Saturday, April 07, 2007

Cheap and Cheesy, No Whey!

There are moments when I am struck by my own tight and stingy ways, especially when the pinch takes a hold of me over a rather paltry sum. Take for example this yogurt dessert treat a friend brought over about a month ago. Skeptically I sniffed at this store brand, self proclaimed creamy decadent treat assuming that I would taste another pumped up, moussed and rippled dairy product. Suffice to say that after the tip of the spoon barely grazed my teeth, I was hooked. Perfect voluptuous mouth feel, the fresh taste of cream delivered straight from an alpine cow, the lilt and suggestion of plum with a scatter of ground walnuts- a beautiful dream. But at seventy five cents per 8 oz. container- I balked, and then I grimaced before proceeding to buy one dessert treat a week for the next sweet month.

Yet even while I was heading towards the chilled dairy aisle to stuff cup into cart or lazily dipping into silken layers of pure white goodness, a small portion of me held onto this nagging irritation. That I had fallen into the trap, where marketing executives dream up new ways to feed consumers fat and sugar and happily pay for it, especially considering that I was actually holding back from consuming four desserts a week at an eyebrow raising three whole dollars. Confident that I had cracked the code to creaminess and from this strange and ridiculous high horse I decided to achieve more for less by straining the whey from a quart of plain yogurt to condense it. Later I would dapple the hand clotted cloud with exotic fruit compote. Time being what it is however, the fancy fruit never actually materialized and instead, applesauce pulled from the cupboard made hasty but suitable stand in. The resulting hyped up cream from this ordinary thickened yogurt was surprisingly good, an epiphany considering that I’ve always regarded yogurt cheese with derision, as just a dulled down substitution for the more desirable and alluring cream cheese.

The Farmer in the Dell

(sung mournfully around a plate of high priced goat cheese)
The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone!
Hi-ho the derry-o, the cheese stands alone!

With my heart and mind now open to this kitchen sink cheese, I must take time to disclose another tragic example of my frugality to wind my way down to the conclusion of this post. I adore chèvre. But it can be a little painful to exchange five dollars for a chunk the size of a walnut. And in the rare event that I do, at poorly considered moments I spread the good stuff so unbearably thin you can actually read the word “cheapskate” underneath. Lucky for me and this miserly mingy habit, there is hope in the form of a recipe recently found on Leite’s Culinaria for yogurt cheese balls steeped in herbs vaguely reminiscent of a Laura Chenel artisan goat cheese. While the process takes a few days for the whey to drain sufficiently, the individual steps are irresistibly simple and the results devastatingly delicious. I had no idea that my bittersweet short lived love affair with an undisclosed yogurt dessert treat would eventually lead me towards one of the best things I’ve eaten in 2007. Do yourself a favor whether you’re cheap and cheesy or not- and try these. You will yield a gorgeous plate of flavorful cheese nuggets and in the process, play around with curds and fancy yourself a cheese maker without wearing those irksome hairnets. Now the cheese needn’t stand alone as we all join together hand to mouth in glorious harmony.

Yogurt Cheese Balls serves 6-8: Adapted from a recipe by Victoria Jenanyan Wise. The proportion of salt to yogurt produces a remarkably similar texture to goat cheese. I used completely different herbs/spices but loved the results- spicy, garlicky and addictive. As a quicker alternative the spices and herbs can be mixed into the yogurt cheese and served in a bowl. (I tried this method recently using a low fat yogurt and only one day of draining...it is fine but nothing to rave about. The cheese was too sour and thin. It makes all the difference using whole milk yogurt, draining over several days, making the balls and using the olive oil.)

Ingredients:
1 ½ quarts good quality plain whole milk yogurt
2 tsp kosher salt
6 Tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic chopped fine
2 chili de arbol crumbled and toasted with seeds
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (more or less)
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

Directions: Line a colander with cheesecloth and dump the yogurt in. Place the colander in a bowl deep enough to collect the whey but still be held away from the yogurt above. Leave in the refrigerator overnight. Next day dump the whey and stir the salt into the thickened yogurt. Place the salted yogurt back in the refrigerator to drain another day. Next day dump the whey and roll the thickened yogurt into walnut sized balls. Place onto a plate lined with paper towels. Refrigerate again overnight loosely covered. Place the balls in a shallow bowl or tray and mix the chili, garlic and herbs with the oil in a separate bowl. Pour over the cheese balls to coat and put in the refrigerator again for at least two hours. Serve with crackers and spread as thickly as you want.

16 comments:

Lydia said...

Goodness, this does sound absolutely luscious!

blatta said...

Very Very phunnie ('spread so thin you could read cheapskate' - that's a classic) and yet, and yet, I think I might like to eat that of which you write as well.

Your writing, so artful and assured, deprecating and witty, I'm sure makes all of us fans believe we know you as a long-time intimate.

Bravo.

Lis said...

HA! You're humor never fails to crack me up! I especially love reading your posts very early in the morning, knowing I'll get a kickstart to sustaining a good mood for the rest of the day. =)

This recipe is dangerous though.. although a little time consuming, it sounds way too easy - with sinful results. Just the kind of recipe that trips my trigger! I can guarantee that I'll be joining you in cheese balls and crackers very soon. :D

xoxo

Monkey Wrangler said...

Calli, wow! I've ventured into ricotta, but this definately takes it up a notch. I will try it. And you said "derry-o." Funny thing it's from Victoria, as I was recently loaned a copy of "The pig by the tail."

Callipygia said...

lydia- this is, the original recipe is a derivative of labneh and can be sprinkled with za'atar or any other interesting spice mix.

blatta- thank you always for your enthusiastic words, knowing how much you like to walk on the rich side of things, you should try this!

lis- It is really mainly waiting and stirring in a few things. So rich and creamy! Any herbs/spices...Crackers... I am going to try this with low fat yogurt next. Oh yes and cheap too.

monkeywrangler- Ricotta, cool-Michael Chiarello had some easy recipe i recall. Victoria, derry-o, pigs and tails, peanutbutter & jelly...what?

Gattina said...

another wonderful recipe that surely I will come back again!
I may like to add a bit of garlic... wonder any of reminiscence to one french cheese (with a bulb of garlic printed on its tiny box, always sitting next to chevre...) :) :)
"sung mournfully", "irksome hairnets"... Calli, you crack me up!

Freya and Paul said...

I've already made curd cheese and I'm now ready to give this a go! Sounds awesome!

Anonymous said...

Well, there's goat milk yogurt, my favorite! at TJ's. I should try this with that. Though I just can't imagine waiting so long...

Callipygia said...

gattina- the garlic really is key and though it was strong, it wasn't too much.

freya and paul- tell me what you think when you try it.

anonymous- ooh what a great idea, I will have to try that next.

HipWriterMama said...

I found out how to make this awesome appetizer/meal from Trader Joe's the other day. Take the TJ frozen garlic naan (an Indian flatbread), smear chevre over it, spread gutsy olive tapenade on top of chevre, sprinkle a bit of crushed red pepper, bake at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes. Take out and dig in. It's amazing.

I wonder how your recipe would work with soy yogurt.

Callipygia said...

hipwritermama- I love TJ naan and the combo you thought up sounds delish. I'll bet the soy yogurt would work- why not give it a go and let me know.

sher said...

Oh yes! I've felt that same stinginess. :):) And thank you so much for that recipe. I often read recipes for hanging yogurt, but never get around to doing it. Like you, it's sometimes hard to pay the large amounts of money for chevre, so when you describe it as one of the best recipes of 2007--I must make that! Beautiful post and illustration.

Callipygia said...

Sher- they'll be especially wonderful to try with your herb garden.

pom d'api said...

Thanks for this recipe. This does sound fabulous

Callipygia said...

pom d'api- it really is and very quick and easy too.

miragee said...

I do not go much for dairy products since my stomach doesn't digest them well. But I fell in love with yogurt cheese when I visited France a few years ago. I even got into the habit of tasting them after every meal, but just as you said, that can be a very fattening habit!