Sunday, January 13, 2013

Homemade Butter and Ricotta Cheese

Store bought Ricotta Cheese is dead to me now.

I have discovered the creamy, sweet, deliciousness of homemade Ricotta. So simple, I really cannot believe I haven't made this years ago. 

From Back to Basics books: 

I combined 1 qt. cultured buttermilk with 1 gallon whole milk, slowly heated it up to 180 degrees with minimal stirring, let it set off heat for 30 minutes,  then strained it all through double layered cheesecloth (save the whey for other yummy recipes). From there it was time to hang it for an hour to produce a beautiful thick, creamy curd. 

Mix in a dash of salt. 

 The results: Mama Mia amazing Ricotta cheese!

I had to refrain from shoving spoonful after spoonful into my mouth it was so good. It actually had me reminiscing my childhood and our family's "pierogi parties". Every year we would have tons of extended family over (hardy jovial Polish women) to roll, knead, stuff, and cook pierogis from scratch for the upcoming holidays. It was a family pierogi factory with different stations and assembly lines. We would divide the end product amongst those that helped so all families would be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. My dad was always the designated pierogi sauté chef; spooning out the cooked pierogis from the boiling water as they floated and then lightly browning them in a heap of golden butter and caramelized onions. My mouth is salivating as I think about it. 

The women bustled around, eggs being cracked, butter knives flashing and clinking amongst chatter and laughter as they cut in the wet ingredients to the dry to form the pierogi dough. An oven warmed mixing bowl was turned upside down over the dough for a brief period. Next came rolling out the dough in long rectangles, the spooning of sweet lemony Farmers cheese along the rectangle, dipping their floured fingers in water to form a circle around the cheese, folding over the dough, and then cutting out the pierogis with a stout water glass turned upside down. A fork was wielded to press its tines along the outer edges, but only after fingers swiftly pressed out all hidden air pockets so they didn't burst in the hot water bath. Plates upon plates of raw pierogis were passed down to my father for the cooking. Every once in awhile my dad would announce that a pierogi had burst which was met with happy 'oh darns' and the "broken" pierogi was gobbled up greedily.

This was hard core Polish family tradition.

To this day, I can't help but wrinkle my nose when I hear people saying, "Oh yeah I've had pierogis before. Mrs. T's is the best!" My heart becomes heavy, I clutch my arms to my chest, and I feel great pity for these people. Mrs. T's is nothing remotely near what an authentic pierogi tastes like; you might as well chew cardboard for dinner.

Yep little 'ol me in the back and my late Polish Grandma bottom right..check out that awesome wallpaper!

Great memories right there...sure wish I had more pictures of those times

The ricotta that I just made tasted extremely similar to the moist Farmers cheese that we would buy at Broadway Market in Buffalo. Ever since my parents moved to the East coast, Farmers cheese is hard to find. I spooned a few heaping tablespoons of my homemade ricotta into a bowl, added a couple dashes of lemon juice, and a bit of sugar, swirled and tasted. Oh my heavens. Yep, right there, perfect pierogi filling!! Must message parents stat! 

Anyways, I am very excited about my new adventure into cheese making and hope to expand my knowledge further. 

A few weeks ago, I also made homemade butter. Basic directions: beat room-temperature heavy cream until solids form (you can either shake it using a mason jar or wuss-out like I did and use your stand mixer). Once solids form, let set 20-30 min., then start squeezing out the water using your hands or two wooden spoons. Save the liquid as it is "true buttermilk" (not the cultured stuff) and is phenomenal in waffles or baked goods.Add about 1/4 tsp salt and fold in. Put into a butter bell or mold. Fun and relatively easy but not sure I will completely abandon store bought butter from our local dairy quite yet. The costs don't necessarily justify homemade butter, at least not yet, but with the food prices sky rocketing I may be making more homemade products in the very near future.

Other homemade goings-on at the household: sprouting seeds/beans.

I ventured into this after browsing my local Vitamin Cottage (smaller, more wallet-friendly version of Whole Foods). They had a sprout jar and bags upon bags of neat beans. Cowboy got involved soaking and rinsing after I told him all we could use sprouts in. Every day we checked on our little buggers and got more excited as little tails appeared. 

adzuki, mung, and garbanzo beans, red lentils, grean peas

The best salad ever? Romaine, sprouted bean mix (see above), crumbled cooked bacon, and garden fresh tomatoes. Mixed with one of my favorite dressings: Ken's Steak House Lite Sweet Vidalia Onion, it's like a BLT in a bowl. Seriously.

Or try sprouting alfalfa. Then use alfalfa sprouts instead of lettuce on an onion roll with ham, cheese, tomato, and mayo (or humus). Yum.

I will be sprouting grains next to make bread with!

This Christmas was what we referred to as the "Lodge Christmas". Family sent us all kinds of Lodge Logic Cast Iron pieces in my attempt to be a predominantly cast iron cookware chef. I will keep my set of stainless pots and pans for yogurt and spaghetti sauce making and boiling water as cast iron does not deal well with these things. My mother-in-law was totally awesome in that she went directly to the Lodge Factory store to buy our gifts! We received a monster 9qt Dutch Oven, a 3qt pot w/ skillet lid, and a Boy Scout logo 10" skillet (dear hubby is an Eagle Scout) from Cowboy's parents. From my Aunt we received a cast iron cookbook and super neat skillet pot holders (one has chickens on it!). My Grandmother got us a 2qt pot w/ lid (absolutely perfect for our morning oatmeal or afternoon soup) and a little 8" skillet. My parents sent us an Aebelskiver pan and cookbook! We have used everything except the Dutch Oven (which is calling me to make up a big batch of chicken stock to can) and the Aebelskiver (also spelled Ebelskiver....and pronounced Able-skeever) pan which is due to arrive next week. 

Meanwhile we have thumbed through the cookbook and drooled significantly. You start with a couple basic batter recipes and then customize the batter and fillings to your wildest dreams. As we were turning the pages one of us would suddenly think of a cool idea: taco! pizza! grilled cheese! cream cheese and jam! peanut butter and jelly! Nutella! Smores! It was never ending and tons of fun. Can't wait for the pan to arrive to get my Aebelskiver on!

Soon to come: step by step Aebelskiver making!

More Flaking Around

I have now used my Campo Flaker a handful of times and I love it more every time I use it. Last week I made a delicious five grain cereal. First you rinse your grains and lay them out on a cookie sheet to dry. This will soften the grains so you will be able to flake them. They don't need to be bone dry....about six hours left on the counter should do. Oats don't need to be soaked as they are already a soft grain.

Spelt, Rye, Hulled Barley, Wheat, and Oats (added after previous grains were soaked)

 Melt 1-2 Tbs. butter in a 2qt. cast iron pot

 Add 2-3c. flaked grains (servings for 2), 1/4 tsp fine sea salt, and toast til fragrant.  You may add any toppings such as blueberries, almonds, or other goodies at this time.  
Add 2- 2 1/2c. water and cook until done. 

Healthy bit o' heaven right there.