The last place we lived in New Hampshire was tiny. Tiny tiny tiny. And it had an apartment-sized range. Also tiny. Teeny teeny tiny. I spent our two years there drastically scaling down how and what I cooked. When we moved to Iowa, our new house had a range with a broken oven but a working stovetop. It wasn’t a huge transition for us to get by with the stovetop and a countertop glorified toaster oven-type thing and we had other financial priorities, so we cooked that little countertop guy into the ground.
We finally got a proper range in September and I haven’t stopped telling it and anyone else who will listen how great it is every day since. I’ve been cooking a little fancier lately, because I can now and also because I’m taking a little break from school and it’s left me with both an abundance of free time and a remarkable lack of stress. Food is sort of my default way of filling gaps like that. Food podcasts, meanwhile, have become my default way of filling the need for constant private noise that I get at work when I have long stretches of data entry (I feel like that makes it sound like a bad situation, but long stretches of data entry with my earbuds in is kind of my dream life, actually) so every day I’m coming home with like nine new things I want to try after listening to the entire fascinating history of whatever. It’s all coming together very nicely, that I’m feeling this huge urge to cook a billion things right at the same time that I have a shiny new oven and a ton of free time.
I’ve also been thinking about looking a little closer to home for some of my inspiration. I have all these cookbooks, you see.
And a few others you can’t actually see there. I pretty much never cook from them, aside from How to Cook Everything. And that wouldn’t even be so much of an issue if I didn’t google as much as I do because all the cookbooks are all the way over there!!!! and I am quite happily ensconced over here, thank you. And so my 2018 food goal was born. I’m a horrid over-planner so I’m trying to start out very simply and only add in new rules as the need arises. The plan is basically to start at the beginning of On Cooking — when I changed majors, I kept the culinary textbook with a vague idea of someday actually learning what was in it, and I guess my time has finally come — and just cook my way through it. Since that will involve the occasional vat of tomato sauce or gallon of demi-glace or something, I’m going to be using up whatever such large quantities I end up with in recipes from the other books. I even went and reactivated my Eat Your Books subscription and added everything in to help offset the but they’re over there!!!!! problem. Like some kind of person who’s on top of things.
Up first: crème fraîche.
I’m not very familiar with crème fraîche, so I was happy that the recipe just made a pint. Then I bought a quart of heavy cream and didn’t even think twice about using all of it. So I guess I’m about to get very familiar with crème fraîche. Which is just fine, really, because it was very tasty.
This was so easy to make but I only left out overnight and till late the next morning. Next time I would leave it out quite a bit longer (the recipe says “about 12 to 36 hours” which is exactly the kind of vague, useless instruction I hate in a recipe) because it’s fairly thin, but I wanted it fully chilled in time for dinner on the second night, so I cut the time a little short. I’m sure it would have helped to have a warmer kitchen too, but that’s not something you get to have in Iowa in Winter, OK?
I made a dill sauce and served it over salmon and roasted potatoes last night. This afternoon I drizzled it into a bowl of rice noodles in a quick spicy vegetable stock I threw together for lunch.
Oh, and I spent some time playing with my Christmas present too.
I think we’re going to be very good friends.
Still to come for the crème fraîche: baked apples, testing out the “use it instead of butter in a quick pan sauce” approach, and probably by the end of it at least one attempt at “Idunno, can you put it in coffee?” I mean, I have a quart of it. A quart is a lot, actually.
Today’s challenge was ricotta. Or, the thing you make at home with milk that gets called ricotta even though that isn’t really how ricotta is officially made.
I’m glad I didn’t set up too many rules going into this, because already on the second recipe I would have run into trouble. If I had let myself over-plan I for sure would have gone all “I must make everything EXACTLY AS WRITTEN” and then I would have gotten to the ricotta recipe and not read it closely and not realized until I was making it and my brilliant over-plan would have died like 2 days after it was born.
The recipe in On Cooking calls for fresh lime juice and I bought bottled. I think my brain was in canning mode and thinking about reliable acid levels. When I went to make it I wondered if all the extra stuff in bottled lime juice would affect the quality. I was also planning to start with a gallon of milk instead of a quart and wasn’t sure how to scale the lime juice (12 oz seemed like a lot of lime). So I did some unscientific googling (I know!) and came out of it with 2/3 of a cup of white vinegar for one gallon of milk.
Aside from the lime juice conundrum, I was worried about this recipe on two fronts: I had organic milk and wasn’t sure if it was UHT or not, and, again, my cold-as-hell kitchen. You’re supposed to let the milk come to room temperature before you start. I usually think of room temp as warm-ish, like 60 or 70? But it is absurdly below zero here and I don’t have great windows, so I had to go with the temperature of the actual room the milk was in, which was technically warmer than the refrigerator, and then let the stovetop do the rest. I was a little too far into the whole idea to do anything else at this point anyway.
It worked out.
Since I was scaling up and changing things, I don’t know how much I should have gotten out of this recipe. I also don’t really know how much I did get. Call it a small strainer full of cheese and 4 pickle jars of whey.
The textbook actually says to discard the whey, but that just seems silly to me. Gonna learn how to bake with this is what I’m gonna do. I should probably start with some bread, since the next recipe in line for me is a take on Boursin that says it makes a pound of cheese. (Though it also says it’s good for 4 days, so I think we’ll be scaling that one down.)
And however you want to measure that cheese, it was just enough to make lasagna in my large Pyrex.
I should probably talk a bit about the cheese and the texture and the straining, etc., but…I’m hungry.