Sunday, September 12, 2010

Farm Fresh Weekend!

This has turned out to be a Farm Fresh Kitchen Weekend.  A really satisfying weekend, overall!

It started Friday night, when I started a batch of chevre (goat cheese) for one of the attorneys at my office.  I had brought some chevre to share at a birthday gathering last month, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  She asked if they could buy some cheese from me for a birthday party.  I told her I can’t sell cheese, and can’t guarantee yet that I can produce a good batch consistently, but if I could do it, I would like to offer them some as a birthday gift.  She was delighted!  Last weekend, I made a batch that turned out horrible.  It was a rare hot day, and the heat in the house just basically curdled it, and not in a good way.  The party was the 12th, so I knew that if I was going to be successful I would need to start it Friday night.

Well, I learned that the best way (for me, at least) to make chevre is to do it this way - overnight.  I heated the milk, added the culture and rennet, and then it was able to sit overnight for the requisite 8-12 hours.  Draining took another couple of hours, and voila!  It turned out wonderful.  I love the smooth, fresh taste of this homemade chevre.  It is so good just on its own and on crackers or french bread.  I was so excited to be able to call and let her know that we had chevre success!  Becca and I were getting ready to go to the feed store, so I asked if we could drop it off for her.  The timing worked out well, so I put the container in a cold sack with an ice pack (it was pretty hot here yesterday) and headed to Santa Rosa.  She and her partner are always so gracious, and I was happy to see the smiles on their faces and the appreciation of what I had done.  She said what made it so special is that she knows that I am out there in the early morning, milking my goats by hand, and that I take care and pride in them and in the products I make with their milk.  It meant a lot to me that she was aware of not only the time it took to make the cheese, but the love and care that goes into the production of the milk itself.

We headed off to the feed store to pick up food for the critters:  alfalfa for the goats, chicken feed, and cat food.  Last time I bought chicken feed, I discovered that Western Farm Center in old town Santa Rosa carries organic feed, and I was really happy to get that for my chickens.  I was even more happy to see that it came from Hunt & Behrens in Petaluma.  Organic AND local!  The perfect combination.  I don’t usually frequent Western Farms, unless there’s something I need to pick up on my lunch hour or they have something special no one else does, so I asked at my usual feed store if they were carrying organic feed yet.  That was confirmed a couple weeks ago, so I headed there for our shopping this weekend.  They always load my truck for me, so I don’t usually see what’s back there until I get home.  I was disappointed to see a different bag for the chicken feed, and even more so when I examined it.  This was shipped to California from Missouri.  Why, when there is a local producer?  I’ll ask them to look into picking up the feed from Petaluma, or I’ll just start getting it at Western Farm.  The price is about the same.

Unloading the truck needed to wait until Sunday, as by the time we got home, it was time to take care of the animals for the evening.  I had also finally unloaded all the beautiful things that we brought home from Gail’s last weekend, and I couldn’t face moving things out of the truck again.  I had such a good time in the morning, though, appreciating each thing and finding a place for it at the house.  The rocking chair has become a favorite retreat for both me and Becca on the front porch.

I am tickled with the shelf, pitcher and pots that Gail sent home, and am looking forward to filling those pots with living and wonderful things.  I used the enamel cookpot for the chevre, and find it to be the best pot, ever.  The wagon wheels look good by the front of the house where I am hoping to add a fountain.  There is still so much to do here, but I am really enjoying it!

I was so pleased with the chevre I made, I wanted some for myself, so I started another batch last night.  I was hoping to start it with last night's milking, but Imbri had other ideas.  I should have known better to stay alert when milking her last night.  When I placed her feet on the milkstand before washing her and my hands, she moved her foot.  I firmly picked it up and placed it back, which usually takes care of the matter.  I was almost done milking when a song came on the Blackberry that I wanted to make sure I had “liked” for Pandora, so I paused momentarily to grab it.  That’s all it took.  I looked back just in time to see her foot move directly into the milk pail.  Oooooohhhhh, I was so frustrated!  There is no way to recover from a move like that, and nothing to do but let the milk go to waste.  Taught me a good lesson, tho’.

I am much more confident in making the cheese now, and think that I may be ready to try Camembert next.  Mmmm.  I saw a recipe a couple weeks ago for Cajeta and Goat Cheese Brownies.  OMG - wouldn’t that be a great combination??  So part of this chevre is going to be used in that brownie recipe.

I was reading through some dairy recipes this morning and saw a chevre recipe that mentioned putting the cheese into molds.  Why hadn’t I thought of that before?  A year or so ago, I bought a cheese making starter kit.  It included two cheese molds, but I never thought to use them because all the recipes I’ve seen so far call for the cheese to be drained in cheesecloth.  I decided to use the molds for this cheese today, and hope that it all works out as well as I think it will.  So much easier and prettier than the bagged cheese look.

It’s Sunday, so that means it’s Windsor Farmers Market Morning!  To top it off, we heard on the radio last night that a Tomato and Pepper Festival was being planned at the same location during that time, including tomato sampling and a salsa contest.  Something more to look forward to!

I really love going to this farmers market, and I’m sure you are all tired of reading about it by now.  I was especially pleased with what we brought home today.  We had to get the biegnets, of course, plus the sausage/spinach ravioli that we really look forward to every week.  I have pesto in the freezer, so we passed on the prepared pestos, and picked up some more fragrant basil so I can add to my pesto stockpile.  Hot and spicy jalapeno and serrano peppers were on the list this week, because I loved the way that the addition of that to basil pesto really adds a nice warmth and brings out the flavors in a fabulous way.  The tomatoes I picked this morning, plus what I brought home from Mom’s last week, meant salsa was on the menu, too.  I was surprised and very happy to see big, red, ripe organic strawberries, and picked up a basket of those to add to our homemade yogurt.  I could smell them from the aisle, which is what drew me in to their bright red luciousness!  Corn was all over the place, and very reasonably priced!  Four of those, please and thank you.  I need eggs for the brownie recipe, and was happy to pick up the last dozen from a Healdsburg rancher, and chat with her about how to stop mine from being a cannibal and eating her eggs.  No real resolution to that yet, but I’m still going to work on it.

We were getting a little weighed down, so put all our purchases quickly into the trunk and came back to look at the tomato and pepper festival area.  We sampled different tomatoes that I’d always wondered about and hand’s down, we are getting the Purple Cherokee tomatoes from OAEC to grow next year.  I love the sweet Burbanks that I’ve been growing the last couple of years, but the Cherokee tomatoes were something special.  Super large, purple in color, with firm flesh and an amazing, intense, sweet tomato flavor.

We had to stop and sample the salsas.  Some were good, some so-so, and I was looking forward to going home and making my own salsa fresco.  Then the lady started putting out samples of this clear jelly-looking stuff.  Hmm?  Becca and I tried it and it was fabulous.  Sweet, hot, but not overpowering, with an intense pepper flavor.  We asked who made it and what it was - it’s pepper jelly.  I’ve bought jalapeno jelly at the grocery store before for my brie quesadillas, but this was amazing.  We booked over back to the market area she pointed out to find the farm that provided it (and took first place in the contest).  We found the small stand, with produce on the tables and a tall, kind-faced man behind them.  I looked around - no jars - and asked if he had any of the pepper jelly that we’d just fallen in love with at the festival.  He smiled and said, “Well, let me tell you what happened.”  His wife gave him two jars for the competition, and told him that she wasn’t sending any for him to sell, as she made them for holiday gifts.  He laughed, and said that he will have to tell her what a hit they would have been, and that there were customers hoping that she might send some next week.  He gave me his card in case I wanted to call and see if he was bringing any, but I told him we’ll be there anyway, and will look for him.

As we walked away, I remembered that the lady I bought the pesto from before has pepper jellies, and so Becca and I headed over there to sample what she had.  She had an awesome peach pepper jelly, and a tomato pepper jelly.  Becca like the tomato one best, so that’s what we picked up.  I preferred the peach, but I’ll get that one next week.  Heh.

We stopped at Safeway to pick up some odds and ends needed to fill in the blanks, and headed home, feeling VERY satisfied and excited about getting into the kitchen!

The first thing I started was cajeta, because it takes so long to make.  I decided to try making a vanilla infused caramel this week, instead of the traditional cinnamon.  Instead of simmering it with a cinnamon stick, I am using half of a split vanilla bean.  It is on the stove now, and smells absolutely heavenly!!  While that started cooking, I did some dishes and made some fresh salsa that we’ve been nibbling on this afternoon.  Next is the strawberry puree and hopefully some pesto.  Of course, once the cajeta is done, we’ll look at time and see if we can get the brownies made tonight.  That might have to wait.

It’s now time to start getting the barn ready for the night and tuck the animals in soon.  We are stepping even more carefully now, as my landlady told me this morning of her little adventure last night.  She’d gotten home late, and stepped out of the truck in the dark at the same time her dog started going after something near the driver’s side door.  She knew his sounds and was pretty sure it was a snake - the frogs are so loud at night, that she didn’t hear any rattle.  She went to the garage to grab a flashlight and the pole she uses for snakes, and came back to see it coiled near her door, and her dog going after it.  He killed it before she could do anything.  It was a baby rattler, and luckily the dog is smart enough to know how to avoid getting hurt himself.  She showed me the snake this morning, and it’s a good reminder to look very carefully these last days of summer, make lots of noise, and be aware.

P.S. I just strained the vanilla cajeta and sampled it - it is truly amazing.  Not a speck more sugar in this recipe than my regular recipe - all I did was replace the cinnamon stick with the vanilla bean - but the sweetness is so intense and smooth.  This is going to be fabulous in those brownies.

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