Fresh Ricotta

If you had to pick your favorite food group, which would you choose?

Carbs are pretty wonderful

Salty sweet snacks like chocolate covered pretzels are addicting in a really scary way

But in my opinion, nothing pulls at my heart strings more than cheese does

Soft cheeses like fresh pulled Mozzarella, smooth and sour Chevre, rich Mascarpone, subtly sweet Buratta, whole milk Ricotta, tangy goat’s milk Feta, and creamy, oh so creamy, Brie. Not to mention hard cheeses like cave aged Gruyere, smoked Gouda, sharp Cheddar, and thinly grated Parmesan

If I could spend my life making and testing cheeses I would choose this career above all else. Probably.

I would also like to name paint colors – but I’ll save that story for another day.

Since I have had more free time this summer, I tried my hand once again at cheese making. Remember when I made Chevre?

I thought I would try again with a soft cheese so I set my sights on Ricotta.

Sweet Ricotta Spoon Bites – 1. Ricotta, Sliced Strawberry, and a dash of Dark Chocolate Cocoa Powder 2. Ricotta, Salted Pumpkin Seeds, with a drizzle of agave nectar

To make: Mound fresh ricotta into a Tablespoon or teaspoon, depending on your preference. Slice strawberry on the diagonal and place on top. Sprinkle dark chocolate cocoa powder on top for that finishing touch!

To make: Mound fresh ricotta onto Tablespoon or Teaspoon. Cover top of mound with lightly salted pumpkin seeds. Drizzle with agave nectar or honey – depending on your preference!

Why ricotta? Because pretty much every store bought ricotta is really flavorless, grainy, clumpy mush disguised as ricotta. And this is me putting my foot down.

Before embarking on my experiment, I did a little research on different cheese making techniques, types of milk, the differences in using white vinegar to curdle the milk versus lemon juice. I did this all while I was supposed to be helping Matt make a glass rack for our developing home bar. He was all like “hey get off the computer and help me saw these pieces of wood” and I was all like “CHEESE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIFE.”

So we compromised.

I grabbed my laptop and sat in the backyard with him, all the while complimenting his sawing skills.

So here’s what I learned about ricotta making

Milk Options:

First off, try to use organic milk when at all possible, most stores offer it these days and organic dairy means no added hormones. That being said, let’s continue.

Raw, unpasteurized milk will produce the most curds. And it’s the closest you will get to milk fresh off the farm. This is the most expensive milk, and it is often times hard to come across, but I believe it will give you the best chance at making good cheese because of its pure form.

UHT Milk (Ultra High Temperature), milk that has been heated to 275 degrees, should NEVER be used because the pasteurization process has killed every shred of life in the milk. Using this kind of milk will kind you tiny weak curds that don’t stick together.

Pasteurized milk is your best option if you’re on a budget, or if you don’t have access to raw milk.

Acid Options:

Buttermilk is a good option, other than the fact that you need to add a significant amount to make your milk curdle. 1 cup of butter milk to every 4 cups of milk. So what? This just means that your cheese will end up having a distinct sour tangy flavor, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you are planning to use the ricotta in a sweet application or if you just don’t want your cheese sour.

Lemon Juice is one of the most popular choices, and I have used it many times due to the fresh flavor it imparts into the cheese. But there are a few arguments against using it as well. First, because not all lemons were born equal due to growing conditions and the variety of the fruit, their acidity levels can vary greatly creating a guessing game about ratios and leaving you will a potentially inconsistent product. Also, if you end up having to use more lemon juice your cheese will have a strong citrus tang – which is pretty delicious and lends itself to a ricotta that you will want to dress with fresh herbs and eat by the spoonful, but like with the buttermilk, this cheese won’t do your sweet dishes or your ravioli any favors.

White Vinegar is my favorite acid to use. It has a consistent acid level so the measurement will be the same every time. You also won’t have to use a significant amount so your ricotta will have an ever so slight tang, but not enough to overpower the gorgeous clean flavor of the milk.

Temperature Options:

Some people swear by a specific temperature of 180, which is all good and fine, but I have discovered that there is virtually no difference between 170-185. I just aim for 180 and hold it right around that temp.

Too much lower than 170 and the curds won’t set correctly, anything higher and you risk scalding the milk – and trust me, nothing is worse than try to clean burned milk from the bottom of a pan.

This is what you want your pot to look like, easy clean up means more time to stare at your baby ricotta curds.

Ok, now that I have given you all a brief lesson in cheese making, let’s get started!

What you’ll need:

1/2 gallon of milk

8 Tbs. Distilled White Vinegar

1 tsp. Salt

Cheesecloth

Thermometer

Colander

Pot

Bowl large enough to hold colander

What to do with it:

Place milk in a pot with your thermometer and heat on medium to roughly 180 degrees, this will take about 20 minutes

Make sure to stir every minute or so to decrease the chance of your milk burning on the bottom OR boiling over

Remove from heat and add vinegar, one tablespoon at a time, stirring gently

Add salt, stir once more, very carefully

Let sit for 5 minutes

Line a colander with cheesecloth and place inside a large bowl

Slowly pour what is now curds and whey into the cheesecloth and allow the whey to drain for 20 minutes

I would say 20 minutes is the ricotta sweet spot, at this time you will have small, tender curds that will spread with ease and won’t be super runny. This is the ricotta to use in things like ravioli, lasagna, or on pizza.

For even softer cheese, only allow to drain for 5-10 minutes. This will give you extremely creamy ricotta that you will probably eat straight from the cheesecloth…and without a spoon. That’s how wonderful it will be.

If you want your ricotta to be super firm, let it sit and drain for about an hour. I haven’t ever let my ricotta sit this long, but from what I’ve read this is the best ricotta to use for pastries and gnocci.

Don’t let it drain for much longer than an hour otherwise you will end up with ricotta that is just too dry.

Tip: If you accidentally drain your ricotta too much for your liking, you can use some of the whey that has drained out to rehydrate your cheese. Simply pour it back over and allow to drain for just a minute. It’s not the perfect solution, but it definitely will improve your ricotta more than anything else.

You can also save your excess whey, because you will have a ton of it, and add it to your oatmeal for an extra protein boost. I’ve also heard of people mixing it with fresh pressed juice and even with powdered chocolate milk and Tang. I’ve never done any of these things, so if you do, please let me know what you think!

Sauteed Zucchini, Fresh Ricotta, and Lemon Rind
Get the recipe here

Homemade ricotta will last for about a week in the fridge…but mine has never lasted more than a day.

And I suspect yours won’t either.

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Making Butter

Butter

Butter

Butter

Butter

Is there nothing better?

I don’t think there is.

Salted. Unsalted. Mixed with herbs. Mixed with honey.

You name it, I’ll eat it. YUM

Despite my ongoing love affair with it, and my constant claims to be the next Paula Deen, I swear to you here and now that I don’t use butter nearly as much as people think.

It got me thinking, sure, I cook and bake all the time. I usually make things from scratch, I rarely use food from boxes or packages. I use pure ingredients like butter, whole blocks of cheese, and loaves of artisinal bread. But then I got the idea in my head – what if I MADE those pure ingredients myself?

After reading Urban Homestead (Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City) by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen, a book which my darling roommate brought home for me from the library, I realized just how simple it is to make butter, cheese, bread and so much more all from a home kitchen.

I mean, duh, of course those things are easy to make…a home kitchen is where they all started and those kitchens didn’t have industrial sized mixers and ovens. Shocking, I know. I think that living in today’s society and in a city especially creates a real divide between these old practices and the modern cook. It’s been my mission this summer to bridge the gap in my life, and I am now ready to share everything I’ve learned with you all.

So I’m starting with the most basic, butter.

What you’ll need:

1 pint Heavy Whipping Cream, at room temperature

Glass quart jar with tight fitting lid

Salt, if you want salted butter

What to do with it:

Pour cream into jar, fill a little less than halfway. You’ll have to do this in two batches. So why not use a bigger jar? Because you might not be able to securely hold a bigger jar in your hands

Screw the lid on, make sure its really closed

Start shaking

Shake until your arms feel like they are gonna fall off

Shake up and down, side to side, between your legs, over your head. Your choice, get creative. Make it a workout, put on some music, shake to the beat. This is your opportunity to get creative, churn to your heart’s content. Don’t let me down folks!

Seriously, I think that anyone trying to lose weight (or not gain weight) but who still wants to eat butter should make their own. I swear you will burn more calories making it than there are in the amount you will consume! Should I patent this butter workout idea? Probably, huh?

When you first start shaking, the cream will make tons of noise sloshing around

After 3-5 minutes of shaking, it’s gonna stop making noise. At this point you have made whipped cream (minus the sugar)

Keep shaking, you’ll start to notice the cream clumping and sticking to the sides of the jar. You’re almost there

You will know you have butter when you start hearing sloshing again. About 7-10 minutes in, if you make butter with frequency after this, this sloshing noise will be your saving grace, the finish line at the end of a race

Just…a…few…more…shakes…

Take a look inside the jar, you should see a big ol’ clump of pale yellow butter surrounded by a bunch of milk (buttermilk, to be more specific)

You’ve made it, my friends

Next you have to do what’s called “washing” the butter to remove any tiny pockets of buttermilk still trapped in the ball of butter – this step is VERY important. If you don’t wash the butter, the little buttermilk pockets will sour and spoil your butter

To wash, take the butter and run it under cold water gently squeezing and pressing the butter in your hands

Once you stop seeing little drops of milk coming out you can now add salt, if you want salted butter.

Per pint, I would say a sprinkle of salt is sufficient – no more than 1/4 teaspoon

When all is said and done, you will end up with 1 cup of butter (essentially 2 sticks) and 1 cup of buttermilk

Note: This buttermilk is not the buttermilk you buy in stores. This is authentic buttermilk and it is delicious. It’s basically milk with teeny tiny flecks of butter still left in it. I love using it in my coffee especially.

As cliche as it sounds, homemade butter just tastes better than store bought. It has an unadulterated fresh butter taste that I have never before tasted.

Since discovering the ease of butter making it has become my party trick of sorts, as I suspect it will become for you. If I’m going to my friends house to make dinner, I make a point to pick up some heavy whipping cream and impress everyone with my suave churning skills.

This is the butter you will want to use in simple recipes

Like on top of some homemade bread?

Maybe with a little fig jam?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go eat some of that fresh luscious stuff.

Sun Dried Tomato Hummus

I don’t know about you guys, but when its real hot out, I’m not in the mood for a huge meal that is gonna make me feel even more sluggish than the scalding temperatures already does. I want something light, maybe crispy, certainly cold and often times utensil free.

Eating with my hands means less dish washing and its more acceptable for me to lick my fingers in the process.

I know ya’ll understand how great that is.

Summed up, summertime is a time for snacks. But chips leave little more than cheese powder on your fingertips and cellulite on the back of your thighs. No thanks.

I want a snack I can come back to throughout the day.

Wait, isn’t that quintessentially a snack is? Oh nevermind, you get the point.

So what is the best gosh darn snack? HUMMUS

Not just plain hummus (delicious as that may be), but sun dried tomato hummus.

Remember when I made RAW Hummus? Well, the basic recipe is pretty much the same.

Seriously, one of the quickest recipes out there

What you’ll need:

2 cans ckickpeas (garbanzo beans)

Liquid from 1 can of beans

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup of sun dried tomato oil OR just 1/2 cup of olive oil

1/3 cup sun dried tomato, minced (or put through a food processor)

3 cloves garlic

Salt

Pepper

What to do with it:

Here’s where it get’s real tricky

1. Put everything in a food processor or blender

2. Turn on

I know, this is a super complicated recipe, I apologize.

Paired with some toasted whole wheat pita triangles, you got yourself a most wonderful summer snack!

Parmesan Thyme Crackers

Sometimes I think we take the carbs in our lives for granted. Breads, crackers, chips, ect. They are always there when we need them, they last for a considerable amount of time, come in a multitude of flavors and pair nicely with TONS of stuff.

So, this post goes out to the crackers of the world. I salute you and your ability to accompany cheese so delightfully.

But first, let me introduce you to someone special. Someone that I rarely get to spend time with due to distance and my busy schedule when I do come into town.

I’d like you all to meet my mother’s Kitchen Aid Mixer.

It’s big, blue, and beautiful and my mother has adorned it with a many fantastic attachments.

If anyone was to ever bestow upon me this fine piece of machinery, I very well might die of excitement. I just don’t know what color I would want yet…mint green, royal purple, copper? With over 20 different colors how is a girl ever supposed to choose!?

I would surely feel the need to buy every attachment as well; the pasta maker, the meat grinder, the ice cream bowl, the citrus juicer, the ravioli maker. Yea, Kitchen Aid would make a lot of money off of me.

Anyway, moving on.

Crackers. I don’t make a habit of keeping them in my house. But they are one of those things I have always wanted to make myself.

I thought to myself, if I’m gonna take the time to make crackers, they are gonna be fancier. Personally, I think that anything containing fresh herbs are automatically elegant. And, as you may know, I adore anything with cheese.

Parmesan Thyme Shortbread Crackers seem to fit the bill.

Adapted from: Ina Garten

Makes about 46 crackers

What you’ll need:

2 sticks Unsalted Butter, at room temp

6 ounces finely grated Parmesan Cheese

2 1/2 cups Flour

1/2 tsp. Salt

2 tsp. Fresh Thyme Leaves, chopped

1 tsp. Black Pepper

1 Tbs. water*

What to do with it:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. Mix butter with an electric mixer or a hand mixer until creamy

2. Add in the Parmesan, then the Thyme, salt and pepper

3. Slowly add the flour 1/4 cups at a time

*if the dough seems a bit dry, add water

4. Flour a cutting board and when the dough has been well incorporated place it on the board and divide into 2 evenly sized mounds

5. Roll into 9 inch long logs (2 logs total)

6. Wrap each in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 25-30 minutes to firm

7. Take out of the freezer, unwrap and cut the dough into 1/4-1/2 inch slices with a very sharp knife. I got about 23 crackers per log

8. Place on a baking sheet and put in the oven. For a moister, breadier cracker, bake for 24 minutes, for a drier, crisper cracker about 32 minutes. Check on them all the while, I wanted my crackers to develop some extra color, so I left them for the 32 minutes.

Put a little salami on top for a protein filled snack

Smear a little cream cheese over it and top with a baby sprig of thyme for a creamy and cooling afternoon treat.

Or because I know you all to be crafty little foodies, make both of them, turn ’em in on each other and have a mini meat and cheese sandwich.

These crackers are herbaceous and savory and wonderful and addicting and light (despite the butter) and unique and a crowd pleaser.

So make them. You won’t regret it.

Spiced Crispy Onions

Ever get a craving for onion rings? Or those French’s Fried Onions you put on top of your Thanksgiving Green Bean Caserole? Or Funions?

I do.

You probably do too.

There’s just something about fried onions.

That’s why this lil’ recipe comes in handy, they are kind of a love child between the 3 aforementioned snacks.

Dare I say these savory things could be a new favorite treat.

They are crispy, but not dry.

They are spicy, but don’t make your eyes water.

They are fried, and that’s just plain great.

Gettin’ down to business

What you’ll need:

1 yellow onion

1 cup milk

1 1/2 Tbs White Vinegar

1 cup Flour

1 Tbs. Cayenne

1 Tbs. Paprika

1 Tbs. Salt

1 Tbs. Pepper

Canola Oil, for frying

What to do with it all:

1. Slice your onion real thin, does,’t really matter how – full circles, half moons, quartered – let your creativity flow free!

2. Put your onion slices in a bowl and cover them with the milk and white vinegar, make sure they are covered. Let them soak for 15+ minutes

3. In the meantime, heat your oil to 350-375 degrees. Keep the oil at medium heat

4. Mix together the flour, salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika

5. Put a handful of onions into the flour and let them roll around a bit. Don’t be shy, indulge your inner chef, use your hands and smother those onions, cover them in flour and spices ’til a wet spot is nowhere to be found.

6. Then drop them gently into the hot oil, for the sake of not burning them, I keep the heat on medium and let the onions jump around in the oil for about 5 minutes

7. When the slices are golden and gorgeous take them out and set them on a paper towel to let some oil drain – for the sake of your figure

8. Resist the urge to eat them immediately. Really fight it. Hard

9. After cooling for a few minutes, indulge. Eat them one by one…or by the handful…or put ’em on a delectable sandwich

10. When you run out make them again, and again to your heart’s content

You can thank me later.

What’s your favorite homemade snack?