With Christmas only three weeks away, we decided to get out of the house early in the morning and head over to our local Christmas tree farm. It was a fun outing amongst all of the cheery people on the hunt for that perfect tree. There were lots of excited kids and dogs running around on the pine scented hills and they were serving up grilled brats and hot apple cider in the big red barn. We zeroed in on a pretty little tree to take home with us. Next stop, Black Ankle Vineyards…

Too early in the day for us to start sipping, the vineyard was quiet and serene before the crowds hit when we stopped in to pick up a few bottles of wine…our favorites, the Passegiata, Syrah and their elegant Crumbling Rock.

Black Ankle Vineyard’s tasting room, built mostly from materials cultivated from their property, including wood timbers, stone, clay (for handmade wall plasters) and straw (for wall insulation), is warm and inviting and we love their “living” roof, which helps to keep things cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Now, to continue on from yesterday, back to our Indian feast and the making of homemade paneer cheese and a lovely Cilantro dipping sauce.

Since paneer is so easy to make and less expensive, too, I suggest homemade over store-bought. Fresh paneer is slightly sweet and only needs a touch of salt, unlike the packaged versions, which I find too salty and dry. The other benefit of making your own is that you can keep it organic by using organic milk.

PANEER

1/2-gallon organic whole milk
Juice of two lemons
Pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS

Heat the milk in a heavy bottomed pan until almost boiling. Add pinch or two of salt and stir. Add the lemon juice stirring gently. The milk should begin to separate into curds and whey. If it does not begin to curdle, add a teaspoon of vinegar, which will help it separate. Let mixture sit for a few minutes and then pour into a colander that has been lined with a double layer of cheesecloth. Let drain.

Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together and hang over the sink faucet while it continues to drain for a couple of hours or overnight.

Once most of the moisture is gone, keeping it in the cheesecloth, shape the paneer into a square, about 1 1/2 inches thick and place on a plate. Then weigh it down with another plate placed on top of the cheese and a couple of heavy books set on the plate or use a large pot filled with water. Place in the fridge to cool for an hour or two.

When the paneer is firm, remove from the fridge, drain the water off of the plate, and remove cheesecloth. The paneer is ready to cook or wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge.

To cook:

With a sharp knife dipped in hot water or using a wire, cut paneer into one-inch cubes. Sauté in medium to hot oil, turning often, until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.

Cilantro Dipping Sauce

2 cups fresh cilantro
1 jalapeno pepper (add a few seeds depending on how hot you’d like the sauce to be)
Juice from 1 lime
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Puree the cilantro, jalapeno and garlic in food processor. Add the lime juice, olive oil, honey and a bit of water if the sauce is too thick. Pulse until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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