Monday, March 17, 2014

Homemade Cream Cheese

I have always wanted to be an artisan of cheese. Maybe it's my Wisconsin roots, or the fact that cheese is my favorite food group, or that I can't go a day without cheese consumption. I always have a stock of cheeses in our house. Today I have pesto gouda, honey goat cheese, smoked string cheese, herby cotswald, and a very small chuck of gorgonzola. I get nervous if supplies run low! What I don't have on hand is cream cheese. I heard a rumor that it is easy to make cream cheese. Maybe cream cheese will be my gateway cheese into creating some artisan cheddars down the road. But to get things started, cream cheese is today's challenge.

If you Google cream cheese recipes, you will be overwhelmed by the assortment of guides, ranging from very complicated to very easy. I am interested in easy. Basically if you add an acidity; be it vinegar, lemon juice, or tartaric acid to heated cream,  you will separate the curds from the whey. Add some salt for seasoning, and you've got an amazing cream cheese.  From here, who knows what you'll be inspired to mix into your fresh cheese. I'm opting for Ames Farm single source honey and some dried lavender flowers. Does that suggest spring? Yes please!

Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift had the best recipe that I found, of coarse! The ingredient list is short, the recipe easy to follow, and the ingredient list is made of basic things anyone can purchase anywhere. Perfect! Tools you will need before you start include a pot that can hold at least a gallon of liquid, a colander, and cheesecloth. I have all of these things on hand in my kitchen at the Co-op, except cheesecloth. I used giant coffee filters which worked wonderfully. Improvising is good!

Homemade Cream Cheese

2 quarts heavy cream
1 quart 1/2 & 1/2
1 quart whole milk
2 tsp salt
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Line a large colander with a layer of cheesecloth and place in the sink or over a bowl if you want to save the whey. *The whey can be saved and used in soup, stews, curries, or to cook pasta and rice!

Over medium heat, bring the cream, 1/2 & 1/2, milk, and slat to a gentle simmer in a heavy large pot. Stir in the lemon juice and continue to simmer gently until curds begin to form and float to the top, 1 to 2 minutes. They will first look like spatters of white, then gather into soft, cloud-like clumps. When you see the liquid begin to clear of cloudiness and the curds are firming up but not hard, scoop them out with a slotted spoon or sieve.

the curds separating form the whey in a giant coffee filter lined sieve
Let the curds drain thoroughly in the lined colander. If very soft, press gently to extract a little moisture, but take care not to dry out the cheese. Turn into a bowl, cover and chill. I allowed the curds to drain for about 3 hours. As you drain the cheese it goes from creamy to firmer. Just decide how you want yours to go. Go home, make cheese, consume with bagels, and have a nice day!! Belly up!!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Dark Chocolate Nut Butter

I've been eating a lot of Nutella lately. True confessions. My entire family is hooked. It is so good slathered on waffles, baguette ends, and every kind of fruit....we've tried apples, bananas, strawberries, blackberries, and pineapple to date. It has been my winter warmer. My seasonal affect cure all. A heaping spoonful with my morning coffee is such a great start to my day. With this chocolate nut butter becoming more and more of a kitchen staple, and less like a luxury item, I decided that I needed to make my own. Of coarse.

Making your own dark chocolate nut butter is not only one of the easiest tasks that I have conquered today, but also makes for a healthier alternative to Nutella. Don't get me wrong, calling chocolate nut butter healthy may seem conflicting, however this version is lower in sugar and doesn't contain any of the fillers common in store bought nut butters. With just a handful of ingredients, you will be blown away by the simplicity and the flavor. Have a jar on hand, it keeps for 4 to 6 weeks in the fridge! Belly up!!


1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and cooled*
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 Tablespoons sunflower oil

In a food processor, process the hazelnuts until they become a smooth butter, about 3 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl, making sure to grind the hazelnuts uniformly.

Add the cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, salt, and oil and continue processing until creamy, 1 minute or so. Transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerated, it will keep for 4 to 6 weeks.

* To toast the hazelnuts: Place the hazelnuts on a sheet pan and toast in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until they are fragrant and the skins loosen. Remove from the oven and immediately cover with a clean kitchen towel. Rub the hazelnuts in the towel, between your hands, to remove the skins. Don't worry if you don't remove all of the skins- getting the majority of the skins removed is fine.



So, I also did a variation using almonds. Actually I used almond butter. I wanted to see what would happen if a person was feeling lazy, and just wanted to fancy up a jar of almond butter. Plus it was a slow day at work. The results were great. Being lazy here still makes a fine dark chocolate nut butter! I substituted 3/4 cup toasted almond butter for the hazelnuts. Everything else remains the same. My coworkers were thankful. Enjoy!!