Monday, November 26, 2012

Homemade ricotta

Why make ricotta when it's so easy to purchase?  Why indeed?

One taste, and you'll understand -- the homemade stuff has a richness, smoothness, and character not found in commercially produced product.  And, to boot, it's pretty easy to do.

I'd seen it done a couple times in online videos, among them Melissa Clark (New York Times) and Mark Bittman (also New York Times).  Both are similar.

My recipe:

   1 gallon whole milk
   1 quart heavy cream
   1 quart buttermilk
   juice of two lemons
   2 tsp salt

I put all the stuff into an 8-quart stockpot, and brought to a boil, stirring occasionally to be sure there was nothing sticking/burning on the bottom.

As it came to a boil, the curds started forming, and I let it boil for several minutes.  The curds seemed VERY fine, finer than what I was seeing on the instructional videos, possibly the consequence that I added more cream (and thus more fat) than Bittman or Clark.

I ladled the curds and whey into a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it drain.  I was only able to fill the colander up about halfway.  The draining was VERY slow, again, probably the result of my very fine curds.  Coarser curds would have drained more quickly.  I ended up having to line another big strainer with a linen tea towel and drained the other half of the curds in that.  I covered both, and walked away for an hour to let them drain.  Upon returning, most of the liquid was gone, but the collected curds were very fine and very smooth -- and very moist.

I transferred all to a container, and popped it into the fridge.  A couple hours later, I checked on it, and noticed that it was still quite wet, even "soupy."  Not good.  I lined a strainer with a few layers of paper towel, and suspended it over a stainless bowl, dumped the soupy ricotta into it, covered it with plastic wrap, and put it back into the fridge overnight.

Next morning -- a dense, dry ball of ricotta, and about another half-cup of whey drained out below.  Perfect.

Where to use it?  Here, and here, and here, and here, and...

Hot pepper relish and ricotta -- a killer combo

I'm reposting my hot pepper relish recipe because I served it for the Orphan Thanksgiving dinner Saturday night. 

Instead of the typical cream cheese and cracker accompaniment, I served it with homemade ricotta cheese and crostini.  The smoothness and richness of the homemade ricotta against the sharpness and sweetness of the hot pepper relish, along with the crunch of the savory crostini was outstanding, and a huge hit with the guests. 

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving planning and logistics

Getting my act together for the upcoming Thanksgiving meals.  Yes, meal-s.  I'm hosting dinner for the family on Thursday, then hosting my annual "Orphan Thanksgiving" on Saturday for the gang.  

There will be six of us for dinner Thursday -- hardly a huge crowd -- but a nice number to serve for a special, but nonetheless relaxing, family dinner.

Family dinner menu:

Cauliflower fritters

Roast turkey
Buttermilk mashed potatoes
Sauteed Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar
Apple-nut-cranberry gelatin mold
Rosemary dinner rolls

Iced tea, wine, beer, soda, cocktails

Pumpkin and pecan pies with bourbon whipped cream
Ice cream
Nuts and figs

Working on my logistics.  Ideally I'll prep as much as I can on Wednesday so that Thursday is less of a stroke-inducing rush.  Mom's doing the pies and the cranberries.  Aunt El is bringing the ice cream. 

I'll make my stuffing, and gravy base, boil and rice the potatoes, blanch the Brussels sprouts and the cauliflorets, chop up carrots, onion, and celery to put around the roasting bird, have some peeled garlic and sliced shallots prepped and ready, set the table, and get out the serving pieces.  

Thursday will be for cutting up and roasting the bird, baking the rolls, and making iced tea.  We've already nixed the sweet potatoes -- just way too much food.  

"Orphan Thanksgiving" will be a more casual affair, and with a crowd of 8 to 10, I'll likely be serving it as a buffet.  That way, it also allows me to set up a bar on the dining room table, and gives the gang plenty of time to relax, and munch in the living room.  They seem to like sitting and munching. 

Oh, and there will be a big-ass pitcher of sangria, too.  

I'll be roasting an extra turkey breast Thursday that I'll use for the hot Brown sandwiches Saturday.  

The "Orphan" menu:

Finocchio with olive oil/garlic/anchovy dip (a not so 'caldo' bagna cauda)
Deviled eggs (Chris)
Assorted cheeses and crackers
Another potluck hors d'oeuvres (Bob)

Hot Brown sandwiches
Sauteed Brussels sprouts (yes, same as Thursday)
Buttermilk mashed potatoes (ditto)
Cranberry sauce

Sangria, iced tea, wine, beer, soda

Dessert (Ben's bringing that; it's Mike's birthday)
Ice cream
Nuts and figs

Hot Brown sandwiches, if you've never encountered them, are open face turkey sandwiches.  Sliced white-meat turkey is laid on lightly toasted bread, a couple strips of crisp bacon are draped over, a slice or two of tomato, then the whole napped with a rich cheese sauce, after which they're put under the broiler to brown.  The "Brown" name (capital "B") comes not from the color or the broiling, but from the fact that they originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.  They are remarkably good. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Time to make the stock

Thanksgiving approaches, and one of the most important ingredients I must have is stock -- good, rich, homemade turkey stock.

It's the week before the big dinner.  I bought a couple turkey wings and a turkey neck at Giunta's in Reading Terminal Market.  

I filmed an 8-qt stockpot with some peanut oil, added the turkey parts, a couple carrtos, a rib of celery, and a halved, unpeeled onion.  Roasted the meat and veggies at 350°F for about an hour, until the meat was browned.  This is my shortcut -- I just roast the meat in the same pot in which I'm going to make the stock.  All the browned bits and meat juices are captured, and only one thing to clean up. 

You absolutely can make the stock with unbrowned (raw) meat.  The result will be delicious, too, though much lighter in color than this version.  I'm fond of more darkly colored and flavored stocks, even poultry stocks, which are more typically done with raw, rather than roasted, meat.  The vegetables roasted along with the meat add a lot of flavor and color to the stock.  Beef stock is almost always made with roasted beef and beef bones.

Covered the roasted bits with about 10 cups of water, added a couple bay leaves, a generous bunch of parsley, stems and leaves, a teaspoon of dried thyme, and a few garlic cloves, unpeeled and cut in half.  Brought the pot to a boil, lowered the heat to a bare simmer, then let it simmer for about 2 hours, partly covered.  Turned off the heat, and let it sit several hours to cool.  Strained it into a container, and refrigerated it. 

I do NOT season the stock at this point, preferring to season the dish that I'm going to use it in -- the stuffing, the gravy, or as liquid to baste the turkey.  

This is the best, richest, homemade stock ever. 

 Roasted turkey wings and neck, with onion, carrot, celery,
covered with water, and ready to simmer.

Added a couple bay leaves, garlic cloves, parsley, and a teaspoon of dried thyme.
Simmered two hours, then let sit until cooled. 
Strained, and refrigerated.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A bowl of sun on a gray day -- sausage lentil soup

The hurricane here wasn't so bad, but the weather has been gray, gray, gray.  I needed a bowl of something warm and comforting, and made one of my favorites -- sausage lentil soup.

Mom made lentil soup frequently, but always used a ham broth -- almost like a split pea soup.  An excellent way to do it, but I've always preferred this style, which I've seen in Greek diners (do you notice a trend here??).  

There's much variation that can be made -- you could double the tomato, and reduce the amount of stock, you could add some tomato paste while the veggies are sauteing to increase the intensity and color of the tomato, you could omit the tomato altogether, and just go with stock.  You could make it completely vegetarian by using veggie sausage (I don't' recommend it, but it does exist), or nothing at all, and just eliminate it.  Herbs and spices can be changed up -- add some smoked paprika, or a couple chopped sage leaves, or one favorite of mine -- add chopped fennel along with the onion, celery, and carrot. 

1 lb Italian sausage, removed from casings and crumbled
1/4 cup olive oil
3 small onions, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups lentils, washed and picked over
1 28-oz can whole or crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dry thyme, or several sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

Brown the sausage in a Dutch oven, then remove and set aside.  Add oil to the pot.   

Add onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and sauté over moderate heat until softened.   

Add lentils, tomatoes, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and add back the cooked sausage.  

Bring to a simmer, cover, and let simmer over moderate heat for about 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.  

Serve with grated parmigiano or pecorino cheese.  

As with any soup of this kind, it's much better the next day!