Friday, July 22, 2011

Homemade pizza with friends.

I know I am terribly late with this one. But here it is in all its glory. Freshly posted from Yuma, AZ! (BTW it was 118 here yesterday) It's too dang hot.

If there is one thing I have learned over the past 17 and a half years in the military is that you have to make friends quickly, because you never know when you, or them, are going to have to leave abruptly. We have had the pleasure of making many friends over those years. Last Saturday night we invited over just such a set of friends. The time has come for them to move on to better things. After only knowing them for such a short period of time they have become close friends to both my wife and I. The military decided it was in it's best interest for me to leave for a couple of weeks for some training, and while I am gone they will be moving on to their new home.

So we had them over for a family style dinner at the house for me to see them off before I left. Isn't that what dinner is for anyways? Getting together with family and friends, to break bread with those that are closest to you? Dinner is not supposed to be done in a car, or on the fly, or picked up and brought home only to have everyone grab their "bag" and run off to watch TV and eat alone. I think this is a part of a greater problem in America today. Every once in a while as a treat is one thing, but too many of us are doing it on a more frequent basis. Ease and convenience has taken the place of quality and meaningful. More people need to bring dinner back to the dinner table. Sad, but enough of my ranting.

The meal consisted of homemade pizza and homemade watermelon sorbet. The pizza was a hit, but the sorbet was, well lets just say that I didn't make very much and there was some left over at the end of the night. The texture of the sorbet was perfect but the watermelon i used wasn't very sweet. I think next time I'm going to make strawberry sorbet. Or try to find a sweeter watermelon. Although I guess you don't really know until you open it.

It was a bittersweet evening. I am happy to see them move on to bigger and better things but sad to see them leave. They are wonderful friends and I hope they find everything they are looking for up in the great white north. We are going to miss you #22. Oh, and I suppose the rest of the Easons as well. God speed my friends.

The good thing about homemade pizza is everybody gets exactly what they want on the pizza. We included toppings like hamburger, onions, green peppers, olives, pineapple, pepperoni, extra cheese. Anything will do. Here is the homemade dough recipe we used. I used a triple batch and was a little short for the amount of pizzas we made so I would say at least 1.5 batches per family eating. Throw one some of your favorite sauce and then let your imagination run wild.

Ingredients for dough

1 1/2 cups warm water (105°F-115°F)
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) of active dry yeast (check the expiration date on the package)
3 1/2 cups bread flour (can use all-purpose but bread flour will give you a crisper crust)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar


1 In the large bowl of a heavy duty electric mixer (such as a Kitchen Aid), add the warm water. Sprinkle on the yeast and let sit for 5 minutes until the yeast is dissolved. Stir to dissolve completely if needed at the end of 5 minutes.

2 Mix in the olive oil, flour, salt and sugar on low speed for about a minute. You can use a dough hook for the mixing. Knead using the mixer and dough hook, on low to medium speed, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If you don't have a mixer, you can mix and knead by hand. If the dough seems a little too wet, sprinkle on a bit more flour.

3 Place ball of dough in a bowl that has been coated lightly with olive oil. Turn the dough around in the bowl so that it gets coated with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit in a warm place (75-85°F) until it doubles in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or several hours longer, a longer rise will improve the flavor). If you don't have a warm spot in the house you can pre- an oven for about 2 min and then place the bowl in there. Dont forget to turn off the oven after preheating for a few minutes or risk melting your bowl or baking the dough early. (Don't ask how I know this.)

Here is my dough risen, doubled in size and ready to be pucnched down and rolled out.

Preparing the Pizzas

1 Place a pizza stone(or baking sheet if you dont have a stone) on a rack in the lower third of your oven. Preheat the oven to 450°F for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour.

2 Remove the plastic cover from the dough and punch the dough down so it deflates a bit. Divide the dough in half. Form two round balls of dough. Place each in its own bowl, cover with plastic and let sit for 10 minutes.

3 Have your prepared toppings ready to add to your pizza. Remember, many toppings will make for a soggy crust in the middle so don't over do them.

4 Working one ball of dough at a time, take one ball of dough and flatten it with your hands on a slightly floured work surface. Starting at the center and working outwards, use your fingertips to press the dough to 1/2-inch thick. Turn and stretch the dough until it will not stretch further. Let the dough relax 5 minutes and then continue to stretch it until it reaches the desired diameter - We made mostly individual pizzas about 6 inches across but you can make these almost any size. About 12-14 would be the largest.

5 Brush the top of the dough with olive oil (to help prevent it from getting soggy from the toppings).

Repeat for as many pizzas as you are making.

6 Lightly sprinkle whatever you are using to transfer your pizza to the stove with corn meal, otherwise its going to make it difficult to transfer. If the dough has loses its shape in the transfer, lightly shape it to the desired dimensions.

7 Now the fun part. Build the pizza. Sauce, cheese, toppings. Toppings, sauce, cheese. However you want it!

8 Sprinkle some cornmeal on the baking stone in the oven (watch your hands, the oven is hot!). Gently try to see if the dough will easily slide, if not, gently lift up the edges of the pizza and add a bit more cornmeal. Slide the pizza off of the peel and on to the baking stone in the oven. Bake pizza one at a time until the crust is browned and the cheese is golden, about 10-15 minutes. If you want, toward the end of the cooking time you can sprinkle on a little more cheese.

Here is some of the making process (my wife had the great idea to make stuffed crust pizzas) All she did was roll some cheese in the edge of the dough during the shaping process. Creativity is part of the fun!

The building process and enjoying some of the finish products.

The possibilities are endless. Forget all those chain restaurants. Why call for delivery when you can do it yourself. Call your friends, call your family, get everyone together and have a build your own pizza night! It's worth all the extra time and trouble. Not only have you produced for your family and friends but you know exactly what has gone into all the ingredients. I would love to hear about you experience. Fill me in on your homemade pizza night via comments or email. Stay tuned. I will post the sorbet instructions in my next post. See y'all then.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to make Mozzarella Cheese

Well we are finally home after a wonderful vacation. It was great to see most of my Kansas family. All good things must come to an end however.

So here begins our trip into self sufficiency. I've always loved tinkering in the kitchen. Usually for family evening meals. Sometimes those tinkerings are successful, other times(as my family can attest) they are not. For the most part though I would consider myself an average cook.

Then I began to experiment with things that came from the store that I though I could produce myself, cheaper and with less preservatives. It is then, when a majority of these experiments turned out so well, that I began to delve deeper into the world of self sufficiency. Which brings us to my current posting, making your own cheese. Would you have ever imagined you could make your own cheese in the comfort of your kitchen without any major special equipment? I didn't. This follow instructions will show you how to make a tasty mozzarella cheese that's ready to eat in about an hour. This cheese does not have a cure time like some of the harder cheeses, cheddar, parmesan or cheeses of that nature. For the price of one gallon of milk you can produce 4 to 5 fresh mozzarella balls which would run you about 15 to 20 bucks from the store. You're excited aren't you? I was. Without further ado here was the process I went through to make my own cheese. This is a long post but I tried to explain it in a little more detail than what was provided to me to help alleviate some missteps that I took that prevented a successful batch. Leave a comment if you attempt this. If it works or not. If not I may be able to help with some trouble shooting tips but I would love to hear how it turns out either way.

So what does it take to make your own homemade mozzarella? Well, you will need a few items you are not going to have in the average kitchen cabinet, or refrigerator. Namely, liquid rennet(also found in tablet form but not as effective) and lipase powder. Both are a type of enzyme naturally found in animals or their milk(respectively). The rennet is used to actually curd the milk and lipase, naturally found in the milk, is lost during the pasteurization process which is why we need to add some during our cheese making process. The lipase is optional and is only a flavoring preference. You can try this with and without the lipase to see which you prefer.

Beyond those two items you may or may not have in your kitchen(I’m not sure why you would unless you are already making cheese) is the last of the "odd" ingredients. Powdered citric acid. Found in most canning sections of your local grocery store. If you cannot find any of these locally, as I couldn't, you can order them online at a variety of cheese making supply websites. After you have secured these items the rest of what you will need should already be found in your kitchen, or can be grabbed quickly from a local grocer. They include 1 gallon of milk, more on choosing the type and brand of milk in a minute. You will need a sifter for straining. It needs to be a wire mesh sifter as the normal colander holes are too big to catch the loose curds. A candy thermometer, or small meat thermometer. Actually, any sort of thermometer that can be used to detect temperature ranges of 80 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit should work just fine. You will also need a few measuring cups and a few teaspoons, a large long knife, a microwave, a microwave safe bowl, and last but not least a large pot. About the only stipulation here is to make sure it’s not aluminum. Now that we have all the required gear let’s get to it.

1. Choosing the milk.

My preference is whole milk, hands down. But the following recipe will work for reduced fat milks, e.g., 1%, 2%, or skim. Its not the fat content that makes the cheese but it does add to the flavor. Also you must look for pasteurized milk instead of ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurization takes the milk to too high of temperature so that milk can be moved over longer distances and have a longer shelf life, but kills almost all the beneficial bacteria in the milk that makes cheese. Look for milk that is shipped locally to your grocery store. Or as close as possible. Some of the generic brands of milk use a practice of taking milk during pasteurization to just under the ultra-pasteurization temperature to get a longer shelf life without having to label it as ultra-pasteurized. Good for them, bad for us home cheese makers. The closer the milk is to its source the better chance you have of not having the almost ultra-pasteurized milk, and the curd not setting up during the first heating process.

2. Getting ready.

You are going to want to set out the measuring cups. Fill 1 cup with cool water and add and dissolve 1 and 1/2 tsp of citric acid. With a 1/4 cup fill with cool water and put 1/2 tsp of lipase powder and dissolve(if you've decided to use it). If you are using a tablet form of rennet dissolve 1/2 tab into a 1/4 cup of cool water at this time. If you are using liquid rennet do not do this step. After that is fully dissolved set your pot on the stove and pour in your gallon of milk. Some wait for the milk to warm up to about 50 degrees on its own but you do not have to.

3. Time to make the cheese!

Start by pouring in the dissolved citric acid and lipase(if chosen) and give the milk a good stirring. Approximately 1 min. Turn your burner on low and begin to heat the milk. You are taking the milk to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You want to do this slowly. A good reference would be about 10 degrees every 5 min or so. The more slowly the less chance of burning anything and by slowly stirring during this process you are making sure of no "hot pockets" in the milk, and that it heats evenly throughout.

4. Remove pot from stove.

Once the milk reaches 90 degrees remove from the burner and let sit. Quickly dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of your liquid rennet into 1/4 cup cool water. If you used lipase powder you may need to add a little more rennet. About an additional 1/4 teaspoon. Add dissolved rennet to the milk and again slowly stir for about a minute making sure the rennet is fully mixed into the milk. Now put a lid on the pot and let it sit completely undisturbed or moved for 10 min.

5. Check the curd.

All the Little Miss Muffet jokes aside, it's now time to check the curds and whey. After the 10 min wait you should now see a separation in the milk. The white looking curd, and a sort of greenish, clear looking whey. The curd should be on top of the whey. It should resit being pressed into with your finger. On the edge of the pot, pull some of the curd towards the center and see if there is a good clean break between the curd and the whey. If not give it another 10 min undisturbed and check it again. It should be set up at this time.

6. Cutting the curd.

Now you are ready to cut the curd. Take your long knife and cut across the curd all the way to the bottom of the pan making about 1 inch squares of curd. Set the pot back on the stove and turn the burner back on low and heat the curd and whey to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, at the same rate you initially raised the temp to 90 degrees. Slowly stir during the second heating process once or twice. The curd should begin to get a little firmer as the temperature rises. Do not overheat. It is very important not to go over 110 degrees or the curd will fall apart and you will not get the consistency you are looking for.

7. Drain off the whey.

Using your wire mesh strainer, scoop out the curd and let it drain in the strainer for a couple of seconds and the put the strained curd into a microwave safe bowl. Continue this step until all the curd is the bowl. Drain off any excess whey at this point. (My later articles will tell you what you can do with the whey but for now...) If you are not saving the whey pour it down the drain.

8. Now the fun part.

Take the bowl and microwave it for 45 seconds. Pour off any whey that shows up. Knead the curd a little by hand and pour off any whey that comes out. Put the bowl back in the microwave and reheat for 20 seconds. Pour off the whey and knead the curd again. The temperature of the curd should be 135 degrees. Almost too hot to handle. Continue to knead the curd like you would bread. Folding it over and kneading continually, if need be reheat in microwave for 15 seconds at a time. At this point if the curd is hot enough it will be to stretch, and stretch and stretch some more. This is what makes it mozzarella. Continue kneading, and stretching and folding until the cheese resembles the mozzarella you know and love.

9. Cheese.

Now knead it into a ball. And there you have it. A fresh mozzarella ball. This can be eaten immediately or stored for up to 2 weeks. Same as the milk would have been. So note the date on the milk carton if you saving for later.

10. Storing.

If you are planning on storing the cheese for later use get another large bowl and fill it with ice water. Stir it around to cool off the water to just above freezing and then sink your mozzarella balls into it. This will cool the cheese rapidly and will hold the shape better while its waiting to be consumed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A long relaxing week.

It seems I am already falling behind on my goals to post here once a week. Although I think Im just going to make it under my deadline with this post. I intend to post on Sundays, with a new tip or trick for helping you find ways to make yourself more self sufficient. This week, while relaxing(we are on vacation visiting family), was a full week. In addition to having a birthday, I also celebrated my 15th wedding anniversary. Has it really been 15 years?!? Where has the time gone? I guess its true, time does fly when you are having fun.

I did get a couple of books for both my birthday and anniversary. I intend to post reviews on all of them here considering most are along the lines of self sustainment. I have already finished the first book. Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper: What Not to Do When Keeping Bees (with Apologies to My Own) This is an interest of mine, call it a hobby that I am not actually participating in yet. Although I suppose it is good to read up on a subject before jumping into it. "Confessions..." was a good book. Mr. Turnbull really does confess some of the things new beekeepers should try to avoid and does so with a good sense of humor added into the book. It doesn't read like an instruction manual which is a change from quite a few of the books I have been reading lately, so it was a welcome change. He does go off on a few tangents that are not beekeeping related and some of it does drag out a bit, but if you are looking to learn a few things NOT to do if you are thinking of starting up beekeeping this would be a good book to read.

Well there you have it, the latest update. Although it seems my only 2 faithful followers are my wife of 15 years, love ya babe, and my mother of 36 years(Thanks for the support you two) would already know whats in this update. Next week its back to the grindstone for me. Having come home for this vacation has relit my fire to come back here after I leave the military. I am more anxious than ever to bring to an end a very fruitful career and begin my next one, which hopefully includes a homestead and this blog.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why I started this blog.

So what is the purpose of this blog? Well it is actually two fold. First and foremost it is a place to share my ideas about producing your own food while not actually living on a farm. A place where I can show what has worked for me. A place where a community of people that are sick and tired of unknowingly being subjected to whatever chemicals and genetically altered food "The Fed" deems acceptable to consume, can talk about how to start producing some of their own. If you have stumbled upon this blog and do not know what I am talking about or, if you are unsure if it is worth the effort I reccomend watching this video. Food, Inc.

That one single video open my eyes to alot of shady stuff that is going on out in the commercial farming industry. From overcrowded and not very well maintained chicken farms for companies like Tyson, to genetically altered plants like soybean and corn. There isn't much you can get in the big name grocery stores that is not affected by this. Now, I am not a doomsday sayer. I am pretty sure Monsanto isn't going to take over the world or our food supply. Although I will admit it is possible.

So if you cut out the genetically altered fresh fruits and veggies, and you remove all the steroid and hormone pumped chicken and beef whats left to eat? All of the pre-packaged frozen foods stuffed with preservatives, or your other option of Fast Food, and we all know how good that is for you. Fast food is part of the reason our commercial farmers began some of the bad practices they did in the first place.

Our food supply has been tampered with. Make no mistake about it. The FDA says its safe to eat, but the more we look into it the more, and more I am not so sure.

Together as a community we can start taking back what actually goes into our bodies. Sure we can't all have cows and pigs in our back yards, but we all can grow a tomato plant, we can all have an indoor basil plant. You can do it too. I hope you all will find this blog to be helpful in whatever it is you are looking to produce. If there is anything you have questions about or would like to see a post on feel free to contact me.