How to make non-dairy cheese for pizza

Milk – cow or goat – is not my friend.  I’ve been off dairy for close to 15 years now, and I’ve mostly gotten used to it.  Far from the days when my mom called me “Miss Mouse” for all the cheese I ate, nowadays much cheese tastes funny to me.  Thee big exception is that I really miss cheese on a pizza.  We have homemade pizza almost every Friday night, and I’ve gone through variations with no cheeselike toppings (reeeeeeeallly dry) to “tofu ricotta” (tasty but  a bit wet) to vegan cheez shreds. My first impression of Daiya was “ye gods, this is awful – smells like gym socks and coats the roof of my mouth.”  Not to mention it’s made with pea protein, to which I am also allergic (though not so much as the dairy).

The tofu ricotta is pretty easy to make and definitely helps avoid the “bread with ketchup” feeling of a no-cheese pizza.  Just crumble medium or firm tofu with a fork and add salt (1/2 tsp or more for a block of tofu) and something acidic (my favorite is a teaspoon each of olive brine and cider vinegar). You can also season it with garlic and Italian herbs.  Drain off any excess liquid after a few minutes.  It doesn’t melt or have that rich flavor cheese has, but it’s easy and tasty.

But I was hoping for something better, and I think I found it! Skye Michael Conroy is a vegan food scientist who analyzed what it is about cheese that tastes good and makes us happy, then did a ton of experimentation until settling on a group of recipes and a method for making soy- and almond-based cheeses (and some cashew-based ones, too). I highly recommend buying The Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook for the recipe and method.

Homemade non-dairy cheese made from soy milk and coconut oil

Homemade non-dairy cheese made from soy milk and coconut oil

I didn’t get any pictures as I was making it, because it goes fairly fast and requires constant stirring. It also requires some special ingredients, but I think the results are totally worth it.  Knocks Daiya out of the water, that’s for sure – it’s got the best flavor and texture of any fake cheese I’ve ever tasted.

Here’s the finished product of the Monterrey Jack recipe. The larger container will go into the fridge to chill into a block, which can then be shredded or sliced. The smaller container has pretty much cooled, and I was sampling it from the still-melted stage through the mostly-cooled stage.

So how do you make it? The basic method is to whisk tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour), kappa carrageenen, salt, and nutritional yeast into your soy milk as you heat it on the stove. Then add melted coconut oil and whisk some more. At this point, it looks exactly like cheese fondue before you get all the liquor mixed in.  When that reaches 175 degrees F, stir in a tablespoon of vinegar and whisk like crazy.  It magically smooths out and blends together. Then pour it into a container, which will act as your cheese mold.  For exact method and recipes, I will direct you to Conroy’s book – that amount of research really deserves your support. The book has recipes for a number of “block cheeses,” like mozzarella, dill havarti, pepper jack, and gouda, plus soft cheeses like Brie and even some blue cheeses, complete with blue “veins.”

This is honestly much easier – and LOADS faster – than making dairy cheese.  It uses a number of weird ingredients – kappa carrageenen is apparently very different from other kinds of carrageenen, and there are some brands that don’t work at all.  The stuff in the link above is specifically mentioned in the recipe, and it definitely worked for me.  You also need to be sure there is nothing in your soy milk except soy beans and water.  Eden Unsweetened and WestSoy are good brands; or, like me, you can make your own from whole beans. This cheese is also not cheap; I calculated it came to $4.25-$6.50 per 1 lb batch depending on whether you buy your ingredients in bulk.  And, of course, it is not terribly local and has some heavily-processed ingredients, and if you have a soy or nut allergy, these recipes won’t work for you.

Still, as a luxury food, it has several advantages: it’s tasty, it is a true comfort food, all the ingredients are shelf-stable and so easy to buy in bulk and store until needed, and…it makes my heart happy to not be left out of cheeselife entirely.  I will definitely make a few more batches and see if it’s worth the money and trouble to have this on my pizza. If it will keep for several weeks and I can get a number of pizzas out of it (and it continues to taste as good as the samples), it’s likely I will keep making it.

MOOC musings

So…if I were to teach a free online course about procuring and preparing locally-sourced foods, open to the entire world (so you’d also get to see what local food looks like in London and Delhi and Caracas), would you be interested in taking the class? It would be as much about community as the particular skills taught, and together we’d create a vast repository of local food sources, recipes, and tips.

Pressure canning on a smooth top electric stove

Yes, you can use a pressure canner on a smooth-top electric range! Just be sure it has a raised “foot” on the bottom the size of your largest burner. My Presto (bought in around 2009) has this; the one i got from a friend (mid-1970s vintage) does not. The bottom of the older canner is completely flat, so it keeps tripping the overheat sensor on the stove and will never heat up properly.

Next, be sure you clean your stovetop and your canner bottom really well. Anything on your burner will weld on like enamel after the heat if canning, and anything on the bottom of your canner will scratch of you scootch the canner around. As a disclaimer, the stovetop in this house was a burned-on mess when we bought the house, so I’ve not been super worried about defacing it.

So, you have the right canner and a clean work surface – now how do you regulate the heat? Here’s what I do:

  • Once my jars are filled and loaded into the canner (always follow good directions for this), I turn the burner up to high and close the lid.
  • It will come to a boil; once there’s a steady stream if steam, leg it vent for 10 minutes as per manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Put the pressure regulator on. The pressure will begin to rise rapidly.
  • When the pressure reaches 5lb, turn the heat down to medium.
  • As the pressure reaches 10lb, turn the heat down as low as it will go and still be on.
  • the pressure will continue to climb a but and should settle in between 11 and 12 lb. since the directions say to cook almost everything at 11lb in this particular canner (dial gauge type), that’s just right.
  • Usually, this lowest setting is just right, but I do keep an eye on it; if the pressure goes above 12, I might turn the burner off completely or even slide the canner halfway off the burner.

Winter storage slaw and old country BBQ pork

So I’m inordinately pleased with how tonight’s dinner came out.

Pork and slaw

Totally unphotogenic but immensely tasty bbq pork and tangy slaw

First, the slaw.

Since I wasn’t teaching a workshop every weekend during this canning season, I actually felt like getting creative with my own canning. For the first time, I tried making some relishes instead of just doing straight tomatoes and salsa. I found that three recipes with a lot of overlap that I could make essentially at the same time: Corn relish (with cabbage instead of celery), beet relish, and Dixie relish (cabbage and peppers). All these came from the Ball Blue Book. I made fractional batches of each, and in a surprisingly short time, I had four pints and two half-pints of relishes. They are tasty, but WOW. Very, very heavy on the vinegar. My sweetie loves them as-is, but I can only eat a few mouthfuls before my tongue goes numb and my stomach is rebelling at the acid.

Relish recipes

Fractional recipes for three relishes to be prepared at once

So my brainstorm was to shred several cups of cabbage and some carrots and mix about a cup of slaw into maybe 4 cups of shredded vegetables. Add a little salt, stir, and let sit…and let me tell you, it’s the best sweet/sour slaw I’ve ever had. This one was made with the corn relish, which is less sweet and more zippy because of the mustard and turmeric. The Dixie relish will be more sweet and sour. The beet one has horseradish, and will be an entirely different kind of flavor, but I think it’ll work well.

I love so many things about this dish. First, it’s made from all local ingredients (hm, except the vinegar, though theoretically this area could produce scads of cider vinegar). Second, it’s a storage food, because cabbages and carrots can keep all winter, and the “interesting” ingredients are canned and will keep indefinitely.  And after a winter of plain cabbage and carrots, that hit of vinegar and spice is a real tastebud wake-up.  Third, I like sweet and sour slaw, but it’s usually too sweet. This is not. And it doesn’t come in a plastic tub, so it comes out way ahead of store-bought. We’d had the idea to make our own slaw many times, but somehow that feels like a lot of fuss on a week night. Shredding cabbage and stirring in half a jar of stuff is not.

With the slaw, we had some really good bbq pork. On the old Irish holidays, we like to stick to foods our ancestors would have used before they had access to spices and foods from the western hemisphere and Spice Islands, so this bbq has no tomatoes, peppers, sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, etc. – but it still came out really well, and really “like barbecue.” It reminds me of the barbecue my grandmother (raised in Tennessee) made, only with far less vinegar.

Old World BBQ Pork

  • 3 lb pork shoulder, whole
  • 2 onions, quartered and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (not sure when the Celts got garlic, but I know they had local alliums like leeks, so…pretty close)
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1 apple, in large wedges
  • 12 oz hard cider
  • 12 oz water
  • Salt

Brown the onions and garlic in oil or fat. Sprinkle the pork roast with salt and brown on all sides. Deglaze the pot with cider. Add apples, honey, and water. Either pressure cook for an hour, or bring to a boil and stew for 3-4 hours. The sauce will boil down a lot – don’t let it burn completely away. After cooking, shred the pork, put it back in the sauce, and simmer until thickened.

I finished the sauce with salt to taste, a little mustard powder, and a splash of vinegar. If I hadn’t been serving it with a strong vinegar slaw, I might have used more vinegar, but opted for a more sweet taste to balance.

Serve with cider (sweet or hard), and raise a toast to the ancestors and the spirits of your place with a hit of homemade mead, if you have it.

Slainte!

Permaculture revelation

The reason permaculture isn’t “clicking” for me in my current location is that the space I live in is already a forest. That’s as perma as it gets. You don’t design a forest garden in a forest the same way you design when you’re starting with a degraded, eroded open field.

Must think about this in a different way…

This month’s menu

For the next 4 weeks

Week 1

• Sushi

• Salmon burgers and salad

• Out? Prep for Thurs. dinner with colleagues

• Pork loin, pasta, grilled veg

• Pizza

• Pot roast

Week 2

• Sushi

• Fried rice

• Roast chicken

• BBQ chicken, slaw, buns or cornbread

• Pizza

• Salsa fry-up

Week 3

• Sushi

• Soup and/or salad

• Beef and broccoli

• Sausage and grilled veg

• Pizza

• Chicken korma

Week 4

• Sushi

• Pasta cilantro pesto – chicken & veg

• Salmon burgers or grilled beast

• Veggie stir fry or fried rice

• Pizza

• Fajitas

Em’s food rules

Well, not really rules. More like guidelines.

Givens:

  1. Food serves biological, emotional, and cultural purposes.
  2. People have different biological, emotional, and cultural needs; therefore, there is no one “right way to eat” for everyone – even people in the same region, family, blood type, or other grouping.
  3. An individual’s food choices have an impact on others beyond the self: the beings one is eating, the environment in which those beings live and die, the ongoing health of the land and its ability to feed future beings.
  4. Generally speaking, the edibles of a place provide appropriate nutrition to survive and thrive in that place. Keep in mind the “edibles of a place” may include things you are not accustomed to thinking of as food: weeds, insects, blood, acorns, etc.
  5. Disasters happen: crops fail, vermin populations boom, warehouses burn, gardeners break arms.
  6. “Waste” is a human construct; in nature, all outputs are inputs somewhere else. Human choices can direct waste to benefit human endeavors.

Actions:

  1. Each person gets to decide her/his “right” way to eat. But please, folks, let that be a decision and not a default.
  2. The food economy needs to be both drastically more localized than it currently is, and needs to retain the ability to trade easily between regions in case of crop failure, destruction of stores, or other supply disasters.
  3. Food waste (at all stages of production) needs to be eliminated. And not just by feeding leftover coq au vin to the pigs.

Fruit tree change of mindset

I’ve been getting hung up lately on “where do I put the fruit trees?” and even “what trees do I want to have?” The south part of the yard is what we see from the house, and I want it to look good and be functional. And the south sun (especially full sun) is extremely limited, so it feels like I need to be very careful about what I plant. And it seems like I need to get the whole thing figured out before I start planting. I’m getting a brain cramp from thinking about it. This is not the fun way to garden.

Well, I found a way around that today: I just decided to throw a bunch of stuff into a different part of the yard, a corner we don’t see except when going in/out the driveway.  This will be a quantity, not necessarily quality or pretty, orchard. Throw in a bunch of stuff, in different varieties, give it the minimum care to get it established, and see what happens. Don’t worry about arranging it for beauty; just make sure it doesn’t take over the powerline cut. Plant enough so I might get some after the critters dine. Just get things in the ground, so five years from now I’m not wishing I’d started five years ago.

Here’s the list of species:

  • Serviceberries (aka saskatoons)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Raspberries
  • Bush cherries
  • Bush apricots
  • Red mulberries
  • Cider apples
  • Hardy pecan
  • English walnut

The areas I’m planting this stuff is pretty shady. Some of this stuff is supposed to have full sun, but you know, I’m not trying to optimize yield. There’s already an apple tree back there, and it was more productive than the entire commercial orchard down the road this year because it’s under the canopy and protected from frost. So what the hell. I’ll toss some stuff in there and see what happens. It’ll be fun. And if I get some fruit from it, great! I’ll sure come out knowing what can handle a laissez-faire gardening style!

Boiling water on a Hearthstone stove

20130203-191443.jpg

Usually, I can’t get water to actually boil on the stove – but I found if I stoke the fire and get a full load of wood crackling, I can actually get a full, rolling boil on the soapstone stove.

Fwiw, I’ve also found that a lot of the cooking I do doesn’t actually need boiling temps.

New house = super energy-efficient!

Total carbon production June 2012-January 2013

Total carbon production June 2012-January 2013

I continue to be thrilled by how energy-efficient (or really, carbon-efficient) the new house is! In the summer, we only needed air conditioning in July (when it was over 100 for several days, and over 80 at night, and we hadn’t sealed off the sunroom well yet). In winter, we have only run the propane furnace in the last week or so, and that only for an hour or so a day to take the chill off before the wood stove kicks in. Otherwise, we’ve heated with local wood. This saves not only the propane, but a rather significant amount of electricity, too. (See below.)

Electricity usage June 2012-Jan 2013

Electricity usage June 2012-Jan 2013

I think I can now say that at our old house, 125kwh was used for heating water, 100kwh was used for the furnace, and 200kwh was for everything else (cooking, laundry, lighting, electronics,  etc.).  In this house, hot water is from propane, and we essentially haven’t used the furnace. So the ~210kwh/month we use is for “everything else” plus the sauna. We used the sauna two or three times on this billing cycle, and our usage didn’t really jump at all.

Propane is probably the most astonishing reduction. In the chart below, 2008 was the first year in the old house that we burned wood in the fireplace insert. We still used over 300 gallons of propane in January alone. This year, we used 25 gallons. I know wood is not a perfect fuel – even with our efficient stove, soot is an issue – but it’s local, renewable, and isn’t dependent on fracking or other damaging extraction methods. I think next year, we might even be able to source from the farm around the corner that harvests almost exclusively deadfall from storm damage instead of less eco-friendly practices like land clearing.

Propane use 2012-2013

Propane use 2012-2013

I’m not sure if we’ll be able to keep the furnace off for February and March. It was really cold at the end of January and our thermal mass is now very cold and working against us. But who knows? A week of sunny days could reverse that.

Overall, we are on track to use this year:

  • 36% of US average gasoline
  • 23% of US average electricity
  • 25% of US average heating fuel

It’s not exactly Riot levels, but I’m pretty happy with the electricity and heating fuel, especially.

 

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