Saturday, August 6, 2011

From Scratch

     

     I love making things from scratch. I mean, obviously, I do have a food blog after all. My extreme redundancy doesn't bore you does it? I'm sorry if it does. But, I was just musing. I do love making things from scratch. I love starting a bread dough, I cannot stand the sight of cake mixes (ah, bad pretentious me), and I start feeling slightly sick if I eat too much pre-prepared food. A month in my family's house with my whole family away? Yields too much frozen, restaurant, and take-out food. And no matter how much I missed the restaurants of Brookline, I have to start cooking again.

What could it be???
     That's why I haven't blogged lately by the way, I haven't cooked! What I blogged yesterday was an ancient post (from July 12 actually, I looked) that I had just forgotten to publish. Of all the silly things... But oh well, one moves on. And when one has not cooked at all for a month, one (if one is me) cooks a Lot. Goes quite overboard in fact. Starts making paneer from scratch.


     What is paneer? Well for those of you not obsessed with Indian food already, Paneer is a kind of cottage cheese. If you've ever been to an Indian restaurant and had Saag Paneer or Palak Paneer, paneer is the white cubes - kind of tofu-like in appearance, but so much better in taste! if I do say so myself. It is not slippery like tofu, but more like a firm ricotta and is a great palette for all sorts of vegetarian curries. It's also ridiculously easy to make (ignore all the me making from scratch stuff- it was all just empty bluster, trying to impress you with my...fairly non-existent...skills).


     It's especially easy to make when, because one's family is gone and one's family get's milk delivered to one's home, one has far too many bottles of milk. What am I supposed to do with all that milk? Well, boil the bottles (ok...the Milk In the Bottles...picky picky) that are starting to go bad. This is a Very Good use of sour milk, what else are you going to do with it after all? So, boil, add lemon, add yogurt, and hey presto! Paneer. Ignore the funky smell: when you boil slightly bad milk and then start adding lemon to it, there is going to be funky smell. After all, what you are doing is separating the milk into curds (the white solids) and whey (the leftover liquid)! The curds are what will become the paneer once you drain the entire mixture through the cheese cloth overnight, get them all nice and dry, cut them up, fry them up with some spices (cumin seeds, salt, pepper, just a touch of red chili powder)....oh so good. Creamy and melty inside, crisp on the outside. Yum. I am going to go eat more now.


Fresh Paneer

3/4 Gallon Milk (I used 1%, but we've made it with 2% as well)
3 tbsp Lemon Juice
3 tbsp Yogurt
Cheesecloth

Put a very large saucepan (I used my pasta pot) on medium heat, and add all the milk. Stirring occasionally to keep the milk from burning, heat the milk until it boils. Once it is boiling (don't let it boil over!), lower the heat to low and add the lemon juice and yogurt.There is no need to stir. Keep an eye on the pot, if the curds (white solids) start separating from the milk and floating on top of the liquid, you have added enough lemon. If it's been a few minutes and there's no separation, feel free to add a tablespoon more of lemon juice. After about 15 minutes at low heat, the milk should look very watery (it will not be clear - just very thin), and there should be many white solid masses. At this point, turn off the heat. Let the mixture cool thoroughly.

Meanwhile, layer your cheesecloth on a colander, allowing enough cloth hanging off the sides so that you can wrap the curds inside once they are drained. Place your colander in a large steel bowl, so that it has something to drain into. If you own a very large colander, I'm sure you could pour all of your cooled mixture into it and allow it to drain in peace. Since my colander is small and I had a lot of milk, I did it in batches - first just pouring in a lot of liquid and letting it drain, then adding all the curds. When there was very little liquid left, I wrapped the rest of the cheesecloth over the curds and left it overnight. In the morning, I unwrapped the cloth, and scraped the paneer into a glass bowl which I put into the fridge.

This paneer is crumblier than store-bought paneer, so it won't cut nicely into cubes. To fry it up, I rolled it into firm balls and was Very careful when flipping them in the pan. But, you can also crumble it into a nice scramble, like the tofu scramble I made a while ago. And more paneer recipes using it will be coming soon!

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