Leftover Milk? Make Homemade Ricotta Cheese!

What to do with leftover milk?

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:

Whole milk, salt and lemon juice are the only ingredients you need to make your own ricotta

To this:

The finished homemade ricotta, less than one hour from start to finish

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.

Little Miss Muffet would be very happy sitting on her tuffet with this!

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!

Bon appétit, y’all!

 

 

Comfort Food for the Soul

Strange times we find ourselves in these days…

I admit that I don’t mind the staying home as much as some might. We’ve stocked up here. We are fully loaded on cleaning supplies, pantry staples, and the ever-elusive toilet paper. There is a calm over my soul knowing my husband is working from home, not traveling all over the place picking up who-knows-what germs. It’s still early enough that the novelty of being together 24/7 has not worn off. Yet.

Was it only this week the stay-at-home order went into place? Feels like it’s been ages.

This world has gone crazy overnight, with lots of anxiety floating around. I’m doing my best to keep from absorbing it, by looking in the areas I do have some control and influence. News intake is one place. I have chosen to limit how much I watch, and certainly I don’t have the TV on right before bed. I’m also doing what I can to help out smaller local businesses and restaurants. If ordering online is an option for a local business, I’ve been doing so.

Same goes for restaurants. Most of those in our area offer take-out with curb side delivery. One has paired with local farmers and offers “quarantine packages” in lieu of their regular menu. Each day the package has been slightly different based on what they get from their suppliers, but usually includes several types of meat (uncooked but sometimes marinated), a gallon of milk, a pound of butter, 15 eggs, some sort of vegetable, and 2 rolls of toilet paper. They are able to help local farmers get their products out to others and stay up and running. Each order helps multiple local businesses stay up and running. Beautiful!

I find myself leaning toward comfort foods and have been cooking most nights. Somehow that helps get me through. Most nights it’s basic stuff or meals that can be thrown together quickly. But many nights I’ve slowed things down and fired up meals that simmered much of the day. We had a corned beef hash with eggs fried on top on St. Patrick’s Day. Another day found me searing beef cubes for a hearty Guinness Stew, ultimately served over creamy mashed potatoes.

Some of my comfort food favs: Pork Ragù over Creamy Polenta; Spaghetti served with Meatballs and Italian Sausage on the side; A bowl of fresh picked red ripe raspberries, still warm from the sun…[sigh]

I for sure find myself grabbing for ice cream more frequently after dinner. As a child I often spent the night at my grandparent’s. My grandmother would bring me ice cream before bed.  Just a little mind you, but she topped off the rest of the bowl with Love. I suppose it’s only natural that I reach for a scoop – or two – when feeling a bit anxious.

And finally, roast chicken. Just the aroma wafting through the house creates an instant zone of zen. Add a little gravy made from the drippings for your mashed potatoes, and suddenly everything feels so much better! Bonus: the carcass can be used to make a hearty stock…and what, my friends, puts the word ‘comfort’ in comfort food more so than homemade chicken soup?

Tonight, I’m making halibut for dinner and will be serving rice and a tossed salad with it. My husband was in Alaska last summer for a fishing trip and brought back a variety of fish to fill our freezer. While salmon was in short supply at the time he went, halibut and rockfish were not. I’ve been using this recipe from Epicurious quite often. It is simple, tasty, and can be assembled in advance.

Hope you are all finding your own ways to work through any anxiety or boredom or pent up energy during these trying times. I invite you to share your own comfort foods or any other ways you are coping in the comment section.

Until next time, stay healthy! Bon appétit, y’all!

Suicide – Why Don’t We Reach Out?

Sobering Statistics

Anthony Bourdain. Kate Spade. Two names forever linked through one killer: Suicide.

Just to be clear, they are only two of the estimated 105 deaths by suicide in the US each day.* That’s over 700 suicides each week . Multiply that by 52 weeks and you end up with a yearly rate of over 38,000 deaths…it’s a staggering number, one that has been growing exponentially in recent years.  And those numbers are only for the US.

Worldwide there is one suicide every 40 seconds.*

My Story

I could go on with statistics, but I won’t. There are plenty to be found in other posts and articles and online sources, so I’m taking things to a more personal level.

In the past I’ve mentioned my own battles with depression. I have visited those creepy corners where dark shadows lurk. At times I’ve had my own suicidal thoughts.

Too many times.

For anyone who has never gone through this, it must be difficult – perhaps impossible – to understand why someone suffering doesn’t reach out and talk to someone, seek some sort of help. Lately, especially with this past week’s two high-profile suicides, I have seen a lot of press about how we can help those considering suicide: hotline numbers, vows to listen to those who need to talk, etc. Facebook is rife with the cut and paste posts vowing the door is always open, yadda, yadda, yadda. That’s great if it works. I am in no way discouraging those posts. But why don’t they typically work? 

I have mulled over what it might take for someone to ask for help; more specifically, I’ve mulled over what it would have taken for me to ask for help. What I came up with? I would never have reached out to someone when I was in that space. As for now? I’m not so sure I’d be able to do it now either, though I’m closer.

Shame: Suicide’s Ugly (AF) Friend

My reasons? Let’s see…

–I cannot speak as to why others don’t reach out, but my number one reason is Shame. Shame is the ugly beast who persuaded me my life was hopeless.  It said I had made a lot of bad choices, that I was a terrible mother and wife and friend. Shame told me many things about myself: that I was broken, that I would never overcome, that I must suppress my disgraceful “flaws.” I would wager that most of us who have depression also have a crud-load of shame that pairs with it.

–I was convinced I would be doing the world a service by leaving. I believed that not only was I NOT contributing to this world in a positive way, but that I was making things worse. When the darkness enveloped me logical thoughts were blocked, as if there was a shield surrounding me repelling all that was rational. When one thinks they have royally screwed everything up, that they are broken – and I was sure I had, that I was – that’s when the Ugly-AF Beast (Shame) shows up and agrees with you; tells you you are worthless. Shame is a conniving MFer. 

When the darkness enveloped me logical thoughts were blocked, as if there was a shield surrounding me repelling all that was rational.

–Was I really going to call someone at a time like that? I already felt worthless, like I had messed up my life and maybe even the lives of others. Was I even worthy of receiving help? Beyond that, was I capable of being helped? Remember, Shame let me know just how broken and unfixable I was. And calling someone to chat about it would only spread my darkness that much further. Who wants to be someone else’s Debbie Downer? Certainly not me. I’d done enough damage to others. In my warped mind, by not reaching out I was actually protecting you. 

…by not reaching out I was actually protecting you. 

–Over the years Shame discouraged me from committing to things, be it volunteering, getting a job, even being part of social groups…you know, the kinds of things people tell you you should do to help work through the depression. I never knew when the next bout of depression would strike. When it did, I withdrew; I could not be relied on. Shame reared its ugly head once again, convincing me it was better to not renege on commitments by not having any on which to renege. 

[UN]Helpful Comments

Take all of the above and add in a society that contributes to the shame – under the misled guise of being helpful – with such statements as:

“You have so much to live for/so much going for you. What do YOU have to be depressed about?” (I saw this one a lot in the comments regarding the deaths of Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain)

“You need to get up and move, do something physical. Get out of bed/off the couch/[insert your own form of ‘laziness’ here]. You’ll feel much better if you get moving.”

“Snap out of it!”

“Think positive.”

“You have it so much better than many others in the world. Count your blessings.”

They are but a few, and they all ooze shame. Want to know why I didn’t – couldn’t – reach out? Those sorts of statements added to my already deep sense of shame, further emphasizing that I had a weakness to overcome rather than an illness. My strength of character was in question. Just to clarify, I am not laying guilt on anyone. If you have said these things to another I assume you did so from a desire to help not hurt.  But it’s time to stop now.

The Stigma of Mental Illness

And here is where we need to begin when it comes to tackling these crises: we must undo the stigma we have created regarding depression and suicide and any other mental health illness…we must stress the fact that they are “illnesses”  NOT  weaknessesThis is not an easy task. Read through a few of the comments following articles on Ms. Spade’s or Mr. Bourdain’s death and it’s apparent there is much work to be done.

Suicide is anything but selfish. It is anything but a weakness. I never considered suicide “the easy way out.” Quite the opposite. The decision to stay in this world weighed very heavily on me. I actually felt shame that I didn’t have the courage to end it all and make things better for everyone else. How fucking crazy is that? Even when I [eventually] understood from a logical place that my depression was an illness, my inner critic still cried “Weakness!” Sometimes it still does.

The decision to stay in this world weighed very heavily on me.

Think about it, our brain is an organ, just as our heart is one. Why should it be treated any differently from a medical standpoint? Why do we act as if mental illness is about weakness of character? It has nothing to do with being lazy, “less than,” or weak. Some of the strongest people I know have depression. It is time to treat it like the illness it is. Would you throw a bunch of feel-good statements at someone having a heart attack and expect them to pull through without some sort of medical intervention? I think not.

Would you throw a bunch of feel-good statements at someone having a heart attack and expect them to pull through without some sort of medical intervention?

When the darkness eventually passed (which it thankfully did), I was a different person (until it hit again, which it also did). I saw things the way I assumed “normal” folks must see them. The clouds parted, birds sang, the sun shone. I reflected on the thoughts I’d had in my periods of despair, and Shame whispered, “Don’t tell anyone.” I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I did.  Maybe that I’d be locked away, or that my friends and family would shun me – or worse, pity me. I sought normalcy. Caught up in the shame of my “weakness” I felt I had to hide what was going on inside. 

Inner Battles

I share this not so anyone will feel bad for me, but rather to offer up a window into the mind of someone who has contemplated suicide. It is great to be there for others, and even greater when those of us in need are able to take you up on those offers of help. But that is not always the case, and with this post is a plea: do not be so quick to judge someone going through it and why they do/do not seek help. These are battles fought from within. I can tell you that for me, those battles have been the toughest I’ve faced.

do not be so quick to judge someone going through it and why they do/do not seek help. These are battles fought from within.

Why NOT Me?

What kept me from ever attempting suicide? That would be Fear. Specifically, I was afraid I was so royally inept that I would screw up any attempt to end my life, possibly rendering myself even more of a burden to those around me. The idea that if I failed my shame would be exposed, thus bringing shame to those around me, petrified me. It makes me cry to think about it.

What is even sadder is I know I am not the only one out there who has had or is having such thoughts. (And if you are reading this, and you are having these thoughts right now, PLEASE HOLD ON. As bad as it seems, this WILL pass. You are NOT BROKEN. YOU MATTER.) 

I still on occasion go to those dark places, but the visits have been fewer and farther between. I have received help over the years via medicine and talk therapy…and they BOTH have had a healing place in my continuing recovery. And don’t get me started on how many people told me to stop taking meds, that I should find a more organic way or that the meds would mess me up (Seriously? I was already messed up!). I felt guilty that I needed them (here comes Shame once again); as if I was weak for using my meds. Yet in the end, I took them. And guess what? They helped me. 

I don’t have the answers. I can only tell you my story and the insights I gained from living it. Namely, that depression is an illness; that we must release the stigmas and shame attached and focus on treatment. What worked for me may or may not work for you. Therein lies a large part of what makes mental health diseases so frustrating: they can vary from one person to the next requiring different solutions. 

I sincerely hope that sharing my experience sheds a slice of insight for someone out there. I welcome your comments, thoughts, and suggestions.

*source for above suicide statistics: https://save.org/about-suicide/suicide-facts/

Italicus: An Italian Aperitivo You Need for Summer Drinks!

I’ve recently been experimenting with a new Italian aperitivo: Italicus. It’s light and herbal and citrusy…a perfect summer spirit presented in a classic bottle. It is elegant and gives my bar a classy feel as it takes a coveted spot atop my counter. The taste is even nicer.

Tonight I made my first mixed drink with it: Gin and Italicus Sour. Folks, this is seriously amazing. Equal parts (1 ounce each) Italicus, Gin (a dry gin), and lemon juice – fresh squeezed of course. Mix all of that together with simple syrup (1/2 ounce) and an egg white…shake with ice to chill and pour into a cocktail glass. Here is the link to the Food and Wine article with the recipe. There are a few recipes here worth checking out.

Warning: this drink goes down easy. Way easy. I kinda like that in a drink.

Just An Old Fashioned Girl!

Cocktail Hour!

A [very good] friend gifted me with the most delicious cherries recently. Sweet with the first bite, yet a bit sour on second impression, they are divine for all sorts of taste sensations. She suggested they would pair well with an Old Fashioned, and that is exactly what we made as soon as she delivered them.

If you’ll remember, I am a Bourbon Girl…well, really more of a Whiskey Girl since I also love Scotch and Rye and pretty much anything “whiskey.” I see no reason to discriminate. In fact, the very first mixed drink I ever made was a Manhattan. I was probably ten years old and my dad taught me the recipe. I used to bring them to him as he watched TV, taking tiny sips so it wouldn’t spill as I made my way down the stairs. I know what you’re all thinking: “That was one lucky girl!” [sarcasm] Okay, okay, perhaps it wasn’t the best skill to pass along to a kid, but it’s served me well over the years…and I, in turn, have served others well over the years! By the way, my dad no longer drinks (in case you’re wondering).

Amarena Wild Cherries

Back to Old Fashioned’s. Actually, let’s first get back to the cherries. So amazing! Years ago I evolved from those neon jars of sickening sweet orbs and moved on to Luxardo cherries. I thought they were the bomb. Certainly they were way better than the glow-in-the-dark cherries I grew up with. And way more expensive. I believe a jar of these babies goes for around $18-25 depending on where you buy them.

There’s a new cherry in town…these are my new favorites: Fabbri Amarena Wild Cherries.

Can I just say “Wow!”?? With my first taste I was already planning on who I’d give my Luxardo jar to. I cannot fathom there being any other cherries worthy of garnishing the myriad cocktails I make more so than these. I checked online and can get them on Amazon for around $13 for the size jar pictured above (click the blue “Amazon” to link to them…I get zero compensation from anyone). I know they are also pricey, but really, if you are going to craft a decent drink, don’t you deserve a decent garnish to go with it?

Back to Old Fashioned’s (finally!)

One classic Old Fashioned recipe involves soaking a sugar cube in bitters, then muddling them together. Next you would add ice, followed by bourbon, then an orange slice and cherry to garnish. Voila!

My friend and I made our Old Fashioned drinks using Willett’s bourbon (it has caramel undertones which work well here), the Amarena cherries, and orange bitters. Rather than using a sugar cube, we spooned in some of the syrup from the jar and added a generous shake of orange bitters. We muddled in the cherries here to get as much flavor as possible out of them. After that we added crushed ice and stirred in the bourbon to mix it all together and chill it. I have to say, the end result was divine. Heavenly. Other-worldly.

I did not have any oranges to garnish our drinks, and that was the one component we both felt might make it better. At the store yesterday I spotted blood oranges…in my cart they went! Last night I did a bit of experimenting to see if it added any depth. I have to say, I don’t think last night’s endeavor was any better than the version we made on Sunday; however, it had its own merits and was just as nice in its own respect. The final verdict: you really can’t go wrong either way.

Not only for cocktails?

I’d like to think this jar would last me for a good long while. And perhaps it would were I merely using it for drinks. Yet I see a future for these cherries that goes beyond cocktails. I’m thinking ice-cream toppings, cakes, cookies…maybe even over pancakes or French toast. I bet they would even be tasty in a baked brie with some slivered almonds thrown in for good measure.

Have you tried these? Any further suggestions for how to use them?