Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mari's delish dip

The versatile Black Bean Salsa Dip made by Mari's Montana Kitchen is a tasty newcomer to the deli case at Heeb's at 544 East Main Street and at the Bozeman Co-op at 908 West Main Street, both in Bozeman.

The dip is chunky with beans and tomatoes and onions and green chile peppers, with just the right amount of hot spiciness to make it interesting. After tasting it, I can honestly say there is only one bad thing about it: you do have to pick it up in Bozeman.

I tried it with crackers: yum!

I then got ambitious and made a quick-fix chili with it. This is highly recommended if you want a fast meal.

I could have just put the contents of the 16-ounce container (about 1 1/2 cups) into a pan and heated it. That would have been lovely indeed.

But I added some chicken and then topped the warm chili with cheese, bits of green onion, and a big dab of sour cream. Super lovely!

Mari's website will give you more ideas.

Mari says the carton's "enjoy by" date is 13 days from the day she made it -- she is a stickler for freshness -- but from my own experience, I'd say you won't have to worry any about it going bad. It'll be gone long before that.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Easy peasy cheese

I love reporting on Montana food producers and farmers markets, but you know what, you can be a food producer right in your own Montana home -- or wherever else you live.

Last week I made cheese! I've tried to make mozzarella before, a recipe that is advertised as: easy! make in 30 minutes! use your microwave!

Well, first of all, I don't have a microwave, so I followed the "easy!" steps to making it on my stove. I got curds, but they never formed into recognizable cheese.

I even tried twice -- with the same result.

When I e-mailed the cheese help desk (yes, there is one), I was told it was probably the milk I was using. Well, I don't know how milk could get any better than Lifeline's nonhomogenized whole milk, freshly produced in Victor, Montana, but I had to leave it at that. I'd already wasted 2 gallons. I'd rather drink it.

Then in February the Darigold plant in Bozeman began producing their own nonhomogenized milk, or as they call it, "cream-on-top" milk.

It's usually a good idea to stay as close to the original form of food as possible, so some folks say nonhomogenized milk is more healthy for us to drink (that is, if you believe in drinking milk at all). I must say I love the taste of nonhomogenized milk; it's somehow cleaner, or fresher -- hard to describe, but delicious.

When I found a recipe for Fresh Chive Cheese on A Good Appetite blog, I thought I'd gamble with another gallon of milk. At $3.99, not such a bad risk.

And I won! After a few easy steps, I had a pound of cheese that tasted slightly like mozzarella, though crumbly. It's more like Indian paneer, if you've had that. (I love paneer chunks in spicy spinach -- a frozen dinner I sometimes find in the organic foods section of the supermarket freezer).

One note about the recipe: my KitchenAid mixer did nothing to the curd except crumble it into a million bits. I ended up taking small handfuls of the bits and squeezing them until they were "dough-like, silky & not grainy at all" per the instructions and then combining and rolling each handful into one big log. This step is as meditative as kneading bread dough and not terribly time consuming.

This cheese does not melt well. When I tried to broil it on bread, it bubbled and browned but just got more crumbly.

Still, it is real cheese. I have eaten it on crackers and crumbled it into salad and even eaten a piece straight up alongside an orange. The last bit of the cheese has been in my refrigerator for a week now, so it does last that long at least.

If you are skeptical about being able to make your own cheese, I suggest you give this recipe a try. Since the recipe does not specify using nonhomogenized milk, if that is not available to you, why not try whatever you do have on hand.

I am flushed with victory. I plan to try making mozzarella again.