In late May I made a list of summery things that I was excited to cook — even new kitchen skills I couldn’t wait to tackle and share with you. I remember thinking, ‘this is the year I will become a grill master!’ It was probably right around that time that I talked with our friend Brandon about how I should pitch an article to a major magazine on wedding planning and how it’s really just like running a business: What’s all the fuss about, people? Just make yourself a checklist. Well, this summer has humbled me on both counts. There hasn’t been much innovative cooking coming out of our kitchen (although we’ve become true champs at the BLT sandwich. Sometimes, if we’re feeling really crazy we’ll add avocado). And wedding planning? Someone save me. Let’s get this show on the road already. When I made my bold assertion to Brandon, we’d taken care of all the big things (caterer, music, venue, cake) so it all seemed very, very under control. But as many of you know, it’s all the little details that move into your head and take up valuable real estate — for a chunk of the summer of 2014, as it turns out.
So today as I sit here with an acute acknowledgment that I’m far from a grill master (in fact, we still don’t own a grill), I’m feeling awfully proud to be sharing this recipe for homemade ricotta with you. It was on my ‘make this summer’ list and it really is even better than I could’ve imagined; I’m not really sure why we’ve been buying store-bought tubs all these years, especially considering we’re talking about four ingredients and a mere half an hour to make your own batch. And I’m here to report, too, that homemade ricotta is good on most things: toasts, sandwiches, omelettes, as a dessert with fresh peaches or cherries, in the morning over oatmeal, by the spoonful with a little flaky salt for a quick snack.
This recipe originally comes from my friend Rachael Coyle. She has a wonderful pop up bakeshop each Saturday here in Seattle called Coyle’s Bakeshop, where she bakes all manner of delicious things, from flaky savory croissants to dense chocolate cakes. She sent this recipe many weeks ago as part of her newsletter and I set it aside, knowing there’d come a time when I had an extra afternoon and could whip up my own batch.
The method is quite simple: you’re essentially heating milk and cream and encouraging them to curdle with the addition of acid (here, we’re using buttermilk, but you’ll see some recipes that call for lemon juice or vinegar instead). Then you simply strain the warm mixture, the curds stay behind and become the ricotta, and the whey strains away. Cheesecloth is certainly the easiest way to strain the two parts, but if you have a clean fine-weive dish cloth and a mesh strainer, you’ll be just fine.
I included a few few photos here of the past few weeks at our house — we had a good run of houseguests and visitors which was a nice break in routine. I got to catch up with my Bay Area friends Stacy and Kimberly, eat good cheese and olives, have big slices of nectarine raspberry pie with Andrea, and hang our new outdoor string lights (thank you, Sam).
There have been quite a few things that have happened this summer that weren’t on my list — I suppose this is how those things usually go. I’ve fallen in love with our picnic table all over again, planted a bunch of pretty mums; I’ve been working a really busy farmers market season for Marge Granola, started to turn over ideas for a new book, and planned our 3-week honeymoon. While the season hasn’t looked exactly like I thought it would, it sure hasn’t been half bad.
And amidst all those things, I’ve been eating many, many ricotta toasts. And I hope, now, that you will too.
As Rachael noted in her newsletter, this recipe takes just a few minutes of heating and stirring and then about half an hour of draining. Some recipes don’t add salt at all, and ask that you do so to taste, but I find that the amount here is almost perfect — I end up sprinkling a little additional salt on top, but the ricotta itself is seasoned well to my taste. If you’d prefer a bit more salt in your batch, feel free (but I’d taste it with these proportions first).
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine all four ingredients and set over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When the mixture comes to a boil, turn off the heat and stir gently; small curds will begin to form. Let the mixture sit for several minutes then gently ladle the curds and whey into a (cheesecloth-lined) mesh strainer set over a bowl. Let drain for 30 minutes. Ricotta is now ready to use, or keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Slightly adapted from: Rachael Coyle
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.