29 May 2011

Cheese Making and Other Brilliant Disasters

25 May 2011
Last night some friends came over for dinner.  As you will remember, we make everything from scratch here . . . unless you’ve brought it with you, or you’ve been lucky enough to find it in Niamey.
Before I arrived in Niger I had the understanding that mozzarella cheese was not available in Niamey.  My friend A. in Paris assured me that it was a really simple process . . . I had my doubts so I asked my all-knowing friend Google, and he agreed.

With a little help from the NewEnglandCheesemakingCompany, I acquired the necessary chemical compounds, supplies, and instructions.  Packed my bags and moved to Niger, ready to face the challenge.
Turns out that mozzarella is available in Niamey, and so I currently have some on reserve in the freezer . . . for just-in-case (hey, it was on sale for half price!). 
Until now, I confess, I’ve been too afraid to try it.  Too many exact measurements and the temperature has to be closely monitored throughout the process.  I always loved chemistry . . . except for the exact measurement part.  I’m more of an -ish type person.  It’s a wonder I’ve made it this far in life with all my limbs intact.  
Not sure how it came up in conversation, but one night I was having dinner with some colleagues and a visiting medstudent and we decided we would get together and give the mozzarella making a try (and afterward make pizza and use up the cheese).
Let’s just say, the evening didn’t go exactly as planned.
The cast of characters:
Alheri, the Great
O., the Numbers Man
M., the Mad Scientist
To-Be Momma K.
D., Momma K.’s Baby-Daddy
And, your’s truly, Short-Story-Long-Girl
Act I: The Making of the Cheese
The recipe is titled Easy 30-Minute Mozzarella.  I should know by now that the only people who can make Easy 30-Minute Anythings are personalities from TheFoodNetwork . . . and that’s because they have an entire staff of people whose only purpose in life is to wash, chop, pour, scrape, and stir.  I’d love to see RachelRay pull off quick cooking in Galmi!
Since the MadScientist is a medstudent and therefore not only does math but also measures accurately, I decided to leave the chemical compounds to him.  He also informed me that in the US one cannot purchase Whole Milk Powder . . . only NonFat.  Where as here, there’s no such thing as NonFat in powder form, and so I purchased heavy cream for nothing (that’s okay, I’m seeing coffee icecream in my future!  YUM!).
The process started off well.  Mainly because O., the NumbersMan and myself stayed out of the way and let the MadScientist work his magic.  And magic it was!  Before long curds were forming and separating and all sorts of cheesy-goodness was taking place in the ginormous pot on the stove.  It was working!  It was beautiful!  And at this point we were only a little behind schedule.
We decided that the next time we do this, we would only need to bring the contents to room temperature for step 1, as it needed to be heated to 90F . . . which was the temperature of my kitchen, as per the thermometer.
At that point I figured it would be a good idea to turn on the oven, so it would be sufficiently hot enough for cooking the pizzas, since it only takes 30 minutes to make the cheese.  I turned the knob and grabbed my box of matches to light the oven.  But I was mid-story, and without thinking about it, I stood there, holding the matchbox, staying true to form, and made my short-story long, very long.  When I finished, I knelt down, opened the oven and struck a match.  Upon bringing it to light the pilot, a fire ball exploded within the oven.  How I walked away with both of my eyebrows is beyond me . . . but I think it calls for a merci, Seigneur!
‘Did you have the gas running that whole time?’ Asked the NumbersMan.  ‘That’s why I shouldn’t multi-task.’ I said.  Again, it’s a wonder I’ve made it this far in life with my limbs intact! 
We finished the water-bathing process and began ‘pulling the curds like taffy’.  At first I wasn’t sure it had worked, but after several dunks back in the hot water, more pulling like taffy, and lots and lots of tender loving care we had several just-slightly-smaller-than-my-fist sized balls of mozzarella.  IT WORKED!
Act II: Rolling the Dough
Whenever I make pizza, I have the same problem.  The dough always sticks to the surface I roll it on.  No matter how much extra flour I add, it always sticks.  So this time I thought long and hard.  I’m an OT . . . I problem solve for a living.  This was easy!  ParchmentPaper.  I pulled out several sheets and got to rolling. 
About the third pizza in I realized that while the edges weren’t sticking to the paper, but the middle was.  ‘Hmmm.’ I thought ‘Surely it will just peel off once it’s cooked.  I mean, isn’t that the point of ParchmentPaper, after all!!’  And I kept on rolling.
Once the first pizza was cooked and the second was in the oven, the six of us sat down to eat.  Let’s just say it’s good thing we gave thanks before we dug in!
Act III: Dinner
Turns out, when pizza dough is rolled out ONTO the ParchmentPaper and then baked it forms a pretty strong attachment.  Kind of like two pieces of paper that are superglued together . . . try and tear them apart and you have an even bigger mess on your hands.
Alheri, the Great, and To-Be Momma K. made the best of it and reassured me that I was not a complete failure in the kitchen.  I love those ladies!  The NumbersMan, the MadScientist and I tried, without much success to sheer the paper from the back.  K.’s Baby-Daddy had the most success when he licked the entire back side of his slice like a big postage stamp.  Needless to say, we all ended up eating more paper than we had wanted. 
By the fourth time around the MadScientist once again saved the day by suggesting we butter a new sheet of ParchmentPaper and try to move the already assembled pizza to it’s new home . . . Plan B transformed the pizza into a calzone . . . and, voila!, it worked!
Thankfully I was surrounded by a cast of characters that love to laugh at life’s little hiccups as much as I do.  We ate an hour and a half later than planned . . . and our pizza crust was paper-lined . . . but but we had a lot of fun in the process!


Sarah Fountain said...

For all the talk about failure, this story seems full of amazing successes!  You made your own mozzarella cheese from scratch!  You made pizza with it!   Now, admittedly, you almost blew up your kitchen, and you had trouble with the parchment paper, but I think your successes far outweighed your "failures."  Give yourself some credit! :-)

Deb. said...

Good point! Thanks! (but all I really did was hold the thermometer and read the recipe outloud about four dozen times . . . the real standing ovation has to go to the MadScientist.)