Category: Snack

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.

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.

Steak and Blue Cheese Chopped Salad

Steak and blue cheese salad

Steak and Blue Cheese Chopped Salad

Steak and Blue Cheese go together like humans and oxygen. And why not make it better by combining them with salad? This is something I like to make when I have people over because it’s really easy, flavorful, and can readily be tailored to personal tastes, unlike a lot of meals. It is also filling while still being healthful. This dish is more about the process than the ingredients, so I am not including amounts, but I will outline the items I generally use when making it. But again, it is how I make it rather than what I include that is important, so stay tuned for that. If you can grill the steak ahead of time, that will contribute the best flavor, but broiling works as well.

Ingredients
romaine lettuce (my preference for its crunchiness, but you can use any lettuce you want)
red bell pepper
red onion
celery
carrots
cherry tomatoes
avocado
blue cheese (crumbled gorgonzola works well)
steak (cooked to your preference), I love tri-tip or loin tip for its meaty flavor and low price

Ingredients for the dressing
I generally use Italian salad dressing from the packet that you add vinegar, water & oil (olive oil) to. But rather than using red wine vinegar I recommend using balsamic vinegar, which combines exceptionally well with the blue cheese in this salad.

Directions
1. Step 1 is where most of the work comes in. I dice up all the vegetables (except lettuce and avocado)  into small, bite-sized pieces and place them into bowls as preparation for the mixing. The steak should be cooked to your preference and allowed to sit for a while to reabsorb all its juices.  When cool, cut into small pieces, cutting it into strips against the grain, then cutting those strips into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

chiffonade

A chiffonade

2. I then cut the lettuce into a chiffonade. This is when you cut it into small, thin strips (see image). This not only makes the salad easier to eat, but looks really nice when combined with the other ingredients.

3. You then have a choice, you can put everything into bowls and dress, or, my preference is to add the lettuce, carrots, onion, celery, peppers, and cheese into a bowl and add a little less dressing than I think I need (this keeps the calories down and will actually taste just fine). I then mix everything up, which spreads a thin layer of dressing onto everything, then place in serving bowls.

4. Add the steak and tomatoes to the salad. Then scoop out spoonfuls of  avocado onto the salad. I top it off with a little more blue cheese for presentation purposes and serve.

By chopping all the ingredients into small pieces, and coating them well with minimal dressing, you will achieve a healthful salad with a lot of flavor, that doesn’t have to be high in calories. Yes, the blue cheese is not low calorie, but you don’t need a lot of it when you are mixing all the ingredients together, the flavor will carry throughout the salad. This dish always goes over well when I serve it. Some people leave the steak out (my vegetarian brother) and the salad will still taste great.

Caramelized Salsa Verde

Caramelized Salsa Verde

Caramelized Salsa Verde

This is a surprisingly good take on salsa verde, the caramelization of the vegetables adds a wonderful depth of flavor to the classic salsa. I like to serve this warm with tortilla chips, but it works well in place of guacamole, or even with guacamole in tacos and fajitas. I often make it with the green chilies (without the pith and seeds) for a less spicy dish, but the chilies give the salsa a more nuanced character, so I like to include them.

Ingredients
2 pounds of tomatillos (husk removed)
6 green chilies (if you like it spicy)
1/2 of a medium onion, left intact, not cut up
2 garlic cloves
6 sprigs of cilantro leaves, including stem
1 teaspoon lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt to taste

Directions
1. Cut the tomatillos into quarters. If you are using the green chilies, you can remove the seeds and the pith (white ribs) if you like them less spicy, or keep them if you like more heat). Heat the oil in a pan and add the tomatillos, chilies, onion, and garlic. Cook over a medium-high heat, moving the items periodically to prevent them from burning. Cook the vegetables until they have turned a nice brown color, indicating that caramelization has begun. The tomatillos will cook down and lose a lot of moisture, this is normal.

2. When the vegetables have caramelized, place them in a blender or food processor, add the cilantro, lime juice and salt, and puree until smooth. Place in a bowl and serve.

This dish can be served on its own as a dip, or used on food. It can also be served warm or chilled in the refrigerator until ready to use, it will taste great either way.

Caramel Popcorn Balls

caramel popcorn balls

Caramel Popcorn Balls

These popcorn balls are easy to make and disappear in an instant. This recipe can be used to make regular caramel popcorn, however the kids really like the balls and I kind of do too. It also makes them easier to distribute when you can toss them across a room when the time comes. If we want to take them somewhere we put them in little wax paper sandwich bags to keep them safe. Personally, I prefer to pop my own popcorn, however in a pinch I have used 2 bags of microwave popcorn and no one will know the difference.

Ingredients
10 cups of popcorn
1/2 bag of Kraft caramel pieces (about 25 – 30)
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon water
A dash of salt
extra butter for greasing up hands

Directions
1. Put the popcorn in a large bowl, large enough to allow for the mixing of the ingredients as the popcorn will be tossed around.

2. In a medium saucepan, place the butter, water, salt and caramel pieces and over a medium-high heat, melt the caramel, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula to keep it from burning on the bottom of the pan. When melted, remove from heat and keep stirring for a minute.

3. Slowly pour the melted caramel mixture into the bowl while using two large forks to keep tossing the popcorn like a salad. I often recruit my wife to pour while I stir, but it can be done by one person.

3. When the caramel has been incorporated into the popcorn, grab a hunk of butter and rub it all over your hands so they are nice and buttery. This will allow you to shape the balls without the popcorn sticking to your hands. It also adds a nice coating of butter to the popcorn that adds tremendously to the flavor, but isn’t enough to make them greasy. Pick up a handful of the popcorn mixture and shape into a ball. Press lightly to shape them into spheres. You should have plenty of time to do this before all the popcorn cools, as when warm it will shape easily, but if you leave it to cool first, you will have a tough time shaping it into balls.

4. Eat before your kids see them or you won’t get any.