Rescuing Ricotta

  
That’s a salad made with minutes-old ricotta, and, yes, it was amazing. Figs are in season now and this is absolutely my favorite summer salad. It’s simple: greens of some sort, quartered figs, balsamic glaze, and cheese of some sort. In the past I’ve used blue cheeses, parmesan, feta and many, many others but when you make ricotta right before dinner is plated, using anything else would be ridiculous.

Ricotta is the easiest cheese to make. It requires almost no equipment and the ingredients are in almost everyone’s kitchen already.

  
All you need is this:

  • A gallon of milk of any fat content, or half and half
  • Enough lemons to get 3/4 of juice or 1/4c vinegar
  • A pot big enough for all your liquid
  • A colander
  • Butter Muslim or a lint-free cloth (pillowcases, tea towels, bandanas, and cloth flour sacks work)
  • A liquid or meat thermometer (though you can get by without and I’ll get into that later)

  
My kitchen is small. It’s messy and a little cramped and there are 7 of us sharing it. I don’t have a lot of specialized equipment for cheese making because I don’t have money and I don’t have space to spare. That shouldn’t stop anyone so it certainly doesn’t stop me.

I used half and half because Steven works in a coffee shop. When they have a slow week, they end up with milk products that are technically expired but are still good for at least a few days after the date. Expired milk has to be tossed no matter how good it still is, so to save it from waste, he brings it home. Sometimes I make yogurt but with over a gallon of that still in the fridge, ricotta is the order of the day.

A gallon of half and half went into the pot and I heated it to a target of 175 degrees Fahrenheit. This is where your thermometer is handy, but here’s the thing. You don’t reeeeally need it. Milk begins to froth at the edges of the pot right around 170-180 degrees, and ricotta can be made at higher temperatures too so if you overlook your milk, it’s not going to ruin it. It’s an easy and forgiving cheese. 

Once you reach temperature, add about 2/3 of your acid liquid(juice or vinegar). The proteins should pull together rapidly, leaving fine white curds, and yellow whey. Add more acidic liquid if you don’t see that reaction. If you run out of lemon, add a couple tablespoons of vinegar. I had to do that myself. Lemon juice makes a lighter and sweeter flavored ricotta while vinegar will leave it a little vinegary tasting, but a combination mostly tastes of lemon. I also prefer apple cider vinegar because it is milder and sweeter tasting.

Line your collander with the cloth so it doesn’t slip down at the edges and place it over a large pot, bucket, or into the sink for drainage. Once your ricotta has successfully curdled, ladle or gently pour the curds and whey into the lined collander to drain. You can save the whey if you like. My mother drinks it warm with almond syrup. Keep in mind that ricotta does not create a live culture so there are no beneficial bacteria in ricotta whey. It’s just tastey, that’s all.

  
Ricotta should drain for 10-20 minutes until the liquid escaping has slowed to a drip. You can do this in a collander, or, you can get creative and set up a hanging station like I did in the photo above. In this case, I knotted the tea towel around my rolling pin and set it across a pail to drain. 

  Your finished ricotta will be white, and sold but still crumbly. Mine was still warm when it was done draining, and I tossed about a cup of it straight into my salad.
  
Summer Fig Salad

Ingredients

  • Three large handfulls of baby spinach
  • Ten ripe mission figs, quartered
  • 1 cup ricotta, chèvre, or other soft cheese
  • Balsamic glaze to taste

Toss all together and enjoy! We had ours with broiled salmon and brown rice.

  

I’ve still got it!

I know its been a long time since my last update but that doesnt mean I’ve been idle! Quite the opposite in fact. I’ve been keeping busy with all manner of projects. My favorite as always is foraging. Two trips in the Oakland hills had me come home with quite a handful of Candy Caps and several pounds of Fly Agaric.

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Candy Caps are pretty self explanatory. Delicious ruddy little mushrooms that smell like butterscotch and maple and caramel and dark brown sugar. Dried, they can add a sweet nutty flavor to butter cookies, ice cream, and are amazing mixed into chevre and left to sit overnight.

Candy Cap (photo by Don Loarie)

The Fly Agaric, also known as Amanita Muscaria is renowned the world round as a poisonous mushroom. It is unmistakable with its brilliant red cap, and white speckles and stem. There is nothing quite as striking as this toadstool.

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“But it’s poisonous!” you say. “Why would you collect it?” you say. Because while it is poisonous, it is also very tasty. The toxins in this particular Amanita are water soluble and can be removed through a simple, but time consuming process. Before I explain, let me say that this is NOT TRUE of any other poisonous Amanita, and I do not recommend taking this sort of risk lightly(and no matter how careful you are, wild forage always comes with risks… like getting your sparkly hat muddy).

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Following directions from this blog by Hank Shaw, I processed my Amanitas. I started by trimming all the muddy bits off and rinsing them very well in cool water.

IMG_8018Next, the caps and stems get sliced into 1/4 inch pieces and tossed into a big pot of water.  I used a 3 gallon stock pot filled most of the way up. It seems the key to making these babies safe is to be generous with the amount of water you boil them in. I added 1/2 cup kosher salt and a few tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the water and brought the whole witchy concoction up to a gentle boil. I let the pot roll for about 10-15 minutes then dumped the water. At this point the water was dark yellow and the caps had begun to lose their distinctive color. They also lost more than half their size: 6 cups down to just over 2.

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The soggy slices went back into the pot with a round of fresh water(no salt or vinegar this time) for another 15 minute boil. By this time the mushrooms have lost all but a faded caramel color and the stems go slightly grey. Unappealing as is, but fried slowly in butter they get remarkably crunchy as I have never known mushrooms to get.  They have a delightful nutty flavor almost like hazelnuts and unfortunately for you, I munched them all down before taking a good photo! I did freeze and dry some to see how these mushrooms are best stored and will get back to you on that when I decide to test them.

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If you decide to try this yourself, do the research, and proceed with caution. Amanita Muscaria are widely recognized as a poisonous mushroom and while I had a positive experience preparing them, be aware that this may not be the case for everyone. Consuming wild mushrooms is as much about the preparation as it is about the person. Everyone reacts differently, so be careful, and eat small amounts the first time to be sure you don’t react poorly.

Berry Delicious

Ah summer. The sun is shining and berries are ripening everywhere. Even my first-year blueberry bushes are bearing big sweet fruit! I don’t think I’ll be getting enough fruit at any time this summer to do anything but graze and enjoy, but since blueberries are one of Boy’s favorite fruits, I decided I ought to make a good blueberry jam. I’m a bit odd when it comes to blueberries; Fresh or frozen, they are up in my top ten favorite fruits, but cooked, there is something about the way the flavor changes that I usually can’t stand. The goal here is to come up with a blueberry jam that I’ll eat too. For those of you who don’t care for the narrative, the recipes are at the bottom.

On a quick trip to the grocery store I got lucky and found big bags of blueberries for only a dollar each and I quickly picked up about 4 quarts worth of berries, thinking I’d make the Boy something delicious. At home I tragically discovered a jam jar shortage meaning I wouldn’t be able to make all the jam I meant to. Two and a half quarts of berries went into the freezer for later use and one and a half went into a stock pot along with a pint of frozen cranberries and a quart of sugar. At this point I had a moment of panic because it looked like I’d added way too much sugar even though I’d done my research and confirmed how much sugar I wanted to use, so if it looks like you berries are disappearing under and snowy avalanche of white sugar, don’t freak out. Do what I did and add about half a cup  of water. This added just enough liquid to saturate the sugar without making the pot soupy. I zested a lemon into the pot as well, stirred well, and left them all to macerate for an hour or so.

Macerate. Macerate. Macerate. What is maceration and why do we do it? Maceration is the process of softening or breaking down a fruit using a liquid. In the case of fresh fruit, it is it’s own liquid, drawn out with the help of a sugar. This makes the jam more flavorful and gives it a more even texture without having to cook it for a long time. After macerating for an hour or more most of the sugar should have dissolved. My liquid was still a bit grainy, but not to worry.

Over medium high heat the remaining sugar quickly dissolves and the berries begin to burst. Be careful to watch your pot though as these berries really like to froth up and can even boil over. Take a wild guess how I found that out.

Add pectin once your fruit has come to a boil then simmer for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You can add a pat of butter to reduce foam, or skim it off. I didn’t bother this time since it seemed to settle out with a little patience. Once you jam has simmered for long enough, fill it into 16 four ounce sterile canning jars and process in a boiling water bath. The four ounce jars only need 5 minutes in the boiling bath, but half pint and pint need 10 minutes. I had one pint jar full that wouldn’t fit in the canner, so I decided to inversion can. It is something I have been doing my whole life either for small batches or for the jar that won’t fit in the bath. Important is just to keep these jars in the fridge instead of on the shelf. However this method isn’t recommended for putting up jams because it isn’t as clean or effective. Case in point would be the afore mentioned jar which burst the ring right off the moment I tried to turn it over. Since the glass was in tact, I was able to save most of the jam and decided to make ice cream with it. For the ice cream, I creamed together one egg plus a yolk and half a cup of sugar and a pinch of salt then slowly whisked in 2 cups of heavy cream. I dropped in a split open vanilla bean and slowly heated these over medium-low heat, constantly stirring. Eventually as the custard came closer to a simmer it became thicker, though more like the texture of a rich soup than on true egg custard. I poured this into a tupperware and set it in the fridge for about 2 hours to cool. I probably should have waited even longer, but I was impatient. Into the ice cream maker went the cooled custard (minus the vanilla bean which I popped in my mouth to suck on while I waited) and about half the jam. As the ice cream started thickening, I added some fresh blueberries from my bushes and blackberries that needed to be used up. Twenty minutes later there was ice cream! Sure I could eat it now, but I wanted blueberry-cranberry swirls too! In the same tupperware I used to chill the custard earlier, I layered ice cream and jam and put the whole thing back into the freezer for half an hour.

Then, voila! Swirled berry ice cream!

Blueberry Cranberry Jam

Yields 7 pints of jam Ingredients:

  • 6 cups blueberries
  • 2 cups cranberries
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/2c. water (optional)
  • 1 package pectin

In a large stock pot, combine berries, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add water if your sugar is dry and white. Macerate for 1-2 hours. Set on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the pot does not bubble over. When fruit mixture comes to a boil, add pectin and simmer for 15-25 minutes. In this time, sterilize jars and lids and bring canning bath to a boil. Fill jars and process for 5 minutes for 4oz jars and 10 minutes for 8-16oz. jars. Cool and confirm the seals then jars may be stored at room temp for 1 year.

Berry Swirl Ice Cream

Yields 1 quart ice cream Ingredients:

  • 2c. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 yolk
  • 1/2c. granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2c Blueberry Cranberry Jam
  • 1/2 pint fresh berries (optional)

In a cold saucepan cram together yolk, egg and sugar. Split open vanilla bean lengthwise and add to pot along with cream. Turn on low heat and stir constantly heating liquid until runny custard forms. Scrape vanilla bean into the custard and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. MAKE SURE YOUR ICE CREAM MAKER BOWL HAS BEEN IN THE FREEZER FOR AT LEAST 48 HOURS! Churn custard and 1c. jam in the ice cream maker for 20 minutes or until the right consistency is reached. Then, in a tupperware layer ice cream with remaining jam and freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.