Thursday, June 12, 2014

Say Cheese

It’s been awhile since my last post.  This was partly due to a kitchen mishap.  My common sense deserted me and I put my finger into the business end of an immersion blender and accidentally turned it on. Why would I put my finger near the blade?  Well, I didn’t want to leave behind any of my thick sauce on the blender.  That would be wasteful, right?  It’s a hang-up I've had and now I think I'm cured of it.

I'm lucky. The kitchen gods took pity on me because I still have my finger and it will soon be mended.  While I was at the hospital my husband decided to play undercover paparazzi, although at this point I’m only the star of my own kitchen debacle.   I wished he had given me the “say cheese” warning. Then I could have begged him to put his phone down.  But you can see that wouldn’t have helped since I was so focused on the sewing up of my finger. 

I think cheese is vital in so many ways... not only for photography, but most importantly for eating! The mangled finger had to stay dry which limited my ability to cook. Therefore I ate lots of cheese and crackers.  This was good, because I always find cheese so satisfying, but I was really itching to do something more than slicing and stacking.  Then I thought of ricotta. Ricotta is so much better homemade, as it is creamier, lighter, and less grainy than the mass-produced grocery store stuff. I love how it can be used in so many ways- pancakes, pasta, salads, pizza, or simply topped with fruit or spread on toast.
Bruschetta: ricotta sweetened with honey, topped with grilled stone fruit, pecans, olive oil & mint

Pizza: ricotta mixed with pesto, asparagus, tomatoes, sweet peppers
Tart: ricotta mixed with egg and sugar, topped with figs and apricots
Sometimes recipes seem more intimidating than they actually are, ricotta cheese being a perfect example of this. Making it is very straightforward and doesn't require lots of strange ingredients.  Here is your shopping list: milk, cream, lemons, cheesecloth. It also helps to have an instant read thermometer, however it is not vital.  

Ricotta  means "recooked" in Italian and is actually a by-product of cheesemaking.  In traditionally made ricotta, the whey is heated with an acid to create curds.  This recipe is a simplified method that uses milk instead of only using whey.
This recipe is from the book Home Dairy With Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Cheese, Yogurt, Butter & More.

Pasteurized milk is fine to use for making ricotta, but avoid using ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk, as this process changes the protein structure of the milk and prevents it from separating.  Using 2% milk will work too, although your cheese won't be quite so creamy.  If you opt out of using a thermometer, watch your milk carefully.  You want to stop the cooking process just before your reach the boiling point. I've found that Meyer lemons just aren't acidic enough for this recipe.  If the curds are not developing, try adding a little more lemon juice or white vinegar.


8 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup lemon juice or white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1) In a large saucepan, stir together the milk, cream, and lemon juice with a metal spoon. 
 2) Gradually warm the mixture to 170°F directly over medium-low heat.  Monitor the temperature closely with an instant read thermometer or a dairy thermometer to avoid overheating.  Expect this to take about 30 minutes.  Stir only once or twice while heating to prevent sticking; any more and you run the risk of making the curd too small.

3) Increase the heat gradually until the mixture reaches 200°F.  This will take anywhere from 4 to 7 minutes.  Be sure to stop just before the boiling point.  Your curds should look similar to cottage cheese floating in the liquid whey.
4) Remove the pot from the heat, and allow to rest for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, line a colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth.

5) Gently ladle the curds into the colander, and allow the whey to drain from the ricotta for at least 20 minutes.  For a firmer, drier curd, allow the curds to drain an additional 20 to 30 minutes.

6) Add the salt and stir to incorporate.  Use the ricotta immediately or place it in a lidded container and store in the refrigerator.  Use within 4-5 days.

Here is a great way to use your ricotta.  I've adapted the recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook.  It's wonderful on pasta, pizza or even as dressing for sandwiches.

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup pine nuts 
1 cup arugula
1 cup fresh parsley
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup ricotta cheese 

Place first 7 ingredients in a food processor and pulse while slowly pouring in the olive oil.  Scrap down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Transfer pesto to a small bowl and stir in ricotta.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 3 days in a closed container.

For other recipes using ricotta checkout:
Silver Spoon
Baking Illustrated
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chocolate for a loved one.

If you or your loved one doesn't adore chocolate then skip this post.  This is for those who feel that if a dessert isn't chocolate they have been cheated.  It is wonderful--  rich, creamy, lusciously chocolate.  What more could you ask for?  That it is easy to make and doesn't require a ton of bizarre ingredients, done!
Marcy thank you, thank you for introducing me to this fabulous cake.  I have since made it many times and it always elicits moans and requests for the recipe.  So here is your chance to make your loved ones feel cherished with an extra special homemade Valentine.
 It really only takes 7 ingredients, and the hardest thing you have to do is fold in egg whites.  Never done this before?  No problem.  I've included a link with a "how-to" video tutorial.  Now go buy some dark chocolate and get to work.

You can find this recipe from River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  The only tweaking I've done is to bake it longer.  It has the consistency of a molten cake.  If you want a firmer cake add another 1/4 to 1/3 cup of almond meal.

Easy Rich Chocolate Cake

8 oz dark chocolate (60% to 70% cocoa works well)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup fine sugar (sometimes called superfine)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 medium eggs, separated
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup almond meal
whipping cream for garnish

1)Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease a 10 inch spring form cake pan, lining the base with baking parchment.  You can use smaller pans or even ramekins, but watch them carefully, they bake quicker.

2) Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler on low heat.  Stir occasionally until melted.  Take off heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.
3) Beat egg yolks and sugars.
4) When the chocolate and butter has cooled slowly drizzle it into the yolk mixture and mix thoroughly.
5) Fold in the flour and almond meal.
6) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they hold firm peaks.  Adding the egg whites in 3 batches, gently fold them into the chocolate mixture.  I've tried to show you the folding motion, but for more details watch the video from  It also shows you how to separate eggs and beat egg whites.
7) Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes for a 10 inch pan and approximately 25 minutes for ramekins.
8) Let cool for 10-15 minutes before releasing from the pan.  Serve with whipped cream.  And for an extra special touch garnish with raspberries.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Oh for the love of doughnuts!

Hello, are there any doughnut lovers out there?  For myself, a more accurate label might be recovering doughnut addict.  A while ago I decided that the best way to deal with this problem was just to avoid these delectable treats altogether.  I could never (and I mean NEVER) just have 2 doughnuts.  In fact, I break out in a light sweat whenever someone brings them to work.  It ruins my day because these treats have little voices that call out to me no matter where I am in the building.  It takes all of my concentration to assist patrons while I’m fighting the urge to run blindly into the lunch room and inhale two or three of the remaining doughnuts. 

And then some brilliant person created a doughnut pan for bakers.  For a year I resisted buying one, but as of last weekend I am now the proud owner a doughnut pan.  I just had to know if they created doughnuts that are as good as fried doughnuts.   I will be honest with you, fellow doughnut lovers and addicts. They are not the same, but to compare them is not fair.  It is like comparing sorbet to gelato.  But I will tell you they are very, very good and photogenic too!  I always like my baked goods to look like they come from a bakery.  After all we do eat with our eyes too.

So here are my reasons for encouraging you all to consider making your own baked doughnuts:
-The pan is not a huge investment. I bought mine for $9.00.
-Baked doughnuts are easy to make -- no special techniques or ingredients.  It took just 15 minutes to make the batter.
- The recipes are very versatile.  You can get creative with your flavors and toppings.
-Your house doesn't smell like a fast food fry joint.
-They look professionally made and you will impress your family and friends.
-They only take about 15 minutes to bake.
-This one is my favorite.  They freeze really well and then you can reheat them in the mornings and have warm doughnuts to start your days!

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts

This recipe is my favorite one so far.   Yes, you can use it to make muffins instead, but for some magical reason they are much more satisfying to eat as doughnuts.  Recipe adapted from

Makes approximately 18-20 doughnuts

½ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (plain canned pumpkin)
zest of 1 orange
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½  teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour (if you have almond meal try substituting ¼ cup of the flour)
¼ cup granulated sugar mixed with 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

1   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease your doughnut pan.
2   In a large mixing bowl beat together the- oil, eggs, sugar, pumpkin, and orange zest. (I substituted 1/4 cup of the toasted pumpkin seed oil for some of the vegetable oil)
3  In a separate bowl mix together the cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and flour.
4  Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture, stirring just until smooth.
5   Fill the wells of the doughnut pans just ¾ full.  You can use a spoon for this, but for the best results use a plastic ziplock bag-  Fill bag with batter, seal bag and then snip off one corner of the bag.  Then pipe the batter into the pan.
6   Bake the doughnuts for 15-18 minutes.  If you’re making muffins, bake for 23-25 minutes.
7   Remove the doughnut pan from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Then invert the pan onto a tray or carefully remove them with the tip of a butter knife.
Let the doughnuts cool for few minutes and then gently shake them in a bag with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Wet Your Feet With Vinaigrette

No I don't really mean stick your feet into vinaigrette.  I'm just encouraging you to try making a vinaigrette.  It's easy and if you like being creative in the kitchen, vinaigrettes are a very accommodating sauce to make.  If you need or want more specifics than a recipe provides then come to my program "Dress Up Your Salads."  I'm going to share all that I know and love about making this tasty concoction.  
Dates and times are listed at the end of this posting
Here is our haul from the local farmer’s market while on vacation and we decided it would make a great salad.  
Before we left for our trip I was looking over this great cookbook-  Salad For Dinner: Complete Meals For All Seasons by Jeanne Kelley.   I found this unusual vinaigrette recipe that I thought would be fun to try.  If you enjoy cooking (and even if you don’t) vinaigrettes are worth learning how to make.  They are easy to do and can make a boring run of the mill salad turn into fabulous dish with out a lot of effort.  Almost like an edible pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

So get your feet wet and try making a vinagrette

Lime – Ancho Vinaigrette
Surprisingly the earthy quality of the ancho and cumin seasonings worked well with the sweetness of the beets and the lime was a nice counterpoint to the olive oil.

¼ cup lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
You can put all of your ingredients in a jar with a lid and give it a really good shake (which is my preferred way to make this) or in a bowl dissolve your honey, salt, and seasonings in the lime juice.  Then slowly whisk in your olive oil.
For dessert we took the bananas we bought and stuck a fork into them.  Then we dipped them into some melted chocolate chips. Sprinkled the tops some broken up granola bars and froze them.  Simple and satisfying.

Dress Up Your Salads - Program
Wednesday July 17 at 7pm at Fairfax Library 415-453-8151
Wednesday July 24 at 7pm at Corte Madera Library 415-924-3515
Wednesday July 31 at 12pm at Civic Center Library 415-473-6057

Monday, June 10, 2013

Simple & Super Walnut Squares


Our family has been making and consuming these delicious bar cookies for decades.  When we bring them to parties we always get requests for the recipe.  They are very easy and quick to make.  As children we called them Noel Bars and we only made them during Christmas.  One of my brothers adores these cookies and starting asking for them year-round.  So now we called them Walnut Bars.  It is likely you already have these ingredients on hand in your kitchen.  Whip up a batch and I dare you to try eating only one. 
Walnut Bars
1 cup walnuts
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
confectioners' sugar 

1) Use a 9x9 inch baking pan. Put the butter in the pan and place it into a 350 degree oven while you mix the rest of the ingredients.
2) If you are using whole walnuts, chop or break them up into smaller pieces.
3) Mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Then stir in the sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
4) Mix the walnuts into the batter.
5) Pull out the pan and gently swirl the browned butter around in the pan, making sure it is evenly spread out.
6) Carefully drop the batter into the melted butter in the pan.  Do not stir the batter in the pan.
7) Bake for 20-25 minutes. 
8) When the bars have cooled cut them into squares, turn them over and dust with a little confectioners' sugar.
This recipe can be baked in a smaller 8x8 in pan for thicker bars.