The crazy food preservation day: How to cold smoke cheese (and almonds)

I nearly worked myself into a frenzy after last night’s post thinking about all the things I need to get done before I leave for an out-of-state conference in just over a week.  There’s so much to do!  But I am happy to say that after a full day in the kitchen, I managed to knock out a lot of the food preservation that needed to happen this weekend.  I smoked a ton of cheese (and almonds!), and shot the video (see below).  I also dealt with all those pears and made some pear preserves.  Sadly, some of the pears were beginning to rot.  The good news in all that, though, is 1) I was actually relieved I didn’t have to deal with the entire lot of pears and 2) the chickens benefited tremendously from eating those rotting pears–they were some happy girls!  I also made some pizza dough (for tomorrow night’s dinner) and garlic scape pesto–to be used on the pizza dough that is tomorrow night’s dinner.  Granted, my feet and legs were achy by the end of the day, and I was so tired that I only ate popcorn for dinner, but it was a very good, productive day at the urban farmstead!

Now, about the cheese and almonds…

If you’ve never smoked your own cheese and almonds, my friends, it is high time you consider doing it.  It’s so easy!

Smoking cheese is done via a cold smoking process, which means you do not add any heat while the cheese is exposed to the smoke, unlike smoking meats which is usually done over heat so that the meat cooks while it smokes.  There are a variety of ways to cold smoke, but I use a 12″ tube smoker that holds wood pellets, and I simply set it on the rack in my BBQ grill.  You can see in the video how easy it is to set up your grill as a smoker.  One thing you have to keep in mind while smoking cheese: outside air temperature–if it is warm, say 80 or 90 degrees F, your cheese will melt.  Smoking cheese is best done on a cool day (40 – 60 degrees is optimal).  Even if it is not hot enough outside to melt your cheese, if it is too warm, all the oils will sweat out of the cheese and pool on the surface of your cheese blocks, similar to how the oil pools on top of your pizza cheese.  This is no bueno.  So only smoke your cheese on a nice, cool day, preferably out of direct sunlight, too (the added heat from the sunlight could cause your cheese to sweat and/or melt).

Smoking cheese takes some time, so allow 4-5 hours for the process.  I typically smoke my cheese for 3-4 hours, and I flip my cheese over halfway through so that the smoke coloration and flavor is evenly distributed on my cheese blocks.  I have been using apple wood as my smoke flavor, but there are lots of options out there: cherry, mesquite, hickory, oak, alder, pecan…the list goes on.  Here are a couple of references that can inform you on which wood you choose: a chart and a blog.

Once your cheese has been smoked, it needs to cure for a few weeks in order to temper the smoked flavor and also to allow it time to work its way deep into the cheese.  In order to do this, and to keep your cheese from spoiling, you’ll need to vacuum pack your cheese.  The vacuum sealer is just one other tool that I use heavily in my food preservation regimen, so if you don’t have one, it’s something to consider.  I only recently–within the last year or two–added a vacuum sealer to my fleet of kitchen tools.  But I love it and I use it regularly.  And if you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, they aren’t all that expensive, either.

Smoking almonds isn’t quite the process as cheese, because you don’t have to let them cure afterwards–you can pop them right into your mouth once they cool!  Almonds don’t have to be cold smoked, but I do it this way because it makes sense to me to use the smoke as efficiently as possible, and I have the space on my grill to do it.  Before smoking almonds, you will want to soak them for a few minutes in a fairly strong brine solution.  Today I used 3 cups almonds in 3 cups water with 3 teaspoons of salt.  Let the almonds soak for 10 or 15 minutes, then drain the brine and spread the almonds on a baking sheet.  After cold smoking, you will need to put the almonds in a low oven to dry out completely because they will still be damp after smoking (this will make your house smell like smoke a little bit).  In the video I used 250 degrees F, but that wasn’t quite hot enough.  In the past I have used 325 degrees F and that was perfect (I just forgot that today).  Stick the baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes, then stir the almonds around.  You might hear the skins cracking and popping a bit–it sounds like Rice Krispies once you’ve added the milk–and put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes.  Then remove the almonds from the oven and allow them to cool completely on the baking sheet.  They will continue to crackle and pop while they dry and that is exactly what you want to hear!  Once they are completely cooled you can pop them in your mouth.  To store, put them in an airtight container and keep them at room temperature.  If it is going to be a while before you eat the almonds, you can vacuum seal them to keep them from going stale.

For all the gnarly details on smoking cheese (and almonds!), check out this video:

 

This is no grocery store potato salad

This potato salad is covered in a tangy Dijon vinaigrette!  In short: make this.  You won’t regret it.  Bonus: it’s really quick to throw together–great for potlucks and parties. Recipe is here.  Enjoy!

Chili verde (It’s so hot)!

Oh my goodness, I’m feeling like a roasted chili these days.  It is hot in Montana this summer!  It’s hot outside, it’s hot inside my house, this chili is hot…not spicy hot (unless you want it that way–the go for it!), just hot off the stove hot.  I probably should have made a salad for this week’s video or something like that, but you know tomatillos don’t last forever in Montana, so as the old saying goes: You gotta make hay while the sun is shining.

So I made some stinkin’ chili verde!  And you know what?  It is GOOOOOOOOD!  It’s even better for lunch the next day.  So get on the tomatillo and chili bandwagon with me and make yourself some.  Don’t want to eat it all?  It will freeze!  Then you can enjoy when you really DO want something hot to eat.  Here’s the recipe, and the video is below.  It may be hot in the kitchen, but you’ll enjoy this one!

Spice up your day with a little eggplant curry

It should come as no surprise that I love food of all kinds, but I particularly love curries.  I love the way the simple act of combining 7 or 8 spices into an exotic mixture carries the aroma of far away places to my kitchen.  Since I can’t travel to India right now, I’ll settle for a little taste of India at my dining room table right here in Montana.  Plus, it’s a great way to use the CSA share this week!  Want the recipe?  It’s here.  And for even more fun check out the video:

 

You’ve gotta try these jalapeno poppers!

If you like jalapeno poppers, then I’ve got a treat for you!  We got jalapenos in this week’s share, and I combined them with the hot pepper cheese curds from the Fun Share, some roasted garlic cheese, cream cheese, and feta cheese (that’s the secret weapon!) for an out-of-this-world spicy treat.  Best of all, they are baked, not fried.  I cooked mine on the grill this week just because I didn’t want to turn on the oven and they turned out beautifully.  The recipe is here.  Give ’em a try and I hope you love them as much as I do.

Grilling in the backyard: summer squash, fennel, & tomatoes!

This week’s share gave us patty pan squash (y’know, those little squashes that look like flying saucers?), fennel, and Roma tomatoes.  Oh!  And BASIL.  So I decided to grill for dinner last night, and I added a sweet onion, a few mushrooms, and some Brie cheese to the mix.  Then I topped everything with a balsamic vinegar reduction.  It. was. yummy.

To make the reduction:

1 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine everything in a small saucepan and bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, for about 20 minutes, until the vinegar has reduced to a thick syrup.  Turn off heat and let cool.

For the few leftovers that remained, I tossed them into my butter lettuce salad with some cucumber, bell peppers, and sunflower seeds.  Then I topped with the balsamic vinegar reduction for the dressing.  I’m pretty excited about lunch today, too.

For our CSA members: if you are looking for ideas on how to use your fennel, check out these sources:

http://www.finecooking.com/recipe/tomato-soup-with-fennel-leek-potato  You might save this one as we’re going to get leeks and more fennel in the next week or so.

http://www.marthastewart.com/286398/fennel-recipes

http://www.cookinglight.com/food/in-season/fennel-recipes

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/11/fennel-recipes_n_1152097.html

These should get your brain humming wildly with fennel possibilities!  And for this week’s video…

 

Heat got your appetite down? Maybe this bean and grain salad will sound good!

Dang it’s been hot lately!  I think July is going to set some records here in Helena and elsewhere around Montana.  When it gets really hot sometimes my appetite goes the way of the dodo and nothing sounds good to eat.  I tend to focus on juicy fruits and vegetables–apples, nectarines, tomatoes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas (my favorite!)–that way I am eating, but I’m also getting lots of water, too.  It seems like a win-win situation.  That was the inspiration for this week’s CSA recipe.  This salad combines a ton of veggies with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette and plenty of herbs.  I hope you’ll try it!  Looking for the recipe?  It’s here.

Roasted garlic & arugula spread

I know I’m a little late posting this video this week, but I think the wait was worth it!  This is a 2-part recipe: a roasted garlic & arugula 1) butter and 2) cream cheese.  I put the garlic arugula butter on some toasted bread and it was terrific!  Then I made a sandwich with the cream cheese and loaded it up with some cucumber and turnip slices–that was one of the most delicious, most refreshing lunches I’ve eaten in a while!  Intrigued?  Check it out and make it!  It’s so easy and so yummy.