Creamy Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Why make ricotta cheese and add one more thing to do in your busy day? Is it really necessary to make ricotta cheese if I am already making a lasagna that takes too long? The answer is an unflappable yes because the taste is 100 times better than store-bought. Ricotta cheese bought in grocery stores tastes gummy, gritty, and filled with additives to prevent the whey and curds from separating. Ricotta should have a pure milk flavor, not a chemical flavor.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

Another good reason to make homemade ricotta is a small gesture, but a good one. Sourcing milk from small farms will reduce your carbon footprint. Additionally, milk from cows that are allowed to graze, eat a natural diet of grass, and produce hormone and antibiotic free milk, tastes better and is better for our health. Further, clean farming practices and less plastic containers in the world will ultimately make it a healthier and cleaner place.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

I wanted to share this recipe because it is so simple and quick. If you are at all skeptical about starting another project, I believe this is a great way to ease into making ricotta cheese. The recipe makes a small batch, enough to use in pancakes, or to make one of my favorite appetizers, ricotta with lemon zest, mint and honey spread on toasted bread.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta Recipe

This recipe is from the cookbook, Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Additionally, Kenji is the founder of the website, Serious Eats, which I reference a lot. He is all about the science of cooking and puts recipes through rigorous testing to come up with the best practice to produce the tastiest results. This recipe will produce about 1 cup of fresh ricotta and could take 5-15 minutes from start to finish. Another easy bonus is, it is prepared in the microwave.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

However, the recipe is not without its challenges. When I first made it, the bowl I used barely fit inside my microwave. I believe the lack of space around the bowl made an unevenness in the way the milk heated up. The temperature of the milk between the top and bottom of the bowl differed by 10 – 15 degrees. This resulted in producing less ricotta from the quart of milk than the recipe indicated. The next time I made the recipe in the microwave, I used a Pyrex mixing bowl and had better results.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

Keys to Success making Ricotta

You will need an instant read thermometer. Getting the milk to 165F is crucial to making ricotta. It’s important to make sure that the milk doesn’t get too hot and start to boil.

Do not use ultra pasteurized milk. The milk carton label must inform the consumer of the type of pasteurization process. All organic milk sold in the grocery store is ultra pasteurized. This is done to make sure the milk has a longer shelf life. Ultra pasteurized milk will not turn into ricotta cheese since the good bacteria needed to help create the curds is non-existent.

Distilled vinegar produces the cleanest taste. Lemon juice will give the ricotta a distinct lemon flavor. Regardless of which acid you use, the flavors in warm and freshly made ricotta were more pronounced. The flavors mellowed after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. The ricotta became drier overnight as well.

A microwave safe bowl with a wider mouth had better results than an 2 quart liquid measuring cup. Additionally, remember that this won’t work exactly the same across all microwaves.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta reicpe

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe
What to make with fresh Ricotta?

Mix one cup of ricotta cheese with zest of one lemon and 1-2 tablespoons of minced fresh mint. Spread the cheese on toasted baguette and drizzle with honey. It is a creamy, bright and slightly sweet appetizer plus it is easy to prepare.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

Creamy Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 7 minutes

1 cup ricotta

A simple recipe for homemade ricotta and finished in about 5 - 7 minutes. It produces a creamy ricotta, perfect as a spread on toast. (See blog post for ricotta spread recipe). It is a great recipe to use and get familiar with the ricotta making process.

This is a recipe from The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups/ 1 liter whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup distilled vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

Instructions

  1. Line a fine mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and place the strainer over a large and deep bowl. Set aside.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Gently stir. Use a bowl with a 2-quarts capacity. Place the bowl in the microwave and turn on high for 4-5 minutes.
  3. Check the temperature of the milk, if it is not 165˚F / 74˚C, continue to microwave checking every minute or 30 seconds until the milk reaches 165˚F / 74˚C. You will see the milk curdle and the liquid (whey) become clearer and separate from the curds. If the liquid is milky and without a clear separation between the whey and the curds, the ricotta is not finished. There is a 165˚F/ 74˚C to 180˚F / 82˚C temperature window to work in.
  4. Once the milk/ricotta cheese reached the desired temperature, take the bowl out of the microwave and lightly stir for a few seconds.
  5. Use a spider or slotted spoon to scoop out the curds into a cheese cloth lined strainer. Scoop out as much of the curds as possible, then gently pour the remaining liquid into the strainer. Drain the ricotta to your desired texture. 5 minutes will have the creamiest and moist texture. 15-20 minutes will produce a texture that is spreadable and slightly moist. 2 hours or refrigerated overnight, will produce dry and crumbly curds.

Notes

This recipe can be made on the stove top in a large saucepan. Add all the ingredients into a medium saucepan with the heat set at medium to medium-low. Stir the milk constantly and gradually heat the milk to 165F / 74C. Continue as directed to drain the whey.

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© 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

A Taste of Ireland: Irish Cheese Platter

This month I decided to teach myself about Irish food. I know about the usual suspects, but not much else. Realizing there is probably more to Irish cuisine besides corned beef and cabbage, I set out on an Irish food journey. My journey began researching beer which led me down a delightful but windy road to discover Irish cheese.

A Taste of Ireland: Irish Cheese Platter

If, like me, you are not familiar with Irish cheese, then you are in for a treat. In my area, the available Irish cheeses are from Kerrygold. I was concerned this company is a big commercial brand and not one with artisan cheese quality. Typically, large US grocery stores carry cheeses and food from major commercial companies so I wasn’t sure how these cheeses would taste. I knew their butter was outstanding and decided to have an Irish cheese tasting of three different cheeses: Dubliner Irish Stout Cheese, Irish Whiskey Cheddar and Cashel Blue Cheese. What I learned is Kerrygold not just makes delicious butter, they make wonderful cheeses.

Usually, when I make up a cheese platter I select three distinctly different cheeses. For this platter, I wanted to present a region so the types of cheeses I had are more limited. I also like to have fresh and dried fruits with the cheese because the sweetness and acid from the fruit can cut the richness of the cheese. When I have a cheese tasting I serve the cheese on very plain crackers, like Carr’s Water Crackers. That way I predominantly taste the cheese. The plain crackers are also great to clear your palate.

Three Irish Cheeses
A Taste of Ireland: Irish Cheese Platter
Cashel Blue Cheese

My first Irish cheese sample was Cashel Blue. I don’t know if there is a protocol with cheese tasting, like there is at a wine tasting, but I went ahead and dug right into the strongest cheese on the plate. It is a strong blue cheese, but not a biting one. There is a wonderful creaminess to offset the musty veins. We loved it, and I later learned it is an award-winning cheese.  As I was tasting it I was going through my mind of what I would want to make with it, like my Blue Cheese Baby Cheesecakes, or Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots. Yet again, Cashel Blue is just fine by itself paired with Killian’s Red Ale.

A Taste of Ireland: Irish Cheese Platter
Irish Stout Cheese

Dubliner Irish Stout Cheese was the driest in texture and mildest of the three cheeses. I would not classify this as a mild cheese though, as it has a lot of body. This is a Dubliner cheese infused with Irish stout. It has a rich and nutty taste with a hint of malty stout. The stout flavor is mild, yet blended well with the nutty cheese flavor. The color is so buttery and beautiful.

A Taste of Ireland: Irish Cheese Platter
Irish Whisky Cheddar

Irish Whisky Cheddar is exactly as the name states. Oh man, this cheese is delicious. It is a sharp but creamy cheddar with lots of body. There are hints of the caramel from the whisky without the boozy flavor. This is another winner, and in our opinion, one of the best cheddar cheeses we have ever had.

A Taste of Ireland: Irish Cheese Platter

I am no stranger to good cheese. I worked in a gourmet cheese store in NYC and lived my entire life in the States with exceptional artisan cheese companies. There is an obvious connection between areas where there are quality dairy farms and high-end artisan cheese making. All the cheeses are balanced in flavor. You know the phrase, “You are what you ate, ate”? These cheeses deliver in quality flavor because they were made from milk of grass-fed happy cows. I wanted to travel in space and land on an emerald-green coastal pasture in Ireland.

My Irish cheese tasting was a fun and delicious discovery and I will happily do again. Yet, any one of these cheeses would be welcome on any cheese platter.  As recommended, I served an Irish red ale to pair with the cheese, but snuck in tasting some stout along the way. The Irish red ale thoroughly complimented the cheeses, and I did not miss the customary wine and cheese tasting. As the saying goes, “What grows together, goes together”.

If you want to make an Irish Cheese Platter, but can’t find any cheeses in your area, I-gourmet is a very good specialty cheese and food website. They started their business in my hometown of Yorktown and offer a great choice of cheeses and other fun food and gifts items. Click on this link for their “Little Bit of Ireland” selection.

What beer and cheese pairing do you enjoy?

A Taste of Ireland: Irish Cheese Platter

Full disclosure, I am not sponsored by Kerrygold or anybody. This is about my research based on what Irish cheeses and beer are available to me in NY. It is my intention to learn more about Irish cuisine, (and beer), and how I can develop this cuisine into my repertoire. Cheers!

 

 

© 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes

My family knows, they can always give me a cookbook as a gift.  It does not matter if the cookbook is an older publication or a new one, I will always welcome any addition to my collection. This year my husband gave me The Baking Bible Cookbook by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I am familiar with Rose Beranbaum’s work because I own another book of hers, The Cake Bible. She is a one of a kind baking guru and a significant authority about the science involved with baking. If you are curious about culinary science, she is the number one resource. Learning from her cookbooks will make you a better baker.

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes

As I turned each page of my new book I made mental notes to myself of baking projects to try later.  Ultimately, my goal was to find inspiration for something I could make immediately. Upon first sight of her recipe Stilton Baby Blue Cheesecakes, I decided this was the one. These baby cheesecakes enriched with blue cheese instantly grabbed my attention. They were beautifully photographed with slivers of Bosc pears draped over their tops. Additionally, the crust of the baby cheesecakes is made with one ingredient, crushed walnuts. They are a new twist on the classic pairing of walnuts and blue cheese. Add some champagne to serve with these baby blues and you have an elegant party spread for all to enjoy.

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecake

Another great feature of these baby cheesecakes is the blue cheese itself. The combination of blue and cream cheese creates flexibility for the cheesecakes to be served as either an appetizer or a dessert. I can add additional blue cheese to make them more savory, or less to make them sweeter for dessert. As well, they can be made in advance, which is always a plus. I am not usually a cheesecake fan, however this recipe for baby cheesecakes came across as a pleasant surprise. They are savory, sophisticated and unexpected all in one bite.

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecajes

One change I made to the original recipe was to switch the type of blue cheese. The original recipe called for Stilton cheese, which I like, however I love Point Reyes Blue Cheese. It is creamier and not as sharp as Stilton, yet still maintains that distinctive blue bite. This is my favorite blue cheese, and is made in the sacred land of my childhood, the Point Reyes National Seashore in California. I can’t help myself when it comes to Point Reyes Blue Cheese or any of the other cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery. Their cheeses remind me of home and help me feel connected to this treasured seashore.

Dinner Ideas when serving Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes

Serve Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes as a first course with a green salad then  Grilled Sherry Marinated Flank Steak , or My One Pan Chicken Dinner as the main entree.

Serve Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes as a cheese course along with fresh and/or dried fruits at the end of the meal. 

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes

My new book, The Baking Bible, has been christened and I have a new recipe using one of my favorite cheeses. Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes are an elegant, versatile and creamy bite of bliss.

Cheers to a beautiful, happy and healthy 2017. Enjoy!

Helpful Hints Making Point Reyes Baby Cheesecakes:
  1. If using a metal muffin pan, do not skip the step of placing parchment paper into each muffin cup. Even if you have a non-stick pan the parchment will make it a lot easier to lift the baby cheesecakes out of the cups. Additionally, the parchment paper will stick to the pan so you will not have to pull the paper off the bottoms.
  2. Boil water in a tea kettle and then pour into a medium bowl. Use the hot water to heat up a metal spatula or knife and then wipe clean with a kitchen towel. The heated and cleaned knife will make lifting the cheesecakes out of the tins easier and smooth out the edges.
  3. Garnish the baby cheesecakes with fruit, nuts or minced arugula combined with chopped walnuts and pears. Lightly dress the greens with extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar.
  4. If serving as an hors d’oeuvres, serve them on a multigrain cracker. It will taste great and will be easier to manage.
  5. For a first course serve the Blue Cheese Baby Cheesecakes with a salad of arugula and pears, lightly dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar.

 

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes

12 baby cheesecakes

Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes

These delicious Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes can double as a dessert or an appetizer. For a personal touch, feel free to use your favorite strong flavored blue cheese. The original recipe used Stilton cheese in these baby cheesecakes. This recipe is from The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, Stilton Baby Blue Cheesecakes.

Ingredients

  • 1 shy cup (3 oz/84 g) walnut halves
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tb (2.6 oz/75 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 Tb (9 g) cornstarch
  • Kosher salt, a pinch
  • 1 1/3 cups (12 oz/60 g) cream cheese at room temperature and cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup (2.1 oz/35 g) sour cream
  • 2 -3 Tb (35 g - 52 g) Point Reyes Blue Cheese*
  • 2 large eggs lightly beaten

Instructions

    Prepare the muffin pans
  1. 2 - 6 cup silicone muffin pans set on a wire baking rack and placed into a sheet pan Or 1 - 12 cup muffin tin.
  2. For the silicone muffin pans - lightly coat the muffin pans with cooking spray then place them on a wire rack set in a baking sheet.
  3. For the muffin tin - coat each muffin cup with shortening or butter and cut small circles of parchment paper to set in the bottom of each cup. Lightly spray each cup with cooking oil spray.
    Toast the walnuts
  1. Set the oven rack in the middle of the oven and pre-heat the oven at 350˚ F/175˚ C/Gas Mark 4. Let the oven heat up for twenty minutes before you toast the walnuts.
  2. Spread the walnut halves evenly over a small baking sheet, place in the oven and toast the walnuts to bring out the oils and enhance their flavor. Toast for 7 minutes turning the walnuts over a couple of times while baking.
  3. When finished spread the toasted walnuts over a clean lint free dish towel and fold one end over the walnuts to cover. Place your hands over the covered walnuts and gently rub back and forth to loosen and remove the walnut skin. Rub off as much of the walnut skins as you can and place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor. Discard the skins.
  4. Lower the oven temperature to 225˚ F/107˚ C
  5. Pulse the food processor to finely chop the walnuts. You want an even consistency without turning the walnuts into flour.
  6. Spoon 1 Tb of ground walnuts into each muffin cup and press down evenly to pack the walnuts together.
  7. Using a stand mixer or hand held mixer, mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt until just mixed together. Add the cream cheese and beat on low speed until the ingredients are evenly combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until very smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape the batter down the sides of a bowl.
  8. In a small bowl, mix together the sour cream and blue cheese until evenly combined. A fork is great for this job. Add the blue cheese mixture to the cream cheese and mix together on low speed until just combined, about 15 seconds.
  9. Add the lightly beaten eggs and mix until evenly combined. The batter consistency should resemble sour cream.
  10. Pour the cheesecake batter into each muffin cup almost up the top, about 1.8 oz/50 g in each muffin cup. Smooth over the tops of each cheesecake with an offset spatula.
  11. Bake in the 225˚ F/107˚ C oven for 15 minutes. Rotate the muffin pan in the oven from front to back to encourage even baking and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer. The muffins are done when an instant read thermometer reads 160˚ F/71˚ C. The batter will jiggle somewhat and the centers of each muffin will spring back when touched. Put muffin tin and/or baking sheet on a cooling rack.
  12. Allow the cheesecakes to cool in the muffin pan for 30 minutes. Cover the muffin pan(s) with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before unmolding.
  13. For the metal muffin pan: run a small spatula or knife, heated up with hot water, around the edge of each muffin cup. Press the spatula or knife up against the side of the pan to not scrape the sides of the cheesecakes. Clean the spatula with warm water and wipe clean with a cloth for every cheesecake. Lift the cheesecakes out of the muffin cups with a spatula. Smooth the sides of each cheesecake using a small metal spatula that has been heated with hot water and wiped clean.
  14. For silicone muffin pans: Rose Levy Beranbaum recommends placing a baking sheet on top of the plastic wrap-covered muffin pan and turn it upside down. Then place a dish towel in very hot water. Wring out the excess water and drape it over the muffin pan. Make sure to press the hot wet towel into the recesses of the pan. Let it sit for about 2 minutes. Remove the towel and carefully lift off the muffin pan. If the cheesecakes do not release, repeat the above steps, and try again after another minute. Once released, place a second sheet pan on top of upside down cheesecakes and turn them right side up.
  15. Place the cheesecakes on a serving platter and serve.
  16. Store, refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Notes

*To make the cheesecakes more savory add the total 3 Tb blue cheese to the batter. If you want the cheese cakes for dessert use 2 Tb blue cheese.

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© 2016 – 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto

Risotto is food for the gods. It comes from humble origins as grains of rice but develops into creamy luxuriousness that transports you to a dreamy and calmer world. I feel like I am being extravagant when I eat risotto, which is odd because it is essentially a bowl of rice with stock and cheese, nothing fancy, but what a transformation. Say the word risotto, people start to swoon and get weak in the knees. They can only respond by repeating your own words with a subtle exclamation, “Oohhhh rissoootooo, I love rissoootooo.”

The first time I had risotto was many years ago in a very fancy restaurant, Equus at The Castle in Tarrytown NY. It is a 5 star establishment that we were the lucky recipients of a gift certificate to. For our first course my husband ordered risotto and I, not knowing anything about risotto, ordered pumpkin soup. Joe being the generous person that he is, offered me a taste of his risotto. To this day it is the best thing that I have ever eaten. Selfishly, I was tempted to grab his bowl and make a run for it. Fortunately I did not run away and Joe continued to share his risotto with me. My bowl of pumpkin soup was pushed aside as we sat together savoring each bite and melting into our chairs. I do not remember anything else about that meal, only the risotto.

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.
White and Green Cauliflower

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© 2016 – 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.