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.
May 22, 2008
May 9, 2008
May 4, 2008
May 2, 2008
April 30, 2008
April 28, 2008
April 13, 2008
I did my best to get the household members excited about cultured butter, promising to churn a batch using fresh cream from Hatcher Family Dairy in nearby College Grove, TN. Conveniently, the dairy was represented at Saturday's farmer's market at The Factory, a group of 1929 brick buildings converted to retail space in Franklin, TN. A trip to The Factory was already scheduled: Saturday is Adoption Day at Happy Tales Humane, a "no-kill" animal shelter where my mom volunteers. Two rat terrier pups, the last of a litter that she'd rescued from county animal control, found new families that morning. Congratulations, Cricket and Peanut!
If only the butter had been so successful. I set out three pints of the Hatchers' cream to ripen for several hours. In the meantime, my best friend came over, made us all laugh until our sides ached, and gave me a new hairstyle (v. successful, in my opinion: bobbed and red!). We set about whipping the cream with a hand mixer, visions of buttermilk pancakes dancing in our heads. After half an hour, and attempting to shake the butter in Mason jars, we realized that the endeavor was fruitless-- the cream was frothy, but it hadn't even formed peaks. I retrieved an empty bottle and finally realized that the product was "Whole Cream--Rises to the Top!" Aha. Not heavy cream. Not going to make butter.
Luckily, the fam owns an ice cream machine that exists, as many of its kind, in nearly-permanent hibernation. I adapted Alton Brown's eggless ice cream recipe to make Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream for a dinner party tonight. I'll also be bringing a wheel of Cowgirl Creamery's St. Pat, an organic, soft ripened cow's milk cheese wrapped in nettle leaves. I found it, among a bustling brunch crowd, at Marche Artisan Foods, a new spot in East Nashville. I liked the cheese for its consistency and herbal flavor, and was glad to have found the seasonal cheese. However, I would have chosen Mt. Tam in retrospect: a triple-cream is a crowd-pleaser, and Mt. Tam is all gentle richness. I'm still on the look-out for Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk, a popular washed-rind cheese... probably the most-requested domestic cheese that I didn't sell in my cheesemonger days.
This trip also yielded a regional cheese discovery: Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese produces raw-milk, semi-firm and blue cheeses in Barren County, Kentucky. The Mattingly family was inspired by the cheese production of family farms in Europe, and embraced the concept of farmstead cheesemaking. Their cheeses are produced with milk from their 120-cow herd, and are made with vegetarian rennet. Kenny's Smoked Gouda was the perfect topping for our fajitas over the weekend. We found Kenny's Cheese at Dennison's Roadside Market in Horse Cave, KY, but there are many retailers listed on the company's website.
Tomorrow, I return to Massachusetts. Maybe springtime will be there to greet me.
April 6, 2008
March 31, 2008
March 29, 2008
March 27, 2008
March 19, 2008
- Loose-fitting lid that allows air circulation
- Opaque, five-gallon bucket
- Smaller bucket, punched all over with small holes to allow fresh air to reach the soil
- Metal mesh cylinder running through the center of the soil; empty, to promote aeration
- Layer of soil to prevent odors from escaping and to provide darkness and moisture for the food layer
- Layer of "worm salsa," the worm feed that we prepare using vegetable scraps
- Soil and castings created by our worms, red wigglers and night crawlers
March 18, 2008
- Sterilize seed trays using Melinda's method: wash with soap and water, rinse in a solution of three parts hydrogen peroxide to one part water, rinse with water, and dry.
- Plant seeds in a soilless medium composed of equal parts by volume of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. This mixture holds moisture and is light and fluffy, to promote good aeration. It also creates a sterilized environment for the seeds to germinate.
- Moisten the medium with cooled, weak chamomile tea to prevent damping off of the seedlings. Apparently, chamomile discourages the growth of fungi that cause seedlings to fall over. Mike recommends a solution of one bag of chamomile tea brewed in one quart of boiling water.
- Keep medium moist by bottom watering: place trays in a tub of water for about 15 minutes to allow medium to rehydrate from the bottom.
- Place a heating mat under seed trays and hang a fluorescent light several inches above the seed trays. The light will be kept on at least 12 hours a day after the seeds germinate, and will be raised as the seedlings grow.
- Turn on an oscillating fan to "breeze" the seedlings for an hour or so every day. This promotes stout growth of the seedlings, and prepares them for transplanting outdoors.
- Sow appropriate seeds directly into the garden soil. Beans, squash, beets, and radishes are among Melinda's suggestions for in situ planting.
I should mention that Wonderful Husband Charles thinks that some of the steps above are "hooey." Implementation of my plan may involve "His" and "Hers" seed trays. We'll see who eats the first lima beans and tomatoes. Ha!
We're in no hurry to start our next batch of seeds. Since our garden is going to be a hobby, and since we don't expect it to be our principal source of nutrition this year, we're content to wait until a little more snow melts. When we race to the farmer's market in May, it will be as patrons, not as vendors.
The rare seeds that we ordered didn't have any instructions written on their packets. I liked the seed planting spreadsheet at You Grow Girl. I found the most specific information on frost dates here.
If you ran out of toilet paper rolls to make the seed cups in my previous post, check out the instructions on Seeded for making seed cups out of newspaper.