We sorta got caught up in all the storing-up-for-a-rainy-day hustle and bustle at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. This resulted in us having more food on hand than typical. This morning I went through my fridge to see what needs to be used up before it expires. I was happy to find there wasn’t much. [Thank you, stress eating!] It seems the whole milk from our “quarantine package” – bought from a local restaurant last week (see yesterday’s post on comfort food here) – is the only thing on the edge of its expiration date.
I went on the almighty Google to see what I could do with about a half gallon of leftover milk and came across a recipe for homemade ricotta cheese on thekitchn.com (click here for the recipe link). With my first perusal I thought, “This looks super easy!” I then checked recipes on a few other sites to see if there might be omitted steps or ingredients. Nope. They all seemed similar and just as easy. For my final bit of research, I called a neighbor who has made his own homemade ricotta. He verified how simple it is to make from scratch, and said the main thing to make sure of is that the whole milk is not ultra-pasteurized. If so, the mixture would likely not separate into the necessary curds and whey. Mine was pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Yay!
It took less than an hour to go from this:
So simple to make homemade ricotta!
With only 1/2 gallon of milk, 1/3 cup of fresh lemon juice (you can also use vinegar or citric acid…read the recipe on the above link for more info), and 1 tsp of salt I now have homemade ricotta!! In under an hour!! I spent most of that time waiting. Waiting for the milk to reach 200 degrees, then waiting 10 minutes for the curds to form…and THEN waiting for the mixture to strain.
**By the way: DO NOT throw away the whey! You can use it in place of water for a variety of things. I’m thinking of using mine in pizza dough.
Fresh ricotta is so delicious! Spread it on crostini, then drizzle it with local honey (as I have done). For a savory version, use olive oil instead of honey and top with fresh tomatoes and basil. Use it in dips or pasta (think stuffed shells and lasagne). It can even be a healthy dessert when topped with figs or fresh berries and mint.
The world’s your oyster, or in this case, your homemade ricotta cheese!
Today has been super busy. Lunch time came and went before I knew it. My stomach grumbled at me, reminding me that I had not yet eaten.
“What IS there to eat?” I asked myself.
Eerily enough, I answered back, “I don’t really give a damn, but eat SOMETHING!”
To which I then replied, “Pho kit!”
I rummaged through my pantry for rice noodles and chicken broth. The fridge yielded scallions, a lone Fresno pepper, bean sprouts, cilantro, garlic and chili paste. Oh, and some rotisserie chicken remnants and shrimp for tonight’s dinner.
I was good to go!
I put some water on to boil while I heated the broth in the microwave. Once they were hot I added them to a bowl with my noodles, letting the noodles cook while I chopped the veggies. This all went into the bowl with the noodles, along with the chili paste. I threw in the chicken and [already cooked] shrimp at the end, and voila…Pho!
Delicious AP (As Pho)!
In less than 10 minutes I had a healthy, delicious meal. It took me longer to write this post than to make the Pho. You can add your own favorites to tailor it to your specific tastes. I had some cherry tomatoes I would have tossed in had I remembered them…and there is Thai basil growing in my yard that would have been a nice flavor addition. I guess the hunger pangs were to loud for me to think straight. Next time for sure.
One final note: the secret to great Pho is the broth. You can use beef, chicken, vegetable…homemade….whatever you like. Just make sure it is the best you can get. I will often use my own, but in a pinch I have found this brand by Kettle and Fire (see below). It sure speeds up prep time.
Years ago I used to hold an all-women cocktail party for my girlfriends on the Friday following Good Friday. I called it Great Friday. Why? Because while Good Friday is, well, good and all that, Great Friday…is GREAT! I think the last one I hosted was back in 2006. Not sure why I stopped. I was reminiscing about it all last night, and decided it was time for another Great Friday.
I believe I may have mentioned I am a Whiskey Girl…I love my bourbon…and sometimes a wee bit of Scotch…and I’m working on developing my taste for Rye Whiskey (it’s coming along nicely, thank you very much!). I decided to keep tonight’s Great Friday small and low-key. So Instead of fancy cocktails I’m serving up whiskey, specifically the Irish variety. I have a couple of girlfriends who are also whiskey drinkers, and we are gathering tonight to sample several in my collection.
Irish Whiskey – A Few Favorites
As a writer, I am particularly fond of an Irish Whiskey called Writer’s Tears. According to their site, “Many Irish writers suffered from ‘Writer’s Block’ and it was said that when they cried they cried tears of Whiskey. Most, if not all of them, sought comfort and inspiration from “The Water of Life” (Whiskey). The relaxing characteristics of Whiskey helped many of them overcome writers block and produce inspired works of poetry, prose and plays.”
Any writer who is also a whiskey drinker is calling out a loud, “Hell yeah!” right about now. (Or is that only me?)
One of my last visits to Ireland I found myself in a pub (as all of ye should be when in Ireland! No better place to find yerself…), and that’s where I first discovered this whiskey. For some reason I didn’t bring a bottle back with me to the States. Upon arriving back home I decided I needed to add it to my collection. This was a bit of an issue since it seems it is not sold here, or at least it is not sold near me. But I was determined. And obsessed. After a hearty online search I finally found a distributer in Germany who was able to ship it to me. Tonight I will sit here happily enjoying a wee bit o’ th’ stuff w/ me lassies. Life is good, eh?
This is not the only Irish Whiskey in my collection. In fact, there are a couple I prefer over this one, namely “Redbreast” and “Green Spot.” I’ve been known to take a nip of either on a chilly night by the fire. Not that I limit myself solely to those times; however, there is something about a crackling fire that seems especially fitting when partaking of a dram (or two) of whiskey.
I’ll leave you with some whiskey quotes:
“Love makes the world go round? Not at all. Whiskey makes it go round twice as fast.” ~Compton MacKenzie (I have verified this on a few occasions!)
“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.” ~W.C. Fields
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” ~Mark Twain
“I’m on a whisky diet. I’ve lost three days already.” ~Tommy Cooper
As a writer, books are a passion. As a writer AND a food geek, cookbooks are an even bigger passion. I have an entire section of my kitchen devoted to cookbooks. At last count I own over 150. I often read a cookbook cover-to-cover, as I would a novel. And just as in some books when the plot takes a sudden twist and you think, “No, that can’t be happening!” I have read recipes and thought, “That could not possibly work.” Or “Wow, that sounds amazing! I never thought of trying those flavors together!!”
You might see why I label myself a food geek…
I use the internet as a source for many of my recipes, and it often inspires my creations. But there is nothing like holding a [cook] book in hand, scrolling through recipe after recipe and drooling over colorful, well-staged photos, to get me in the mood for cooking.
*Note: I don’t drool ON the photos, just over them. 🙂
How did I get so MANY??
Yes, I have a lot. More than most I suspect. Some were given to me. Many have been written by favorite chefs, signed if I’ve had the chance to meet them in person (and many I have). I have a coveted copy of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” autographed shorty before her death in August 2004. And I have several signed books by my favorite local celebrity chef, Stephan Pyles.
Most of my cookbooks I bought myself. In fact, I recently acquired two new cookbooks so I might, ideally, perfect a dish or two for my new daughter-in-law. She is from China, and it is a goal of mine to offer her a meal that in some way brings her homeland here to her. She has become a loved and treasured addition to our family!
Admittedly, many of my cookbooks are no more than eye candy that sit idle on my shelf or are rarely opened. Then there are others I do use on a regular basis, my go-to cookbooks that help me out in a pinch.
For many of my pies, I use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Pie and Pastry Bible”. I love her books. She takes time to explain not only the “how” of a recipe, but also the “why.” I use a scale to measure ingredients, so I appreciate that she includes measurements both in volume AND weight. This book in particular details the various crusts you might want to use and with which pies. While the recipes may appear complicated, if you follow carefully they provide a step-by-step method to achieve the best crusts. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to up their pie-baking skills.
Rose’s “The Cake Bible” was on my wish list way back in 1988. I was a mere college student at the time, not yet realizing the depth of my culinary passion. But I should have known from the reaction I had to the cover. I was instantly drawn to its luscious cake draped in a sheet of chocolate(a sheet, I say!) …sigh! Leafing through the bookstore copy had me dreaming of possibilities. I don’t know if I thought I would ever attempt any of the recipes, but they entranced me. Thankfully, I received a copy that Christmas. The pages began falling out from so much use, so I recently acquired a second copy.
Of course I don’t only bake. Some of my favorite savory regulars include Molly Stevens’ “All About Braising,” Adam Perry Lang’s “Serious Barbecue,” and Cook’s Illustrated’s “The Best Recipe.” When I was first learning to cook, I found Irma Rombauer’s “Joy of Cooking” to be invaluable. It provides basic information and hundreds of recipes. As my skills expanded and I grew more comfortable, I experimented with modifications to suit our family’s tastes, branching out to more complicated cookbooks and techniques over time. Practice, practice, practice!!
So many cookbooks, so little time
I’d like to use more of my collection; therefore, I will pick one cookbook to feature in my kitchen each week. One night that week would be devoted to creating a menu from the chosen cookbook, fulfilling a couple of purposes. One, my cookbooks get more use, collecting food stains and post-it notes to mark favorite recipes rather than merely collecting dust. Two, my repertoire of menu offerings increases as I no doubt branch out into new territory. Sounds like a win-win!
A Few More…
*If you click on the highlighted titles in this post they link to where you can buy them on Amazon.com. I get zero (nada, zilch, none) profit from any links. The links are to help you find them should you so desire.
I look forward to this Irish Soda Bread every St. Patrick’s Day as much as I do my cheesecake and Irish coffee. It is that good. To be fair, it is not authentic Irish Soda Bread. It has butter in it. And a touch of sugar. And raisins. Not something the Irish of old had ready in their pantries back in the day.
The Recipe (a link)
My recipe comes from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Bread Bible.” I am going to link to the recipe posted on Reddit [click here] because, well, I’m feeling a bit lazy after spending all day cooking Irish Stew…and Stout Cheddar Cheese Cheesecake…and Guinness Bread (a new recipe this year!)…and Chocolate Stout Ice Cream (also new this year)…and Whiskey Butter…and finally, these lovely Royal Soda Breads…
All I need to do tomorrow (which it almost is as I write this…) is to prepare the mashed potatoes to go with the Irish Stew, make sure the Guinness is cold, and if I’m not too tired, make a smoked fish appetizer to start it all off. I did smoke the fish for that earlier today, so we are ready to go!
Happy St. Patrick’s to everyone out there. Hope you find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow before that sneaky little leprechaun gets it first!