Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Homemade Fresh Paneer

Fresh pressed Paneer Cheese
'Paneer' is a firm, chewy, milky-tasting, fresh cheese used in some of my favorite Indian dishes
To make a simple paneer cheese; follow the recipe for Ricotta Cheese, then gather the cheesecloth, gently squeeze, then hang for an hour or so to remove the excess whey. Shape into a rough rectangle, then fold the cheesecloth tightly around it for a neat package. Place on a perforated strainer, steamer basket or folded cotton tea towel then on dinner plate and press it beneath a weighted plate in the fridge for at least one hour or overnight

Paneer will keep its shape and not melt
Once pressed, the paneer can be used immediately, no aging or culturing required. It can be refrigerated for up to two days. Refrigerated paneer will be firmer and less likely to crumble than fresh paneer. 
Paneer will not melt or get gooey like mozzarella or cheddar. This provides the advantage of being stirred into soups or curries and still keep its shape and chewy texture.  
That said, this homemade version has a more delicate, soft texture and will break down in hot dishes. To prevent this, add the cubes just before serving. A method to firm it up so it can be added to hot gravy or sauces is to knead a few teaspoons of cornstarch into the cheese before pressing. It will still be delicate and soft but will hold its shape.

With the added cornstarch for stability, these paneer cubes are delicious tossed into a curried pasta salad, or dropped into hot soup. It is perfectly acceptable to nibble on a few cubes as a snack or as you work. Just be sure to leave enough for your recipe!
Curried Pasta with Paneer, Pulled Pork and Broccoli

Till next time... Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Make Ricotta Cheese

Fresh Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Fresh, creamy 'Ricotta Cheese', is easy to make at home and very versatile. Drizzle on some good olive oil and serve as an appetizer spread, use in pasta recipes, as a base for Ricotta Cheesecakes or make 'paneer'; a firm, chewy, fresh cheese. My next post will give instructions on 'How to Make a Simple Paneer' from the Ricotta Cheese recipe below. 

You are not going to believe how fast and foolproof it is to make your own Ricotta. Once you make this easy and delicious recipe, you'll never buy grocery store ricotta again! The process for making ricotta works best when using organic whole milk. Enough milk is needed to separate into curds and whey. You can control how wet or dry the ricotta is by simply how long it is allowed to drain.
  *For a higher yield and a creamier, more silky ricotta cheese; replace 1-1/2 cups milk with heavy cream.
  *Non-reactive cookware is made from stainless steel, ceramic, glass or enamel coated metal.
HOW TO MAKE RICOTTA CHEESE       Yield: about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds Ricotta 
If the ricotta will be used for a dessert or for higher yield, use the heavy cream replacement.

1 gallon whole milk  (OR replace 1-1/2 cup milk with heavy cream)
1/3 cup white distilled vinegar 
1 tsp. salt

In a non-reactive pot, slowly heat the milk on medium-low heat to prevent scalding. Stir often until it reaches 185F. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar and salt, stir gently just to mix. The curds will begin to form immediately. Cover the pot and let sit for one to two hours to allow the curds to fully develop. 
Drain to separate the curds and whey

Line a shallow colander with 2 layers of damp cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey into it. Discard the whey or reserve for another use. Place the colander and curds over an empty bowl and let the cheese continue to drain for one to two hours, or overnight... depending on how dry you want your ricotta cheese to be. One to two hours is generally sufficient for a soft ricotta. Six hours or overnight is required for a firm ricotta cheese.
For a firm cheese, drain overnight
Keep the colander over an empty bowl so any remaining whey can drain and keep the cheese from becoming soggy while stored in the fridge. 

Once drained, transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate it promptly. It will keep up to a week in the fridge. To be on the safe side, discard ricotta cheese that has been in your fridge for longer than two weeks.  

Alternatively, ricotta freezes very well. To freeze, tightly seal the package and freeze. If freezing for longer than two months, place the container inside a heavy duty freezer bag in order to prevent freezer burn. When ricotta is thawed there may be some liquid at the top of the container, simply stir it back into the cheese or place in a cheesecloth lined colander and crumble it up so it can drain a bit more.  

The whey can be used in any baking recipe in place of water, whirled in your smoothie or drink it over ice. Freeze the whey in one cup containers to use in pancakes, bread or any recipe in place of water. I have even used it to extend turkey gravy when there wasn't enough turkey stock. 

Till next time... Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae
Recipe by Sally Rae

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hand Pulled Noodles

I love noodles! A Google search proves there are many different methods and styles of pulling Asian noodles. When the opportunity arose for me to watch and learn, one-on-one, how to 'hand pull noodles', I jumped at it!! 

I was honored to meet a mother and daughter from TAIYUAN, in Northern China. These noodles are a common meal in their home, to me it's an incredible culinary art. I was thrilled to watch, practice and ask questions in person, first hand... an opportunity of a lifetime for me! 
Roll, rest and ready to start
Cut, keeping one end intact

The dough, made from a special high gluten flour, water and salt, takes time to knead and rest so was already prepared and ready to roll and cut. We were told the knife they use is twice the size we had available and the board they use is four times the size of ours, so she had to compromise and downsize her method.

The soft, supple dough was rolled with a special wooden rolling pin. The end cut was removed and set aside. Then noodle cuts were made, keeping one end intact. I was instructed, (and did not perfect) a quick, strong, flick of the knife blade at the end of each cut. This flick turned the cut edge of the dough upwards, so it could be floured and the noodles would not stick together. Once the strips were cut and floured, they were rolled over each other into a rope. Wrists are crossed so when the rope is picked up it is twisted again. 

It was amazing how strong the dough was, yet soft and pliable. Once the rolled rope is picked up and twisted, it is gently stretched while pounding on the floured board. I was timid to break the noodles but was assisted to spread my arms further apart to stretch the dough thinner. As I became more confident, the noodles were doubled over and then pulled and pounded more.

A wok of boiling water was kept on the stove. Once pulled and ready, the noodles were immediately lowered into the boiling water. The connected end of dough was pinched off at this point. Once in the boiling water, the noodles were stirred with chop sticks. When the noodles were floating near the top of the boiling water, they were ready to be removed and served fresh and hot.
The left over, made into 'cats ears'

Into the wok
The left over 'scraps' of dough were not wasted. They were gathered together and gently kneaded. Then cut into small pieces and rolled under the thumb almost like a tiny gnocchi. They translate to 'cats ears', and were also cooked in boiling water until they float. Then served with the same toppings.

Before the noodles were made, two toppings had been prepared; one of egg and tomato, slightly sweetened with sugar, and a stir fry of prawns, mushrooms, potato, red onion, broccoli, cabbage, tofu and a special sauce brought from China, that had a kick of heat. As the noodles were ready, they were portioned into bowls, topped with the sauces and enjoyed by all of us. By that time I was so interested in eating, I forgot to take photos!! The noodles had a chewy, substantial texture and the topping accompaniments, fresh, flavorful and delicious.
Several days later, I still reflect on this incredible experience and hope to make an attempt to replicate it at home.

Till next time... Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae