Tag Archives: homemade

Adventures in Cheese Making

The other day I posted some pictures of my gigantic handmade lasagna, and mentioned that the cheese encased within its bubbly layers was totally handmade.  I promised to drop the skinny on you, so here it is, the story of my big cheesy adventure.

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Would you believe everything you need to make cheese is pictured above? For serious. That's all there is to it! Of course, if you get into some more serious kinds of cheese, you'll probably need more ingredients. But for Ricotta and a simple Paneer, these staples will do you. According to some rumors I've heard you may even be able to make Queso Fresco from these simple ingredients. (Be still my heart!) 

Ricotta Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon Whole Milk
  • 2 Cups Cream
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 6 teaspoons Lemon Juice

I got my Ricotta recipe and instructions from this very thorough article posted on the foodie blog, Eggs On Sunday.  Though the recipe originated on Epicurious, Eggs on Sunday provides some valuable insight and tips to make your Ricotta come out perfectly on the very first shot.  Eggs on Sunday opted to half the original recipe, but because I am totally nuts, I decided to double it.  The process is very simple: Gently heat the milk, salt, and cream to a simmer, carefully stirring the entire time to keep the milk from scalding. At simmer, add the lemon juice (all at once), give it one quick stir, then let it sit for one minute. Stir again, sit another minute, then stir and simmer for two more minutes.  Immediately drain the pot into a cheesecloth and colander and allow it to drain for an hour.  Once the curds have cooled you can squeeze some of the excess water out of the cheese cloth.  Boom! You have a batch of frash, handmade Ricotta, the creamiest, richest Ricotta you probably have ever tasted. This stuff would make INCREDIBLE canolis.

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Here is a shot of my Ricotta. This is roughly half of the cheese I made. The other half I reserved for making Paneer.

Paneer begins where the Ricotta enters the colander to drain.  After the cheese entered the colander, I carefully spooned out the portion I was using for my Ricotta and drained it seperately.  I allowed my Paneer curds to cool slightly, then began squeezing out the moisture through the cheescloth. Squeeze, squeeze squeeze.  This was sort of messy, so I suggest doing this over the sink.   After I was done squeezing, I wrapped my cheese intoa bundle, and squicshed it onto a dish, making it about 1 inch thick.  I topped the bundle with another dish, and weighed it down with a giant can of tomatos.  This helps to squeeze out the last of the water.  I let the cheese drain for about an hour, then removed the cheese cloth.  Neato completo, my cheese was finished.

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While my Paneer came out pretty well, there are a couple of things I will do differently next time.  Firstly,
I plan to have two colanders and two cheesecloths on hand to drain the
pot of cheese.  This will make separating the two portions of cheese
easier.  Instead of spooning away, I'll simply pour half into each
colander.  Second, I plan on salting the curds after they enter the
colander. The cheese was rich and creamy, but a little bland for
Paneer. I am also playing with the idea of spicing the curds.  You can
check out the original recipe for Paneer posted by Emma on The Kitchn.  Check out the comments, as there are some great tips avaialble.

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The Mother of All Lasagnas

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Behold. Lasagna! But not just ANY lasagna. Oh no. You're looking at a a lasagna made from (by my estimation) about 75% handmade materials. I made the sauce AND the ricotta from scratch, browned up some turkey meat simmered in the homemade sauce, and used store bought lasagna noodles and mozzarella. I am so looking forward to biting into this monster, but I am patiently letting it set while I wait for Scott Bobleo to get home.

He'd better hurry, because this thing is calling my name.
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P.S. More on the cheese making tomorrow!

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Estoy en amor con un queso

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<——- Queso Fresco, my new favorite cheese.  One of the great things about living in Danbury, CT is that there is a huge variety of hispanic, south american, and latin foods on hand.  Since these tend to be my very favorite foods, you could say that a trip to my local C-Town is for me, what outlet shopping is to fashionistas. I love me some mystery ingredients, and C-Town is swimming in them.

I’ve only just recently begun to really dive into my newfound passion for cooking. I have always loved the idea of cooking, but in the past couple of years I have really come to love and appreciate every little bit of it.  Perhaps this appreciation is due to my experience formulating bath and body products. Dealing with scents from the construction perspective forces you to pay attention to different layers of scents and aroma, pulling apart a single fragrance into a variety of notes.  I suppose it is only natural that the same concept would begin to apply to the food I was cooking at home.  Only with food, there is a whole other level to excite me, FLAVOR.  Aroma, flavor, texture, the whole package just gets me all riled up.

Anyway, my point was that since I am a relative beginner to the kitchen arts, there are many many ingredients that are completely foreign to me.  Visiting a grocery store like C-Town is really thrilling, because it reminds me just how far I have to go when it comes to learning to cook. Queso Fresco is just the first of many ingredients that will thrill me, but it really is something special.  Looking for a taste sensation? Make yourself some enchiladas and fill those bad boys with a mixture of Queso Fresco and shredded chicken.  Pair it with some Jasmine Rice boiled in chicken broth, turmeric, paprika, and sofrito. So so so good.  The Queso won’t really melt inside the enchilada. Instead, it holds a
soft, spongy kind of texture similar to Indian Paneer, but with a much
stronger flavor.  Speaking of Paneer, my next intense cooking mission is to make a batch of it at home, then attempt to create a simple Indian dish for it to swim in. Maybe Palak Paneer? Maybe? We’ll see.

Want to learn more about Mexican Cheeses? Check out this page, it covers all the basics!

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Saucy & Thrifty!

Making homemade marinara sauce is pretty ding dang easy, and it can save you a load of cash, especially if you make large batches. Marinara freezes well, and spends most of it's cook time simmering unassisted, needing only the occasional stir to keep it on the right track. Easy, peasy, and amazingly cheap.

Here's how I make mine:

  • 1 Giganto Can of Diced Tomatoes
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Olive or Veg. Oil
  • 3-4 Small Onions (or 1-2 Large Onions)
  • A Few Tabelspoons Minced Garlic
  • Some Random Herbage
  • Extra Ingredients as the Mood Strikes Me (Red Pepper Flakes, Roasted Peppers, Cheese, etc.)

Sauce 1

Pictured above are some of the basic ingredients. I also use 3-4 small onions, and some Olive Oil. (Vegetable Oil can also be used instead.) Most folks already have at the very least a shaker of "Italian Seasoning" hanging around in the cupboard. This alone will do just fine, but if you want a little more control, try picking up some basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, and/or cumin. Having fresh herbs on hand is awesome, but not necessary. If you love using fresh herbs, but want to make it more economic, you can freeze any unused portion inside a slightly dampened paper towel and a plastic bag.

Simple sauce can also be jazzed up with other ingredients. I like to make it a little different each time by adding things like Roasted Red Peppers, Parmesan Cheese, or by spicy Red Pepper Flakes.

Sauce 2

Start out by adding a few tablespoons of Olive Oil to a large pot. Load up the pot with plenty of minced garlic, and whatever seasonings you like.  Turn the heat onto a lo simmer and cover the pot.  Allow the herbs and garlic to infuse their flavors into the warm oil for about 15 – 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, dice up some onions.  Turn the heat to around med-low and add the diced onions.  Allow them to slowly cook until they begin to clear.

Sauce 3

Now, open your massive can of Diced Tomatoes and pour them into the pot. Stir the mixture well, and turn it up to med-high. Keep an eye on the pot as it comes to a boil, stirring now and then.  When it finally starts bubbling, bring it down to a simmer and let it cook for about 30-45 minutes with the cover off. You should check on it occasionally, but there is no need to hover over the pot. Let it be, and do something more exciting with yourself while it simmers. (Tip: Opening giant cans really sucks. If it's an option, make your husband/boyfriend/domestic partner do it. If that's going to happen, put on your best Rose the Riveter face and come at the can like you caught it using your good sewing shears to open blister packs of electronic gadgets.)

Sauce 4

Now that the sauce has gotten some cook time in, it's time to smooth it out.  This can be done two ways: the easy way, and the hard way. The easy way is to stick an immersion blender (or stick blender) in the sauce and blend it until it is smooth. This takes around 30 seconds.  If you don't have a stick blender, you'll have to do it the hard way.  Allow the sauce to cool down, then put portions of it in a normal blender and blend. After you've blended it all, return it to the pot and reheat it. This takes, like, forever. Alternatively, you could blend the tomatoes before adding them to the sauce. Also annoying, but less time consuming. (Tip: Stick blenders can be purchased for as little as ten bucks at Big Box stores. I love my fancy stainless stick blender, but I also have one I use for soap making that cost about ten bucks at a Walmart <insert GASP here>. It works just fine.)

After blending the sauce, let it simmer on low heat for another 30-45 minutes with the cover off. Cooking it down makes it nice and thick. Quit cooking it as soon as it is thick enough for your own taste. If you love it dense, you can just keep on cooking for as long as it takes. If you like it thin, you won't have far to go!

Sauce 5

And that, my friends, is all there is too it.  Let the sauce cool, and jar it up! If you want to freeze it, be sure to package it in plastic tubs or in freezer safe glass.

By the way, this recipe makes about 3 jars worth of sauce. (Give or take, depending on how far you cook it down.) If you really want to save time, get a bigger pot and double this recipe.  6 jars lasts an awfully long time.  Based on how much I pay for my ingredients, the cost of each jar works out to about $1.00 – $1.50. Most folks will already have spices, oil, and garlic at home, but even if you started with nothing, you'd only need to make an investment of around 20 bucks to stock your pantry with everything needed to make sauce on a regular basis.(Tip: Save yourself some heartache and confusion by marking the date the sauce was made on the lid. Washable Crayons/Markers, or blank sticky labels work quite well.)

Happy Saucemaking! If anyone has special homemade sauce tips, please share them in the comments.

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