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The common housewife’s guide to making mozzarella

by contributing writer Natasha

Cheesemaking used to scare me. Then I lived in a foreign country where cheese was not readily available. It’s really true that necessity is the mother of invention. Did you know that powdered whole milk can be reconstituted and made into cheese? It’s not as smooth as cheese made from fresh raw milk, but it is very doable. And when you haven’t eaten any cheese in three months, it’s even delicious!

When we moved home and bought dairy cows, I made my first batch of mozzarella with fresh milk straight from the tank. Um, yum, y’all. Seriously.

I’m not a fantastic cook, nor am I good at following directions (there may be a correlation there) but even I can handle this simple cheese. The biggest thing to remember is that cheesemaking is not a science (no matter what the books tell you!) it’s an adventure. And as long as you stick to the ingredients given, you can’t mess it up too bad. Even if your mozzarella turns out crumbly, lasagna is very forgiving.

The common housewife's guide to making mozzarellaMozzarella is a great starter cheese because the ingredients are minimal, and the directions simple. You’ll need:

The best milk to use is unpasteurized raw milk but any milk will do. The only kind that doesn’t work is milk that has been UHT (Ultra-High Pasteurized) to extend its shelf-life.

Fun trivia: Mozzarella was originally made from Water Buffalo milk in southern Italy.

For rennet, your best bet is to order cheesemaking rennet online. Unless you have a cheesemaking store in your town, you’ll probably only find “Junket Rennet” which is not strong enough to congeal the curds. If Junket is the only available rennet, use 1-2 whole tablets instead of 1/4. Liquid rennet  is easier to measure but doesn’t last as long. Tablets can be stored in the freezer and retain their strength for years.

Fun trivia: Legend says rennet was first discovered by an ancient traveler who used a re-purposed calf stomach as a flask for his milk. When he went to get a drink, the liquid had formed curds. Today some rennet is still made from the lining of calf stomachs, but it is more popular to use the vegetable alternative.

Citric Acid can be found at any grocery store in either powder or tablet form. It is basically concentrated citrus. Most cheeses use either citric acid, lemon juice, or vinegar to help curdle the milk.

I use Real Salt in all my cooking, but any salt will do.

The tools needed for mozzarella are also simple:

  • large stockpot
  • cooking thermometer
  • slotted spoon
  • knife
  • colander
  • microwaveable bowl

Ready to make cheese?

Step One: Measure 1 cup water and add 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid. Measure 1/4 cup water separately and dissolve the rennet into it. (easy so far, eh?)

Step Two: Pour milk into stockpot and add the cup of water/citric acid solution. Mix thoroughly and turn on medium heat. You’re shooting for 90 degrees, which doesn’t take too long, so keep an eye out! Stir enough to keep the milk from sticking. The milk may begin to curdle. No worries.

cheesemaking 2

Step Three: Once you have the milk at 90 degrees, remove it from the heat and stir in the rennet solution. Keep stirring for thirty seconds. When your thirty second are up, stop the milk from moving, cover and set a timer for five minutes. Don’t touch the pan. You’re letting the rennet do it’s job.

cheesemaking

Step Four: When your five minutes are up, uncover and look at your milk. If the rennet did its job correctly, the milk should have formed into a soft jelly-like substance that is slightly separated from the whey (the whey is the watery substance around it). If the milk is still liquid, cover and leave it an additional 5 minutes. If it still has not set, your rennet may not have been strong enough. You can still use the milk, just heat it back up to 90 degrees and add new rennet. (Yes, I know this from experience!) When it is set, take your knife and softly cut the curds, making sure you slice to the bottom of the pan. Cut a grid-like pattern.

Cheesemaking 4

Step Five: Heat the curds to 105 degrees. Stir gently if needed. The curds will be loose and soft. Treat them nicely!

Step Six: Using your slotted spoon, lift the curds gently and place them in the colander. Spin the colander, allowing the whey to finish draining off.

Cheesemaking 6

Step Seven: Place your curds in a microwavable bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute. If you have an especially strong microwave, you might want to start with 30 seconds.

cheesemaking

Step Eight: Carefully (it’ll be hot!) knead the cheese, adding your teaspoon of salt and mixing it through. Knead very gently and do not over-knead. The more you mess with the cheese, the tougher it will get (though still yummy, I promise!). If your cheese is very stretchy, it’s done. Form it into a ball, pat it gently, and tell yourself good job. If it isn’t stretchy yet, return it to the microwave for 30 second increments until it stretches easily. Form it into a ball, let it cool, and cut yourself a slice.

cheesemaking

And all that leftover whey? Don’t throw it away! It’s perfect to stick in smoothies, bread, or soups.

Troubleshooting: There are two common complaints when making mozzarella cheese. The first is that the cheese turns out crumbly instead of smooth. This can be caused by using pasteurized milk, or from using too much citric acid which can make the curds separate too quickly. The cheese is still perfectly edible. If it’s not pretty, just shred it up and use it as normal.

The second is that the cheese turns out tough and slightly yellow. This is caused by too much rennet, microwaving it too long, or from over-kneading the cheese. It’s still super yummy. No worries. Melt it on your pizza and enjoy.

Cheesemaking isn't a science, it's an adventure!

 

Have you ever made cheese? What are your best tips?

Gluten-free rhubarb pie

(Written by contributor, Jessica)

Well, it is finally spring! It seemed to take extra long for this past winter to end.

I have been patiently, well really not so patiently, waiting for warmer weather that would start to bring in local produce. One of our first crops in my garden is rhubarb.

rhubarb pie

I remember when I was little I thought rhubarb was the most disgusting thing ever. That is, until I had a really awesome rhubarb pie!

Most rhubarb pies have had an ‘eggy’ feel and I just can’t stand eggy! This recipe is just right.

It is also not overly sweet and combined with the tart rhubarb, it is just right.

If you need a pie crust recipe, check out this one I posted earlier. It is gluten-free but you can also sub cup for cup white flour if you are not a gluten-free family. I am a big fan of the Namaste gluten-free flour blend, I can get it at Costco. And, as much as I love Bob’s Red Mill products, I do not enjoy the gluten-free flour mix for a pie crust.

gluten free rhubarb pie

Gluten-free rhubarb pie
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients
  • 4 tbsp. of gluten free flour*
  • 1½ cup evaporated cane juice crystals
  • 1 egg
  • 4 cups of chopped rhubarb
  • 2 Pie Crust
Instructions
  1. Stir flour and sugar together.
  2. Add egg and beat thoroughly.
  3. Fold in rhubarb
  4. Pour into pie crust and top with other pie crust.
  5. Pinch together edges and put a few slits in the crust to allow pie to breath.
  6. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes
  7. Lower the oven temperature to 350 and cook for 50-60 more minutes. (If you didn't use my gluten free pie recipe your pie may be done sooner as butter crusts take longer to brown)
  8. * I use a gluten free flour mix but rice flour with xantham gum works just fine.

Another really helpful tip I always follow when baking a pie is that I line my oven with foil or bake on a baking sheet. It never fails, that when I forget to do this, my pie leaks all over my oven. I have much better things to do than clean my oven, so I opt for foil!

I’d love to hear from you, what are your favorite ways to use rhubarb? 

Gluten free pie crust

(Written by contributor, Jessica)

Homemade pie crust…those words make people cringe. I. have. been. there.

I’m in the kitchen, covered with flour and a pile of dough that was supposed to be a crust. There is nothing more frustrating than disasters in the kitchen.

gluten free pie crust

And, agh, pie wasn’t even worth my time. It’s never been a favorite of mine. I am a dessert kind of girl but other than a mandatory slice of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, I could pass it up.

Until I had a pie crust made with butter….oh.my! Total bliss! I have never had a pie melt in mouth like that.

It takes a bit of time and patience but once you get the process down, pie crust isn’t so intimidating.

Gluten Free Pie Crust :recipe:
 
Gluten Free Pie Crust
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups of gluten free flour mix
  • 2 tbsp. of evaporated cane juice crystals (This is optional)
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 2 sticks of COLD butter
  • 6 tbsp. of very COLD water
Instructions
  1. Mix salt, flour and sugar
  2. Cut butter into flour until mixture is course.
  3. Slowly add cold water, a little at a time until the dough pulls together
  4. Sprinkle a bit of flour on your counter and your rolling pin.
  5. Cut dough in half and roll out one crust at a time.

A few helpful hints: 

Make sure your butter and water are COLD! If they are room temperature, it’s hard to get the right consistency and then it’s easy add too much water.

Add the water a bit at a time because the amount used is never quite the same, depending on the temperature and weather.

If your dough get a bit too warm, put in the refrigerator to cool off a bit before rolling out.

When rolling, keep your pin covered in flour.

To pick the dough up after rolled out, gently roll it over your pin and then unroll over your pie plate.

You can use a food processor, it makes it easy to see when you’ve add enough water if you pour it in while the mixer is mixing because you can see it pull together. However, the pie crust will not be as flaky.

gluten free pie crust

Once you have the pie crust in the plate and ready to go, place the pie in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before baking. It makes for a more flaky crust. (This is a tip from my Grandma.)

While this may seem like a lot to remember, once you get going, I think you’ll find it easy. And pie crust is forgiving!! I have had many a pies pieced together looking kind of funky…but, if your pie tastes good, believe me, nobody will care! ;)

What are your favorite tips for making a good pie crust? 

Strawberry Breakfast Cookie :: Refined Sugar Free, Gluten Free, Dairy Free with Egg and Nut Free Options

Strawberry Breakfast Cookie :: Allergen Friendly :: Natural Fertility and Wellness

(By contributing writer, Renee)

One of my favorite things about summer is berry picking! We live in a pretty perfect area for berry harvests as far as growing conditions go, and I take advantage of it!

Strawberry Breakfast Cookie :: Refined Sugar Free, Gluten Free, Dairy Free with Egg and Nut Free Options
Just about every month from June until September a new harvest arrives from June strawberries to late August and September raspberries. By the time fall arrives, I have a freezer full of various berries to last us through winter.

Strawberry Breakfast Cookie :: Refined Sugar Free, Gluten Free, Dairy Free with Egg and Nut Free Options
Hopefully we will start seeing strawberries pop up here soon, and besides freezer jam, dehydrating some, and freezing them for smoothies, I’m planning making a few batches of these breakfast cookies. I took my original breakfast cookie recipe and made it fit the season! They turned out so great, and they individually wrap up for the freezer so good! Perfect pull out breakfast on the go.

Happy berry season to you!

Strawberry Breakfast Cookie :: Refined Sugar Free, Gluten Free, Dairy Free with Egg and Nut Free Options
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • • 1 cup pureed strawberries, plus ⅓ cup chopped strawberries (will need a little over a pound of strawberries)
  • • ½ cup coconut flour
  • • ¼ cup tapioca flour
  • • ¼ cup white rice flour (If you are grain free, use ¼ cup blanched almond flour or another ¼ cup tapioca flour)
  • • 2 eggs, lightly beaten (If you are egg free use ½ cup applesauce or banana to bind, or egg replacer)
  • • ½ cup crispy almonds, crushed (OR get blanched almonds to crush, OR use blanched almond flour. If you are nut free use crushed sunflower seeds)
  • • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • • 2 tsp aluminum free baking powder
Instructions
  1. Combine everything EXCEPT the chopped strawberries in a medium mixing bowl.
  2. Fold in the chopped strawberries.
  3. Make palm size balls (size of about a racquetball) and flatten into 1 inch discs on to a silpat lined baking sheet (or parchment paper lined). They don’t flatten out so make them about the size you want.
  4. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

So how will you be using your strawberry harvest up this year?

Three Recipes using abundant spring asparagus

Written by contributing writer, Renee

Three Recipes Using Abundant Spring Asparagus  www.naturalfertilityandwellness.com
It started snowing the week of Thanksgiving where I live, and I haven’t seen our grass since. After a long (and I mean LONG!) winter, seeing our farmer’s markets open, and abundant bundles of spring asparagus pop up makes every last ounce of winter blues melt away!

West Michigan is known nation-wide for our abundant asparagus in the late spring, and every April and May I load up our house with green goodies bursting with spring flavor.

We eat pretty seasonal, so after our long winter I can’t tell you how *good* asparagus tastes!!!

Roasted asparagus is a great start. If you have never had asparagus before, I would start here! The flavor is incredible, and the recipe is very easy. Serve it along side beef roast and potatoes, or a roasted chicken and squash!

Three Recipes Using Abundant Spring Asparagus

Roasted Asparagus
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1-2 lbs asparagus, coarse ends cut
  • 2-4 TB friendly fat to roast in (butter, coconut oil, lard, bacon grease work great)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional but so good!)
  • Sea salt/pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Toss the asparagus with the friendly fat, garlic, and seasoning on a sheet pan and spread out evenly.
  2. Roast at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. I love the little tree tops a little “crispy” so sometimes I go a little longer – all in your preference – check them around the 20 minute mark in case you want them less “done”.

Asparagus soup is a great way to take advantage of end of the season “sales”. Right around the end of May when the asparagus season comes to a close, the farmers at the market start selling their asparagus bundles super cheap. As in usually half the cost per pound and even less if you buy them in 10 pound groups. So what do I do with all that asparagus? Soup! This soup freezes up so great. And you can make large batches that you can stash away so that late fall or early winter you can pull it out for something different to have!

Three Recipes Using Abundant Spring Asparagus

Asparagus Soup
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 3-4 TB friendly fat to cook in (butter, coconut oil, lard, bacon grease)
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (just coarsely chop - it will all be pureed anyway!)
  • 1 ½ quarts chicken stock (homemade preferable for extra nourishment and to avoid BPA)
  • 4-5 small red or yellow potatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 bunches asparagus, hard ends discarded, coarsely chopped
  • Sea salt/pepper to taste
  • Garnish with sour cream or coconut milk if you wish
Instructions
  1. Saute the onions in the friendly fat over medium high heat for about 5-10 minutes with a couple pinches of salt to bring out their juices and sweeten.
  2. Add the garlic and cook a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the stock, potatoes, and asparagus and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the asparagus and potatoes are cooked through.
  5. Use a handheld blender or regular blender to puree the soup smooth. Add salt/pepper to taste.
  6. Garnish with sour cream or coconut milk if you wish.

Asparagus stir frys SO well. The flavor is amazing, and you can pair it with other spring favorites like peas or radishes. If you have those really thick asparagus stalks that have a bit different texture (in my opinion!) you can shave the spears with a peeler and it makes perfect stir fry veggie additions!

Three Recipes Using Abundant Spring Asparagus

Spring Veggie Pasta (Grain Free Option)
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ package of brown rice pasta (if you are grain free you could use chopped potatoes)
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1lb), coarse ends removed, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 large tomato, seeds and juices scooped out and chopped (could do halved cherry tomatoes!
  • ⅓ cup reserved starchy liquid from cooking the pasta (I cook my pasta in stock for more nourishment and so my liquid is stock too but water works as well)
  • 1 ½ cups cheese, shredded (Raw cheese preferable. Otherwise stick with organic right off the block – shred your own – the pre shredded cheeses have too many unnecessary additives. If you are dairy free - just leave it out! It will be just as good with a drizzle of olive or coconut oil!)
  • Sea salt/pepper to taste
  • Optional extra virgin olive oil to drizzle over top to garnish
Instructions
  1. Cook the pasta to al dente and set aside. Reserve about ⅓ cup of the starchy cooking liquid for the veggie mixture sauce.
  2. Saute the onion in a few TB of butter or coconut oil and a pinch of salt for a few minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for a minute.
  4. Add the asparagus and another pinch of salt and cook on medium high for a few minutes until bright green and slightly tender.
  5. Add the peas and tomatoes for a minute or two and then add the starchy pasta liquid.
  6. Simmer the mixture about 5-10 minutes and then pour over the cooked pasta.
  7. Stir in the cheese until melted and is combined with the sauce making it creamy.
  8. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil if desired.

 

What are your favorite ways to use up your spring asparagus?

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