Sunday, July 15, 2012

Queso fresco under the midnight sun

The great thing about summer in Fairbanks is the super long days where the daylight stretches past midnight.  The Girls Crafty group took advantage of this to have a cheese making party.  Cheese making isn't difficult, but it is a long process, so it was fun to spend the evening hanging out with a neat group of ladies while eating good food and drinking good wine and making queso fresco.

Out fearless leader Lois instructs us on how to make queso fresco.

two gallons of whole milk
1 packet of direct-set mesophilic starter
1/4 teaspoon of liquid rennet (dilute it into 1/4 cups of unchlorinated water)
2 tbsp cheese salt

candy thermometer
cheese cloth
cheese press
35 pounds of weight to press the cheese

Start by heating two gallons to 90˚ F. 

Elisabeth, the Vanna White of cheese making, showing off the rennet.

Add the starter and rennet to the heated milk and stir well (as demonstrated by Sam and Lois).

Allow to sit for 30-40 minutes.  It's ready when the curds give a clean break (the texture of this reminds me of a soft flan).

Linda is ready to cut the curds.

To cut the curds, make a series of slices through about 1/2 inch apart, then do the same perpendicular to those cuts to make a checkerboard pattern.  Make a third set of cuts at a 45° angle to bottom of the pot to produce sugar cube sized chunks of curds.

Gradually, heat the curds up to 95˚ F (the curd chunks will be swimming in the whey). Let sit for 5 minutes.

Strain the whey (the liquid) from the curds (this whey can be saved and then used to make ricotta cheese).

Team work from Linda & Lois-- scooping out the curds into cheese cloth to remove more of the whey.

The curds go back into the pot!

Kari is in charge of quality control during the cheese making process.

I gently stir in the salt-- trying not to break up the curds too much.  We didn't have cheese salt, so we used canning salt instead. After adding the salt, the curds need to sit at 95˚ F for another 30 minutes.

Lois made her own cheese press from something she found a Value Village.  What a crafty gal!

Iris scoops the curds into the cheese press that is lined with cheese cloth.

Lois built this contraption as well to put weight on the cheese press.

Linda takes a seat and begins to squeeze some of the moisture out of the cheese.

But since it has to sit under 35 pounds of pressure for six hours, Linda gets replaced by a 5 gallon jug of water.

The final product: it looks like real cheese...

And it tastes delicious!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cooking up an Ethiopian feast while visiting Anchorage

I love Ethiopian food and try to sample the cuisine when I'm visiting friends and family on the East Coast.  Not only is the food delicious, but it's fun to eat since you get to eat with your hands!  Instead of using silverware, you tear off pieces of injera--the gluten-free Ethiopian flatbread that's basically a sourdough pancake-- and use that to pick up your food. 

Not surprisingly, Alaska lacks an Ethiopian restaurant, but my friend Courtney has some Ethiopian recipes in her repertoire.  Courtney and Dusty just bought and moved into this awesome house that hasn't been renovated for decades.  It's got amazing character and quirks-- some will be maintained as they renovate and others will be phased out.  I certainly hope this dog party scene wallpaper in their kitchen area stays!

I had been asking Courtney to show me how to make these dishes for months now, so while I was down in Anchorage for work earlier this week, we got busy in the kitchen too!  I love spending an evening gathering around a kitchen with friends and preparing a big meal together.  I invited my friend Jason to join us and Oisín, a summer intern from NYC at Courtney's non-profit, also joined in the festivities.

For our Ethiopian feast, we made beef stew, lentils, and injera-- injera is traditionally made of teff flour but since it's not readily available at this latitude, we substituted and use buckwheat flour.

Beef Stew in Spicy Berbere Sauce

The basic ingredient are pretty simple:

1/4 c butter
two onions
a tablespoon of fresh ginger
14 1/2 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/4 c dry red wine wine
2 1/2 lbs of chuck beef

It also calls for all sorts of spices:

1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon  cayenne
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon fenugreek
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon  cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice

(It's possible to buy a berbere spice mix if you don't have all these on hand)

Start by chopping the onions.  Courtney volunteered for onion duty.  She didn't even cry while cutting the onions.

Use a food processor to finely dice the onions (almost to a purée).

Melt the butter in a large pot.

Add the onions and brown them.  But since they're practically a purée, they didn't really brown too well.

Mix all the spices together.  They smell amazing!

Mince up the fresh ginger.

Add the spices and ginger to the butter and onions.

Cut the beef into bite size chunks....

Add the crushed tomatoes, wine and beef to the pot

and simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally.

Lemony Lentils

2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups yellow or brown lentils
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup lemon juice
salt and pepper
chopped cilantro

Start by chopping all the ingredients.

Melt the butter in a pan.

Add in the garlic and let it brown (~1 minute).

Add in the lentils and coat them with the butter.  Then add in the chicken broth and cook until tender-- 20-30 minutes.  Once they start cooling, the will begin to thicken up.

Remove from heat and stir in the ginger, lemon juice, salt and pepper.


While injera is traditionally made from a sourdough starter, the neat thing about this recipe is that is uses club soda instead, so you don't have to keep a sourdough starter on-hand.  Also, injera is usually made from teff flour which is pretty hard to find in Alaska.  I can find teff seeds which could be ground into teff flour, but we just used buckwheat flour instead.

3 cups buckwheat flour (or teff if you can find it; next time I might try swapping out half of the
         buckwheat flour with rice flour)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
~3 cups club soda (how much club soda you need probably depends on what type of flours you use;          we probably double this since you want the batter to spread thinly in the pan when cooking)
         oil for oiling the pan (though a non-stick pan is recommended)

Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add in the two eggs and club soda.

Mix well, and if necessary add more club soda so it's about the same consistency as crêpe batter.

To cook, heat a non-stick or oiled pan up; pour in ~ 1/3 cup of batter and immediate roll the pan around by your wrist to spread the batter across the bottom of the pan.  Let the injera cook throughout (you shouldn't need to flip the injera).  Adjust the heat as needed so it cooks thoroughly but does not burn on the bottom.  I found that the edges began to peel up when the injera was done.  Stack on a plate and cover to keep warm.  Serve fresh!

Jason was a total natural at cooking the injera.

I made a couple of nicely formed pieces as well.

Jason teaching Oisín the ways...

Oisín had the knack as well.

Once the stew, lentil, and injera were done, we were ready to feast.  Courtney also made a green salad and grilled some asparagus to compliment the meal.

(you know that they were all thinking "Kimbo-- put the camera down
so we can eat already!)

It was a really fun night of good friends, good food, and 
good times...