Category Archives: Make the Basics

Make the Basics Part IV: Goat Cheese

lucky cat

I’ve written before about how easy it is to make goat cheese, but it is worth another post, especially one with pretty pictures! For a few years now, I’ve made goat cheese to give as holiday gifts to close friends. After getting rave reviews from recent recipients, I was reminded again that people should know just how incredibly easy this is to do. It may sound and look impressive (and maybe I should keep people in the dark so they continue to think I’m amazing!), but really, a monkey could do this.

fresh milk
milk in pot

The biggest hurdle (and it’s not very big) is getting the main ingredients: goat’s milk and the chèvre culture. Other materials you will need are a thermometer, colander, slotted spoon and butter muslin (or cheesecloth). If you’re lucky like me and live in Maine, you can likely get fresh unpasteurized goat’s milk at your local farmers’ market (I get mine from Mainely Poultry for $5 per 1/2 gallon) or possibly a health food store/co-op/purveyor of local foods. Culture can come from a number of different sources. I use New England Cheese Making Supply. It works well to start a batch before going to bed at night and then letting it drain over the course of the next day. By that evening, it’s ready to eat! Just so you can see how easy it is, here are instructions based on those from New England Cheese Making Supply (I’m not sure why they left out the “let your spoiled cat lap up the leftover milk” step):

1) Heat 1 gallon of goat’s milk to 86° F.

2) Add 1 packet C20G (the culture) and stir.

3) Cover and let set at 72° F (it will still come out fine if it’s a bit cooler than this) for 12 hours.

4) Ladle curd gently into a butter muslin (or cheese cloth) lined colander.

5) Hang and drain for 6 to 12 hours (depending on desired consistency).

slotted spoon
goat cheese draining
goat cheese draining

Yup, that’s all there is to it. Once the cheese has drained, you’ll want to mix in a teaspoon or two of sea or kosher salt per gallon of milk to bring out the flavor (and slow the growth of bacteria), and you can add other herbs or spices too. For the holidays, I sprinkled rosemary and red pepper flakes on the surface of the rounds for a festive feel. If you’re giving them as gifts and want to get all Martha Stewarty, you can create a cute label and package too!

adding herbs

Probably because it’s so much fresher than what you would buy from the store, the taste is remarkable. And if you find a reasonably priced source of goat’s milk, it’s definitely financially worth it to make your own…especially when you have a bit of a cheese addiction. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. A gallon usually makes 5 or 6 rounds about 2½ inches in diameter. I doubt it will still be sitting in anybody’s fridge for very long, but it seems to hold up very well even 10 days later. Give it a try! It’s easy and satisfying, and you’ll impress the hell out of your friends.

Make the Basics, Part III: Ice Cream

Before summer really is over, I thought it’d be a good time to post about my latest culinary passion: making ice cream. When I had envisioned people making their own ice cream in the past, I always pictured someone laboriously turning a crank on a wooden barrel filled with ice and rock salt and thought “oh, that seems like way more trouble than it’s worth!” But then came three fabulous food-filled days in February of this year on Isle au Haut, a small island off of Stonington, Maine. Yes, ice cream on a Maine island in February. Sounds enticing doesn’t it?

Well, here’s how it went down. I was on the island for a whirlwind trip (more on this adventure later!) to do the photography for the fantastic forthcoming cookbook Desserted: Recipe and Tales from an Island Chocolatier to be published by Down East this fall. Kate Shaffer, a co-owner, with her husband Steve, of Black Dinah Chocolatiers, has penned a fabulous book full of humorous stories and knock-out chocolate-centric recipes. The book contains four ice cream and sorbet recipes. I saw her making one of them, the Maine mint chocolate chip, and was captivated. She put the mint-infused custard she had made earlier into her cute, little ice cream maker, which to my delight did not have a giant crank or a pile of ice. It had a frozen metal cylinder that is placed into a plastic container with a small plastic handle that she easily spun around a few times every 4 minutes for 20 minutes or so. Then the ice cream was placed in the freezer for several hours to set. Easy as could be. (The only potential stumbling block is planning far enough in advance so that your custard has time to cool thoroughly overnight in the fridge and then the ice cream has time to freeze solidly.) There are also electric ice cream makers that presumably make the process even easier, but I like the low-tech crank method because that’s just the sort of gal I am: one who appreciates things that are less likely to break down, less noisy, involve you more in the process and all that good stuff.

And then I tasted that ice cream. And wow, I was in love. It was better than any ice cream I’d ever purchased anywhere. It was fresh and creamy and had a perfect balance of flavors. I vowed to get my very own cute, little ice cream maker as soon as the temperature rose above freezing. Since May I’ve experimented with several recipes. Among my favorites so far, aside from Kate’s Maine mint chip, which is still at the top of the list (the recipe can be found in Desserted come October), are salt caramel ice cream, strawberry ice cream, blueberry ice cream and sweet corn gelato. I like making ones that feature foods that are in season in Maine because the ice cream tastes that much more fresh and flavorful. Most of the recipes are very simple and involve making a custard from milk and eggs, which means after mastering the basic process it should be fairly easy to make up your own recipes. I haven’t done this yet, but I plan to! There’s also a new book out called Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home that uses a different method, not involving custard. I’ve heard good things about it and am eager to check it out. Let me know if you have any favorite ice cream flavors or recipes you’d like to share, especially before summer is over!

Make the Basics, Part II: Spring Pesto

Well, things are greening up around these parts given a solid week of wetness, with more of the same in the forecast. The lack of sun is doing little for growth in our garden. I was trying to figure out something to make out of pretty much the only two things we have in abundance right now—spinach and mint.

I decided a spring pesto could be interesting. And it was! The taste is pure spring and the intense green color is enough to cheer up even the dreariest of days. I put it on pasta with fiddleheads and Maine shrimp, but it would be great liberally drizzled on top of a creamy soup or on grilled or roasted veggies. Because the flavor isn’t nearly as intense as a basil pesto, you can use a lot more than you would traditional pesto. This recipes makes about a half cup.

I did this in a food processor because I wanted it to be a uniform, smooth texture (and I was in a rush), but you could also do it the traditional way with mortar and pestle, which takes longer but produces a more intense flavor.

Spring Pesto

4 cups tightly packed spinach
1 large handful mint leaves (about 30)
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 c. good quality extra-virgin olive oil
pinch sea salt
3 tablespoons parmesan

Put all ingredients except cheese in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Stir in cheese at end. If using mortar and pestle, make a paste of all ingredients except oil and then drizzle in oil in a steady stream while constantly stirring.

Make the Basics, Part I: Granola

This is the first installment in an occasional series of recipes I will share with you of basic foods I think are worth making yourself. Whether it be because the store-bought version isn’t nearly as tasty or healthful as one I can create or because it’s much more expensive to purchase the prepared version, there are several staple items in my diet that I’ve found are better made at home. Granola is one of these. Now that I’ve come up with a recipe that suits my tastes perfectly, I plan to make my own much more often. It’s simple, takes a half hour and can frequently be made with ingredients you have on hand.

After making many different batches, I’ve settled on this recipe that uses my favorite elements of a few different recipes. It’s plenty sweet to my taste, even though there is no sweetener other than maple syrup. The coconut oil adds a nice flavor, but you could use a different type of oil if you don’t like the taste of coconut or it isn’t readily available. You can also use a different type of sweetener, and, of course, you can substitute various fruits and nuts based on your likes and what you have in your cupboards. Go ahead and experiment. Remember, recipes are merely suggestions!

My Favorite Granola
(with a nod to The New York Times and Super Natural Cooking)

3 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup pistachios (or almonds or other nuts)

3/4 cup dried cranberries (or raisins or other dried fruit)

3/4 cup pure maple syrup (or honey or brown rice syrup)

1/4 cup coconut oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients (oats through nuts). Combine maple syrup and coconut oil in a small saucepan and heat on low, stirring until the oil blends with the syrup. Pour on oat mixture and stir until mixture is evenly coated. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until as toasty as you like. Mix in dried cranberries. Cool and then store in a pretty glass jar on a kitchen shelf or counter (clearly, this is the most important part of the recipe!).