Tag Archives: cheese

Dark Days Week 19

Well, the true “Dark Days” are officially over with the arrival of spring, but the other challenge participants and I are playing along for the rest of the month.  This week I made one of my husband’s favorites, a modified Shepherd’s Pie. 

 I had loads of local onion leaves left from processing all the onions for the Can Jam challenge last week, so I started by chopping the scallion-y leaves  into a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil.  I added a couple of cloves of crushed garlic from Providence Farms, a pound of ground beef from Olds’ Farm, a little salt & pepper and sauteed the whole mixture until the meat was cooked through.

Meanwhile in a pot of boiling salted water, I cooked four or five redskin potatoes from Westmaas Farms.  When the potatoes were cooked fully I mashed them, skins and all, with some homemade feta cheese

Drain the extra fat from the cooked ground beef.  Scoop the feta-mashed potatoes out of their pan and spread them onto the beef.  To make the whole mess extra tasty, grate some Black Star Farms Raclette on top before baking.  Everything is fully cooked so you only need to bake the pie long enough for it to become golden and delicious.  Or, you can preassemble pies and bake them another day when you need a quick meal and don’t have time to cook.

Meat and potato pie

Fresh from the oven.

I love this dinner because it is simple, I almost always have all the ingredients I need for it in the house, and everyone in the family will eat some variation of it.  Sometimes I add corn kernels or other veggies to the ground beef, but it is good without them. 

To round out our meal I made a salad with local romaine lettuce, more onion greens and the yogurt-feta dressing I made last week but didn’t eat because I was out of lettuce. 

Last Saturday was “Shop Your Community Day” so while I was wandering around the Commons after my trip to the Farmers’ Market, I popped in to Pleasanton Bread and picked up a loaf of their wood-fired brick oven whole wheat bread.  It was delicious toasted with this simple meal.

Quick & Delicious Dinner

A wintry meal for a spring day.


Filed under Dark Days, food

Crusty Round Loaves of Homemade Bread

Finished loaf cooled, sliced and ready to eat.

Freshly baked bread in five minutes?

When was the last time you had freshly-baked bread hot from the oven?  Maybe, like most people, you can’t remember the last time you had homemade bread.  We had some with dinner, but that isn’t a big deal around here; we have homemade bread four or five nights a week.  Granted, it isn’t a soft, sandwich-type loaf but it is delicious just the same. 

I’m not telling you this to brag; I’m trying to tell you how easy it is so that you can do it too!  

This summer I started baking my own bread in an effort to eat more slowly.  When I started making my own cheese, homemade bread became a natural use of the gallons and gallons of whey leftover after cheese production.  I experimented with lots of recipes, but this is by far my favorite due to the fact that it is so  easy.  The recipe is from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day“, and it really only does take five minutes a day.  Well, it takes a little longer, but you only have to spend five minutes a day dealing with it.    Plus, if you are frugal like me, you’ll appreciate these loaves not only for their ease, but for their value.  This bread is just like the fancy-shmancy loaves you can buy for $4-$7 at the local bakery and only costs pennies to make.

Warm whey ready to use

Whey measured out and warmed.

Here is my variation:

3 cups      lukewarm whey (or water)
1 1/2 T.    yeast (1 1/2 packets)
1 1/2 T.    kosher salt
6 1/2 cups     spelt flour (or whole wheat)

Warm the whey and sprinkle the yeast onto it.  You don’t need to let the yeast rest, just pour the yeast and whey into a large mixing bowl and add the salt.

All miked up and ready to raise.

The dough after a quick mix with a wooden spoon. No mixer, no kneading.

Stir in the flour.  Mix with a wooden spoon or other sturdy utensil until all the flour is moistened.  The dough will be fairly wet.

Mixed dough rising

Cover the mixing bowl and let rise.

Loosely cover the bowl and place in a warm spot for two or more hours.  You can use plastic wrap, but I use a damp kitchen towel or cloth napkin because it is more earth-friendly and because I hate to spend money on plastic wrap.   Ignoring the dough for up to five hours will have no negative effect on the final product.

The round loaf after rising for about 40 minutes.

Finished rising and ready to bake.

Using well-floured hands and a serrated knife, scoop out a grapefruit-sized ball of dough and shape it into a roundish loaf by repeatedly tucking the edges under.  This takes some practice and you have to keep adding flour to your hands unless you want to end up like a cartoon character all covered with a sticky mess of dough.
Place the loaf onto a well-floured plate or board to rise.  You can use cornmeal, but I’ve had better luck with flour.  (Excessive amounts as you can see in the picture.) 
Loosely re-cover the remaining dough (with the same kitchen towel you used last time 🙂 ) and refrigerate until you are ready to make another loaf.  This dough can remain in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Place a broiler pan or an old metal baking pan on the bottom oven rack.  Preheat the oven and a pizza stone to 450 degrees while your round loaf rises.  This should take about 40 minutes and will allow the stone to get nice and hot. 

When the oven and stone are nice and hot and your loaf is ready to bake, quickly transfer the loaf to the hot pizza stone. Using a well-floured and very sharp serrated knife, slash the top of the loaf one or more times.  Carefully pour a cup of water into the pan on the bottom rack, place your loaf in the oven and close the door to trap steam.  Bake about 30 minutes.

In another day or two when you are ready to bake another loaf, pull the dough out of the refrigerator, cut off another hunk of dough and let it rise while the oven warms.  Depending on the size of your loaves, this recipe should make three or four loaves.


Filed under food, frugality

Dairy Queen

Feta brined and ready for the fridge.


As a school teacher, it is easy to settle into the lazy days of summer.  For three months I hike, run, garden, cook, walk to the Farmers’ Market, take my kids to the beach and actually read grown-up type books that I enjoy.  This summer I also started canning again after a long hiatus and started making my own cheese and yogurt.  I’d make a new batch of cheese every week.  I started with mozzarella, tried feta and then moved on to hard cheeses.  After a few batches, my husband even built me a cheese press.  While each cheese has its merits, feta is by far my favorite.  I have always loved feta, so when I found out how easy it was to make,  I became even more enamored by its crumbly goodness.  

But, summer inevitably comes to an end.  When September rolled around this year, I started to panic.  Not only did I have to go back to work, but I had a class that I had to complete homework for and attend every week.  How would I keep cooking good, homemade food?  Where would I find the time to can? How would I go to the Farmers’ Market, pick berries, bake bread or make yogurt and cheese???  My life as I knew it came to a screeching halt.  I didn’t know how I was going to manage all the things I needed to do.  

At one point, I was so distraught that I would come home from work and cry to my husband.  I wanted to run away and live on a farm off the grid.  None of this had anything to do with the actual work that I do every day; I love my job.  I love working with kids and knowing that I’m making a difference.  My distress was all about my lack of time.  I needed to adjust and I didn’t know how.  

Cordon Bleu and Parmesan

Better than Zoloft.


While I’ve wanted chickens ever since I read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” last summer, part of me needed them after school started.  I researched and researched chickens.  I learned about different breeds.  I learned about how many eggs chickens lay and what color they are.  I researched ordinances  and the legality of chickens here in the city.  I spent hours researching chicken coops and chicken care.   Getting chickens was my way of running away and living on a farm without having to really run away.  Chickens weren’t a step away from the life I was living, but they were a step towards the life I want to be living.  The impact those girls had on my mental health still amazes me.  While they didn’t create any more time for me, they did remind me that there were things I could do to have the life I want.  

Where's the coffee?

Even the undead need their exercise.


Since the girls arrived in September I’ve started adding elements of my “summer life” back into my real life.  I hike three to five days a week.  I haven’t managed to keep running regularly but I did run the Traverse City Zombie run and I’m signed up to do the Turkey Trot 5k Thanksgiving morning.  I haven’t done much in the garden, but I planted a row of blueberry plants and I’ve got raspberries, grapes and soapwort waiting to go into the ground.   I may not cook a homemade “slow” dinner seven nights a week, but I try to cook a “real” dinner for my family most nights and still try to eat as much local food as I can.  I cook vats of soup on the weekends to freeze for lunches.  I even signed up for the “Dark Days” challenge to try to cook a completely local meal at least once a week.   I managed to can some tomatoes, jam and jelly and found time to can (and pick) countless apples.  I’ve made it to the Farmers’ Market every Saturday morning and a couple of Friday evenings even though I couldn’t go to the Wednesday morning markets in September.  I didn’t make it out often to pick berries, but I did get out once to get a couple quarts of blueberries for the freezer.  I’m not making my own sandwich bread, but I have been making homemade loaves three or four nights a week.  

Homemade yogurt


 It took a while before I decided that I really did have the time to make yogurt, but in hindsight, that was silly.  Yogurt is so easy; I make a quart or two a week now.  Cheese however, is a completely different story.  Cheese isn’t difficult, but it is intimidating and it takes a long time to make.  

In my mind, I just didn’t feel like I could spend that much time on one project when there are so many other things I could and should do with the time cheese takes.  So what do you do when you go to the grocery store, purchase two gallons of milk and return home to find that you already have two-and-a-half gallons of milk, in your refrigerator??  You do what anyone else would do; start a batch of cheese and a quart of yogurt.  

When I got home from the store with The Milk,  I put away the groceries and started a quart of yogurt.  That barely made a dent; I still had over four gallons of milk left in the fridge.  It was time to make cheese.  Although I’ve been wanting to make cheese for a while (and I finished the last of my feta on the first Dark Days dinner) this wasn’t a cheese made of desire, but one of necessity.  

I got out the giant pot and poured in two gallons of milk.  I turned on the stove and monitored the temperature until it reached 90°.  I put the pot in an ice bath in the kitchen sink and let it cool back down to 86°.  When the milk reached 86° I whisked two tablespoons of Brown Cow plain yogurt into it and let it rest for an hour.  After the milk rested for an hour I mixed 40 drops of vegetable rennet into the milk and left it alone until the next day.  Just like that I had eliminated half the milk in my fridge! 

feta curds

Draining the feta curds.


The next day the milk had gelled and the whey had separated from the cheese curd.  I cut the curds with my long bread knife, let them rest for 15 minutes and then drained the whey from the curds.  I hung the curds to drip for the rest of the day and put them in the cheese press.  

feta hanging

Hanging the cheese to separate the whey from the curds.


Today I removed the feta from the press, cut it into chunks and put them in mason jars filled with brined whey.  In another day or two I’ll be able to enjoy my own, homemade feta cheese again.  While it takes some time to make cheese from start to finish, it really isn’t that much work.  The recipe is from Dr. Fankhauser at the University of Cincinnati. 

The amazing thing about making cheese is how much whey you have left over when you’re done.  Two gallons of milk yields about six cups of feta cheese and a gallon and a half of whey.  What do you do with all that whey when you’re done making cheese??  Stay tuned to find out! 

Gallon of whey

What do you do with all the whey once the cheese is made?


Filed under food, frugality, urban chickens