Thursday, January 15, 2009

Making Butter

Though they may seem intimidating, making your own dairy products is frequently not that difficult. Some recipes may take a while: yogurt requires about half an hour of heating and cooling the milk before letting it sit for 8-12 hours, but it's certainly not hard. Same with soft cheeses: heat and cool milk or cream, strain, maybe add another ingredient (like vinegar or lemon juice) and wait. Butter, on the other hand, is a more... active recipe.
Instead of heating and waiting, butter is a totally raw food.
Also unlike yogurt and cheese, butter is a good workout.

Step 1: get some heavy cream (I used raw from the farmers' market and I highly recommend it)
Step 2: put it in a container with a good seal (I used a lock-n-lock container)

Almost there in this picture
Step 3: SHAKE!

Basically, you first make whipped cream. When you continue shaking after the whipped cream, the cream gets thicker and then breaks down. Continued shaking results in butter and a special splash: buttermilk!
I didn't get quite as much buttermilk as I expected, but I was ok with that. My recipe called for 1 cup of buttermilk, but I was able to make up for the lack by mixing some leftover cream with water and a squeeze of lemon juice. Ideally, 1 pint of cream, like I had, should yield 1 cup of butter and 1 cup of buttermilk, but I think I got the better part of the deal -- extra butter!After the butter has clumped up, drain off the buttermilk. As you can see, I saved it in a measuring cup and carefully refrained from guzzling it myself, but you might not have the same glorious willpower. You're not done just yet, though.

Throw your butter into a bowl and pour in some water. Knead the butter and dump out the water. Continue this process until the water is clear. Why? You're rinsing off excess buttermilk. If you were to leave it on there, the butter would go off much more rapidly and you'd be left with nasty rancid butter. For my rinsing step, I actually used a colander, but it was a lousy choice, as the picture below demonstrates.

Overall, making butter is easy, sort of fun, and definitely quite an experience. Probably a good science experiment for children, but I don't know the actual science behind the cream to butter process, so I probably won't be using it as a lesson any time soon. Do you know the science behind butter? I've got an interview for Teach for America coming up, and I could use a great mini-lesson. Props are encouraged and I'm sure they wouldn't turn up their noses at some butter time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pizza Party

Earlier this week, a good friend of mine emailed to see if I'd be interested in a weekend pizza party. Transcript of his email: wanna have a pizza party on saturday? ive been experimenting with goat cheese.
My response: [...] I'll make the dough if you bring the cheese!
Clearly, we are a delightful group. So, friend sent out a mass email to other friends and, as the week wore on, said friends grew more and more excited about homemade pizza.

Well, tonight, all our pizza dreams came true, with a few mishaps thrown in for fun.
I spent the day at the farmers' market, church, and CostCo, so I actually had very little time at home. I'd started a poolish with one of Peter Reinhart's to-die-for recipes, but later realized the dough needed yet another day of refrigeration to make it take on full flavor. As I am not willing to waste poolish that's been squandering space in my fridge for a full night, I went with a completely fresh dough, ignoring the pre-ferment pain. And where did I find this delightful dough? No other location than my darlingest food blog, Smitten Kitchen. I found this amazingly simple dough recipe and planned on making it a few hours before the party for a richly risen dough treasure. Of course, I had no flour, so an emergency grocery run and a few distractions later, the party was just getting underway and I was just beginning my dough mixing.

I enlisted a slightly unwilling Boy, and we whipped up this dough (three batches in, oh, maybe 10 minutes), swaddled them in plastic wrap, and shoved them into our goodie bag to head to the pizza party.
We let the dough rise a bit on top of the oven, then the baker-boys took over, stretching, nay, throwing my dough into perfect circles then dressing them from a gorgeous assortment of condiments, from pesto to carmelized onions and back around to raw mushrooms (fresh from this morning's farmers' market) and Kalamata olives. If I remember correctly, we made a total of 7 pizzas, 3 with my dough and 4 with miscellaneous donations from Trader Joe's and another friend's CuisinArt. By far, my dough got the most applause, and that for dough hurriedly whipped up and not even allowed to fully rise . Clearly, this is a spectacular recipe. Allow me to share!
That's pizza in that pan there -- we made many types and shared!

Spectacular Pizza Dough
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes one 12" pizza
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (organic if possible, part whole wheat, if you're adventurous. I used only all-purpose this time, though I'll likely sub part whole wheat next time)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp active dry yeast (if using other yeast types, adjust accordingly)
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water (give or take a few drops)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  1. In a large-ish bowl, throw all the dry ingredients, even the yeast, together. Stir them up and then add the water and olive oil. Mix the ingredients together, but don't sweat it if they're stubborn.
  2. Dump the bowl's contents onto a lightly floured counter/workspace and gently knead until the dough forms nicely, about 1-2 minutes. All the extra floury bits should come together at this stage to leave you with a smooth dough.
  3. Lightly (lightly!) oil the bowl and put the dough ball into it, turning to coat evenly. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap. OR Lightly oil some plastic wrap and wrap the dough ball into it.
  4. Let the dough sit for an hour or so until it's risen, then stretch out, place on cornmeal-dusted parchment paper, and top with delicious everythings.
  5. Transfer the parchment paper to the oven, preferably onto a warmed pizza stone, but a cookie sheet works ok and bake on your oven's highest temperature until the cheese is melted and the crust is wonderfully brownish.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Regional Food Affairs

Occasionally, everyone has affairs. I figure, if Bill Clinton can, why can't I?
Thus, my regional food affair.
Not only am I in love with the food of my countrymen (that's the Pennsylvania Dutch, famous for pot pie and scrapple, and Italians, famous for all good food, everywhere), but I also love the food of other regions, like wherever Brie comes from (I know it's France!) and Mexico (mmm, tortillas!).
Mostly, though, I love food from home, wherever home may be. TheBoy made a particularly apt statement while we visited family for the holidays "back east." He mentioned that we are now so firmly citizens of both the east and west coasts that we can be those annoying jerks who crave foods "from home" no matter where we are. In PA, we sorely missed our beloved In-N-Out, but here in Cali, I can't even begin to tell you how much we miss good pizza, hoagies, cheesesteaks, and, above all, Wawa. ::sigh:: My stomach growls even thinking about all the delicious Amoroso rolls, salami, provolone, capicolla, and vinegar. ::sigh again:: So, when we visited, we stopped by all the best places to get a taste of home. First stop, Wawa, of course!

We got the full meal: lemonade iced tea, an Italian hoagie with oil, vinegar, and all the veggies, and TASTYKAKES. We hesitated between visions of butterscotch crimpets and kandykakes, but had to stick with the latter. Why? Because they had the EAGLES on them!
Only later did we find crimpets with Eagles logos, too. Wow!
Later, we went to Pepper Mill (you who don't know.. I'm sorry) and I got a cheese steak while TheBoy got an Italian grinder. There are no pictures for the same reason there are no leftovers -- too good! Even better about our Pepper Mill trip: a good friend of mine works there and when we "complained" about the food, he gave us a full refund. *wink*

Despite the fact that I love Wawa and everything it serves, I have to carefully balance my cravings with the realization that almost everything that Wawa serves is totally unhealthy, unsustainable, and not always all that tasty. Yes, I am talking about Wawa coffee. Ew.

What I do love, though, is how food becomes such a vital part of a place. I couldn't imagine the Greater Philadelphia area without Wawa or cheesesteaks, just as I couldn't picture Los Angeles without In-N-Out and taco trucks. The feeling of community is irreplaceable.
What food is vital to your region? Share in comments!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Holiday Food Treats

I hope everyone just had a lovely set of holidays. Around here, we celebrated entirely too much and, well, the cookies were basically endless (future posts about them.. .yeah). How about I ease into the new year, though, and highlight some food/foodie things received.

TheBoy's gift to me was both thoroughly unexpected and wonderful. A FONDUE POT! Now, I will have to become Strongbad in order to lend out my newly prized possession. I imagine my next encounter will somewhat resemble this Homestarrunner cartoon.

One of my very best friends (who happens to be one of my bridesmaids) gave me a delightfully food-filled gift. Now only did she handcraft a delightful pair of onigiri earrings, but she also delivered some intensely sweet powdered ginger drink. She knows of my great love for ginger, and decided to conveniently deliver. This friend, A, then accompanied TheBoy and me to the craft store for some fun times -- A is an artist (chemical engineering major--artist) and I needed some new yarn to satisfy my cravings. While we were there, A decided that she had not delivered a fully spectacular Christmas gift, so proceeded to purchase two packs of Wilton's adorable mini cookie cutters, one in the "romance" theme and one "Noah's ark" theme. Obviously, A knows me too well. In fact, A is the wonderful roommate who first introduced me to bento, mini cookie cutters, and all things tiny, precious, and edible.

There was only one negative to A's fabulous food contributions: that honey ginger drink is entirely too sweet. Like, mouth-curdlingly sweet. So, how did I remedy this situation? Well, I'm adjusting how much of an individual packet I put into my cup of hot water. Unfortunately, the packets are not resealable and I actually really hate cutting open individual packets. So, this morning I took the only logical step to correct this issue: I cut all the packets opened and dumped them into an infrequently used Nalgene bottle. Now, I will be able to use a long-handled spoon to easily pull out just exactly the right amount of ginger powder without wasting half a packet or having to pull out the scissor. A, are you proud of my food engineering?

Do you have any interesting ways of storing powders or correcting for flavor imbalances? Share in comments!