Thursday, October 25, 2012

homemade ricotta cheese


Please  don't be scared.

It's OK.

I'm going to ask you to make cheese, but you don't need any special bacteria cultures or anything you can't pronounce. Please, just hear me out (and you might be in the cheese-making business by the end of this post).

Are you still feeling skeptical?

Two years ago, I would have been more sympathetic. But my friend Madeline  who is a very good cook and a no-nonsense kind of girl  told me this ricotta was easy. I trusted her and she was right.

Now I need you to trust me . . . and make your own cheese!

Just grab your regular-old-grocery-store ingredients:

The phone cord snuck in. (It is not in the recipe.)

That's a litre of milk, some whipping cream, a lemon, and a bit of salt.

It's then as easy as bringing it to a simmer . . .

Stirring in the lemon juice . . .

Straining . . .

You may ask yourself: how many phone cords does this woman have?

And sitting back and waiting a little while as the whey falls away and . . .

Voilà! You have your own homemade ricotta cheese!

And your own homemade ricotta cheese is ever so much better than the (horrendously-overpriced) store-bought version. It's creamy and has this delicate taste that is lovely on pizza or in pancakes or on fruit with a drizzle of honey.

Go ahead – just try it.

P.S. This is my favourite pizza of the moment. It often shows up at our house on a Friday or Saturday night, along with a glass of red wine. Here's the low-down: tomato sauce, roasted pine nuts, thin slices of prosciutto, dollops of homemade ricotta, and mozzarella. If you have them, throw on a couple of basil leaves after the pizza comes out of the oven.

one year ago: quince almond cake and roasted beet risotto
two years ago: pear ginger jam

homemade ricotta cheese
slightly adapted from Eggs on Sunday and Gourmet
yields about 1 cup

4 c. milk (3.25 % or 2 %)
1/2 c. whipping cream
1/2 tsp. kosher salt (or 1/4 regular salt)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp. + 1/2 tsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Pour the milk and whipping cream into a heavy-bottomed pot that's big enough to boil comfortably. Stir in the salt. Turn on the heat to medium and stir it occasionally with a spatula while you bring it to a simmer.

While you're waiting for the milk to simmer and keeping an eagle eye on said milk, measure all the lemon juice into a little bowl and set it aside. Also, get out your fine-mesh sieve and suspend it over a large bowl. (If you don't have a fine-mesh sieve, line a colander with cheese cloth or a clean j-cloth.) Set aside.

Is your milk simmering yet? If not, it will be soon and milk has a tendency to suddenly boil over, so watch it carefully. Once it's reached a steady simmer, add the lemon juice. Stir once with the spatula, just to blend it in. Set your timer for 1 minute and turn down the heat a bit so it doesn't boil too hard.

After 1 minute, stir it one more time and leave it another minute. Once that second minute is up, you should see the liquid has separated into curds and whey.* Ladle it into the sieve you've set over a bowl. Let it drain at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your level of patience. Store in the fridge.

* Whey keeps for a couple days in the fridge and is great in pancakes and bread.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

27 hours in saskatoon

It felt like the river was everywhere in Saskatoon.

Bridges and paths along the river bank kept pulling me over to it, deep and still.

I stood on the Broadway Bridge and stared down into the South Saskatchewan River, and I still couldn't decide which way it was flowing. So I carried on with my exploring and checked on it every so often.

I was in Saskatoon for work last week and I had two hours to myself when I could explore this little Prairie city on the river. I walked along the river bank and people caught my eye and smiled at me as I passed them, my camera slung across my jacket (like a sign proclaiming I was just visiting).

I wandered over the bridge into the Broadway neighbourhood and looked at local pottery and native art and found some locally-roasted coffee beans to take home to Scott.

By accident, I wandered past the restaurant where my colleague would later take me to dinner. Saskatchewan has a lot of Ukrainian roots and I wasn't surprised that the restaurant had what looked like a Ukrainian name: Weczeria.

Do you know about Saskatchewan? It's kind of known for its wheat.* Now, look closely at that vase on the table at Weczeria. It boded rather well, I thought.

Indeed, when my colleague and I returned for dinner, we were not let down. I didn't see any Saskatoon berries on the menu, but I did try other local delicacies . . . including a fat little trout from Lake Diefenbaker with slightly-pickled hazelnuts and wild rice.

The next day, I saw of the University of Saskatchewan, where I was working. It was so surprising: in the middle of the Canadian Prairies, there was this collection of butter-coloured stone buildings that looked like it had been lifted up from the East Coast a century ago.

(Lovely stone buildings are generally not how we build universities in Western Canada. I'm more familiar with the grey concrete and no windows model.)

And that was it. My 27 hours were almost up. Before I knew it, I was back at the airport, wishing I had more time. However, as a consolation prize, I found this Saskatchewan wild rice at the airport gift shop. Now I can make it at home and remember my quick trip to my new Prairie neighbour.

Au revoir, Saskatoon!

*Saskatchewan is also known for lentils, potash, uranium and friendly people, in no particular order.

one year ago: quince almond cake
two years ago: pear ginger jam

Saturday, October 13, 2012

beet salad with honey-horseradish dressing

Last time I visited with you, I declared that beet fatigue* was threatening to overwhelm me. (Although beet hummus seemed to keep it at bay.)

The beet saga continues.

We were invited to a lovely Thanksgiving dinner . . . and what did I see lurking at the back of the fridge? That's right, a bag of multi-coloured beets.

So, I offered to bring a beet salad.

I boiled the beets in water that soon turned blood red and dropped them into their ice bath like pink and white and purple jewels (with tails). I cut green onions on an angle so they'd look fancy. I mixed up the honey and horseradish and garlic. I tossed it all together and 

The beet fatigue was eradicated. Just like that. Snap.

My salad was so pretty that I took the bowl in my hands and began trotting around the house after Scott. Look, I kept saying, isn't it pretty?

He would say yes and I would trot back to the kitchen and put plastic wrap on top, still marvelling at its beauty, and then I'd call him back again, showing him how pretty it was.

That's when he said with only the slightest bit exasperation: Why don't you take a picture of it?

So I did.

And now I'd like to share it with you. Isn't it pretty?**

* Beet fatigue is a more specific symptom of root vegetable fatigue. It should not be indulged until the spring greens start shooting up.

** Don't worry: it also tastes good. You can use any kinds of beets you can find, even plain old red ones.

one year ago: star anise plum jam and quince almond cake
two years ago: finally yummy brussels sprouts

beet salad with honey-horseradish dressing
from ricardo larrivée
feeds 8 - 10

about 6 large beets, unpeeled
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. creamed horseradish
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or crushed
2 tbsp. + 2 tbsp. fresh chives or green onions, chopped
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the beets and cook until tender. This might take a while  anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. Make sure they do get tender  they should pierce easily with a sharp knife like a firm potato  because that will make a much better salad.

While the beets are cooking, prepare a big bowl with ice water. Set aside.

You can also make the dressing while the beets are cooking. In a large bowl, whisk the honey, olive oil, lemon juice, horseradish, garlic and 2 tbsp. green onion with a good amount of salt and pepper. Taste and see if you need more salt and pepper. Set aside.

When the beets are tender, drop them in the ice water to cool quickly. Drain and peel the beets. Cut them into 1-cm (1/2-inch) smiles. Toss with the dressing. Taste and see if you need more salt and pepper (again! It's important). Scatter the other 2 tbsp. of chives on top. Serve.