Ricotta revisited

roasted peaches + ricotta

The first experience I remember with ricotta was somewhere in high school. This was the era where Food Network seemed like it had a wider relevancy that it does now and I would watch Giada, Ina, and Nigella with rapt attention. Giada’s recipe for stuffed shells is one of the first real independent cooking experiences I remember. I assembled all my ingredients and got to cooking with the naive hope that it would be as glamorous an experience as her show made it out to be. Our household, being staunchly of a Korean culinary standard, had rice paddles aplenty but nary a cheese grater to be seen, so I made do with the awful powdery Parmesan in the widely recognizable green container. This was the first disappointment. The second, and most memorable, was ricotta. The only ricotta our small Southwestern town seemed to have was the ones in the white plastic containers you can still find next to the cream cheese and deli meats. As ricotta, being a cheese and all, was categorized in my mind as things you indulge in with moderation… I expected it to be on par with chocolate and pastries (ie those diet no-no foods you should stay away from if you want to keep in accordance with the standards of adolescent peer pressure and self-esteem). Imagine my disappointment when the ricotta violently slurped out of the container, intact like cheese jello, with a foreboding ‘plomp’ and jiggle. It tasted not much better than it sounds. Thankfully if you mix it with marinara sauce and add cheese and pasta… it doesn’t taste half bad – granted it’s largely because the ricotta was tasteless and just added the necessary consistency to the dish. In spite of all these disappointments, the stuffed shells turned out relatively well.
Long history aside, as there seems to be a revival of homemade, do-it-yourself food culture scene these days, I slowly became interested in the concept of making homemade ricotta. I decided to give it another chance largely through reading things like this. Would it surprise you if I said it resulted in a complete 180? Ricotta and roasted peaches were my lunch for a few days straight until it ran out, and with it my dreams for a ricotta/spinach pizza situation (next time, Gadget, next time). It had a rich, creamy texture (not at all grainy like the bland grocery store option), and sweetly delicate flavor. It felt decadent like a cheesecake without the heaviness that makes you feel slightly ill afterwards. Peaches are insanely good right now so if you can bear to spare a few fresh ones, roast them up – it brings out the natural sweetness and is simply wonderful when nestled in a few good spoonfuls of fresh ricotta. I alternated between topping the plates with mint sugar and raw honey and preferred the raw honey – although the crunch and freshness of the mint sugar is nothing to sneer at.
I suppose ‘cheese-making’ makes people lose interest about as fast as can be as it sounds like a complicated endeavor. It’s not. I made it and even had time to do my hair for once. The execution is incredibly easy and the yielded benefits are infinite. Smear it on toast and top with some veggies (or even a good drizzle of olive oil and a dash of sea salt and pepper) for a quick snack, put it on pizza, pair it with pasta, whip up some roasted peaches, cherry, or rhubarb . Be all Giada-esque with your impressive culinary skills and perfect hair.

roasted peaches + ricotta.3

roasted peaches + ricotta.2

Ricotta + Roasted Peaches + Mint Sugar
Recipe for roasted stone fruit + mint sugar adapted from Hungry Girl Por Vida.
Recipe for ricotta adapted from Delancey by Molly Wizenburg from Orangette.
Time:  About 2 hours     Yield: 1 lb of ricotta

Ingredients:

Ricotta:
6.5 cups of whole milk *
1.5 cups heavy cream * (I used half-and-half because I forgot to buy heavy cream)
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp fine sea salt

* use the best tasting milk and cream you can find

Roasted peaches:
Peaches – as many you’d like, not overly ripe.
Sugar – whatever kind you prefer (white/granulated, raw, turbinado, etc) enough to sprinkle

Mint Sugar:
0.5 cup fresh mint leaves
0.5 cup white granulated sugar

Directions: 

Ricotta:

  1. In a heavy pot (enough capacity for 5 quarts), combine milk, cream and buttermilk.
  2. Place over medium heat and stir, stirring occasionally.
  3. Check temperature at regular intervals with a candy thermometer and when it reaches 180°F, stop stirring.
  4. Continue to cook until you can see the curds (chunky white) and whey (yellow-ish liquid) separate – you can better see by dragging a wooden spoon along the top .
  5. Remove from heat and let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  6. Line a wide strainer with two layers of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl or sink. Ladle the curds into the cheesecloth (don’t press down on the curds).
  7. Drain until it has reached your desired consistency.
  8. Store in fridge. Tastes best within the first 3 days.

Roasted peaches:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Wash and dry fruit, cut in half, remove pit.
  3. Place fruit cut side up on baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar.
  4. Roast in oven for 25-30 minutes or until the fruits become soft and start to release their juice a little.

Mint sugar:

  1. Pulse together mint and sugar until thoroughly combined.

To serve:

  1. Place a few spoonfuls of ricotta on plate. Add a peach halve or two. Sprinkle with mint sugar. Alternately drizzle with honey.

Current Reads

photo (3)

I am horrifically, hilariously bad at most things athletic and not much better at being social. While most kids were joining summer sports leagues and being all sociable and sporty, I was at home with a stack of book and snacks. My adolescence was a chubby, usually solitary, quiet, and generally happy existence – most hours spent with my nose in a book. Things haven’t changed much.
About a year ago, I re-discovered how great the library is. I had become used to just buying all my books off Amazon but this can get kind of expensive, and creates permanent & astonishingly annoying piles of books everywhere (this is especially poignant for those who have attempted a big move recently). It makes me laugh at how conducive to introverts the library system can be. You can reserve books online, get an email when they’re ready for pick-up, go to the library and find them on the designated ‘reserve’ shelf, and electronically self-check them out… all without interacting with a single human being. It might be the best/worst thing ever – another snippet of the technological evolution?
The current books cluttering up my nightstand and coffee table (but only temporarily, hallelujah):

 

boo
I’m currently in the middle of this book and I am stunned by its beauty, honesty, and its compelling indictment of social and economic inequality. It is a work of narrative nonfiction and highlights sociopolitical problems through the stories of families that live in the slums of India. I’m guessing that this will become a favorite and will have to make its way into my more permanent book collection.

moyes

I just reserved this at the library and am looking forward to delving into it. I heard about Moyes’ book ‘Me Before You‘ through the grapevine, picked it up, and (I’m a little sheepish about admitting this) sobbed my way through the end.

flynn

I had mixed feelings about this book. At times, I was laughing at its sharp and biting look into marriage and at others just astounded at the dysfunctional lives of the characters. I wanted to just suggest massive therapy for everyone. It’s classified as a mystery/thriller and centers around the disappearance of Nick’s wife, Amy and is a rather dark page-turner.

roach

If you’re uncomfortable talking about sex, than this recommendation doesn’t apply to you. Roach delves into the (very very weird) realm of scientific research resolving around sex & arousal. I really enjoyed it. It was hilarious, informative, and entirely engrossing. She has many other books revolving around different scientific areas (Spook, Gulp, Stiff, and Packing for Mars). I’m hoping to acquire at least one in the next library haul.

kidd

I had high hopes for this book but was a little disappointed in the end. It is a book set in the South and is rife with racial tension, beautiful prose, and the wonderfully characterized life of the beekeeping Boatwright sisters. Although the ending and the cliche sassy Mammy bits were predictably and annoying, it was overall a pleasant read.

Is it weird to write in your online (kind of public but not read by many) journal about books you’ve read? It was kind of fun to recap and review current reads but the inner critic in me is berating me for being silly. Well, I enjoyed it and like having these types of lists around so inner critic be damned (haha). Now my inner critic is telling me to stop publicizing my inner conversations with myself… Ha.

Happy Reading.

Try, try again.

fattoush.2

There is a magnet that has resided on my parents’ fridge for as long as I can remember and, for some reason or another, made the migration with me when I left for college. It has a saying on it that is indelibly imprinted in my memory: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day that says, I will try again tomorrow.” These quotes often pass by in the course of daily life and I’ll try to store them away in my mind, because they are good thoughts to have. Unfortunately, they don’t really have any substantive meaning unless you feel you are actively failing or struggling with budding hopes or long-held dreams. It’s probably true, what they say. You should be brave. Have courage. Keep trying. Ironically, in the struggling hour, my inclinations to be of the scrappy breed vanish, and all I can muster is a moment or two of wallowing… a blessed hour or so of ‘not trying.’

Over the weekend, I found myself looking through pictures from our travels to Greece two summers ago. The memory of that trip always makes me smile. It came on the tails of the first year of graduate school and an internship in Chisinau – a year of busy-ness, exhilarating and exhausting work, and weeks in a foreign city often feeling lonely. At the end of the internship, Neal met me in Chisinau and we flew to Athens.

parthenon

After a day or two, we took a boat to Santorini. It was incomprehensibly perfect. We would buy salty peanuts and weak but icily refreshing lagers from the local convenience store and sit outside on our little porch for hours – talking, reading, and making a point to watch the sun make its final journey of the day. We were, shamelessly, of the bad tourist variety and would forgo trips to the historic volcano sites in favor of warm beaches and chilled cocktails. It was a brief interlude of not trying at anything, not even a little bit… and it was so good.

santorini villa (1)
santorini beach
santorini sunset

I recently made Fattoush which… is not Greek cuisine but a Lebanese dish. Something about it reminded me of our time there though. I think it was the way the watery crunch of cucumber and radish mixed with the sharp vitality of herbs and sumac… they way the flatbread rounded it all out with its hearty chew. We ate a lot of Greek salad and souvlaki sandwiches during our time there and this fattoush salad had a lot of flavors that were reminiscent (to me and my relatively untrained taste buds) of that. All this salad requires is a a few chops of herbs and vegetables, and a quick tearing of bread. It’s surprisingly flavorful and satisfying for something that requires so little effort. In a way, it’s perfect for those moments when we need a break from ‘trying.’ Let’s take a collective deep breath, relax, have some time to lick our battle wounds and have a plate of something that doesn’t require that we turn on a kitchen appliance. I hope it will help summon that quiet voice and inner strength that pushes us to try again. Because tomorrow is another day. :)

fattoush

Fattoush
Adapted from Jerusalem (Yotam Ottolenghi & Sam Tamimi)

I found sumac in the spice section at my local Whole Foods Market. If you can’t find it but want to, you can order it online (maybe here or here?). Sumac has a sour, slightly acidic flavor. I’m sure you could also substitute by adding more lemon juice and vinegar to taste.

Ingredients

1 2/3 c. buttermilk   (or you can substitute with 1 c. Greek yogurt + 2 tbsp whole milk – whisk together at let sit until you see bubbles form at the surface or at least 3 hours)
2 large stale flatbreads or naan
3 large tomatoes, diced
4 large radishes, thinly sliced
3 Lebanese/Persian/mini cucumbers, diced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
small handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
large handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed/grated
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 c olive oil
2 Tbsp cider/white wine vinegar
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sumac (or to taste)

Directions

  1. Mix garlic, salt, pepper, and buttermilk/yogurt mixture together.
  2. Tear bread into bite-sized pieces and place in large mixing bowl. Add milk mixture.
  3. Add rest of ingredients to bowl, mix well, and leave for 10 minutes to allow flavors to combine.
  4. Spoon onto plates or in bowls, drizzle with olive oil (if desired) and garnish with more sumac (to taste).

Zuni Cafe // The Mill

photo1 (7)It’s no coincidence that I live near a city that has more restaurants per capita than any other in the US. It goes without saying that there are other {maybe more rational and useful} reasons why we moved to the Bay Area. And yet, YET… I’m no fool. I know that the 7 square miles that is San Francisco proper is packed with the kinds of restaurants and foods that I could only previously read and dream about. And so… when we moved here I started a list of sorts of those places that I’d read and dreamt about. Here’s hoping we can make a sizable dent in that list without making a sizable increase in our waistlines. :)

Zuni Cafe is iconic San Francisco {in my own head, that is… SF can be many things to many different people}. It’s food and recipes have been written about and revered by those that I admire and revere. Have you ever hyped something up so much in your mind only to meet with… well, less than expected results? I really want to be a realist {who borders on the optimistic side} but often find that my imagination runs away with me and my fancies take on soaring heights only to meet, at times, with an unforgiving thud of reality. All this to say – and I am quite happy to report –  that Zuni Cafe was definitely not one of these instances. The interior was fresh, airy, and had an indescribably home-like quality. It felt like a place you could meet up with friends and family and feel as if you were hosting a fabulous weekend dinner at your fabulous home instead of at a restaurant. I desperately wanted to try the famous roasted chicken but we both felt unwilling to endure the 1 hour wait time. With resolutions to try the chicken next time, I ordered the House-ground grass-fed beef hamburger on grilled rosemary focaccia with aïoli and Zuni pickles. Neal got the wood-fired Pizza with ricotta salata, tomato sauce, and oregano.

photo1 (6)

I’m no professional food critic but I will say that this was one of the most pleasant meals I have ever had the privilege to take part in. I love an establishment that focuses on quality ingredients served with expertise and grace. The meal was simple and delicious… unflinchingly honest in its presentation and admirable in its restraint. My burger was served simply with a few leaves of spring lettuce and nothing more. It did not need the added benefit of the small tins of mustard and ketchup that came along with it as it was perfectly flavored and meaty without being heavy. I often overlook the pickles that come along with such dishes. They often seem to be put on the plate as an afterthought and taste not much better. My dish came with two unassuming piles of pickled zucchini and red onions. The zucchini was perfectly fine but the star of the show were the red onions. They were fresh, perfectly acidic, and pleasantly sweet.
photo2 (6)
We were sitting right in view of the kitchen and, it seems, the appointed pizza maker of the day. I watched mesmerized as he methodically stretched dough, applied a single ladle of sauce, and put each pizza in the wood oven with care. I will eat pizza in most of the varied forms that you can find on tired, stained delivery menus {the kind eaten from the box, on the couch, with trashy TV blaring}. When pizza is done right, that is when I sit up and take notice. There was no over cheesed, bready nonsense here… in fact it only had a swift grating of cheese post-oven. This was simple, straightforward pizza and the veritable envy of all the other kids on the block. I found myself not caring for the flavor of the ricotta salata but Neal loved it. So much so that I could barely get a picture in before it was gobbled down.
We topped off our adventure with a trip to The Mill. I find myself talking to people back home about $4 toast – the latest culinary trend to hit the area. Most people look uninterested at best and at worst, really confused as to why I’m talking about toast. I guess it only makes sense if you live here. The Mill is a collaboration between Josey Baker Bread and Four Barrel Coffee. They sell really good bread and really good coffee. I got toast with house-made nutella and a latte while Neal {still too full from Zuni} got an iced coffee. The toast was pretty good – nice crust and chew – and the nutella was so much better than the commercial brand. The commercial brand is a little too sweet for me. My latte was fantastic but Neal and I were both a little disappointed in the iced coffee. I much prefer this version. :)

photo5 (1)

All in all, it was a fantastic day. Lest you think I’m the kind of person who brags about all the good food she’s eaten without giving you something you can take away from all my ramblings… I leave you with a beloved recipe for pickled red onions from Zuni Cafe. I mostly make these in the summer for some reason. There’s something just so satisfying about slurping down some cold, spicy, sweet pickles in the summer heat. They’re great on salads, in sandwiches, with a side of goat cheese and crusty bread, or… eaten standing up by the refrigerator with fork and trashy magazines in hand. ;)

Pickled Red Onions
Adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Time:  40 minutes                      Yield:  about 3 pint sized mason jars

Ingredients: 

4 c. distilled white vinegar
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
4 whole cloves
2 pinches all spice
1 small dried chili
20 ish whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 lb red onions

Directions:

  1. Combine all but onions in a medium/large saucepan. Bring to a boil.
  2. While the brine is heating, slice onions into half rings. Make them about 1/2 inch thick.
  3. When the mixture boils, add about 1/3 of the onions and stir them under. (Note: I’ve heard it’s important to use wooden spoons here as aluminum can discolor your final product). After about 15 seconds or so, you will see the brine beginning to simmer again around the edges of the pot. Stir the onions under again and spread out on a baking sheet to cool.
  4. Repeat with the remaining onions.
  5. When onions and brine are thoroughly chilled transfer onions to jars and cover with brine.
  6. They will taste best if you wait 24 hours before you consume. They will keep in the fridge for quite some time.

 

Summer corn + tomato salad

 

corn tomato salad (1)Have you been watching the World Cup? I’m so not a cool sports girl but I’ve always enjoyed watching the Olympics and the World Cup. I love the ability that international sporting events have to connect people. Yesterday my Uber driver , who was from Honduras, and I had an animated conversation about the games all the way to the train station. It was a bright spot in an utterly Jonah day.
Summer is made so much sweeter when you have napping and well loved sports events to while away the lazy weekend hours. Another summer bonus is the bounty of sweet corn that springs up and lays front and center in those big wooden produce bins at every grocery store. Sweet corn and cherries definitely top my list of perfect summer treats.
The idea to make this summer salad dawned on me as I was standing in the checkout aisle at Trader Joe’s {aka dangerous territory}. There is every manner of chocolate and candy treats and these sweet lime chili almonds that always beckon my curiosity {and my dollars}. On this day a small bag of small San Marzano tomatoes caught my eye. I hurriedly brought my treasures home and whisked together this salad. It drew inspiration from bruschetta but replaced corn for bread which made for a perfect, light summer lunch. I loved the subtle brightness and the acidity of the vinaigrette and tomatoes against the sweetness of the corn and basil. Corn is often cooked or grilled {with ample amounts of butter} but I find I prefer it raw and plain. It is full of surprisingly sweet and delicate flavor and toothsome crunch. I mix this salad up in a huge bowl, and often don’t even bother to serve it on a plate. It often sits cradled in my lap as I sit on the couch and revel in a quiet afternoon and international feats of athleticism.

corn tomato salad 2

Summer corn + tomato Salad
Time: 10 minutes Yield: 2 meals

Ingredients:

1 bunch cherry tomatoes {whatever kind you want – I used heirloom for this version}
2 ears fresh sweet corn
handful of fresh basil

Vinaigrette:
scant 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar {the standard ratio of oil to vinegar for dressing is 3:1 so start with less and taste as you go – I seem to prefer dressings on the tart side}
scant 1/4 c. olive oil
1/2-1 clove of garlic, pressed/grated
salt, pepper   to taste {I found a scant tsp of salt and few grinds of pepper to be right}

Directions:

  1. Slice corn kernels off cob and tomatoes in half. Chiffonade basil.
  2. Add vinegar and garlic together. Whisk in olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Pour half of dressing over salad. Taste. Add until it is to your liking.