Friday, June 3, 2011

A Bit of Wine, Some Cheese and Thee.... Mmmmm

Yesterday was my market crawl all over the valley so I organized my list, my menu's but most of all made sure we had a good brunch before setting off so we didn't but impulse items brought on by being hungry. #1 of the prepared shopper's list: never shop hungry, makes you do crazy things..... I know that all too well, lol, getting crazy, non-nutritious things that look amazing.....

After getting lots of fruits and vegetables at the Mexican markets, proteins from a few others, we hit Trader Joe's for whole coffee beans. Just ground dark beans first thing in the morning is a thing of beauty for us.... the aroma is amazing so we make sure to scope out good values on quality beans and this month it was Trader Joe's, except that walking in there can be hazardous to your budget just seeing the imported wines featured as well as their selection of yogurts, nuts and cheeses and as mere mortals, we sucumbed to the siren call of the cheese and wine.

When you talk about cheese you've opened up a virtual Pandora's box of possibilities into the realm of amazing flavors, textures and applications. What can you do with cheese? What kind? What for? I could go on and on.... from France, Italy, Greece, US, Eastern Europe...... and depending on what you're planning, well, suffice to say it could take a while but for some reason I was in the mood for some Goat Cheese and Joe's had a special on French Chevre of all kinds: with honey, ash, herbs, chilies but all I could see was the plain Chevre I could transform into our "perfect" blend at home. Of course I also picked up some crusty baguettes, some fresh herbs and as soon as I got home got busy oven drying some tomatoes to intensify their flavors so they too could bring additional flavor to our little party, chill the wine and we're almost there.

First, let me give you a little background on this most popular food. Goat's milk is often consumed by those that have a low tolerance to cow's milk because it's assimilated better by them so you see young children, the elderly and those that are ill, drinking it. Goat's milk is the closest to human milk too, and most of the world consumes it, except the US where cow's milk is the rule, you see goat's milk cheeses being popular elsewhere, especially in places where refrigeration might be a problem and with the addition of salt as a preservative, goat cheese is prevalent. When compared to cow's milk products like cream cheese, goat cheese is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol. It also provides more calcium and fewer carbohydrates than cream cheese. Even though goat cheese has less calories, it has a full, rich and creamy flavor. Now thanks to the artisan movement and the new food culture here in the US, more and more goat cheese producers can be found, so domestic goat cheese will become (maybe) a widely available product very soon.

Most people think goat cheese is salty because of using salt to preserve it yet natural goat cheese isn't salty at all. Feta, my all time favorite cheese, which comes in a salted brine, is sometimes accused of this but I love the Eastern European versions of Feta which come IN the brine, they are wonderful!

Goat cheese is incredibly easy to make and is one of the earliest dairy products ever made. You just let the raw milk naturally curdle, you drain and press the curds. You can also use rennet to cause this action or use an acid like vinegar or lemon juice too. Home cooks all over the world make their own soft cheese and simply hang it up for several days, in cheesecloth, to cure and drain. If you want an aged product then you can brine it to create a rind and then store it in a cool place for several months and it will get done. Unfortunately in the US people mistrust raw milk so you'd have a harder time finding ingredients, but if there are farms close to you, you're in luck. Plus, you don't need raw milk to make goat's cheese so whatever goat milk you can find at your local A&P will do nicely.

Heat will soften the cheese but it doesn't act the same as cow's cheese yet the flavors imparted by the goat cheese are more tart and lend themselves well to the addition of many other flavors which complement them. If you have an aged goat cheese with a rind, you can bake in an oven and it will give you a gooey cheese which you could pair with roasted garlic to spread on some great bread.... this simple offering is quite a treat. There are so many goat cheese producing countries in the world as there are stars in the sky, some famous while others are just regional favorites, yet all impart that wonderful tart taste we've all come to enjoy.

Want to try making you own "easy as pie" goat cheese? Takes about 2 hours, very little equipment (you'll need a pot and a candy/instant read thermometer and some cheesecloth), here's the recipe:
NOTE: You can also use unbleached muslin, linen handkerchiefs, butter muslin, 100% cotton handkerchiefs, rinse or wash them really well to insure it's clean and won't impart any flavors (watch the detergent and don't use softener unless you want your cheese Downy soft). If you want to use this as "ricotta" or sweeter version for desserts, omit the garlic.

How to make Goat Cheese.- So easy, how can you not try this? This will make 8 oz cheese.

2 qts goat's milk
1/4 cup lemon juice, must be fresh squeezed or can use vinegar (or rennet), can add more
1/2 clove garlic, fresh grated
A few pinches coarse salt
Herbs (optional) but recommended: Rosemary, chives, parsley, cilantro, herbs de Provence, fennel fronds, dill, and other non-herbs like dried apricots, figs, prunes, etc.

Fill a stainless steel (or other non-reactive pan) saucepan with goat's milk. Heat gradually until it reaches 180F. Watch closely. It shouldn't take more than about 15 minutes.

Once it's up to temperature, remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Let stand until it starts to curdle, about 30 seconds. It won't curdle like cottage cheese curdles. It's more like a little clumping. Don't add a lot of lemon juice, thinking nothing happened. You can add some extra drops if needed. Line a colander with 3-4 layers of cheesecloth, this seems to be the consensus. You'll lose precious goat cheese if the cloth is too loose. Put it over a large bowl to catch the whey as it drips. You can use the whey as a soup base or make bread with it. Ladle milk into the lined colander. Pull up and tie the four corners of the cheesecloth together and hang on the handle of a wooden spoon to drip out, over the bowl.

Allow the whey to drain until a ricotta like consistency is obtained inside the cloth, about 1 to 1.5 hours. Transfer to a bowl and add in salt, garlic, and any flavors you'd like. Can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, zip lock bag or similar (if it lasts that long) but I should tell you that after a few days, the consistency isn't great or as smooth as at the beginning, so try and use it up. Experiment with herbs, spices and flavors so you have your favorites that you can whip up quickly, you'll be glad you did.

How can you enjoy Goat Cheese? Let's count the ways....

1. Spread on toast or bagels.
2. Top green salads with crumbled cheese, or with slices briefly warmed in the oven.
3. Use goat cheese in lasagna.
4. Swirl or layer with pesto to spread on crackers.
5. Substitute for cream cheese in dips.
6. For a simple pasta sauce, mix goat cheese with pesto.
7. Mix with your favorite Salsa.
8. Slice goat cheese, warm in the oven, arrange in a pool of chocolate sauce on a dessert plate, and sprinkle with chopped nuts.
9. Use in omelettes, blintzes, danishes, croissants, burritos, cannolis, etc.
10. Use in place of sour cream on baked potatoes.
11. Place a 5-ounce goat cheese round in a pint jar, cut in half. Add garlic, cloves, parsley, a few peppercorns, a spring of thyme, and 1/2 of a bay leaf, some red pepper flakes. Cover all with extra-virgin olive oil and let sit for a few days. Serve with crackers or bread.

Mango Salsa Served with Goat Cheese.- Here's a great way to enjoy goat cheese!

er Salsa
Goat Cheese R
Coarsely ground black pepper
Fresh Chives

Make Mango Pepper Salsa:
3 mangos, peeled, pitted, diced

2 jalapenos or serrano peppers, seeded, deveined, and very finely chopped
Juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
sal to taste
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, gently toss mango, chile peppers, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Prepare Goat Cheese Medallions. These may be prepared in advanced and refrigerated, covered, until ready to bake and serve.

Goat Cheese Medallions
2 (7-inch) soft goat cheese logs
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
2/3 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

To toast hazelnuts: Preheat oven to 350F. Place whole hazelnuts in a large baking pan
and bake, stirring frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly toasted (watch carefully to keep nuts from burning). Remove from oven immediately and wrap nuts in a double thickness of paper toweling. Place wrapped nuts in a resealable plastic bag; seal bag and allow nuts to steam for 5 minutes. Roll enclosed nuts back and forth on a hard surface to remove skins. Remove nuts from bag and toweling; discard skins.

Preheat oven to 400F. Cut the goat cheese into 1/2-inch slices. (Use dental floss or fishing wire or string to slice the cheese logs cleanly. Pour olive oil into a small bowl; dip goat cheese slices into olive oil and coat both sides of each slice. In another small bowl, combine bread crumbs, hazelnuts, and pepper; place the olive oil coated goat cheese slices into the crumb mixture (gently pat nut mixture onto the goat cheese, turning to coat all sides). Place the prepared goat cheese medallions on a non-stick or lightly oiled baking sheet. (NOTE: the croutons may be refrigerated at this point for several hours). Bake for approximately 5 to 6 minutes or until the cheese softens slightly. Remove from oven and serve immediately with the Salsa

Using individual serving plates, layer 3 tablespoons Mango Pepper Salsa in the center of each plate. Sprinkle coarse black pepper over salsa and around the plate. Place two hot Goat Cheese Medallions onto the top of the salsa on each plate. Sprinkle with snipped chives or cross two chive stems across each other and place on top of the goat cheese medallions. Serve immediately.

Goat Cheese Chees
ecake Appetizers.- This makes a great first course or a cocktail party

1/2 cup fresh homemade bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely ground walnuts
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
5 oz soft goat cheese
1 egg, beaten lightly
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon finely diced red bell pepper, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter eighteen 1/8 cup mini-muffin cups. In a medium bowl, combine the bread crumbs, ground walnuts, butter, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; stir until thoroughly combined. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the walnut mixture into each muffin cup and press down into the bottom of the cups.

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add the goat cheese; beat until creamy. Add the
egg and beat until well combined. Add the chives, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Divide the goat cheese mixture between the mini-muffin cups and smooth the tops. Top the cheesecakes with the diced red peppers. Bake approximately 15 minutes or until puffed. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for 5 minutes, un-mold. You can put them on a lettuce leaf or other base for serving.

I hope I can inspire you to try some of these, you'll be rewarded by
wonderful food to share or just consume.... the good thing with goat cheese is that it doesn't need a lot of additions to deliver full flavor, a good bread, some wine and you'll be ready! Easy to prepare, quick to make, flavor plus and a real crowd favorite... what more could you ask for? You can serve it for a special occasion or simply on a weeknight and treat yourself, a cocktail party or a backyard chill out evening.... it's all good.

Sending everyone best wishes for a lovely summer... we'll talk soon.

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