Tag Archives | Alex Jones

How to Make Paneer Cheese

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here today to show us how to make homemade paneer cheese with just two simple ingredients – milk and lemon juice! Reading this post immediately makes me crave dairy products! -Marisa

Slices of homemade paneer cheese

We often preserve to capture height-of-season flavors or produce we can’t get for most of the year. But oftentimes in my kitchen, preserving happens in an effort to curb food waste.

That’s how I first learned to make paneer, the springy, fresh cheese that shows up as the protein in some of my favorite Indian dishes. It’s one of the quickest dairy products to make, and also one of the easiest. All you need is milk, lemon juice or vinegar, and a little salt.

Milk and lemon juice for homemade paneer cheese

One of the reasons to make cheese like this is to use up milk that’s right at or even a tiny bit past its sell-by date. Just make sure to give it a good sniff and then use your good sense and best judgment.

That said, when the list is so short, using the best ingredients you can afford is always a good idea.  I source whole raw Ayreshire milk from a small grass-fed dairy here in southeast Pennsylvania, Wholesome Dairy Farms, for both drinking and making value-added dairy products.

Milk separating into curds for homemade paneer cheese.

I find that even when I’m pasteurizing the milk for a recipe, the yields on items like yogurt, whole-milk ricotta, and paneer are higher, and the product just tastes better when I’ve started with raw milk. We’re lucky that raw milk is so available in Pennsylvania. If you can get your hands on it from a reputable source in your state, I recommend doing so, even if you plan to pasteurize it in your recipe.

While we’re heating the milk for this recipe far past the pasteurization point, it’s still a good idea to remember that the very young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems carry a greater risk when consuming unpasteurized milk products.

Pressing the homemade paneer cheese.

To start your cheese, pour one half gallon of milk into a four-quart, heavy-bottomed pot (I use my enameled Dutch oven). Heat the milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and feeling along the bottom of the pot with your spoon to make sure that it isn’t scorching. Keep a close eye on the pot so that it doesn’t boil over.

You want to get to a little below the boiling point, about 200oF. You can use an instant-read or milk thermometer for this, or you can watch for when tiny bubbles start to form on the surface of the milk. When you see the bubbles, immediately remove the pot from the heat.

Pressed homemade paneer cheese in the strainer.

Once you’ve reached the proper temperature, stir in lemon juice. This will cause the milk solids to immediately begin separating out. As the milk sits, the solids will continue to coagulate.

Strain the curds, then press out the remaining liquid in cheesecloth or butter muslin (I prefer butter muslin for home cheesemaking since it’s washable and reusable; cheesecloth is one-time use only). Press and refrigerate the cheese for at least a half an hour or overnight.

Homemade paneer cheese, unwrapped from the butter muslin.

Once the cheese is full drained, unwrap the bundle. Now you’re ready to add chunks of paneer to a curry or other dish, or — my favorite — fry slices up in some ghee and enjoy them with flaky sea salt and maybe a dollop of tomato jam or a slab of quince paste.

Bits of fried homemade paneer cheese.

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How to Make Beet Raisins

Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops in to show us how to simmer and dry beet slices into beet raisins. It’s a great project for this in-between time, when we’re waiting for spring produce to arrive! -Marisa

Small slices of beets on a dehydrator tray will become beet raisins.

I’m not much of a cooking competition show watcher. The exceptions are the original Japanese Iron Chef, which I followed voraciously back in high school, The Great British Baking Show (of course), and a brief foray into MasterChef Junior — all shows that avoid the cutthroat, stressful nature of most reality TV.

So I can’t really blame myself for not knowing about beet raisins, with which chef Carrie Baird of Denver’s Bar Dough wowed the judges during an episode of Top Chef last year.

Cut beets on a cutting board for beet raisins.

A poster on the Food in Jars Community Facebook group mentioned them recently, and I was instantly fascinated. Beets are the kind of veggie I always wish I used more often. Now that I have an Instant Pot, it’s easy to quickly prep a bunch for a week of salads, but that’s as about as creative as I’ve gotten with them lately.

And while I’m waiting for the ever-so-slow unfolding of spring here in Philly, farmers’ market stands still have tons of sturdy storage beets in red and gold, harvested months ago. With strawberries still weeks away and grapes for actual raisins not available until high summer, I had to try this recipe.

Cut and peeled beets for beet raisins.

Baird’s recipe calls for melon balling the raw beets into uniform spheres, which is far more work than I wanted to put in. (A melon baller is also not one of the many culinary tools in my kitchen, and if I’ve managed to avoid getting one for this long, it’s not gonna happen now.)

So I peeled and trimmed my organic red beets, then halved them and cut each halves into five roughly equal slices, about half an inch thick and an inch or so long — cutting the pointy end, then slicing the remainder into quarters.

Cut beets in a pot that will become beet raisins.

Slices rather than balls also reduces waste, giving you more beet raisin for your buck. (My cuts gave me larger pieces in the end; if you want something more raisin-sized, do cuts closer to 1/2″ all around and cut the drying time.) The slices went into a pot with vinegar, sugar, water, and a pinch of salt.

Baird uses champagne vinegar, which you’re welcome to do; I used apple cider vinegar, because that’s what I had on hand (and I’m not trying to win a high-stakes cooking competition).

The slices simmered till they were very soft but not disintegrating, about two hours. Then, I drained the liquid — which you could use to make salad dressing, or add a little more salt and use it to quick-pickle some thinly-sliced hakurei turnips, for example — and let the slices cool for a bit.

Side view of beet slices on a dehydrator tray for beet raisins.

The cooked beet “grapes” then went into my Excalibur dehydrator at at 135oF, which is the setting recommended for fruit. After two hours, the beets were showing signs of dehydration, but their texture was still more like beets than raisins.

I upped the temperature to 145oF, which is the temperature I include in the recipe below. The beets took another three hours or so until they were sufficiently raisinlike for me to pull them out — next time, I might just turn the dehydrator up all the way to 155oF and see if that helps to shorten the dehydration time without overdrying.

When I did, they were wrinkly, chewy and toothsome, and pleasantly sweet and a little tart — just like real raisins! They’re super snackable and would be delicious in a bowl of yogurt with granola, or on a kale salad, as Baird served them on Top Chef. I could also see using them to top a tzatziki-esque cucumber salad along with lots of dill, toasted slivered almonds, and a pillowy pita.

Finished beet raisins in a small bowl.

They’re not quite as simple as stemming grapes and tossing them onto a dehydrator rack, but I’ll definitely be making these beet raisins again. Would you give them a try? Tell us in the comments!

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Getting Your Kitchen Ready for Spring

An unorganized freezer

Where I am, it feels like spring has sprung — about three weeks early for the calendar, but after the crazy severe winter we’ve had, I’ll take it. Winter aconite and snowdrops are blooming, the days are getting longer, and I had to take off two of my four layers while walking around downtown Philly earlier this week.

Part of me doesn’t feel quite ready for spring and everything it brings — prepping the garden, starting seeds, lots of cleaning — and another part of me can’t wait to walk around outside in a tank top and dig in the dirt.

To help ease the transition into spring, I’ve been making a mental list of the tasks I’ll tackle around my kitchen in the coming weeks. Every year, organizing the freezer — the one on top of my fridge and my apartment-sized chest freezer — is on the list.

 

In a short burst of activity, I took the initiative to tackle the upright freezer. I admit that I didn’t defrost and fully clean it, but I was short on time and eager to make a little progress and get the clutter out, so I did a quick cull and organize — it took all of 15 minutes, but made me feel accomplished and life a little tidier.

When I do a deep dive into the freezers, I always discover forgotten treasures I can add into my meal planning and some, er, missed opportunities that are long overdue for a trip to the compost bucket.

I found a pack of ground lamb from a friend’s farm that I had forgotten about, plus some freezer-burned smoothie berries from at least 2 summers ago…and a bag of cherry tomatoes from (yikes) 2015. Also discovered: Dried mushrooms a friend had given me at least five years ago, an ancient handful of pistachios, and nearly unrecognizable roasted jalapeños also went into the compost.

What was left? Lots of ice packs (I like to have an easy-to-grab stash for cheese events, but there were way too many in there), frozen pastured meats, 2017-edition current bagged veggies, ginger and turmeric, stock makings (leek tops and celery), whole wheat tortillas (they were on sale), and a tub of the best pumpkin puree, a reminder to make one last batch of brown butter pumpkin muffins before the weather turns.

The freezer’s cluttered door shelves looked much tidier, with containers of tomato broth, frozen bananas, cheesemaking cultures, and both sweet cream and cultured butter sitting upright with a bag of chipotle peppers and a few veggie dumplings. (Please don’t judge my Wawa coffee — it was purchased on Christmas morning last year so that my partner and I could survive the holiday in a caffeine-free household, and I decided we’d keep it for emergencies.)

The tomato broth and one of the bags of lima beans will go into a soup with some parmesan rinds and maybe some orzo or Israeli couscous before the weather gets much warmer, and I’ll use the other bag with the sweet corn and roasted poblanos (they’re in there too), a jar of tomatillo sauce, and chicken thighs to make a chunky green chili. Don’t you love shopping your own freezer?

Here are a few of the other tasks I’ll take care of as the season changes so that I’m ready for a delicious season of cooking and preserving:

  • Deep-cleaning the stove top (including behind the dials)
  • Culling, cleaning, and organizing the chest freezer (I need to devote a day to this one)
  • Performing a ruthless KonMari of my pantry — I have cans of fava beans in there from 2011 that I somehow haven’t been able to make myself throw away
  • An inventory of both full and empty jars in my canning closet
  • Getting rid of the bottles I never use on top of the fridge and deep cleaning that surface
  • Selling or giving away kitchenware I never use

What are some of the ways you get your kitchen ready for spring (and the forthcoming canning season)?

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How to Make Meyer Lemon Confit

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is dropping in today with a brilliant idea for how to make lemon confit. These oil-poached lemon slices produce both deeply infused olive oil and tender slivers of lemon, ready to be chopped and stirred into braises, vinaigrettes, and batches of hummus. I am planning on starting a batch of my own immediately. -Marisa

A grouping of lemons on a kitchen towel for lemon confit

Every winter, I look forward to my box of tart, aromatic sunshine from Lemon Ladies Orchard, which I first learned about thanks to Marisa’s devotion to them on this very blog.

Sometimes I ask for it as a Christmas gift and spend the week between the holidays happily preserving. But this year, I ordered up a five-pound box of their gorgeous, organic Meyer lemons to brighten things up during the long midwinter stretch in February.

Sliced lemons for lemon confit

So far, I’ve preserved lemons in salt, made lemon syrup (the classic Joy of Cooking lemonade concentrate recipe that my mom made when I was a kid is my favorite), infused vinegar with the excess peels, and dehydrated several racks of thin slices to pop in my herbal tea till these precious lemons come into season next year.

I’ve reserved a handful for lemon bars and maybe a mini batch of velvety lemon curd, too. But I really wanted to try something new this year, maybe something savory. This Los Angeles Times compilation of 100 ways to use Meyer lemons — intended to ease the burden on Californians blessed with a backyard citrus bounty — offered an idea I’d never tried before: Meyer lemon confit.

Sliced lemons in a pot for lemon confit

You’ll often see salt-preserved lemons referred to this way (“confit” comes from the French word “confire,” meaning to preserve, so it makes sense). But this method preserves the lemons in fat — olive oil, to be precise. Slice the lemons, cover with oil, and cook them at the barest simmer over very low heat for an hour.

The olive oil is infused with a heady combination of brightness from the lemon oil, tartness from the juice, and a bitter undertone from the pith. The lemon itself becomes milder, the peel tender — almost like salt-preserving the lemon, minus the long wait and without the overpowering saltiness.

Lemon confit cooking at a bare simmer
Scoop out the oil and use it in salad dressings or marinades, then top the veggies with finely-diced pieces of lemon. Puree the mixture with fresh herbs and use as a dip for crusty, fresh bread or pita. Chop the thin-skinned lemons and toss them with steamed red potatoes and herbs in a vinegary potato salad, or rub minced lemons on chicken thighs before roasting. I bet you could add a whole new dimension to a lemony olive oil cake with this infused oil, too.

Two jars of lemon confit

You could take this preparation a step further and make variations with other flavors: add herbs like thyme or rosemary, or maybe a bundle of parsley stems; another option could be bay leaves and black peppercorns.

While this recipe can’t be canned, your lemon confit will keep for at least two weeks in the fridge (or months in the freezer), so you can add a lush, lemony note to dishes long after Meyer lemon season has ended. How are you preserving Meyer lemons this winter to last all year long?

How to Make Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Confit

Ingredients

  • 6 organic Meyer lemons
  • Olive oil to cover (around 2 cups)
  • Optional: herbs and spices like black peppercorns, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, or parsley stems

Instructions

  1. Wash and dry the lemons, then halve lengthwise and cut into slices between 1/4" and 1/2". Put the slices in a heavy-bottomed medium-sized pot or saucepan. Add good olive oil (it doesn't have to be extra virgin) to cover the lemon slices.
  2. Heat the mixture under the lowest possible heat for one hour. You're looking for a slow simmer — the occasional lazy bubble — but want to avoid a full simmer.
  3. When time's up, remove the pot from the heat. As soon as the mixture is cool, seal in jars, label with the date, and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
http://foodinjars.com/2018/03/how-to-make-meyer-lemon-confit-olive-oil/

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How to Make Crispy Shiitake Mushroom Snacks

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops by to offer a delicious DIY snack – crispy shiitake mushrooms! I wish I had a batch to nibble right now! -Marisa

bowl fo shiitake mushrooms

I consider myself incredibly lucky to work alongside sustainable farmers and food producers here in southeast Pennsylvania. This community has changed my life for the better in more ways than one: it’s given me work, purpose, inspiration, and an education around food and agriculture.

And, of course, there’s the ability to share in the bounty that comes along with running a CSA or working a farmers’ market.

I’ve written about my friends at Primordia Farm before — they’re a first-generation clan of mushroom farmers and foragers, growing beautiful fungi high on Hawk Mountain in Berks County, right near the Appalachian Trail. And with them as my farmers’ market neighbors, I’m lucky to have access to delicious, immaculately grown mushrooms year-round.

While there are a million recipes you can make with the mushrooms they grow — shiitake, maitake (also known as hen of the woods), royal trumpet, lion’s mane — my favorite preparations tend to be the simplest, making the most of the unique textures and flavors that these fascinating organisms bring to the kitchen.

Sure, you can sautée or roast up a batch of just about any mushroom in butter, olive, or coconut oil and it’ll be tasty. But I’m the only mushroom eater in my household — so if I don’t have a specific dish in mind for my fungi, I tend to turn them into one on of my favorite kinds of food: crunchy, crispy, salty snacks.

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Preserves in Action: Kimchi Noodle Soup

Need something spicy, flavorful, and warming? Alex Jones is here with a recipe for a tasty batch of soup that will help you make good use of that jar of kimchi you’ve got tucked in the back of the fridge! Yum! -Marisa

Throughout my preserving life, I’ve realized that I use some things all the time — pressure-canned tomatoes, stock and beans, dried herbs and Meyer lemon slices, frozen peak-season fruit. And others, like high-sugar jams, I don’t use much of at all.

As I go along each season, I try to learn from what I end up giving away or not enjoying so that I can maximize my food dollars, avoid waste, and devote space in my fridge and pantry to items I’ll actually eat.

When I found myself with two huge napa cabbages in my fridge two falls ago, I made a massive batch of kimchi (using the excellent recipe from Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking). After giving several jars away at the Philly Food Swap, I still had a gallon left. And while I’ve added it to rice bowls and eaten it on the side with scrambled eggs, two big jars still sit in the back corner of my fridge.

One of my intentions for the new year is tokeep my fridge slightly less jam-packed than it usually is — which includes using up good preserves that I sometimes ignore. Luckily, there’s an excellent Korean dish — kimchi-guk — that turns this pungent condiment into a delicious, warming soup.

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