The Claim: Got some fresh milk in the fridge? Have about an hour to plan ahead before serving your next Mexican-themed meal? Why not make your own Queso fresco, with this kit from Urban Cheescraft. The Portland, OR company brings the local food wave right into your kitchen. They supply most of what you need — a plastic cheese mold, a fine cheesecloth, cooking thermometer, a bag of citric acid and cheese salt — along with easy to follow instructions. Use this kit and you’ll have delicious, salty, crumbly Queso Fresco to sprinkle on huevos rancheros.
The Situation: It’s a Friday night tradition with our friends Jenn and Gordon. One week it’s their house, the next ours. The other Friday, Jenn wisely had a crock pot full of tortilla soup brewing, and was eager to host. “I’m making cheese,” she said. I got there and discovered she was just cracking open this kit at around 5pm. Could we really start this now and have cheese done by dinner tonight? We had three kids under 5 running around, phones beeping, beers pouring. Distracted though we were, we managed to make this cheese! The hardest part was making sure we didn’t let the milk boil. It tasted yummy and was the perfect topping to the soup.
The Verdict: This cheese kit is not cheap ($30 at williams-sonoma.com). When you consider that it makes 10 7 oz. wheels of cheese, it is not too expensive, but it doesn’t really save you money either (especially when you pour in your own two gallons of milk). We have some great local stores and farmer’s markets near us where you can easily buy the stuff. Unless you really really love Queso Fresco or want to bundle it up and give them as presents or something, I think it’d take a long time to use this whole thing up. Like a year. This cheese kit is a great learning tool, but it is more a novelty than a must-have.
Still Curious: Visit urbancheesecraft.com
The other weekend, our friends Steve and Elizabeth took us on a culinary adventure to Edgewater, NJ, where a thriving Korean community lives. After stuffing ourselves with Bi Bim Bop and barbeque, we hit a large supermarket. It was filled with things I didn’t know how to use in my kitchen, but Steve persuaded me to buy a tube of Doenjang, or soybean paste. If you’ve ever had Korean barbeque, you’d recognize its flavor as that delicious stuff you spread on lettuce leaves that wrap around your seared meat. It is also the base for one of the most comforting, warming stews I’ve ever had, Doenjang Jjigae. I may not know how to pronounce it properly, but that didn’t stop me from trying to figure out how to make it in my own home. Turns out it’s not so difficult. In fact, this bowl of love takes about 20 minutes to whip up — about as long as it takes to make the rice that goes with. I adapted this recipe from BeyondKimchee.com. I didn’t have all the authentic ingredients, so I had to improvise a bit. For example, the broth is supposed to be made using dried anchovies, but I couldn’t find them locally. I just left them out and added a pinch of salt. Heresy? Probably, but to this non-traditionalist, the results were delicious. I may even make it for Steve the next time he visits us.
Almost Korean Doenjang Jjigae
What You Need:
2 cups of starchy rice water — see step 1 below. This is optional, but was easy to do.
2 pieces (3″ each) dried sea kelp (I used the kind you make sushi with.)
2 generous Tbsp Doenjang (soybean paste)
1/2 package (4 oz) extra firm tofu, cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 onion diced
1/2 zucchini diced
1 tsp red chili flakes (I didn’t have Korean so used what we had)
1 garlic clove chopped
1 green or red chili sliced (I used half of long frying chili pepper)
1/2 package mushrooms (I used shiitaki)
1 green onion sliced
How to Make
1. Make some rice starch water by rinsing a cup of rice once with water and drain. Add a 1/2 cup of water again, toss and swirl around the rice for 30 seconds. The water will get a little milky. Add 2 cups of water and swirl. Drain and save water in a bowl.
2. Cook the rice as usual.
3. Heat a heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat. Pour in the rice starch water and add the sea kelp. Bring to a boil and simmer and for 5 minutes. Remove kelp with a small strainer. It’s okay if some gets left behind.
4. Push the Doenjang paste through a strainer into the pot. Stir well. Add onion, zucchini, chili flakes and let them boil. Add tofu, garlic, chili and cook for 2 minutes.
5. Lastly add mushrooms and green onion. Simmer on low heat until the rice is done.
6. Remove the pot from heat and serve rice and hot sauce (optional).
I heard an interview with Smitten Kitchen‘s Deb Perelman on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC, and I realized that even though I was a fan of her blog, I’ve actually never tried any of her recipes. She talked a bit about her new book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and some of her favorite dishes (like pancetta, white bean and Swiss Chard pot pies that I have to try!), including one that made her famous (sort of) — roast chicken. She didn’t get into specifics about the roast chicken on the show, but when I got home I hunted down this recipe of hers on Serious Eats. I’m in love one-pan dishes, as you know, so I decided to give it a whirl. It’s very simple and the results are impressive enough for a dinner party. First you brown the chicken on the stove — I used a cast iron pan. Then you move it to the oven with some shallots, olives and grapes sprinkled in. Once it’s cooked through you remove the chicken and use stock and white wine to make a sauce. Pour it on and enjoy! I loved the way the grapes and olives tasted together, and the sauce was great for sopping up with some crusty bread. My only recommendation would be to eat it all in one sitting. The leftovers didn’t look as impressive after chilling in the fridge — though the meat from the chicken made great sandwiches.
Click here to see the recipe at Serious Eats.
More roast chicken recipes:
I should be starting my eat-more-healthy resolution, but instead I am in the use-up-everything-first phase of the new year. The other day my husband surprised me by cooking breakfast, which involved (no surprise) cooking an entire package of bacon. Needless to say, we had a ton left over and I wanted to put it to good use. Ree Drummond’s Perfect Potato Soup seemed to be just the thing for a cold and blustery day. It calls for bacon, onion, celery, carrots, chicken stock, cajun spice, potatoes, milk, flour, shredded cheese… everything I had handy today. I did change up Dree’s recipe slightly — as our bacon was already cooked and there was no fresh parsley available. Mine was delicious, but I am sure, not quite as perfect as The Pioneer Woman’s. Basically you “should” cook the bacon first. Pour off nearly all of the fat from the pan, then toss in chopped onion, carrots and celery. Cook for a few minutes and then add chopped potatoes and seasoning. Cook a few more minutes, and then add in about 7 to 8 cups of broth (I used both vegetable and chicken). Simmer for about ten minutes, then stir in a flour and milk mixture. Simmer some more. Take half the soup and puree it in the blender. Add back to the rest. Stir in a bit of cream if you have. Serve with parsley (I used dried chives which were a nice addition), shredded cheese, and of course, crumbled bacon.
Click here to read the recipe on Dree’s site.
Got a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soup recipe to share? I’d love to hear about yours.
Hello friends! Sorry for the light posting this past week. As you can imagine, we’ve been busy cooking, wrapping, playing and making merry. The kitchen has seen a lot of action — thank God we installed that dishwasher this year! Here’s a round up of some of the recipes that have graced our table.
1. Popovers. Always a favorite. Though they’re great for breakfast, served warm with butter, honey and your favorite jams, on Christmas, I serve them with the main course. They go great with a roast beast of any kind, especially if there is gravy in picture.
2. Slow cooked pomegranate short ribs. I took this recipe from Everyday food and adapted it for my slow cooker. Here’s how. First brown the meat in a skillet. Then place it in a slow cooker with onion, garlic gloves, thyme, red wine and pomegranate juice and cook on slow for five or six hours. Once the meat is falling-apart tender, remove and plate. Make a roux with butter and cornstarch in a sauce pan on the stove, and strain some of the fragrant juice from the slow cooker in, stirring until it turns into a gravy. Pour over the meat and sprinkle it with pomegranate seeds. It was insanely delicious.
3. Braised broccoli rabe. I took another page from Everyday Food and had broccoli rabe as a side dish. This is another favorite in our house. Usually I just saute in it garlic, but this time I cooked it for about ten minutes in a chicken broth and garlic bath. The results were tender and sweet.
4. Parmesan polenta. The other side dish I whipped up was Ina Garten’s parmesan polenta. This is another example of a simple recipe made stunning by using the best ingredients. Into basic polenta you add creme fraiche and freshly grated parmesan. So rich and heavenly, I could eat a whole bowlful.
5. Tiramisu. Since the menu inadvertently evolved into one with Italian flavors, I thought a traditional Tiramisu would be nice way to end the evening. I used a basic recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. Every time I make this I am amazed at how easy it is. As long as you have a stand mixer, and can easily whip up those egg yolks until they are nice and frothy, restaurant-style Tiramisu is a breeze. After a hearty meal, it is light and sweet and has just enough of a coffee flavor to perk things up. Amazing.
What did you serve over the holidays? I’d love the hear about it! – Angela M.