Ricotta

It’s been a while, I know.  But when Lauren of Recipes to Rivals decided to make Ricotta this month, something I’ve been meaning to try since I learned how easy it was this summer, well, I couldn’t resist.  And boy, it hardly takes any time at all.

I picked up a gallon of the freshest organic milk I could at the local grocery store.  I was hoping to buy the local Pittsford Dairy brand, but it was not available.  That and a quart of butter milk and I was set.  I dug out our biggest pot, poured it all in, and set the burner on medium high (there was a lot of liquid to heat).

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I had other things to do that evening, mainly, make myself dinner.  So I slung the meat thermometer over the side, securing it with a rubber band on the handle of the pot, and just left a big spoon in the pot for easy stirring every time I strolled by.  It took a while, but as the temperature approached 85, magic started to happen.  Curds formed in the foam on top.  I stirred them in, but they kept forming and forming, and before I knew it, I had translucent whey (sorry, I forgot to snap a picture).

Next, the curds had to be strained.  The challenge called for fine cheesecloth.  I had some natural cheescloth that didn’t look too fine to me, so I folded the whole thing up to make 4 layers and straining was prefect!

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I let the curds drain for a while, and also tried to squeeze some of the moisture out.  That wasn’t such a good idea.  I ended up with a few large curds that didn’t mix very easily in next days dinner.  Next time, I’ll just leave everything to drain for half-an-hour and then package it away.

I ended up making Ricotta and spinach filled Cannelloni, and my roommate used a little bit to make some cannoli, like in some earlier posts.

Very tasty, very easy, and well worth a second try… hopefully with super fresh milk!

Published in: on February 28, 2009 at 12:20 am  Comments (9)  

R2R: Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

One of my all time favorite soups is roasted butternut squach soup.  I love when I see the butternut squash start to appear at the public market because it means the weather is really getting cold and it’ll be time to make this soup soon.  I was so excited to find this month’s Recipe to Rivals challenge (picked by MegPug of Joy Through Cooking) was all about squash soup using home made stock.  I also have been looking to try my hand a stock since watching past episodes of Alton Brown on YouTube.

The recipe I’ve always used comes from the magazing Eating Well and it’s very simple:
– roast squash, pears, tomatoes, leeks, and garlic into oblivion
– blend with stock/broth
– season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon, or whatever spices you fancy
– serve with crusty bread and consume.

Ok, I’ll be honest.  I forgot about the creme fraiche (one of the requirements to the recipe).  I don’t really like it, and I also don’t find much occasion to use whipping cream, so I didn’t buy any of that to add either.  However, I have a diary based suggestion that I’ve used in the past:  Stilton.  Yes, the stinky cheese.  The recipe from Eating Well called for a little Stilton sprinkled on top.  I suggest looking for a milder Stilton, but it does give a lovely flavor to the soup that works surprisingly well with the soups sweetness.  I also like to add a kind of garlic crouton (really, it’s just crusty piece of toast with some garlic rubbed on and a drizzle of olive oil; crusty sourdough loaves work great).  The crunch of toast contrasts the smooth soup wonderfully.

Here is the Eating Well recipe as I remember it (I’m typing this at my parents (home for the holidays), and the recipe is at home in another state).  It’s a pretty flexible recipe, so I’m not too concerned about amounts:

– One butternut squash, cubed
– 4 medium tomatoes, quartered and seeded
– 2 bosc pears, pealed, quartered and cored
– 1-2 leeks, rinsed well and sliced
– 4 cloves of garlic
– 4-6 cups of stock
– salt and pepper
– olive oil
– seasoning as desired at the end (I suggest nutmeg and cinnamon, true fall flavors)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 or 450.

2. Put the squash, tomato, pears, leeks, and garlic on a cookie sheet with high sides or a large baking dish.  Everything should cover the bottom of your pan, but not pile too high because it will take longer to roast.

3. Drizzle to coat with olive oil and season liberally with salt. Toss everything together

4. Roast everything to oblivion (1-2 hours), stirring every 10-20 minutes.  I’m serious, oblivion.  It should reduce to about half the volume and the squash should be browning around the edges.  Everything should be falling apart into mush.  The longer it goes, the more the sugars in the squash caramelize and make a sweet soup.  You will not be sorry if you over roast everything… just take it out before things begin to char.

5. Blend with the stock, using as much as necessary to get the desired consistency.  I use my stand up blender and scoop some of the roasted mush in, and then fill to the level of veggies with stock.  Hold the lid down FIRMLY with a pot holder.  Be careful hear or you’ll get 400 degree mush all over your kitchen and yourself.  Blend until a cyclone forms in the blender.  You also can put the stock and roasted mush into a pot and use an immersion blender.

6. Pour the blended soup into a pot (if it’s not already in one), reheat and season to taste.

7. Garnish with a nice Stilton and serve with toasted sourdough rubbed with garlic

For the stock, I used the recipe provided by MegPug:

Vegetable Stock:
4 quarts water
2 white onions
4 carrots, peeled
2 leeks
6-8 button mushrooms
Bouquet garnish (parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns)

Boil the hell out of it and strain through a fine seive or cheesecloth.

Published in: on December 1, 2008 at 4:52 pm  Comments (9)  
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Dumplings

Seven weeks and two exams into our second year of medical school and my roomies and I hadn’t had dumplings for dinner yet.  Problem was, we hadn’t had time for a dumpling-making party.  I was so excited when this month’s Recipes to Rival challenge was dumplings.  We could fill them with anything, but we had to make our own wrappers.  Finally, we had a deadline for making dumplings.

I’ve never been a huge fan of dumplings until my roommates and I had a dumpling making party last year.  I just never had an occasion to eat them until we had bags of frozen homemade dumplings in the freezer for pre-exam week.

The recipe is one of those recipes my Chinease-American roommate, S, grew up on.  The kind where you just throw a bunch of ingredients together and season it until it tastes right (microwaving little spoonfuls to cook the raw meat).

Here’s what the filling usually includes, with estimates on amounts.

– 1 lb. ground chicken
– 10 large shrimp, minced
– 1 c boiled Chinese cabbage, shredded
– 3-4 chilves, chopped fine
– a boat load of chives, chopped fine
– a thumb of shredded ginger
– an egg or two, depending on how wet the filling is.
– oyster sauce, to taste
– soy sauce, to taste
– sesame oil, to taste
– we might have added salt and pepper, to taste

This all gets mixed up with chopsticks, which was a little difficult with the enormous bowl of filling we were making.  It’s best to let all the flavor’s marinade together overnight.  On this occasion I was a little crunched for time.  I was flying to visit my boyfriend for the weekend and only had the afternoon to make, fill, and photograph the dumplings for this post.

Knowing time would be short, I tried to make the dumpling wrappers ahead of time, hoping they would store in the fridge overnight in a stack… after all, the store-bought dumpling wrappers came in a neat little stack.  I made a half recipe:

– 2 c flour
– ¼ t salt
– About ¾ c of hot water, added in ¼ c increments, to bring the flour together.

I kneaded and kneaded the dough into a super smooth ball, being quite liberal with the flour to prevent sticking.  I let the dough sit for about 6 hours before I got around to rolling it out.  For this, I brought out my pasta roller.  I floured everything up, rolled the dough into a 1 in log and cut little ½ in disks off for flattening.  Covering each disk with more flour, I patted it into a circle and rolled it through the pasta roller, turning the dough 90 degrees to keep it as close to a circle as possible.  Again, more flour, and then I stacked them up for storage.  I made 40 wrappers with the half recipe.

Here’s where I ran into trouble.  Stacking doesn’t work so well because the dough absorbs any extra flour covering it and turns into a stick mess within an hour.  I had to scrap my entire first rolling.  The second time around, I stored the wrappers in stacks of parchment paper.  The dumplings still stuck to the parchment paper, but I was able to carefully pull them off, flour them up, again, and wrap dumplings.  Rolling out the wrappers really doesn’t take long if you have a pasta roller on hand, but you really ought to do it right before you plan to fill the dumplings.

Each wrapper was about 3 inches in diameter and about 1mm thick.  We scooped about 1 tablespoon of filling into each, wet the edge of the wrapper with water all the way around and sealed.  One half of the wrapper gets a few pleats folded in to make a little larger pocket for the filling.  Cute little guys aren’t then?

Most the dumplings we freeze (we do make about 100 of them at a time), but a few we’ll cook right away.  I’m not quite sure how long we cook them for.  The way S does it is she boils a pot of water and dumps in 15-20 dumplings.  Then when it comes to a boil again, she removes 1 cup of water, replacing it with 1c of cold water.  She lets it come to a boil again and repeats this twice more.  Then the meat should all be cooked.  I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures of the cooked dumplings, we were too hungry after all this work of putting them together that we just scarffed them down.  We’ve got another exam in less than two weeks… there’s a good chance we’ll be making some more.  Perhaps I’ll take a study break to photograph the finished product.

Although store-bought dumpling wrappers are far easier to deal with, I’m glad to know I can whip up some of my own without too much trouble.

Published in: on October 1, 2008 at 6:04 am  Comments (12)