Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Panacea: Ricotta Cheese

I was reminded recently that I never delivered on the promised Part II to this post.  Better late than never?

So, we made ricotta.  Though, as I read about ricotta, I get the sense that our ricotta is not really ricotta.  Ricotta is Italian for 'recooked'.  Because, evidently, it's traditionally made by reheating the whey left over from making some other cheese, adding in some acid to pull out the last remaining bits of protein and make them into something edible.  We are not the goddesses of efficiency that the ancient peasants of the Italian countryside were.  We buy our acid from Surfas.  We make our cheese from milk.

Regardless, though, making cheese at home is not hard at all, pretty inexpensive, and really satisfying.  In broad strokes, you heat up salted milk, add an acid (we used ascorbic acid in powder form, you can also use powdered citric acid or lemon juice (though I hear that the latter doesn't set up quite as well as the other two)), and watch as it curdles.  It's fascinating -- just like Little Miss Muffet, you end up with a pot of completely separate curds and whey.  Then, you scoop out the curds and drain them over some cheesecloth, and in the case of our recipe, mix in a bit of half and half to beef it up.  That's it.  Easy peasy, ricotta cheesy.

The end result was creamy, slightly spreadable, with a mild flavor that would go great with sweet or savory.  But then, wee took it one step further: we used some of the resulting cheese for a next-level cheese experience -- ricotta salata.  You take ricotta, add more salt, and press it in a cheese mold: in our case, a large clean tomato can with both ends removed.  After a couple days in the fridge, weighed down with a heavy jar, you get a more strongly flavored semi-hard cheese that you can grate or slice. 

I tend to fly fast and loose with dairy, and make substitutions based on texture.  Aside from classic uses like lasagne, cannoli, or just spreading on bread with whatever (I would choose honey), I could see sneaking ricotta into artichoke dip as a lower-fat alternative to sour cream or mayo.  And how good would it be mixed with some brown sugar and vanilla for a dip with fruit!  (I want that now.)  And the ricotta salata is great on a cheese plate or grated into a salad.

Two kinds of cheese and house-cured salmon, all in an afternoon.  Maybe we are goddesses of efficiency after all.

Our recipe came from Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It.  Smitten Kitchen has a more decadent take on ricotta.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Back to Whack: Miso Kale Stirfry

We all know that it's good to eat balanced meals, but here's the thing about balance:  when you've been eating in a balanced way, it makes sense to continue with the balance.  But when everything is out of balance, you kind of need to eat something unbalanced in the other direction, in order to restore the balance?  That's totally clear, right?

In other words, when everything's out of whack, and you're trying to get yourself back to whack, you need kale.  The last couple days have been a bit of a gorgefest:  amazing homemade pasta at Osteria Mamma (get the pappardelle al fumo: it's insane) last night, leftover pappardelle for breakfast (don't judge), leftover gondi kashi from my parents' house for lunch yesterday.  And then today, at the lovely Lyric Cafe, they gave me a piece of banana walnut cake with Nutella and whipped cream, for free.  I had to eat it!  I had to eat all those things, actually -- none of these are things you say no to. 

So the idea of the saladbook recipes -- a quick, but balanced meal of vegetable, lean protein, and whole grain or legumes -- gets thrown out the window.  I'm not even hungry for all those things, I just need a little bit of vegetables.  And what kind of LA cliche would I be if the vegetable I turn to isn't kale? 

You could easily balance this out by adding some diced tofu after the kale has steamed, and serving it over some brown rice.  But for tonight, a totally unbalanced bowl of kale is all I need.

Miso Kale Stirfry
 White miso (it's actually more beige than white) comes in big tubs, and adds saltiness, a little nuttiness, and in general tons of savory flavor to everything you add it to.  (And if you are looking for some literary miso inspiration, check out the incredibly thorough treatment it receives in the second issue of Lucky Peach.)  Note that for this recipe, you will wash the kale after you've cut it.

2 cups unwashed raw kale, thicker stalks removed, leaves cut into 1-inch wide strips
1 tsp flavorless vegetable oil (canola, corn, peanut, grapeseed, etc.)
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tsp white miso
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp mirin
tiny dribble of toasted sesame oil
red chili flakes (optional, I opt against)
toasted sesame seeds to garnish

Rinse the cut kale, then place it in a colander to drain.  You want some water to stay on the kale -- you'll use this to quickly steam it before stir-frying.

Add oil and garlic off to one side of a pan over medium heat.  When the oil just begins to bubble, lower heat.  Add kale to pan, but do not stir in oil and garlic just yet.  Cover, and cook over medium-low heat until kale looks bright green and barely cooked through, about 2 minutes. 

Meanwhile, combine miso, ginger, mirin, sesame oil and chili in a small bowl. 

Remove cover from pan, and increase heat to medium-high.  Toss kale to coat with oil and incorporate garlic.  After about 2 minutes, add miso sauce to kale and toss to distribute.  Cook another minute or so, until sauce is heated through.  Serve topped with sesame seeds.

Makes 1 main course serving on its own, or 2 servings as a side or part of a larger meal.