Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pretty Cheesy

"Life is great. Cheese makes it better."
Avery Aames



GGGRRRRRRRR, anyone know of a squirrel hit-man we can use? Today as I sat all warm and cozy from the windy day inside, I watched as squirrels used my wind-chime ladder as their own personal access to the bird feeders, casually reaching across with their little hands and pulling the feeders towards their greedy little mouths! Ok, they're cute, but not THAT cute. Destructive little beasts and let's not forget they are a member of the rodent family.
Note the little hand pulling  the feeder closer!
 We have tried so many remedies, nothing really works very well. Even tried a squirrel repellent that was made of organic ingredients, so our animals wouldn't be at risk. Supposedly the squirrels don't like the smell of rotting eggs. Actually the combination of smells they put in there was not bad and it worked...for one day. Then they were back to their destructive ways.

Don't get me wrong...we are the biggest animal lovers. But let me share what these darlings have wrecked havoc with. 
  • They chewed the wires to the hot water heater so it almost caused a fire.
  • Dug under the bathtub enclosure and you can hear them crawling around there. I swear when taking a bath, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if a squirrel head didn't pop right thru!
  • Ate all my lettuces...through a fenced in area. Twice.
  • Dug numerous holes and burrows until the ground is riddled with them
  • Ate baby bulbs sticking their heads out
  • Got in my chicken coop and ate their feed
There is a lot more but I won't bore you. I have heard other people tell me squirrels have got into their car's engines and chewed wires.

We just want to co-exist peacefully with them. I think I need a white flag.

I'm pretty excited about today's topic! For those of you who have never made any type of cheese, please don't be intimidated! Yes, it IS a process, but doable and I'm going to tell you how.

Today's cheese is an unusual one. Variations of this cheese can be found throughout Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. It's called Quark.

A creamy, fresh cheese, quark curds come together to form something magical with a gentle tang. It is spreadable, a cross between sour cream and ricotta cheese, with a mild tang. Here's the recipe! If you end up making it, please share with all of us how it turned out! Following this article, in the GARDEN GOODIES section, are two recipes using your homemade quark.

Total time: 25 minutes, plus 1 to  days setting and draining times
Serving: a generous cup of quark.

2 cups of whole milk
1 cup cultured buttermilk

In a stainless steel, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside until the milk is cooled. Whisk in the buttermilk.

Transfer the mixture to a glass, ceramic or plastic container, and set aside at room temperature until the mixture is thickened, with a consistency similar to yogurt or creme fraiche, about 1 day.

Transfer the mixture to a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl. Refrigerate overnight to drain the whey from the cheese. The whey (or liquid draining out) should be clear, not cloudy, as it is drained.

Use as desired. Store in a glass, ceramic or plastic container. Cover and refrigerate up to four days. Be sure to check out GARDEN GOODIES for two recipes and some fantastic ideas on what to do with your quark!



What to do with quark cheese!

  • With a gentle tang similar to yogurt and a smooth texture, quark cheese can be used in a variety of recipes, whether you are thinking sweet or savory.
  • Use it as you would yogurt, stirring in some granola and fresh fruit for an easy, on-the-go breakfast
  • Spread it over toast or bagels or in-between sandwich layers for a little extra tang and richness
  • Dollop it over potatoes or rich pasta dishes, even ragu.
  • Lighten it with a little whipped cream and a grating of fresh lemon zest and use it to fill crepes or cream puffs
  • Use it as a filling for omelets, frittatas or ravioli
  • Use it as a filling in cheesecake or strudels
  • Make the perfect dip or spread by simply mixing it with a little fresh goat cheese, paprika and chopped chives.

NOTE: The unfilled crepes can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 3 days
(1) lb (about 3 cups) strawberries, quartered lengthwise
(1) tsp vanilla extract
(1) cup plus (1) tsp sugar, divided
(1) cup flour
(1) tsp salt
(1) cup milk
(2) eggs
(2) T butter, melted, plus softened butter for brushing
(1) cup heavy cream
(3) cups quark
Grated zest of (1) lemon
Powdered sugar for dusting

In a medium bowl, toss the strawberries with the vanilla and 1/4 cup sugar. Let sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another bowl, whisk the flour with the salt and (1) tsp sugar. Whisk in the milk, eggs and melted butter until the batter is smooth. Set aside for 15 minutes.

 Strain the batter through a fine sieve set over a small bowl. Melt a bit of butter in a 10 inch nonstick skillet and heat over medium low heat. Add 1/4 cup of batter, tilting the skillet to coat the bottom evenly and cool until the edges of the crepes are lightly browned, about 1 minute. Using a spatula, flip the crepe and cook until lightly colored on the second side, about 30 seconds.

Transfer the crepe to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter, adjusting the heat as necessary so that crepes do not burn.

You will need (8) crepes for this dish. (Recipe can be made up to this point a day ahead, with strawberries and crepes refrigerated tightly covered.)

Heat the broiler. Brush a large gratin dish with butter. In a medium bowl whisk the cream with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until it holds a soft peak. Whisk a little of the whipped cream into the quark to lighten it. Add the quark and lemon zest to the whipped cream and whisk until smooth.

Spread 1 crepe at a time with a scant 1/4 cup of the quark cream. Roll up and transfer, seam-side down, to the prepared gratin dish. Dust with powdered sugar. Broil the crepes until the tip is slightly browned and the quark cream is melted, 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the crepes to warmed plates and dust with more powdered sugar. Spoon the strawberries mixture on top and enjoy!


Total time, including prep: 1 hour 40 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8

(3) lbs asparagus, trimmed of tough ends
(1) lb bacon, cut into 1 inch cubes
(3) leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
(2) cups of quark
(3) cups heavy cream
(1) tsp freshly grated nutmeg
(2) T freshly grated Parmesan cheese
(1) tsp salt
(1) tsp freshly ground black pepper
(2) xlarge eggs
(1) cup coarsely shredded swiss cheese
(1) 9-inch unbaked pie shell with high fluted edge

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Blanch the asparagus in a large pot of slated boiling water just until the spears turn a bright green, about 1 minute. Strain and remove to an ice bath. Cut the spears on the bias (diagonal) into 1/4 inch thick pieces. Set aside.

In a larger skillet, saute the bacon over moderately low heat, stirring often, until it has rendered the fat and is crisp, about 15 minutes. Transfer the bacon bits to paper towels and drain. Add the leeks to the drippings and saute until limp and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced asparagus to the skillet, toss lightly to mix and then transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the quark, cream, Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper for about 20 seconds, until smooth. Pulse in the eggs, one at a time. Or, if you do not have a food processor you can whisk the quark, cream, Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper and eggs in a bowl until creamy). Pour the quark mixture into the large bowl, add the swiss cheese and reserved bacon and toss well to mix.

Set the pie shell on a heavy duty baking sheet and pour in the quark mixture. Bake uncovered for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F and continue to bake until the tart is lightly browned and set like custard and a knife inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, 50-60 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven and cool on a rack 45 minutes before slicing. To serve, cut into slim wedges.

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