“Always drink your best beer,” says my buddy Chad Harder. “That way you will always be drinking your best beer.”
This mantra is as close to religion as Harder may ever get. And its wisdom is available to all, including non-beer drinkers like myself, whose fridge is not teeming with different types of beer to choose from every time I get thirsty. But as a wine drinker I have faced similar calculations deciding which bottle to drink, and Chad’s algo takes all of the stress and guesswork out of that ordeal. Don’t over think it. Drink your best stuff. Always. That’s it. The same logic applies to most other foodstuffs. And elsewhere in life. You can take it as far as you wish.
No matter where you apply it, in the kitchen, dining room, or any other stage, you should go for that crème de la crème. That way you always will be enjoying nothing but the crème.
A restaurant doesn’t have this luxury. In that insane business, success often hinges on using food before it rots. Which means doing the exact opposite of Harder Principle. Which is to say, always eat your worst produce first, and you will always be eating your worst produce. Yum! Supermarkets face a similar pressure.
But at home, we’ve no need to eat our worst food first. We can and should focus on the absolute best of the fridge. If that means some other produce goes south, so be it. If you can recover it in some fashion, such as by putting carrots, celery, onions and other suitable vegetables into stock, or baking those wrinkled cherries that got pushed aside by the golden raspberries. And with dairy products, including you guessed it, cream.
I know this because all last week I had both whole milk and heavy cream in the fridge. Which do you think I put in my coffee? That’s right, folks. Always drink your best cream.
And the boys, they didn’t get to that milk that week either. The chickens started laying after a summer hiatus, and I had some really good bacon from the farmers market. And then they had an opportunity for ice cream for breakfast in exchange for some early morning manual labor, which they took. That gallon of milk ended up in a cooler when we took a camping trip by the river. But since we forgot ice, the clock was ticking on that poor gallon of milk, and everything else in the cooler for that matter.
My old milk made it through the night, and was fine in my morning coffee. After breakfast I heated the milk and added the juice of a lemon I’d brought with me. The acid curdled the milk. I added salt to the curds in order to preserve them, and strained them in a dish rag, and then twisted the rag to squeeze out the water. This process is the first step in making most types of cheese. I took the salted curds home and crumbled it upon a batch of couscous that I made with the freshest vegetables I had on hand: purple bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini. Since my cheese was so salty, I made that batch of couscous salt-free. In the recipe below I don’t salt the cheese, out of an abundance of caution. I find it easier to add more salt, if necessary, than to remove it if I’ve added too much.
So, that is the recipe I’ll be leaving you with. Along with a reminder to drink your best beer. Always.
Cheese Curd Couscous
The lemony cheese makes a lovely summertime compliment to the vegetables and couscous.
1 gallon milk
2 lemons, juiced and zested
1 pound large-grained couscous
1 clove garlic
1 handful of cherry tomatoes, pierced with a fork
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 purple bell pepper, sliced into spears
1 zucchini, sliced into rounds
In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the milk on medium, stirring occasionally to prevent scalding. When it starts to foam, turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. The milk should instantly separate into curds and whey. Lay some cheesecloth over the colander and pour the curdled milk through it. Save the whey. Tie the corners of cheesecloth together and hang the ball of curds to drain.
Put the whey in a pot and add the couscous, and heat on medium. Add the garlic, tomatoes, butter and oil, mix it well and let it cook until nearly all of the whey is absorbed. Add the pepper and zucchini, mix them in, and cook for five minutes, covered. Crumble the cheese on top and cover again. Turn off the heat and let it rest for ten minutes. Then serve.