25 Recipes: Ricotta

For the next episode in my 25 Recipes Challenge, I chose ricotta cheese. I’ve been reading a lot about cheesemaking, and while I don’t (yet) have any desire to get into the complicated ones involving rennet and cheese presses and such, I thought it would be fun to try some of the simpler cheeses. Ricotta is one of my absolute favorite foods, especially since Hannah discovered her favorite ricotta at my grocery store, so I’ll start there.

The recipe I used comes from Serious Eats’ Food Lab, which took a scientific look at the challenges and issues in making ricotta. Real true ricotta is a whey-based cheese, and perhaps I’ll tackle that later; the ricotta here is actually closer to a paneer or queso fresco. But for my first time making cheese, I don’t really care. So: the challenges to be overcome: Milk can boil over, different types of acid can produce different effects, etc.

The final results of all the experiments suggested using a microwave to heat the milk (which means it won’t boil over), using white vinegar (which has a consistent acidic level), and using cheesecloth or paper towels to strain it.

The recipe is here, and the full explanation with all the details is here.

I combined 2 cups whole milk, 2 T white vinegar, and 1/4 tsp of salt, put it in the microwave, and set it for 2 minutes (the minimum time). I checked it every 30 seconds after that, and ended up needing to cook it for 4 1/2 minutes before the whey and curds separated.

The instructions then said to remove the curds from the whey with a wire strainer or slotted spoon. I tried a slotted spoon, and the holes were too big, so I grabbed a small wire mesh strainer, but the holes were too small. So I ended up pouring the entire mixture into my cheesecloth-lined strainer, knowing it would take longer to drain.

The instructions said to let it drain for five minutes for a very soft cheese, and 10-15 minutes for a medium firm ricotta. I let this drain for nearly an hour, and it was still very soft. And this was the entire yield:

That’s two, maybe three tablespoons of ricotta. The taste and texture are fabulous, although still a little soft, but clearly I can do better.

I think next time I’ll try heating the milk a little longer – I know the max time in the recipe was four minutes, and I did four and a half, but maybe my microwave is weaker than I thought. I also want to try straining it in a coffee filter instead of cheesecloth, to see what happens.

For a first ever attempt at cheese, I have to say that I’m proud that at least I ended up making cheese, and not salami.

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Epic Scrabble WIN

I just found these photos on Greg’s camera, and I have to share them. This is from a game of Scrabble we played last winter, and I’ll show you the complete progression of how this amazing miraculous epic thing happened. (The end result of this game, of course, is that Greg kicked my butt, but that’s normal.)

Here’s the first couple of turns:

So the opening move was DIMMER, I believe, followed by SHRINED, and then MAW. I think the first move was mine in this game, but it was a year ago, so who knows?
The next move was ID, which had to be Greg, since I rarely play words like that (which, moving backwards, means I was right – I started this particular game).
And that must mean I played IXIA, although I have no memory of even knowing what on earth that means. [Note: from Wikipedia — “The genus Ixia consists of a number of cormous plants native to South Africa from the Iridaceae family and Ixioideae subfamily.” There you go.]
All of that set Greg up perfectly for his next turn. What you’re about to see is the most monumental Scrabble move I have ever seen (granted, I don’t play a lot of competition Scrabble).
Greg played C A N D A T E and used the existing ID to create CANDIDATE. The Scrabble dictionary didn’t even recognize this as a word, because it’s a nine-letter word which would normally be impossible to create with seven letters. Here’s how it scored:
There’s a double letter under the first and last letters here, so according to the official rules, the word is doubled and then the doubled score counted again. So adding up the letters, we have 3 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 1, which is 13. Doubled is 26, counted again is 52, plus 50 points for using all of his letters, is 102 points. For a single word.
Pretty neat, huh?
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Grandma A’s Recipe Box: Corn and Oat Chowder

This next recipe from Grandma A’s recipe box is definitely from a time when Grandma and Grandpa A were trying to eat healthy. There are a handful of recipes that seem to be written around the same time that all have notations like “S.F. 2 g” in the top right hand corner. None of them indicate their source, but my best guess is that the abbreviation stands for saturated fat. (Greg’s theory is that it stands for San Francisco, and that it was code for something mysterious and exotic. I doubt it.)

Regardless, this soup seemed simple, filling, healthy, even if it might not be all that dramatic, and it’s made with things we keep in the house, so it made it next in our queue.

The recipe, as written:

Creamy Corn and Oat Soup S.F. 0.2 g

2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cu chopped onions
2 garlic cloves [note: I minced these, even though the directions didn’t include that]
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 Tbs parsley

In medium sized sauce pan, combine above with 3 1/2 cups of water. Simmer 15 min. Add more water for thinner soup.

1. My hunch was exactly right – this was cheap, healthy, filling, simple food, but not particularly exotic. But sometimes that’s exactly what you want.
2. It’s amazing how creamy the soup felt, because of the oatmeal sort of melting into the soup, without adding any fat or cream.
3. We added some roasted red peppers and some green onions, to get some more veggies in there. Neither of those would have significantly changed the saturated fat content (assuming that’s what S.F. stood for). Why does the jar of roasted red peppers in my fridge not have any saturated fat? I’m really not sure.
4. I’m also not sure why Grandma A would have crossed out parsley on the original recipe – I would think that would have added some nice freshness. Of course, I put parsley in just about everything. But we were out, which is why I went with green onions. We also each added hot sauce, because that’s how we roll (and because we have 37 kinds of hot sauce in the fridge).

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This will only make sense if you know my puppy.

We’ve never known what breed of dog Declan is. The shelter said Lab/Hound, which just means they have no idea. At his first appointment, the vet said they thought he might be Lab/SharPei, because of all the wrinkles. (He had six necks at that point.) At his next appointment, the other vet in the practice suggested Lab/Chow, and since then we’ve heard everything from Jack Russell to chipmunk to goldfish.

We’ve even gone so far as to think about getting his DNA tested. He’s just a really odd looking mutt – skinny, sleek, high arch in his back legs, stocky and muscular deep barrel chest, powerful, extremely short black fur on his body, long tangly fur on his ears, spots on his tongue, and tiny specks of white on his chest. Goofy looking dog.

But I just figured it out. Declan’s not a dog at all. He’s a Muppet. A full-blooded, classic, Jim Henson Muppet.

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Thrift Treasure Find: tea pot

We spend a lot of time at Goodwill and our other area thrift stores – sometimes because we’re looking for something specific, and sometimes just because we enjoy sifting through those pieces of history. We were at our neighborhood Goodwill on Saturday, and I was wandering through the housewares section. Two grandmothers were chatting near me about their grandkids, and I was half eavesdropping and half browsing. A Goodwill employee was stocking the shelf on the other side of me. It occurred to me while I was looking at mis-matched cheap floral vases and Christmas decorations that I should probably keep my eye out for a new tea pot. We’ve been drinking a lot of tea lately, and needed another large tea pot to keep up.  I didn’t remember ever seeing a tea pot in a thrift store, so they probably weren’t a common item (unlike cheap floral vases).

So I turned around, and was about to ask the store employee if they ever see tea pots, when I noticed a homely brown tea pot on the shelf right near her head. I stepped over to examine it, and saw a $0.95 price tag. So I put it in the cart, and thought “What the heck?” It looked like this:

See, pretty homely, right? Nothing special, I’m not usually a fan of brown, but it would certainly work just fine, and you can’t beat the price, right? That’s what I thought. There’s some extraneous paint on the surface, it looks like a child spattered it a bit with acrylic craft paint, or tempera paint, or something:

But that extra paint comes off when I scrape it with my thumbnail, so it will come clean. (I love the reflection in this photo, by the way.)

I went and found Greg, and showed him what I found. He looked at it, and had most of the same thoughts that I did, and then we admired the particular shape of the spout. It curves at the very end, which would stop drips, which would seem to make a lot of sense. The tea pot is growing on us at this point, it’s getting more interesting by the moment.

And then we turned it over and read the marks on the bottom:

Guys, this tea pot was made by hand in the town in Canada where I grew up. If you can’t read that, it says around the edge: “Royal Canadian Art Pottery” and on the inside, “Hamilton Canada / Royal Dripless.”

My jaw hit the floor in the middle of Goodwill. I know stuff is just stuff, but this little tea pot that has traveled Lord knows how far has found a special place in my heart. I think it’s safe to say it’s grown on me.

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Ricotta Pancakes with Cranberries and Pine Nuts

I’m trying to establish a Sunday morning routine of fancy breakfast (well, fancier than our normal breakfasts, anyway), the Washington Post, and some good Vitamin D time in our sunroom. I’ve had this recipe in my reader list for a long time, and it seemed like a good time to try it. These are definitely not sweet, sugary, coma-inducing pancakes – there’s actually no sugar included. They’re thick, intense pancakes, good with a simple drizzle of warm honey and some fresh fruit, and I’m guessing the  leftovers will travel well for some work-morning breakfasts later in the week.

From BrokeAss Gourmet: Ricotta Pancakes with Cranberries and Pine Nuts

We made these exactly as written, so I won’t reproduce the recipe here. They were extremely tasty, and extraordinarily healthy. I couldn’t even finish two of them.

When I make them again, I might use half whole wheat flour, and I probably wouldn’t use the pine nuts. As much as we love the pine nuts, and we do have a good cheap source for them, you couldn’t taste them or even really feel their texture in the pancakes, so it doesn’t seem worth it. Maybe a different kind of nut? Currants would also be tasty here. (When aren’t currants tasty?)

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25 Recipes Challenge: Sourdough

For the first episode of my 25 Recipes Challenge, I chose the 26th recipe. Which I realize makes no sense.

I’ve always wanted to make sourdough, but it sounded more like an intimidating chemistry experiment than anything else. You have to get the starter just right, and keep feeding it at regular intervals, and your bread could still be messed up.

But I found a recipe and method that seemed straightforward and simple, so I went for it.

The starter:

1 T yeast
2 C flour
2 C water
Mix, let stand at room temperature 48 hours. It will have a pleasantly sour smell, like fresh sourdough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. (The notes say that if your starter ever turns pink, orange, or any other strange color, it should be discarded.)

To make two loaves of bread:

5 1/2 C flour
2 C starter
1 T salt
1 C water

Dissolve salt in mixing bowl, add starter, and then flour. Mix, then knead. (I did this in my stand mixer.)

Cover with a damp towel and let rise overnight at room temperature. (I let it rise in my upstairs bathroom – our old house heats unevenly when it’s this cold outside, but the bathroom stays a nice 78 or so, especially with the door closed. It’s a great place for rising bread, although it’s a little startling first thing in the morning.)

Punch down, divide into loaves. (The instructions say to shape two round loaves, slash an X in the top, and put on a baking sheet. I used loaf pans because I prefer that shape.) Cover again with a damp towel, and let rise at room temperature about four hours. (Upstairs in the bathroom again, over a pan of warm water.)

Preheat oven to 400F, and bake 35 minutes.

It tasted (and smelled) heavenly – just right sourdough, with lovely strong texture and nice crispy crust. I was thrilled, and Greg was drooling. I baked it just a little bit too long, so the bottom crust is pretty dark, but still very tasty.

So I’ll be making a batch of sourdough bread every week for a while, since I have to keep the starter going. I also have plans for sourdough pancakes next weekend, since those sound tasty. The recipe notes also say that the starter separates in the fridge, which was definitely true in my case, but is apparently quite normal.

To feed the starter each time, after you remove two cups for bread:

Add 1 1/2 C flour, 1 1/2 C water, and stir together.

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