Mozzarella Cheese- delicious frustration.

Since most of my food experiments seem to be meat based, I decided to go off course and try my hand at cheese making. Mozzarella seemed like a great first cheese. Recipes were abundant, supplies (rennet, citric acid) readily available and the process seemingly 1, 2, 3.

I decided to spring for locally produced milk; pasteurized but not ultra pasteurized. Apparently not supporting big markets like Superfresh and Acme comes with a price; and that price is $3.95/Quart. This was already starting to be a risky proposition. If I screwed up, which is always a possibility (see Lox) I would be out dang near $20. With good mozzarella going for about $5/lb… the potential was there for a very unhappy Shawn.

When the rennet and citric acid finally showed up I purchased the milk. Recipes ready, I followed them to the letter. The letters weren’t really consistent from recipe to recipe; cooking temperature, amount of citric acid and rennet, expectations of a nice thick layer of curd… everything was a little different.

Little Chef Claire was on hand to help keep my frustration at bay; as I adjusted rennet & citric acid quantity, cooking temperature and the straining process to something unrecognizable to all of the recipes I used as reference.

Straining the curds from the whey was “icky” and time consuming. We eventually resorted to cheese cloth to help strain it, appropriately enough. At this point, we were convinced we’d made ricotta. The kneading was constantly producing more and more whey and the curds weren’t bonding. Going back to one of the recipes, I decided to pop the pre-mozzarella into the microwave for 20seconds. Heating it up pushed out more whey and helped the curds start melting together. Repeat. Repeat. As the short trips to the microwave continued the blob of curd started to become cheese. It started getting stretchy. My frustration gave way to being geeked that I had just MADE CHEESE.

Claire took pictures of me pulling the cheese two, three feet. It was awesome.

I sampled a little piece. Amazing.

I couldn’t wait to get the pictures she took resized to include in this post. Then my macbook and my card reader had a disagreement and it deleted all of the pics she took. Of the cheese making process. Of the ribeyes and foie gras from the other night. Of the vanilla bean and snickers ice cream she made after I finished the cheese.

All gone.

Win some loose some. Pardon the iPhone Hipstamatic pictures.


I live for liver

My foie gras obsession is well documented.
Calf’s liver was a staple of my diet growing up, but when I was first introduced to the fatty duck liver shortly after moving to Philadelphia, it was love at first sight. Rich, pungent and perfectly seared my first experience with foie was at Stephen Starr’s POD at a birthday celebration. I didn’t know anything about the politics of fattening geese and ducks for enlarged livers. I didn’t know that the price of foie made regular eating cost prohibitive or that it would raise my cholesterol levels off the charts. Only that it was something I had to have again and again.

And I have. Over the years I’ve had it seared, in a torchon, mousse of quail’s liver foie gras… even foie gras ice cream. So you can imagine my excitement when I wandered into the diBruno’s grocery store on Chestnut street to find fresh foie on sale for $19.99 a pound. I had stopped in to buy duck breast to cure another prosciutto with the promise to myself that I wasn’t going to buy anything else.

But c’mon. Twenty dollars a pound? I couldn’t resist. As I waited in the checkout line with my duck’s breast and pound of foie (and a mozzarella with creme fraiche; I figured I’d already broken my promise to only buy duck) I started planning a dinner in my head.

Something simple. A protein bomb of two 16oz locally raised ribeye steaks, seared foie gras, lima beans and Claire’s always delicious chopped brussels sprouts.

The ribeyes came from Whole Foods and cost more than my discounted duck livers; but when I saw the extra thick marbled cuts in the butcher’s case I knew they were perfect. The noble brussles sprout, which has the distinction of being my favorite vegetable, also came from Whole Foods and were gigantic.

Prep time was almost nonexistent; I rubbed the steaks with a quick mix of seasoning while Claire sauteed the sprouts and put our skillet over high heat until it started smoking. Added oil and waited for thatto start smoking, and dropped the steaks in and jumped back while they started splattering and sputtering.

In a second skillet I seared a few slices of foie trying to keep the timing just right. The steaks were about 1.5″ thick, so I had to keep an eye on them as I seared the livers. The incredibly hot skillet seared the spice rub to crisp perfection, with the insides still cold and tender. Claire’s sprouts were brilliantly green and crunchy… the whole dinner was worth the now mounting costs.

Best yet, I still have half of the steak chilling in the fridge to be cubed and eaten cold.

A perfect dinner with the perfect little Chef.

Miracle Berry

The Synsepalum dulcificum.

A small red berry that when eaten will make bitter or sour foods sweet by bonding to the taste buds and changing the way they process the acids. A few weeks ago our friend Brad mentioned that he was growing them, and that when they were ready he’d bring a few in for us to try.

They were finally ready this week. Brad made some recommendations on what to eat/drink with them, so after little Chef Claire got off of work today, we set out some goodies and chewed the berries.

On their own, the berries didn’t have much of a taste. Slight tang, but nothing flavorful to speak of. We rolled them around our palate as we chewed them, trying to coat our tongues with the juice for maximum potency. With such little berries there wasn’t much to go around, but it was worth a shot.

We started by sucking on a lemon; normally a mouth puckering proposition. But as we sucked the juice out of them, it was a pleasant almost candied flavor. We moved to a piece of goat brie. Again, the normally bitter taste of the rind was replaced with a sweeter taste. Now it was time to put up or shut up- vinegar. We pulled out a measuring spoon and began with the dark chocolate balsamic vinegar that Claire picked up at Garcia’s last night. We each took a small sip and instantly noticed almost nothing but the sweetness of the chocolate in the vinegar. All the bitterness was gone, replaced with a sweet chocolatey bite.

Next was apple cider vinegar. We might as well have been drinking apple juice. Pickles and pickle juice, worchesteshire sauce and finally grapefruit juice; everything we tried tasted notably different than we expected. All thanks to a little tiny berry.

Thanks, Brad!