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.

  

Guest Post: A Birthday Surprise

First of all hello, I’m Colin, Freya’s partner. Like Freya, I’m a jack-of-all trades into all kinds of crafting and mischief. I knit, sew, cook, and brew. I’m excited to have the opportunity to post as a guest here on peculiarpurls.

When I asked her what type of cake she wanted for her birthday this week, she told me she didn’t know. After persistent questioning, she gave me some thoughts: “an almond raspberry cake, or maybe a cheesecake.” Well I’ve never made either of those cakes, but I accepted the challenge and set out to make both: an almond raspberry cheesecake! The recipe I used is adapted from Ina Garten’s raspberry cheesecake recipe on foodnetwork.

A beautiful cheesecake with a heart of raspberries on top. And a candle!

Here are the ingredients:

Crust

  • 10 honey graham crackers
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter

Filling

  • 2.5 lb cream cheese
  • 1.5 c sugar
  • 5 large eggs + 2 yolks
  • 0.25 c sour cream
  • ~1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1.5 tsp almond extract

Topping

  • 1 half-pint raspberries

Instructions

Allow your ingredients to sit out for a while before cooking so that the cream cheese will soften. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit.

Pulverize the 10 graham crackers in a food processor (or by other means), and mix into 6 tbsp melted butter with 1 tbsp sugar. Press this by hand along the bottom and corners of a 9″ springform pan. Bake for 8 minutes so that the crust is crispy, and allow to cool. Raise the oven temperature to 450° Fahrenheit.

Mix the cream cheese and sugar together on high speed in an electric mixer for about 5 minutes until the consistency becomes light and fluffy (and delicious). Wisk together aggs and yolks in a separate bowl. Slow the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs and yolks a bit at a time. When this is mixed, add the sour cream, lemon zest, and almond extract. Pour this mixture onto the crust and place into the oven (carefully! I was worried the pan would overflow so I put some aluminum foil on the rack below).

Bake at 450° for 15 minutes, then drop the oven temperature to 225° Fahrenheit for 1 hour 15 minutes. When the time is up, there are a couple of options. If you want a perfectly beautiful cheesecake, leave it in the oven with the door open for about half an hour before cooling for an hour at room temperature, and later move to the refrigerator to set overnight (or at least for several hours). If you care less about the aethetics, you can  put it in the fridge earlier, but expect the top to crack. When you’re ready to serve the cake, rinse the raspberries and make a nice arrangement on top. I chose a heart for mine, and since this is a birthday cake, it had to have a candle. And here is what you get when you make a tasty cake for a pretty girl:

A pretty girl blowing out a candle.

Another Warming Soup

This recipe is one which I came up with last fall and absolutely loved! I originally posted it at the WildWoodYarn blog, but felt it was so good that it merited reposting here. It’s a deliciously filling soup that warms all the way through without needing the heat of spicy peppers. It could make up to make 8 servings, but I went back for seconds and it vanished more quickly than expected because it was just so damned delicious and I laid on the couch after dinner rubbing my overfull tummy. This makes a fantastic full meal for 4-6 or a delicious, warm appetizer for 8.

Maize

Vegetarian Corn Chowder
Cook Time: 1.5-2hrs
Ingredients
1 large yellow onion, minced
1 large carrot, chopped small
2 medium leeks, chopped
2 stalks celery, minced
4 yukon potatos, cubed small
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced mushroom
1 can sweet yellow corn, undrained
2 quarts, chicken or veggie stock
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons butter
ground black pepper and salt to taste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
shredded cheddar, sour cream, and/or chopped chives for topping
Directions
Slowly sweat onion, garlic, leek, and celery with butter in a soup pot. Once onions are translucent and soft, add mushroom and carrots continue to cook them on very low heat until everything is sweet and starts to caramelize. Add corn, potato, stock and wine then simmer on low heat for 45-90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the potato cubes are soft and falling apart, ladle about half the soup into a blender or food processor and pulse until it has a smoothe and creamy texture. Return the blended soup to the pot and stir in half and half, paprika, salt and pepper. Continue to Simmer on low heat 15 minutes then serve in deep bowls. Top your soup with sour cream, shredded cheese, and chives or if you’re looking for a stronger smokey flavor and do eat animal, add bacon crumbles.

Warm Up for Winter: Lets practice feeding an army

We'll call that an intermission

…and now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Northern California Rennaissance Faire was fantastic. I have been spending all my weekends there since the end of August before the gates even opened to the enthusiastic throngs of patrons. In that time I was building the village of Willingtown, buffing up on my Elizabethan language skills and mostly shepherding children in and out of the Funny Farm petting zoo. Now, a week after our final days there, our apartment still hasn’t recovered, but I’m starting to get back into my normal routine, and that means recipes!

With holidays approaching and family visits already being planned, it’s important to load up on recipes that can feed a big group without breaking the bank or a sweat. This chili is an old standby that I learned to make from my mother when I was in elementary school. She never wrote down a recipe, but I learned to make it by feel and have since then taken down the recipe. It takes time when you start with dry beans, but the actual work involved in making it is minimal and the results are woth the wait. Just beware, the batch size is rather hefty. We often brought it to potlucks because it is vegan yet tastes as hearty as any classic meaty chili so its sure to please anyone. It’s also delicious, filling and incredibly cheap to make bucket-loads of!

Black Bean Chili

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups dry black beans soaked overnight
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups vegi broth
  • 2 cans fire roasted tomatos
  • 1 can corn with liquid
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 2 onions
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 3 dried ancho chilis, chopped into 1cm squares
  • 2 dried chipotle morita peppers, ground (sub chipotle meco for more heat)
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
Directions:
Rinse your soaked beans until the water runs clear. Then bring beans, water and broth to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours or until beans are soft all the way through. Add more water if necessary to keep beans covered during this time. The liquid will reduce as it simmers. Coarsely chop onion and garlic and set in a shallow pan with the oil to slowly sweat over low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure they don’t burn. Once soft, add them to the beans and liquid. It doesn’t matter if the beans aren’t soft yet when you do this; the flavor will seep into the beans as they cook. Once the beans are soft, add the rest of the ingredients and allow the chili to simmer for an hour at least. The longer it can go, the better since the flavors need time to come out of the chilis pods and permeate the beans and corn. This is a relatively mild chili, though it may still have too much kick for some people. Leave out the seeds of the peppers for a milder batch or substitute the Chipotle Morita with Chipotle Meco for a spicier dish. For the adventurous, consider adding cayenne pepper or fresh jalapenos as a garnish.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream and cornbread for 8 people.

Hearty Black Bean Chili and Cheddar Cornbread

The Cheddar Cornbread is a recipe I developed myself  from the ones published by Alton Brown and Epicurious. It is the most tender and moist cornbread I have ever had! I have the bad habit of not following recipes, which drives Colin nuts, but produces amazing results. I look at around a dozen different recipes for the same thing and then narrow it to the two of three best looking ones. Then I play with the proportions(and the ingredients I have available) until I find exactly the product I want. It’s an artistic take on what is science side of cooking.

Cheddar Cornbread

Ingredients:

  • 1 cups corn meal
  • 1/2 cup corn flour
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon gluten
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 3/4 cup full fat yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 can of corn, lightly drained
  • 4 ounces extra sharp cheddar
  • 3 green onions
  • 1 tablespoon butter for greasing the pan
Directions:
Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix with a fork. Make a well in the center of the bowl and crack both eggs into it. Add, cream, yogurt, and corn to the well and wisk liquids with your fork, slowly incorporating the flour mixture. Chop green onions and cube cheese into 1/2 in. pieces. Set 1/4 cup of cheese bits aside to top bread with.  Add remaining cheese and green onion into the batter and incorporate fully. It should have the same texture as thick pancake batter so that it scoops easily, but still flows. Grease an 8×12 or 9×9 baking pan and pour batter into the pan. Sprinkle reserved cheese pieces on top evenly. Bake for 18-20 minutes until bread has risen and top is golden brown. Serve warm with Black Bean Chili or as a stand alone snack.