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.

Cookie Scoops as a Unit of Measure

During December, I made a lot of cookies. In the course of all that cookie-making, I learned something new. A recipe I was following said to use a #40 scooper to portion out cookies. I had no idea scoopers were numbered.

I did a little research and learned the numbers are engraved on the underside of the metal tabs that protrude from the handle.

The numbers refer to how many level scoops of food product are needed to fill a one-quart container. A #20 scoop would give you 20 scoops of ice cream from a quart container. With the #40, it takes 40 scoops to fill a quart container. Posed another way, a cook in a commercial kitchen would know that a gallon container of cookie dough would yield 160 cookies if a #40 scoop were used.

In my kitchen, I have three cookie scoops. Here’s what I learned about them:

I found that when making my Aunt Rose’s Christmas cookies, I could make 78 cookies with the #30 or 105 with the #40. Bonus discovery: because they were uniform in size, they cooked evenly in the oven. Also, if I measured the portions out all at once, it took no time to grab a mound of dough from the tray and shape it into the pretty cookies our family likes to bake during the holidays.

I found I could use the #40 to portion out the sticky, crunchy filling for my grandmothers’ Sicilian fig cookies without having to stop and wash my fingers of the gooey mixture every few minutes. Once the fig mixture was portioned out, I shaped it into logs and then shaped the already portioned out cookie dough around the fig filling.

And why stop there? I used a heaping #30 scoop to make uniformly-sized Italian meatballs. I think a #20 would have been better for the job (it holds a little over three tablespoons of food), but I didn’t have one.

This photo of scoopers comes from the commercial kitchen of The Nashville Food Project where I am a volunteer cook.

There, we use the scoopers to portion out consistent amounts of food like breakfast egg muffins

and the ricotta filling used to make lasagna — when making trays of it to feed 600 people!

I was telling my husband about my cookie scoop discovery, and he explained that the gauge of a shotgun is measured similarly. The gauge represents the number of lead balls, of the diameter of the barrel, it takes to make a pound of lead. A 12-gauge shotgun takes 12 lead balls, and a 20-gauge gun takes 20. The smaller the diameter of the barrel, the higher the gauge of the shotgun. It’s an antiquated way of describing the size of a gun.

Once I started portioning out cookie dough onto sheet pans, it took no time to figure out I could freeze the dough while it was on the tray, place the dough balls in a freezer bag, and store them in the freezer …

until the next time we wanted a few warm cookies fresh out of the oven.

This method yields evenly-sized cookies, a bonus when making cookies for a bake sale or neighborhood gathering.

Related Posts
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Oats, Sorghum, Ginger and Cranberry Cookies
Home Ec: How to Measure Ingredients Properly

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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.

How to Make Gorgeous Birdhouse Gourds

A few years ago, my Maker friend, Mary Stone, grew climbing squash vines loaded with pear-shaped gourds in her backyard vegetable garden. An idea was percolating in her head. She wanted to use the gourds to make birdhouses to give as hostess gifts to her friends.

Birdhouse, swan, and wide-bottle gourds, collectively known as bottle gourds, are all members of the squash family (Lagenaria siceraria) and were originally cultivated for their container shapes. Once dried, or cured, their shells became hard and were used as bowls, vases, rattles, pipes, and birdhouses. The first time I saw birdhouse gourds, they were strung across a Mennonite farm in Cerulean, Kentucky. Cured and painted by children, the white “martin houses” were used to attract purple martins, a small, darting bird known for its penchant for insects.

Mary’s version of the birdhouse gourd was quite different. The coloration of hers was GORGEOUS. There was no way this birdhouse, with a finish that looked like spalted wood, was going outside!

After her first batch of cured and varnished gourds, Mary made many more, sans holes, for decorative purposes. I have used my collection to grace the fireplace mantle on Thanksgiving Day for years.

One summer, inspired by Mary, I grew bottle gourds in my backyard. I thought I had purchased seeds for pear-shaped gourds, but instead got this lovely bottle-shaped squash.

As instructed by Mary, I harvested the gourds before the first frost and allowed them to dry on a baker’s rack in my screened-in porch. Surprisingly none of them collapsed from rot. Mary dried her crop, over a six-month period, on a rack in her garage. You will know they are fully cured when you can hear the seeds inside rattle when shaken. Think maracas. They will mottle as they dry creating beautiful and desirable markings on the outside.

One afternoon, Mary came over to show me how to prep and varnish them. She used a steel wool pad to lightly sand off the few rough spots on the surface. Then she sanded off some of the black mottlings, but not all of them. With her artist’s eye, she determined how much mottling to preserve and how much to erase.

She then rinsed them with water. We allowed them to dry for about thirty minutes before varnishing.

We tied strings on the stems of each and set up a drying rack.

Mary brushed on the varnish,

and hung them outside to dry. After about an hour, I applied a second layer of varnish.

Here is a before and after photo of the varnished gourds. I love how the varnish brings out the mottling.

Here is my collection of bottle gourds. They are a pleasure to own and behold.

To make a birdhouse, Mary drilled a 1.5-inch entrance hole into the base of the gourd’s neck, two drainage holes on the bottom, and two tiny holes at the top used to run a wire for hanging purposes.

Meanwhile, the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us!

Here are some tried and true recipes to cook for your guests while they visit. The desserts, named for family and friends, are heavenly.  May I suggest a Seventies breakfast favorite, Mom’s Monkey Bread, for a crowd-pleasing sweet treat?

 

 

 

If you are feeding people dinner on the evenings before and after Thanksgiving, consider these crowd pleasers. The Buffalo Chicken Chili is the most popular entrée on the blog and is a quick and easy one-pot meal to make. Bruce’s Gumbo is the most deliciously flavored “stew” you will ever eat. Yes, I speak in superlatives. Be sure to save the turkey carcass to make broth for the gumbo. If you want to sit around the dinner table and listen to people say, “This is good,” try this Italian favorite, Baked Ziti with Eggplant. Some people eliminate the eggplant and add ground beef. Either way, I love the way it drips with mozzarella.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Group Project: A Shibori Dyed Quilt

I love learning a new word and suddenly having it pop up all over the place, either in the spoken or written form. It makes me wonder about all the words I simply gloss over in life. Shibori is one of those words. It comes from the Japanese word “to wring, squeeze, or press.” Also known as resist-dyeing, shibori is a design technique for creating patterns on fabric. The idea of bunching fabric tightly with ties to resist the penetration of color when it is dunked in indigo is a technique that has been around for centuries. Many of us know it as tie-dyeing.

Japanese artists raised the art form to a high level. From the book, Shibori, the Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Wada, Rice and Barton: “Here [Japan], it has been expanded into a whole family of traditional resist techniques, involving first shaping the cloth by plucking, pinching, twisting, stitching, folding, pleating, and wrapping it, and then securing the shapes thus made by binding, looping, knotting, clamping, and the like. The entire family of techniques is called shibori.

In May, the staff of The Nashville Food Project, a non-profit close to my heart, came up with the idea of making a shibori print quilt as a group wedding gift for beloved TNFP Meals Director, Christa Bentley. It was to be a surprise. The Executive Director of TNFP,  Tallu Quinn, has a degree in art (in addition to her MDiv) and learned the technique in college. She wrote the instructions for the project, sent them to the participants, and provided pre-cut 12-inch squares of muslin fabric for staff and volunteers to create tied designs. Here is a partial collection of what they created.

The How-To
The first step was to tie the fabric to create a design. I used marbles, corks, and rubber bands to create patterns on the two squares I contributed.

This is how they looked after I tied them,

and when they were dyed,

and then after they were dipped and untied.

Here is another set of pre and post photos.
 

I wish I had taken more photos of the before and afters. It was exciting to see how each manipulation affected the final design. The design below was made by folding a cloth many times and using bull clips to hold the folds together. I think it is my favorite.

Although, I do love this one.

I thought this technique was interesting, too. The white area is where the fabric resisted penetration of the dye due to compression by a block.

Actually, I love them all, as I imagine Christa must since they were each made in the spirit of love and friendship.

D-Day: The Day We Dyed the Squares of Cloth.
Tallu prepared the dye vat using an all-natural indigo powder she ordered online. She invited me and another volunteer, Paiden Hite, to come over and help dye the squares.

This is the dye vat.

She prepped the tied cloths by soaking them in plain, warm water.

One at a time, we submerged the cloth bundles gently into the vat being careful not to add extra oxygen (in the form of air bubbles or drips) into the liquid. It’s a chemistry thing. I wrote a story all about it, Seeing Blue, Indigo Blue.

As we pulled each tied cloth out of the dye vat, we watched it transform in color from a yellow-green to a green-blue, to a deep indigo blue. This transition in color seems magical each time I see it happen.

Here are the squares after their first dipping. A few were dipped twice to intensify the color. Color is added in layers, by a redipping process, not by letting textiles soak for a longer period of time in the vat.

After the squares dried and were ironed, TNFP staff members sewed them together, backed the quilt, and then began the task of hand sewing the quilt layers together.

The quilt was presented, in a semi-finished form, to the delighted couple, Christa and Todd, at a wedding shower given for them by the ever thoughtful and generous TNFP staff.

Here’s a gorgeous photo of the newlyweds on their wedding day. Like for many who work at TNFP, the Bentleys are growing their own food using sustainable practices, but for this couple, farming is the family business. They are living the dream of owning their own farm, Sweeter Days Farm, complete with a muster of peacocks. They sell their food and flowers at farmers markets and through CSA shares. You can follow their peacocks, vegetable, and flower-growing pursuits at @sweeterdaysfarm on Instagram. This is my favorite photo from their wedding because it expresses hope and love within the beauty of nature.

I love projects worked on in community, in the spirit of caring and fun, whether it be craft-making, cooking, or planting seeds in a garden. Visiting while creating something that is as pretty as it is useful is a satisfying way to spend a day. For me, it is a way of experiencing and expressing love and joy. Perhaps that is why this picture of the Bentleys makes me smile so much; it expresses both. Soon, Christa and Todd will have the finished quilt to wrap themselves up in. Hand-quilting takes time!

TNFP is in the middle of a capital campaign for the construction of a new headquarters with a commercial kitchen. They would be honored to accept any donation here.

Related Posts
Seeing Blue, Indigo Blue.
Making Homemade Plant-Based Dyes
Morning Rounds in the Garden, July
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

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Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.