Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Herb Festival Canceled Due to Rain - BUT ....

Dear Folks,

The Herb Festival scheduled for today at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is canceled due to the rain BUT -- I am going to be doing the schedule 'thrillin' grillin' sampling of some of my specialties tomorrow (Sunday the 10th) at the BTA - sampling begins around noonish.

Still cool weather but supposed to be nice and sunny.

The BTA has many herb and other plants for sale, so come out.


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Whey - Lots of Options!

Dear Folks,

I have made my own yogurt for a number of years.  Last year I made a kind of Farmers (like cottage) cheese and last week I made a wonderful ricotta because I wanted to make a lasagna (next post will have the lasagna recipe and pictures), using some of our garden offerings, my ricotta and my friend Kathy's mozzarella, and using vegetables in place of the noodles.

Being one of those people who likes to either use up, recycle or find additional uses for things the thing you wind up with even with homemade yogurt and certainly ricotta is a lot of whey.  Whey is opaque liquid left from cheese making and has protein, minerals, sugars (lactose) and some calories.  If you are or know someone, who uses protein drinks made with whey powder, then you may be familiar with its nutrient qualities.  In the past I have used my whey in baking - always a good choice but there are more options, including a unique cheese recipe I tripped across while researching more uses for whey.

Below I give you the recipe for the ricotta, and also a number of ways to use the whey and a couple of helpful links

About Ricotta

Ricotta is the traditional cheese used in lasagna and other Italian dishes.  Similar to cottage cheese. When I first starting make lasagna decades ago I could not find ricotta, so I used cottage cheese (purists stop cringing).  First I have to tell you I have never been fond of either ricotta or cottage cheese unless it was disguised in something - like lasagna!  I am changing my mind after making my farmers and now this wonderful ricotta from goats milk.

I adapted this recipe from Chef Michael Symon's -- his recipe calls for the addition of heavy cream - since goats milk is higher in fat than cow's I skipped the cream.


1 quart of goats milk
1/3 cup of lemon juice and fine zest (not the strip zest) from the lemons used
1/2 teaspoon each sugar and kosher salt (I use organic sugar for my cooking)

Bring the milk to 180 degrees on the stove, stirring to prevent scorching.

Take off burner and add juice, zest, salt and sugar.  Stir once or twice and let sit undisturbed for 20 minutes (or longer just as long as it is at least 20 minutes).

Pour into a colander lined with 4 single layers of cheese cloth (if you have true cheese making muslin use that instead - much of the curds were captured between the layers).

I let drain for about 15 minutes and then caught up the corners to make a bag, suspended it in a tall pyrex measuring cup and let continue to drain overnight in the refrigerator.  I ended up with 1 cup of cheese and 3 cups of whey.  The zest and sugar gave the cheese a really nice flavor.  Since the curds are "dry" in this kind of cheese making style, you can add a bit cream to the cheese the next day to make is smoother and creamier.

So now had this wonderful ricotta which I used in the lasagna and 3 quarts of whey - what to do?

Gjetost!  If you are of Scandinavian extraction you might recognize this cheese made from whey or it's cow's milk cousin Mysost, also called Prim-ost.

I would describe this best as a 'reduction' where the whey is boiled down to a thick or even hard cheese.  Described as sweet, salty, caramel - that is exactly how it tasted to us.

If you want a unique treat trying making this from your leftover whey sometime. It is, however, not the most efficient use of the whey and energy, as the reducing aspect takes a long time, and you have to monitor it.  The picture shows whey and the finished product.  Some references refer to adding cream to the process and beating it at the end.  I did neither as I wanted to see what the straight reduction would taste like.


1 anodized aluminum sauce pan (even heat distribution)
bamboo flat edge spatula (so I could keep the bottom of the pan properly 'scrapped')
Cheese cloth (as mentioned above true cheese making muslin would work better)
Container and method to suspend the bag of curds for draining
Buttered container to receive the finished product

3 cups of whey from the ricotta (I chose to use only the ricotta whey without adding yogurt whey - you can combine wheys for this -- if I try the recipe again, I will try it next time with only yogurt whey)

Brought to boil then reduced to next level down on electric stove.  You want to keep the whey at a vigorous boil, without boiling over.

It took 50 minutes to boil the whey down to a very thick sauce consistency.  I removed it at that point as I could really smell the caramel scent and did not want to scorch it.

Immediately pour into a prepared buttered container. Cool and store in the refrigerator.  Folks who love this cheese spread it on rye crisp.  I tried it on ciabatta bread and the contrast was very nice.  Any unflavored cracker should work nicely.

I wound up with about a quarter cup of cheese from 3 cups of whey.

When you check out the links I provide below, you will see a much denser and darker 'fudge' like consistency.  Using a whole lot more whey by volume will give you more finished product and you can boil it longer.  Be cautioned that boiling a gallon or more of liquid to reduction can take HOURS.

Some observations:

1) The Gjetost really had a unique sweet, salty, caramel flavor - intriguing.
2) Reminded me of the process I use to make caramel from sweetened condensed milk, where I use a double boiler to minimize monitoring of the process and prevent burning.  A double boiler might not work for the Gjetost because it would require far more time, but less stirring.  I think one of the diffusers for stove tops would help with minimizing the potential for burning/scorching.
3) I regularly ran my flat edge bamboo spatula through the whey during the 50 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pot.  It did not burn.
4) You must use a heavy bottom pot stainless steel, anodized aluminum, or other pot for even heat distribution.  DO NOT USE teflon coated pots.
5)  The efficiency of this recipe is very low.  A scant 1/4 cup of product from 3 cups of whey with the monitoring care needed during the boiling process was an uneven energy/volume result.  But again, if you want a unique treat try is some time.

How to make Gjetost:

Also check this site for a tiny bit of different recipe.

Some history and help


Some soup ideas using whey (discussion with recipes)

Simple soup stock using whey (video)

Other soup ideas:  Any soup which is a "cream" soup - add milk, cream or half and half to give it more richness.

Potato or Potato/Leek soup.

Mac 'n Cheese (homemade)

Cook potatoes in whey instead of water.

Other uses:

Feed whey to pets and poultry

Add to compost pile

Some folks feed plants with it - be careful of salt content in arid areas like the desert with adding to compost or plants.

Baking - use in place of all or some of any liquid for baked products.

Hope these give you some fun ideas in the kitchen.

Have a great day,

P.S.  17th Annual Herb Festival this Saturday at Boyce Thompson Arboretum - 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The weather looks a bit iffy, but come out as I'm sure we will set it up to be visitor friendly!  Always great herb specialists there.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Gardeners With Patience Are Rewarded!

Dear Folks,

Many, many times I have cautioned about maintaining patience in the winter to spring garden.  This year was no exception and with the hard freezes we had got many of you jittery about when to prune off the damage.  Occasionally some jumped the gun because of what appeared to be utter 'green death'.

I want to share with you how my patience paid off.  I did believe I had lost my beloved Mexican Oregano plant - over 6 years old and about 7 - 8 feet tall which took the freezes none to well.  The first one in January brought dead wood down to 4 feet, then the multiple freezes in February took anything green out of visibility and the branches started shedding bark -- not a good sign.  About 2 and a half weeks ago (middle of March), I began just removing some of the overhead debris, taking off the brittle top 2-3 feet.  Nothing was visible of new growth.  I waited a week, and broke off more brittle top growth, and then I saw the bright green new growth at the bottom.  Yippee!  (I really did not want to start over with this wonderful plant.)

All the plant was cut down to where you see in the picture - there are actually two plants similar in appearance about 3 feet apart.  Both are regenerating anew.

French Tarragon is another favorite of mine and I know it will come back in the spring - the plant pictured plant was taken the same time as the Mexican Oregano above and has been in that spot for 3 years - The plant tag is a tad weathered and I keep it there to remind anyone else that it is not a weed!  Today (April 5), the plant is now about 5 times higher in growth.  I cleaned the bed out to make more room for this great herb.

Speaking of weeds, I'm trying to get rid of the chocolate mint in that bed I mistakenly planted 4 or 5 years ago.  A reminder to everyone that if you are successful with mint you need to keep it under control.

Back to French Tarragon and Mexican Oregano for a moment.  Both have incredible fragrance and flavor.  Their respective essential oils are some of the most robust in the herb kingdom. Both need to be used in moderation as the flavor can be overwhelming.

I was not a fan of Tarragon 2 decades ago, because I had an over-powering tarragon chicken served to me one time it was awful - the anise/licorice overpowered everything else.

So the garden lesson here, folks is to be patient.  If you want to garden with favorite perennial edibles you need to put up with winter 'bad - hair' times for your plants.  NEVER take the damage off until the danger is gone.  I know it looks bad but you risk losing the plant.

Since we are coming into spring then our hot summer it is important to remember that "sunburn" on plants is the same kind of damage as frost damage in the winter.  Do Not Touch the damage until the danger is gone.  By the beginning to middle of September you can start taking some of the sunburn off a little at time so allow the tender growth shielded by the damaged plant matter to 'harden off' to the sun.

We had more roller coastering of the weather and will have some more this and next week. Be cautious of planting seeds right before a rain - if the rain is heavy it can wash the seeds out.  On the other hand, right before a rain is a good time to transplant seedlings, shrubs and trees.  You will always water in right after you transplant, but the rain will ensure a good soil to root bond.

And, don't forget one of the keys to desert gardening success is to plant at the right time for the plant variety!

Happy Gardening!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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