Sunday, January 4, 2015

French Toast - A Delicious Way to Start a Day or Re-Start a Blog

It has been a long time since I've been here, actually August 16, 2012, which, coincidentally, coincides with about the same time I started designing a rather large project in Baltimore.  There is no doubt that project took up much of my working and non-working hours but that project is 'out the door' and under construction and I am hoping I have a little more time on my hands to start pursing things I enjoy, other than work that is.  One of those things is cooking and sharing my experiences with family, friends and complete strangers. I'm not a professional cook, photographer or writer (although I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once) but I do own a computer, keyboard and internet connection.  And as long as Blogger doesn't get disgusted  or embarrassed with my blog, I'll keep trudging along.  

Image displaying most popular browsers
Browsers Used
And speak about Blogger, do you know that now have a stat section that keeps track of hits per day, month and year?

Graph of Blogger page views
Web Hits per Day

I didn't know that either, maybe if I checked in more often it wouldn't be much of a surprise.  For instance I was pleasantly surprised to find out I have approximately 50 page hits yesterday alone, almost 800 for the month and over 42,000 over the life of the blog. (I also noticed for Browsers Used not one came from Internet Explorer, what's up with that?)  I realize for most blogs that would be a punch in the gut for the lack of traffic but for me it makes me feel good that people are actually paying attention and checking out my posts.  Maybe I'll start to allow advertising and then Google can start sending me a check every month.  I'll bet it gets up to 10 to 20 cents extra income per month.  Retirement here I come.  

That's enough idle chatter for now let's get on with why we're really here, French Toast.  Why French Toast to get started again?  Because just like getting your day started right with breakfast I thought I would get this blog re-started right, with a breakfast post.

Every good recipe needs a good cast of characters and this one is no exception.  The cast for this episode, besides the obvious bread, includes, in no particular order:
Half and Half (I know I have milk in the picture because when we decided to make French Toast it's all we had)

If you really want the full recipe you can visit my boy's, Alton Brown, web page at Food Network and download, print, save the recipe or whatever else floats your boat.  The problem with this recipe is it doesn't properly explain how he actually prepares the French Toast.  If you want to see the original Good Eats episode click on this link from Cooking Channel and you can watch.  I promise it doesn't take that long and besides in good ole Alton Brown fashion, it's entertaining.  

The first thing you must do, the night before you go to bed, is to mix up all the ingredients and make a custard.  The custard needs time to meld, coexist, intertwine so all ingredients get along and please don't forget to store it in the fridge.  Also, to be done the night before, set out the bread on a rack.  You want it stale and in our case a little hard.  Don't worry if it is a little hard in the morning the custard will do its thing and you'll end up with perfect French Toast.

The next morning it's time to get down to business.  Soak the bread in the custard for 30 seconds on each side and then place back on the wire rack for a couple of minutes before cooking. Place a little butter in the frying pan, cook on each  side until golden brown and place back onto the wire rack to be inserted into the oven at 375 degrees F. for 5-7 minutes.  

After it comes out of the oven it's time to dig in.  Crispy outside, creamy inside, I'd say just about perfect.  My fork rating: 4.5 out of 5, hard to get much better than this.  My choice of topping is plain old maple syrup, the real stuff.  Some people like powdered sugar or fruit and I say knock yourself out but I like my plain old maple syrup.

 The next time you can't decide what you want for breakfast try some French Toast.  It's quick, it's easy, it's delicious and most importantly it's a good way to start off the day. Or in my case, re-start a blog.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Perfect Pizza Oven for Cheap People Like Me

If you follow my blog or follow me on Facebook, and I know not many do because sometimes it feels like I'm the only one in here (something like that poor dude who's job it is to try and communicate with the extraterrestrial life day after day waiting for them to answer), you will know I've been trying to perfect my pizza making skills this summer.  Some people might even say I am obsessing over it, well to be honest a guy at work did tell me that, but I am so close to making pizzas better than the local pizza joints I am determined to finish the job.  In a conversation with a fellow worker today, the same one that claims I'm obsessed with making the perfect pizza, we both agreed learning how to make great pizza takes awhile to figure out. My experimenting for the perfect pizza began over 6 years ago, maybe even longer. Now I think I have been making good pizza for awhile, at least in my opinion, but I wanted to take it to the next level.
I made a huge jump in my pizza making skills late this spring when I came across a tweet from Mario Batali when someone asked him what is the best pizza dough.  Mario tweeted his answer back as "Mozza, the same one we use in our Mozza restaurant."  If you want the story behind the dough you can check out my earlier post called the Ultimate Quest for Pizza Dough.  Simply put this is the best pizza dough recipe I ever tried and I have tried a lot of them.

With the pizza dough out of the way it was time to turn my attention to the cooking device.  From everything I have read, the secret to making the ultimate pizza is temperature, and lots of it, like over 700 degrees F worth.  The big question is "How to accomplish this without burning down the house?"  If your oven is like mine you might get 500 to 550 degrees F. out of it, not quite enough.  Plus anything over that I get paranoid and have the fire department's number handy just in case the cabinets decide to catch fire.  My next choice, the good ole Weber grill.  The problem, at least for me, is when I put the pizza stone in the grill it blocks all the heat from getting up to the dome so the top of the pizza cooks.  With charcoal I could get about 450 to 500 degrees F inside the grill, still not good enough.  My next choice, buy a pizza oven but I didn't feel like shelling out $5000 dollars for an oven to make pizza.  

Photo: Hey sis look at this, I turned my grill into a make shift wood fired grill and look what fell out.  It had to be north of 700 degrees and cooked in less than 10 minutes.  I think I just set a new standard in my pizza making and I'll definitely be looking at the wood fired pizza grill accessory for the Weber.  That should take the pizza up to the top notch on the pizza making scale.I was willing to keep cooking pizzas on the grill the old fashion way until one day a few weeks ago lil sis sent me a message through Facebook saying "Check this out."  My first thought was "Is she sending me information on a sewing machine or something similar that I really have no use for?"  But lo and behold, much to my surprise, she sent me a link to an accessory that converts my Weber grill into a bonafide pizza oven.  How did I miss this all these years?  I'm always looking for my next grilling accessory, after all, you can never have enough grilling accessories.  This particular item is from a company called KettlePizza.  If you want information click on the link and it will take you to their web site which is loaded with all sorts of information and other accessories to go along with the pizza oven accessory.

As I am trying to check out this wonderful new find lil sis keeps chatting me up on Facebook and distracting me from my research.  If you are obsessed (there I finally admitted my addiction) as making pizza as I am this is much to important of a find to spend time chatting when there is so much research to be done.  Well, to make a long story short, before lil sis stopped chatting, she had purchased one (I guess the obsession runs in the family).  Since I was heading up her way in the next couple of weeks I thought I would wait and try hers out before I purchased one for myself (as it turns out I ended up buying one before I went to her house, sorry I couldn't wait, but I didn't get a chance to use before we left).  

The night we decide to make pizzas we got the grill ready and started cooking pizzas like a pizzeria.  The pizzas came out great but we learned fast the wood used for getting the temperature over 700 degrees F. burned fast and we needed to replace the wood after each pizza cooked.  The other small problem we found was the top of the pizza wasn't cooking as we hoped.  I had read some reviews for the kettle pizza and many reviews said the same thing.  Their solution was at the end of cooking to hold the pizza up into the dome of the grill, where the temperature is a lot warmer, and let the top finish cooking.  We thought there had to be a better way and discussed the idea of somehow installing a secondary lid inside the dome to help push the heat down onto the pizza.  When I got home after my little mini vacation I was cruising through Facebook getting caught up on the happenings outside my world and came across a post describing how to install a secondary lid in the pizza oven to help keep the heat closer to the pizza while cooking.  It's like they read my mind and such a simple solution.  All that's needed is 2 grill grates, 2 pizza stones and aluminum foil.  
Lucky for me I just bought a new grill grate so I had a second literally hanging in the garage.  Also, I recently purchased a new pizza stone that fits inside a Weber grill (made by Red Sky Grilling Products) so I happened to have a second pizza stone too.  The stone is D shaped to make it easier to load wood in the back.  

The first grill grate goes in, upside down so the hinged part of the grate is hanging down.  If you don't like the grate hanging down it can be wired up too.  Make sure one of the openings is in the back so the wood can be loaded later without taking the lid off.
Next, time to put in the first pizza stone.  This is the stone the pizza will be cooking on.  Notice, the "open" portion of the stone is at the back, again to load the wood. 
The second grill grate gets lined with aluminum foil and placed on the upper wing nuts of the pizza oven.
 The last thing to do, put the second pizza stone on top of the grate covered in foil.  The stone will help to insulate the dome and keep the heat down in the pizza oven.  My stone isn't an exact fit but I did find one that will fit almost perfectly on top for a second lid.  Maybe some day I will break down and buy this stone but as it turns out this one worked darn good too.

Now it's time to "FIRE UP THE GRILL!!!!"  

I load up the chimney starter to the top and start the charcoal.  When the charcoal is half started I dump the charcoal in the grill towards the back.  The coals are arranged in a half moon shape around the back with a few scattered to the front to help heat the stone up.  The reason for dumping the charcoal when half started is the stone needs plenty of time to heat up, at least a half hour, and while the pizza stone is warming up the coals will be completely white by the time I am ready to cook the pizza with plenty of life left in them.  Also, as a note, keep the upper vent completely closed, no use losing heat anymore heat then necessary.   I should also note that while the pizza oven was well above 700 degrees F. the upper dome only got to 250 degrees F.  That tells me the second pizza stone along with the aluminum foil was doing their job keeping the heat where I wanted.

After a half hour or so the grill temperature is about 600 degrees F.  I'm looking for 700 degrees F. plus and the way to get there is to add a chunk of hardwood.  I use some long tongs and push the wood to the back and it drops through the cutout in the back down onto the hot coals.  
 In a matter of minutes I hit the target temperature, 700 degrees F. 
 Time to load the pizza, now the temperature is well above 700 degrees F.   
 Every couple of minutes I turn the pizza a quarter turn and in less then 10 minutes the pizza is done.
 I'm not sure what else can be said, the pizza comes out perfectly cooked.  By installing the second lid it does a much better job keeping the heat down on the pizza ensuring everything is cooked without needing to lift the pizza up into the dome to finish cooking the top.  

The pizzas we have cooked in this rig have been taken to the next level.  I don't know of any pizza place around us that can match what can be cooked in this oven I know our pizza takeout orders have drastically reduced in the last couple of months.  My quest for the perfect pizza is almost there with the last item to deal with will be pizza sauce, but we will leave that for another day and another story.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Prime Rib and Did that Chunk of Meat Just Talk to Me?

I've been gone for a couple of weeks due to a trip back to Michigan and after we got back I didn't feel like cooking until the weekend rolled around.  Once the weekend rolled around the big question was "What to cook?"  This morning, during breakfast and my weekly two eggs over easy and toast, I pulled out one of my Weber cookbooks and started scouring through recipes trying to develop ideas.  The pork wasn't tripping my trigger and the wife doesn't like lamb so I turned to the beef section.  Beef, yeah sounds good to me and it's been awhile since we had any beef.  After looking through the recipes I settled on a beef tenderloin recipe, it sure looks good, time to head for the store.  

The first store I went too I wasn't happy with the beef selection at all so it's off to the next store.  Once I get to the next store I head to the back where the meat case is located.  I always go past the display case where the in store butcher is behind the counter to check out the steaks.  This particular store always has a good looking meat display and sometimes they have good sales, this week was no exception.  The prime rib roast was on sale this week and it was talking to me.  (The great thing about the prime rib roast, even though it can be pricey to purchase, is I can get 3 different meals out of one roast, prime rib (obviously), Mongolian Beef later in the week and maybe my favorite Philly Cheese Steaks.)  Of course I answered the rib roast and told it "I'll be back if the beef tenderloin thing doesn't work out."   Somehow I knew I would be lured back to that rib roast.

I headed over to the other meat display case, where there isn't a butcher to help, and found the tenderloin.  The tenderloin was talking too but I didn't like what I was hearing.  All they had were large tenderloins and they were anywhere from $80 to $100.  Ah, I don't think so, can't spend that for an afternoon of grilling.  By now, as you may have already guessed, the rib roast is yelling loud an clear, "COME BACK, COME BACK!"  I did go back and bought a 4-1/2 pound rib roast and proceeded to change my afternoon plans.  

When it comes to beef, especially rib roast, I like to keep it simple.  If the meat is good quality the flavor will come out with little coaxing.  This is a big chunk of meat and as soon as I get home I want to season it.    The first thing I do is cover the entire hunk of meat with olive oil to help the seasonings adhere.  Liberally, I sprinkle coarse seas salt, fresh ground pepper and granulated garlic and wrap it will plastic wrap and put it in the frig for a few hours.  
 An hour before loading this big boy on the grill I take it out of the frig so it can come up to room temperature.  During this hour I take the time to get the grill ready.  Normally, I use the smoker to cook a rib roast but since I bought a rotisserie this spring I decided to roast this bad boy.  I got the charcoal going and threw in a couple of chunks of hickory wood for some smokey flavor.
 I let this roast spin for 1-1/2 hours at 400 degrees F until I had an internal temperature of 125 degrees F, a good medium rare for me.  One thing to remember, with any large piece of meat, is it will continue to cook after it is removed from the heat.  I didn't measure the internal temperature after I let the roast rest for 15-20 minutes but I would guess it was someplace in the low 130 degree F. range.  
Mmm, good stuff right there.  Crispy exterior loaded with flavor from the seasoning.  Smoky hickory wood flavor but not too strong, just the way I like it.  This roast was loaded with flavor and I can't wait until later in the week when I get to make philly cheese steaks with the leftovers.  

The next time you walk by the meat display case listen closely, you never know what might be talking to you.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Boston Butt or Front Shoulder Roast? Either Way Spells Excellent Barbecue

Two weeks ago I developed a craving for barbecue pork sandwiches and it took me until today to finally take care of that craving.  There are several reasons for waiting until today to satisfy my craving, mainly because I need a full day and not just a full day but a full day with sunshine.  Low and slow is the cry when smoking a pork shoulder.  The smoker starts early in the morning and doesn't stop until early evening.  That is the way it goes to make delicious, moist, fall off the bone barbecue pork.

Years ago, when I first started making barbecue, the first barbecue I mastered was making barbecue pork, probably because it  is he easiest and most forgiving of all barbecue cooking.  The hardest part of making barbecue pork is maintaining the temperature in the smoker.  The recipe couldn't be easier, start with a boston butt roast or front shoulder roast.  Although, I'm not sure why it's called a boston butt when it comes from the front shoulder.  For this particular 'cue I found a 9 pound shoulder roast at the local market.  

For the rub I chose the same rub I used a week ago on the barbecue beef ribs and why not, it's a good all around rub.  Below is the recipe but you can also get the original from the Food Network web site and many others.

Magic Dust:

  • 1/2 cup paprika
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt, finely ground
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup powdered mustard
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/4 cup ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup granulated garlic
  • 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper

As I stated above, this is an all day smoke so I loaded up the charcoal holder to the top.  Also, I chose cherry wood for today's smoking wood choice.  I put a few chunks in at the beginning of the smoking process and add more about half way through.  This gives the pork enough smoke flavor to know it came from a smoker but no so much that it taste like a burnt piece of wood.  
Once the charcoal and wood are ready it's time to load the pork on the grate.  And sit back and wait and wait and wait.
Four hours later and it's time to check what we have and to insert the digital thermometer.  It's already at 145 degrees F. but from previous experience I know it gets there fast.  It seems to take forever to go that last 30 degrees F or so.  I am ultimately looking for 195 degrees F final cooking temperature.  
 Six hours later and the roast is over 185 degrees F.  I decided to take it off at this time because I know it will raise a few degrees as it rest and also because it was getting late and I wanted to eat.  
 After the pork has rested it's time to "pull" the pork.  I prefer the two fork method over cutting the pork up with a knife.  Also, a good indicator to tell if the pork is done, the bone should come out clean as in the case.  Although, I think the roast could have used a little more time in the smoker.
 My favorite way to enjoy a barbecue pork sandwich?  How abut a simple white bun with creamy cole slaw.
 It don't get much better than that.  And I got leftovers for two nights.  Yippie Kay Yay.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Barbecue Beef Ribs

I went to the store today to buy a boston butt, or a front pork shoulder roast for those of you that don't know barbecue jargon.  Now, if you are looking at the photo to the left you are probably saying to yourself "That don't look like no pork roast."  Well, good eye and maybe you should consider your next career as a butcher.  What happened was I didn't like what I saw for pork roast but I did like the beef ribs located above the roast.  Since it can be hard to find beef ribs in this area, and the pork roast wasn't the greatest, I changed direction and decided to go with the beef ribs.  Maybe next weekend I'll make some barbecue pork sandwiches.

Since I have never had a lot of luck with beef ribs, normally end up tough something along the lines of old shoe leather, I turned to my best friend Google to help me out.  I was looking for cooking times to make sure I give the ribs enough time on the smoker since I think this has been my biggest downfall when barbecuing beef ribs.  But one problem, the times I found were anywhere from 1-1/2 to 6 hours at 225 degrees, really not a lot of help there.  After taking into account the thickness and size of the ribs I decided to start at 3 hours and go from there.
The next big decision to be made is what, if any, rub to use.  I decided to go with the Mike Mills' Beef Ribs recipe from the Food Network and his Magic Dust.  It is a quick and easy rub with most, if not all, the ingredients found in the pantry.  The Apple City Barbecue Sauce at the end of the recipe is the inspiration for my own barbecue sauce.  It's the recipe that got me started in the right direction years ago when I wanted to make my own apple barbecue sauce.  While I didn't end up using Mike Mills recipe, this is a very good recipe to try if you like apple flavored barbecue sauce.

On to the smoker to get it ready.  Today I had to clean the ashes out of the bottom which normally needs to be done after using it a couple of times.  I put enough charcoal in to last up to 6 hours, if needed, and decided on hickory chunks of wood to deliver the smoke flavor to the ribs.  I tend to favor hickory for beef and apple and cherry wood for pork and chicken.  Since it is summer and the temperatures are warmer, I chocked the the air vents down to about 1/3 the way open.  Once the charcoal is ready it's time to dump a chimney full of hot charcoal on top and get this smoker started.  All that's left now is to slip the beef ribs on the grates and wait.  And wait.  

I decided at the 3 hour mark to lift the lid to see how the ribs were doing.  Well, well, what do you know, the meat just getting to the point where it was going to fall off the bone, perfect, let's get the sauce.  My choice today?  How about my own apple barbecue sauce, sweet, spicy and full of apple flavor.  

 After mopping on some barbecue sauce I let the ribs finish for another 15 minutes on the smoker before removing them.  After letting them rest another 15 minutes I cut them apart into single bone servings and drizzle some more barbecue sauce on them.  And of course take a picture just because it's what I do. 
 Mmmmm, sweet, spicy, smokey, juicy, messy an full of beef flavor.  Finally, beef ribs I can be proud of and enjoy for this weekend.  Maybe next weekend I'll get to that barbecue pork sandwich.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Spinning and Roasting Pineapple While Keeping OSHA Out of the Backyard

I'm always looking for something a little different for the grill and also look for ideas for my rotisserie so when little sis posted a spit roasted pineapple recipe on Facebook I perked up. Now mind you, not just grilled pineapple but grilled pineapple on a rotisserie, don't get much better than that.  

I've grilled pineapple before but always as spears or cut up in rounds mainly because I didn't own a rotisserie at the time.  All the pineapple I've grilled have been good but the use of a rotisserie took the pineapple to a whole new level.  

To properly roast a pineapple we first must start with fresh pineapple, available at most grocery stores.  Fresh pineapples normally are pretty east to spot, due to their size and rather large greens on top.  This pineapple could be a little riper but it was the best I could find at the store this week.  

It's not hard to cut up a pineapple if you follow a few simple rules with rule number one being don't cut towards yourself, isn't that right John?  If I keep him around I'll have OSHA camped out in my back yard writing safety violations.  Follow the link I provided and it will explain how to cut up a pineapple better than I ever could.  

Once the pineapple is ready for the spit it's a matter of pushing the spit through the pineapple, being careful not to push the spit through the pineapple and your hand or you'll end up like John again, with a bandage around your hand.  After the pineapple is on the spit, and no extra holes in your body, it's time to assemble the cast of characters.  It's a simple cast starting with:

  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 Cup sugar (I used sugar in the raw)
  • 2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 Teaspoon ground cloves
Mix the sugar, cinnamon and cloves.

Now it's time to fire up the grill and get it hot.  My grill had cooled off a bit since I used it to cook dinner that night so it took about an hour to roast the pineapple at 350 degrees.  The butter is basted on throughout the roasting time with the sugar mixture applied at the same time.
 It makes me drool just to look at the photo.  Like the wife said "What's not to like?  You got butter, sugar, cinnamon and cloves."

The last decision to be made is how to serve it.  The original recipe gives good options with one being with whipped cream.
No doubt that's a good option but my favorite, vanilla ice cream.
 That's hard to beat in my world.

Regardless what you choose, roasted pineapple on the rotisserie is hard to beat, simple and delicious, let's give it a 5 out of 5 forks.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mozzarella Cheese and How I Learned to Use Bottle Water

"Waiting tables is what you know. Making cheese is what I know. Let's stay with what we know here." - Jimmy the Cheese Man from the movie The Pope of Greenwich Village.

I really don't know much about waiting tables and I really don't know much about making cheese, although I did stay at a Holiday Inn once, but I do know how to read directions, or so I thought.  A few weeks ago, when it was her turn, little sister posted our weekly family recipe for making mozzarella cheese.  My first thought, what a great family recipe and I wish I'd thought of that.  

Even though I lived in Wisconsin and actually been through a few cheese plants, I still didn't have a clue how to make cheese.  I knew cheese came from milk and I knew the pasteurization process and I knew, somehow, whey came from the cheese making process and I knew when the whey was separated from the solids, also known as cheese curds, it was the curds that were the start of the cheese.  Well, maybe I had a small clue but what I didn't know was how the whey and curds were separated and what to do with the curds afterwards.  

It turns out to be a relatively simple process with some relatively tough lessons learned.  To be honest, I've tried four times and failed on two of those occasions. We'll get to the lessons learned but first lets introduce the cast of characters for mozzarella cheese which is simple and few:

1/2 Rennet Tablet (Found at a local grocery store)
1-1/2 tsp Citric Acid (Found at pharmacies)
1 gallon milk (Found from contented cow)
Water (Found from a bottle)

For my first attempt at making the cheese I used the recipe that little sis posted for our weekly family recipe.  Epic failure.  What did I do wrong?  Since the wife was helping we were both sure we had followed the directions to a tee.  We made sure we didn't use ultra pasteurized milk, a warning supplied with the recipe.  I wasn't alone in failure, big sis attempted and failed too.  Little sis had much better success than we did and she assured us the recipe worked.  

After failure, I knew of only one place for answers, the internet.  Google, at times my best friend, supplied me with plenty of information but one piece of information I came across stood out, use bottled water.  Could bottled water make the difference?  There is only 3/4 of a cup of water required for making cheese which makes it hard to believe that could be the difference.  The reason my water may not work?  It's chlorinated, or at least that's the only thing I could find.  That might make sense too, since little sis's water is good ole country water from a well.  

A few days later it was time for another shot at cheese making, with bottled water this time.  I also decided to use the recipe that came with the rennent tablets, American Mozzarella.  I heated the milk up just like the instructions instructed(?) and let it sit for 2 hours.  After 2 hours I looked in the pot and  I couldn't tell if anything happened but after feeling down in the whey, yes it was actually whey, I found it, the cheese curd.  Yippie Kay Yay success.  Was it perfect? No, but I had cheese and it tasted good, definitely worth another try.

Now we fast forward to 3 months later and time to make cheese again.  Simple right?  Yeah right, read on.

Once again, I follow the directions, heat to 88 degrees stir in the dissolved rennant and citric acid, wait 2 hours and....................UGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!  NO CURD!!!! All I could think of is "What did I do wrong?" as I was dumping the failure down the drain.  For 2 days I kept thinking about it, what, what, what?  Then one night, as I was watching the Nats baseball game, it hit me, like a Ryan Zimmerman homerun, whack, "ITS THE WATER STUPID!!!!"  How could I be so dumb?  I knew from before not to use tap water, at least our tap water, but I did anyway. Stupid, stupid, stupid.   Oh well, if nothing else now we will find out once and for all if the water really does make the difference.  

The weekend came and I bought another gallon of milk, at least the diary farmers are making out on the cheese making experiment.  Once again, heat the milk to 88 degrees, add the dissolved rennent and citric acid in BOTTLED WATER this time and wait for 2 hours.  After the 2 hour wait feel in the pot and, YES, we have curds.  From here on it's clear sailing, heat back up to 108 degrees for 35 minutes, stir to keep the curd separated, and strain through a cheese cloth.  The whey can be saved for later and make ricotta cheese but when I tried it I didn't think the amount of ricotta cheese I got was worth the effort.  
After the curds are separated from the whey it's time to add salt and mix in thoroughly.  Now the fun part, microwave and stretch, microwave and stretch.  The hotter it gets, the more it can be stretched and the more it burns.  Stretch until you are satisfied with the smooth consistency of the cheese.  Once finished, form into a ball and store it in the frig in cool salted water for 24 hours.  

There you go, as easy as opening a bottle of water, mozzarella cheese.  The hardest part was finding the rennent and citric acid.  Taste?  I'll guarantee, nothing you buy in the store will compare to making your own and it's fresh.  The possibilities are endless, this batch ended up on a prosciutto, basil and mozzarella cheese pizza cooked on the grill.  
The next time you got a couple of hours to spare and don't know what to do, give cheese making a try, just don't forget the bottled water.

American Mozzarella Cheese Recipe  (Need Adobe Reader to view this recipe)