June 21, 2008
June 5, 2008
Last week, an article in The New York Times praised the simplicity and versatility of fresh ricotta. Several chefs declare that fresh ricotta can be profoundly delicious when served with a few intensely-flavored ingredients. I had never considered ricotta to be a destination cheese, rather a quick stop on the journey of making lasagna, but I'd also never made my own. My copy of Home Cheese Making in hand, I decided to follow the chefs' advice to make a batch of ricotta.
Traditionally made from the leftover liquid of cheesemaking, true ricotta is a whey cheese. The butterfat and casein (curd-producing protein) of the milk have gone into the first cheese, leaving albuminous proteins and a bit of lactose floating around in a lot of water. Whey ricotta (ri cotta, "to cook again") is produced by convincing those albuminous proteins that they want to be cheese, too. This is rather tricky to do, and whey ricotta is a very low yield cheese: even the experts expect to produce only a cup or two of ricotta from two gallons of whey. I have had very limited success producing ricotta from my mozzarella whey; however, the few curds I did manage to round up were quite tasty.
The chefs in the NYT article either had whey ricotta flown in from Italy, or they made whole-milk ricotta in their kitchens. Whole-milk ricotta eliminates the need for fresh whey (and a day of cheesemaking), and it offers a yield of up to two pounds of cheese per gallon of milk. Raw milk may be used, because the high temperatures required to curdle albuminous protein also pasteurize the milk.
The cheesemaking process is simple, the only special ingredient being citric acid, which I didn't have. I squeezed some fresh lemon juice into the milk, then heated it until it curdled around 180°F. The curds formed more gradually than I expected, likely due to the lemon juice substitution, but they tasted fresh and sweet. I will look for citric acid to try in future batches of ricotta; I've heard it can be found at the pharmacy. I've also seen recipes that call for fresh buttermilk.
I drained the ricotta for only a few minutes, keeping its texture a little loose like cottage cheese. We were surprised by the sweetness of the ricotta, which isn't notable in the cheese from supermarket tubs. Its sweetness foiled our appetizer of ricotta on garlic toast; however, I imagine that ricotta and tomato would make a toothsome bruschetta topping.
Though my savory applications of fresh ricotta need a little fine-tuning, the next morning's breakfast combination was dead-on. A dollop of ricotta on cinnamon-raisin Ezekiel bread with a drizzle of honey and scattering of walnuts... mmm, divine.
May 29, 2008
Let's take a closer look at the features of the compost pen that Charles designed and built. It's a simple structure, but its features improve the flow of collecting, turning, and harvesting compost. Charles also minimized the cost of building the pen by using salvaged and free materials.
1. Drain tile is set into a foundation of compacted dirt, which slopes toward a drainage trench at the rear of the pen. The trench is filled with cobblestones, which were collected from the yard.
2. Charles had intended to fill the bottom of the pen with gravel, but changed his mind when a neighbor offered a supply of wood chips. Wood chips are appropriate for this application because they absorb moisture and encourage compost-benefical insects. Wood chips are also preferable to gravel because some of the base layer will inevitably be integrated into the compost during turning. A layer of wood chips in front of the pen provides an area to stand while adding to and turning the compost.
3. The wood used in the frame was left over from the house construction several years ago. By saving wood and other materials, the homeowners have a collection of usable materials for many projects, and avoided contributing to the huge amount of waste accumulated by residential construction. According to the National Association of Homebuilders' Research Center, construction of the average 2000 sq. ft. home generates 8000 lb. (50 cubic yards) of material waste, 3000 lb. (11 cubic yards) of which is wood.
4. Charles's original plan called for 1 cm square-grid "hardware cloth" to line the pen. However, lighter-gauge chicken wire was a quarter of the price of the hardware cloth. Doubling the chicken wire created a 1.5 cm grid at half the cost.
As you can see, Charles's building techniques include using salvaged materials, working with materials provided by the site, and designing creatively. Whether you live in a rural or urban environment, opportunities exist to reduce the cost and resources used for your project.
May 26, 2008
What next? Before we leave town this weekend, we'll need to transplant our seedlings and sow the remaining seeds into other garden plots.