It has been a while since I have posted. If you remember my last post, you will know it was mostly about how my health was affecting my ability to do even small things. I thought I was on the downhill side of that particular flare-up, but I was mistaken. My illnesses had other ideas and the last 7+ weeks have been amazingly difficult. Here and there, however, I managed to have a few brief food adventures.
A the title suggests, most of my recent adventures have been cheese related. The title comes from the nursery rhyme “The Farmer in the Dell.” To this day, I have no idea what it is supposed to mean, but when I was thinking about writing a post about cheese, that line came to mind. If you look at the line literally, cheese really can stand alone. Cheese by itself can be wonderful. Of course it can also be exceedingly good as a part of dish.
One of my favorite things is the grilled cheese sandwich. I am especially fond of them around two in the morning. There is something warm and comforting about having a large amount of melting cheese oozing out from between two well-buttered pieces of bread that have been toasted in a pan. Like most Americans, my introduction to the grilled cheese was as a child when my mother would make them with Wonder bread and those individually wrapped cheese slices. To my inexperienced palate, those were about as good as a sandwich could get.
Now that I am older and more experienced, I realize that those tributes to ease and convenience were a travesty compared to what a real grilled cheese can be. These days, I stick to good Italian bread. I have used other breads, but I keep coming back to the Italian. On the inside, though, anything goes. Last night I made one with pepper jack, Gouda, Havarti, and Vermont white Cheddar. Unbelievably good. I have also used provolone, brie, Swiss, Fontina, and pretty much any other cheese I can get my hands on. On occasion, I have included ham, roast beef, salami, and other ingredients to liven things up. On of my favorite things to do with Thanksgiving leftovers is to make grilled turkey and pepper jack sandwiches. Last summer I got into a kick of making Bologna Monte Cristos. For those who may not be sure what that is, it is bologna and Swiss cheese on batter-dipped bread that is fried in a pan and then topped with powdered sugar. I know it sounds a bit odd, but it tasted very good. My step daughter loved them.
I realize a Monte Cristo is not exactly the same thing as a grilled cheese, but it is close enough for purposes of this article. If we were to go a bit further afield, we come to the crostini. It is bread and cheese, and while it may not be grilled, it is way up there on the comfort food scale. What led me to making crostini was I was looking for something to do with ricotta where the flavor of the cheese would really come through.
The reason I was looking for something to do with ricotta was that I had decided I was going to make my own. Prior to this I had never made my own cheese, and I have to admit, I was more than a little bit intimidated. I have read about cheese making and for most cheeses, it involves special chemicals and forms and lots of steps and then there is the whole aging process. As difficult as it would be to make a cheddar or feta, ricotta is simple. What finally clinched for me was that Bon Appetit printed a dead simple recipe that I didn’t believe I could screw up.
Well, truth be told, I did screw it up on the first try. I did two things wrong. First I used ultra-pasteurized cream which I knew was a mistake, but I didn’t read the container well enough. The second thing I did wrong was to allow the milk and cream to reach a boil. I knew this was wrong, but I looked away at the wrong second and it was too late. The result was that the milk and cream wouldn’t curdle, and no curds, no cheese. Oh, there was a third thing I did wrong. I didn’t stir the milk enough and the bottom burned.
So, this is what I did on my second try…
3 cups whole milk (pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized)
1/2 Tsp kosher salt
2 Tbl fresh lemon juice
1. Mix the salt and milk in a saucepan. Don’t use a heavy bottom pan because it could retain enough heat to cause the milk to boil even after removing the pan from the heat.
2. Heat the salted milk until it just reaches a simmer, about 200° on an instant-read thermometer. Stir frequently during the heating process.3. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the lemon juice until the milk begins to curdle. You can use vinegar to curdle the milk, but I thought the lemon juice would make it taste better. I don’t have any actual evidence for this though.
4. Let this mixture sit for 5 minutes then strain though a fine-mesh sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth.
5. Place the sieve over a bowl in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes or until the cheese reaches the desired consistency. The longer it is allowed to drain, the firmer it will be. This makes about 1 cup of ricotta.
The result was a nice mild cheese that I quite liked. It was perfect for crostini.
To make the crostini, I took fresh French bread and cut 3/4″ slices on a bias. I put them under the broiler for a few minutes and toasted both sides. I rubbed them with a clove of fresh garlic, then topped each one with about two tablespoons of the ricotta. I seasoned them with salt, pepper and a little extra virgin olive oil then put them back under the broiler to heat the cheese through. Mission accomplished. The crostini was delicious.
I still had some of the ricotta left, so a couple of days later, I mixed the rest of the cheese in with some scrambled eggs. The next time I make ricotta I am going to make a double or triple batch just so I have some extra to have with eggs. Wonderful.
Sticking with the cheese theme, I made a 9-cheese mac ‘n cheese the other night, but that is going to have to wait for another post. Until then…