Zucchini and Ricotta Bites

Hi all!

I don’t know about you, but, for me, sometimes a big ol’ meal with mounds of bread and meat is the last thing I feel like eating. Sometimes it’s the only thing I feel like eating. But sometimes it’s not. So for the days that its not I’m probably in the mood for something light but that has enough good calories to get me through the day.

So I’m sharing with you today one of my go-to filling and healthy snacks that takes about 5 minutes to make and is almost impossible to screw up.

Zucchini and Ricotta Bites

I came up with this recipe because I am currently growing some gorgeous looking zucchini on my roof and they are gonna be ready soon so I need to have a variety of zucchini recipes tested and at my fingertips when my bounty is finally ready to be harvested. Plus I am one of those girls who loves zucchini. Really, I do.

Now, you don’t have to smear your ricotta onto your cutting board, I just did that for creative effect.

What you’ll need:

1 zucchini

1/3 cup ricotta, homemade or store bought

1 lemon

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for your pan

*This will make about 15 zucchini pieces, so you can adjust according to how much you want to make

What to do with it:

Start heating some olive oil in a frying pan on medium-low, not to much, just enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan

Slice zucchini into 1/4 inch pieces, cutting on the diagonal…this will give you slightly elongated pieces which I think just looks nice

Place the slices in the pan and generously sprinkle with salt and peper

Allow to gently brown on both sides without getting too soggy, remember, you want your bites to maintain their firmness so you can pick them up with your hands

*If you end up overcooking them, just use a fork to eat

Once browned, place on some paper towels to drain off some of the excess oil

Then place on your serving platter or plate and top with a small spoonful of ricotta

Squeeze literally 2 drops of lemon juice on top of each bite – too much more and it will overpower the light flavors of both the zucchini and cheese

Garnish, if you want, with very thin slices of lemon rind, making sure to avoid using any of the white pith of the skin because it will give your bite a bitter taste

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Homemade Goat Cheese

In keeping with my previous post about a recipe cooking with goat cheese, I felt it was only appropriate to post here my latest magazine article (which will come out online in a few days) about making goat cheese at home. I kept the piece in its original magazine style, to give you a taste of my more “professional” writing style.

Enjoy!

Tangy flavor, velvety texture, and versatility make it loved by the masses and easy to incorporate into so many meals. It has the intrinsic ability to class up any meal, with a name like Chèvre, it’s not hard to believe. It would not be too bold to say it may just be one of the most addicting cheeses in existence. However, as with most fine things in life, the average price for a package of goat cheese can be a bit high considering the amount being bought.

“I find goat cheese to be completely irresistible because of its creamy texture, subliminal tartness, and the semi-subconscious thought that eating it means I have a more sophisticated palate,” says SFSU student Dorothy Niederlander. “Because of the relatively high prices on goat cheese, I only purchase a log once every couple of months.”

Niederlander, and others who feel this pain need not to fear, because perhaps the best part about goat cheese is the fact that it can be made at home in just about twenty-five minutes (plus two hours of inactive time in the fridge). And one batch yields at least two times the cheese for half the cost. Rest assured, making the cheese at home is not one of those DIY projects where halfway through it becomes impossible to finish. The recipe list is simple: Goat’s milk, buttermilk, lemon juice, and salt. Do not bother using low fat goat or buttermilk either, the integrity and texture of the cheese is ruined with such a lack of fat. While that smooth, creamy taste may suggest copious amounts of fat, it is just an illusion; even with using full fat milks, goat cheese is still actually lower in fat than most cow cheeses. Andronico’s is the best place to buy goat milk because they sell it in its raw, unpasteurized form, which is optimal for making the cheese. However, in a pinch, pasteurized milk will do just fine, Trader Joe’s and Rainbow Grocery are just a few of the stores that carry it.

The process is just as simple as the ingredients; pour one liter of goat milk and one cup of buttermilk in a saucepan and let that heat up to 170-185 degrees – a word to the wise, a thermometer is needed for this.

Once the milk reaches that temperature, turn the stove off and squeeze a tablespoon of lemon juice into it, stir, and watch it begin to curdle. This may be the most crucial part of the process, not enough lemon juice and nothing will happen, too much lemon juice and the mixture will over curdle and become grainy. So measure before pouring.

Do not let pictures online fool anyone, not all curdles were born equal. Some will be big and float on top, while most will remain about the size of ¼ grain of rice and stay somewhere toward the bottom.

Let the mixture cool to 120 degrees, stirring occasionally. Then take the whole pot and pour in through a cheesecloth-lined strainer that’s inside a larger bowl and marvel at all the premature goat cheese sitting there.

Strain it, like so, for about ten minutes, dump the excess liquid out of the bowl, then take the ends of the cheese clot, twist together and squeeze – not too tight. Secure with a rubber band, place back in strainer/bowl duo, cover with a small plate or bowl, and weigh down with a heavy can and pop it in the fridge. The cheese will continue to drain so the bowl is still essential.

After two hours in the fridge, take it out and unwrap like the present it is. If the cheese is too crumbly, take the whey that was strained out in the fridge and fold it back into the mixture. This is a good time to add salt, non-iodized, to taste, the vital ingredient that extenuates the tartness of the cheese. Eat it with everything; the possibilities are endless.

Goat cheese has had a long-standing place in history, even being referenced in The Odyssey, as goats were one of the first domesticated animals, nomads would turn goat’s milk into cheese, which served as the perfect way to preserve it. Their method of curdling the milk involved slaughtering a suckling calf and extracting rennet.

“Rennet is an enzyme that is found in a calf’s stomach that causes curd to coagulate and separate from the whey,” says Jens Thorsgarb, 32, an employee at Say Cheese in Cole Valley. You can also use vegetable rennet, a hyper concentrated microbial, like a super fungus.”

Today, more in depth recipes often call for rennet to be used in the process to ensure firmer curds, though most cheese shops in the city do not carry it. Purchasing it online, in tablet or liquid form, is the easiest route and the least expensive as it only costs about six dollars, comes in fairly large quantities, and can be stored for a long period of time.

If thousands of years of homemaking cheese does not inspire confidence however, several shops around the city offer classes to help. The Cheese School of San Francisco on Powell St. teaches both instructional and educational classes and the Workshop in the Western Addition hosts mozzarella-pulling nights every so often as well. Look out for classes offered by Say Cheese as they have also been considering passing on their cheesy whiz-dom.

“The owner and I have talked about having cheese education classes that I would run,” Thorsgarb mentions while he nibbles on a slice of sheep’s milk cheese. “And as far as cheese making classes go, I’m not expert, so if we were to do that we would bring in two women we know who specialize in it.”

Spread on, fellow cheese lovers.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes with a Goat Cheese Filling

The Friday before Matt left for Germany in July he told me to get dressed in something nice – heels included – because he was taking me out to a fancy dinner. Oo la la. As we were walking toward the Embarcadero I happened to notice a girl with bright red lipstick, straight across bangs and a tye dye shirt walking in the opposite direction. I did a double take and realized it was none other than my friend, Dolly. She and I met a couple years ago and became seriously inseparable, over the past year though we have drifted apart due to moves to the East Bay, far away jobs and hectic schedules. We hung out a few months ago at her new place and had a blast, promising to do it again soon.

Then finals happened. Then then I moved and my second job started. Needless to say, my social life took a few punches.

As soon as I realized it was Dolly walking in my direction I screamed her name and ran over to her. A little awkwardly I might add since I was wearing 5 inch heels and the sidewalk was all brick. Her first words to me were something like “I’m pretty sure finals are over biy-atch. Why haven’t we hung out yet?!” Apologizing profusely, I told her that after Tuesday I would be available since the next few days I would be helping Matt get ready to leave for his month or so long trip to Germany.

We hugged and promised to text.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning. I log into Facebook at 9am and have a comment from Dolly. “It’s after Tuesday. WHERE IS MY KRISTINA RINA TIME?! ♥ Hehe.”

This girl doesn’t mess around. So I text her right then and there asking what she was doing that night. Literally 30 seconds later she text back,  “hanging with choo.”

It was on. We made plans for her to come over after she got off work and I set to thinking of a dinner menu. Dolly is vegetarian and allergic to bananas which is a total bummer cause I have really been wanted to make a banana encrusted pork shoulder. Just kidding.

Last time I was at Dolly’s house she introduced me to the creamy glorious wonder that is goat cheese. Halfway into our log of it, her roommate’s girlfriend explained to me how she used to have a real problem with it. She would go through about a log a night. No joke – for the next 4 days I ate a log a day, going to far as to have my friend who works at the market up the street from my job straight up deliver me some on his lunch break.

Yea, it got real. Fast.

Goat cheese and I had to call it quits, but as old lovers often do, we got back together a few months ago. Things are going well so far, we are just taking it slow and in moderation. But when we first rekindled the flame, Matt was gone, and I’d been feeling a little lonely. So I went and bought 2 large logs of the good stuff and intended to use them both for my dinner with Dolly.

I didn’t want to just make some simple vegetarian dish like pasta, so I did a little searching online and got the idea to mix the goat cheese with garlic and basil and stuff it inside a tomato and then bake it.

I got my oven heating to 425 and put the log of goat cheese in between the burners on the stove (none of the burners were lit) to let it soften a little from the warming oven.

I started with 4 tomatoes still on the vine. I cut the very tops off and used a knife and a spoon to cut and scoop their insides out then I cut off the very bottoms of the tomatoes to make sure that they sat straight.

For the filling I took my cheese off the stove, unwrapped it and put it in a bowl. I then minced 5 cloves of garlic and added that to the cheese. Now the original recipe I saw for this only called for 2 cloves for a lot more cheese but:

1. I love garlic

2. I wasn’t gonna be making out with anyone so I really didn’t care if my breath wasn’t smellin’ like a rose.

I then added a moderate amount of dried basil. I would have preferred to use fresh but when I was at the market they were out of regular and were selling what looked to be 3 leaves of organic basil for 2.49…my dried stuff was just fine.

I mixed this all together and then added 1 egg and beat everything together until it was oh, so smooth.

I then loaded up those beautiful red tomato shells to the brim with the cheese. Actually I filled them up a little more, like half an inch over the top. For good measure. And because I had extra cheese mixture.

Then I took the tops of the tomatoes and put them back on. Like a hat.

I staggered the tomatoes in an oven safe dish like this

I put them in the oven for 35 minutes and until the skin looked a little wrinkled and the cheese was smelling wonderful.

Once on the plate, we barely even needed a fork, let alone a knife, to cut through the tender skin and melted cheese. It took a ton of self control to not just slice the tomato into 4 pieces and pop them into my mouth at the speed of light. But I refrained. I took small, ladylike bites and savored the light, yet bold flavor. All the while sitting on the floor of my kitchen with Dolly and a bottle of wine.

God, I love goat cheese.