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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What A Food Blogger Does on Her Day Off

As I many of you know, I am still in college, I work part-time, I’m on my school’s magazine, I am part of the organization, ShareFood, and I run this blog.

Doesn’t really leave much time for a crackin’ social life.

But I manage. Just barely.

I really do try to make the most of my free time, ESPECIALLY if its nice outside.

What do I do?

Well, my favorite thing as of late is walking 3 blocks down from my house into the San Francisco Botanical Garden to hike, picnic, or just plain hang out.

Yea, I live 3 blocks away from all this gorgeousness.

There are about a million trails like this all throughout the garden for people to explore. I swear, I’ve never taken the same path twice.

This past year, Matt bought me this amazing picnic basket that came stocked with dishware, glasses, and cutlery, so we often pack it full of goodies to enjoy on our blanket (normally we sit on the grass, but it had rained the night before, so the grass was pretty damp and muddy)

Homemade garlic hummus with a sweet potato crisp anyone?

After we eat, we like feeding the squirrels brazen enough to scoot up to our blanket. Matt likes taking pictures of me taking pictures of squirrels

Matt also likes taking pictures of me just plain feeding squirrels

Look at this little man! How the heck could you not love him?! I was not zooming on my camera by the way, this is how close he was.

I too like taking pictures of my cutie boy feeding the squirrel cutie boy. This little man seriously couldn’t get enough of our fruit, he just kept coming back for more. It was great, he would even come if I call him. It was so sad feeding him our last strawberry, cause then he scampered off, leaving only the stem and leaves behind.

THIS IS REAL?!?!?! I love nature.

Geese do the weirdest things when they clean themselves, don’t you think?

The garden has a bunch of ponds and streams everywhere with tons of benches, so sometimes its nice to just sit and watch the birds flock about.

Again, I didn’t even have to zoom for this shot.

I love the Botanical Garden – its phenomenally gorgeous, its free, its close to me, and we know where the back gate is so we can sneak in and out whenever we please.

What do you like to do on your days off?

RAW Food Challenge Day 5

Today, it’s Friday.

Friday is glorious for me because it’s the start of my weekend.

Friday is also tragic for me because it’s the end of my weekend.

I’m in school Mon-Thurs and then I work Sat, Sun, Wed

I usually try to make Friday count by doing fun stuff around the city, but every once in a while, I have to spend my Fridays doing domestic stuff. Like laundry, cleaning the house, scrubbing the stove, ect.

Today is that Friday.

Since pretty much every other day I’m up between 7:00-8:00am, I slept in today.

Until 11:00!

I probably could’ve gone longer, but that’s when Matt, my main (and only) squeeze, text me asking how I slept. I told him I was still sleeping and rolled over for another 30 minutes, just ’cause I could.

When I finally deemed it an appropriate time to get up I made myself a cup of coffee, played with Fletcher, and lounged in my silky robe (scandalous).

Fletcher has lazy mornings every morning. Lucky boy.

After a long hot shower where I sang Lana del Rey at the top of my lungs, or I rather, in my best chilling soulful voice, I got dressed and discovered that I can put my belt one notch tighter! This raw challenge is doing some unexpected good!

I think its time to invest in a new belt, since this one is hanging a little too much now. Such a shame since this has been my go to leather belt since the day I found it for $7 at a thrift store!

Breakfast: Berry Banana Smoothie

When I started thinking about breakfast, I looked through my fridge and saw that all my raw food has really been dominating every square inch of it (sorry roomies)! Part of the problem is the half full containers of fruit and tomatoes. I wanted to clear up some space so I pulled out the blueberry and strawberry containers and dumped them in my blender to make a nice berry smoothie.

I pulled out my almost empty jar of almond milk and a frozen banana, for good measure.

In my opinion, there is nothing better than fresh semi-tart blueberries. I may or may not be know for going through entire containers of them in one sitting. (Better blueberries than chocolate though).

I blended everything together for a minute, by everything I mean:

2/3 cup of Blueberries

10 medium sized Strawberries

1 Frozen Banana

1 1/2 cups Raw Almond Milk

4 ice cubes, optional

Gosh, I really do love smoothies in the morning.

Perhaps another reason I love this smoothie so much is because it matches the color of my walls.

A short story: When my mom was pregnant with me, her and my dad decided they wanted my gender to be a surprise so as a result, they chose to paint my room yellow (because a boy would love to grow up in a bright yellow room, obviously). Then, when I moved into my first apartment, I shared a room with another girl and the color that coordinated with both of our bed spreads was yellow, who woulda known? Now that I am in an apartment that allows me to paint, in a room to myself, I decided to fulfill what my childhood deprived me of, a pink room!

Speaking of which, let me give you a short tour of my humble abode, or at least just a tour of my room.

Anyway, back to my smoothie!

Oops, I guess there’s nothing to get back to!

Lunch: Ants on a Log

This meal was inspired by my sweet baby-angel younger sister, Julia. When she was in kindergarten she participated in an after school program, Cubbyville, where once a week they would have little cooking lessons (mostly done by the teacher), nevertheless, I thought it was such a cool idea to expose kids to how easy it is to make healthy food. It was adorable because every day after that class, Julia would come home with her “recipe book” of what they made that day so she could excitedly show me her latest food project.

Ants on a Log was the cutest, so thank you Jules for the great idea!

You start with some freshly rinsed celery that has been patted dry

Fill in the celery with your favorite nut butter, I couldn’t choose between almond and peanut, so I did a few of each!

 

Top with some delicious and raw sun dried raisins

 

Oh gosh, munching on these made me feel like I was a little kid again!

Dinner: Thai Inspired Salad with a Peanut Butter Vinaigrette

My mother is the Salad Queen. Hands down, nobody can put together a salad like her. Whether the main vessel is lettuce (or greens), or pasta, or potato, or egg, or fruit, or meat Momma Kerley can make one composed dish. God bless her.

This is the raw interpretation of one such salad, minus the shredded chicken.

I’m sorry for the wacky lighting in some of the pictures, it was getting dark so I had to use flash in some of them!

The ingredients are simple, and not exact:

Romaine Lettuce

Grated Carrot

Bean Sprouts

Snow Peas

Green Onion

For the dressing:

2 Tbs. Raw Peanut Butter

2 Tbs. Apple Cider Vinegar

2 Tbs. Agave Nectar

2 Tbs. Sesame Seeds

2 Tbs. Water

Normally, I make this with Balsamic Vinegar and sugar in which case the sugar content would be lower, but I upped it in this recipe since Apple Cider Vinegar is so pungent! This is all to your taste, of course!

Before mixing ^

Top with a big handful of cilantro and its ready to eat!

I had a very nice and relaxing day by myself, I’ll tell ya, sometimes I really enjoy having time alone. Even if that means I just putter around the house bleaching my sink, vacuuming the rugs and cleaning out my desk drawers. I felt very productive and accomplished.

Lucy and her friend came home a bit ago and are making molten lava chocolate cookies, so I have barricaded myself in my room to avoid the temptation!

Wish me luck for the next 2 days where I will be surrounded by non-raw food at work! Lordy!

RAW Food Challenge Day 3

Hello hello!

I woke up feeling very energized this morning, I was a good girl and went to bed at 10pm (instead of my usual 2am). It’s amazing what a little extra sleep will do for ya, isn’t it? Oh and I wasn’t even that cold this morning, ’cause I’m a smarty pants and slept with 2 pairs of socks on, a sweatshirt, and 4 blankets! Gosh, it was great!

I got up and noticed it was a little dark in my room. A little background, I have a large 5 sided bay window in my room, and I shut the blinds every night so that the sun doesn’t wake me up, so my room usually is a little dark. I guess what I meant to say was, I noticed my room was a little darker than usual.

I took this photo on a sunnier day

(My comment about my 5 windows and all that sunshine was NOT me complaining! I am blessed, beyond blessed to live where I do. I love my bright windowed room!)

I pull up the blinds and surprise surprise, it had rained last night. Not a big deal, but it gave everything that rainy greyish tint to it, which is not motivating in the morning. I needed to counteract that lazy grey feeling, immediately.

What better way to fight the grey rain than with a tropical breakfast?!

(There is no better way)

Breakfast: Mango Smoothie and Banana Nut Bites

I really liked my smoothie from yesterday, like a lot, a lot a lot. But I’m trying to not repeat recipes until this challenge is over, so I can really highlight just how much can be done if you choose to try or adopt the raw food diet.

I kept the almond milk and the frozen banana and upgraded that peanut butter from yesterday to the very tropical mango!

Sometimes I can really make a mess

If you’re like me, clean up your counter and then start blending your smoothie!

Recipe goes:

2 fresh Mangos

1 frozen Banana

1 1/2 cups of Raw Almond Milk

4 ice cubes, optional (I did this ’cause I only used 1 frozen banana and I like my smoothies cold)

Blend it together for a minute

So bright and sunny! Exactly what I needed!

But, it was lacking protein…so I whipped up some little Banana Nut Bites

Its as easy as 1, 2, 3

1. Slice 1 Banana into bite sized pieces, on the diagonal

2. Spoon a tiny amount of raw Almond Butter onto each slice

3. Pick up each slice and lay it almond butter side down onto raw hulled Hemp Seeds for a second

Flip them back over, put ’em on a plate and you’re ready to go!

All together now!

I know its only Day 3 and I have quite a few more breakfasts ahead of me, but oh my gosh, this might be my favorite! Like most of the stuff I’ve been eating, this really filled me up without giving me a food coma, but the creaminess and richness of the mango, banana and almond butter really left me feeling SO satisfied!

Snack: Kombucha

Breakfast was so filling I never even needed my snack today, so I just drank my Kombucha, today’s flavor was Botanic No 7. I’ve never had it before, it was a little “spicy,” nevertheless tasty.

Lunch: Fruit Salad with a Coconut Lime Puree

The grey weather today was touch and go, so I wanted to continue to ward it off with my tropical theme, I have all this fresh fruit laying around so I started chopping it up to make a fruit salad.

Then I sliced the cantaloupe in half and cleaned out the guts and it hit me

THIS CANTALOUPE WOULD MAKE THE PERFECT FRUIT BOWL!

To fill with all of this good stuff

By the way, look at how closely these grapes grew together!

I don’t know about you guys, but every time I see a coconut I start singing “you put the lime in the coconut and drink a bowl up, you put the lime in the coconut…” (you get it) in my head and sometimes out loud.

There I was hacking at my coconut with the biggest knife I had singing when all of a sudden, another brilliant idea hit me! I should put the lime in the coconut!

Wait, what?

What is this crazy girl talking about?

Well my friends, I was just gonna use the coconut water and meat to make a nice puree to use as dressing, but my subconscious was attempting to and succeeded in steering me in a different direction.

I grabbed a lime out of my fruit bowl, zested that thing SO good and then juiced it!

I also gotta ask, does anyone know an easy and good way to remove coconut meat? My arm was exhausted after scraping just part of one half

I am pretty pumped because when I do finally scrap all the coconut meat out, I will be halfway done constructing a coconut bra. So, someone, please throw a luau.

Back to my lunch

Isn’t it gorgeous?

I used my trusty food processor to blend the coconut water, meat, and lime

This may be the most beautiful shade of green

I scooped some of the puree on top of my fruit, and wouldn’t you know it, I had enough of the water left over to drink!

This was a GREAT lunch! I didn’t take a photo of it, but I sprinkled some sunflower seeds on top for some extra crunch!

Dinner: Vegetable Sushi Two Ways

I had work tonight, so right after I finished lunch I set to work on making my dinner so I could take it with me. I really like the idea of something easy and utensil free to eat at work, since tonight I was working up front, I wanted something I could sneak bites of from under the counter without the hassle of a fork and knife.

What’s easy, utensil free, and raw?

Sushi!

Almost

If you make it without rice

And cooked fish

So, that’s what I did.

I started by making another batch of Pico de Gallo (tomato, red onion, cilantro, lime, salt)

Then I took a piece of Nori and put it on my sushi roller, like I really knew what I was doing

Then I laid a gorgeous piece of red chard on top of that

Scooped a few big spoonfuls of pico de gallo on top of that and smeared it into all the cracks

The rest is history

Then I rolled it and sliced it in half, like so

This roll was bright and complex with all the flavors going on, for real, this thing is packed with flavor, but it lacked a certain richness. Sushi, in general, is only momentarily gratifying since its such a light dish. I decided to make another type of roll to really fill me up.

Avocado seemed like the best way to add some substance to the sushi, since I didn’t have any sashimi lying around!

I didn’t want to just do the typical slices of avocado, I wanted to leave out the pico de gallo on this roll and make the avocado a spread. I must admit, my food processor has never had this much action before, it’s great! I scooped 1 avocado into it and then squeezed the juice of 1 orange in too, because I wanted this roll to still have a citrus brightness that would be absent otherwise since the pico de gallo was the vessel that brought citrus in the last time.

Boy, this was AMAZING! You all will be seeing this pop up in other recipes the rest of this week, as dip, as dressing, you name it.

I repeated the Nori on the sushi roller, laid down a chard leaf and then smeared this ‘cado spread all over it

Red bell pepper, carrot and sesame seeds completed this medley. At the last minute I popped a couple slices of avocado in there, cause I love it so much.

Mmmmmmmm

(Well, I knew this would come out sooner or later…I am not the most expert sushi roller/sushi slicer. Please don’t hate me)

I think I much preferred this wrap since it was smothered and covered in avocado.

Overall, today was good. I got lots of work done and I never felt lethargic or real icky. I will admit, work was a struggle. For those who don’t know, I work in a Brazilian-Italian restaurant as a waitress mostly, but sometimes I work up in the front on the phones and doing take out orders. Hearing all the customers tell me all the things they were gonna eat was hard. Smelling all the wonderful scents wafting out of the kitchen was worse. Much worse. I still have 2 more days of work while I am on this challenge, its gonna be a rough. Wish me luck!

I finally just got home and am drinking my daily allotted cup of tea to warm my soul, and fingers, and toes, and body in general. Goodnight my food lovers, I shall write more to you tomorrow.

Smitten Ice Cream Opens Their Doors

Here is a link to my brief article on a new ice cream shop in San Francisco, Smitten Ice Cream.

It’s my first time using this new program, Storify, where the entire article is based off of Twitter posts.

Hope y’all enjoy!