Friday, May 18, 2012

Swapper Profile: Jim Ratcliffe + Spring Roll Salad Recipe

Jim showing off some freshly foraged chanterelles
I am pleased as punch to bring you the latest swapper profile installment, featuring Jim Ratcliffe. Jim is one of our swap faithful, and along with his girlfriend Olga has attended every swap but one, plus hosted our second swap last summer in their gorgeous yard with a view. Not only does Jim bring awesome and unusual food items every time, his smile lights up the room, and of course he ups our dude quotient considerably too. Jim's previous swap items have included candy cap mushroom cookies (you can see from the pic he's an avid forager), roasted red peppers, Moroccan preserved lemons, and Nam, Thai fermented pork. His potluck dishes always bring oohs and aahs too, so we're extra lucky he's shared his smash hit Spring Roll Salad recipe below. If you were at the February swap, you've likely been waiting for this! Read on and prepare to be hungry by the end of this post.

Jim Ratcliffe

Home (+ hometown swap):
San Francisco


How did you first get involved in food swapping? How long ago?
My girlfriend Olga and I came to the first swap and were hooked!

What did you make for the last food swap and what inspired your choice?
I made Kimchi and Spring rolls.

Jim's spring rolls at the February swap

What’s your favorite thing about swapping?
Meeting folks, swapping foods, and coming home to unpack a gorgeous box of yummy foods that I would probably never make for myself. 

Who or what most influences your cooking?
Travel, serendipity, and the challenge of using unconventional ingredients.

What’s your favorite kitchen tool?
Mac knives and a silicone ball whisk. 

Your current flavor or ingredient obsession?
I think I have been obsessed with Thai and Vietnamese cooking for a while now. It fascinates me because it challenges most of our western assumptions about flavors, ingredients, and cooking technique. 

Biggest food surprise?
Stinky tofu. I love fermented, rotten foods, but I will never forget my first bite of stinky tofu.  

If the Rapture came tomorrow, what would your last meal on earth be?
Shishnu, a Nepali soup made from nettles with a little ground buffalo meat mixed in. It’s divine, and reminds me of my first trip to the Himalaya. Then I'd go for a northern Thai/Burmese dish called Kao Soi and finish up with some simple poached pears and ice cream.

When I'm not in the kitchen I'm _________.
In the dining room. 

Favorite local food experience:
The Alemany farmer's market, foraging for wild mushrooms on the coast, and charter fishing out of Half Moon Bay.

Recipe by Jim: 

This salad is incredible!
Spring Roll Salad

I love to improvise in the kitchen, and every once in a while, I come up with a dish where everything clicks. At last I found something fun to do with Asian pears! My inspiration was to take the sour, crunchy goodness of a Thai Green Papaya salad, and enhance it with the crisp textures and flavors you find in a fresh spring roll. This recipe is very adaptable... once you get the dressing down, you can really empty out the fridge with it.  It also works great for potlucks.

Dry Ingredients:
Rice Stick noodles, 7 oz (1/2 package) Go for Three Ladies Brand, the narrow, flat ones work best. 
Dried Shrimp (1/4 cup or more, chopped roughly.)

Rice stick noodles and dried shrimp

Put the noodles and dried shrimp in warm water and let them soak while you gather and prepare the other ingredients. 

Have all your ingredients ready
For the Dressing:
4-5 limes
Tamarind pulp (optional)
Fish sauce (Phu Quoc, Three Crabs, or Red Boat)
Sesame oil
Palm sugar
Dried red chillis
Thai chillis (or serranos)
Thai basil

Fresh Ingredients:
Fresh young spinach leaves or lettuce
Grape tomatoes
Asian Pear or apple (1/2)
Crushed peanuts (1/2 cup) 

The dressing is key
Make the dressing: Combine the following in a medium bowl: the juice of 4-5 limes, tamarind pulp, 2-3 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1-2 chunks of palm sugar (the palm sugar can be crushed or chopped to help it dissolve) and 2 tablespoons of sesame oil. Whisk for 30 seconds. Add: 5 thinly sliced shallots 1/4 cup cilantro, 1/4 cup mint, 1/4 cup Thai basil (roughly chopped), crushed dried chillis, and finely chopped fresh chillis. Cube the tofu and add to the dressing. Taste and adjust, the dressing should be very sour, a little salty and sweet. 

Set a medium-sized pot of water to boil and prepare the fresh ingredients. Cut each ingredient uniformly to highlight its color, form, and texture. 

Cutting fresh ingredients
Put the noodles in the boiling water. Don't overcook- it only takes about two minutes for them to be done. Noodles should be slightly firm, but cooked: 10 seconds makes a difference. Empty noodles in a colander and rinse them in cold water until they are room temperature. 

Add noodles to a large bowl. Dress them with a little sesame oil. Combine all ingredients, and toss with dressing. Taste and add more fish sauce/lime juice if needed. The salad should not need salt, as there is plenty in the fish sauce.

Refrigerate for an hour to let it figure itself out. Enjoy!

Jim's salad was a hit at the swap potluck!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cheese - Cook It! 2012: April Resolution + Farmer's Cheese Four Ways

First pass at farmer's cheese with sweet and savory flavorings
We eat a lot of cheese around our house. So I was extra excited at the April Cook It! 2012 resolution, providing me with a push to make my own.

And, I ended up trying two different process variations for making farmer's cheese. First I started by placing a half gallon of organic whole milk and 1/4 c. of distilled white vinegar in a large stainless steel pot before realizing this method called for leaving it on a back burner of the stove overnight.

Being too impatient to wait and waste a full day of cheese making  not to mention good light to photograph this project  I decided to go another route and make a second batch at the same time. So, inadvertently my first go at making cheese provided a great ground for some experimentation and comparison of the results. There were no complaints about extra cheese.

Farmer's Cheese, Round 1:

Start with a half gallon of organic, whole milk

Pour into a large stainless steel pot

Place milk on very low heat to bring to a slow boil

In the meantime, place a collander in a large bowl and line with cheesecloth

Once milk begins to bubble and froth at edges, stir frequently to prevent burning
and to keep a skin from forming. It took 45-50 minutes for mine to reach this stage.

Remove pot from heat and add 1/4 c. distilled white vinegar.
You should see curdles appear immediately. Let sit for 15-20 minutes.

Pour cheese through cheesecloth-lined collander to separate all the whey

I had a lot of whey in this batch and had to pour it off a few times

in order to keep the cheese from being submerged.

Your curds will look like this

Curds and whey!

Tie your cheesecloth up into a bundle and hang it to drain for 1-2 hours

You'll see the curds are considerably more dry

I ended up with 11¼ ounces of cheese from this batch

And decided to split it so I could try a couple flavor combinations

I went with things I had on hand in the garden and pantry

Such as rosemary, lemon thyme and sage honey with a dash of salt 

The more savory version simply contained salt, pepper and chives

They were both delicious with crackers, bread and both dried and fresh fruit

These cheeses tasted great, but they were a bit crumbly in texture  perhaps I over mixed them by hand when adding in the flavor ingredients or let it hang too long, consequently draining out too much of the whey? Also, after mixing in the ingredients I pressed them into small plastic-lined bowls and put them in the fridge, but since we were so eager to try them, (and hungry!) I think they needed longer in the fridge to firm up. The next day they were much more sliceable vs. scoopable and crumbly.

I didn't follow a recipe for the flavoring and I actually went quite light since I didn't want to overdo it on my first try. Next time I would definitely use more fresh herbs, and experiment with other flavor additions.

For the 6 ounces of savory cheese, I added approximately 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and 1/2 tsp chopped chives. I would've liked to have used more chives, but that was all I had on hand in the herb planter. Smoked sea salt was a great topper on this too!

For the 5¼ ounces of sweet cheese, I used 2 tsp honey, about 1/2 tsp each of chopped rosemary and lemon thyme and a few pinches of salt. I would probably add another teaspoon of honey and more herbs next time too, but it did have a nice subtle flavor mix.

Farmer's Cheese, Round 2:

Based on this blog post (but halving the ingredients), I added the 1/4 c. distilled white vinegar to 1/2 gallon of organic whole milk at the beginning. While the instructions say to leave it for 24 hours (or as little as 12 in warm weather/kitchen), I ended up getting sidetracked and left it for 36 hours before progressing to the next step of putting it on very low heat. I think this ended up producing very developed curds quickly, which was nice.

I actually forgot I had this cooking and didn't check it until 45 minutes
after turning on the it was definitely ready!

Immediately I saw this batch had much more, and larger curds

I had only slightly singed it in my spaciness, and drained the curds as before

Thinking I might go the way of paneer with this batch,
I added 1½ tsp kosher salt to help dispel the whey

At this stage I had 1 lb, 3¾ oz of cheese  significantly more than the Round 1 method

It was so good, I put some aside to have a simple, creamy option

Then I patted the rest into a rough square

And wrapped it in cheesecloth to press the remaining whey out

Logically I ended up with much less whey this time, and decided to freeze some
as ice cubes to use later (Note jerry-rigged system in the background; the cheese is
between the two cutting boards, draining at an angle)

After about 5 hours I checked the consistency

And while it was still fairly moist, I decided to stop draining it at this
point since I actually preferred its initial creamier texture

The Round 2 process is certainly very easy and great if you are busy with other things since there's more hands-off time as it soaks, versus having to keep an eye on and stir the milk as it heats in the Round 1 method. I actually think I preferred the super-creamy, moist version which was the result of the initial draining of the way and added salt. It was much softer, almost like cream cheese or ricotta texture, with great flavor.

I think if I had persevered with the paneer route, I would have had to apply more weight/pressure to really get all the moisture and whey out.

The quesadilla options are countless
Each type of cheese has different things to recommend it, and I think Round 1 produced good flavored cheeses for snacking and eating with bread or crackers. Round 2 produced cheese was a bit more versatile since left plain. The softer one is also good for spreading and goes well with toasted pita and olives. The firmer one made its way into tortillas for both a savory quesadilla (think a softer version of Mexican queso blanco) with salsa, as well as a mock blintz with fresh strawberries and rhubarb jam.

I looked at a ton of blogs and food websites before embarking on my own cheese making, but specifically referenced this one for the process of Round 1, and a combo of the above link and this one for Round 2.

The beauty of them though, is you can really do so much in terms of flavoring them. I definitely have lots of ideas in mind on what to experiment with in future batches. Homemade farmer's cheese will become a staple at ours for sure.

And though I know there are a ton of uses for whey, I haven't allocated any of mine yet! Some will go into smoothies, and I froze the output from Round 2 for later use. Maybe I'll use it to have another go at bread, or to make ricotta since I'm on a cheese roll. This hot sauce looks awesome too.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Surprise: Unplanned Roasted Rhubarb Jam

I do this a lot. I go to the store for something specific, like say cilantro and a jalapeño for my chicken marinade, and end up purchasing unexpected fruits and veggies that I can't resist.

The culprits
Today it was long stalks of rhubarb.

I have a shedload of other things to do, but they were made to wait as I gave in to my preserving addiction and a little experimentation.

I really want to make the rhubarb jam recently posted by Grow It Can It Cook It (leader of the Cook It 2012 project I've been participating in this year with pasta, bread, and butter so far — cheese post is coming soon!), but that's a multiple day project and I only brought home 1 lb of instead I'm going with this one.

Plus since the rhubarb is roasted, I can multitask by writing this blog post as it cooks. Ah, the perfection of procrastination in effect.

So here we go  easy, fast and sweet  rhubarb jam you can make in about 30 minutes flat. Yup, you heard me right: 30 minutes flat.

After trimming off the tough ends & leaves off your stalks

roughly chop the rhubarb

and place in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.

Add 1/2 cup sugar (yup, just 1/2 a cup)

stir to coat pieces in sugar, and place in preheated oven at 400 degrees.

Here's the rhubarb after 20 minutes. This didn't look fully cooked to me, but it breaks apart easily when you stir it and looks similar to photo below.

This photo is actually after I put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes to really cook down and bring out the flavor.

The first taste made my toes curl it was so good. So I poured it into a warm pint jar,

and stood back to admire the fastest, easiest jam I've ever made.

It tastes magnificent too.

I took it out into the better light for a little photo shoot,

but it's hard to get a good jam head-shot!

If you are a rhubarb-lover, this is the jam for you. It's fresh and not-too-sweet tasting, exploding with pure unadulterated rhubarb flavor.

Also, did I mention it is the easiest jam ever? Yes, OK — then let me just add that it also only requires 1 dish and 2-3 utensils (spoon, knife, funnel and/or measuring cup). I think that is a record for jam.

I guess I just added one more thing to my to-do list: go back to store and get more rhubarb.