Friday, October 29, 2010

Who Cut the Cheese?

Years ago I remember wanting to make homemade marshmallows from a story and recipe in Martha Stewart Living.  I got so much flack for that and even though I never made them, I heard comments for months.  Nobody could believe that I would go to the trouble of making something that was so easily purchased at any store in America.  I'm pretty sure you can buy marshmallows at Walgreens and Texaco.  So why did I want to go to the trouble to make something- by hand- that was so easily purchased in a bag from the gas station?   I don't know, maybe because the processed version SUCK.  Really, unless you are putting them in hot cocoa, topping sweet potato casserole, or making a S'more- those chewy little monster's don't have much flavor and compared to the homemade version their texture is pretty gross.  But I'm getting ahead of myself because, at that point, I had never actually tasted a homemade marshmallow; I just thought they looked like they would taste amazing.  Even today, I have never made a marshmallow.  BUT, I have eaten many a homemade marshmallow made by my absolute FAVORITE foodie place in the America... Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor.  They make marshmallows in two flavors-vanilla bean or rolled in cocoa (my favorite).  They come packaged in a cellophane bag tied with raffia making them seem so wholesome!  While I think they are super-dooper good right out of the bag, Zingerman's Bakery also makes the most amazing graham cracker.  Take a marshmallow, a graham cracker, and a small piece of Vosges chocolate and life doesn't get much better.

Ironic isn't it?  Just a few years ago we were mindlessly living the high-life, innocently eating highly-processed, highly-commercialized, highly-packaged foods.  We thought as long as we chose low-fat foods -we could gorge ourselves on whatever those little elves passed off as "food" and we knew we were eating H.E.A.L.T.H.Y.  All the packaged food got mom out of the kitchen and into life right?  We didn't have to spend all day making spaghetti sauce-we just had to pop open a jar of Ragu, throw a foil-wrapped loaf of garlic bread- straight from the frozen-food aisle- into the oven, quick-wash a head of iceberg lettuce and we were off- on to more exciting things.  The problem is, as we moved away from eating recipes imagined by Great American chefs like our grandmother or great-grandmother, using foods she grew in her garden or bought from a local farmer, we got all caught up in the hype.  Now, don' t get me wrong, some things have changed for the better.  I've heard you shouldn't eat anything your grandmother would not recognize as food but that would mean Kiwi Fruit Pomegranates, and Greek Yogurt would be off limits to this Michigan girl.  Never-the-less we need to stop eating foods from Chefs like Betty Crocker (bless her heart) and Duncan Hines and eat more from Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters.

Slow Food, local foods, local sourcing, clean food, clean eating, fair food- all names for the movement away from the processed and packaged and back to what we used to know as "food".  Michael Pollan has written extensively about the way food in America is processed and this knowledge is not for the faint of heart.  The documentary Food Inc, scared me to death.  Not only do we refine the crap out of everything, we ship foods to hell and back because it is cheaper than processing them locally.  Cheaper not smarter.  The small farmer is barely hanging on because the "factory" farm is taking over.  But with these humongous farms come huge waste lagoons that not only smell so bad you can't get within miles of one, but the lagoons are spilling into our rivers and streams, poisoning us all in an effort to provide the huge amount of cheap food necessary to feed the world as our population continues to grow.  But remember that cheaper isn't always better and you get what you pay for.

 The good news is that people are getting more in touch with knowing where their food comes from.  This means staying local, using local farmer's markets or joining a Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA), and finding local-sourcing butchers and restaurants.  There is a a big movement happening in many cities that calls for ordinances that allow the homeowner to keep a few chickens in her back yard, something Martha Stewart has done for years (and yes I know she has a chicken sitter to care for her coop).  One of my local grocery stores prominently display "Made in Michigan" tags on products.  The Kalamazoo People's Food Co-op is planning a huge new store and Food Dance restaurant offers "farm to table" dining experiences- the chef meets the dinners at the farm, shows everybody the fields and discusses the meal and everybody meets later for the dinner.  These are all steps in the right direction but the food industry is so complex and far too many Americas are apathetic to the problem.
Grapes and Sugar
I am no where near getting a chicken for my backyard (partially because the 7 deer who visit each evening would probably scare the chicken) but I am trying to do my part.  I read labels, make my family eat bread with at least 3 gms fiber per slice and we drink organic milk.  We joined an Organic CSA 5 years ago and while I still hate beets and radishes, Farmer Dale produces the must amazing orange and yellow watermelons.  They are so tasty and so juicy- you can't even imagine until you eat one.  Even his common carrots and potatoes taste so much better than anything you find in the grocery store. You can find a CSA in your area by checking the list kept with by the USDA and don't assume there isn't one near you, you will probably find more than one.
A Lug of Grapes

Waiting for their bath
Several years ago I started making grape juice because I love the taste of the homemade juice that I drank as a child.  It isn't very difficult to make: you need only grapes, sugar, water, jars and a water bath.  That's it.  This year I bought a lug of Concord grapes for about $20.  I had 2 more boxes of jars so I went back and bought several smaller baskets but since they cost almost as much as a lug next year I will probably do two lugs.  I now have 70 quarts of grape juice gestating in the cupboard (it rests for 6 weeks).
The color of the juice as soon as it is taken out of the water bath is already beautiful.  If you have ever canned something you know that the lid must give a little "pop" as the juice cools and the seal forms.  I love hearing that little "pop".
Beautiful Color
Now on to something I can eat right away.   Cheese.  Nothing too complex- just ricotta.  I bought a kit from Whole Foods that came with critic acid, rennet tablets, cheese salt, dairy thermometer, butter cloth, and recipes to make fresh mozzarella and ricotta.  I have been a huge fan of fresh ricotta since I was in college. It tastes nothing like the plastic junk they sell at the grocery store.  Zingerman's makes a fabulous fresh ricotta but since they are two hours away and it doesn't keep long, it is a rare treat.   I also love fresh mozzarella.  I loved the buffalo version until I found out it is made with ACTUAL buffalo milk.  Remember when Jessica Simpson thought buffalo wings came from an actual buffalo?  I thought buffalo mozzarella, like buffalo wings, was just a silly name.  I still eat it but my ignorant carefree days are long gone.  

My kit makes both types of cheese but mozzarella is a tad more labor intensive- what with milking the buffalo and all- so I made ricotta.

All done.  Now the wait….

Just 1/2 gallon of whole milk (my favorite) and 10 minutes and you have fresh cheese.  Heat the milk, critic acid and salt over medium heat, stirring frequently and you will see the curd start to separate.  The cheese is done when it reaches the right temperature.
When the right temp is reached, strain the cheese through the butter cloth and enjoy.  Whether you make juice, cheese, or jus start buying local produce in the summer, I hope you start thinking about what you are eating. 


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