Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta

Dear Reader,

I’m back!

I made ricotta. It was so much easier than I ever imagined.

Here’s the crazy part — it takes only three ingredients, milk, salt, and vinegar, and twenty minutes.

I might never have tried this had I not been cooking in the kitchen of the non-profit, The Nashville Food Project the morning fellow volunteer cook, Ann Fundis realized there was no ricotta in the walk-in for the vegetable lasagna she was about to make. Never flummoxed about anything, Ann pulled out a gallon of milk, vinegar, and salt and made her own. While she was at it, she pulled out butter, flour, thyme, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and more milk to make a béchamel sauce. She is a rockstar.

I started taking notes as I often do when I cook with Ann. She brought milk and salt to a boil and then added vinegar “until the milk starts to break up.” She let it rest a few minutes and then used a spider (a wide and shallow, wire-mesh spoon) to scoop out the spongy curds that had floated to the surface of the milky-yellow whey.

I tried a spoonful while it was warm. Oh my goodness, the ricotta was moist, fluffy, and delicious. For me, ricotta is at its best when it is freshly made and still warm like this. As it drains and cools, the texture firms up. It has a different mouth feel — still excellent, just different.

Making ricotta was in my future. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home to get a gallon of milk.

Ingredients for one quart of ricotta:

1 gallon whole milk (do not use old milk)
1½ teaspoons fine salt
⅓ cup white distilled vinegar or other acidifier (like lemon juice or white balsamic)
olive oil or cooking spray to coat bottom of the pot

Instructions:

Read the Cooking Notes below before starting.

Lightly grease a heavy-bottomed 8-quart saucepan. Pour in milk. Add salt.

Heat milk slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking, until the milk foams and starts to boil. This should take about 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.

Add white vinegar, or whichever acid you have chosen to use, and stir. Once the vinegar has been distributed, stop stirring and let the milk curdle for 5-10 minutes without disturbing. It will separate almost immediately into curds and whey, and the curds will float to the top.

There are two ways to extract the curds. One is to use a slotted spoon or a spider.

The other way is to pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined colander or sieve and let the whey drain out. The longer ricotta drains, the drier and firmer it becomes.

I usually spoon it directly into a storage bowl and leave a little whey in the bowl to keep the ricotta moist until I use it.

Cooking Notes:

The pot needs to be large enough to contain the milk as it foams, rises, and comes to a boil.

A common problem that occurs when heating milk is it often burns the bottom of the pan. A scorched pan is a pain to clean and lends a burnt flavor to the end product, often resulting in having to throw the milk out and start over again. I found a solution on Cook’s Illustrated’s website. They suggest lightly spraying the bottom of the saucepan with oil to keep the milk from sticking. Their explanation follows: “When you add milk to a dry pan, it flows into the microscopic imperfections in the pan bottom. As the milk heats, its proteins coagulate and stick to the pan and each other. Misting the pan with vegetable oil spray prior to adding the milk creates a thin film on the pan’s surface, which acts as a barrier and makes milk proteins less likely to adhere.”

I found that when I cooked old milk, milk that was close to its “sell by” date, the ricotta had an unpleasant aftertaste bad enough that I had to throw it away.

Thinking more flavorful acidifiers like lemon juice or white balsamic vinegar would improve the flavor of the ricotta, I gave them each a try. I did not detect an appreciable difference in flavor and went back to using plain vinegar.

I experimented with varying amounts of salt and settled on 1½ teaspoons per gallon of milk, which is very neutral. Since I don’t always know how I am going to use the ricotta during the week, I prefer to be able to control the  saltiness by adding more as needed.

I used whole milk. You can add a cup or two of heavy cream to make the ricotta more deluxe, if desired. I was surprised to see, in some ricotta recipes, that buttermilk was used as the acidifier. I tried it and it worked.

By the way …

The word ricotta comes from the Italian verb to recook. Traditionally, Italian cheesemakers saved and recooked the cauldrons full of whey left over from making other cheeses. The reheated whey would produce clumped proteins, or curds, that were skimmed off and called ricotta. Some cheesemakers still make it this way.

Ways we use homemade ricotta at our house:

Tomato Cobbler and Ricotta Biscuits, a fantastic recipe from The New York Times. It has changed the method I use to make biscuits.

Spinach tortellini, a dollop of ricotta, and @JudysChickens Marinara Sauce

Toast spread with ricotta and a drizzle of local honey. This is what I often eat for breakfast.

Tomato and peach salad with a dollop of ricotta

Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies

Ann’s TNFP Vegetable Lasagna with Roasted Butternut Squash and Sautéed Greens

How do we use the whey?

This recipe makes one quart of ricotta and three quarts of whey. We save the whey and pour it over the dog’s food. She adores it.

Related Posts:
How to Make Yogurt at Home
Homemade Grape Jelly
How to Peel an Orange or Grapefruit Quickly
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)
How to Make a Thaw Detector for the Freezer

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Banana and Granola Multigrain Pancakes

This is my new go-to pancake recipe. You almost feel virtuous eating these carbs with their nutritious complement of grains (oats and cornmeal) and flax and sesame seeds.

The recipe is based on the banana multigrain pancakes I had at First Watch restaurant, my favorite of the breakfast food restaurant chains.  After ordering the pancakes two Saturday mornings in a row, I was taking notes on how to make them when I spied the First Watch, Yeah It’s Fresh cookbook on a countertop. I bought the book and made the pancakes the next morning with a few modifications.

These pancakes are delicious — light, crunchy and healthy. I love them!

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ cup rolled oats
1½ teaspoons cornmeal
1½ teaspoons ground or whole flax seeds
1½ teaspoon sesame seeds
3 eggs, beaten
1¼ cups whole or 2% milk
½ cup butter, melted
Banana, blueberries, or strawberries
@judyschickens Granola

Instructions

In a medium bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Set aside.
In a larger mixing bowl, beat eggs and add milk. Set aside.
Melt butter. Set aside

Now you have three containers of ingredients.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and gently mix on slow speed until blended, maybe 20 seconds. Add the butter and blend briefly until ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Pour ¼ or ½ cup of batter into a preheated, ungreased, pan. Add thick slices of banana (or any fruit) and two tablespoons of granola to each pancake.  Smush the add-ins down into the batter a little. Cook on medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side.

If you don’t plan to eat them right away, cook all the batter, cool the pancakes on a wire rack, and store in the refrigerator.

I recommend buying the cookbook and trying the Lemon RicottaPancakes too. They are scrumptious! You can buy the cookbook online here.

By the way, if you are looking for a few recipes for Easter dinner, check out this link where you can learn to make this bunny cake and my favorite ways to prepare lamb.

Oldest trick in the book …

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Always check this website for the most up to date version of a recipe.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Chocolate Birthday or Valentine’s Day Cake

Valentine’s Day is coming and I have just the cake for the occasion.

For years this rich and intensely chocolate cake was known in our house as my niece Elizabeth’s birthday cake.

That’s back when I made it tall and skinny using three stacked 8-inch cake pans.

But this week, in the early hours of the morning, I had an idea to make a heart-shaped cake that looked and tasted like the best piece of candy you ever pulled out of a box of chocolates. I used a cake construction technique I learned when I was ten years old and happily occupied with making cookies and cakes for my brothers and their friends.

Back then, I used an 8-inch square and an 8-inch round pan to make the cake. This time, I needed a cake that would feed twenty for a dinner party, so I added a second layer on top. I used two round and two square pans.

As I look at this picture now, I think this cake would make a sweet Groom’s Cake.

The recipe comes from Barrington Brewery and Restaurant in Rhode Island and has appeared on numerous websites and in many cookbooks. The recipe makes a large, dense cake, but if you reduce the ingredients by a third, you could bring it down to a regular-sized, single-layered, heart-shaped cake.

The frosting is very special, too. It is a ganache frosting. Ganache is a rich chocolatey filling made of melted chocolate and heavy cream. Depending on the ratio of chocolate to cream used, the consistency of the end product will be either a dipping sauce, like for strawberries (1 part chocolate : 1½ parts cream), a creamy frosting (1 chocolate : 1 cream), or a solid confection, like for truffles (2 chocolate : 1 cream). You can read about ganache here.

To make my heart-shaped cake, I needed to increase the basic ganache recipe by half bringing the total weight of the cake to a whopping 8.5 pounds (after subtracting two pounds for the pizza paddle I used to transfer the cake).

Since the ganache is heated and needs to chill for an hour before spreading, we’ll make the frosting first.

Let’s Get Started!

Ingredients

Frosting (reduce by a third if making a standard three-layer cake)
3 cups heavy cream
1½ pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Cake:
2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
2 cups (4 sticks) butter
1½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon into the measuring cup and level the top with a knife)
4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1⅓ cups sour cream

Frosting Instructions 

Bring cream to a simmer (not a full boil) in a large heavy saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and let melt, uncovered, for three minutes without stirring.

Using a whisk, stir the ingredients together. Do not let any water (for example, thru covering the pot which could create drips of condensate) get in the ganache. It is an emulsion, as such, it could “seize” and turn the chocolate into a grainy liquid. Allow frosting to cool and firm up for an hour inside the refrigerator.

Cake Instructions

Preheat oven to 350º.

Prepare the four lined cake pans: You will need two 8-inch squares, two 8-inch rounds, and two large wire cooling racks.

Grease all four pans with butter. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. To do this, stack two sheets of parchment paper. Using a marker, trace the cake pan outlines onto paper. Cut out the images and place in the bottom of the corresponding cake pans. Butter the tops of the liners. Set aside.

Bring stout and butter to a simmer in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add cocoa powder through a fine-mesh sieve and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, add eggs and sour cream and beat until well-blended, about a minute.

You should now have three bowls of ingredients. It’s time to mix them together.

Add the chocolate mixture to the sour cream mixture in the mixing bowl. Beat briefly on slow speed for one minute. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.  Slowly add the flour mixture and beat briefly until just mixed. Remove beater and stir batter up from the bottom with a spatula and fold until completely combined. Divide equally between the four prepared pans.

Notice how thick and deluxe the batter is. The cake will be equally deluxe!

Bake for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You’ll notice the edges of the cake start to pull away from the sides of the pans when they are done. Be sure to do the knife check on each cake as the cakes in the back (where the oven is the hottest) tend to cook a little faster. Let cool for 10 minutes on wire racks and then invert the pans, remove paper liners, and allow cakes to finish cooling. They must be completely cooled before frosting.

Frosting the Cake

Place the square cake on a large sheet of parchment paper. Cut the round cake in half and place the halves on two sides of the square, as shown.

To make the heart-shaped cake have a fluffier frosting, pour the cooled frosting into a mixing bowl and beat for a few minutes. This is optional but does give the cake height.

Frosting such a large cake is easier if you have a cake turntable to place it on, but a rimless sheet pan will work. You can use the sides of the parchment paper to move the cake around.

I moved the cake to a turntable, trimmed the visible parchment paper off, and made the finishing touches to the frosting.

I used a pizza paddle to transfer the cake to my friend, Kate’s silver tray. Her husband picked rosemary for me and we added chocolate covered ginger pieces for final adornments.

My friend, Renée, made the same recipe and adorned hers in an equally beautiful way. She used a fine-mesh sieve to dust cocoa powder over the cake and added flowers to the top.

How about an Easter bunny cake? Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake

Or a red velvet cake? Lily’s Red Velvet Cake

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Lemon Tree Very Pretty

Inspiration. You never know whence it will come.

Last January, my friend Colleen posted a photo of a bowl of bright Meyer lemons on Instagram with a story about a day spent making lemon shortbread and lemon zest ice cubes. The caption read the lemons were grown by our mutual friend and neighbor, Jennifer.

Jennifer has been growing citrus trees in middle Tennessee for five years. The trees summer in her backyard and are brought inside to her garage to winter-over. As soon as I saw the photo of the lemons I texted Jennifer to see if my husband and I could walk over to see her garage grove. All told she had fifteen plants: lots of lemons, a few limes, and one each of orange and tangerine.

The Meyer lemon trees were loaded with fruit. This photo was taken after the big harvest that sparked Colleen and Jennifer to spend the day making cookies for their neighbors.

Thus inspired, in late April, when local nurseries started stocking lemon trees, my husband bought two Meyer Lemons and two Mexican Key Limes.

The plants were only about ten inches tall.

Here they are on October 21 after he re-potted them for the second time. He said he fertilized them once in the fall with Miracle Grow plant food for acid-loving plants. Since we had a mild fall, he kept them outside until mid-November.

Here they are today in our unheated sun porch.

The bright, lemony, and, yes, happy fragrance of the flowers hits you when you first open the door. The smell is intoxicating.

The two lemon trees have about twenty dark green, unripe lemons and hundreds of buds; most are still closed. The lime trees are behind the lemon trees. They only have five small limes growing but have hundreds of tiny buds.

The question is, In the absence of bees or wind, how are these flowers going to get pollinated? I asked my husband, the keeper of the citrus trees, how this was getting accomplished. He said he periodically goes out to the porch and uses a Q-tip to hand pollinate the open flowers.

As a brief refresher, with flowers, the male reproductive part is called the stamen. It consists of a long, thin filament topped by a yellow pollen sack called an anther. The female reproductive part, the center tube, is called a pistil. On the tip of it is a sticky yellow stigma. In the photo, you can see the stigma is wet (it’s shiny). I wouldn’t be surprised if some flowers are being pollinated by gravity alone as the pollen grains drop from their anthers.

One Thing Led to Another

Henry David Thoreau wrote in The Succession of Forest Trees. “Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

On Christmas Eve I stopped by our friend’s house for a quick visit and was excited when 7th grader Simon and 8th grader Julius showed me a collection of sprouted seeds they had nurtured over the month. Why? Because it’s science and who doesn’t enjoy a front row seat to the wondrous moment in nature when a seedling pokes its head out of the dirt and its leaves begin to unfurl?!

Their labeled collection of sprouting seeds contained packages of seeds wrapped in wet paper towels and stored in clear plastic bags. To help the germination process along for the lemon seeds, the boys had split the hard seed shells open before placing them in the damp bags to sprout. They gave me a bag with four lemon seeds in it.

I kept the bag on the kitchen windowsill until January 6th when I planted the seeds in dirt. Here they are seven weeks after they were first placed in the bag to germinate.

Flying Dragon Bitter Orange Tree

It is worth mentioning there is a deciduous citrus plant that grows well in Nashville called a trifoliate orange tree, AKA a Flying Dragon Bitter Orange Tree. My Flying Dragon is three years old and has yet to set fruit. I’m hoping for fruit this summer. Per Wikipedia: “The fruits are very bitter, due in part to their poncirin content. Most people consider them inedible when fresh, but they can be made into marmalade. When dried and powdered, they can be used as a condiment.”

Germinating lemon seeds and pollinating lemon flowers have been fun winter pursuits while waiting for February 14th, the big day. Yup, that’s the time-honored date in our area to plant peas and thus begin the 2019 growing season! To learn more about starting a kitchen garden check out this page.

What to do with all those lemons?

Our favorite way to use a glut of lemons is to make Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies.

Another favorite is Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts.

DSC_1143.jpg

Here is a lemony recipe I wrote for Mason Dixon KnittingSHEET PAN SUPPER: LEMON CHICKEN

This post shows you how to quickly peel citrus: How to Peel an Orange or Grapefruit Quickly.

And how about a nice citrus salad to tide us over while we wait for homegrown tomatoes? Grapefruit and Greens: A Refreshing Winter Salad 

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Always check this website for the most up to date version of a recipe.  

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.