stevia

Tis the season to eat a lot of sugar! Yet sugar truly does not agree with me. For years we hardly ate any of the stuff, which greatly improved our health. Recently we’ve been eating sugar in some homemade preserves, baking and liqueurs, but I still like to drop the amount in a recipe and pop up the sweetness with stevia.

igarashi's droplet with stevia © elisa rathje 2011

Stevia rebaudiana, sweetleaf, sugarleaf. Stevia is centuries old, and there are arguments all over the world about its use, for it presents a compelling alternative to sugar and sugar substitutes. Japan has used stevia for years and years, but Europe has only just this month approved it. Stevia is exceptional in that it hardly alters blood sugar, yet is completely natural, simply a leaf extract. You can even grow the stuff yourself. I love stevia for sweetening drinks and it is excellent in yogurt. A couple of drops is plenty as the sweetness is intense and can easily be overdone. In baking it doesn’t behave like sugar, unfortunately, but I pair it with some other sweetener to increase the sweetness, which I can then get away with in smaller amounts – a bit of sugar, honey, maple syrup, fruit. It’s just the thing for a cup of cocoa or a batch of eggnog. I even use it in our homemade toothpaste.

igarashi's droplet with stevia © elisa rathje 2011

I’m quite fond of dishes and utensils that were designed according to how a particular food is stored, decanted, prepared, eaten. The food determines the structure that holds it, and then its devoted container creates a tradition. Sugar bowls, creamers, teapots, pepper grinders, jelly moulds.

Since stevia is so well loved in our house, I found it its own decanter. A beloved gift from my sweetheart, a mouth-blown glass piece by Japanese sculptor and designer Takenobu Igarashi, called droplet. It is a bit of fine sculpture. Droplet was designed for soy sauce, but translates beautifully to stevia. Simply cover the opening at the top, hold the dropper over the dish and lift your finger to release as many drops as you like. Sculpture, design, physics, and food. Beautiful.

cream cheese

Being rather fond of cream cheese, I thought I’d learn to make it. I object to the expense of cheese; what’s more I find that we can’t tolerate anything but raw milk cheeses unless made from goat or sheep milk. Those are even more dear. So I set about working up my courage. Fortunately, the most complicated part of making cream cheese is getting the bacterial culture. After this a child could make it by themselves, and mine may, as they’re smitten.

I ordered the mesophilic culture for this type of cheese from a shop in England; there are many great cheese-making supply shops online. Then the children and I followed some simple steps. We mixed a pint (about 560 ml) of raw milk with a small cup of raw cream (let’s say 150 ml) and warmed it very slightly, to 32 C. You could just immerse the bowl in hot water. We measured in 1/8 teaspoon of mesophilic culture, covered the bowl and left it for half an hour. While it was sitting, we mixed two drops of rennet with a tablespoon of filtered water, and added it when the time was up, mixing well in. With the bowl covered, we put the whole thing in the airing cupboard, where yogurt and sourdough sponges have spent many a warm and happy night. You just want it to be comfortably, consistently warm, for twelve to sixteen hours or so.

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In the morning I peeked in the cupboard and found that we had cheese! Nearly. There was a lot of whey sitting at the surface, ready to be drained off through cheesecloth, so I poured it in and left it to drain for a few hours.

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Like the yogurt I drain to thicken, about half the original amount of liquid drained out as whey. (I reserve the whey for ricotta and sourdough) Gloriously creamy cheese was left! I paddled it with some sea salt to taste.

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Gorgeous on crisp bread, or sourdough with some pepper, or honey. I’m astonished how easy it was. Even easier than mozzarella.