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Recipe: Pepper Cheese Ball

21 Nov

I am a vair vair bad food blogger. Keeping up with posting really shouldn’t be as difficult as I make it. I cook EVERY day. Yesterday I made some nom-tastic eggplant parm, without a recipe (which I’m still sort of amazed I can do). Today I’ll probably make some butternut squash soup. I should take pictures, but I probably won’t start until it’s dark and then the pics will be crap (I prefer to use natural light) and I’ll be annoyed. To be perfectly honest, I’m probably only getting around to posting today because I have a paper due tomorrow and I am diligently procrastinating. La de da!

A few years ago my friend Nisi got me a copy of I Like You by Amy Sedaris. It’s one of the most perfect gifts I’ve ever been given. I heart Amy Sedaris, and I heart cooking, and I heart weird humor. Perfecto. There are many different recipes in this book and lots of different ideas for party themes and for party food. (Not to mention a recipe contributed by Stephen Colbert! Squee!) One of the items that is usually always included in a party menu is a cheese ball. First reading the book, I’d never seen a homemade cheese ball before. It was one of those weird retro items I’d only seen strangely prepackaged and sad looking, like fruitcake, and it had never occurred to me that a cheese ball could actually be good. You probably know why. You’ve seen the shrink wrapped monstrosities sold in supermarket deli departments and lurking in holiday gift baskets.

I decided to try making one for a New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s house, and the lucky cheese ball was Cluster Haven’s Pepper Mill Cheese Ball, chosen because of a friend’s nut allergy. I didn’t want him to be denied the cheese-y delicious. All went exceptionally well, and hey, turns out cheese balls are AMAZING. Since then (NYE 2006) I’ve made the same cheese ball for almost every party I’m invited to. Once I bring it that first time, people request it! Basically, you want to make this cheese ball. It makes you popular and everyone wants you at their parties. In fact, I am doing myself a great disservice by giving you the recipe at all, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Because I Like You.

Cluster Haven’s Pepper Mill Cheese Ball

1 stick of butter

1 8 oz package of cream cheese

1.5 C grated cheddar cheese (though really, you could use anything)

2 T grated onion (I usually use 1 tsp onion powder and 1/2 tsp garlic powder)

2 T coarsely ground pepper

The pics in this post are of a cheese ball I made for a Halloween party, so I tried to make it scary. He’s supposed to be some sort of Cthulhu/Octopus hybrid. Mostly he just looks cute. If you want to give you cheese ball a face like I did here, you need some pimiento olives and some carrot shavings.

Make sure your butter and cream cheese are at room temperature, or you’re going to hate your life.

Combine the butter and cream cheese.

Add the grated cheese and the onion (and garlic, if using). Mix thoroughly.

Pop the whole mess back into the fridge to firm up a bit, maybe 20-30 minutes, then take it out and form into a ball. The original recipe says to roll it in the pepper, but that’s never worked exceptionally well for me because I always end up with one side coated in pepper and the other bare. I’ve started just using my regular pepper mill and cracking pepper on one side of the ball, turning, cracking some more, until the whole thing is coated. It really helps if you have someone help you with this, but I live alone and I usually manage so I have faith in you.

Awwww!

If you want to give your cheese ball a face, use two whole pimiento olives for eyes (I used a teeny knife to make two hollows before I inserted the olives) and three olives for the tentacle things. Cut three olives in half and use three halves for each side of the cheese ball. Then, use carrot shavings for the nose and mouth.

I think he looks hilarious in the fridge.

Serve at room temperature with crackers.

❤ stef

How To: Pumpkin Puree

4 Oct

Alright ladies and gents. It’s that time of year again, the time when most Americans begin to experience uncomfortably desperate pumpkin cravings. You know who you are. You’re the one in the corner mainlining pumpkin spice lattes. Don’t try to hide! YOU’VE BEEN SPOTTED.

Ahem.

Sugar pie pumpkins and all manner of squash are currently on sale at Whole Foods for 99 cents a pound, which is what made me want to buy one. That and “sugar pie” pumpkin is such a cute name. Don’t you want to go buy one now? Sure you do. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

I’ve never actually been a fan of pumpkin pie (one of the only pumpkin incarnations I am aware of, I’ll admit) and I’ve recently decided that this might be because my grandma uses canned pumpkin. I know, I know, apparently there are really awesome and good quality canned pumpkin products out there, but this is just my THEORY. I really want to like pumpkin pie. I feel like I might be missing out on something.  In any case, making your own puree is really easy, and if you get the pumpkin on sale it is SO CHEAP. My pumpkin cost me about $1.50. You’re welcome.

The first step is to grab your pumpkin. Hello pumpkin! He is a sugar pie pumpkin, one of the smaller, sweeter varieties best for dessert making, and he weighs approximately 1.5 pounds. Aww.

Now, wash him. Cut off his stem and then cut him into quarters. This is his better half.

Use a spoon to scoop out all of his insides-seeds and stringy pulpy bits. Put it all aside because you can use the seeds for roasting, or making pumpkin brittle.

Put the quarters on a baking sheet, cover with foil, and roast in a 400˚ oven for 35-40 minutes.

My pumpkin has battle scars.

When it’s done, the pumpkin should be soft enough for you to scrape the shell off with a spoon. I left mine for 35 minutes and it was perfect.

Allow the pumpkin to cool for 10-20 minutes, then take a spoon and scrape the shell off.

Using some sort of mixing or mashing device, puree your pumpkin! I used my very favorite immersion blender that I use for everything. You might prefer a cuisinart, or a fork. I just don’t know.

The puree will keep for a few days in the fridge. I am still trying to decide what to so with mine. Right now, I’m thinking either pumpkin cheesecake or pumpkin pavlovas. I’ll decide in the next few days and post the results next Monday. In the meantime, happy pumpkin making!

❤ stef

Recipe: Simple Syrup

5 Jul

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a coffee snob. A terrible, vocal coffee snob. At least I admit it. Granted, if I’m at a diner I drink whatever coffee is available. Bad coffee is much better than no coffee at all. But given the choice I make my coffee at home, using whatever method strikes me at the time (ceramic hand drip cone, vacuum coffee pot, stovetop espresso maker), half and half, and turbinado sugar. When I make a point to go out for coffee I’m super-picky and there are only a few shops I frequent. I don’t usually like iced coffee because when I think of coffee I think of it as being hot. “Coffee” means espresso, or drip, with sugar and cream, steaming in my hands. The desire for an iced coffee is something completely separate from my desire for coffee. When I want coffee (and I so often do) I want it strong and creamy-sweet. When I want iced coffee I like it to be strong, but I want more half and half than usual (like an iced au lait?) and yes, sugar. And yet sugar is a complete nightmare to dissolve in anything cold. I’ve been drinking my coffee iced more often because Boston is a nightmare of humidity. When I wake up sweating in my sheets my last thought is for a hot beverage, no matter how much I may love my hot coffee. (And let me tell you, I love it a lot.)

I usually just dissolve the sugar into the coffee before I let it cool and add ice, but I decided to make some simple syrup instead. The nice thing about having simple syrup around is that you can use it for alcoholic beverages too (woo-hoo!) and it’s easier to tailor your coffee once it’s already iced. Sometimes I add my sugar to the hot coffee, throw in ice and milk, and I realize that I added too much or too little sugar and there isn’t much I can do at that point. 😦  SIMPALLLLL SYRUP TO THE RESCUUUUE!

Recipe:

1 C water

1 C sugar (I used turbinado sugar)

Dash of vanilla extract (oooh, fancy!)

If you wanted you could also use a different extract – like ginger, or orange blossom, cinnamon. Just take into account what you want to use the finished product for. The most important part of this recipe is the water to sugar ratio, which should be one to one. So, if you wanted to lower or increase your quantities that’s fine as long as you keep it one to one.

Mix together your sugar, water and extract and heat to just boiling. Stir occasionally as it heats and make sure the sugar is dissolving. Keep it at a gentle simmer for a few minutes, then take off the heat and allow to cool.

Once cooled, pour into a bottle or jar for easy serving. I used this super-fancy jar.

My syrup is so dark because of the turbinado sugar. Mmm!

Mix into all of your delicious iced beverages.

Liiiiiike coffee!

MM, icey.

Your iced beverages will never suffer from lack of sweetness again!

❤ Stef

Recipe: Goat’s Milk CHEESE!

28 Feb

I finally got around to hauling out my kit from Urban Cheesecraft and making some queso.

And it was AWESOME.

I love making things that you usually have to buy (marshmallows, anyone?) because it makes me feel oddly powerful. Like, eff you world! I can MAKE SHIT. If the zombie apocalypse came tomorrow, you would definitely want me with your roaming band of survivors. I’m not a big fighter, but I can knit (which means I carry pointy sticks, more conducive to vampire slaughter, but still), I can sew, and I can cook. I know how to make bread and butter, though we will have to find a suitable lactating animal for the latter. You know, cow or goat. When the zombie apocalypse hits you won’t want to be too picky. For all you smartasses who think you can’t make butter from goat milk, YOU’RE WRONG.

So my cheese-making experience was fantastic, except that I almost over heated my milk. One of the crucial steps in cheese making is separating the curds from the whey, which occurs when you heat your milk. I assumed that I would be able to very visibly see the curds separate, that they would be able the size of cottage cheese curds. Not so! The curds were so tiny I could hardly see them and I thought I hadn’t heated the milk enough. Fortunately I read the FAQ over at Urban Cheesecraft and discovered that not all curds are large. In my case, I ended up dipping a metal spoon into the heated milk, and when I pulled the spoon out it was dotted with tiny white specks. Curds!

So, what follows is your basic goat cheese making technique, found in the recipe book that came with my Urban Cheesecraft kit. You can find online recipes, too, but I highly recommend buying a kit from the good people at Urban Cheesecraft! It’s not as though you can’t make cheese without it, but they make it so much easier. Mine came with yards of butter muslin, molds, a thermometer, vegetable rennet, citric acid, cheese salt, and recipe booklets.

Soft Goat’s Cheese

I cut the original recipe in half.

1 quart goat’s milk

1/2 tsp citric acid

1/4 C water

cheese salt (which is just flaked kosher salt). Make sure the salt you use doesn’t have iodine or anti-caking agents.

butter muslin (very fine cheesecloth)

thermometer

colander

big bowl

cheese mold (optional)

Grab your goat’s milk.

This is the first time I had ever bought goat’s milk. I was understandably curious.

Tastes just like moo cow milk. Yum!

Dissolve the citric acid into the water and put aside.

Pour your goat’s milk and the citric acid/water mix into a large pot and clip a thermometer to the side of the pot. You want to make sure your thermometer tip is not touching the bottom of the pot, it should be suspended in the middle of the milk so it can take an accurate reading. Don’t use an aluminum pot, either.

Slowly heat the milk to 185˚F, stirring occasionally. Keep the heat at medium-low. You do not want to over boil the milk, nor do you want to over stir. (So, just make sure you aren’t stirring constantly and you’ll be fine!)

Once the temperature reads 185˚ the curds should have separated from the whey. If you can’t tell (and like I said, I couldn’t), grab a metal spoon and dip it in to the milk and take it out. If it has little white dots on it, the curds have officially separated.

These are curds. I know, I can't see them either.

Turn off the heat and let the milk sit for about 10 minutes. While you are waiting, grab your colander, line it with the cheesecloth, and put it over a large bowl.

Slowly pour the milk into the cheesecloth lined colander, and allow to drain for 15 -30 minutes.

Once it has drained, add the salt and herbs if you like. I added a bit of rosemary, but although it flavored the cheese well, the rosemary itself was a little bitter. If I were to do it again, I would use something sweeter like basil or thyme.

Gently stir to combine.

Line a cheese mold with cheesecloth and place it over another bowl or a plate. Scoop the curds into the mold.

If you don’t have a mold that’s ok. You can just scoop the curds into a piece of cheesecloth and tie off the top. This way would probably work better if you suspend the bag over a bowl somehow, maybe by tying it to a cabinet handle with a bowl on the bottom. The reason you’re scooping the curds into the cheesecloth bag or mold is to further drain and shape the cheese. The longer you leave it to drain, the more firm your cheese will be. Regardless of which method you choose, allow to drain anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours. I left mine for about an hour.

Now that your curds are chillin’, you’ve got lots of whey to worry about.

Pour it into an airtight container. It will keep for about 2 days. Urban Cheesecraft gives lots of suggestions for how to use whey. You can feed it to your kitty, use it in place of broth in soups and stews, or make hot chocolate with it instead of using milk or water. Basically, you can use it in any recipe in place of milk or water. They do give this warning, though-whey has LOTS of lactose.

When your cheese is ready, remove it from the cheesecloth or mold and put it in a container. The cheese will keep for a week or two.

You can use it however you like! The first thing I did was put it on some leftover caramelized onion pizza.

I also made two batches of pasta – sun dried tomato and goat cheese, and brussels sprout, sausage, and goat cheese. Yum!

❤ Stef

Recipe: Marshmallows!

8 Feb

I know you were probably hoping for cheese. Sad day. But I got distracted yesterday when I realized that I had all of the ingredients for marshmallows in my cupboard (yeah, this is what happens when you cook a lot. You end up with random bits of foodstuff, like envelopes of gelatin and corn syrup from that one time you made that cake/pie/candy thing).

So as I was saying, I was sitting around thinking about how much I wanted some hot chocolate, but we all know that hot chocolate isn’t really worth it unless you’ve got some whipped cream or at the very least some marshmallows and I didn’t have either of those things and I didn’t want to go to the store. So I lay despondently around in total depression (tiny violin playing in the background) until I remembered that I could actually make my OWN marshmallows.

Yes.

This is the full recipe, but I actually cut everything in half. I also stole the recipe from Alton Brown. It’s ok though, he’s used to it.

3 envelopes of unflavored gelatin

1 C cold water, divided

1.5 C granulated suagr

1 C light corn syrup

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 C powdered sugar

1/4 C cornstarch

Nonstick spray, or olive oil.

Put the gelatin and half of the water in a large mixing bowl.

Mix the corn syrup, sugar, salt and the rest of the water in a saucepan, cover and heat over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes. Uncover, and using a thermometer heat the mixture to 240˚ F. I used my super-spiffy meat thermometer.

You can do the same, as long as you have a thermometer that goes up that high. You just have to be careful that the thermometer tip is not touching the saucepan at all, or it will mismeasure the temperature. I employed the use of a rubber band.

Once the mixture hits 240˚, take it off of the heat immediately. While you wait, grab a pan (mine is 8″x8″) and grease it all over using the cooking spray or olive oil. In a separate dish, mix the cornstarch and powdered sugar. Coat the pan using the cornstarch mix, and reserve the leftovers for later use.

Now, you’re going to combine the gelatin with the sugar mixture by slowly drizzling the heated sugar mix into the gelatin, while you constantly whisk it all together. This is super-easy if you have a stand mixer. I do not. In fact, I don’t even have a hand held electric mixer, so I used my whisk and MY HANDS. My shoulder kind of hurts, but I have fabulous muscles.

Any way you choose to mix, it takes between 10 – 14 minutes to reach the correct consistency. It will get really fluffy.

And then, it will start getting super-glossy and very difficult to whisk. That’s about when it’s done. You want to add the vanilla in the last 2-3 minutes of whisking.

Pour into your prepared pan, using an oiled spatula (or spoon, what have you) to evenly distribute.

Sprinkle the top with enough of the cornstarch mix to cover, again reserving the rest.

Let the marshmallows sit uncovered for at minimum 4 hours. Once this time has elapsed, turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting surface and cut into squares. You might need to coat your knife with some of the cornstarch mix.

Coat the cut marshmallows with the remaining cornstarch-sugar mixture.

You can store the finished marshmallows in an airtight container for up to three weeks. Enjoy!

❤ Stef

Recipe: Coffee Can Vanilla Custard Ice Cream

11 Jul

I love homemade ice cream.

I also love to make ice cream, because I can do whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want. Peach ice cream? You got it! Chocolate custard? You betcha! Caramel swirl with m&ms, chocolate chips and peanuts? Why not? Dooooo iiiiiit.

The only problem is that I don’t have an ice cream maker. I used to, but it was a cheapie one from Target and one day a few years ago it stopped working. I had it running for nearly eight hours before I realized that the little paddle inside wasn’t spinning, so the ice cream couldn’t become ice cream, just liquidy mess. It sucked.

I hadn’t bothered to make ice cream since, because I thought you needed a proper ice cream freezer and I don’t have one. It turns out, you don’t need a freezer at all, just some ice and salt and ingenuity. These things I have in spades, which is why tonight I will have vanilla custard ice cream for dessert, and you can, too.

Recipe from Fanny at Chez Panisse by Alice Waters.

2 egg yolks

1/2 C sugar

1/2 C milk

3 drops vanilla extract

lemon zest

1/2 C whipping cream

First you will need one very large jar and one small. The reason the recipe is called “coffee can” ice cream is because you are meant to use two coffee cans, but I don’t buy my coffee in cans. Jars or tupperware will work just as well. The small jar will hold the ice cream ingredients, and it needs to have a very tight seal. The large jar will hold the small jar, the ice, and the salt.

Separate the egg yolk from the white and put the yolk in a small saucepan.

Add the sugar and whisk. Heat the milk (I used the microwave) until hot, but don’t let it boil. Slowly add the milk (about 1-2 TB at a time) to the yolk and sugar until completely combined.

Heat gently, stirring all the time. You want to thicken the mixture slightly, either until it reaches 170˚ or it coats the back of a metal spoon and you are able to draw a line through it with your finger.

You are supposed to strain it at this point, but I didn’t. This did not negatively affect the finished product, but hey. If it makes you feel better, strain your custard. I don’t like to follow directions.

Add the vanilla and the lemon zest and put the mixture into the fridge and allow it to cool. Once cool, stir in the cream and put the mixture in the little jar. If you wanted to add fruit or chocolate pieces to your ice cream, this would be the time to do it. Put a piece of saran wrap between the jar and the lid.

Put the jar in the freezer overnight, until it is frozen half solid.

Take it out and pack it in the larger tupperware with ice and salt, and shake for about 20 minutes.

If the ice cream is too soft for your liking, you can put it back in the freezer until it is more hard.

Serve!

Add chocolate fudge if you like.

Hooray! Ice cream without a crazy ice cream freezer/maker/mabob.

❤ Stef

How To: Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee

9 Jun

I started drinking coffee at age 12. I started with the Starbucks pre-mixed frappuccino beverages you get in the grocery store. Then I moved to the real Starbucks frappuccinos, mocha at first, then the coffee flavor. Soon the frappuchinos were too sweet, so I started ordering caramel macchiatos. I stayed steady on those for a good year or two, until my boyfriend introduced me to Peet’s. I started drinking a macchiato with caramel and two packets of sugar. Then I stopped putting in the sugar, and eventually moved on to lattes. I now drink drip coffee almost exclusively. I like it extremely strong and dark, with lots of cream and sugar. It has to be very dark coffee, though! Anything less, once the addition of cream and sugar, tastes weak to me.

My cafe of choice has also changed–I absolutely hate Starbucks. I can appreciate what they have done for the coffee business, and cafe culture, but their coffee is just terrible. Sorry Starbucks!

I was making my drip coffee with a regular machine, sometimes with a french press, until I first went to a coffee shop called Philz here in San Francisco.

Oh. My. Jesus.

Philz makes its coffee using drip cones exclusively. They also roast all of their own beans, and I have to tell you that one taste of that coffee and I was hooked. In my opinion, a ceramic drip cone creates coffee that is better than any espresso.

First, a few pointers.

1. Always grind your own beans. You can easily get a grinder for $10, probably less.

2. Use filtered water.

3. Use 3 TB of coffee to 8 oz of water.

4. Use beans that are dark and shiny in appearance. I don’t think there is anything particularly documented about this, but that is how I choose beans and my coffee is always awesome!

You will need:

A teapot.

Your mug of choice.

A ceramic coffee dripper (mine is from Beehouse).

Coffee filters.

Cream and sugar.

Coffee beans!

Set a pot of water to boil. You should boil 3 times the amount of water that you need. While you wait for the coffee to boil, grab a mug and put your desired amount of cream and sugar in it. Microwave it for about 30 – 45 seconds.

Grind your beans. For this style of brewing, the beans should be a medium grind, about the texture of coarse sand.

Put the ground beans into a coffee filter, and put it all in the cone.

Set the cone onto the mug.

Pour 8 oz of water into a measuring cup, preferably a glass pyrex one.

Pour just enough water onto the ground to allow them to expand, and stir the grounds. Then slowly add the rest of the water.

Stir the grounds gently as the coffee drips. You don’t have to stir consistently, just a few times to make sure the grounds and the water are mixed.

Stir your finished coffee, and enjoy!

I guarantee that this will be the best cup of coffee you have ever had! I should know; I’m obsessed!

❤ Stef