Nothing but time

Apple tree waking up

Pure silliness. Egged on by the promise of a plan-free weekend with clear weather, we started a mental to-do list on Saturday morning, once again blind to the difference between the time it takes to say a task and the time it takes to do it.

No matter. It’s a spring weekend. We’re beguiled by opening day at the Farmers Market, warm sunlight, a chance to drive with the car windows down, chorusing morning birds, extra minutes of daylight, and nothing pressing on our calendar. We can do what we want!

So we did. After morning chores, we sped off to the Farmers Market, bustling and busy even this early in the season. We met a six-day old Boer goat, we bought apple turnovers, we bought and ate the most wonderful pierogi I’ve ever had, then we went back and bought and ate some more.

Then off to the co-op for supplies for the various cooking projects we had in mind (tamales, slow-smoked ribs, mini quiche), then a quick stop at a consignment clothing sale in the next town over.

Home again, put the groceries and market treats away.

Visited the bees! This time we were looking for evidence of eggs and we found them. In the black frame cells, you can see small white lines, like grains of rice. Those are eggs. In other cells, there are curled larvae, the next stage. Other cells are waxed over: capped brood. This is where the fed larvae grow, until they emerge as fully-formed bees in a couple of weeks.

This is exciting. Seeing all this evidence of soon-to-be bees means the queen is healthy and doing her work. We haven’t seen the queen yet (since we put her into the hive in her cage), but we know she’s there and we’re hoping to spot her when we next open the hive.

M also noticed at least one worker with full pollen sacs (see the bee with bright yellow “saddle bags” in the middle of that second bee photo?). This means they’re starting to forage out in the world and will become less dependent on our sugar water and will be bringing back wild pollen and nectar. Bee happiness.

On a roll now, we decide to open the goat-milk cheddar that’s been aging in the cool basement since early January and we deem it quite acceptable.

The weekend rolls on and into Sunday. The cooking projects invade the kitchen and the Egg on the porch. We’ve got tamales and ribs in the works, yes. And a new batch of cheddar culturing. And a small pot of rhubarb jam bubbling down to sticky sweetness on the stove. And M saw some beautiful bluefish at the co-op so, after a day of drying in its rub on Saturday, that’s now smoking on the Egg. Meanwhile we’ve promised to make several dozen mini goat cheese quiches for H’s elementary school’s annual Medieval Festival (if you live around here and have kids, you really need to go. It’s a blast and we’re fairly sure that it won’t snow this year…)

At some point, late afternoon, H is at rehearsal for her school’s spring musical and M and I are whirling around the kitchen, busy as bees, laughing at the ridiculousness of how much we’ve taken on, the sink piled high with dishes, every pot used, the oven cranking away.

It’s crazy, exhaustingly wonderful.

By dinnertime, we’re running out of steam. We’ve made all the food to eat (plus a tamale pie, plus other things I can’t even remember) and have just enough energy to pile the plates, open a bottle of prosecco, and fall onto the couch, where we watch Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark” while the evening drapes darkness around the house.

There are still dishes to do, books we were going to read, blueberry bushes we were going to buy and plant, photographs to take, things to write, things to plan, more lists to make.

Ah well. Maybe next weekend.

FarmersMarket

Starting the smoker

Eggs! Larvae! Capped brood!

Full pollen sacs

Clothbound goat milk cheddar

Clothbound goat milk cheddar - disrobed

Clothbound goat milk cheddar - paste

Pie! Spanakopita and rhubarb crisp

Spanakopita

I woke up feeling a bit giddy this morning.

It’s not just that it’s Friday, or that the sun is shining and the temperature is perfect, though all of that could explain it easily enough. I think it was because I knew I’d get to spend the first part of my morning writing here, hanging out with you, and participating in my very first Let’s Lunch! That’s a nice way to end the week, don’t you think?

For those of you who don’t know about it already, the Let’s Lunch group hosts a virtual potluck lunch once a month. The group chooses a lunch theme and then the participants post their interpretation of that theme on their blogs on the same appointed day. I know! Isn’t that cool?!

The theme for this month’s lunch is “pie”, sweet or savory (or both).

Sometime right around the time the theme was chosen, M and I were messing around with making goat-milk feta, so it didn’t take me long to settle on making a spinach pie with feta. Our fridge was bursting with feta and the farm stand was bursting with spinach and scallions.

Spanakopita - Feta chunks

Spanakopita - Greens

I wanted to make this spinach pie a bit “goaty”, so I added some home-made chevre to the recipe on top of the goat-milk feta. I don’t think it affected the flavor much (not as much as I’d hoped), but it did make the filling extra creamy and luscious. If you don’t like goat flavor, by all means, use sheep- or cow- milk feta and omit the chevre. Or try adding a few ounces of crème fraiche, marscapone or other soft, spreadable cheese to get that creamy texture.

Spanakopita - Chevre

The process for making spanakopita is mostly very simple: wilt the spinach either by stirring in a hot pan or blanching briefly in boiling water (you can even use a package of defrosted, chopped frozen spinach if you’re in a pinch); saute the scallions in a little olive oil for a few minutes to bring out the fragrant flavors; then mix the greens (spinach, scallions, chopped dill, chopped parsley) together with the cheeses, a couple of lightly-beaten eggs, a little salt and a touch of nutmeg or any other spices you like.

Spanakopita - Mixing the filling

The one semi-tricky part of making spanakopita is handling the phyllo, but as I keep re-learning, the best way to deal with phyllo (and most other things) is to be patient with yourself and just relax about it all.

Spanakopita - Filling

There are all sorts of tips out there for handling phyllo to keep it from drying out, and for working really quickly, and for getting really smooth layers. All I can say is that when I relax and don’t worry about it, it works out just fine. If it rips, so what? A typical package comes with many more sheets than you’ll need for one pie; don’t stress about tossing a few if you have to. Anyway, once you layer the sheets down and brush with olive oil, cover it with spinach and cheese, and bake it, it all comes out flaky and delicious, rips or no rips. That said, I included a link in the recipe (at the end of this post) for a video that shows one way to handle the phyllo with ease.

Spanakopita - Baked

I had originally planned to just make the one pie, but it’s rhubarb season around here and I couldn’t resist making my favorite rhubarb crisp recipe, which is so easy and perfect, I really could make it every night while the rhubarb lasts.

Rhubarb crisp - Rhubarb

This is a rhubarb-only crisp, but you can certainly add strawberries if you like. I used to make it with strawberries, but once, when our rhubarb crop exceeded our strawberry balance, I tried the rhubarb on its own and discovered that I loved it that way.

You can assemble this crisp while the spanakopita is baking, then throw it in the oven when the spanakopita comes out and you’ll have a warm, fresh crisp ready for dessert.

For this recipe (in detail at the end of this post), all you need to do is wash, dry and chop the rhubarb into small pieces, and toss it with some sugar; in a separate bowl, mix up the topping (flour, brown sugar, ground ginger, butter).

Rhubarb crisp - Cut and sugared

Assemble the crisp by putting the sugared rhubarb in a baking dish (or in ramekins, as I did), sprinkling on the topping, and then baking for about 40 minutes.

Rhubarb crisp - Topping layer

Because we are crazy goat people, I topped mine with a little goat-milk gelato, but the crisp is just fine on its own. It makes a pretty nice breakfast, too.

Rhubarb crisp

Thank you, Let’s Lunch friends, for inviting me into your group and giving me a great excuse to make pie! I love the idea of this group. The only flaw I see in the concept is that the lunch is virtual. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all meet on a tree-shaded hillside on a warm summer day, lay all our pies out on long wooden tables, and taste a slice of each in person while we gossiped, sipped wine, and watched the children and dogs play? *sigh*

Maybe someday.

For now, readers, you can join in the virtual lunch by making your own pie. For inspiration, take a look at the pies my fellow Lunchers have made for today:

Pilaf pie with chicken, sultanas and sweet spices ~ from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Japanese curry pot pie ~ from Cheryl at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Lime custard n curd pie ~ from Charissa at Zest Bakery
Nutella hand pies ~ from Cathy at Showfood Chef
Dirt pie with compost cookie crust ~ from Linda at Free Range Cookies
Pecan pie ~ from Rashda at Hot Curries & Cold Beer
Summer chicken pot pie ~ from Denise at Chez Us
Three Recipe Lemon Meringue pie ~ from Mai at Cooking in the Fruit Bowl
Maine Summer Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Lemon/Lime Ice cream
~ from Caitlin at Caitlin Shetterly
Chicken Pot Pie ~ from Danielle at Beyond the Plate
Chinese sausage and roasted sweet potato hand pies ~ from Emma at Dreaming of Pots and Pans
Berry-Lemonade Icebox Pie ~ from Steff at The Kitchen Trials

Spanakopita

(Adapted from “Greek Spinach & Feta Pie”, by Susanna Hoffman, Fine Cooking Magazine)

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh spinach, washed, dried, trimmed, and coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus approx. 1/3 cup for brushing on phyllo
  • 1 bunch scallions (approx 3 oz.), white and light-green parts only, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 10 oz. crumbled feta cheese OR 7 ounces crumbled goats’ milk feta cheese and 3 ounces chevre
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • Frozen phyllo dough sheets (9×14-inch), thawed and at room temperature

Method

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat to 375°F.
  2. Wilt spinach by heating a large saute pan over medium-high heat, adding a few handfuls of spinach at a time, and cook while tossing gently with tongs. Continue adding handfuls of spinach until all of the spinach is wilted and bright green, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the spinach to a colander set in a sink. Let the spinach drain and cool slightly, then use your hands or the spoon to squeeze out as much liquid as you can.
  4. Wipe the pan dry with a paper towel, then heat the 3 Tbs olive oil in the pan over medium heat.
  5. Add the scallions and cook until they are soft, about four minutes.
  6. Add the spinach to the scallions, mix, and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl and let cool for five minutes.
  7. Add remaining ingredients (cheeses, eggs, dill, parsley, nutmeg, and salt) and mix thoroughly.
  8. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the bottom and sides of a 9x13x2-inch baking pan with olive oil.
  9. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with several sheets of phyllo, brushing olive oil on each sheet of phyllo before placing the next one on top. For a nice demonstration of how to line the pan with phyllo, see this video on YouTube.
  10. Spread the filling evenly over the phyllo.
  11. Repeat the oiling and layering of several more phyllo sheets to cover the top of the pie.
  12. Brush the top of the last sheet with olive oil
  13. Bake the spanakopita until the top crust is puffed up and golden, about 40 minutes.
  14. Let cool before cutting with a sharp knife.

Rhubarb crisp

(Adapted from “An American Place”, by Larry Forgione)
For the filling

  • 1 pound rhubarb, trimmed, washed, dried, and cut into 1/3-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup sugar

For the topping

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and slightly softened

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Place the rhubarb pieces in a bowl, add the sugar, and toss well. Let sit for 20 minutes, until the rhubarb starts to release some liquid.
  3. While you wait for the rhubarb, combine all the topping ingredients in a small bowl and gently mix with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  4. Divide the rhubarb mixture evenly into eight 1 1/2 x 3–inch diameter ramekins.
  5. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit-filled ramekins.
  6. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet for easy transfer to/from the oven.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the filling is bubbling.
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I’d eat that

Morano Gelato Status

Do you see that reference to “goat’s milk chocolate chip“? That’s our Willow’s milk!

Willow 2

She looks kinda pleased, doesn’t she?

For the past couple of weeks, Morgan at Morano Gelato has been churning some test batches of goats’ milk gelato made with Willow’s milk. This week’s version includes several ounces of chevre we made with the same milk, which makes the gelato’s texture even creamier and lends a touch more “goatiness” to the flavor (Willow’s milk is very mild and “ungoaty”).

If you live anywhere near Hanover, NH today, run on over to Morano Gelato before it’s all gone. If you miss the goat milk gelato, stay to order something else. It’s all stunningly wonderful.

Homemade yogurt

I can hear you wondering to yourselves, “A few months back she mentioned all that milking and plans for cheese making, but she’s written precious little here about the milk and the cheese lately. What gives?”

Not to worry. We are inundated with milk and have been making things with it all winter. And soon — yes, soon — I’ll write about some of that and the interesting ups and downs of home cheese making.

For now, thought, I’ll give you a small sampling by telling you about yogurt.

Yogurt

When we started on this goat-tending, cheese making adventure, yogurt was not on my mind at all. But a month or so ago it finally occurred to me that we could make it. Compared with other cheese projects, yogurt-making is not at all time- or equipment-intensive. In fact, it’s downright easy IF you follow these simple rules, which apply to all cheese making in general:

  • Keep all your equipment clean
  • Pay attention to time and temperature requirements
  • Use the best, freshest milk you can

As far as the milk goes, you can use whatever type of milk you prefer: cow, goat, full-fat, low-fat, even dry milk. I’ve used the following recipe with whole goat milk and with 1% cow milk. If you use goat milk or low-fat milk, the resulting yogurt will probably be thinner than the cow- or full-fat milk version. I like both textures, and the thinner variety is great for making sauces, but you can also thicken thin yogurt by straining it as you would when making yogurt cheese.

Yogurt ingredients

In addition to milk, the key ingredient for making yogurt is the starter culture: the bacteria that converts the milk’s sugars into lactic acid. The culturing process thickens the milk, makes it more digestible, and develops the sour flavor. For starter culture, you have a few choices:

  • Use a few tablespoons of store-bought yogurt that contains live cultures; read the labels on yogurts available at your grocery store, and try to find a brand doesn’t have any additives or extra ingredients; it should just contain milk and live cultures.
  • Use a prepared, dried starter culture available from cheesemaking supply houses like New England Cheesemaking Supply Company or Dairy Connection. You can also find yogurt cultures (and yogurt makers) at many natural/health food stores.
  • Once you’ve made your first batch of yogurt, you can reserve a few tablespoons of that yogurt to start the next batch (much the same as when you’re using a sourdough starter to make bread).

The basic process for making yogurt is to heat the milk (which pasteurizes the milk to kill any harmful bacteria and also changes the milk proteins so that they can form the thick, smooth texture of yogurt), cool the milk to a temperature that the culture bacterias happily thrive in, add the culture, and then incubate the mixture for several hours at a constant temperature so that the bacteria can do its work.

During the incubation period, the goal is to keep the cultured milk at a constant temperature (around 105-110°F). If you live in a warm climate and your home stays at a pretty constant temperature all day or overnight (whenever you’re incubating your yogurt), you could probably get away with covering the pot of cultured milk and maybe wrapping it all in a towel or blanket to keep the heat from escaping.

Constant mild temperatures are not a feature of living in Vermont, but it’s easy enough to fake it. I’ve heard of people putting some warm water in a cooler, then putting the the prepared milk in a mason jar and putting the jar into the warm water bath, then closing the lid. Other people use thermoses, or mason jars or pots sitting on heating pads. If you like electric gadgets, you can buy an electric yogurt maker that keeps the temperature exactly where you set it, with the added benefit of making the yogurt in darling little individual-serving jars. Finally, you can get a yogurt maker like this, which is essentially just a washable plastic insert that sits inside an insulated container. No electricity needed. This is the yogurt maker we opted for.

Yogurt equipment

Okay, enough build-up. Are you ready to make some yogurt?!

Home-made yogurt

What you’ll need

  • 1 quart milk
  • Starter culture; powdered starter culture or 1-2 Tablespoons of yogurt (see above for more information about starter cultures)
  • A reliable thermometer (a good thermometer is critical for cheese making; this is the one I swear by)
  • A spotlessly clean stainless steel pot in which to heat the milk
  • A stainless steel, slotted spoon or flat ladle, also spotlessly clean
  • A yogurt maker or a thermos or some other way to incubate the yogurt (see above)

Method

  1. Collect your equipment and ingredients.
  2. Gently heat the milk to 180-185°F. You can do this directly on the stove, or in a double-boiler.
  3. Yogurt - heating the milk

    I’ve read that if you hold the milk at 180 °F for about 10 minutes the resulting yogurt will be thicker, but I haven’t tried that yet.

  4. After you reach the target temperature, cool the milk back down to about 115°F
  5. Yogurt - Cooling the milk

    Some recipes say to just take the pot off the heat and let the milk cool down over the course of about 20 minutes; others say to cool it rapidly by putting the pot of milk in a cold water bath. (I use the latter process because I’m used to doing that for other cheese making projects.)

    Whichever method you choose, keep an eye on that temperature and don’t let it get too low. You want the temperature to end up in that window where the yogurt culture is happiest (around 105-110°F). If you cool your milk slowly and a skin forms on top, remove the skin before adding the culture.

  6. Add the culture to the milk and stir it in gently, but thoroughly. If you’re using yogurt as your culture, stir in 1-2 Tablespoons of yogurt.
  7. If you’re using prepared, dried starter, follow package directions for the amount to use (I use the ABY-2C culture from Dairy Connection and add 1/8 teaspoon for 1 quart of milk).

    Yogurt - Adding the culture

  8. Pour the cultured milk into your yogurt maker (or cover the pot if you’re incubating in the pot).
  9. If you’re using a non-electric yogurt maker, you can pour hot water into the maker to pre-heat it (empty the hot water before you put the cultured milk into the yogurt maker). I also like to sanitize the inner plastic container by rinsing it with boiling water before I put the cultured milk into it.

  10. Let the yogurt incubate for several hours. The incubation time depends on the texture and flavor you want. Generally, a shorter incubation period (5-6 hours) yields a thinner, sweeter yogurt; a longer incubation period (8-10 hours) results in a thicker yogurt with a tangier, sour flavor.
  11. Yogurt - Finished

  12. Once the incubation is complete, chill the yogurt.
  13. The yogurt is now ready to eat and should last in your refrigerator for at least a week.

Homemade Yogurt on Punk Domestics

Aging gracefully

Crottin - 8 days of ripening

The Crottin and Valençay cheeses we made a couple weeks back are sitting in ripening boxes in our steadily cool basement, growing white fur coats.

Valencay - Ripening

When I opened the boxes today to take a few photos, the smell that came out of the boxes (and that still lingers in my office, where the ripening boxes are kept) smelled like…REAL CHEESE. Real, aged, wonderfully developed goat cheeses.

I almost can’t believe that we’re finally doing what we’ve been talking about doing for twenty years.

And I can’t wait to have our first taste of our first mold-ripened cheese.

Technically, the Valençay is ready to try in two days, at which point, we’ll remove them from the ripening boxes, taste one, and wrap the other three in cheese paper to allow further aging and development. We’re aiming for a slightly soft core, so that might take another three to four weeks of aging in the cheese paper. The Crottin tasting will follow a few days after the Valençay.

We will have to make fresh bread for both tastings. And, if there’s time, maybe some of this incredible looking Apple-Sage jelly from It’s Not You, it’s Brie. And you can bet a really nice bottle of wine will be involved.

And then we’ll make more cheese.

The ripening boxes seem to be working well, but we want a real cave. We don’t have one, and we’re not getting one anytime soon (and why oh why in the world did we not think about this when we had an entirely new foundation dug and poured five years ago??*), but we’ve found what we think is the next best thing: a great deal on a used wine refrigerator.

Future cave

Although we could use a standard/dorm fridge or a chest freezer as a cave (and many people do), we’d have to get an external, overriding thermostat to force it to stay at the temperature we want. Since wine is kept at approximately the same temperatures at which cheese is aged (coincidence? I think not) — anywhere from about 50 to 60 degrees F — the wine refrigerator’s built-in thermostat will let us directly set the temperature we want.

Besides, the wine refrigerator has that nice glass door so we can ogle our cheeses without letting the humidity out.

Speaking of which… in addition to temperature, when aging cheese, we need to control for humidity, so we got this little gadget — a hygrometer — which will let us know the humidity level in the cave.

Hygrometer

The Valençay wants a humidity level of about 85%; the Crottin requires 90%. Our house is now at about 38%. To add humidity, we’ll put a small bowl or cup of water in the cave (this is what we’ve also done in the ripening boxes and it seems to be working well).

Little by little, the pieces seem to be falling into place. The only thing left is to make a lot of cheese, and share it with you.

 

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* M reminds me that we did think about having a cheese cave and/or root cellar dug as part of the new foundation, but it was one of the many things crossed off the list when we realized the renovation plans were 100% over budget. Ooops.

On our way with Valençay

Long before the goats arrived here, we loved goat cheese. We dreamed of some day making our own. And though we love fresh cheeses like chèvre as well as hard cheeses like clothbound cheddars and authentic manchegos (let’s be honest: we love almost any cheese), our true cheese love is reserved for the soft- and surface-ripened cheeses like the classic French Crottin, St. Maure, Selles-Sur-Cher, and Valençay, and the newer, outstanding American versions such as Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog, and Jasper Hill Farm’s Constant Bliss.

So, after experimenting for a few months with chèvre, goats’ milk ricotta, feta, and several other fresh cheeses, we’ve embarked on our mold-ripened cheese adventure. We’ve started with Valençay, and our first four cheeses are on their first day of draining in their pyramid-shaped molds now.

Valencay - Draining Day 1

After draining for another 24 hours or so, we’ll remove the cheeses from their molds, apply salt and ash to them, and let them age for two-three weeks. When the cheeses are complete, I’ll publish a detailed post about the process and results. For now, though, we’ll all just have to wait patiently for the milk, bacteria, and mold do their magic.

Mood lifter

A big package from New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. arrived yesterday afternoon.

Cheesemaking supplies

In the package: Crottin and Valençay molds, fresh rennet and starter cultures, drying mats (aka sushi mats), cheese cloth and butter muslin, ash, calcium chloride. It’s almost like a little chemistry set, and if we do the experiments correctly, we get cheese!

We have about a gallon of Willow’s milk in the refrigerator. I’m hoping to take my first step into mold-ripened cheesemaking this weekend.