Posts in category: Eats and Drinks



Make your own feta

Marissa     Eats and Drinks     , ,     6    

When we first bought the farm in 2008, we quickly signed up for a cheese making class at wonderful Homestead Heritage (I did a blog post about the site). It was a great introduction to the craft and made me realize that it is something that anybody can do. I was very intimidated by cheese making in the beggining but it really is simple. If you can cook, you can make cheese!

The goats have only recently kidded for the year but are starting to out produce their babies demands for milk, so we are finally getting to share the extras. We typically make just a few cheeses on a regular basis but I’m always experimenting with new recipes and ideas. But feta is a farm favorite and that’s what I chose for the first batch of cheese in 2012.

I’ve had to tweak and combine recipes from various books to come up with our own versions that work with goat milk (a lot of cheese making books focus on cow milk alone and goat milk can be subtly, or drastically!, different) as well as the equipment and ingredients we have available. So this is how we make Sand Holler Farm Feta.

I typically do four gallon batches, or rather two four gallon batches at once. But we are just starting to get enough milk, so this was a single batch.


4 gallons fresh milk

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 teaspoon double strength vegetable rennet in 1/4 cup cold water

salt (coarse or regular is fine)

You can easily convert this to a smaller batch:

1 gallon fresh milk

1/4 cup buttermilk

4 drops double strength vegetable rennet in 1/4 cup cold water

salt (coarse or regular is fine)


4 gallon seamless stainless steel pot
Straining equipment (pictured is a large colander and cheese cloth)

Here are the quick instructions and then I’ll show pictures with more in depth directions below.


1. Heat milk to 85°F, turn off the heat and add the buttermilk. Let ripen for one hour.

2. Add the diluted rennet and stir thoroughly. Let sit for one hour.

3. Check for clean break and cut the curd into 1/2″ checkerboard. Let sit for 5 minutes and then stir gently every few minutes for 15 minutes.

4. Drain into molds for 6-8 hours at room temperature.

5. Cut into pieces and salt all sides. Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

6. Drain, resalt and let sit for 2 hours before putting in the refrigerator.

7. Age in the refrigerator for a week. At this time it can either be eaten or brined.

I make sure to taste all of the milk before going into the pot so that I don’t get any off flavors in the cheese. Feta can be pretty forgiving with things like that but better safe than sorry! We have recently graduated from the old analog dial thermometers to a fancy digital thermocouple meter from Omega. It is far superior. Every time I calibrated the dial thermometers, they would have drifted by 20 degrees or more.

You are supposed to heat the milk slowly and if you are only doing a gallon batch, you may want to adjust your stove setting to low or medium. But for four gallons, I turn the stove on high as it still takes quite a long time to heat. I stir frequently to prevent any scorching. Once it reaches 85°F, turn off the stove and add the buttermilk. Be sure to put the lid on at this point to retain as much heat as possible. Of course, this is barely an issue right now as the air conditioner in the cheese kitchen runs constantly to even keep the room at about 85°F! Let the milk ‘ripen’ for an hour. This gives the bacteria in the buttermilk time to multiply in the milk. For this batch, I used store bought buttermilk but usually we make our own. It’s very easy – you just add buttermilk to milk (1/2 cup to a gallon) at 85°F and let sit for 12 hours. Viola!

After the hour of ripening, add the diluted rennet and stir thoroughly. Many books say to stir in an up-and-down motion 20 times. I believe this is to make sure you don’t have any unmixed cream that has risen to the top, but this is really only a problem for cow milk. Still, I tend to follow those directions! You just want to ensure that the rennet is completely mixed in so you get uniform coagulation. After adding the rennet, again wait an hour.

Once the rennet has been allowed to do its business for an hour, you check for clean break. For feta, I’ve never had it fail the clean break test, but other cheeses you may have to wait additional time. What’s ‘clean break’ you ask? Good question! The curd that forms is quite soft, but needs to be firm enough so that when you stick a knife in and tilt it to the side, the curd separates away from the knife and doesn’t stick to it. Imagine sticking a knife in thick greek yogurt and tilting it – the yogurt will likely stick. Now imagine doing this with soft tofu – the tofu would likely not stick. That’s the texture difference.

When you pull the knife out, the break in the curd should also still be visible – a clean break between the two pieces you’ve just separated.

Once you have ensured the clean break, then you use a knife to cut the curd into a checkerboard pattern of 1/2″ squares. Just stick the knife all the way to the bottom of the pan and draw it across. Once you have made long strips all in one direction, repeat again 90° from the first set of cuts. I couldn’t get a picture to really show this as the curd starts to settle as more whey comes out so you can no longer really see the surface of the curd very well after the cutting is done! And that’s specifically why you cut the curd – to allow it to release more whey. Once you’ve cut the checkerboard, you let it sit for 5 minutes and then stir it very gently every few minutes for 15 minutes. You want to break up the curd into somewhat uniform 1/2″ pieces, though it seems like mine are usually closer to 1″.

Once stirring is complete (a total of 20 minutes after cutting the curd), you simply fill your feta mold with the curds. I do this in a number of ways depending on how much I’m making. When I do 2 batches at once, I use a cheese cloth to line the big colander and pour the entire contents of the pot – SLOWLY – into it. You don’t want to break up the curds even more. Then I hang the cheese cloth for about 15 minutes to allow the majority of the whey to drain. Meanwhile, I get a second cheese cloth and do the other batch. Then transfer them into the square molds we have made. But since this was just a single batch, it’s easier to just ladle straight to the square mold. This is just too time consuming with two batches.

I use a big skimmer with holes and just let each scoop drain out before loading it into a plastic container with small holes drilled all over it. It BARELY fits in the mold (I have to wait sometimes for the level to drop before getting the last few scoops of curd in) but after draining, it’s only about 1/3-1/2 full as the curd compresses and becomes more firm. All the whey is reserved for either cooking (you can do a million things with whey) or feeding to the chickens as a treat. Once the mold is full, the cheese drains at room temperature for 6-8 hours. As I said earlier, it barely hovers around 85°F in the cheese kitchen and “room temperature” in cheese making is closer to 75°F. So I set this up in the cheese cave. Our cheese cave is simply a refrigerator with a thermostat that allows me to adjust the temperature to much higher than usual settings. Typically, it’s around 50°F for aging hard cheeses, but we don’t have anything in there right now, so I set it higher and put the feta in to drain into a larger container (it’s supported on little bowls to keep it out of the whey).

After it’s firm enough to handle (6-8 hours), I cut the cheese into 8 sections, take each one out and salt all of the sides and place it into the larger plastic container (after I’ve dumped the whey from it). So I end up with 8 ~1/2 lb pieces of feta (typically, a gallon of milk makes a pound of cheese). These salted pieces need to expel even more whey so they went back in the warm fridge for an additional 24 hours.

The next day, just drain the accumulated whey off, resalt the pieces and let them sit for just 2 more hours at room temperature and then put them in the fridge (an actual cold fridge!) for the final aging. The texture really develops over the week of aging. It is ready to eat afterwards, but I like a more salty feta so I usually put it in brine (1/2 gallon of whey, 1/2 gallon of water and 1 lb of salt) for a few days before eating. Can’t wait for this first batch to be ready to eat!

This post is part of a blog hop called Wildcrafting Wednesday with other tips about wildcrafting, self-sufficiency, old fashioned wisdom and more.




Online cookbook

Marissa     Eats and Drinks         3    

After formulating this idea nearly a year ago, it’s finally come to fruition. I’ve posted some recipes here and there on the blog but typically I don’t follow a recipe – I start with one and then just throw stuff together. So it’s been hard to discipline myself to really try things out, tweak them, retry and finalize a recipe that I feel is worthy of sharing with our CSA customers. But we frequently get requests like “what in the world do I do with all this okra?!?” and “turnips? again?” so I realized I really need to do this.

So I’ve created the Sand Holler Farm Online Cookbook. It’s still in its infancy. The main issue was wrangling my WordPress theme into yet another post type. Or at least, that was my excuse for not doing this earlier (learning php has really not been one of my priorities…). Once I figured that out though, I knew I would actually have to start working on the recipes and taking pictures of everything! But the technicalities are finally worked out and the recipes and vegetable information just need to be filled in. For now, it’s mostly recipes that have either already been posted on the blog or ones that I had been working on when the idea hit last summer. All new recipes will have photos but some of the older ones will have to wait until I make them again!

This week I added the green bean salad recipe to the in-season vegetable section. Willa is always begging for a picnic so I figured we ought to indulge while the weather still isn’t too hot…and there was a break in the rain! The green beans are producing well at the farm and our little crop at the house is just about to burst into bloom! We have both purple and green beans and I can’t wait to experiment with new recipes. The salad was especially nice because the onions were also from the farm. I did have to cave and buy some local cherry tomatoes as ours are JUST on the verge of ripening. Soon, soon, soon! We served the salad with a cold chicken dish, grapes and hot buttermilk biscuits straight from the oven. Ah, the pleasure of having a picnic in your backyard!

A picture of farm fresh green bean salad for a picnic

Once the recipes are filled in a bit more, I will make the link more prominent. Right now, to navigate to it from the homepage, you click on CSA and then on the left-hand side bar there is a link to the cookbook. Maybe 20 recipes would be a good number before making it more public. I’m adding a few each week, so it won’t take too long!

Many of the recipes will probably be based on a series of cookbooks published in the late 1960s and early 1970s from Time Life. It was one of the first big exposures of international cuisine to the general American public and was aptly named Foods of the World. Each book comes in a set – a hardbound explanatory text that is more like a travelogue for the country or region, and a spiral bound recipe booklet. The series consisted of 27 such sets and I’m only missing one (African Cooking)!  It has been very eye-opening to read some of the comments in the text about the woeful direction agriculture was taking in the 1960s. The Cooking of Italy contains this pertinent quote:

But Italian cooking is also resistant to certain other kinds of change. One comment on a regrettable trend in modern agricultural practices was made by an Italian hotel owner who still manages to set a remarkable table. “Everything is losing its taste,” he complained. “It’s all but impossible to buy a tasty chicken anymore. That’s the result of feeding them with antibiotics and stuffing them with hormones. The same thing is happening to meat. And even to vegetables – I suppose it’s the chemical fertilizers.

I have noticed this decline in flavor myself, but more markedly in France than in Italy. In some important ways, Italy is still wedded to old-fashioned methods. Personally, I hope it will not be too quick to progress – if that is the right word.

Wow. So people knew what was happening FORTY YEARS ago? And it still happened? The power of big business. More light is shed on the trends in food production in American Cooking when the author comes face-to-face with what he perceives as ‘perfect’ beef served at a cowboy cookout – tender, fatty, juicy – and what the beef industry wants to be producing:

…the American beef industry is not entirely satisfied with its product [...] The industry feels that beef could be more uniformly tender – and, surprisingly, more uniformly lean.

The beef industry and the government are both at work on a solution to the problem. A scientifically controlled diet, administrated to cattle after they have been taken from their grass diet on the range to be fattened in a feed lot, has shown that good meat can be developed without excessive fat. [...] And the government has begun work on a 35,000-acre breeding station in Nebraska on the site of a former ammunition dump, where by 1970 more than 200 veterinarians, agricultural  engineers and market specialists will be going about the task of producing new, streamlined cattle. Their goal is to achieve a standardized animal, cutting the unwanted fat from 20 per cent to 5 per cent without damage to the flavor or character of the beef. This saving will be passed along to the consumer in lower prices, and yet I cannot help but wonder how the housewife will react to what will then be more uniform beef – perhaps even providing cuts more or less of the same size. Not the least of our national differences is reflected in the weight of the beef cattle preferred by consumers in the various regions.

So big business pushed for uniform beef and forced it on the general population and now that’s almost all we know. I still can’t get over the fact that people worried about this FORTY years ago and it still happened. Wow.

Folks, eat real food. Food raised the way it was supposed to be. Food that tastes the way it was supposed to taste.




Blackberry jam

Marissa     Eats and Drinks     ,     2    

I’m striving to add some more ‘how to’ sort of posts here instead of just the usual gabbing about what’s going on at the farm. I figure some folks are reading this to live vicariously through those that farm, and others are trying to do these same things themselves! So let’s share the knowledge..or the mistakes, trials and tribulations!

The loads of blackberries we are harvesting seemed like the perfect excuse for me to do something about preserving. Too bad I picked a recipe I’ve never tried and did it on a workday morning when I didn’t have time to fiddle with things! Ah well, it turned out ok in the end. But this is not “the voice of the expert” here. This is “learning together”!

The farm workers took pounds and pounds of blackberries to Loackhart’s Main Street Market on Saturday. Unfortunately, something was screwy with the tent so they had to set up away from the main area where there was some shade from the buildings. Alas, the beautiful berries were simply out of sight and therefore didn’t sell all that well. So come Wednesday morning, we had an overload of softening berries. First lesson in making jam: don’t use overripe berries. Pectin, the substance that causes the jam to ‘gel’, breaks down as the fruit becomes more and more ripe. But I figured, what the heck? I love breaking rules…

So in the morning, with little time since I had to be at work by that afternoon, I set about making some blackberry jam. It was a wonderful 65 degrees outside, but I was cooped up in the hot cheese kitchen, a separate building from the farmhouse. The cheese kitchen is a great place to work if you don’t want to heat up the house during the summer, but the ventilation in there isn’t the best and I had no cross breeze (hey Pa, can we cut a window in that back wall? Pretty please!!!). Preserving can get things pretty warm.

A picture of The Cheese Kitchen

Anyway, I gathered up my supplies and the ingredients. To make jam, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. The minimum I recommend is a water bath canner, jar lifter and wide mouth funnel. The water bath canner is just a huge pot with a nifty rack that keeps the jars off the very bottom and allows you to lift them in and out of the hot water. The jar lifter is essential for moving blazing hot glass around. And the funnel just makes things so much easier. I forgot to add it to the picture though!

A picture of canning suppliesAfter dusting off the supplies (it’s been since last year we did any canning), I filled the canner with water and set it on the stove. It can take a long time to heat up that much water to boiling and you need to sterilize the jars (boil for 10 minutes) before you fill them. And be sure to cover the canner. Lots of heat is lost through that open top! With the water on and the jars loaded, I processed the ingredients called for in a recipe from The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves:

4.5 pounds of blackberries
6.75 cups of sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice

A picture of the Ingredients for the blackberry jam
Hmmm…no wonder jam is good. Look at that mountain of sugar!

I then put the berries in a 2 gallon stainless steel stock pot and mashed them. Somehow the farm is missing a potato masher but a pastry cutter did the job just fine!

A picture of the mashed berries

I added the sugar and the lemon juice and heated the mixture on medium until the sugar was all dissolved, maybe about 10 minutes. Turning up the heat to medium-high, I waited for the mixture to boil, stirring frequently. It seemed to take forever, but the water in the canner wasn’t boiling yet so I didn’t fret. Most books on preserves have a hefty section in the front giving all the general instructions for things like acid content, testing for gelling, how to fill the jars, etc. This book is no exception. I have read that entire section in the past, but it was good to refresh my memory from this particular book. I found a spot where it said that you don’t want to boil too fast or the sucrose doesn’t turn to fructose or some such. I don’t recall what the process was that needs to take place, but it made me feel good about the long time I waited for boiling. I also found a warning not to boil the jam for longer than 15 minutes or the natural pectin would start to breakdown. Huh, in the past, I’ve usually cooked and cooked and cooked. Maybe that’s been my problem with gelling! I’ve had fairly hit or miss success with it.

Finally, the water in the canner began to boil. I had already loaded the jars and the funnel so I just needed to watch the time to make sure they stayed in for 10 minutes. Right at that same time, the berry mixture began to bubble as well. I was a bit smug in my perfect timing of things!

A picture of the boiling blackberries

Just to help myself become more familiar with testing for gelling, I used the technique in the book every 5 minutes, expecting to be done around 15 minutes in. It’s a common technique. You put a saucer in the freezer to chill it. Then drop some of the jam on the plate and wait for it to cool. If the drop runs, it’s not ready. If the drop mounds, you’ve got everything right and it’s time to fill jars. I was excited to finally be doing this step. In the past, I’ve just glossed over this and gone by the time a recipe said. This was so much more scientific! Woe is me, I never got a mound. The time ticked on. After 25 minutes, I began to wonder if it was the overripe berries or just me. I dug through the cabinets and found a box of powdered pectin and contemplated using it. The instructions were inscrutable though so I gave up and just took the thin syrup off the heat. Sigh. Google may have saved the day though. I found a few recipes online that were nearly identical and they all swore that the thin liquid would firm up after a week in the jar, and especially after being chilled in the fridge. So I pressed on and filled the jars.

A picture of filling the jars with jam

I had ladelled a few spoonfuls of hot water into a measuring cup (heat resistant glass container) and then put the canning lids in there. This is to sterilize as well as soften the rubber gasket. After all the jars were filled, I wiped the rims carefully and placed the lids on. The bands should be screwed down securely, but not overly tight. Once they were all done, I had a “little” left in the pot and figured I would put that in a container straight in the fridge to try this stuff out. So I loaded the rack, now perched on the edge of the canner, and lowered the jars into the hot water.

A picture of the loaded canner

Once the water began to boil again, I processed for 10 minutes. During that time, I realized that I had TWO PINTS extra in the pot. The recipe was only supposed to make 4 pints total – I filled 8 half pint jars – and still had 2 more pints. So, what was with all that extra liquid? Should I have been boiling it down? Maybe the little factoid in the introductory section did not pertain to the blackberry jam recipe I choose. There was no time listed in the recipe, just something along the lines of ‘cook until it’s ready’, so my guess at using the 15 minute rule stated in the introduction may not have been right. With so much jam left in the pot, I went ahead and repeated the canning process so ended up with 6 pints total.

By the way, my favorite part of canning is when the processing is done and you lift the jars out of the water and get to hear the ping and pop of sealing lids!

So worst case, this was going to end up as syrup for pancakes or ice cream. Hardly a failure when you look at it in that light! Late to work, I jumped in the car and dashed to town, day dreaming of blackberry jam. I wanted to wait a week to see how much gelling would occur but I couldn’t help myself this morning. Homemade scones with cream cheese and blackberry…syrup!

A picture of a scone with cream cheese and jam

Still delicious, who cares about the consistency. But I have since been given the advice to not go by the cooking time or even the chilled plate gel test. Use a thermometer – cooking is done at 220 degrees for our elevation! THAT’S scientific! So I’ll be adding a candy thermometer to my canning supplies this year. Plenty more blackberries to experiment with!




Using leftovers

Marissa     Eats and Drinks         0    

I’ve had several people comment to me that they can’t believe I cook every day, let alone usually two full blown meals (breakfast and dinner). While lunch is typically just ‘regular’ leftovers, as in just heating up whatever was left from dinner, breakfast usually has a large ‘leftover’ component to. It makes for a real meal at breakfast (we haven’t bought a box of cereal in probably 5 years), usually works in more vegetables than usual and doesn’t require tremendous amounts of prep time. I actually love to cook breakfast right now. I wake up before Chad and Willa and it’s become somewhat of a meditation time for me. My back hasn’t started to ache yet, I’m ravenous and I have enough brain cells still function to be creative. By the time dinner rolls around, my stomach has taken the punishment of 12 hours of kicking, my back is aching and my brain is fried. So breakfast is my time to put something special together.

And when you are getting a CSA basket, you are likely to have enough vegetables to include some at breakfast. This is a great way to get the day started. My toddler is hungriest too at breakfast and she is more likely to get veggies in her in the morning then during the cranky-I-missed-my-nap dinnertime we’ve been having lately.

So this week, I can show you how to make 3 meals with just cooking up the vegetables at once. Start by sauteing Swiss chard and garlic for an excellent accompaniment for eggs in the morning. Delicious. The chard that comes in the baskets is more than enough to have some at breakfast with plenty leftover. While I love cooked greens for breakfast, the husband and toddler don’t always approve of this. But never fear. After breakfast, you can hide those greens in other dishes.

A picture of Garlic Swiss Chard and scrambled eggs

In the evening, just make a simple white sauce and cook some rice. Combine with the chard, add some cheese and bake until bubbly. Scrumptious. This casserole can be made with nearly any leftover green vegetables. It’s a great way to use things up, and the creamy sauce makes this a hit with picky husbands and toddlers! We served ours with a farm salad and pan fried turnips with dill.

A picture of swiss chard rice casserole

And finally, the next morning, add in some beaten eggs and make a frittata with the leftovers from the night before. Adding leftover veggies to eggs is an easy trick – scrambled, omelets or frittata. Again, a great way to get in some veggies for those more ‘discerning’ palates in your house. I like doing the frittata because I can finish it off in the oven while doing something else for breakfast and not have to think about it much. This week is was turnip hash browns. So good!

A picture of swiss chard frittata and turnip hash browns

So three meals with only having to bother with cooking and prepping the vegetable once. One nice sized bunch of chard will provide enough for these 3 meals for 4 people too!




Hickory Street

Marissa     Eats and Drinks         0    

Ever want to try out our duck eggs but have no idea what to do with a whole dozen of them? Well, check out Hickory Street for your next breakfast, lunch or dinner out on the town!

Hickory Street was one of those old downtown Austin classics. But over the years it had all but faded into a shabby hole-in-the-wall. Finally closing down in October 2011, it seemed to be another piece of Austin history doomed to the wrecking ball. But along came some young business owners to take it back and improve the site.

After reinovating the location (mainly to improve the patio with its oppressive roofing), they opened in February with a menu full of locally sourced food. The building looks great from the photos and the from the street. I hate to admit that I have yet to make it down there but Chad took some of his out of town relatives for lunch during SXSW and highly recommends it.

Courtesy of Hickory Street

I first met Chef Camden Stuerzenberger while at the downtown farmer’s market one Saturday when I ran into one of the new owners, Brendan Puthoff. I sort of casually mentioned Sand Holler Farm and didn’t think much of it until a conversation a few days later about duck eggs. Turns out Camden had been looking for some local duck eggs…and we’d been looking for some duck egg customers!

Their menu is a great selection of real food, much of it sourced from farmers in the area we know. The food is gourmet without being overly fussy and pretentious. I have high hopes the restaurant will regain its status as a downtown landmark – and we are proud to be part of it!