October 29, 2010

Milk From a Goat

I have dabbled in making my own dairy products in the past.  Mainly my efforts have been directed toward fresh rennet-less cheeses (like panir) and yogurt.  Fresh cheeses are great but you get so little cheese for so much cash.  Yogurt is just barely cost effective but works best if you make big batches.  As I don't eat a lot of yogurt this didn't really work to my advantage.  

Of all the hand worked dairy products cheese is my best love.  I've wanted to make cheese at home for years but have been hindered by 1) the difficulty in finding small quantities of rennet locally and 2) the slightly more bothersome need to buy milk from the grocery store (which when buying organic can be expensive) and putting hard time and effort into changing that product into something else that I could easily buy at the grocery store, often for less money than I would spend to make it myself.

As I understand it, cheese making used to be a way of preserving a relatively abundant resource (fresh milk) that would normally not last very long at room temperature (less than a day I figure).  A healthy goat in a milk producing state (i.e.: one that was recently pregnant) will produce up to a gallon of milk a day over a 10-month period, that's about 300 gallons of milk to deal with, from one goat; imagine if you had two, which is recommended because they are social animals.  A single cow may produce up to 8 gallons of milk a day in the same period.   I don't know about you but I don't think I could drink 2 gallons of milk in a day without being sick.

It just so happens that I don't have a goat, or a cow, so I'm in no need of preserving large amounts of high protein, high fat, liquid food stuffs.  I don't need to make cheese, so I don't make it.  I want to, I think it's fun and interesting, but there is absolutely no need (economical or otherwise) for me to do so. 

However a seminal opportunity presented itself to Sarah and I just a little while ago.  One of Sarah's co-workers lives on and often cares for a small farm/school facility in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  One of the benefits of of this arrangement is that she gets to milk the two goats every once in a while, which of course leaves here with more milk than she knows what to do with.  We were invited to participate in the goat milking process in exchange (?) for a gallon of milk.

Sarah was of course much better at it than I was, even though the goat didn't appreciate her chilly hands.  My apprehension is palpable.

It took us 20 minutes to get a little more than a quart of milk, which we promptly threw out because we got it all over our hands before it made it into the bucket.  Bacteria strikes again.  It was a fun experience but it wasn't something I'd like to do two times a day with multiple animals on a long term basis.

In the interest of keeping this post relatively short I'll post the cheese making that took place next time.

October 8, 2010

Samosas - Four Variations

I haven't too much to say about samosas in general.  They're really just savory turnovers and are made by folding some kind of tasty filling into pie crust and baking it until finished.  Nearly inexhaustible variations present themselves; perhaps the easiest thing to do is start with a base ingredient.

Four Samosa Variations:
Maybe you're going for something starchy.  Choose potato with onions, carrots, leeks, and combine with some type of green (chard, kale, spinach).  Caramelize the onions with garlic then add the potatoes and carrots til brown.  Lightly braise with stock to generate a type of sauce in the pan.  Add in the greens and flavor with rosemary, thyme, red pepper flake, and butter.  Mix it all together and taste for salt and pepper before forming the samosa.

Or choose rice or some other grain with any type of cooked bean (black, red, white, garbanzo, lima, fava) or lentil and caramelized onion.  Cook the rice using stock instead of water; caramelize the onion, de-glaze with stock, add the beans and flavor with oregano and thyme before mixing it all together and forming the samosa.  Remember to taste for salt.

Try either of these using curry spices and flavorings instead of the Franco/Italiano variations.  For the first gently fry cumin and mustard seeds in the pan until the mustard seeds pop (use a lid) and then add the onions with maybe garlic and ginger and slowly brown (30-40 minutes).  Add in the potatoes and carrots and lightly brown.  Then add in some curry powder and cook briefly before adding the braising liquid.  Lightly braise before adding the greens.  Top the samosa with a yogurt sauce or raita.

For the rice dish do about the same thing: fry up cumin and mustard seeds, add the onion with garlic and ginger, add a little curry powder and de-glaze the pan with stock.  Cook the rice with a bit of turmeric to make it a very bright yellow.  Mix it all together before forming the samosa.

Any of these should bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Rolling out the Pie Crust:

For samosas, rolling out the dough is easy.  Take a full recipe of pie dough and break it into about 12 (?) pieces.  Press each of these out using your fingers onto a liberally floured surface until almost flat.  Liberally dust the top of the dough with flour before going over it a few times with a rolling pin.  You should have a disk that is about six inches in diameter and about 1/8" in thickness, give or take.  As long as you keep things well floured you should be fine; the rounds are small enough that handling it not going to rip holes all over the place and make a huge mess.

For pies everything is completely different.  The round ends up so big and the dough is so delicate that trying to handle to dough by itself can often lead to disaster.  What I've found through trial and error is that wax paper/parchment can work wonders.

For a top and bottom pie crust take the full pie dough recipe and break it in half.  Take one of the halves and throw it onto a piece of wax paper that's about 10" x 10"; press the dough flat using your fingers and the palm of your hand until you have a disk that is about 6 inches in diameter and about one half to three-quarters of an inch in thickness.  Then take another equally sized piece of paper and place this on top of the disk.  Use the rolling pin to methodically work the dough out from the center of the round toward the edge of the paper.  We're shooting for a disk that is about 12 inches in diameter and about 1/8" thick.  You may find that flipping the whole thing over and rolling from the other side about half way through is helpful.

Now remove one piece of paper, drape the dough over your pie pan with the remaining paper facing away from the pan, and gently remove the second piece of paper.  You may experience ripping of the dough, it's ok, it could be much much worse.

Do the same thing for the top of the pie once the filling is in and you're good to go.

October 4, 2010

A Simple Pie Crust

I've been making pies since I was little.  I believe it was pie that started me in on the path to enjoying time in the kitchen and introduced me to a hands-on experience with the food that I eat.  The crust of course forms the basis for any pie and is the most difficult and finicky part.  A good pie crust takes patience and a good feel for what you're working with.  It cannot be too wet and it cannot be overworked or the result will be a disaster. 

This is the recipe I use.  It uses 100% unsalted butter but you can do 50% butter and 50% vegetable shortening or lard if you feel like having a crust that is a little more chewy.  I've been trying to stay away from the semi-solid vegetable oils as they're stuffed with trans-fats; not to say that the cholesterol in the butter is much better for you, but I like the taste of butter, and it's pie, so who cares?  Let go a little.

A Simple Pie Crust (makes enough for 1 9in pie, top and bottom):

2 Cups White Flour
2/3 Cups Cold Butter, cubed
1 tsp. salt
Ice Water

Work about 2/3 of the butter into the flour and salt either using your hands or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  Work it in so that it forms very small crumbles.  Work the remaining butter into the mix so that you are left with larger pea sized hunks.  The larger pieces will melt and spread through the rolled crust during baking and add to the flakiness of the crust.

Once the butter is worked into the flour to your liking, dribble one or two tablespoons of ice water over the flour/butter/salt mix.  Take a fork and use it to dig down into the bowl from the side all the way to the base of the container, then lift the fork through the mix so that it turns and more comes in contact with the water.  DO NOT PRESS.  If the dough is pressed into the water to make contact strong gluten strands will form and the dough will become difficult to roll out.  Instead continue the dig and lift motion a few times until the water has been absorbed.   Add more water a tablespoon or two at a time and continue the dig and lift motion until some of the dough starts to come together.  What we're looking for here are large clumps of moist dough almost equally interspersed with smaller dry crumbles. 

At this point gently gather the dough in to a rough ball using your hands.  If the dough holds together well enough (it should not be smooth) transfer it to plastic wrap or waxed paper and then to the refrigerator for a rest.  If there are still a large amount of dry crumbles in the bowl, add a little more water and gently incorporate the crumbles into the dough mass before wrapping and refrigerating.

Once you get the hang of it a pie crust might take five or ten minutes to put together; it has taken me years to get to this point and I still have trouble every once in a while.  Be patient and don't rush.  A slow and gentle approach will yield dividends once you're ready to roll the dough.  Rushing the formation of the dough and trying to force moisture into the flour will cause it to stiffen and become resistant.  Be nice and enjoy you're time with it.