Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Ta daaa! Fresh Mozzarella!

Fresh cheese!  and the kit.

Here is what remained of our fresh mozzarella when I went to make pizza last night. It had been in the fridge, in a bowl of water, for several days. Behind it you can see the kit for making it. In the near future I’ll do a post with how-to photos, but this will have to do for now!

Making your own cheese with this kit is really very easy, though I’d hate to do it alone. Having another pair of hands is very helpful. Mr. Pea and I made this ball of cheese together last week. It started as a gallon of milk. The butcher down the road gets shipments of milk from a local dairy, so I went there for it; a gallon was really inexpensive at $2.99. I poured the milk into a large stainless steel stockpot. The kit contains two main ingredients–citric acid and vegetarian rennet. A bit of each are dissolved in water and set aside. The acid is added to the milk right away; you heat to a specified temperature (the kit contains a thermometer), and then add rennet to make the curd. You let it sit, then heat it up, and stir your curd. Then the whey is drained off and saved to make pizza crust with a recipe in the kit; the remaining curd is microwaved to a specified temp, and then shaped into a ball, just like you’d get at the grocery store. Only better. And really, really cheap. Our local grocery store flyer has fresh mozzarella on sale this week for $6.99/lb; a $3 gallon of milk yielded just under a pound of cheese, and the kit itself makes 30 batches.

Pizza with our own mozzarella!

I liked the cheese best the day after we made it–fresh mozzarella is a very delicately flavored cheese, and it was a little more developed the next day or so. For several days I’d just pull the ball out of the fridge and cut off a hunk to nibble on. We also made three pizzas in addition to just munching on it. It gives pizza a different texture, sorta, than the shreds you buy at the store–because you really can’t shred it, you have to plunk little pieces down and you don’t get the cheesy mass pizza tends to be. I kind of prefer the cheesy mass on pizza and prefer eating the fresh mozz all by its lonesome, or, when the season changes, with fresh tomatoes and basil.

This time I used 1% milk; next time I’m going to try either 2% or whole and see if that changes anything. If you’ve ever thought about trying to make your own cheese, and you’ve got a friend to help you out or are much more coordinated than I am, you should give this kit a whirl.


Changing Course

coffee filters

Several months ago, I righteously wrote all about the glories of the metal coffee filter. Less trash! Happier earth! More money! No days without coffee because one is out of filters!

Which is all true. Except…truth be told…I didn’t like it. I liked it at first, and figured that the coffee dust that always seemed to make its way into my cuppa joe would somehow miraculously stop. Instead, it actually got worse–I’d have a layer of silty stuff at the bottom of every cup that I’d inevitably somehow drink and of which my stomach was not a fan.

As such I have bid adieu to the metal filter and gone back to my trusty trader joe’s unbleached paper filters. I am tossing each and every one into the compost bin after use, though, so that must count for something!

You say tomato…

Tomatoes 001

Some time ago I mentioned that Mr. Pea and I went to a yardsale where a woman was selling plastic party cups with heirloom tomato seedlings. I thought I’d update you on their progress. This one here is a Purple Cherokee, and he’s huge! He’s gotten really big–the step where he is gets lots of sun and all the rain, so he’s quite happy there. I staked him earlier this week. He’s got three flowers, and they’re different from any other tomato flower I’ve ever seen. I’m so excited to see what the actual fruit will look like. They’re supposed to be among the tastiest tomatoes a girl can grow. We shall see.

Tomatoes 002

This tomato is a striped tomato. Or, it will produce striped tomatoes. It’s a little smaller, though still growing strongly, than its Purple brother. I think it’s because it was on the top step and got a bit of shade from the porch roof. I’ve moved him down to a lower step in hopes that he’ll get more sun. Again, I’m very excited to see these puppies grow.


And for giggles, I thought I’d show you my herb box. Our herb box, I should say. This has been a joint project. Two of the herbs–the rosemary on the end and the thyme in the middle–were plants from last year. We wintered them on the kitchen island, and put them back out on the porch once frosty nights were over. There’s a basil on the end and a parsley that’s growing wild in the center. I keep imagining slivers of basil with sliced purple tomatoes…if that’s not summer, I don’t know what is!

New Blog Finds–Vanilla Garlic

The closer the deadline for my dissertation looms, the harder, it seems, it is to focus. Maybe that’s because so many of the big pieces are done–now it’s just writing the introduction (shudder–it’s what I’m doing right now) and some fast-paced, hardcore editing. So after I write, say, a paragraph, I go in search of something else to do. Today I stumbled on Vanilla Garlic, a hilariously entertaining blog of a cupcake aficionado in Sacramento. This is a fella who made, no joke, BACON cupcakes. Not exactly my cup of tea, but there are some others–the recent Coconut Pineapple Cupcake, for example–that look divine. He gives you step-by-step instructions and tells some hilarious stories, like the one I just read about a pregnant woman hollerating at some nutjob demanding mocha refills at a coffee shop. So if you’re looking to kill a little time, mosey on over. I know I’ll be there for a little while!

Sure, this end looks fineā€¦

Remember how I told you I have the insatiable urge to cut into bread right after it comes out of the oven? And I said (I think) that someday I’d regret it? Well, lesson learned. Despite the delicious way it smells, give the poor thing five minutes out of the oven. Even if you dropped it a bit on one end getting it out of the pan and giving it a bit of a sag. And you just want to nibble that end a little. Resist! Batter bread, because it’s not needed and made from a batter (duh) rather than a dough, doesn’t have a lot of structure. When you knead bread, it produces gluten. Gluten gives the bread shape and structure. Without needing, the structure is more delicate. Kind of like how a cake can be delicate, and I’ve broken a few of those turning them out too soon to prove it.


Anyway, the bread is delcious, and I can slice it from the good end for tonight’s BLTs. You can find the recipe at the Smitten Kitchen. But this loaf is no longer so pretty to look it.


BBQ in the oven


We received this set of barbecue sauces last Christmas from one of Mr. Pea’s cousins. They’re from Stonewall Kitchen (so is this picture, incidentally), which is known for it’s tasty treats from Maine. The other night I used the Maple Chipotle sauce on chicken breasts that I then just popped into a 350-degree oven for a half an hour or so. They were boneless and skinless–the kind that easily dries out when baked–but they were delicious! The sweetness of the maple is really only a hint in the sauce. It’s really, really good, and the chicken stayed incredibly moist. I’ve yet to try the Vidalia Fig (I actually have two bottles of that, so I’d better start using it!) but I’m sure it’s also tasty. In case you’re curious, I sauteed some onions and garlic in a butter/olive oil combination, added 1 c. of brown rice, toasted it, and then added 2 1/2 c. water and let simmer for 45 minutes for a side dish. It would have been better with chicken broth, but with a little salt and pepper it wasn’t bad. But the chicken–and Stonewall’s sauce, in particular–were clearly the stars!

Summer Greens

Here are our seedlings! I bought Mr. Pea this book for his birthday last year after he’d talked about wanting to start a vegetable garden. So far, the process it details is working like a charm. The book has you create a special soil blend, and will eventually result in a special garden box in the yard. In the front are little lettuce seedlings; to the right, green beans; and to the left, zucchini. Tasty. These will go in the yard box, and I’ll grow some tomatoes in some pots on the porch. Seeing how rainy, windy and gross it is today certainly makes me wish for summer.