Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mangia! Mangia! Homemade Fresh Ricotta!

Dear Reader,

I've mentioned in past stories of dinner parties where I tried my hand at making homemade Ricotta. If you haven't tried making cheese at home, please do! And then tell me all about it because Ricotta is the only one I've made so far. I've heard that Mozzarella is also fairly easy to make, but the added ingredient of rennet always deters me (gotta find it, then go get it, you know, first world problems). One day I'll make Mozzarella, and lay freshly grown tomatoes and basil leaves on it from my organic garden, the garden that I hope will one day exist in my reality instead of just in my food fantasies. In the meantime, Ricotta will do because it's very very simple to make and is sure to wow any dinner party. I use the Ina Garten recipe, which only requires 4 simple ingredients. You can dress up the cheese however you like - my favorite is to use fresh herbs like dill, chives or even rosemary.

For my last dinner party I made this cheese plain and turned it into a delicious bruschetta with heirloom cherry tomatoes and reduced balsamic vinaigrette on top of a crusty baguette buttered to the nines. Simple, affordable, and made with a lot of love.

Homemade Ricotta - adapted from Ina Garten
Curds and Whey
Makes about 2 cups

4 cups of whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar (white vinegar is fine)

Pour the milk and cream into a pot, preferably stainless steel or enameled and add the salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat (so as not to burn the liquid) and stir occasionally. Once the liquids have come to a boil, add the vinegar and stir. Leave the liquid to stand for about 1-2 minutes. You will start to see the liquid curdle, eventually separating into two parts, the curds and the whey (yellowish liquid). During this time, take out a cheese cloth and put it over a sieve or a tall bowl to allow the water to drip down. Pour the liquid into the bowl and let it drain for about 30 minutes. The longer you allow it to drain, the thicker the cheese will be. Make sure the liquid does not touch the cheese cloth. Once you are done, transfer the ricotta into a bowl and discard everything else (unless you want to keep the whey - that's for another recipe). You can serve the cheese immediately or you can cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Mcgyver'd Cheese Drainer

I didn't have a cheese cloth and used a nut milk bag instead, it worked fine. And since I didn't have a sieve big enough I Macgyver'd my way into hanging my nut milk bag onto a wooden ladle, which then hung over a stock pot. I also ended up draining my cheese for about 2 hours which made for extra thick ricotta. Very yummy.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A (Pork) Shoulder to Lean On

Dear Reader,

This past week and half has sped by so quickly. The holiday season is now over and I feel as if I never really got in the spirit, and now, it's too late. Our Christmas tree has been taken down, ornaments put away, and all of the holiday festivities are over. I always get a little blue from January - April, since these are the hibernating months in NYC. When winter really sets in and snow storms pass through overnight. When it's so cold that going out for a quick walk is just out of the question. The good news is that these are the perfect months for hearty stews and meats, roasted vegetables and even more dinner parties since going from house to house sounds so much nicer than going from venue to venue in the bitter cold.

Braised Pork Shoulder Goodness
Today, E and I decided to have a lazy day (these come all too often) and stay in instead of running much needed errands. We put on two pots of coffee, watched Sons of Anarchy and snuggled. Since we were staying in all day I decided to braise some pork shoulder in the oven, as inspired by a friend of mine when we visited her house. I've been trying to think of more dishes that could be made in bulk and saved for lunches and leftovers and affordable protein is always a plus. Pork shoulder (also known as pork butt) is relatively cheap at about $1.50-$2.00 per pound. For a healthier option, you can purchase pork shoulder raised without antibiotics for about $4.00-$4.99 per pound and still make a large amount without breaking the bank.

Braised pork shoulder is great because the actual prep time is very minimal, it's cheap, it can last for a long time, it's versatile and it's very difficult to mess up. I researched a few recipes and ended up making my own, but really, almost anything goes. This recipe is meant to be a guide, feel free to substitute with whatever you think will work. The Kitchn has a great post on the different ways to cook and use pork shoulder.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Homemade Honey Lemon Ginger Tea

Dear Reader,

A few days ago E turned to me and said, "I feel like I'm coming down with something." These words cause a million alarms to go off in my head because E is quite often sick and very very often tired (which leads to him be sick, etc.). Our remedy is to usually take a food based multi vitamin, probiotics, cod liver oil, and vitamin C. Oftentimes this does the trick but if we catch it too late we load him up with a cup of nice hot tea. Ginger, with its natural healing properties and the boost it gives to your immune system is key, but you need to take it fresh, raw and in large quantities. Here is my homemade recipe. I usually fill a mason jar and keep it in the fridge and it stays fresh for at least 3 weeks!

Honey Lemon Ginger Tea
Makes about 1 quart 

1 cup of grated or sliced ginger (about 5-6 medium sized ginger pieces)
3 lemons
8 ounces of honey (I usually end up using 12 ounces)

Honey Lemon Ginger Tea
Scrape off the skin of the ginger using a peeler or the back of a spoon. Once all the skin is off rinse the ginger to clean off any bits that may still be attached. You can thinly slice the ginger or you can put them into a food processor and purée.  I grated mine because I like to get it really small so that it's easier to consume and all the nice juices come out into the tea. Put into a bowl. Next, clean your lemons and zest the skin of two lemons into the ginger. Slice the lemon pieces and cut into quarters and add to the ginger. Then add the honey. Mix well and pour into a bottle (air tight if possible). You can drink some right away but it will get more potent when you let it marinate. After the tea has been in the jar for a day or two, the ginger taste will be noticeably spicier, but don't fear because that's the good stuff! Feel free to eat the ginger as well, the more the better. Turmeric is another great addition with some amazing healing properties. I haven't tried it yet, but hope to for my next round. Stay healthy this winter!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Holiday Season and Cauliflower Puree

Dear Reader,

It's the holiday season, yet this year my holiday feeling-ness has been slow to come. Maybe because it has been warmer this year than the past, and there has hardly been any snow on the ground. Maybe because I have been feeling pretty lethargic and have yet to come up with a substantial list of holiday goods to bake or meals to make. Whatever it is, I have been slow to join the festivities and I want to rectify this asap. This week E and I have been on vacation, a staycation really, and we have been lazy McGees. All the ambitions of reorganizing our kitchen, de-cluttering, clearing out the linen closet, watching broadway shows and christmas concerts, long drives, etc., have flown out the window and we are instead here on the couch, where have been for the last 4 days. We did drive up to Rhinebeck and to the Culinary Institute of America to have their yummy apple pie and peanut butter latte at the Apple Pie Bakery. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves to cook - their bookstore alone is euphoric.

Cauliflower Puree
I have been thinking of holiday sweets to bake and have only come up with a few items, which I will post about later. For now, let's talk about cauliflower puree. Ever had it? If not, you are certainly missing out! E and I recently had it while in Montreal (which I will have to do a restaurant review of later because it was a culinary party in my mouth that must be memorialized) while at Hotel Herman, the best restaurant I have ever been to in my life. Big statement and I mean it. We had the guinea flower atop of a bed of cauliflower puree and after the entirety of the fowl was consumed, I could not stop spooning the puree into my mouth. Each spoonful was bliss. There were squeals of joy, giggling and lots of words with overuse of exclamation points. So when we returned, I decided to make some for our dinner party of 10.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Quick Homemade Dinner - Thai Curry Night

Dear Reader,

Tonight was one of those nights that was so similar to every other weeknight. I got into my car and raced home, starving, stomach eating into itself and I was angry at the world for putting so many obstacles in between me and my next meal. This is what hangry looks like. Hungry + Angry = Hangry. That's me at 6:00 p.m. The stomach rumbles usually start rolling in at around 4:00 p.m. where I then reach into my stash of Trader Joe's trail mix. By the time I'm on the road I've become an entirely different being. This. is. serious.

Nights like these mandate meals that are quick and easy to prepare, yet are still healthy, delicious and filling (for the very hungry man that lives with me). One such meal is my version of Red Thai Curry, a dish that is seemingly complex but is actually quite simple. Prep time is about 20 minutes (give or take) and ingredients can all be found at your local grocery store. Except for one ingredient, fish sauce, that is usually found in any Asian market.

Red Thai Curry
Makes enough for 3-4 bowls

1 14 oz. can of coconut milk (I use light coconut milk - you can use regular)
1 tablespoon of oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 cup of broth (chicken, beef or vegetable. If you don't have broth, you can use water instead)
2 tablespoons of red curry paste (you might want to add more curry paste as you taste test)
2 tablespoons of fish sauce (you might want to add more fish sauce as you taste test)
2 chicken breasts, diced
Mixed vegetables (I like to use broccoli, squash and carrots, but you can substitute with whatever you like)

Start by opening the can of coconut milk and setting it aside. You will need to reach for this quickly in the early stages, you'll see. In a saucepan, pour in the the oil and wait until it gets hot on medium heat. Then add the minced garlic, stirring until aromatic. Add the red curry paste, stirring quickly until the paste begins to loosen and spread. Careful, the oil with the paste will start "popping" and you may get hot paste shooting out at you! I like to mix for a few seconds, then quickly pour in the can of coconut milk, the broth, fish sauce and bay leaves and close the lid. If you haven't diced the chicken yet, you can do so while the liquid goodness continues to heat. Once the chicken is diced, add it to the liquid and simmer. After about 6-8 minutes, add in the vegetables and continue to simmer. Squash tends to cook quickly and gets mushy, so if you want to put it in a minute after the harder vegetables, do so, however, I tend to just put everything in at once.

Thai Coconut Milk Curry
So much of this recipe depends on your preference for the curry flavor. Taste test after the chicken has been cooking for at least 8 minutes. I usually end up putting a bit more curry (1/2 tbsp) and sometimes a bit more fish sauce. Once the veggies are soft, turn off the heat. Pour over a bowl of brown rice (or white, up to you), mix, and eat. Bon appetite!

There are a lot of versions of this recipe out there and I have tried a few. But in my opinion, a lot of the additional fuss doesn't make a huge difference for me, especially if I want this to be an easy go-to meal during a weeknight (and during my hangry moments). You can substitute tofu for the chicken. I take this opportunity to pack on the vegetables and like to include snow peas, cauliflower, etc. since this is one of the ways I can trick E to eating more veggies, and since he is also eating the broth a lot of the nutrients are still being consumed. Basil, lime basil, bamboo shoots, bell peppers and potatoes are also some additional flavors and veggies commonly included.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

And Then There Was Cake

Dear Reader,

This weekend went by in a flash! I wish I had one more day just to myself to binge watch Gilmore Girls (please don't judge me....). But it's Sunday night and before I get myself ready for bed I wanted to do a post on something pretty amazing. Ice Box Cake. Have you heard of it? I hadn't either, until I listened to a podcast from Spilled Milk (my favorite! Next to Serial) and Molly and Matthew were discussing how easy it is to make Ice Box Cake. Since I was hosting a dinner party this weekend and attending another, I knew I wouldn't want to do much cooking for the latter but I wanted to bring something special and homemade. Ice Box Cake seemed to be the perfect solution, and Reader, it really was. Simple, sweet and it received way more credit than it deserved. The perfect contribution.

Traditionally, Ice Box Cake requires Nilla Wafers from Nabisco, you know the ones I'm talking about. Since they can be difficult to find and apparently they can also be pricey, I went to my good ole Trader Joe's where an appropriate substitute was readily available.

Ice Box Cake - adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar (I used coconut sugar, which gave the cream a beige tint)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 box of wafers (I used the Trader Joe's 13 oz. Ultimate Vanilla Wafers)
Fruit for topping (I used banana slices)

Vanilla Ice Box Cake
In an electric mixer combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla extract. Beat on high speed until peaks start to form. On a flat plate, take a spoonful of the whipped cream and spread into a medium sized circle. This is to just hold the first layer of wafers in place. Place 7 wafers in a circle, with one in the middle. Add on another layer of whipped cream (about 1.5-2 heaping spoonfuls), and spread evenly across the cookies. Add on another layer of cookies. Continue until you are out of cookies and finish with a thick layer of whipped cream. Add fruit slices on top of the cake for decoration. You can leave as it is or sprinkle chocolate shavings, cinnamon, whatever you'd like. Voila! It can come out a little sloppy, but who cares, it's delicious!
Leave in fridge for at least 2 hours.

Bring it to your next dinner party, it'll be a hit!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pistachio Pound Cake and Other Happenings

Dear Reader,

Time has been passing all too quickly in my little corner of the world. Halloween has already gone and November is here. Soon, with all the prepping and flurry of holiday festivities, it will be 2015 before you know it. I have developed a habit of counting time, a form of holding on, which I can't decide if it makes me more mindful and aware of time, appreciative, even, or if I am dreading the passing of time, mourning the loss of my "youth" (that has been long gone, I seem to also be struggling with denial). What I know is, the more you try to hold on the faster time seems to go and I have been trying to adopt the attitude of "life is short". Because it is, dear Reader. Take it from someone who has been carefully monitoring it. It goes by in a pinch.
Pistachio Pound Cake
Fall weather to me triggers pies, loaves of bread/pastries, and hearty stews. When I was a little girl, my father frequently baked a killer banana bread and zucchini bread. Until I was too old, I thought he had cleverly invented zucchini bread and swore that he was a culinary genius of his generation. Clearly he did not invent zucchini bread, but I still believe that his culinary endeavors were adventurous and exciting for a man of his age and circumstance. Pound cake was another one of his favorites, and so in memory of my "youth", I bring you Pistachio Pound Cake. Happy fall weather!

Pistachio Pound Cake - adapted from Leite's Culinaria

I substituted the granulated sugar with Coconut sugar, and used european unsalted butter. I also did not bother with the frosting since we planned to eat it over days for breakfast with coffee. E and i found the cake to be quite dense and a little flaky, but not as moist as I am used to for pound cake. Mr. David Leite has informed me that the lack of moisture may be due to the sugar substitution. Still, i loved the nutty texture added to my morning feed and found it to be a treat.