Weird Crap I Cook: Paneer-za (feat. homemade paneer)

Last week a friend from school requested I give a shot to making Indian food, specifically a paneer.  In case you didn’t figure it out from the Cabot desserts or the salt baked fish, I am a sucker for requests/challenges and incapable of passing them up.  So, if you’ve got requests, feel free to throw them my way and I will do my best to accommodate.

Anyhoo, I’ve been thinking about getting into cheese making for awhile, so reading about paneer and seeing how quick and easy it is made it a bloggin’ no brainer.  Around noon on Friday, I texted Conman and asked him to pick me up the necessary whole milk, buttermilk and cheesecloth.  Eight hours later, after a dece dinner and post work imbibing with Con and Trisha, I returned home with them to the scene of such memorable meals as fried bone marrow and salmon wings and got started on the cheese.

First up was putting a quart of milk in a large pot over medium/high heat.

The debut of the iPhone as a primary photo taker since I forgot to bring a camera.  I don’t think I will willingly make the iPhone the main camera moving forward

The idea was to bring the whole milk to a boil then stir in 8 ounces of cold buttermilk which would help separate the milk into curds and whey.  The only problem was that boiling milk almost immediately expands enormously and boils over in seconds no matter how big the pot is.  I’ve got scorch marks all over my oven from boiling celery root in milk.  Since I was at Con and Trisha’s, I wanted to avoid that so I heated it slowly while standing over it and staring.

Now for a washed out picture of buttermilk.

The Dowley’s have excellent stouts in their fridge and keep the glasses full of them.  I use buttermilk so rarely when cooking, but every time I do it makes something delicious.  Pancakes and anything deep fried are 10x better with buttermilk involved

After sitting and watching the milk for 10 minutes or so with no change, I finally got impatient and stirred the pot, which is when I recognized my lazy mistake.  As I stirred, some lightly browned pieces of scorched milk came off the bottom of the pot meaning I should have been stirring the whole time.  Whoopsie daisy, now you finally have proof that I’m not perfect.

The bits of tannish-orange are what came off the bottom of the pot.  I tasted one to make sure it wasn’t too scorched and the flavor was fine.  Oh well, made for a more colorful block of cheese.  I liked seeing the bubbling under the milk skin

With the milk starting to boil and not wanting to get boiling stanky milk everywhere, I stirred in the buttermilk.  Pretty cool how quickly it started clumping and separating into curds and whey.

Back in the early days of living in Boston when I had a closet for a kitchen and minimal interest in cooking, I would often use milk that looked like this in my coffee.  I hated throwing away food, even when it was clearly spoiled.  I was basically a Far Side cartoon version of a bachelor

After a few more minutes over the heat and some additional stirring, the curds clumped together more and looked ready for the next step.

At this point Trisha had been asleep for 30 minutes on the couch while Con and I yapped nonsense in the kitchen.  I think it was 9:30.  Every year since I turned 25 has shaved a half hour off my Friday nights

The pot gets poured directly into a colander lined with a couple layers of cheese cloth.

I knew it would be delicious eventually, but I was also distinctly aware of the fact that it looked like a pile of dog vomit

As soon as the cloth was somewhat handle-able, I pulled up the edges of the cheese cloth and shaped the curds into a ball.

Reminds me of the “bulldog” picture from the markets of Morocco.  Apparently my brain is permanently in the gutter

From there I twisted down the cheese cloth from the top until it was tight on the ball of curds and let it hang from the faucet for 30-45 minutes.  During that time Con and I watched the Aziz Ansari comedy special with little dialogue between us and occasionally acknowledged each other’s presence in the room.  We were pooped dudes.  Eventually I walked home with 5 bags attached to various parts of my shoulders and the buttermilk and cheese cloth sack occupying my two hands.

Once home, I took the sack of curds and placed it on a plate lined with paper towels, then put a couple heavy cast iron pans on top of it.

Really enjoy the improvised weights that homemade cheese and salumi require for proper preparation. You gotta press that sh*ts

After an additional hour or two under the cast iron pans, soaking the paper towel beneath with all the excess liquid.  I like the traditional crumbly paneer, but I was hoping to make something that had a texture a little closer to fresh buffalo mozzarella.  When I unwrapped the cheese cloth, I was happy to see it looked the way I had hoped.

I think the rough surface look was due to me tightening the cheese cloth on the curds before they had cooled significantly. I’m happy I did that, since it would have been confusing for you readers if I made something that was actually nice to look at

The paneer went into the fridge to rest overnight and firm up a bit more.

The next day I wasn’t 100% on what I wanted to do with the paneer but it appeared that my work golf outing wouldn’t get me home until 9, and we had folks coming over for Celts/Heat game 7.  So, I had to come up with something.

I may have a golf swing that looks like I had a previous debilitating back injury and a dump in my pants, but I contrast that with an outstanding golf wardrobe

I decided on an Indian-style pizza, or paneer-za, since I thought it would be easy to throw together for a halftime snack.

Once home, I started things out by throwing a package of thawed spinach, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, crushed red pepper, and salt in the mini-prep.

Let’s get the admission of guilt out of the way.  I had Kristi pickup some packaged naan bread and a jar of tikka masala sauce at Whole Foods instead of attempting to make them from scratch.  Just didn’t have the patience to do all that during the game.  I steenk

There was a lot of flavor packed into this mini prep, but I new that the un-salted, un-aged cheese would be pretty bland so I was trying to make up for that.  I wanted the combined flavor and texture of the cheese and spinach to have the flavorful punch of sog paneer, but without any knowledge of the Indian spices required to accomplish that.  Still came out dece.

After a few pulses in each direction, I had the smooth, creamy, pesto-like consistency I was hoping for.

I once stuffed a similar strength mixture into crescent dough and served them as pinwheels which doubled over both Kristi and Conman with stomach pain in the hour that followed.  No sympathy from me, they are the same idiots that devoured them through constant complaints about their strength

The pizza stone went into the oven and I preheated to 450F.  The nan breads got a heavy smear of the spinach mixture and then slices of the paneer.

When I first saw how small the ball of paneer was, I was a little bummed out.  But thank god I didn’t make the full size of the recipe I referenced which would have been 4x as much.  This was plenty

Then a bunch of dollops of the masala sauce and into the oven.

Dupee points out regularly how stupid it is that I don’t have a pizza slide.  After a year of pretending it didn’t bug me when pizzas stuck to cookie sheets and that it was “my plan” to just put the cookie sheet on the stone, I think I am ready to get myself a slide and blame my previous mistakes on Janet or something

After 10-12 minutes in the oven, the smell was fantastic and the paneer had softened up nicely, so the paneer-zas headed from the oven to the cutting board.

The more slices cut the better, since there will always be one leftover that no one wants to eat, and it might as well be small to avoid wasting food.  I’ve got no problem with wasting a caption, though

This came together pretty well.  The naan had a nice crispy crunch without being burned, and the spinach, paneer, and masala was a very tasty combination of flavors.  I really enjoyed the texture of the paneer since it was soft and melty when hot without the stringy/stretchy texture that you associate with melted cheese.  I like the usual stringiness, but this was completely different and also enjoyable.  All in all, I would definitely make it again, but I likely don’t have an excuse to not make my own naan and masala next time.

That was fun, I’ll grill something good this weekend.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Post Summer Purge

I’m sorry Kristi,  I never meant to hurt youuu, I never meant to make you cry, but tonight, I’m cleanin’ out the cabinets. – Eminem (or something)

As mentioned previously, Kristi and I spent the summer living in Boston.  We lived in a sublet near our old apartment while I had an internship between the first and second year of my MBA program.  When we returned to Philly, all of the supplies we had purchased for our two months in Boston came back with us and overloaded our minimal cabinet space.  To make things worse, our freezer was completely packed with everything frozen over the previous year plus leftovers from our stint in Boston.  It quickly got under my skin and I made it my mission to make use of as much of it as I could, as soon as possible.

First up, one of those marinated pork tenderloins.

There is something about Hormel food products that I find incredibly unappetizing

I hate these effing things but Kristi occasionally buys them.  The marinade is always too strong, really salty, and unpleasant tasting.  I wanted to get rid of as much of that marinade flavor as possible while adding in some new ones.  I started out with sauteed onions in the Le Creuset then turned up the heat and browned the outside of the tenderloin.

I love this le creuset dutch oven. The best part of getting married is the kitchen equipment. And, I guess, the marriage too

After browning both sides, I removed the tenderloin and deglazed the bottom of the pot with a healthy pour of sherry, then added mushrooms and sage.

Loved the smells as these items simmered together, but it really stinks up a one bedroom apartment

After the ingredients simmered for a few minutes together, the tenderloin went back into the pot with some chicken stock, and the pot went into the oven for about an hour. While it was cooking I mixed zucchini and brown rice to serve as a bed for the sliced tenderloin and sauce.

Bland looking, but thats why you need a lot of salt and pepper in 'der

When the tenderloin came out, I sliced it and reduced the braising liquid.  A decent dinner.

I never said this would be a good post, its mostly just me making dinner

Next up was a concerted effort to take down equal parts freezer and cabinets but definitely needed a few fresh ingredients.  You know, to make it less gross.

I made the decision to do a spinach pie while sitting in Consumer Behavior.  Very interesting class, but unlike Wednesdays when I spend the down moments checking to see who got picked up in fantasy football, it was an iphone activity-less Monday.  So I thought about food and what I wanted to do with food.  Here’s where I started:

Title: a bunch of stuff purchased in bulk at Costco. Alt title: things I never owned in my 20's.

A few chicken breasts went into the oven to bake while the spinach thawed and I sauteed diced carrots and garlic.  Once the garlic and carrots cooked, they were mixed with the thawed and drained spinach and the can of mushroom soup.

Mixing a can of soup in your food is a very grandma move, so just think of me as your DB grandma. Actually, forget that, that doesn't work at all

Add two cubed chicken breasts, some egg beaters and a little flour.

The rare in-progress shot. I never remember to take these

Mixed together with salt and pepper and into a pyrex to bake for 30 minutes.

I knew I would like this. Not so sure about anyone else, but it is right up my alley

Served the finished product by the firm(ish) spoonful with some roasted carrots.

Maybe the carrots were a little bit more charred than I wanted, but browned carrots with lots of salt, pepper and herbs de provence are freaking delicious

To complete the freezer cleanout, I went to my old go-to: kitchen sink chili.  I had about a pound and a half of pulled pork leftover from last fall and two containers of frozen chili (probably made from 2008 leftovers).  The pulled pork browned in a pot with some smashed garlic.

The pulled pork held up remarkably well in the freezer

The chili, not so much. Had a lot of ice that needed to be scraped off

Once the pulled pork had browned a while I added chicken stock, V8, and lots of cayenne/cumin/chili powder.  The goal was to get the liquid level high enough to put the two chili ice cubes in.

just enough liquid for the...

...chili ice cubes. Very gross looking, glad Kristi didn't see this part

Once the cubes melted I added another can of black beans and the chili eventually came together well.

When I tasted it at this point, I felt like it needed a little more spice, so I acted accordingly

After simmering for a couple hours, it was ready to eat.  And that added spice was pretty apparent.

Thats the color of angry chili. I had to crumble up some biscuits to make it edible for Kristi and a few friends

The end goal of all of this was accomplished, because my freezer now looks like this:

Those two pork shoulders on the right will be showing up on this blog sometime soon

Kristi and I are heading to Boston for the long weekend and I am going to hit up Hi Lo for some football sunday inspiration.  Next week’s post should be back to the adventurous type of cooking that I prefer to write about on this blog.