Italian Salad and Being Exercised by the House

Negative space.  Great when it comes to artwork.  Not so much when it comes to a house.  Our house was built in 1895 and I have to say it was solidly built.  It’s still relatively square. But man, when we redo rooms or do projects we find some serious negative space.  While our kids are off on their summer adventures we redid my son’s floor.  Because the wood had been damaged we had to pull up the old flooring.  Which gave us a chance to put in new insulation.  And that is where we saw the latest example of negative space.  So we stuffed a lot of insulation in.  Our son will be quite toasty this winter.

Thankfully that is a few months off.  On Father’s Day we joined our friends in the traditional Father’s Day BBQ and I had made a twist on the caprese salad with bacon and lettuce.  I didn’t have the time to get stuff together for a blog post then but I thought I’d remake it for my husband and I but added chicken.  Because why not?

Italian salad 1 2016

In a skillet start cooking 4-5 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped up.  Once the bacon is half cooked add about a third of a cup of chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic, chopped.  Add a teaspoon or so of fresh thyme.

Italian salad 2 2016

While this is cooking make up the dressing and grill the chicken.  I just seasoned the chicken with sea salt and pepper as it will be dressed before adding to the salad.  In a bowl add olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.  The ration was about 1:3/4 oil to vinegar.  Whisk to emulsify. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Italian salad 3 2016

Cut up the chicken into small pieces.  Add the chicken and the bacon mixture to the bowl and toss in the dressing.

Italian salad 4 2016

Add to lettuce and top with chopped tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.

Italian salad 5 2016

A super easy, flavourful salad for summer nights.  Without leaving you feeling stuffed.

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Italian Style Burgers

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer in the states.  Usually marked by BBQs and last trips to lakes and beaches.  And it was hot this weekend!  Thank goodness temps are looking to break tomorrow.  I’m over the humidity and heat.  I’m very ready for autumn.

Burgers was the main request for Monday night and we tossed around ideas of what to make so I could have a recipe to share.  My husband mentioned it would be fun to stuff them with mozzarella.  Sounded good to me!

Italian burger 1 2015

I wanted to use oven roasted tomatoes for this recipe and that does need to be done ahead of time as it takes at least an hour.  To prep the burger, finely chop a clove of garlic and mix with a couple of teaspoons of fresh thyme.  Add it to about a pound of ground beef.  Then add about a 1/3 of a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese and a few dashes of balsamic vinegar.  Season with sea salt and pepper.  Mix everything together with your hands.  The trick is to not overwork the meat but get everything evenly distributed.

Italian burger 2 2015

Divide the meat into four portions and place a slice of mozzarella in the centre.  Wrap the meat around the cheese.  Do your best to seal the cheese in.

Italian burger 3 2015

Grill them on a hot grill.  While they are grilling prepare the topping for the burgers.  I had some oyster mushrooms to use up.

Italian burger 4 2015

In a small skillet heat up a bit of olive oil.  Chop up the mushrooms and a clove of garlic.  Saute for a few minutes and add the roasted tomatoes.

Italian burger 5 2015

Add a bit of balsamic vinegar and bring to a simmer.  Season with sea salt and pepper.

Italian burger 6 2015

At the end of cooking add fresh basil.  Top the burgers with the tomato mixture and grate fresh parmesan on top with a bit more fresh basil.

Italian burger 7 2015

And if all goes right, it will be nice and melty inside.  Melty, not sure if that is the technical term!

Italian burger 8 2015

Add a side of grilled corn and it’s a great meal to say goodbye to summer.  While I left off the bun, this is also good with a buttered grilled brioche bun.  But that is a lot of food!

Grilled Tomato Avocado Cheese Sandwich

Yesterday I mentioned having a chef’s equivalent of writers block.  Finding grilled cheese recipes cured that malaise.  I made my husband the roasted jalapeno grilled cheese and made myself a lovely grilled tomato avocado cheese sandwich.  I’ve seen several variations on Pinterest so I came up with my own as well.

To start I used some of the cooked bacon I used on the other sandwiches and sliced up some mozzerella.  You want this to be a bit firm but still creamy.

Grilled tomato avocado cheese 1 2013

Slice some tomatoes and shred a bit of basil.  I can’t wait for fresh tomatoes from the garden to make this.  It will be amazing!  These organic tomatoes weren’t too bad considering the season but fresh off the vine is hard to beat.  🙂

Grilled tomato avocado cheese 2 2013

Top with some bacon.

Grilled tomato avocado cheese 3 2013

I was lucky to find some organic avocado tucked away at the store.  All I could find at first was regular and they were all rock hard.  You could do some serious damage with those!  Fortunately I kept digging and found some of the good stuff.

Grilled tomato avocado cheese 4 2013

Butter the outside of the bread.  The bread I used for these sandwiches is our sourdough bread we make every week for the kids lunches.  Grill to brown both sides.  As this is a soft cheese you don’t need to keep it on the skillet for too long.  You want it melty, not soupy.

grilled tomato avocado cheese 5 2013

Serve with soup or salad and enjoy!

Fresh Mozzarella

Cheese, glorious cheese!  If I ever get to a point in my life that a doctor tells me cheese is off the menu, I don’t know what I’d do.  It’s a major food group in this household.  That and fresh bread.  Oh and wine.  Can’t forget the wine!  There are a few cheeses we enjoy making at home and one of them is mozzarella.

A few years back we bought a book by Ricki Carroll called “Home Cheese Making”.  And the inspiration for this recipe comes from here.  Her recipes are for pasteurized milk but because we only use raw milk for this we have to adjust here and there.

Raw milk is by far the best choice for most cheeses as pasteurizing destroys some of the wonderful flavour and breaks down the proteins that are good for you and are ideal for proper cheese making.  We haven’t tried parmesan yet but we’ll be limited to pasteurized as it calls for skim milk.  When you look for a raw milk source, talk to the farm, find out how often they test the milk for safety.  The farm we use checks every other day.

For this recipe we use a gallon of raw milk.

You want to gently heat it to 55 F.  Once it is this temp you want to add 1 1/2 level tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/2 cup of water to the mixture.  I use spring water not tap water.

As the milk heats you want to stir regularly so it doesn’t catch on the bottom and the temp is regulated throughout the batch.

As the milk heats up you will see bits of curd starting to float at the surface.

The next step is to add the rennet at 90 F.  A couple of things about rennet.  It comes in liquid form or tablet form.  If you have it in tablet form you want to do a 1/4 tablet in a 1/4 cup of spring water.  If you have it in liquid form then a 1/4 tsp.  Liquid rennet has a shelf life but I have found you can still use it after the shelf life but you may need to add more to the recipe.  This is tricky as if you use too much the curd forms a big ball!

Heat slowly to 100-105F then turn off the heat.  You will see the whey separating from the curds.  After a few minutes it is ready to scoop into a colander lined with cheese cloth or butter muslin.  You want this over a bowl as the curds need to drain.

While I am doing all this I heat a pan of water with kosher salt to about 175 F as we need this to cook the curds and stretch them into mozzarella.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop up some curds and place in the water.

The water can get up to 185 F which is ok but keep an eye on the temp to adjust as needed.  I usually keep the curds in the water for 20-25 seconds before I check it.  This is hot work and be careful not to burn yourself!

You want it to look melty.  Take it off the spoon and lightly stretch it and fold it over itself.  You want the center to be smooth as well.  It is important not to overwork the cheese. You may have to then put it in the water for a few seconds at a time to complete the process. It does take a bit of practice so don’t get frustrated if it takes a couple of times to get it right.  Some people get it right off and others need to be patient.

Form little balls and place in cold water to cool down.  Once they have cooled a bit slice and serve.  This is not a cheese that stores well because it is so fresh.  You can store it in the fridge in a covered container but it is so good it’s hard to have any leftovers!

I sliced it and served it with tomatoes from the garden and basil with balsamic vinegar.  I let people salt to their personal preference.  I like mine salty but not everyone does.  Doing it this way you can have fresh cheese in 30-45 minutes.