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.

  

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Kitchen Witch Lughnasadh 

Lughnasadh is not a pagan sabbath that I have ever felt much connection to, but this summer I set myself some goals about bringing more magic into my daily life, so I decided to find my own way to honor the holiday. I honor this the same way I honor just about any holiday: with food and booze. 

 

I wanted to create a combination that encompasses the flavors, colors, and memories of late summer in Northern California. For me that means the rolling golden hills dry from summer heat and drought. It means heady perfumes of Alyssum and Lavender growing through clay soil baked hard in the sun, and dust in the air whose earthy scent always reminds me of something like old books and vanilla.

  

Today’s first recipe is an adaptation of Marisa McClellan’s Pear-Lavender Jam recipe on foodsinjars.com. Hers is my absolute favorite canning resource for her creativity of flavors, small batch recipes, and accessibility. She has also published recipe books which I highly recommend. I’ve modified it to capture my own sense of late summer and the start of harvest season that Lughnasadh is meant to celebrate.

  
Lughnasadh Jam

Ingredients

3 1/2 lbs peeled, cored, and chopped tart green apples

3 1/2 cups white sugar

1 vanilla bean

3 tsp dried lavender flowers

Juice and zest from 1 lemon

Instructions

Prepare 3 pint jars or 6 half pint jars and a boiling water canner. Place lids in a small pot and bring to a very low simmer.

Combine chopped apples, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and vanilla in a large pot. Stir to coat the apples evenly with sugar. This will start bringing liquid out of the apples in a process called maceration

Put your lavender into a tea ball or Muslim sachet for infusing so you can remove them later. If you don’t have these options, you can grind up the flowers then add them loose, but you won’t be able to remove them.

Put pot on stove and heat on high. Bring jam to a boil, stirring regularly. Make sure not to caramelize the bottom. Continue to cook over high heat until apples become fully translucent and the jam thickens. It should have a even glossy appearance once the pectin in the apples is activated.

When jam is done (about 20 minutes) turn off heat and quickly pour jam into prepared jars for canning.

Wipe jar rims, apply lids and rings and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes for shelf stable jars or refrigerate immediately and consume within the month. 

This jam tastes amazing with a punchy cheese like Asiago or Stilton to balance the floral sweetness.

  
The second recipe of the holiday calls more to my German heritage and memories of summer days in my great grandmother’s big green garden. I have faint but fond memories of sitting in the shade picking currants and gooseberries into a big yellow glass bowl and climbing a short ladder into the branches of the cherry tree. The tiny red cherries were so sour than I couldn’t eat them fresh, but my mother and grandmother did, spitting pits over the fence into the neighbor’s flower beds. We pitted cherries on the balcony and my hands and face would get covered in little red spatters of juice, fingers stained pink for the rest of the day. All the fruit would get coated in sugar and set to marinate in its own natural syrup to be served over whipped quark, a soft sweet cheese like something between creme fraiche and ricotta. 

  
Kirsch Soda

4oz cherry juice

2oz amaretto

6oz soda water

Garnish with Morello cherries and serve over generous amounts of ice for a wonderfully refreshing drink on a hot day. I think this has got to be my new favorite and I went out and bought more cherry juice as soon as I figured this one out so I will have no shortage during our current heat wave.

Keeping Up With Putting By

I love preserving foods. It’s a meditative process for me that brings me so much joy in the process alone and then I’m rewarded for the energy I’ve expended with tasty treats! This weekend I have made jam, jelly, curd, kombucha, and more. It’s been a weekend of doing what I love despite hardships and putting aside my worries for just a bit in favor of some really rewarding and happy time.

Left to Right: Vanilla Pear Butter and Lavender Quince Jelly

Saturday was spent with the son of my gracious hosts jamming and curding (if it wasn’t a word before, it is now). With him as my diligent assistant, we managed to make 4 separate batches of delicious sweet preserves. First among them was a quince jelly scented with lavender. It’s a gorgeous rosy red and smells divine! Next was a batch of pear and apple butter with candied ginger and vanilla bean and two different batches of citrus curd. The old standby is a lime curd for which I used the USDA recommended recipe which is shelf-stable. The newcomer is adapted from the shelf-stable recipe and uses grapefruit zest and some of the ruby grapefruit juice mixed with mostly high-acid lemon juice. The grapefruit flavor is delicate and almost floral, but the lemon brings enough tartness to balance the sweetness of it. I’m a fan and am definitely going to make this recipe again! Next time I may even share it with you, but I want to be sure of it’s stability before I do.

LIMES!!!

While slaving in the kitchen, we broke into my new kombucha made with black tea and honey. I’ve heard many times that kombucha won’t consume honey, or that it will kill the SCOBY. However, my boss/coworker who generously gave me this new pet has always fed it with local honey (instead of sugar as is usually recommended) and the nuttiness and caramel notes in her kombucha are definitely something special, so I figured I would go ahead and do the same. I was anything but disappointed. In fact I was thrilled and drank up almost a quart of it across the day! One cupful even got a generous splash of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice that would otherwise have gone to waste. Yum!

Grapefruit Curd

Sunday was just as productive and fun. My place of employment hosts a lot of amazing classes and as an employee I get to attend them whenever there is an open space. Yesterday’s awesome class was Advanced Fermentation taught by Nishanga Bliss, author of Real Food All Year. Nishanga is a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese medical practitioner AIMC Berkeley and is about to complete a doctorate in Nutrition. Wholesome holistic living seems to be her passion and it was a pleasure to learn a bit from her.

Along with a short presentation about the history, health benefits and biology of fermentation, Nishanga shared a few really spectacular recipes with the class. We got to taste a few yummy ferms from her kitchen and started two of our own: Bok Choy  and Butternut Kimchi, and Ginger Bug.

Feeding my new pet.

The simpler of the two is a Ginger Bug (also sometimes called a Ginger Beer Plant) which is a wild yeast starter made from shredded organic ginger root and sugar water. This starter can be used for making all kinds of delicious sodas and fizzy juices. To make your own Ginger Bug, grate  two about tablespoons of organic ginger with the skin on. In a 16oz jar or larger mix the grated ginger with an equal amount of sugar and about a cup of water.  Leave your bug in a spot that stays between 68 and 78 degrees. Every day for the next week add more ginger and sugar until bubbles form. This is a sign that you starter is strong enough for you to start making sodas with it, and you’ll want to put it in the refrigerator unless you plan to use it and feed it right away. Even with refrigeration though, you will need to feed it every week.

I am just so excited to be getting my groove back. I’m finally starting to feel like myself again.

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.

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.

Here fishy!

I really loved Sesame Street when I was little and a little part of me still does. This particular clip has stuck with me over the years, much like the two aliens (yup yup yup) and the tap-dancing snufalufagus.

Now, I  live out those Sesame Street musings with Kitty Sharkey at Lake Temescal in the Oakland Hills and after nearly half a dozen trips to the water with her, I finally had my first catch!

Who knew a little fish could be such a pig!

This greedy little sucker swallowed two lures and hooks and tangled the lines, but that just meant a sure catch. We spend almost all day on the lake and brought enough fish home for a dinner for four with creamed leeks and roasted potatoes with rosemary. We even came up with a complimentary cocktail!

Homemade feasts are always so satisfying.

Rainbow Tammy

  • 2oz. Gin
  • 2oz . sweet lime juice
  • 3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 tangerine (quartered)
  • 2 tsp. lavender blossoms
  • Tonic water

In a shaker, muddle tangerine and lavender. Add ice, gin, sweetened lime, and vermouth and shake thoroughly.  Strain through cheesecloth or a tea strainer into a chilled glass with a little ice and fill off with tonic. Garnish with a tangerine twist.

Sweet and tangy and quite refreshing!

**ANNOUNCEMENT: Look out for a guest post by my partner, Colin, coming up on April 11th.**

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.