Sunday, January 24, 2010

Foodbuzz 24,24,24: Mozzarella Making Extravaganza

This January we were fortunate enough to be selected as one of the participants in the Foodbuzz 24,24,24 event. Lauren and I racked our brains trying to think of a creative food event which would be fun for both of us. The last time we did a 24, 24, 24 event it got a little crazy. We went to 24 locally owned restaurants in Champaign, in 24 hours (1 per hour), and managed to totally exhaust ourselves in the process. While we won't rule out a 24 restaurant marathon in the future (maybe Dallas or Hawaii), this time we settled on something that was fun, but a bit tamer.

Lauren had been talking for a while about how back in Champaign, Tien a fellow blogger conducted cheese making classes in the community. Tien has even posted a video on how to make fresh mozzarella cheese from scratch. Tien's blogs are great, and I highly recommend them for anyone interested in making cheese, or for anyone who loves cooking and wants some wonderful ideas. Lauren tried making mozzarella once before and used a whole gallon of milk to make a piece of mozzarella cheese which was smaller than a golf ball. Lauren says she was a bit disappointed, but in her words "man, was that cheese tasty!" Anyway, Lauren had been wanting to make mozzarella again for a while and we decided that this was her big chance.

So, for our 24,24,24 event, we decided to start the new year off with a "Mozzarella-Making Extravaganza"! As a note, extravaganza is one of Lauren's favorite words. She wanted to call the last 24, 24, 24 event the 24 meal extravaganza. Today, as I'm writing the blog post, Lauren's having a studying extravaganza to get some work done. When I made her dinner after her last business trip it was a good food extravaganza. Basically if you want Lauren to like something, add extravaganza to the end of it (if she hasn't already), and she will be 20% more interested. If you really want her to like something, add sale at the end and the interest level goes up by 50%. Stick in the word "free" and she's there.

But I digress.....onward to the mozzarella Extravaganza! For our 24, 24, 24 event we decided to make fresh mozzarella, and then to prepare a meal featuring mozzarella as a key ingredient. Here's a rundown on our mozzarella making adventure.

Part I: The Mozzarella Making


1. 1 gallon whole milk
2. 2 tsp citric acid (dissolved in 1/8 cup chlorine free water)
3. 1/4 tablet rennin (dissolved in 1/8 cup chlorine free water)
4. 1 Tbsp salt (Tien uses 1 tsp, but Lauren and I liked a little more salt....we also may have put the salt in to early, before all of the water came out)

Mozarella Making Process:
1. We basically followed Tien's directions to make our cheese, and they worked out great. First we poured the 1 gallon of whole milk into a pot, and mixed in the citric acid. Tien recommended minimizing the amount you stir (1 time around the pot) since it will break up the curd.
2. Next we brought the mixture up to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, turned off the heat and added in the rennin. Basically we were curdling the milk. Below is a picture of the milk just after adding the rennin.
3. After around 20 minutes (Tien recommends around 10, but Lauren and I lost track of time, and we figured a little extra curdling time couldn't hurt), the milk solids have more or less separated from the liquid. Below is a picture of the mixture at this point in the process. When you move a knife through it, you see white curd, and slightly yellowish liquid instead of homogeneous white milk.
4. We then cut the curd (about 2 inch squares, but I don't think the exact size matters.....and it isn't really a solid anyway) with a butter knife to help in releasing the liquid, and poured the mixture into a flour cloth we had set up in a strainer. Tien's direction recommended scooping the curds into the cloth. Lauren also recommended scooping the curds. I ladled once for the picture, then poured the rest because I thought it would be faster. It was definitely faster, but also much much much messier.
5. The next step is where Lauren and I cheated a lot. Tien's video shows a great method for straining the curds. You cradle the mixture in the cloth, work it back and forth, and gently squeeze it. Being lazy, we basically left the curds in the cloth, watched TV, and moved it around every commercial break. After about a little over half an hour most of the liquid was gone, and we moved on.
6. We scooped the curd out into a Rubbermaid dish and continued the microwaving process. We microwaved the curd for 30 seconds and drained of excess water twice
7. Next we began kneading the cheese until it became the consistency of mozzarella. Whenever it became too hard we put it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Once the proper consistency was reached, we checked it for flavor (tasty!) and shaped it. For anyone who's made mochi before, the shaping part of the process was very similar. Below are some fresh mozzarella balls we made.

Part II: The Food......the good part :)

Why do we like cooking? Because we love eating! And Lauren and I were both excited to make good food using mozzarella. We're not the best cooks, but we came up with a menu that we were both very happy with.

The first course was an appetizer of Mozzarella-Stuffed, Bacon-Wrapped Mushrooms. This was a little tricky since I like crispy bacon, but mushrooms have a lot of water. I ended up just blasting the heck out of them at 450 degrees in the oven, and they turned out alright. After they were done there was a pool of mushroom juice and bacon fat in the bottom of the pan. It looked and smelled sooooo good. I tasted a spoonful, and it was delicious. I honestly considered drinking it as a kind of soup for at least 30 seconds, but then my better judgment kicked in. I think it would have given me a heart attack. If I was cooking a creamy pasta, I would definitely have thrown the drippings in.....but sadly I threw it away. The mushrooms themselves turned out rather good.....especially when they were fresh out of the oven.

Our second course was a Caprese Salad with Marinated Portabello Mushrooms. Mozzarella goes so well with fresh basil and tomatoes, and the mushrooms (which were marinated in basalmic vinegar, sea salt, and a little garlic) really provided a nice tangy zing to draw it all together. It was a fresh change-up to an otherwise somewhat heavy meal.

Our third course consisted of a duo of sandwiches. Lauren was especially excited about this portion of the meal as it gave her a chance to try out her latest toy, the Cuisinart Griddler. It's a panini-press that turns into an electric griddle. First up was Lauren's specialty, a Pesto-Mozzarella Grilled Cheese Sandwich. The pictures below really don't do it justice. We took pictures of the sandwich cut in half in all of it's ooey-gooey glory, but for some reason none of them came out. You'll just have to trust me (and you imagination) on this one, because it was great. Pesto, melting cheese and crunchy bread...what's not to like?

The second sandwich was a Spicy Salami with Mozzarella Sandwich. I was basically trying to emulate one of my favorite foods in Italy. Last year I had a spicy sausage sandwich at a place in Florence called Il Fratellini, and it was amazing. I know, I know it was just a sandwich, but sometimes simple is good. Fresh toasted bread, sausage and a spicy sauce.....I got in line again as soon as I finished it. Everything we had there was great! Anyway, getting back on topic, I used french bread, salami, mozzarella, and a sriracha mayonaise. Fresh off of the griddler, it was great!

For our Fourth Course/main dish we wanted to up the fancy-factor. We made Eggplant Parmesan Ravioli. This is basically a souped-up version of Eggplant Parmesan. We cut thin (but not too thin) slices of eggplant, and used 2 pieces as the pasta/shell. We put a piece of mozzarella between 2 pieces of eggplant, then used a flour/water paste to seal the ravioli. This was a rather difficult and complicated step, because it was pretty difficult to get the eggplant to stick together.
Next we coated the ravioli with flour, dipped them in an egg wash, and coated them with panko. I didn't measure the oil temperature, but this is a dish that you definitely want to make sure you cook at a high temperature. Eggplant is kind of like a sponge, and it'll soak up tons of oil if the oil isn't hot enough. When it was done, the ravioli were crispy on the outside and cheesy on the inside......definitely a fun and tasty recipe, but pretty time consuming and difficult to make. We paired the Eggplant Ravioli with a pasta sauce, but it really looked better by itself in the pictures.
Here's a picture of the 24, 24, 24 Mozzarella tasters we had come over. It's a mixture of neighbors and people we play poker with. Thanks for coming over guys!

I hope you enjoyed reading our 24, 24, 24 blog post. We had a lot of fun doing it. Please leave us a comment and let us know if you have any other great mozzarella recipes. We'd love to have them. We have a ton of extra mozzarella and we've got to use it somehow! :)


Chou said...

Awesome! I'm so happy you guys did this--I've never even thought I could make mozerella, but you've inspired me to at least start thinking about it. :)

ARLENE said...

I just googled mozzarella making the other day. It's something I really want to try. I have to find the supplies and "just do it." A fun post.

Kendell said...

lauren's favorite extravaganza is BIRTHDAY EXTRAVAGANZA!

ps....where was my invite to what look like a great time!

A Canadian Foodie said...

What fun! I have questions!
1. where do you find the rennet, etc.
2. how much cheese did you end up getting for the jug of milk you used...
3. what did it taste like? It looks absolutely wonderful. I want to do this = but have no clue what kind of place to find the rennet and the other acidic ingredient at! I would rather not order online unless I have to!
PS - what is the name of your blog? It appeared nowhere in this write up.

A Canadian Foodie said...

SOSOSOSO funny - as soon as I scrolled up = I found myself inside of your blog...
I got so engrossed in reading your article, that when I was looking for the header to see who was writing, it wasn't there. Anyway - forget the last ridiculous question and chalk it up to cheese mania.. or blocked vision due to my envy extravaganza.

Ed Schenk@ Detroit Eats said...

Great Post. I have yey to be succesful with mozzarella but have made some tasty Ricotta. Thanks for the reminder to finish what I started!

Lauren said...

hi everyone! thanks for all the comments.
chou-i think you'd have fun making cheese...then you'd realize that it's so much easier to purchase it.
kendell-you were gone to LV then. poo. and yes my favorite way to use extravaganza is with "birthday" in front of it.

A Canadian Foodie-
I cracked up laughing when I read your commments. You are too funny!
We ended up making about 2 cups in volume (~1 lb or 500g of cheese).
You can buy citric acid at some ethnic stores, I think it's near the indian spices. The rennet, I bought at a speciality food store that sold all kinds of cheeses. It was only $0.75-1 for one tablet of rennet.

Ed-Hi! I actually tried to make ricotta with the leftover whey from our mozarella making. But it didn't come out correct.

A Canadian Foodie said...

Thank you so much - specialty cheese stores, here I come!

Tien said...

Hi, Lauren and Mike,
Thank you for the nice write up about the video. I am taking a break from making cheese until next week. I am glad to be back to catching up reading about your travels and new blog entries. -Tien :)