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
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.