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5 ingredients or less

book review, recipe

The Milk Lady of Bangalore + Paneer Cheese

I remember being excited about Shoba Narayan’s memoir when I first heard about it because I added it to my list of most anticipated books for the year. I got re-excited when Liberty Hardy recommended The Milk Lady of Bangalore on the All the Books podcast, and at that point, I was already on the library waiting list. Funnily enough, I hate milk, so I’m not sure where all the excitement came from.

In her memoir, Shoba shares her experience moving back to India with her husband and two daughters after twenty years in the United States. Upon moving into their new apartment building, they encounter a cow in the elevator. It’s destined for a neighbor’s housewarming ceremony, and thus begins Shoba’s cow-centric journey in modern-day India. She befriends the local milk lady, visiting her every morning for fresh milk and learning more and more about cows as the days go on.

We learn about cows along with Shoba, admittedly more than a casual reader will ever need to know about cows and their byproducts. I would say the memoir is split about 50/50 between Shoba’s experiences and lessons on the revered cow, but it was woven together well and was always entertaining.

Lucky for me, milk can be made into other foods – like cheese. I decided to make paneer, a fresh pressed cheese common in India. I had made cheese once before, when Scott bought me a cheese-making kit for my birthday. That time, I ended up with a nice round ball of mozzarella. I found a recipe/tutorial from The Kitchn, and though I would be kit-less this time, it gave me confidence.

For this recipe, I needed a half gallon of milk. If you want to try your hand at cheese-making, make sure the whole milk you’re purchasing isn’t ultra-pasteurized (UHT). To start, I poured 8 cups, or half of my gallon, into a 4-quart saucepan. I brought it to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally – especially along the bottom, until it came up to 200 degrees F. (This took almost 20 minutes.)

Then, I removed it from the heat and added ¼ cup of lemon juice, covered it and allowed it to sit for 10 minutes. It had started curdling right away, but after the 10 minutes, it looked well-separated. It was easy to see the difference between the curds and the whey (yellowish liquid).

Next, I strained the curds. I placed a strainer in a large bowl and lined the strainer with a cheesecloth. I carefully poured the contents of the saucepan into the strainer, allowing the whey to separate from the curds.

I squeezed the cheesecloth a bit to remove any excess whey, but be careful to not squeeze to hard or the curds will also start to squish through the cheesecloth. Then, I poured the whey out of the bowl. (Note: The whey can be saved and used separately if desired. It can be used in place of water in baking recipes, added to smoothies, or drunk on its own.)

I opened the cheesecloth and was greeted with some beautiful little cheese curds. I added a ¼ teaspoon of salt, stirred it as gently as I could and tasted it. I added just a bit more salt and then it was good to go.

If you were making ricotta, I believe this is where you could stop. But, since paneer is a pressed cheese, the process had a few more steps. I transferred the curds, still in the cheesecloth, to a plate and shaped it into a rectangle as best I could. Then, I placed another plate on top and added two 32-ounce cans of tomatoes as weights to help press it down.

Though you can press it for as little as 15 minutes, I opted for an hour (the max recommended in my recipe) since I would be adding it to a warm dish and wanted to make sure it wouldn’t fall apart. I put it in the fridge until I was ready to use it, at which point, I cut it into squares.

With it, I made mattar paneer, which is an Indian dish with peas and paneer into a tomato-based sauce. It was absolutely delicious.

If you haven’t made your own cheese, I’d recommend trying it at least once. It’s not that difficult (as you can see), and it’s oh-so-satisfying to eat.

Paneer Cheese

Cuisine Indian
Prep Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Inactive Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 40 minutes
Servings 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk not UHT pasteurized
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

Equipment

  • 4-quart saucepan
  • Slotted spoon
  • Strainer or colander
  • Mixing bowl
  • Cheesecloth, nut bag, or other cloths for straining
  • Dinner plates
  • Weights, like a 32-ounce can of tomatoes

Directions

  1. Heat the milk: Pour the milk into the saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring the milk to a bare simmer — just below the boil at around 200°F. Stir the milk occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure the milk doesn't scald. When ready, the milk will look foamy and steamy.
  2. Add the lemon juice: Remove the milk from heat and stir in the lemon juice. The milk should begin to curdle immediately, but it's ok if it doesn't.
  3. Let the milk stand for 10 minutes: Cover the milk and let stand for 10 minutes to give the acid time to completely separate the curds and whey. At the end of 10 minutes, the curds should be completely separated and the liquid should look yellow and watery. If the milk hasn't separated, try adding another tablespoon of acid. If it still won't separate, check your milk and be sure you are using non-UHT milk; this kind of milk won't separate.
  4. Strain the curds: Set a strainer or colander over a mixing bowl and line it with cheesecloth, a nut bag, or other straining cloth. Carefully scoop or pour the curds into the strainer, letting the whey collect in the bowl beneath.
  5. Squeeze the curds: Gather the cheesecloth in your hand and gently squeeze to remove the excess whey.
  6. Salt the curds: Open the cheesecloth and sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of salt over the curds. Stir gently and taste. Add more salt if desired.
  7. Press the curds: Transfer the curds (still in the cheesecloth) to a large dinner plate. Shape them into a rough square and then fold the cheesecloth tightly around the curds to form a neat rectangular package. Set a second plate on top of the package and weigh it down. Press for at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.
  8. Use or refrigerate the paneer: Once pressed, your paneer is finished and ready to use. You can use it immediately or refrigerate for up to two days. Refrigerated paneer will be firmer and less likely to crumble than fresh paneer.

Recipe Notes

From: The Kitchn (How to Make Paneer Cheese in 30 Minutes)

Whole vs. 2% vs. Non-Fat Milk: While whole milk is our favorite for making paneer, 2% milk can also be used, though the ricotta is slightly less rich and creamy. Avoid using skim and nonfat milks; these don't separate as easily into curds and whey.

Pasteurized Milk: Pasteurized milk is fine to use for making paneer, but avoid UHT (Ultra High Temperature) pasteurized milk as this process changes the protein structure of the milk, preventing it from separating.

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book review, recipe

The Optimistic Decade + Honey-Lemon Popsicles

I was drawn to my latest read both by the striking cover art and the following description:

You say you want a revolution? This energetic and entertaining novel about a utopian summer camp and its charismatic leader asks smart questions about good intentions gone terribly wrong.

Framed by the oil shale bust and the real estate boom, by protests against Reagan and against the Gulf War, The Optimistic Decade takes us into the lives of five unforgettable characters, and is a sweeping novel about idealism, love, class, and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it…

Heather Abel’s novel is a brilliant exploration of the bloom and fade of idealism and how it forever changes one’s life. Or so we think.

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book review, recipe

Annihilation + Mussels with White Wine and Pesto

I first heard of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation when it was featured in a list of books that would be becoming movies in 2018. The title promised a scary intensity, something I normally steer clear of, but the description piqued my interest. While it was sitting in my stack of library books, I saw the movie preview (which recently came out and stars Natalie Portman) for the first time and it freaked me out so much, I considered returning it to the library without even reading it. But, I put my big girl pants on and ventured into Area X after all.

Annihilation takes readers along on the twelfth expedition into Area X, an unruly and mysterious landscape cut off from the rest of the world. The female-only expedition includes an anthropologist, a surveyor, their leader the psychologist, and our narrator the biologist. The fifth member, a linguist, didn’t even make it through the entry point. VanderMeer creates a world that is both eerie and unknown. It is slightly creepy – in the way that the popular TV show LOST was creepy – but I was never terrified. In fact, I couldn’t put the book down; I finished it in a day.

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book review, recipe

Practical Magic + Apple Tart with Black Pepper

Maybe I watched Practical Magic a little on the young side (it came out when I was 12), but ever since then I’ve loved it. Even though it’s not exactly a traditional Halloween movie, I make it a point to watch every fall season. Next week, in fact, I have a movie date with Deanna to watch it together because she’s never seen it and she needs to. This post isn’t about the movie, though, it’s about the book, which I didn’t even realize was a thing until I heard about the prequel The Rules of Magic coming out a couple of months ago.

Excited about the prequel, I hunted down Alice Hoffman’s book Practical Magic, sure I would love it as much as I did the movie. I definitely enjoyed it, but it’s different than I was expecting. The movie’s plot is so ingrained in me at this point, that it didn’t occur to me that the book wouldn’t follow it as well. Obviously, movies change book plots all the time, often to the disappointment of the reader – it’s just that usually I don’t watch the movie (over and over and over) before reading the book. So I was a bit blind-sided, and the irony is not lost on me.  

All that being said, the book is worth picking up. (This NPR review of the prequel describes the differences in Practical Magic book vs. movie wonderfully, the journalist in a similar situation to me.) Hoffman’s writing style is lovely. She crafts a beautiful story of sisterhood and magic that’s perfect for cozy fall reading. I haven’t read anything else she’s written, but I’m looking forward to trying some of her other novels – I’ve heard good things. And, of course, I’m still excited to read The Rules of Magic too. 

Have any of you read or seen Practical Magic? I’d be interested to hear from those of you who read the book before the movie which you prefer. Any other Hoffman novels you’d recommend?  

At one point in the novel, one of the sisters, Sally, makes an apple tart with her secret ingredient, black pepper. And though it’s midsummer in the story, this recipe seemed perfect to make at this time of year. Local apple orchards are bursting at the seams, and I was itching to make an apple dessert anyway. Black pepper as an addition intrigued me. I found a recipe online that included it in an apple galette and used it as a basis for my own version, mostly so I would be able to better estimate how much black pepper to include.

To keep it simple, I used store bought pie crust. Feel free to make your own, if you’re so inclined. First, I prepped my apples, which Scott and I had picked up at a local cider mill the weekend before. I used Gala because I like those and we had also bought them for snacking, but any baking apple would work just as well.

I don’t have an apple peeler contraption and my vegetable peeler wasn’t getting the job done, so I opted to make my tart a bit more “rustic” and left the apples unpeeled. I sliced them pretty thinly and tossed them with lemon juice, some sugar and a bit of freshly ground black pepper (more on the coarse side).

I laid the pie crust on a parchment lined baking sheet, piled the apples on the middle of it, and folded the crust over around the edges. To help it become a more rich golden brown, I brushed the crust with an egg wash before baking.

I covered the tart loosely with a tented piece of aluminum foil and put the tart in a 375-degree oven to bake for about an hour. I set my timer for 45 minutes and checked it every 20 minutes or so. Once it seemed close to being done, I removed the foil and allowed it to bake for another 10 or 15 minutes without, so the crust would get some good color.

It smelled amazing, but I patiently allowed it to cool completely before serving. I cut into 6 slices (though it could certainly be cut into smaller or larger pieces, depending on the size of your family/party). We enjoyed it without any additions, but it would absolutely be delicious with a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream while it’s still a bit warm from the oven.

What’s your favorite apple recipe in the fall?

Apple Tart with Black Pepper

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • 1 pie crust (use your own recipe, or use refrigerated store bought)
  • 3 – 4 medium apples, cored and sliced (¼” – ½” thick)
  • 2 TBS granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • 1 egg, mixed with a little bit of water

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Prepare the apples and toss them with the sugar, black pepper, and lemon juice.
  3. Place dough on parchment paper or a silicone mat on a baking sheet. Arrange the apples in the center of the dough, leaving about an inch border. Fold the extra dough over the sides of the tart.
  4. Brush the crust lightly with an egg wash.
  5. Cover the tart loosely with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour. After when there are about 15 minutes left (apples should be soft, dough should be mostly cooked), remove the foil to allow the dough to become golden.
  6. Let cool completely before serving. Best served at room temperature. Enjoy!

Adapted from: Earth Powered Family

Notes: It’s not much more work to make 2 tarts at a time, especially if you’re using store bought crust. Plan to use 6 medium apples and double the sugar, pepper and lemon juice. Divide apples evenly between both crusts. Baking time shouldn’t change.

You can peel your apples if desired, but with thin slices, it doesn’t affect the texture much to leave them on. Plus, it makes it much quicker!


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book review, recipe

A Wrinkle in Time + Hot Chocolate

As you would probably expect, I read a lot when I was a kid. I remember reading my first chapter book (Black Beauty) in first grade, leading to a slight obsession with horses that continued into middle school. I have fond memories of my mom reading to my sister and me at night, with books like Stuart Little and The Borrowers that fueled my early interest in writing stories of my own. I also devoured The Baby-Sitters Club series and Nancy Drew novels, though honestly anything I could get my hands on was fair game. However, there were a few key books I’d missed (mostly because I watched the movies and/or didn’t realize they were based on books in the first place) such as The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Little Women, and The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve rectified many of those misses in recent years, but A Wrinkle in Time was still outstanding.

For those of you who don’t know, there’s a movie adaptation coming out next year starring Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon and Oprah, which is what really prompted me to pick it up at last. That and the fact that I found out the main character is named Meg. She and her three brothers live at home with their mother, who is a scientist. Their father, also a scientist, is no longer home and (depending on who Meg is talking to, or perhaps it was how I read it) it’s implied that he’s just gone on some sort of scientific mission and will be back eventually, or that he’s dead. Two of her brothers are twins and quite athletic, and Charles, her youngest brother, has a unique way of reading people. It is because of this skill that three mysterious beings named Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which come into their home and ultimately take Meg, Charles and their neighbor Calvin on an adventure that will change their lives forever.

Since it’s a children’s book, it didn’t take long to read – I think I read it in an afternoon. It was absolutely entertaining, but because it had quite a lot of science (real or otherwise) and had some really abstract concepts, I found myself wondering, “Is this something kids can really understand?” (If any of my readers who read this as a kid and as an adult can provide some perspective here, that would be helpful.)

I decided to make hot chocolate to go along with this book, because not only is it comforting, but it features prominently in the scene where Mrs. Whatsit first appears, on a dark and stormy night. It was actually quite dark and stormy the night I concocted the hot chocolate myself, so I think it worked out nicely. 🙂

I followed a recipe from Ashlee Marie for the World’s Best Hot Chocolate and thankfully it was very straightforward. (Nothing more frustrating than just wanting something quick and comforting and finding out you don’t have the right ingredients or it’s a hassle to make.)

First, I combined the cocoa, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Then, I added the water and brought the mixture to a boil. I allowed it to boil for 1 minute, before adding the milk. Then, I continued heating the hot chocolate until it was the temperature we like – not too hot, not too cold. Probably a few more minutes is ideal, at most.

I poured it into our mugs and topped them with whipped cream, which I always like to cool it down and break up the richness of the chocolate. We settled down in the living room while the storm boomed around us and enjoyed!

World’s Best Hot Chocolate

  • Servings: 2-4
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Ingredients

  • ¼ cup cocoa
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions

  1. In a saucepan, mix the dry ingredients.
  2. Add the water and bring to a boil, keep boiling for one min.
  3. Then add the milk and heat until it’s the temperature you like.
  4. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla, stir and serve. Top with marshmallows, whipped cream, or your preference. Enjoy!


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book review, recipe

The Art of Racing in the Rain + Chicken Dog Treats

Garth Stein’s novel The Art of Racing in the Rain had a lot of promise when it was chosen as our most recent book club selection – it had a cute dog on the cover, it has over four stars on Goodreads, and oh yeah, it’s an international bestseller. Honestly, my biggest concern when I started it was that the dog would die, and after the Lily and the Octopus crying-on-a-plane debacle, I wasn’t sure I could handle that.

From the start, however, it’s quite clear that Enzo the dog (and narrator) may die. As a very old dog with what seems to be hip dysplasia, he is suffering quite a lot in the opening chapter. However, as a highly enlightened animal, Enzo doesn’t seem bothered and spends much of the book talking about his ultimate goal of becoming a human through reincarnation upon his death. And, for much of the rest of the novel, he spends his time making comparisons between life and racing that were a bit of a stretch at best and boring distractions from the rest of the story at worst.

For me, honestly, the downfall of this novel was not that the dog was narrating nor that the majority of the characters were unlikeable – including Enzo, who I thought could not have been more pompous and un-doglike if he was a cat – but that it tried way too hard and missed the mark. And while all of us in book club didn’t feel exactly the same way, three of us (including the lovely lady who chose it) absolutely hated it.

It’s an interesting concept, and who doesn’t love a good dog story? But it could have been so much more. It could have felt like a dog and not a philosophy professor was leading us on this journey. It could have been packed with just slightly less drama. I guess I didn’t think the title would be so literal, but I didn’t care for the racing comparisons. Overall, though, it just didn’t feel genuine.

On the plus side, lots of dogs got to enjoy treats because of this novel, and so that brings me lots of happiness. In the novel, Enzo’s owner Denny always gives him some chicken “bedtime treats” at the end of every day, and so I set out to find a chicken treat I could make myself. I found one from Use Real Butter that is extremely homemade, fresh and delicious. I chose to make it more semi-homemade, using both canned chicken and canned sweet potato, which required less prep time.

First, I drained the chicken and popped it into my food processor, pulsing it a few times to break it down into smaller pieces.

Then, I added everything to the bowl of my standing mixer – chicken, sweet potato puree, shredded cheddar cheese, an egg and half of the flour. I used the paddle attachment to combine the ingredients partially before adding the rest of the flour. This is where you’ll need to eyeball it and likely add more flour to get a less sticky consistency. Once the dough comes together, put it on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out to a thickness of about ¼”.

I found this adorable paw-shaped cookie cutter on Amazon, but you can really use any shape you have on-hand.

Once I had 2 cookie sheets full of treats, I put them in the oven to bake. (I ended up covering 3 cookies sheets in total and made somewhere between 175 and 200 treats.) I opted for treats on the chewy side, but I have included the directions from the original recipe below so you can make them crispier if you’d like to.

Once they were cool, I gave some to Beta to taste test. She absolutely approved! In fact, she liked the smell of them so much that she had a hard time holding back while I tried to snap some pictures.

Almost 200 treats is a lot! So I also wrapped them up in little gift bags to give to my coworkers who have dogs and asked them all to take photos of their dogs enjoying them too. Quite a good looking bunch! It seemed the treats got puppy approval all around.

Chicken

  • Servings: 150+
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 12.5 oz, or one large can, of canned chicken (Premium Chunk White Chicken Meat), pulsed in a food processor
  • 10 oz (approx.) canned sweet potato purée
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (and more as needed, plus extra for rolling out)
  • 1 large egg

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix all of the ingredients together until the dough is well blended. The dough should come together without being too sticky. Add more flour as needed (by the ¼ cup) until you achieve a consistency that holds together but isn’t wet. (Additionally, more egg or sweet potato could be added if, for some reason, the dough is too dry.)
  2. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out shapes and arrange on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake time will depend on size of the treats. For 1-inch diameter treats, start testing doneness after 15 minutes by lightly poking the center of a treat with your finger. For larger treats, allow for more baking time (but keep an eye on it the first time around). Treats should be slightly soft in the middle at which point you can remove them for soft treats. For crunchy treats, shut off the heat and leave the oven door closed. Let the treats dry out in the residual heat, but check to see that they aren’t burning at the edges.
  3. Store soft treats in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Store hard treats in an air-tight container for up to a week. If storing for longer, refrigerate or freeze them. Makes 150+ 1-inch treats.

Adapted from: Use Real Butter

Notes: I didn’t do an exact count, but my recipe made well more than I expected. Definitely in the 150-200 range, but probably closer to 200. This will depend most of all on the size of the cookie cutter, but also on how thickly you roll the dough. The large quantity makes this a great recipe to save money and stock up on homemade treats for your own dog, or to give as gifts to other dog owners!


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.