Fresh Ricotta

Wait!  Don’t run away. I know the thought of making your own cheese sounds daunting, but trust me, this isn’t.  In fact, if you can boil water, you can make your own ricotta.

The first time I made this it blew my mind.  I like ricotta in lasagnas and every other Italian dish that they’re known for, but this?? This I could eat straight out of the strainer.  And I do. Every time I make it.  In fact this time, my daughter came in and asked if she could have some.  “Of course, but leave some for your dad,” I said.  She replied “well this recipe didn’t make very much, there’s barely any here.”   Oops.  Maybe I had already eaten more than my share.

The steps are simple. Pour all the liquids into a pot.  You can use a thermometer for this but really, you don’t need one, you can see when the whey starts separating.  It usually takes about ten minutes before you can see this and start scooping it into your strainer.

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As you can see, it’s very liquidy.  Let it sit for at least ten minutes or so and it starts drying out and looks like this.

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I have this beautiful Malden salt that i toss on top once it’s done.  Beautiful big flakes of sea salt on top of this pure ricotta.  What can you do with this? Well if you don’t eat it all straight out of the strainer, put it on a toasted baguette, use it in your lasagna or any other pasta, I’ve used it in a grilled quesadilla, the options are endless.

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Don’t forget to comment on how it turned out! And how you’ll never buy ricotta again.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2/3 cup whipping cream
  • coarse sea salt

DIRECTIONS:

Combine milk, buttermilk, and whipping cream in a pot over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil until a cooking thermometer registers 185 degrees.  (If you don’t have one, keep an eye on the liquid to see when the curds are separated from the whey).  This should take about 10 minutes.  Stir a few times during the boiling process.

Remove from heat and using a slotted spoon, scoop spoonfuls of the curds into the cheesecloth-lined strainer sprinkling salt over it as you go along.  Let rest for 10 minutes and then check consistency.  If you would like it drier, let it sit longer.

This is best used the same day, but it will stay in the fridge for a day or two.

Adapted from: Framed Cooks

 

Herb & Garlic, Pumpkin Spice, and Blueberry Cream Cheese Spreads

Any Canadian knows the Tim Horton’s franchise.  While I am not known for being a patient person, I would still willingly get into the drive-through line up at Tim Horton’s of minimum 8 cars, (all the time wondering if they were giving away money because the drive-through never seemed to be empty) for my everything bagel with herb and garlic cream cheese.  I never got sick of my bagel and cream cheese to go.

When we had our own shop here, we made bagels.  One day again we will make them and post a recipe, they certainly were pretty darn good.  But of course, being a Canadian girl, I HAD to sell some flavored cream cheese with it.  While I am certainly not a fan of the sweet cream cheese spread on a bagel, of course many are.  And seeing what season it is, I just had to add a Pumpkin spice spread to the mix.  I’m not going to lie, I thought I wasn’t going to like it.  I was wrong.

It’s quite simple to make your own cream cheese spread.  Save yourself the drive-through line-up time.  Make a few different flavors this weekend and keep them on hand for the week.  Make your own bagels with cream cheese, wrap them up in some wax paper, and off you go.  Trust me, it’ll be shorter than a drive-through lineup.

 

HERB & GARLIC CREAM CHEESE

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup fresh herbs (I used dill, but parsley works well)

Combine all ingredients in a food process and process until smooth.  Cover and refrigerate.

 

BLUEBERRY CREAM CHEESE

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar, sifted

Combine all ingredients and process until smooth.  Add more icing sugar if desired.  Cover and refrigerate.

 

PUMPKIN SPICE CREAM CHEESE

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 – 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon EACH cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves OR 1-2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Combine all ingredients and process until smooth.  Adjust spices and sugar if desired.  Cover and refrigerate.

Chinese Black Bean Sauce

“The next time you get a chance, make me some black bean sauce”.” Make you what?” I thought, “what’s that for?”  I have heard that request a few times from my husband over the past year. When we started making Chinese food at home, he started asking for this black bean sauce.  I was so involved in perfecting my Kung Pao chicken, fried rice (ug this one took awhile), beef and broccoli, that I didn’t really think about this black bean sauce he kept pestering asking me for.

To be honest, I really wasn’t very familiar with it.  When I finally did look it up, I sadly realized there was no way I could get the main ingredient: fermented black beans, here in Playa.  Insert sad face here.

That’s where friends come in. We have friends who have a home base in Belize city but spend a lot of time doing volunteer work., so they end up coming our way at least a couple of times of year. Belize has a high population of Chinese people and therefore, fantastic Chinese grocery stores. I knew this already from the times that I have been there, but it has been a few years so it seems I have forgotten the extent to what the stores there offer.  My friend sent me a message a few weeks before they were coming to Playa and offered to visit the local Chinese grocery stores for anything that I could not get here. I was so excited I didn’t even know where to start. Of course, what subsequently happens when someone offers to get you something and you’re super excited?   I don’t know about yours, but my mind goes blank and cannot think of anything.  

I had to do some research. So I got online and searched through as many different oriental recipes I could find, looking through all of the ingredients.  I was happy to find that 90% of the items I could get here, but, there were a few things that I could not. And of course, because there were so many Chinese grocery stores in Belize, the items there were much cheaper than I could find here. I got a list of a few things, which she found quickly. Then I think to torture me she sent a picture of the shelves in the store and I almost passed out from excitement zoomed in and asked for a few more things. What was I most excited about? You guessed it. 

The fermented black beans so I could finally attempt to fulfill my husband’s request so that he would stop pestering me so I could make him happy.

I am aware that YOU can probably buy black bean sauce, making this recipe practically obsolete, but I can’t, so here we are.  Besides that fact, I love trying to create what you can buy packaged straight in my kitchen, it’s fresher, less preservatives, and I can alter the flavor to how we like it. 

I must say, I wasn’t disappointed.  There was one problem though:  the first time I made it I only made enough for one serving. I presented it to my husband after only having two bites myself. Mistake. He inhaled it and I was left with only fragments of flavor on my taste-buds. So this time I made enough sauce for a hungry group of six, and I still have some left in the fridge.   

Want to know what to put the sauce on? You’ll most often see it on noodle dishes, but it can be tossed with poultry, pork, beef, noodles, rice, you name it.  Take a look at my next post which will be up on the blog later today  to see how I prepared it.  

Make up a batch of this today, keep it in the fridge, and tell me what you try it.  

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2/3 cup fermented black beans
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1/4 cup garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup ginger, finely minced
  • 4 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 Tab soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tab water

DIRECTIONS:

Soak beans in water for about an hour.  Rinse and drain.  Mash beans with a fork and set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and ginger and cook for a minute or two until fragrant.  Add green onions and cook for another minute.  Add mashed beans and cook for another minute.  Add all remaining ingredients, except for cornstarch mixture, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or so or until the liquid is reduced.  Stir in the cornstarch mixture and simmer for another few minutes until thickened.

Let sauce cool and keep in airtight container in the refrigerator.  Will keep for up to two weeks.

 

Adapted from: The Daring Gourmet

 

Fennel Fronds Pesto

I have changed a lot over the past few years in how I grocery shop.  In Canada, it was simple: I would make my grocery list, go the the store, get what I needed.  If it was something a little more exotic and was not at the grocery store in town (our last house was actually out of Toronto in the suburbs which eventually I am sure will all be attached, the way Toronto is growing, but that’s another topic on it’s own) I could easily find it in any neighbourhood in Toronto, and either my mother or one of my friends could direct me better than google.

But here, it’s not so simple.  I brought down recipes that I had been cooking for years, would show up at the local Walmart (yes we have Walmart here albeit it’s not quite like your Walmart) or local vegetable markets and look for ginger? nope. leeks? nope. basil? nope.  pizza dough? nope. (coming from a suburb of Italians, this was especially painful). and the list goes on.

Fennel was one of those things.  While it was not something that I used daily or even weekly, when I wanted it, it was one of those items that you couldn’t really substitute, there’s no flavour that matches it.  If you disagree, tell me what else I might be able to find here that could substitute.

I bought the fennel for the Spring Rolls recipe (that I have yet to put on the blog); it’s mostly the fennel and the hoisin that makes the pork and vegetables pop.  I have used fennel seeds in the past, but let’s face it, fresh is always better.

There is a market in our town that’s downtown that has great produce and a great variety of Asian products.  Interestingly, they do not put all the produce out, it’s special ordered for the restaurants.  You have to ask for things like basil and fennel.  I never even bothered asking for fennel until the other day.  I learned the Spanish word for it, and voila! they brought one out for me!  Yes, it may have been the smallest bulb I’ve ever seen ….. but it was fennel and I was happy.  My spring rolls were complete.

But then I was left with these MASSIVE fronds.  I could not just throw them out.  I have a good friend who has lived in Belize for about 20 years.  She is the master at using everything on her counter.  So every time I look at some ends of something I’m about to toss out, I see her face and think, “what can I use these for?”.  You see, in Belize, most groceries are much more expensive than mine and yours, and her and her husband have become masters at not wasting anything.

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So I looked at these massive fronds and thought: pesto, which, to be honest, is usually my go to for anything that’s leftover produce.  I’ve made pesto with different nuts before, but I thought since the fronds were stronger than basil or parsley, the sweetness of the pine nuts would offset the stronger taste of the vegetable.  I think I was right, let me know if you do too.

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Use it in pasta, smear it on your pizza, or on a lovely baguette.  Fresh Parmesan never hurts either.

Happy weekend!

 

Fennel Frond Pesto

2 fennel bulbs
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2  cup olive oil
4 Tab fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Pick off fennel fronds, you should have about 2 cups loose, not packed down. Discard the stalks and save the fennel bulb for another use. Place the fronds in a food processor. Add the garlic, pine nuts, lemon zest, salt, and pepper and process until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl.  With the machine running, add the olive oil and Parmesan through the feed tube and continue to process until the mixture is well combined.

Makes about 1 cup. Keep refrigerated.