Monthly Archives: April 2014

Vegetables: Radishes

Radishes: Left behind on vegetable platters.  Ignored.  Disliked.  A last resort when dieting.  A pointless garnish.  A delicious crispy snack.  Haven’t thought about them in years.  Love them.  They’re growing in my garden right now!  Which of these phrases would you choose to describe the radish?

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Well, I’d like to suggest a different way to look at radishes besides drowned in ranch dressing, and that’s only because someone else ate all the “good stuff “on the vegetable platter and there’s nothing else to eat.

Try this:  Sautéed Radishes!

Wash the radishes and trim the ends.  Slice them into quarters (or halves if they’re small).  

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Heat a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil in a skillet, over medium high heat.  Add the radishes and cook until they turn a beautiful golden color.  It only takes 4 or 5 minutes.

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You could spritz them with a little lemon juice, or wine vinegar, or Balsamic vinegar, and a little salt.  I suggest that first, you taste them just to experience how the taste has changed.  No longer are they slightly bitter.  They’re now buttery and mild and amazing.

So, now what?  The radishes can be served hot as a side dish to accompany grilled chicken or pork, with a little lemon and salt.

Or try these meal ideas:

Wash and cut thin green beans in half.  (The ones called “French style” or “Haricots Vert” are extra thin and cook quickly).  Sauté the green beans in a little butter or oil for just a couple of minutes, until they’re tender.   Combine the beans and radishes with some pasta (whole wheat, or gluten free or whatever your preference is).  Drizzle with a little olive oil and some fresh lemon juice and you’ll have a satisfying, healthy meatless spring pasta dish.  This can be enjoyed warm or at room temperature or even chilled on a hot day.

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Or, create a salad.  Combine mixed greens with cooled sautéed radishes, chopped walnuts (or almonds or any nuts that you like), and crumbled feta cheese.  Drizzle olive oil and a little red wine vinegar over the salad.

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Vegetables and more vegetables

I plan to post some quick ideas in the next few days about new uses for some familiar vegetables, plus some vegetables or techniques that might be new to you!  The produce department, your garden, and farmers’ markets can be great places to find inspiration for new pure foods to try.

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First, Pickled Carrots

Our family called these Pickarrots (pronounced PICK-ah-ruts) when the kids were little.  It couldn’t be much simpler.  After you’ve eaten all the dill pickles from the jar, don’t toss the juice or the jar.  Just drop washed baby carrots, or washed and sliced regular carrots into the pickling liquid and put the lid back on the jar.  Let them sit in the fridge for a few days and then enjoy cold carrots with that delicious pickled flavor.  It’s a no-fat chilled snack! Try to buy the best dill pickles you can, with the fewest ingredients.  Other vegetables like little cauliflower slices or fresh cucumber slices will work, too.  You can experiment with other vegetables that your family likes.  Let me know what vegetables you think of to add to the dill pickle liquid!  

 

Thoughtful Cooking and Eating

I’ve been looking at a lot of food blogs lately – mostly the ones that advocate clean eating, cooking from scratch, and using real ingredients.  Some of them can almost sound mean and condescending and overly critical.

I want this blog to be encouraging.  And I want us to practice thoughtful eating and cooking as much as possible.  By that I mean, it’s okay to use the occasional convenience product, it’s okay to get a fast food meal once in a while, it’s okay to sometimes need a frozen dinner.  But processed foods, frozen meals and fast food shouldn’t be the norm.  They shouldn’t be the only food we eat.  They shouldn’t be the go-to menu and they shouldn’t be the only stuff we ever put in the grocery carts or on our tables.

And in the process of learning how to cook the basics from scratch, maybe we’ll all be more thoughtful of what we’re eating and what we’re cooking with.  What’s in those processed foods?  Is there a simpler better way to me the foods we like?  Do we appreciate what foods are available to us?  Do we take the time to enjoy the flavors of fresh food?

For example, in the grocery stores lately I’ve been seeing more and more water flavoring agents, intended to make water less boring and more exciting.  The next time you pick up a cute trendy water flavoring product, and start to make your bottle of water a sparkling, iridescent neon purple color, think about these questions:  how many millions of people on this planet have no clean water at all?  How many children in this world are sick from drinking water that’s filled with garbage and diseases?  What’s in that bright red or turquoise flavoring?  Do we need colors and fake flavors in order to appreciate clean pure water?  How about just dropping some sliced lemons or apples or peaches or cucumbers into a glass of water?  Let’s be thankful for clean water to drink.

And when you grab those cans and quick boxed dinners, think first and read the label.  Look at the list of ingredients.  Is there a cleaner, more pure way to make a tuna casserole without the box ?(Yes: tuna, peas or broccoli, a quick 10 minute cream sauce, whole grain pasta, without sugar and chemicals.) Put the fake processed stuff down and head to the produce department and get some fresh food.  Simplify things and enjoy the blessings of pure food.  And let’s put more thought into what we’re eating and what foods we’re preparing and serving.

Frozen Hot Chocolate With Just Two Ingredients (and Neither One Comes From A Little Envelope)

So lately I have been hearing a lot about Frozen Hot Chocolate, and it is a really delicious drink, but it’s expensive, and unless you’re getting it from a little gourmet bistro somewhere, it probably starts with a packet of hot chocolate mix.  Here’s an ingredient list from a popular national brand of instant hot chocolate dry mix:

sugar, corn syrup, modified whey, allkali-processed cocoa, hydrogenated cocnut oil, nonfat milk, calcium carbonate, salt, dipotassium phosphate, mono/diglyderides, artificial flavor.  

No thank you.

So I started looking up recipes for frozen hot chocolate and every one  of them starts out with “take a packet or two of hot chocolate mix”, and then, well, I didn’t read any further.

Could I make it myself with real ingredients, and more importantly, would my daughter give it a passing grade?  (That’s the real test right there.)   And would it taste like frozen hot chocolate?  The challenge:  2 pronounceable ingredients (plus ice).  Here’s what happened:

I poured a quart of milk (I used non-fat) into a large glass bowl and added two 4 ounce bars of good quality chocolate.  I had semi-sweet and 60% (a little more bitter than semi-sweet) on hand, but next time I will use only semi-sweet.  You could also use chocolate chips.  I just microwaved it until the chocolate melted.  Then I thought that since this was going to be blended with ice cubes, I should make it stronger.  So I added 3 more ounces of chocolate.  Basically, just make a chocolate and milk mixture that’s a bit stronger and more chocolate-y than what you’d usually drink for a mug of hot chocolate.  I stirred it until the chocolate and milk were a smooth mixture.

I froze it in ice cube trays.  It took several hours to freeze.  I would suggest letting it freeze overnight.  It took longer than I thought to freeze solidly.

Then, in the blender (you need one that’s ok for crushing ice), I put 8 frozen chocolate cubes, 4 regular ice cubes, and one and a half cups of cold skim milk.  I blended it until it was smooth (it was really thick – you could add more milk if you wanted, but I didn’t want it to be too watered down, and a thick drink was ok with us).  I tasted it and then because I had used bitter chocolate I added one teaspoon of Turbinado sugar.  I wouldn’t have needed that if I had used all semi-sweet or milk chocolate.

I poured it into glasses, and my daughter said it was delicious and drank the entire glass! Test passed.

1 quart milk (skim, almond, regular, whatever; I used skim)                                                               10 – 12 ounces good quality chocolate (semi-sweet or milk, or a combination of both)     Additional 1 1/2 cups of cold milk (for blending, later)                                                                             2 to 4 regular ice cubes (also for blending)

Heat the quart of milk and and the chocolate in a pan over medium heat (stir frequently) or microwave in microwave-safe bowl just until the chocolate melts, and then stir briefly until it’s a smooth mixture.  Pour into ice cube trays.   Let freeze until solid.  Then combine about 6 of the cubes with 2 or 3 regular ice cubes and one and a half cups of cold milk in a blender and blend until it’s a smooth, rich mixture.  You’ll have to use your judgment as to how thick you want this to be (you can add more ice or milk).  Serve immediately, topped with whipped cream, or ice cream, or caramel sauce, or shaved chocolate, or just plain.

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The recipe for the milk and melted chocolate makes about 24 cubes (in regular ice cube trays), and then using 8 cubes, additional ice and a cup and a half of milk made 2 large drinks.  It could easily have served 4 if it hadn’t been so refreshing and delicious, and if we had more will-power and if … well, the excuses could go on and on.  You get the idea.

Tomato Mozzarella Pasta

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This quick meal is refreshing and simple.  It’s one of my favorite spring and summer suppers.

Ingredients:  

Pasta of your choice – I use a a short pasta rather than a long noodle                                             Fresh tomatoes, seeded (see note below)                                                                                               Fresh mozzarella cheese (not the shredded kind in the package (see note)                                 Fresh basil leaves                                                                                                                                                                 Olive oil, salt and peper

Directions:

Cook pasta so that it’s al dente according to the package directions.  While it’s cooking, chop the tomatoes into bite-size pieces.  Either cube the mozzarella or shred it coarsely with your hands.  Roughly tear the basil leaves, and combine the tomatoes, cheese and basil in a bowl.  Drizzle just about a tablespoon of oil over everything, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to your taste.  When the pasta is done, drain it.  Pour the pasta over the tomato/cheese/basil mixture while the pasta is hot and stir to combine so that the cheese melts just the littlest bit and eat this right away, or you can let it chill it in the fridge and have a cold pasta dish later.    

Notes:

Many dishes that contain tomatoes turn out watery and kind of soggy.  Regular tomatoes often have a lot of seeds (and that gel-like substance that surrounds the seeds) and if you don’t take the seeds out, you can end up with a soupy mess.  It’s easy to seed a tomato.  Just slice the top off so the seeds are visible.  Then hold the tomato upside-down over the sink or a bowl and gently squeeze.  The seeds will begin to fall out (you may need to use your fingers to pull out any seeds that remain).  If the tomato is fresh and if you squeeze gently, you can keep the tomato round and intact and you can then chop it to use in recipes.  I remove the seeds from most every tomato I use, unless it’s an heirloom tomato or one that has very few seeds when I cut it open.

Mozzarella cheese comes in two different forms (other than the shredded stuff in the plastic bags, which often contain an anti-caking agent).  One is freshly made, and comes in a light brine, usually in a round container.  The cheese inside can be one large fresh ball of mozzarella, or several smaller balls or even little tiny balls called “pearls”.  This type of mozzarella contains a lot of moisture.  It’s great for using in pasta dishes, or serving on a platter with meats and olives.  The other type of mozzarella is a little drier.  It comes in a log shape or ball shape tightly sealed in plastic, and doesn’t come in brine.  That’s great for melting on sandwiches, when you don’t want so much moisture.  Either type can be cubed, sliced, or shredded by hand.                                        

 

Salad Inspirations and Homemade Dressings

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It’s a good time of the year to think about fresh salads and homemade vinaigrette dressings.  The bottled dressings that we rely on so often contain a lot of sugar and artificial ingredients.  A simple dressing and a healthy salad are easy to make.

The basic method of making a vinaigrette dressing is to finely chop a small shallot.  [A shallot is milder than an onion and won’t overpower the dressing.]  Then choose some herbs.  If they’re fresh, finely chop those, too.  Combine the shallots and herbs with a ratio of one part acid to three parts oil.  Begin with ¼ cup acid and ¾ cup oil. [The acid can be lemon juice, Balsamic vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, orange juice or another fruit juice.  The oil can be olive oil or canola oil or grapeseed oil.]  Add a small amount of Dijon mustard [just a teaspoon] to help the oil and vinegar combine smoothly.   Whisk well and add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Oregano and basil go well with traditional oil and vinegar dressings.  Tarragon and thyme pair very well with chicken and meats.  Dill goes beautifully with potatoes and with Greek flavors.  Fresh flat leaf parsley (not the curly leaf kind) goes with almost everything.  Mint would go nicely with a fruit-based salad.

Here are some suggestions for flavor combinations:

For an Italian Salad (lettuce, tomatoes, chopped bell peppers, artichoke hearts (not marinated, but either frozen and thawed, or in water only) good quality black olives, and perhaps cubed mozzarella cheese or cooked pasta or chopped salami or prosciutto), make a vinaigrette of shallot, a handful of fresh basil and oregano (or a tablespoon of each of the dried herbs), and then ¼ cup red wine vinegar and ¾ cup olive oil.

For a Spinach and Fruit salad, combine baby spinach leaves, dried cranberries, chopped pistachios (or pecans or walnuts), and either mandarin orange segments or chopped peaches or nectarines or pomegranate seeds (or a combination of all of those fruits!).  Make a vinaigrette dressing of ½ cup pure pomegranate juice, ¼ cup pure orange juice, 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, and ¾ cup light oil (like canola or grapeseed) and 2 teaspoons of honey or maple syrup. Taste and add a little more honey or maple syrup if needed.

Make a Tuna Salad with mixed greens, drained white beans, chopped celery, grated carrots, tuna, and chopped hard-boiled eggs.  Toss that gently with a vinaigrette dressing of chopped shallot, 1 part white wine vinegar, a couple of teaspoons of Dijon mustard and three parts olive oil. 

How about a Greek Salad?  Combine lettuce, tomatoes, chopped Feta cheese, Kalamata olives, thinly sliced red onion, chopped cucumbers with a simple homemade Tzaziki sauce (pronounced tzah-ZEE-kee – the first syllable is like the zz in pizza with that tz sound).  Combine 16 ounces of plain Greek yogurt with two peeled, seeded and finely chopped cucumbers.  Add 2 Tbsp olive oil and the juice of a small lemon.  Stir in a couple of garlic cloves, finely minced, and a handful of fresh dill, finely chopped.  Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.  Tzaziki is delicious as a dip for fresh vegetables, too!

Try a different Chicken Salad.  Combine fresh greens with chopped cooked chicken, halved green grapes, chopped celery, chopped fresh tarragon with just a little mayonnaise (about ¼ to ½ cup at the most) mixed with a teaspoon of honey.  Just make sure to go easy on the mayonnaise so the salad ingredients are the star, and it’s not a gloppy mess.

Make a regular garden salad, of greens, tomatoes, fresh vegetables (peppers, cucumbers, radishes, whatever is fresh and affordable and available that you like in a salad) and turn it into a Steak Salad.  Grill or broil your favorite steak cut, such as London Broil (choose a steak that’s best served thinly sliced, not one intended to be served like a T-bone), and slice the meat after it’s cooked to medium rare and after it’s rested for 10 minutes.  Lay the slices over the salad, sprinkle blue cheese over everything, and drizzle with a simple combination of ¼ cup red wine vinegar and ½ cup olive oil. 

A very simple Potato Salad can be made by combining boiled chopped Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped hard-boiled eggs, diced peeled and seeded cucumbers, and just enough mayonnaise and Dijon mustard to help the salad stay together.  Add some salt to taste.  For a 5 pound bag of potatoes (a Potato Salad for a crowd) you might need a little more than a cup of mayonnaise and a quarter cup of Dijon.  Make sure the mayonnaise and Dijon don’t drown the salad.

When making your own vinaigrette dressing, just remember that if all you’ve ever had is bottled commercial dressing, a homemade one won’t taste as sweet, and it will taste fresher.  And don’t be afraid to use nearly any fresh herb, such as flat leaf parsley, basil, oregano, thyme or tarragon.  Add garlic if you like, as long as it’s finely minced or grated or very thinly sliced so you don’t find a huge chunk of garlic in your salad.  Dijon mustard is a great addition to an oil and vinegar dressing.  And don’t forget to taste the dressing before pouring it on the salad.  Try to think about whether it needs a bit more acidity or a little sweetness from just a touch of honey or maple syrup.  And go light when you’re pouring dressing on a salad.  The dressing should lightly coat the greens and other ingredients and shouldn’t be pooling in the bottom of the salad bowl.  Don’t add all the dressing you’ve made.  Add a little and taste a bit of lettuce before adding more dressing.  

If you want more inspiration, look at the bottled salad dressings the next time you’re at the grocery store.  If you see a flavor that you like, such as raspberry vinaigrette, then re-create that at home. Crush fresh raspberries through a sieve so the seeds are separated from the juice.  Measure the juice and add three times as much of a neutral oil (canola or grapeseed).  Add a small drizzle of red wine vinegar or lemon juice.  You’ll soon find out that you can have the delicious flavors without the xantham gums, sugars, thickeners, and everything else that goes into a processed salad dressing.  You can find lots of flavor combinations to make at home by just browsing through the salad dressing aisle.  If you have a favorite bottled dressing, feel free to ask me about it and I’ll help you find a recipe for it so you can make it without all the chemicals and additives.

If you want to use wine vinegar or Balsamic vinegar in dressings, just be aware of two things:  1/ don’t buy any wine vinegar that has sugar added (and NEVER buy cooking wine – it’s just sugared cheap weird stuff); and 2/ don’t buy Balsamic vinegar that has caramel color added.  I have checked recently and even places like Walmart and ordinary grocery stores (not just the nicer gourmet stores) offer a Balsamic vinegar choice that contains only vinegar and grape must (that’s the term for the skins and grape pieces left over from the wine making that is the foundation of the Balsamic vinegar-making process).

Springtime Fruit and Vegetable Salsa

This is a pretty simple recipe, not too precise, and easy to make.  It’s a citrus-y, springtime salsa that’s good with tortilla chips or crackers, and it can be served with ham or pork chops or grilled chicken.   I’ll add suggestions after the basic recipe as to how you can adjust it to your personal preferences or according to what’s in season or available at a good price  at the store or farmer’s market.

Dice a couple of peaches and/or mangoes (if using mangoes, peel them).                                   Pit, peel and dice an avocado or two.                                                                                                                     Dice a cucumber. (see note below)                                                                                                                Seed and finely  dice a jalapeno or serrano pepper.                                                                                     Chop a handful of cilantro or fresh mint leaves.

Combine them all gently together in a bowl and squeeze a lemon or lime (or both) over the mixture.  Sprinkle with a little salt, and chill the salsa briefly before serving.

Notes:  if you’re using a regular cucumber, you should probably peel it and remove the seeds or else the salsa will be too watery.  To remove the seeds, cut the cucumber in half the long way, and slide a regular spoon along the seeds, scooping them out in one long swoop.  They’ll come out quite easily.   Those English or Hothouse cucumbers don’t have the same watery seeds or waxy skins and you can just cut those up.

You can add a peeled cut up kiwi to this, and you can use more peaches, fewer avocados, etc., according to what you like and what’s available.  You can use both peaches and mangoes.  You can use just a little bit of the peppers or, if you need to avoid spicy foods, you can omit them altogether.  But this is best, I think, with a little heat.  And mint is a good substitute for those who don’t prefer the taste of cilantro.  Have fun with this one!

 

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Homemade Ranch Dressing Mix

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Make this alternative to the popular seasoning packet and be in control of your own ingredients.  On the back of the familiar package, maltodextrin is the first ingredient.  It’s a tasteless filler and a thickener and it’s cheap and can come from wheat, corn, potatoes or other carbohydrates.  So first,  you’re paying for something to take up all the space in that little packet that’s not there for flavor or anything useful.  MSG is the fourth ingredient, and after that comes calcium stearate.  It’s a stabilizer that’s used in making crayons and cosmetics and concrete paving blocks but allowed as an additive in food.  Then there’s carboxymethylcellulose, another thickener that’s also used in laundry soap and by the oil drilling industry.  Some guar gum for more thickening and “natural flavors” are also in there at the bottom of the list.  Are you okay with paying for all those ingredients?  To be fair, there is buttermilk, and garlic and onion, but there are 15 ingredients and only about 4 of them are recognizable and pronounceable.

It’s easy to make your own dry ranch dressing mix.

In a blender or food processor, pulse 15 plain crackers until they’re finely ground.  You can use Saltines, or gluten free crackers, or an organic choice with healthy ingredients like the Late July brand (look in a health food store for a good source of choices for plain crackers).  Use unsalted or salted, according to your preference.

Now add:

2 cups dried minced parsley                                                                                                                                         1/2 cup dried minced onion flakes                                                                                                                             2 Tablespoons dried dill weed                                                                                                                                     1/2 cup onion powder (be sure to use plain onion powder, not onion salt)                                   1/2 cup garlic powder (again, not garlic salt, just powdered garlic)

Pulse together with the crackers just until thoroughly combined.  Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

To use as a traditional ranch salad dressing: mix 1 heaping tablespoon of the mix with a cup of mayonnaise and a cup of buttermilk to make a ranch salad dressing.  You can adjust this to your preference: use more of the mix, and use less buttermilk or none at all and substitute yogurt for the buttermilk. Store the prepared dressing in the refrigerator.  Or stir just a little of the mix into some plain Greek yogurt or mayonnaise for a dip.  If you or your child wants to munch on some fresh vegetables with a little ranch dressing to dip them into, simply put as much plain yogurt or mayonnaise as is likely to be eaten in a small bowl, stir a teaspoon or so of the dry mix into it, and in about 10 seconds, you have a dip that won’t go to waste.  Mix into ground beef before making burgers or meat loaf.                                                                                                                         

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta cheese is traditionally made using the liquid left over from making a cheese such as mozzarella.  (The liquid is called “whey”).  However, not many of us make our own cheeses and have access to pure whey.  So we buy ricotta cheese.  But reading the labels of most ricotta cheeses available in our grocery stores reveals that besides milk, and an acid (either vinegar or lemon juice), there are additives and stabilizers and guar gums and/or locust bean gums, and they’re just not necessary.  Some might even be harmful to people with sensitivities.  And of course, you – the consumer- are paying for those stabilizers and those additives.

There’s a simple way to make ricotta cheese (or at least a “ricotta-style” cheese since we’re not starting with pure whey and standing in a Tuscan cheese-making shop and then strolling through the vineyards in the evening.  sigh….) .  You will need cheesecloth, or a nut-milk bag, or a really fine sieve, and a large pot, but not much else!  In a previous blog, I mentioned that I found a really nice and very inexpensive nut-milk bag on Amazon, but of course nearly every grocery store sells cheesecloth.

First, line a colander with cheesecloth, or set the nut-milk bag into a container or get the sieve ready.  If you’re going to save the whey to use later (for bread-baking or in smoothies), set the colander or nut-milk bag or sieve over a large bowl.

Ingredients:  one gallon whole milk, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt.

Pour the milk into a large pot and add the salt.  Bring the milk and salt to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently.  When the milk reaches the gentle simmer point (bubbles gently breaking the surface, but not a full rolling boil), stir in the lemon juice.  Make sure to keep the heat low so the milk and lemon juice don’t boil up too high.  The next step will only take about 2 minutes.

The curds will begin separating from the whey pretty quickly.  At first, the mixture will look like a complete mess, but after a few seconds, the curds will begin to clump together, and the milky liquid underneath will become clearer and less white.  

After about two minutes, the curds will be soft and the liquid will be a yellow-ish clear color.  Using a small sieve or fine strainer or slotted spoon, remove the curds from the pot and place them into the cheesecloth-lined strainer or the nut-milk bag or sieve.  Let the cheese drain.  You can let it drain into a container and save the whey to use in homemade bread or casseroles or smoothies, or the whey can be discarded.  I usually allow the ricotta to drain for about 30 minutes.  By gently squeezing the cheesecloth or nut-milk bag, you’ll know how much liquid whey is left.  

This recipe can be halved: just use 2 quarts of milk, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.  

Now, some notes.  Many people suggest that before boiling milk – for any recipe that requires bringing milk to a simmer or boil – the pot should be thoroughly rinsed with cold water.  Swirl the water around the pot, and pour the water out but don’t dry the pot and try to leave the sides of the pot damp with water.  That thin layer of water residue on the sides of the pot forms a barrier that helps keep the milk from scorching.  Now, I haven’t studied the science behind this, and I doubt that I will, but I tried it and I thought the milk boiled without scorching and poured out of the pot more cleanly.  So since it’s so easy, I think it’s worth doing.

Making homemade ricotta-style cheese allows the cook to control the amount of liquid that is allowed to drain out of the ricotta.  You might want to drain more liquid out if you’re going to crumble the ricotta on top of a pizza.  For a baked pasta dish, drain a little less so you don’t end up with a dry final product.

Ricotta can be used in so many ways:  stuffed pasta shells (mix the ricotta with some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, an egg, and chopped flat-leaf parsley or fresh spinach, stuff into cooked pasta shells, top with marinara sauce and bake until heated throughout); crumbled on top of a pizza with fresh basil and tomatoes; or mixed with a little raw local honey or pure maple syrup and spread on toasted baguette slices or biscuits.  It can be stirred into cooked pasta with peas and a little bacon, or blended with a little confectioner’s sugar served with fresh sliced strawberries over pound cake.  ricotta1 ricotta2 ricotta3 ricotta4

These photos show the progression, from the time the lemon juice is added to the milk, to the initial clumping together of the curds, to the point that they’re ready to remove.  The final photo is the drained delicious final product!

 

 

 

 

 

This week’s observations: changing things up!

This week, I experimented with a couple of foods and techniques.

I have a rice cooker, and admittedly, I use it less for rice than anything else.  I’ve cooked beans in it, and soups, and used it as a slow cooker.  This week, I cooked chickpeas in it.  I soaked a standard-sized bag of dried chickpeas in plenty of water for 24 hours, then drained and rinsed them and threw them in the rice cooker with fresh water and set it to “brown rice”.  It was nice because they didn’t require any tending to, and they came out perfectly tender.  I prefer to use dried chickpeas instead of canned because they’re so inexpensive, they taste better, there are no additives, and I can control how tender or firm I want them to be.

These were for a hummus of sorts, so I made sure they were very tender.  I realize that a true hummus is a time-honored traditional food that is made with tahini (sesame paste), and good olive oil, and cumin and just the right amount of garlic.  So I need to qualify that this is not a true hummus.  I think that tahini adds great flavor, but I didn’t have any, and I wanted to see if I could make a “hummus” (ok, a chickpea dip) with flavor and without fat (the chickpeas have a tiny amount of fat but certainly nowhere near the amount in oil and in tahini).  I had a few serrano peppers, which I blackened quickly in a dry skillet, then removed the seeds and minced.  I added cumin and briefly toasted that in the skillet too (making sure it didn’t get burned and bitter).  I pureed the chickpeas and serranos and cumin in a food processor, but of course, it was really thick.  To make it into a dip of the right consistency, I poured in 8 ounces of a light IPA beer and found that the resulting mixture was smooth and dippable and nicely spiced.  I took it to my son and several of his friends, and asked them to critique it, without telling them what was different about it.  They tasted it and then they ate it all.  They all immediately identified it as hummus and loved the serrano peppers and the the cumin and the beer and none of them realized there was no oil at all in it.

My past “hummus” experiments have included:  making it with roasted garlic, lemon juice and olive oil and making it with a mild chicken broth instead of oil and adding plenty of spice.  So if you want a hummus type of dip with healthy chickpeas, and don’t have tahini, don’t let that stop you.  Make sure to use cumin and other flavors like roasted garlic and maybe some lemon, and use a beer or light broth to make the puree just the perfect consistency.

I also purchased an inexpensive Nut Milk Bag and made my first batch of oatmeal “milk” from steel cut oats.  The bag is beautifully made and cost just a few dollars on Amazon.  The mesh is really fine and the seams are finished nicely and it’s strong enough to support more than a pound of homemade ricotta cheese or cream cheese.  I love making ricotta cheese and it’s really easy (again, it’s not a true ricotta, which is made from the whey left over from making cheese, but it tastes like ricotta and can be used in recipes like ricotta and looks like ricotta so…).  Cheesecloth was just not working well because too much of the cheese got stuck in the cheesecloth.  This nut milk bag is perfect.

The oatmeal milk was really easy.  I soaked a cup and a half of steel cut oats in plenty of water overnight.  In the morning, I drained the oats, poured them into a sieve and rinsed them very well (that’s important).   Then I pureed them in the blender with 4 cups of fresh water, and put the whole mess into the nut milk bag which I hung from the cupboard handle over my sink, where I had put a large clean bowl.  I squeezed the oat mush so the milk drained into the bowl.  It took some wringing,  and I let it drain for quite a long time, but what I ended up with was several cups of a simple liquid that was creamy and white and smelled and tasted like oats (I didn’t flavor it at all, but most people suggest a little pure maple syrup and some unrefined salt.  I purposely didn’t use any sweeteners or salt because I wanted to know what the plain milk tasted like.  It would be great in a homemade banana nut bread, and with a little vanilla, maple syrup and salt it would be delicious to drink, too).  The oat pulp left in the bag was used to make cranberry oat bars.

So, an inexpensive Nut Milk Bag can be used for more than homemade “milks” made from almonds and cashews and steel cut oats – it’s great for draining homemade cheeses.  And a rice cooker can cook beans and chickpeas and much more than rice.   And hummus, or a chickpea puree, doesn’t need tahini or extra fat and calories from oils, but it does need flavor and spice.  Try new things!!!  What recipes and/or cooking techniques have you tried that are new and different?