Sunday, February 28, 2010

Say Cheese: Make the Lee Brothers' Buttermilk Cheese at Home

A while ago, my buddy Toby told me his wife Jennifer had found a recipe for me to try: buttermilk cheese.

I was totally on board.  The recipe was from Matt and Ted Lee, two Southern chefs I wholeheartedly dig, and was published by Martha Stewart, whose standards are nothing if not exacting.  Plus, who wouldn't like the idea of making cheese at home?

And whipping up a little batch of cheese was fun.  My turned out a little bland, so next time I'd probably add a bit more salt.  Martha and the Lee boys also suggest variations, including lemon cheese and herb cheese, that would help perk things up a bit.  I will also say that my cheese turned out a little dry, but that could be because I really got into the squeezing-out the-whey step.

Oh, and if you don't have fancy-pants cheesecloth, paper towels will do just fine.

Buttermilk Cheese
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
Line a colander or strainer with a few layers of 12-inch squares of cheesecloth or paper towels.  Set it in the sink.

Combine milk, buttermilk and salt in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan; heat over medium-high heat until mixture has separated into white curds and translucent whey, about 8 minutes. If using lowfat buttermilk, separation occurs at about 180 degrees and the curds will clump together readily. If using whole buttermilk, separation occurs closer to the boiling point, about 212 degrees, and the curds are finer-grained. When using whole buttermilk, let curds and whey stand off heat for about 3 minutes after separation, so the curds cling together and facilitate the straining step.

Ladle the contents of the saucepan into the prepared colander. Let the whey drain, 1 to 2 minutes. Lift the four corners of the cheesecloth and gather them together. Gently twist the gathered cloth over the cheese and press out any excess whey.

Cheese can be unwrapped immediately and served warm.  It can also be cooled to room temperature or refrigerated until cool.   Cheese can be refrigerated up to 2 days. Remove from refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes at room temperature before serving.

The food: Buttermilk cheese
The verdict: The cheese stands alone, in a moderately tasty manner

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sweets for your Sweetie: Salted Chocolate Caramel Bars

Looking for a sweet treat to make your Valentine's Day sweetheart?  May I recommend salted chocolate caramel bars?

Adapted from a recipe on Lisa is Cooking, the bars are like grown-up Twix, with a surprising sprinkle of sea salt.  The creamy chocolate ganache, the chewy caramel and the crunchy shortbread layer are an interesting mixture of textures and tastes.  I think you'll dig them.  And so will your Valentine.

One note: My shortbread fell short of my expectations.  Maybe I baked it too long or didn't add quite enough butter.  In any case, when I was cutting the bars, the crust crumbled and fell away in quite a few spots.  My mom (a genius) called just as I was cutting the bars to take to a party — she suggested I cut them into small squares and serve them in mini-muffin papers to disguise the disfigured underside.  It worked.  Dessert saved.

Another note: The caramel takes forever to make.  I recommend stirring with one hand and holding a good book with the other.

Salted Chocolate Caramel Bars
Shortbread crust:
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar

  • 1 c. (2 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 c. light brown sugar
  • 4 T. light corn syrup
  • 2 14-oz. cans sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate ganache:
  • 8 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
  • 4 T. butter, cut into pieces
  • Sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

For the shortbread, combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Cream butter and sugar, then add in flour mixture.  Press dough into an even layer in the prepared pan.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Cool completely.

For the caramel, combine butter, sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer, stirring constantly, until caramel reaches soft-ball stage (about 245 degrees).  Remove from heat and pour over cooled shortbread crust.  Spread evenly and allow to cool completely.

For the chocolate ganache, combine the butter and chocolate in a large, heat-proof bowl or double boiler.  Heat mixture over simmering water until smooth.  Pour over cooled caramel and spread evenly.  Sprinkle with sea salt.

Once the ganache cools, cut into bars or squares.  Sprinkle again with salt, if desired.

The food: Salted chocolate caramel bars
The verdict: Guaranteed to make your Valentine swoon, whatever that means