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.