Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Homemade ricotta cheese

Homemade ricotta cheese

Cheese is not something that people often think to make at home, but there is nothing in the world quite like fresh ricotta cheese. Surprisingly easy to make, this staple (in my house) is above and beyond store-bought ricotta. I often use this in our other staple, lasagna, and we even eat it plain in a bowl with a little salt and pepper, as we would eat cottage cheese. Ricotta is one of the easiest cheeses to make at home as it requires no rennet (special enzymes to curdle the milk) nor does it require any aging or care. It is the ‘lazy person’s’ cheese, so to speak, but there is nothing lazy about how fast I eat it.

Ingredients
1 gallon whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 quart buttermilk
4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons lemon juice

You will also need a thermometer, sieve or colander, and some cheesecloth.

Directions
1. Combine the milk, buttermilk, cream, and salt in a non-reactive pan.

Forming curds

Forming curds

2. Prepare the colander for the draining process by moistening a few sheets of cheesecloth and layering them in the colander. This is where you will be placing the curds to drain excess whey. I place the colander in the sink to drain.

3. Attach the thermometer to the pan so that you may monitor the temperature.

4. Heat the mixture on high, stirring occasionally to prevent any milk from scorching on the bottom of the pan.

5. When the milk has reached about 175 degrees F, add the lemon juice and gently stir it in. You will see curds start to form immediately. Allow a few minutes for more curds to accumulate, stirring very gently on occasion.

Spooning curds

Spooning curds

6. Using a skimmer or sieve, remove curds from the pot and place them in the cheesecloth lined colander. The moisture level of the cheese will be determined by how long you let it drain. I like a moist ricotta, so I let it drain about five to ten minutes, but for a more firm cheese, let the curds drain longer.

7. When the curds have finished draining, remove them and eat immediately for the best ricotta you have ever tasted. The cheese will also last a few days in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Fiddleheads (Young Fern shoots)

fiddleheads

Fiddleheads with garlic

Would you ever think to eat a fern? I eat anything that won’t make me sick, so I sure have, but young fern shoots are not the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they think of spring. Oddly, they are the first thing that comes to my mind when someone says “spring.” Early spring is fiddlehead season, and these crunchy vegetables are one thing I look forward to when winter is ending. Fiddleheads are the young shoots of the ostrich fern, and I am surprised that they are not more popular than they are, the stem is crunchy, and the leafy spiral in the middle is soft and sweet. Plus, fiddleheads are cute, but not too cute to eat (like baby bunnies).

Fiddleheads

Fresh fiddleheads vs. old fiddleheads

Fiddleheads do not have a long shelf life. I generally cook them the day I buy them, or perhaps the next day. It is not that they go bad, but that they tend to oxidize quickly, which will make them look less appealing. You may want to cut off the dark, oxidized skin on the fiddleheads to prepare them for cooking, which is very easy as it is just the skin that oxidizes and turns brown. It is not required, though, as the oxidized skin will not contribute any off flavors to the fiddleheads.

One thing to keep in mind is that fiddleheads should not be eaten raw, they contain compounds that are both unpleasant, and could potentially make a person ill. But cooking them makes them entirely safe to eat, and tenderizes the shoot as well. Fiddleheads are also surprisingly high in anti-oxidants, much more so than even blueberries, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, making them both healthful and tasty. Fiddleheads are very high in fiber and vitamin A, and low in everything that you don’t want. They are an excellent spring treat, particularly for those who are watching what they eat (e.g. no fat, no cholesterol, almost no carbs, and very low in calories, only 35 per 1/2 cup serving). Many recipes call for boiling or steaming them, which works well and doesn’t add any fat or calories from oil, however I prefer to saute them with a little oil and garlic. That said, I have been known to steam my fiddleheads prior to a quick saute in order to speed the process and this can also reduce the potential for bitterness that may be found in them. They also go well in pasta and stir fry, but nothing beats a good old saute to bring out their own natural flavor. Fern shoots may not be an obvious star of a dish, but you would be surprised at their delicate and interesting flavor. Even my children find fiddleheads a fun and interesting diversion to the usual vegetable argument.

Ingredients
1/2 pound fiddleheads
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 -2 cloves of garlic, thickly cut

N.B. a few drops of lemon juice can bring out the flavor and help prevent darkening (oxidation) of the fern shoots.

garlicGarlic cut thickly

Directions
1. Cut off any black ends of the fiddleheads, and slice off any black/brown skin from the stems.

2. Wash the fiddleheads and pat dry.

3. Slice the garlic clove(s) into thick pieces, thick enough so that they won’t cook too quickly (they tend to become bitter if overcooked)

4. Put the garlic in the oil and turn heat to medium high.

5. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the fiddleheads. Turn the heat down to medium and saute fiddleheads until soft, about 10 minutes, then serve. Salt to taste.

Serves 1, but this recipe easily scales to as many servings as you need.

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar

It may seem odd to add vinegar to berries, but a surprisingly tasty combination is a very simple dish of strawberries with balsamic vinegar. The acidity of the vinegar brings out the sweetness of the berries, and the contrast of flavors allows the intensity of each to come out, enhancing the “berry-ness” of a simple strawberry. This is a great summer dessert when the strawberries are at their peak ripeness, but is a great dish any time of year (and a great way to enjoy so-so strawberries out of season).

There are two ways to make this, the inexpensive way, and the more expensive way. The inexpensive way (relatively speaking) is to add standard balsamic vinegar and sugar to the berries, while the latter method is to use a special type of balsamic vinegar that has been bottled with some of the concentrated must from the wine-making process. Must is what one calls the sweet grape juice prior to fermentation. This particular vinegar is thicker and sweeter than traditional vinegar, and a little goes a long way, but it is an incredible addition to any sweet dessert, and I keep a bottle around always for this very purpose. You will find it in specialty food stores, such as cheese shops and foofy high-end food shops.

Ingredients
1 pint strawberries
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar

If you have the sweetened, reduced balsamic vinegar you can leave out the sugar.

Directions
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and serve. Really. You don’t need any whipped cream (although you can add it if you wish), this dish is incredible on its own. Also, feel free to increase or reduce the vinegar to your taste. Some people prefer just a hint of vinegar, and some (like me) like soup. In fact, I’m seriously thinking of experimenting with this to make a smoothie, if I can find the proper mix of ingredients (and I will). Expect that post this summer.

Jamaican Goat Curry – The Great Goat Adventure 2

Jamaican Goat Curry

Jamaican Goat Curry

While the butcher shop may have violated the health codes of 30 different countries (see The Great Goat Adventure), the goat meat smelled fresh and looked great. While I played around a few times, I believe I found the right combination of water, coconut milk, and other ingredients to make this a surprisingly tasty yet subtle dish, particularly hard with it being a curry. The goat, to be honest, could easily have been lamb were it not for the deeper color of the meat. This dish was quite good, and one could easily substitute any other meat (lamb, chicken) in place of the goat with equally good results.

Ingredients
3 pounds goat meat (meat on the bones for added flavor)
4 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (or a hot pepper like a scotch bonnet if you prefer your dish spicy)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice  (if you don’t have Jamaican curry)
3 tablespoons Jamaican curry powder (if you can’t find Jamaican curry, any curry will do)
3 scallion greens, sliced
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced (a garlic press works well for this)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
28 oz can diced or crushed tomatoes, in their juice
1 can coconut milk (optional, but great)
1 cup water
cilantro leaves chopped for garnish

Directions (this may sound like a lot of steps but it is actually all quite simple)

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cut the goat meat into cubes (or have your butcher do it for you, it’s easier).

3. Put the meat in a bowl or bag and add half of the lime juice, mixing it all up to coat all the meat with the lime juice. Marinate the meat for at least 2 hours.

4. Remove the meat and sear in a pan in vegetable oil until relatively brown on all sides. This should be done a few pieces at a time to keep the heat as high as possible. Adding too much meat to the pan at one time will prevent proper browning as it will reduce the heat too much. Contrary to the popular myth that this “seals in the juices,” this step is actually done in order to add flavor to the finished dish, as the browned parts of the meat will contribute a richness to the final product.

5. Place the seared meat in your crock pot, dutch oven, or dish, whichever is your cooking preference.

6. Add the onion, chopped, to the pan in which you seared the meat without cleaning it (all those brown pieces in the pan will also add flavor). Saute the onion at a medium temperature until they are translucent. When done, add the 1 cup of water to the pan and deglaze (this is a step where you use the liquid to scrape up any remaining brown specks in the pan, you want these for their ‘yum’ factor). Add all of this to the dish with the goat meat.

7. Add the remaining ingredients to the dish.

8. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 3 hours. You want this to cook long enough for the goat meat to become flaky and tender, which will take time. You can use a crock pot, pressure cooker, or any kind of dish. If you use a pressure cooker it will only take 40 minutes to an hour or so to cook. My preference is in an open dish in the oven so that the curry browns under the heat.

9. Plate and garnish.

Serves 4 people

Traditionally this is served with rice, but I used couscous. The choice is yours as almost any starch will do.

Goat meat in lime juice

Marinating Goat

Browned goat meat

Browned goat meat

Goat curry ingredients

The ingredients together

Cooked goat curry

Cooked goat curry

Jamaican Curried Goat on Foodista

The Great Goat Adventure

Dinner

Dinner

I’ve always had a fondness for goats. They are playful, fascinating creatures, and look rather tasty too. When I’m not feeding them, I’m eating them. While I have never actually cooked a goat, I have ordered it in restaurants a few times, so when the opportunity to purchase some presented itself, I knew it was a challenge that I could not turn down.

The other day I was in a conversation with someone and mentioned that I had never cooked goat but that I liked the gaminess of the meat. She mentioned that a tiny, hole-in-the-wall butcher shop in the next town carried it, along with an assortment of meats that are not common to the palates in my area. I knew I had to head there immediately.

The shop was spartan, almost comically so. All that I saw in the cooler shelf in front of me were a few cuts of beef that had developed a pellicle, as though they were being dry aged, although I knew that this was far from being the case. Thoughts passed through my mind, should I really be here? Should I be buying meat that could be who knows how old, aging quietly in the back room, and particularly a type of meat that surely does not sell in volume enough to ensure it’s freshness? Dare I? Yes, I dare.

I walked up to the counter and asked “Do you have goat?”

“Goat?” the man repeated.

“Yes, goat. Do you sell goat?” I asked again.

“Yes” he said, looking at me as though asking himself ‘why wouldn’t we?’

“I’ve never bought goat before, can I ask for certain cuts or how is it sold? Do I have to buy half a goat?” I asked jokingly.

He didn’t even smile. “Well, It’s $3 per pound, so we give you a bit of this and a bit of that so you don’t get all the good pieces and leave the bad stuff for everyone else.” He said (little did he know that was fully my intention, but my plan had been foiled).

“OK” I said, “I’d like four pounds please.

“Big pieces or little pieces?”

“Well, I may do a curry, so, small pieces, please” I replied.

He walked through the cooler door behind him and returned in a few minutes with half a goat. I was momentarily excited before I realized that I had asked for small pieces, and that my wife would not be coming home from work to see me roasting half a goat on a spit in our back yard. Oh well, another time. He took a large knife and started slicing the goat into smaller pieces, which he placed on a table in front of what looked like a giant jigsaw. Covering the table were the remnants of the beef he had been cutting for the woman before me, and these he brushed away with a dark and soiled washcloth which I assumed he used on the floor in the evening as well. The goat, it was nestled all moist and all red, while visions of bacteria danced through my head. The man with his ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, wasn’t quite sure that I wanted that cra… Oh, wait, this is a family show.

I watched as he cut the goat into small pieces, making sure I had as much bone and connective tissue as was possible. Half way through the process his cell phone rang, which he proceeded to answer, chatting happily for a few minutes. I imagined the phone teeming with the evidence of the morning’s butchery, and now with extra goat. Sanitary gloves were foreign to this shop, by the way. Not a hand was washed between tasks, nor between meat, and phone, and meat. …Did I still dare? Yes, I was up for the challenge. I took my four pounds of goat and he took my twelve dollars. Whoever got that money next would be carrying goat remnants in their wallet for some time to come. So will I, as will the handle of the bag he handed me, which I diligently took trying not to grimace at the wetness. He didn’t seem to mind, so why should I?

My great-great grandfather, along with his brother, started the Armour Meat Packing Company, so meat is in my blood. I therefore assumed, perhaps erroneously, that my cast-iron stomach could survive anything, even ancient chunks of goat; dripping with what I hoped was melt water from the packing ice. I thanked him and walked to my car, just wanting to get home to wash my hands and put the meat in a safe and closed container in the coldest part of my refrigerator. This meat was going to cook for a good, long time before it entered my mouth. I’ve had worse. I’ve had better. But I must admit that I was looking forward to finding a recipe that fit a home cooked goat meal.

Here, this part of the story ends. All this, just to bring you, my readers, a new recipe for goat curry, or something new, far-fetched, but still goaty. I doubt I have more than a day before I will either throw out the meat (heaven forbid) or use it, so the next 24 hours will entail researching recipes to ensure the greatest goat creation of all time, or at least my time. I am now eager to share with you, within a few days, either the joy of a new goat recipe, or a new story entitled “The Great Hospital Adventure.”

N.B The Great Goat Adventure 2 is up!