata olives, celery and some of those middle eastern cukes and the last of the homemade feta cheese.  I think I'll make a roasted tomatillo salsa this week, a la Rick Bayless (check out his site at  The bell peppers will be stuffed and oven roasted.  The banana peppers will make wonderful breakfast scrambled egg burritos topped with the roasted tomatillo salsa.  Eggplant will go into baba ganoush - freezing some for winter.  The potatoes will become a potato salad for lunches.  Heirloom tomatoes will be wonderful Insalata Caprese with fresh mozz and reserved basil leaves from pesto making. Apples we will just eat throughout the week.  Sounds good!

It's Bread Baking Day!

Time to make another loaf of whole wheat bread.  I make most of our own bread and rolls each week and have really gotten spoiled on really good tasting bread with some 'tooth' to it instead of the puffy white stuff sold as bread in the grocery stores. As my grandson said - "you know, Noni, in New Mexico we can buy bread that's already sliced" as he watched me cutting slices of bread from the loaf I made.  Yes, sweetie, you can, but it won't taste like this bread!

Adapted from the Tassajara Bread Book -

Whole Wheat Bread a la Noni  Yield - 1 hearty 1 1/2 - 2 lb. loaf  in an 8 1/2 inch by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan

1 1/2 cup. warm water or whey from cheesemaking
1 tsp. bread yeast
1 TBSP. barley malt powder (or another TBSP of honey)
1 TBSP. honey
1/3 c. dry milk powder
2 1/2 c - 3 c Eatwell Expresso Wheat Flour or Whole Wheat Flour of your choice

Pour the water or whey in a bowl, add the yeast and stir to dissolve.  Add the malt powder and honey, stir to blend.  Finally add the dry milk powder and stir.  Then add the flour to form a thick mudlike dough.  Stir until fully incorporated.  Cover with a tea towel or lintfree cloth and allow the dough to rise 40 - 60 minutes until double in bulk.

2 TBSP canola or vegetable oil, or butter for a richer bread
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cup unbleached bread flour

Fold in the salt and oil to the bread dough and incorporate well.  Don't 'punish' the dough too much at this point with stirring.  Fold in the bread flour to form a shaggy mass of dough.  Dust your bread board or work space with flour and place the bread dough on the flour, scrape any leftover flour or dough from the bowl and place on top of the bread dough.  Knead for about 8-10 minutes adding more flour as needed until the dough is pliable, springy, and registers an internal temperature between 77F and 81F.  Form a ball of the dough.  Oil the bread bowl with a small amount of vegetable oil and roll the top of the dough ball in the oil and turn it over in the bowl so the entire surface is covered in a light coating of oil.   Let this dough rise as before for 40-60 minutes until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, grease an 8 1/2 inch by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan with butter or shortening. 

When the dough has completed its rise, punch and stretch it into a 9 x 9 rectangle.  Roll up the rectangle and pinch the seam closed, tuck the ends of the loaf under.  Place the shaped loaf in the prepared pan.  Allow this to rise of 30 minutes then set your oven for 350F.  When the oven has come to temperature or another 10 minutes has passed, make three or four diagonal slashes no more than 1/4 inch deep in the top of the loaf.  Place the loaf on the center rack of your oven and bake for 50 minutes.  Remove the loaf from the oven, then remove it from the pan, and place it on a wire rack to cool completely.  Try to resist cutting the loaf for at least 2 hours, then slice and enjoy.  Do not place the loaf in a plastic bag until it is completely cool to the touch (room temp).  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What's for Dinner Tonight 8/20/2011

Tonight's dinner had a slight change of plans.  Instead of a French/American style dinner, we are going Indian.  Lamb chops are simmering in a fragrant Indian masala thanks to the Rogan Josh recipe in Pushpa Bhargava's book From Mom with Love.  We are having spicy potatoes without sauce aka Sukhe Alu also from her book.  As a rest for our spiced up palates, green beans are making an unadorned steamed appearance.  I really like Pushpa's book, it's got lots of good home cooking recipes in it and lots of information and how tos along with her website, Check it out!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mozzarella Success!

We made a pound of fresh mozzarella today using Ricki Carroll's 30 minute recipe - we did it without the microwave to see if we could make it work.  It took a bit of figuring out, but the key seems to be heating the curds with the 175F water.  That made everything come together wonderfully.  Michael, of the asbestos hands, did a great job pulling and stretching the cheese.  The cheese was great in an Insata Caprese with fresh tomatoes and basil.  We still have half a pound left for more good eats.

The main course for tonight was pasta with tomato sauce al forno - check out Lidia Bastianich's website for the recipe.  It is fantastic!

Buon Appetito!

Monday, August 15, 2011

This Week's Box 8/17/2011

This is what is coming my way veggie-wise from Eatwell Farm:

Cherry Tomatoes
Slicers Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes
Bunching Onions
Italian Large Leaf Basil
Middle Eastern Cucumbers
Mixed Potatoes
Summer Squash
Sweet Peppers
Mixed Hot Peppers
Eggplant- *bonus

Hmmmm- I see Greek salad in my future made with some of the fresh tomatoes, cukes and whatever feta I have in the fridge from the cheesemaking forays.  Green chicken enchilada casserole made from the tomatillos and some hot peppers.  I think I will also make more koftas with the zucchini - they were very tasty and I have some masala frozen from the last time I made a double batch.  The eggplant will go to baba ganoush this week, since I made a gallopscious lot of eggplant parmesan last week (2 containers frozen and one we are eating now).  A nice potato gratin is speaking to me as well.  Sausage and pepper sandwiches are also calling.  Good eats!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Taste Testing the Cheeses

We taste tested the ricotta salatas and the feta today.  The lavender ricotta salata is awesome - great hits of lavender flavor in a salty cheese base - ready for arugula and pear salad with toasted pinenuts.  The rosemary ricotta salata was more subdued but still good.  Feta was surprisingly mild - I had cut back on the lipase to 1/8 tsp. because I wasn't sure it would taste good with a full 1/4 tsp, but next time I'll go for the full amount AND add 2 tsp. of cheese salt to the mix. The feta is soaking in the brine for 2 more days so that may make up the taste difference, we will see.

Finally, the drunken cheddar was moved to its aging box in the fridge for 2 months of rest.  I'll be visiting it each day for a week to turn it, then once a week after that.

Michael had an idea - we are going to make fresh mozzarella at the tomato saucing party since there will be plenty of fresh tomatoes and basil there for Insalata Caprese, also Lorraine asked if we would show her how to make fresh mozz so here we go!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What's for Dinner This Week - 8/15/2011

I almost forgot - here are this week's menus using lots of good veggies from Eatwell Farm!

Friday - 8/12
Eggplant Parmesan
Green Salad with Tomatoes, Salad Turnips and Carrots

Saturday - 8/13
Potluck at Eatwell Farms after the Tomato Saucing Party

Sunday - 8/14
Pasta with Zucchini, Anchovies and Capers
Insalata Caprese

Monday - 8/15
Lamb Shanks in the Slow Cooker with Barbeque Sauce
Potato Salad

Tuesday - 8/16
Must Goes

Wednesday - 8/17
Zucchini and Chorizo Quiche
Greek Salad with Feta, Tomatoes, Olives, Celery and Onion

Thursday - 8/18
Must Goes

Friday - 8/19
Pesto Pizza with Fresh Mozzarella
Green Salad

Lots of tomatoes in the box this week - yummy! as well as bonus eggplant - 3 of them!
Loving the summer bounty!

Say Cheese!

I am back making cheese.  I'd let it go for a year or so and now I'm back.  What convinced me?  Lavender and Rosemary salts from Eatwell Farm!  I decided to make two Ricotta Salatas flavored with these salts and BAM!  I was hooked.  So far I've made a stirred curd cheddar, a batch of 30 minute Mozzarella (see for recipe) , a drunken goat cheese (used cow's milk for this experiment, recipe from The Beverage People in Petaluma.), and now a feta that is setting curd as I type this (recipe from and video on youtube).

We ate all the mozzarella as Insalata Caprese, Pesto pizza, and finally a greek tomato, cucumber and olive salad.  The stirred curd cheddar is waxed and aging.  The two ricotta salatas will be taste tested tomorrow for  their debut at the Eatwell Farm Tomato Saucing party.  The drunken cheese is going to be removed from its red wine bath a 7pm this evening when it will be air dried for 24 hours before being placed in a ripening box and aged in the fridge.  Oh, how I hope that cheese comes out OK, I've got 2.5 lbs of it, enough for 2 + months of eating(ha, ha), but have to wait 'til October to see if it worked.

Now, if I can just figure out how to age my cheeses without them getting all moldy in the cheese cave (aka old dormitory fridge of questionable heritage, that seems to breed mold quicker than I can remove it from the cheese).

Stay tuned for cheesy updates - oh and today was Kofta making day - fried up about 24 of the little gems and had some with masala over rice for lunch today - yum!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Box 8/10/2011

Here is what's coming to us from Eatwell Farm this week:
Cherry Tomatoes
Slicers, OR Heirloom Tomatoes
Bunching Onions
Italian Large Leaf Basil
Summer Squash
Sweet Peppers
Eggplant- *bonus

Green Bell Peppers
Middle Eastern Cucumbers

What's running thru my mind is Eggplant and summer squash Parmesan,
stuffed bell peppers,
sweet peppers and eggs sandwiches with fresh basil pesto. 
a greek salad with tomatoes, middle eastern cucumbers and fresh feta cheese and olives
and lastly- a potato salad. YUM!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Just like I remember

Tonight we had chicken cacciatore using a recipe from Lidia's Italy (  I used red wine instead of white and it was just like I remember my mom and grandmother made.  We also had a delicious insalata caprese, fresh sliced tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and shredded fresh basil, a little salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and good olive oil, YUM! 

We also signed up for the Eatwell Farm Tomato Sauce party.  We do this every year and can about 20 or so quarts of tomatoes - are stash for the year.  The party came just in time - I'm getting a little low on tomatoes.  This year we will also bring along some Lavender Ricotta Salata and some Rosemary Ricotta Salata for folks to try.  It's a fresh cheese to which we added Lorraine's lavender and rosemary salts.  They are looking good, aging in the fridge.