Friday, January 8, 2010

What's Cooking? Cooking for Dad

This first appeared in the June, 2009, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

Queso Blanco, at left, translates as “white cheese.” It is a mild, non-melting cheese that’s simple to make and tasty on crackers, in tacos, or crumbled on top of a salad.

Cooking for Dad

Dads are sometimes hard to buy for, aren’t they? You can get away with sending Mom flowers or candy every year, but there’s no such one-size-fits-all gift for dads, granddads and husbands.

Casual workplaces have made ties a little less appealing, and handcrafted clay ashtrays have gone the way of the dinosaur. But there are other hand-made items that are universally appealing.

Like food.

To make it even more special, why not make something really unusual and unexpected? Sweets are nice, but maybe Dad would prefer a slab of homemade bacon, some crispy baked potato chips or a personal supply of hot sauce.

Many people would say that it’s too much trouble to make those sorts of foods on a regular basis, but that’s what makes them a perfect gift. Better yet, there are plenty of cooking projects that are kid-friendly, with appropriate supervision.

Take, for example, cheese. It’s unlikely that you’ll be willing to turn your basement into a cheese cave for aged products, but fresh cheeses are simple, and the ingredients are easy to find.

Queso Blanco
Adapted from “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It And Other Cooking Projects”

This recipe asks for a cheese press, which can be purchased online. For a cheap and easy press, cut the top and bottom lids out of a 28-ounce can, clean and dry the can and lids thoroughly, and you have a simple press.

To use your press, put one lid on several layers of paper towels on a flat surface, and position the can on top of it. Put the cheese curds into the can and distribute them so they’re even, and put the second lid over the curds. Use a smaller can or fill a suitably-sized glass jar with water and use that as a weight on top of the lid and curds.

8 cups whole milk
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Heat the milk slowly, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 185 – 190 degrees, then slowly add the vinegar, stirring gently to distribute it evenly. Shut off the heat and let it pot sit undisturbed for about 10 minutes.

The milk will form curds, which will separate from the clear whey. Scoop the curds into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl. Let the curds drain a few minutes, discard the collected whey, and put the curds into the bowl and toss them with the salt.

Move the curds to the center of a clean kitchen towel (not the fuzzy kind) or multiple layers of cheesecloth and tie up the cloth with the curds inside, Give the cheese a gentle squeeze to release more moisture, then hang the cloth-enclosed curds over a bowl or over the kitchen sink where it can continue to drain for 30-45 minutes.

Transfer the curds to a cheese press and weight the cheese for 3 – 4 hours until the cheese is firm. Release it from the press, and it’s ready to eat.

An even easier cheese in this book, with just one ingredient – yogurt – results in a soft, spreadable cheese. Depending on the brand of yogurt you start with, the result can be similar to cream cheese, or something much more tangy.

Suggested variations on the plain cheese include adding lemon, garlic, or dried cranberries and green onions, but with a little imagination, the variations could be endless.

When I first saw this book, I thought it might be all about pickling and preserving. While it does include those sorts of recipes, the subtitle, “And Other Cooking Projects,” really tells the tale. These aren’t the sorts of things that you’ll be making for dinner tonight, but really are projects, in the good sense of the word.

Besides pickles, cheeses, bacon (yes, you can make homemade bacon), and jams, there are recipes for candies, beverages, and even toaster pastries. Some of these would make ideal gifts, while others would be fun projects with kids or friends. And surely Dad would enjoy eating them.
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