Category Archives: Books

How to make cream cheese

How to Make Cream Cheese

How to make cream cheese

Edible Books, our new twitter-based book club, has been reading Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, by Jennifer Reese.

As soon as I read the section on homemade cream cheese, I was hooked.  I skimmed the recipe and found nothing that seemed beyond my rudimentary cheese making abilities.  The book promised that the cream cheese would be less than half the cost of Philadelphia cream cheese.  It promised tangy.  I daydreamed of Saturday morning bagels spread thickly with luscious cream cheese.  I threw a cheering crowd into the picture for good measure.

I made my shopping list: liquid rennet, mesophilic culture, half-and-half.

I had to wait until Friday to make a trip to the home brew store, my local source for cheese-making supplies, to pick up the rennet and culture.  The homebrew store is a warren of delightful tubes, bottles, packets, and other mysterious stuff.  I quickly found my supplies in the refrigerator case.

The supplies rung up at $14.90.  It’s not like you can just buy three drops of rennet, after all.  Not until this moment had I really considered the front-end costs of this project, the fact that I actually rarely eat cream cheese and thus will be unlikely to recoup the cost of said supplies any time soon, nor the slight problem that I was soon going to have at least a pound of perishable cream cheese on my hands.

I quickly dismissed the $15.00 from my mind.  I’d make something eventually with the rest of the supplies.  Maybe everyone will be getting cream cheese for Christmas!  In fact, maybe a few select friends will be getting cream cheese this weekend.

At the grocery store, I put two quarts of organic half-and-half in my cart.  $4.39 each.  I glanced across the aisle at the 8-oz boxes of Philadelphia Cream Cheese: $2.79. Organic Valley Cream Cheese: $3.45.  Hmm.

Back home, I gathered my copy of Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll, lined a colander with cheese cloth, laid out my supplies, and placed a stockpot on the stove.  Then I read through the recipe, stopping at “let sit at room temperature for 12 hours”.  I glanced at the clock: It was 1:56 pm.  We would not be having bagels and cream cheese for breakfast.  I put the half-and-half in the refrigerator.

Later that evening, around 9:00 pm: I heated my cream to a precise 86 degrees, stirred in the starter and rennet, covered the pot, and set it aside.

Saturday morning, 10:00 am: I lifted the lid.  The cream had set into one solid curd, and smelled delicious and fresh—rather like cream cheese in fact.  I scooped the curd into a cheesecloth lined colander and let it drip during breakfast.  Then I tied the cheesecloth into a bag, suspended it over the pot, and left it for the day.

How to make cream cheese

Saturday evening, 9:00 pm: The cheese had stopped dripping whey, and was reduced in volume.  I untied the bag, and turned the cream cheese into a bowl.

The cheese was light and creamy.  I spread some on a cracker.  It tasted fresh, a little tangy, and much, much better than store bought cream cheese.

Sunday morning: we spread cream cheese lavishly on our bagels and enjoyed every bite.

How to make cream cheese

Here’s the breakdown:

Liquid Rennet: $7.95

Mesophilic Culture: $6.95

2 quarts Organic Half & Half: $8.78

Total: $23.68

1-8 oz package of Organic Valley Cream Cheese: $3.45.

It took very little active time to make the cream cheese, but the considerable waiting time pretty much mandates that this be a weekend activity.  And it’s hardly cost effective.

But an objective analysis misses all the intangible reasons that it is still worthwhile to make your own cream cheese, at least once.  There is the fun of a trip to a specialty store.  The silkiness and the scent of warm cream as you stir it.  The magic of cream becoming curd while you sleep.  The plink, plink of whey dripping throughout the day, like a metronome or a heartbeat.  The single-focus zen approach that cheese making requires—multitask at your peril.

And perhaps most importantly, which kind of person do you want to be?  The kind who always analyzes before deciding?  Or the kind of person who tries new things with enthusiasm and a willingness to enjoy the process, succeed or fail?

I’d rather be the person who makes the cream cheese.

Cream Cheese

(adapted from Home Cheese Making and Make the Bread, Buy the Butter)

  • 2 quarts pasteurized half-and-half
  • 1 packet direct set mesophilic starter
  • 3 drops liquid rennet, diluted in 1/3 cup unchlorinated water
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Heat the cream to 86F.  Add the starter and mix thoroughly.  Add 1 tsp of the diluted rennet and stir gently with an up-and-down motion.  Cover the pot and let sit at room temperature for about 12 hours.  A solid curd will form.

Pour the curd into a colander lined with cheesecloth.  Tie the corners of the cheesecloth into a knot and hang the bag to drain for up to 12 hours, or until the cheese is thickened and no longer dripping.

Stir in salt.  Scoop into a container and store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.  Use within 1-2 weeks.

Yield: about 1 pound.

Edible Books

Edible Books

Edible BooksFall seems like the true beginning of the year in a lot of ways.  Kids go back to school, and adults leave behind the vacation mind-set of summer.  As the days get cooler and shorter I start cooking in earnest again, feel a new zest for projects, look forward to reengaging with friends, and find myself enjoying more evenings curled up on the couch with a good book and a purring cat.

This past week or so, I’ve been immersed in an exciting new project that combines a few of my core interests—food, literature, and book clubs.

Now I’m absolutely thrilled to share it, and I hope all of you are just as excited as I am.

In collaboration with my friend and fellow blogger Natalie, we are launching Edible Books, a twitter-based book club where we will be discussing books that have a food theme running through them.  This could include anything from fiction to memoir to how-to—there are so many great books to choose from!

We’ll be discussing a new book each month.  We’re kicking off with Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, by Jennifer Reese, in which the author shares her journey through a series of kitchen-experiments including homemade peanut butter, bread, junk foods, and more ambitious projects such as cured meats and cheese.  She then offers her assessment of each experiment: make or buy?

This book is already generating a lot of conversation (see here and here just for starters).  I just started reading, and I already have several projects in mind that I want to try—and will no doubt be sharing the results with all of you here.  Homemade cream cheese?  Yes, please!

The internet makes it so easy to forge connections with people who share interests, regardless of geography.  And time zones or schedule conflicts don’t matter on Twitter.  You can contribute 24/7, whenever you have a spare moment.  Different cultures, perspectives—we’re hopeful that Edible Books will become a rich, diverse, global party with members who share our love for food, literature, and lively conversation.

Of course, the most important ingredient in a successful book club is the members.  We can’t get this party started without all of you.

So this is your call to action: I’m asking you to join the conversation.

Follow @ediblebookclub on Twitter.

Go to the Edible Books website to find out how the club works, check the discussion schedule, vote on November’s book, and more.

And of course, invite your friends!  Tweet them, Facebook about it, maybe even call them up.

Thank you!  I’m looking forward to some great book discussions!


Boing!  This is what I heard in my head, clear as a bell, as I dished up a tangle of springy, unwieldy Perciatelli.  And I giggled. Yes, out loud.  If you are not familiar with Perciatelli, it is just like spaghetti but tubular and with a bit more life to it.  It has a mind of its own, kind of like trying to dish up a bowl of those foam tubes from the swimming pool, or maybe Klingon Gagh, but in a good way.

Certainly, the reason I was making Perciatelli with butter and parmesan was that I had been sick earlier in the week, and had arrived at the buttered noodle stage of things.  And maybe, just maybe the reason my brain was saying Boing! in such a cheerful manner also had to do with a bit of lingering fever making me giddy.

But if you read the Ramona Quimby books as a child, you’ll be able to follow the trail my brain was on, fever or no.  If you didn’t:  In Ramona the Pest, earnest, naughty little Ramona longed to pull her kindergarten classmate Susan’s boing-boing curls and see them spring back up (Boing!).  Oh, the temptation!

As an aside: when I was in first grade, before I had actually read any of the Ramona books, I had a friend named Arnella who lived across the street who had boing-boing curls, too.  Her mother put her long blonde hair up in pink foam curlers every night, resulting in long, tubular curls.  It’s just as well that I didn’t think to pull them.

Okay, back to the noodles.  If Perciatelli isn’t already in your repertoire, I encourage you to give it a try.  It may not be ideal for a first date, with its propensity to whip around a bit, but it has a really nice springy bite due to the hollow middles, and holds a sauce delightfully, particularly a nice red sauce.

Thanks for coming along on this little tour of my brain!

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

The Sorcerer’s Apprentices

Book Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adria’s elBulli, by Lisa Abend.

In The Sorcerer’s Apprentices, Lisa Abend chronicles the experiences of thirty-five stagiaires, unpaid apprentice chefs who have beaten out thousands of other applicants to spend a season in the kitchen at elBulli, Ferran Adria’s world renowned avant-garde restaurant in southern Spain.

The three-star Michelin ranked restaurant has been something of a food mecca, with millions of people requesting the several thousand coveted reservations each season, and experienced chefs from around the world willing to work as unpaid stagiaires, to absorb some of the experimental techniques and creative genius of Ferran Adria.

The book is fascinating–as information packed as a documentary, but as suspenseful as reality TV.  The stagiaires arrive from all over the world, nervous and excited.  They are indoctrinated into the procedures at elBulli, slowly gaining confidence and proficiency at new techniques.  The stagiaires work under military-like discipline, day after 14-hour day, to produce the cutting edge, labor-intensive dishes that come together in meals of thirty-plus courses for the lucky patrons of the restaurant.

From steaming rose petals to molecular gastronomy techniques like spherification, reading about the cooking process is riveting.  So, too are the individual stories of the stagiaires–their aspirations, interpersonal struggles, and how they learn to cope with the exhausting pace.

Which stagiaires will not make it through the entire season?  Will any of them be offered jobs as chefs at elBulli?  Will the experience have been worth it?  Where will they go next?  These questions provide the tension that keeps this book moving from start to finish.

One fascinating tidbit from the book: the stagiaires never got to eat the elaborate food that they created for the patrons of the restaurant.  The frustration of cooking stunning food day after day and never actually getting to try dishes such as the “Petroleum”, made of black sesame paste swirled though a pool of transparent white yogurt water, or the “Montjoi Lentils” made from a spherified batter of melted, clarified butter and sesame paste, or the fried chicken cartilage, or baby goat kidneys, was palpable.

Like the punishing pace of boot camp or a medical residency, I had the impression that after their experiences at elBulli, the chefs would find the long hours and fast pace in a more traditional restaurant kitchen laughably easy.

I have long wanted to experience a meal at elBulli, and after reading this book I want to even more.  It seems that is an unlikely dream now, as elBulli is closing in 2012, to be transformed into a creativity center.  But through reading this book, I have at least had the satisfaction of a vicarious experience of elBulli.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

The Primary Bind

My friend Rob and I made sausage!  Yes, sausage!  In case you can’t tell, I am tremendously excited about making sausage.  Rob had done this before, and also has all the necessary equipment, which basically amounts to a KitchenAid mixer with a grinder and a sausage stuffing attachment, so he’s a very good guy for a novice sausage maker to know.

Armed with our respective copies of Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman, we settled on the basic sausage recipe with red wine and garlic.  I assembled my ingredients: a pork shoulder and extra fat, casings, red wine, and some impressive bulbs of heirloom garlic.  I packed up all of this, my apron and knives, and headed over to Rob’s place for an afternoon of artisan meat craft.

We set the casings to soak, diced the meat, stirred in spices, and set up the grinder.  The meat was strangely beautiful as it was extruded from the grinder in clean, bright, separate strings, speckled with distinct bits of white fat and red meat.

We rinsed the casings under the tap.  The casings were not nasty at all, by the way, and were in fact rather miraculous–thin, translucent, and strong.   This process was reminiscent of filling water balloons at the kitchen sink as a kid, except that we did not then run outside with a jiggling armload of them and start throwing them at each other.

I stirred the bowl of freshly ground meat vigorously, adding the red wine and watching as the “primary bind” developed—the meat quickly became sticky and uniform, like meatloaf.

We fried up our tiny test patties—and oh, were they good!

Then we fed the meat through the stuffer.  It was very handy to have two people involved at this point.  Rob added meat to the hopper and pressed it through, while I controlled the rate at which the casings filled.

Once all the meat was in casings, we twisted them off into links.

There are cooking projects I have taken on once, only to decide I might just as well save myself some trouble in future and leave it to the experts (e.g., making mozzarella cheese).  This was not one of them.  A pleasant afternoon of chopping and stirring led directly to eating some of the best, freshest sausage I have ever tasted.  And I knew exactly what went into them, and was able to source the ingredients to my own satisfaction.  Now I have plans for more sausages.  Big plans.

The instructions in Charcuterie are detailed and comprehensive.  In fact, on first reading, the book can seem a bit pedantic, warning of the all of the possible mistakes that can result in a poor quality sausage.  However, as we proceeded, I could see how necessary each step was to the outcome.  This is not to say that it was a difficult process; it wasn’t.  In fact, when we realized that the battery was dead in Rob’s kitchen scale, we just did what comes naturally to both of us in the kitchen anyway: we estimated amounts.  And that worked just fine.  But there were incredibly helpful instructions on the importance of keeping the grinding blades clear of sinew and the ingredients cold, and we could see for ourselves how this affected the texture of the finished product.

If you are an experienced sausage maker, the recipe below is all you need, and you can adapt the seasonings to your own whims.  If you have never made sausage before, get Charcuterie and carefully read the instructions at the beginning of the sausage section.  You can successfully make your own sausage with this book beside you.  However, don’t underestimate the power of an experienced friend and another set of hands in the kitchen.

Garlic and Red Wine Pork Sausage

(barely adapted from Charcuterie)

  • 5 lbs fatty pork shoulder, diced
  • Enough extra fat to bring the fat ratio up to 30%, diced
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 cup red wine, chilled
  • 10 feet hog casings, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes and rinsed

Toss the meat, salt, pepper, and garlic together in a large bowl until evenly mixed.  Cover and refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.  Or place in freezer for 30-60 minutes, until the meat is very cold, but not frozen.

Grind the mixtue through a small die into a bowl set in ice.

Stir with a wooden spoon for one minutes.  Add the wine, and continue to stir for another minute, or until the liquid is incorporated and the meat looks sticky.

Fry a bite-sized portion of the sausage and taste it (refrigerate the remaining meat mixture while you do this and then set up your stuffing equipment).  Adjust the seasoning if necessary and stir again to incorporate the additional seasoning.

Stuff the sausage into hog casings and twist into 6-inch links.

Cook the sausage to an internal temperature of 150 F.

Yields about twenty 6-inch links.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine