Monday, May 23, 2011

Yogurt Cheese

I cannot BELIEVE I went the first 28 years of my life without experiencing this stuff!!! This has to be one of the easiest things I have ever made. Although I suppose I can't even really say I made it, because it virtually makes itself. And Oh My Sweet Lord is it ever DELICIOUS!!! (forgive the excitement, my inner foodie is showing:)

   In life and in the kitchen, I always want to be the sort of person who is willing to give something a try. Acquire a new skill set, try a new food, go to a new place, etc. For awhile now, I have been interested in making my own cheese. It's on my list of 30 Things to Accomplish by my 30th Birthday, which, if you care to look, is on my other blog, So I was Thinking.

  A little while back, I bought a really great cookbook called The Home Creamery, which covers the basics of making several different kinds of dairy products, ranging from yogurt and buttermilk to ricotta and mozzarella cheese, and many things in between. I read the book from cover to cover with the best of intentions, and promptly got too busy with other things to give cheese making a try right then and there. However, I just finished reading an absolutely amazing book entitled *Animal, Vegetable, Miracle* by Barbara Kingsolver, who is probably best known for her novel *The Poisonwood Bible*. *Animal, Vegetable, Miracle* is a work of non fiction wherein Barbara Kingsolver tells the tale of how her family committed to one year of local eating. In other words, her family only consumed foods that were raised and produced locally, or grown on their own farm in Virginia. I cannot tell you how much I loved this book, and how inspirational it was for me. But, more to the point, it put be back in mind of my wish to try my hand at cheese making. In the course of the story, Barbara talks about an incredibly easy form of cheese to make called yogurt cheese. Simply put, you let yogurt drain through cheesecloth into a bowl overnight and then salt it in the morning and you're done, no joke. According to Barbara, yogurt cheese is very similar in consistency and taste to cream cheese, and much healthier. This stirred a vague memory in my head. Wasn't there a yogurt cheese recipe/method in that Home Creamery book? I pulled the book off the shelf and, indeed, there it was. Could it really be that easy? I had an unopened tub of Greek Yogurt in the fridge and a free evening, so, I gave it a go :)

   My friends, I am here to tell you that, yes, it IS that easy, and yes, yogurt cheese is indeed very similar to cream cheese, much better for you, and positively scrumptious :) Before I start gushing again, let me get the recipe down here so you can actually see what it is I'm raving about.

Yogurt Cheese
-recipe and inspiration taken from The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell Kingsley and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Babara Kingsolver.

- 4 cups (1 quart) plain yogurt (I only had a 17oz or approximately two cups container on hand, so that's what I used) For the record, I used Fage 2% milk fat Greek Yogurt. UPDATE: 6/18/11: After several test batches and reading about the experiences of other foodie friends, it is my strong recommendation that you use Greek Yogurt as a base for this Yogurt Cheese. Regular plain yogurt is a little more gloppy, and the finished product doesn't have quite as nice of a flavor or texture. I think this is because Greek Yogurt has already had an initial straining, which means that there is less moisture that has to be strained out, making it easier to achieve that *cream cheese* texture, plus, Greek Yogurt is already tangy. So, by all means, if all you have on hand is regular plain yogurt, go ahead and use that and it'll be fine, but Greek-style plain yogurt is going to give you a much nicer finished product. ANOTHER UPDATE (1/29/13): While paper towels are certainly serviceable, Cheesecloth is MUCH easier to work with in this recipe. It will not hold the moisture the same way paper towels do, so you won't have to change out the cheesecloth the same way you would have to change out the saturated paper towels.
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste

- Line a strainer or colander with a double layer of butter muslin and set in a large bowl. Spoon the yogurt into the muslin and let drain for 30 minutes. See Notes.

        *  Note 1: Butter Muslin is a type of very finely woven cheesecloth available at most kitchen supply stores and on websites that provide cheese making supplies
        * Note 2: I did not have any cheesecloth on hand in my house. So, I substituted two layers of paper towels and lined the strainer with that. Paper towels are much more absorbent than cheesecloth, so the majority of the liquid was absorbed into the paper towels rather than dripping down in the bowl, but the moisture was still drawn away from the yogurt, which was what needed to happen. The only real difference was that I had to switch out the saturated paper towels a few times, but that was no big deal. So, in short, use what you have on hand and it should turn out just fine. In the third photo you can see how much whey has drained away from the yogurt after just 30 minutes.

- After 30 minutes, tie the ends of the butter muslin together (or fold the edges of the paper towel over the yogurt). In the refrigerator, let the yogurt continue to drain into the bowl for 8 to 24 hours, depending on the desired consistency. The longer the yogurt sits, the thicker the yogurt cheese will be. FYI, I let mine chill for about 12 hours. (In other words, you get to walk away and do nothing while the magic happens;)
 ( These next few photos are how the cheese looked after I took it out of the fridge the next morning)

 - Transfer the cheese from the cloth to a medium bowl and stir in the salt. The whey can be saved for other uses if desired. Cover the cheese tightly and refrigerate for up to one week.
As I said above, this cheese was indeed very similar in consistency and taste to cream cheese, and just a tad tangy because the base was Greek-style yogurt. I'm not ashamed to admit that I ate this at virtually every meal until it was gone, and it met universal approval from all the family members that sampled it :)  This would make a great base for tzatziki, or any dip or condiment that might normally call for cream cheese or sour cream or perhaps even mayonnaise. Also, because this cheese has a yogurt base, and people who are lactose intolerant can usually eat yogurt with no ill effect, those who normally abstain from dairy can eat it too! I'll be making this again soon and incorporating it into other recipes and I'll be sure to let you know the results :)

And also, just for the record, yogurt cheese IS good for you. You get all the creaminess of regular cream cheese, plus all the good bacteria from the yogurt, with a sizable reduction in fat,calories, and cholesterol. As you all may or may not know, I do not nickel and dime my food. I refuse to be one of those people who spends all their time counting calories and sees food solely as a numbers game. However, that being said, I do strive to eat healthfully. Whole, unprocessed foods, minimal junk, fruits and veggies, moderation, etc. But, just for curiosity's sake, and so I could actually back up my claims with facts, I compared the nutrition info for regular cream cheese, light cream cheese, and my yogurt cheese. Here's how they stacked up:

Cream Cheese: (serving size, 1oz or approx. 28 grams)
- Calories: 100
- Fat: 9g (Sat. Fat: 6g)
- Cholesterol: 30mg
- Protein: 2g

Light/Reduced Fat Cream Cheese:(serving size: 2tbsp. approx 1 oz or 30 grams)
- Calories: 60
- Fat: 4.5g (Sat. Fat.: 3g)
- Cholesterol: 15mg
- Protein: 2g

Homemade Yogurt Cheese: (serving size: 1/3 cup or approx. 45 grams)
Calories: 50
Fat: 1.5g (Sat. Fat. 1g)
Cholesterol: 5mg
Protein: 6.333
(Full Disclosure Note: I determined the serving size by scooping what I thought was a reasonably normal amount of yogurt cheese into a bowl, weighing it with a food scale, and then spreading it onto my bagel. Simply put, it was the amount I would use, you may use more or less, my desire here was to establish baseline serving as a reference point)

So, as you can see, even from a numbers perspective, Yogurt Cheese wins :) The serving size is bigger, and you have fewer calories, less fat, waaay less cholesterol, and more protein, with no compromise on taste :) I told you this stuff was awesome :)
Go Make It :)


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Olive Oil and Orange Cake

   Hello Friends :) The cake featured in this entry is certainly delicious and different, but we'll get to that in a minute. This poor cake deserves a blog post if only because of how badly I treated it and how well it performed despite my bad treatment. This Olive Oil Orange Cake was originally going to be served at an Italian themed potluck dinner party I was supposed to attend two weeks ago. Unfortunately, that was not to be. The morning of the potluck I was making this cake when I suddenly started to feel very sick. There had been a stomach bug circling around the daycare where I work and I began to fear the worst. My fears were confirmed. Before the cake came out of the oven I was violently ill and was in bed for the rest of the day. The bug was short-lived, lasting only about 24 hours, just long enough to wreck my plans for the day and keep me from attending the dinner party I had been so looking forward to :( Thankfully, I was well again by the next day. My mother decided to save the cake for a later occasion. She put the cake on a plate, wrapped it in a plastic bag, and put it in the freezer, where it stayed for two weeks, until this past Saturday evening when we pulled it out and served it for an informal birthday gathering for my neighbor.

  Holy Cannoli, this cake can take some abuse. After having been frozen for two weeks, it was every bit as moist, dense and full of citrus flavor as I assume it would have been on the day I baked it. It sprang back to life immediately and if I didn't know it had been frozen, there's no way I would have been able to tell the difference. I think several factors contributed to this cake's ability to bounce back. Firstly, it was frozen immediately after cooling, which means it didn't really have any time to get stale. Secondly, as you will see, there is a good bit of olive oil in the recipe (hence the name), which probably also had a hand in retaining the moist quality of the cake.

 The recipe for the cake itself came from *Molto Italiano*,written by one of the rock stars of the cooking world and one of my biggest inspirations, Mario Batali. This book is one of the best Christmas presents I ever received. Mario Batali is an incredibly lyrical writer, very engaging, effortlessly tying food into literature, history, music and art, and the photography is absolutely gorgeous. One of the things I love the most about Batali's recipes is that they are not "Americanized". His food is food that people living in Italy actually eat, nothing watered down or altered. It is Italian food in the very literal sense of the word. The Honey Orange Compote drizzled over the top of the cake is from the always amazing Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

 I really loved this cake. I have no idea why olive oil cakes aren't more popular. The olive oil gives the cakes a lovely, deeply layered flavor and the citrus keeps it bright and fresh. It is a very simple, unfussy dessert. It is just barely sweet and does not need to be dressed up in any way, though you certainly could if you wanted to. It is Mario Batali's recommendation to serve this cake as a late afternoon snack, and I am inclined to agree. It's the perfect post-luch, pre-dinner nosh, the sort of thing that would be served with afternoon tea in other parts of the world. This is a *sitting at the kitchen table chatting with your besties over coffee* kind of cake :) Also, as I indicated above, it freezes well, so it's a perfect make-ahead dessert.

Olive Oil and Orange Cake with Honey Orange Compote

- cake recipe from Molto Italiano by Mario Batali, the compote is based on a Honey and Blood Orange Compote from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

- 6 medium oranges or 3 large oranges (any type of orange can be substituted here, Seville, Blood Orange, etc. Actually, this cake would work with any type of citrus fruit, lemon, grapefruit, or a blend of several, depending on your taste.)
- 1/3rd cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (no need to use anything expensive, as this a baked dessert, any decent brand will do)
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp. baking powder

- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 9-inch round cake pan.
- Using a grater, zest all of the oranges and juice one of the oranges. Reserve the fruit for another use (i.e. in the compote). In a small bowl, combine the zest, juice and olive oil. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the eggs and salt until frothy and light, about two minutes. Slowly beat in the sugar and continue to mix until pale and thick, about two minutes more.
- Sift the flour and baking soda together and gradually beat into the egg mixture. Fold in the citrus zest mixture just until incorproated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool to room temperature. 

- This cake can be dressed up with whipped cream, Greek yogurt or creme fraiche (which is what I used, along with a drizzle of the compote). But honestly, it really doesn't need it. As good as those toppings are, this cake really can stand on its own.  All it needs is a drizzle of the compote and perhaps a light dusting of confectioner's sugar, and it's ready to go :)

Honey Orange Compote
- Juice 1 large orange or 2 small oranges into a bowl. Drizzle in a few tablespoons of honey and whisk together until blended, pour over cake and serve. (This is a very flexible recipe, you can increase or decrease both ingredients to your taste).