Monday, September 27, 2010

Cheese Making for Family Dinner

Cheese ranks high on a long list of culinary addictions.   Cambazola on flatbread, borsin on sliced apple, goat cheese and roasted beets... life is good.  Many years ago, when my husband and I were first married and our budget was tight as a drum, we celebrated Friday evenings with a fresh baguette, a $7 bottle of wine and an $8 wedge of cheese. If only for nostalgia sake, I had to take the homemade cheese and dairy workshop offered at Sur la Table.  After an afternoon of stirring warmed milk and separating curds and whey, I was shocked not only by how easy you can make homemade cheese but how superior the product is to what is available at the store.  So, with my tuffet set aside, I vowed to add cheese making to the weekly list of projects.  This week, I gave queso blanco a try as the family celebrated the completion of another week and the possibilities of the weekend at our Friday night family dinner.

Queso Blanco
Makes 8 to 10 ounces
One instruction stressed over and over during the cheese workshop was not to use ultra pasteurized milk.  Horizon Organic Milk is ultra-pasteurized, so my best grocery store option was Promised Land Milk. However, the ultimate choice for homemade cheese is local milk available at the farmer's market. Local milk will make the freshest cheese, support local agriculture and ultimately give you delicious queso blanco for under $5.  The inner hippie and the inner economist are in harmony. 

8 cups whole milk
3 to 4 TB fresh lemon juice.
  1. In a large heavy saucepan bring the milk to a boil over high heat, stirring almost constantly.  When the milk comes to a frothing boil reduce the heat to low and when the frothing subsides, stir in 3 TB lemon juice.  Continue stirring gently in one direction, until the milk curdles and the cheese separates from the whey. If after a minute the cheese has not fully formed and the whey is not a clear yellow-green color, add small amounts of the lemon juice and continue to stir until the cheese forms. 
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the cheesecloth-lined sieve.  Now pour the whey and the remaining smaller bits of cheese and bundle them together.  Twist gently to squeeze out as much whey as possible.  
  3. Wrap the cheese in the same cheesecloth to make a neatly shaped bundle.  At this point, you can leave the cheese on a board weighed down with a bowl of water or tie it to the faucet to drain into the sink.  I took the latter option and left it for about 20 minutes.  At this point I unwrapped the cheese cloth and patted it dry with paper towel.
When you taste the cheese at the point, it will not have a strong flavor.  You can add salt and pepper, however I mixed it with Pepper Jack cheese for enchiladas so we enjoyed it more for the gorgeous texture and fresh flavor.  It reminded me of a Mexican version of ricotta cheese in a good lasagna. 

Lolo's Margaritas:
I can't eat Mexican food without a good margarita.  This recipe was inspired by both Ina Garten's Real Margaritas and The Level Headed One's Low Calorie Margaritas.  Having spent many evenings with both, I offer my own version.  Note: all fruit juices are freshly squeezed.  

2 cups orange juice
1 cup lime juice
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup good quality silver tequila (I prefer Milagro to Patron Silver)
1 cup Orange Liqueur (I prefer Patron Citronage to Grand Marnier) 
1 cup ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in the blender.  Blend and enjoy... responsibly.  

You have your cheese and your cocktails; now its time to make a fantastic meal.  You can't have fresh cheese and a fresh cocktail paired with dinner from a can, so recruit some family help and try these outstanding recipes courtesy of Louis Lambert for Food & Wine magazine:  

Two Cheese Enchiladas
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for the baking dish
3 1/2 cups salsa roja (recipe below)
12 6-inch corn tortillas
2 cups queso blanco
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
3/4 cup minced onion
2 cups finely shredded green cabbage
2 plum tomatoes
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly oil a 9 X 13 inch glass or ceramic baking dish.  In a medium skillet, warm the 1/2 cup oil (I skipped this step and dipped my tortillas into the salsa roja rather than hot oil. I found then to be plenty pliable) In another medium skillet, warm 1/2 cup of the Salsa Roja and transfer to a plate, stacking the tortillas on top of each other.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the queso blanco with the MOnterrey Jack. Set a tortilla on a work surface and spoon 1/4 cup of the cheese and about 1 TB of minced onion in the center.  Loosely roll up the tortilla like a cigar and set in the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, cheese and onion.  Pour the remaining 3 cups of Salsa Roja over the rolled enchiladas and sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheese on top. 
  3. Bake the enchiladas for 25 minutes or until heated through and the sauce is bubbling.  Scatter the cabbage and tomatoes over the enchiladas and serve hot. 

Salsa Roja
8 large ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
1 small dried red chile stemmed and most of the seeds discarded
3 plum tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 TB light brown sugar
1 TB vegetable oil
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 TB cider vinegar
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine all of the ingredients except the cider vinegar and bring to a boil for 2 minutes.  Cover, remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Working in batches, puree the sauce in a blender.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in vinegar.

Try this for your next family dinner, or enjoy a date night at home.  You will not be disappointed.  Well, in the meal anyway.   

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