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Better Than a Silver Packet: DIY Cream Cheese

DIY Cream Cheese

The deeper I dig into DIYing basic household foods such as rice milk or nut butters, the weirder I sometimes feel about sharing those processes here. Sure, a recipe for homemade cereal bars might come in handy, but a lot of these typical grocery store items–from tahini to garlic powder–end up being pretty simple to produce from scratch in the average kitchen when all is said and done. So perhaps you might think of these posts as more of a Pinterest board of reminders or inspirations when it starts to feel like everything you buy has soy lecithin and whey derivatives added. Sure, you can toss readymade items into your shopping basket as needed, but if you have a few minutes and don’t like the ingredient list on a given product, you can probably whip up your own with a few pantry staples.

For as easy as culturing buttermilk or kefir turned out to be, cream cheese was not a project I was expecting to be so simple. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yogurt making is almost challenging in comparison.

Pasteurized vs. Ultra Pasteurized

Almost all the articles I’ve read on cheese making have stressed that you cannot use ultra pasteurized milk or cream (the structure of the milk proteins have been damaged). However, I find it increasingly difficult to acquire dairy that is not ultra pasteurized when shopping at a standard grocery store. The organic milk is especially bad in this regard. Apparently people paying big money for these products do not want them to spoil quickly, a concern that supersedes other considerations. And while I love using the rich fresh-from-the-cow, non-homogenized, lightly pasteurized milk I can get from the local dairy at the farmers market, that’s not always practical logistically (only obtainable on Saturday) or financially ($4 per half gallon). Many people will violently advocate for raw milk, whatever it takes to get your hands on it. I haven’t tried it, but I have made other substitutions–the cheap (probably just?) pasteurized whole milk and ultra pasteurized cream available–and still produced a tasty cream cheese.

DIY Cream Cheese: Strained

This Is Not Your KRAFT Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Philly cream cheese is surely the standard most people (Americans, at least) will be judging any cream cheese against, and in my experience this is not that–and that’s a good thing. No matter how long I let my cheese drain, there is a shiny, spackle-like consistency to commercial cream cheese that I have not produced here. This cheese is richer and more buttery, slightly softer but not in any way runny. When adding in flavorings such as maple syrup or dill and salt and whipping briskly with a fork to incorporate, I am able to produce a lovely spread that contains no Xanthan Gum, and/or Carob Bean Gum, and/or Guar Gum, no preservatives, and no “natural flavor”. Seven days later, it still tastes fantastic.

The Verdict

I seriously doubt I will ever buy commercial cream cheese again. There is definitely a cost consideration here in terms of both the dairy and the special ingredients, but I think the taste and quality make it worth the investment (and might even encourage me to eat less and savor more). This cream cheese made me want to bake a dozen everything bagels and invite the neighbors over for brunch….At least until I remembered that my bagel baking, unlike my cream cheese making, is still a work in progress.

DIY Cream Cheese: Thick and Rich

DIY Cream Cheese

Makes: 13 ounces of cream cheese and two cups of whey

DIY Cream Cheese

for tips and supplies, see Cultures for Health

Cream cheese starter cultures containing both the starter culture and rennet are available.

While culturing the cheese with buttermilk rather than a mesophilic starter is riskier due to variations in the active cultures present, I found that the taste of the resulting cream cheese was just slightly more tangy and very attractive.

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 drop liquid vegetable rennet dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1/8 tsp. (one packet) mesophilic starter culture OR 1 ounce buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon salt or other flavorings (optional)

In a pot (with a fitted lid for later steps), heat milk and cream to 75°F, stirring regularly.

Remove pot from stove and add the buttermilk OR sprinkle the mesophilic starter culture over the surface of the milk and allow to dissolve for two minutes. Stir gently. Add diluted rennet mixture and combine using an up and down motion with your spoon under the surface of the milk just until evenly incorporated. Cover pot with lid, wrap in a few kitchen towels, and place in a warm location (70°F-75°F) to incubate, about 14 hours.

When cheese is ready to be drained, it will resemble yogurt. Spoon into a strainer lined with a piece of butter muslin. Clip the corners of the muslin together and allow to drain over a bowl (cupboard handles and safety pins can come in handy here) until desired firmness is reached, 7-10 hours.

Mix in a 1/4 teaspoon salt or other flavorings as desired. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate.

http://wonderlandkitchen.com/2013/04/better-than-a-silver-packet-diy-cream-cheese/

NOTE: Produces 13 ounces of cream cheese and two cups of whey.

Cream cheese starter cultures containing both the starter culture and rennet are available.

While culturing the cheese with buttermilk rather than a mesophilic starter is riskier due to variations in the active cultures present, I found that the taste of the resulting cream cheese was just slightly more tangy and very attractive.

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 drop liquid vegetable rennet dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1/8 tsp. (one packet) mesophilic starter culture OR 1 ounce buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon salt or other flavorings (optional)

In a pot (with a fitted lid for later steps), heat milk to 75°F, stirring regularly.

Remove pot from stove and add the buttermilk OR sprinkle the mesophilic starter culture over the surface of the milk and allow to dissolve for two minutes. Stir gently. Add diluted rennet mixture and combine using an up and down motion with your spoon under the surface of the milk just until evenly incorporated. Cover pot with lid, wrap in a few kitchen towels, and place in a warm location (70°F-75°F) to incubate, about 14 hours.

When cheese is ready to be drained, it will resemble yogurt. Spoon into a strainer lined with a piece of butter muslin. Clip the corners of the muslin together and allow to drain over a bowl (cupboard handles and safety pins can come in handy here) until desired firmness is reached, 7-10 hours.

Mix in a 1/4 teaspoon salt or other flavorings as desired. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate.DIY Cream Cheese: Savor It!

DIY Pumpkin (Pie) Seed Butter

DIY Pumpkin (Pie) Seed Butter

Between making nut butters and non-dairy milks, everywhere I look I now see how a motor and some pantry staples can result in easy-to-whip-up versions of commercial products: tahini, sunflower butter, nut/grain/coconut milks. This is how I found myself standing in the bulk aisle considering what else might make for a tasty spread or beverage. I spied the pumpkin seeds and wondered, hey, would pumpkin seed butter taste good? Is that a thing already? (It is, though it is a pricey and not necessarily readily available option.)

In a general grocery store situation, the pepitas may already be salted and roasted, so no need to add additional salt unless it’s your preference. If you have raw hauled seeds, you can toast them in the oven before processing. Of course, some people are looking to keep their diet raw, and you can use raw seeds if that suits your nutritional preferences best. However, roasting will deliver a richer flavor.

Due to the high fat content of the seeds, they can easily go rancid. Take care to purchase fresh seeds and then keep them in a sealed bag or airtight container. Seeds can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for a longer shelf life.

January’s unrelenting grey drizzle has me in the mood for something warm and comforting, so I have seasoned this recipe with homemade pumpkin pie spice and maple syrup. You may certainly omit or reduce any spices you don’t like, and use honey or another sweetener instead or omit these things completely.

I was surprised to read comments along the lines of, “an acquired taste, but I’ll eat it because it’s healthy,” attached to some commercial versions of pumpkin seed butter. Maybe it’s because I soup mine up with a touch of sweetener and spice, but I could eat the whole jar with a spoon if no one was looking. And if there are nut allergy concerns, you may find this to be a great tasting and safe alternative (though check with your healthcare professional first).

DIY Pumpkin (Pie) Seed Butter: Ingredients

DIY Pumpkin (Pie) Seed Butter
makes approximately 2 cups

Note: If you have raw hauled seeds, toast them in a 350° oven, stirring occasionally, for ten minutes or until fragrant, popping, and lightly browned. Oiling them is not necessary. Add a 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste) to the recipe.

3 cups roasted and salted pepitas
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons maple syrup, or to taste
2 tablespoons neutral oil of your choice, plus additional as needed

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process, stopping occasionally to scrap down sides, until desired consistency is reached. Add more oil by the tablespoonful as needed if the butter is too dry.

Scoop butter into a container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator.

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This post was shared in a blog hop hosted by the awesome Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways. The site offers tons of inspiring DIY ideas, so definitely check it out!

This recipe and post were created for my “DIY vs. Buy” column on Serious Eats.

Ultimate DIY Picnic: Housemade Buns & Mayo

rolls_top

I did not intend to bake my own hamburger buns when the week began.

The thing of it was, I kept eating Brian’s whole wheat store-bought ones, simultaneously lamenting both their dwindling number and their shoddy quality. After polishing off half the bag–what? I was feeling nostalgic for the NYC egg sandwiches of my youth–it seemed only fair that I replace them, but I was hoping for something a little less prone to collapse. Maybe I could make them? That seemed likely to be prohibitively labor intensive for any pre-workday morning, but before I hit the store, I hit the Google. As per usual, King Arthur Flour delivered a recipe for a spectacular dough: a snap to mix, a dream to shape, and an end product that elicited a satisfying number of “You made these?!” responses from their consumers.

I mixed in some whole wheat flour, melted and cooled (rather than just softened) my butter accidentally, and reduced the sugar a bit the second time around (they go fast!), but this recipe is stellar either way.

Everything Burger Buns and One Minute Mayo

Everything Burger Buns
only slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour

3/4 cup water
1 T instant yeast
3T sugar
100 g whole wheat flour
318 g all purpose flour
1 egg plus 1 egg white for wash (add remaining yolk to dough, if you like, or reserve for homemade mayo–see recipe below)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 T butter, softened
3 T “everything bagel” topping

Place all ingredients in a large bowl or stand mixer and knead, but hand or by hook, until a smooth dough has formed. Lightly oil the bowl and surface of the dough, cover, and leave to rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Deflate the dough and divide into eight equal piece. Shape each piece into a ball (I like to gather the edges of the dough into something of a very small balloon knot, and then place each roll on the sheet, knot-side down, patting it gently on top to spread the roll out a bit). Cover and leave to rise another hour.

During the second rise, preheat your oven to 375F. Beat the egg white with a little cool water and, when the rolls are ready for the oven, remove cover and gently brush the tops with the wash. Sprinkle each with the “everything bagel” topping, or the seed combo of your choice. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Everything Burger Buns and One Minute Mayo

One-Minute Mayo

After two batches of the buns above, I had two yolks hanging out in the ‘fridge, demanding I make good use of them every time I opened the door. There are, of course, a million mayo recipes out there online, and I make no claims to have had any part in inventing this process. But I do love executing it. This is the formula I’m using currently. You’ll need an immersion blender for this method.

2 egg yolks
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. vinegar
1 tsp. mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup vegetable oil (some people include a bit of olive oil, but this has never worked for me; it always overpowers, never in a good way)
1 garlic clove (optional)

Allow all ingredients to warm to room temperature. Place everything but the oil and garlic in the base of a container just wide enough to accommodate your immersion blender (the cup that often comes packaged with one is perfect). Cover these ingredients with the business end of the blender wand and gently pour in the oil around it, so that the oil remains suspended above the rest. Begin pulsing the blender in two-second bursts until streams of emulsified mayo start to appear at the bottom of the glass. This won’t take very long at all. Continuing with the bursts, slowly moving the blender up towards the top of glass, plunging up and down a bit as needed, until all oil is incorporated. Scrap down blender. If using the garlic, use a press to crush the clove into the mayo. Stir well to incorporate. Taste and add additional salt as needed. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate until picnic time!

A Feast of Green (Spring is Here! Edition)

spring_top

This was the first weekend my Saturday market produce haul has truly felt exciting in quite some time. And even though I’m usually tempted to purchase a rainbow of vegetables on these outings, this was a monochrome venture and that was fine with me. The bright greens of pencil-thin asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spring onions, and cilantro captured my eye. Some of this was imported from our neighbors to the south, admittedly, but I’ll take their hinting promises; no peas yet, but they are assuredly on the way.

Back at home, there was also a largish pile of actual cookbooks that I had been stocking up all winter and have now finally put to use (as opposed to looking again to my normal kitchen fuel—the cooking blogs of others). I first turned to Nigel Slater’s doorstop of a vegetable Bible Tender, a book I had been drooling all over, with its vegetable-by-vegetable recipes and amazing garden photographs. Even though my own vegetable patch will once again be restricted to about 18 sq. ft. this year, I’m looking forward to following him in the kitchen as if I was producing much more. To start, I put some of the asparagus towards his Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon. Though I had a bit of a pastry fail here (my error, as I added too much water to get the dough to come together, and then disliked the texture of the bottom crust, so take care) the interior was rich and silky. I tossed in a handful of chopped spring onion because I could not resist. (I know! I’m bad like that.) If I had managed the dough with more finesse, it would have been a perfect addition to a spring brunch table, for sure.

Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon

Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon Makings

Next up was a bag full of Brussels sprouts. It sometimes shocks those who have never eaten these beauties roasted in Balsamic vinegar that this vegetable is a household favorite, but even we were getting a little tired of that method. Epicurious kicked out a Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe in the Momofuku fashion that two out of two Baltimoreans definitely agree should be added to the regular dinner rotation. Don’t be afraid of the high oven heat, but do keep an eye on them. My delicate sprouts needed a bit less time to brown darkly. Also, mind your salt/sugar/heat balance in the dressing and don’t be afraid to adjust to suit your tastes, then only add enough to coat, not to drown. I had plenty left over, into which I scooped enough peanut butter to thicken it a bit. It will serve as a fantastic salad topping for the week.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

A recipe from Heidi Swanson’s inspiring Super Natural Cooking rounded out this feast. I had a mix of red and truly, deeply purple fingerling potatoes that were much too small (some not much larger than jelly beans) to Hasselback as her roasting recipe indicated, but her dish did include harissa (!) which I just happened to have a nice jar of, plus a garlic yogurt dressing. I was in heaven just reading about it and would not, could not let size stand in my way!

Roasted Purple and Red Potatoes with Herbed Garlic Yogurt

Roasted Purple and Red Potatoes with Herbed Garlic Yogurt
Adapted a bit from Super Natural Cooking to suit smaller potatoes

2 lbs. fingerling potatoes, mix of red and purple, in 1-inch chunks
3 T olive oil
2 tsp. harissa
salt

For the dressing

1 cup Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves smashed and minced
3 T cilantro, finely chopped
3 T fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
black pepper
lemon juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F.

Mixed the oil and harissa together, drizzle over potatoes and toss to evenly coat. Spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Meanwhile, to prepare the dressing, mix the yogurt, garlic, cilantro, mint, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Thin with a bit of lemon juice if desired.

DIY Condiments: Leave the Hellman’s in the ‘Fridge

chutney_full

What’s better than a jar of freshly made cilantro chutney? How about the same recipe, but swapping out the chilies for a generous scoop of Harissa?

I’m scraping the bottom of that jar you see above just a few days later, so I think we can call that culinary experiment a five star success. But it’s got me thinking about other condiments I might try my hand at making at home. Dressings and spreads leave so much room for play, and making them in my own kitchen means all those ingredients I can’t pronounce–the stabilizers and the color correctors and the preservatives–are left out of the equation.

Here are a few others that I’ve tried and loved in the past year:

What else should I add to the list? What are you making at your house that you love? What do you wish you knew how to whip up? I want to learn more about mustard to start, I think.