RECIPE: Fresh Ricotta Cheese

This recipe and process is so simple, I’m almost embarrassed to be devoting an entire post to explaining how to make ricotta cheese. With that said, fresh ricotta is so much better than the store-bought brands, that if I can change the life of just one cheese-lover with this post, it will all be worth it.

Fresh Ricotta Cheese

[yields about 2.5 cups]

– 1 gallon whole milk

– 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar

– salt, to taste

Method

1. Slowly heat whole milk over medium heat in large non-reactive pot. Use a wooden spoon to periodically check the bottom of the pot to make sure that the milk is not scalding. Add salt if desired.

2. Using a thermometer, heat milk until it reaches about 180 deg F. Turn off the heat and add white vinegar. Stir a couple of times to distribute acid then let it sit for one hour. Milk will begin to curdle.

Ricotta cheese curdles

Ricotta cheese curdles

3. After one hour, strain milk/cheese through a cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve using a slotted spoon. Cheesecloth is preferable if a dryer product is desirable since you can wring the product to drain all excess liquid.

Straining cheese through cheesecloth

Straining cheese through cheesecloth

4. Refrigerate cheese for up to one week.

NOTE:  Buttermilk or citric acid (or any form of acid) can be used instead of white vinegar but I have found that white vinegar provides the least amount of acidic flavor in the end product. If you are making the ricotta for a dessert application, citric acid may be desirable to obtain a particular flavor. Generally, use 1 quart of buttermilk or 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid per gallon of while milk.

RECIPE: Asparagus Risotto

Summer is here and finding delicious recipes for all of your farmer’s market impulse purchases may be challenging. Risotto is the perfect dish to learn how to master because the combination of ingredients you can incorporate into a risotto are endless. It is best to use fibrous (or tough) vegetables like asparagus, mushrooms, artichokes, or kale so that they will retain their texture when cooked in a thick dish like risotto. If you use a vegetable like eggplant for example, it will not hold its shape and the texture of the dish will be too mushy. One of the many reasons I love making risotto is that it requires few ingredients, making this a cheap and deceivingly simple meal.

It’s simple because of the limited ingredients and cooking time (approx. 25 mins) but it requires constant stirring throughout the entire process. Because the cooking liquid is added in parts,stirring allows the starch in the arborio rice to gradually release and create the creamy texture that characterizes this dish. It’s a dish of love.

Asparagus Risotto

[yields 6 servings]

– 2 cups Arborio rice

– 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or broth)

– 1 large onion, small dice

– 3 garlic cloves, minced

– 3 tablespoons butter

– parmesan cheese, grated

– Asparagus, bunch

– Salt and Pepper, to taste

Method

1. Sweat garlic in 1 tablespoon of butter in a large sauce pan. Add the chopped onions and sweat until translucent. Season with salt. Add more butter if necessary.

2. Add arborio rice and toast with the butter, garlic and onions until a toasted armoma becomes evident.

3. Add 1/3 of the vegetable or chicken stock and stir with wooden spoon until 75% of the cooking liquid is absorbed. This should take 4-6 minutes over medium heat. Add the remaining stock in 2 parts using the same guidelines. Do not increase the heat above medium. The risotto needs time to cook and release its starches. If you hurry the process, the rice will not cook properly and turn out like conventional (and undercooked) rice.

4. When the texture of the risotto is nearly finished, add your par-cooked vegetables. The asparagus needs to be partially blanched (or boiled) before adding it to the risotto to ensure that it is fully cooked and palatable. For a more refined look, cut the asparagus on a bias into 2 inch pieces, like this:

5. Finish the dish with grated parmesan cheese and butter, if desired. Season with salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy!

BONUS Wine pairing suggestion: 2010 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Sauvignon Blanc ($16)

 

 

RECIPE: Flourless Chocolate Cake

In the spirit of eating healthy and getting your smokin’ bods ready for summer, I thought I would post a recipe for flourless chocolate cake. Why? Because most of you won’t actually bake this cake immediately after reading my post, the pictures I have look delicious and it will possibly serve as a nice incentive following weeks of dieting. I mean, really, will one piece of anything kill you?

Making a flourless chocolate cake is a relatively simple task as long as you understand the techniques involved. In a regular, flour-based cake, the flour serves as an aerator to coat the fat (usually butter) and provide a spongy texture. Because there is obviously no flour in a flourless chocolate cake, you need use heat and manual aeration to get the structure the cake needs. I will explain the techniques of making this cake in the method portion of this post. First, the ingredients:

Flourless Chocolate Cake

[yields 1, 8-in cake]

– 8 ea. eggs

– 1 pound chocolate, semi-sweet (or 2 2/3 cups)

– 8 oz butter (or 1 cup)

 

Method

1. Grease the sides of an 8 inch circular cake pan and line the bottom with a parchment paper circle.

2. Whip the eggs on high speed until double in volume, or about 5 minutes. The eggs will turn light yellow in color, like this:

3. Melt the chocolate and butter together over a water bath. For those who are unfamiliar with a water bath, it is also called a double boiler. Instead of melting over direct heat, the chocolate and butter are melted over boiling water. The set up looks like this:

4. Fold 1/3 of whipped egg mixture into the melted chocolate. Fold until there are only a few remaining streaks. The technique of folding is a way of combining two mixtures while also incorporating air. Using a rubber spatula, combine the two mixtures by moving your hand in a circular motion around the outside of the bowl and literally fold it on top of itself. Cut the mixture in half with your spatula and keep folding it on itself to incorporate as much air as possible and retain the fluffy structure of the eggs. Here are a couples pictures of the folding technique:

5. Fold in the remaining eggs in two parts so that the final product is homogenous. It should look something like this:

(note: these are Jon Lee’s man hands, not mine)

6. Pour batter into buttered cake pan and smooth surface.

7. Bake cake in 325 degree oven in a hot water bath until the cake has risen slightly and pulls away from the pan edges. The center of the cake should be about 145 degrees. This should take approximately 25 minutes in a convection oven, or 30 minutes in a conventional oven.  The water in the water bath should be about 3/4 of the way up the cake pan. The set-up looks like this:

8. Cool and refrigerate overnight so the cake can set.

9. To remove the cake from the pan, warm the edges in a hot water bath.  Flip the cake pan upside-down and tap the bottom so the cake drops out. If you have a blow torch laying around your kitchen, you can also use that:

10. Once the cake is out of the cake pan and onto a plate, dust with powdered sugar or chocolate shavings to serve. You can also make homemade Chantilly cream (whipped cream with sugar) or use a store bought brand to layer another flavor into the cake. If you do use whipped/Chantilly cream, I suggest portioning the cake slices first so you can serve each slice with a clean rosette. Enjoy!

RECIPE: Bulgar Wheat Salad with Parsley, Tomato, and Feta

The day after the New York City marathon can be pretty depressing. Do you feel like you were the only one in the city not donning the ING superman cape yesterday? As you sit at your desk at work and swear that you are hitting the gym extra hard tonight, here is a SUPER easy and healthy recipe that will be sure to kick start your new workout routine you just (mentally) outlined. This salad can be served as a side to an entrée or as a lunch salad on its own. Bulgar wheat may be an unfamiliar food to some of you, but it is a high protein whole grain that is ready in minutes and does not require any real cooking. It is very affordable and will last longer than lettuce greens in the refrigerator.

Bulgar Wheat Salad with Parsley, Tomato and Feta (+ Vinaigrette)

[yields 6-8 portions]

-2 bunches parsley, finely chopped

– 3 each tomatoes (or 10 oz grape/plum tomatoes)

-1/4 cup bulgar wheat

– 8 oz feta, crumbled

– 8 oz kalmata olives (about 16), halved

Vinaigrette

– ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

– 3 teaspoons lemon juice

– 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

– Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Method

To cook the bulgar, soak the wheat in boiling water until the texture softens but still holds texture. Combine the remaining ingredients immediately before service so that the moisture in the cheese and olives do not make the salad mushy.

Tip #1: Do not add too much salt to this dish because of the salt already present in the feta cheese and olives. The less salt, the healthier the salad!

Tip #2: Do not skimp on the amount of parsley suggested above as the herb provides an excellent flavor component when combined with the other ingredients.

RECIPE: Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn

This is the best game-day snack you have ever and will ever eat. Period. It combines salty and sweet flavors with crunchy and soft textures. To make this recipe, you need minimal ingredients and even though I have included a recipe for making homemade caramel, you may of course purchase a prepared version. I will guarantee that all of your friends with souls will enjoy this decadent snack.

Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn

– 1/2 cup popcorn kernels

– 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil

– 6 oz. bacon, chopped

– 1/2 cup raw cashews, unsalted

– 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

– 1 black tea teabag

– 1 1/2 cups sugar

– 1/4 cup water

– 2 tbsp light corn syrup

– 1 tsp salt, coarse

– 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Heat popcorn and oil in covered, large pot over medium-high heat  until all the kernels are popped.

3. Cook bacon in heavy skillet until crisp. Lay bacon on paper towel to soak up excess oil. Toss the bacon, popcorn, and cayenne pepper in large bowl. Season with coarse salt.

4. Place tea bag into a barely boiling pot of cream. Let the teabag steep in the cream for about 15 minutes. Press on the teabag occasionally to release flavor.

5. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with nonstick spray. Coat 2 wooden spoons or spatulas with nonstick spray and set aside.

6. Stir the sugar, water, and corn syrup in large saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves.  Increase heat to boiling and do not stir until the sugar turns to deep amber. Remove from heat and immediately drizzle on popcorn mixture.

7. Place the caramel corn in the oven and bake until caramel is shiny and coats the popcorn, tossing the mixture occasionally to break up large chunks.

Source: Colt and Gray (September 2010) and reprinted in CIA’s Contemporary Topics in Culinary Arts Course Guide.

RECIPE: Assorted Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese and Orange Segments

This fall salad is the perfect side dish for a BBQ or dinner party. It is easy to make and requires minimal alterations to the ingredients. The earthy flavors of beets are fantastic with the fresh juiciness of orange slices and texture of the goat cheese. Some of the ingredients presented below are optional; for example, the fine brunoise of orange rind is a garnish and may be omitted altogether if its bitterness is undesirable. If you do decide to include the orange rinds, you must blanched them three times to remove as much bitterness as possible. Blanching instructions are presented within the method below.

Assorted Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese and Orange Segments

[Yields 12 portions]

–          3 pounds beets, assorted colors

–          ½ cup water

–          3 ounces extra virgin olive oil

–          2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

–          4 ounces goat cheese

–          2 oranges, segmented

–          1 ounce orange rind, blanched three times, cut fine brunoise (1/16 in x 1/16 in)

–          1 ounce chives

–          Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 475°F. Scrub beets and remove excess dirt. Place in a hotel pan or aluminum pan taller than the beets themselves. Add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle lightly with salt and olive oil. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook for approximately one hour, or until a sharp knife can pierce the beet with no resistance. Once cooked, rub the skin off with a towel as soon as possible to maximize ease while they are hot. Slice beets into 1 inch wedges. Toss beats separately by color with red wine vinegar and salt. 
  2. Segment oranges as shown in the photos below.             
  3. Blanch the orange rinds by immersing them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Immediately place the rinds in ice water to stop the cooking process so they do not get soft. Repeat three times. Cut into a fine brunoise, or 1/16th of an inch by 1/16th of an inch. Be sure to trim off all of the white part of the orange rinds before blanching. 
  4. Combine the goat cheese with orange segments and beets as close to service as possible. If tossed too far in advance, the beets will absorb the cheese and its white color. 
  5. Garnish salad with orange rinds and chives. 

The Top 4 Reasons to Roast a Chicken

1. It’s Cheap

2. It’s Easy

3. It’s Healthy

4. It’s Delicious

Undoubtedly, the best way to cook a whole chicken is to roast it. In order to properly explain my logic, I have divided this post into four parts.

It’s Cheap

To roast a whole chicken, the only equipment necessary is a large saute pan. The fancy roasting racks you see on TV are unnecessary so long as you buy a chicken that will fit into your saute pan. The only ingredients you need (besides the chicken itself) are:

– butter

– salt and pepper

– lemon, cut in half

– herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, bay leaf)

– 2 Carrots, peeled, 1 inch dice

– 2 Stalks of Celery. 1 inch dice

– 1 Onion, 1 inch dice

It’s Easy

(1) First, trim the chicken so that any extra fat that may be inside the cavity of the bird is removed. (2) Next, rub a stick of whole butter around the entire chicken, making sure to cover every inch of skin. (3) Then season it generously with salt and pepper. (4) Place the lemon halves and herbs inside of the chicken. (5) The final step in roasting a chicken is probably the most difficult: trussing. Trussing a chicken (or any meat for that matter) before roasting it is important to ensure even browning and cooking throughout the entire bird. Watch the video below for the best and fastest demonstration. This video is pretty accurate although she forgets to tuck the chicken wings into the twine. The wings must be tucked in so that the tips do not burn.

 

 

(6) Cut the carrots, celery, and onion into 1 inch pieces. Pile the vegetables into the middle of the saute pan so that the chicken rests on them. The whole point behind roasting is to have hot air circulate around the entire bird so make sure it is not touching the bottom of the pan. (7) Place the chicken into the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. (8) Take the chicken out of the oven and baste with juices in the saute pan. Adjust the chicken so that it is sitting evenly on the vegetables. (9) Roast the chicken for another 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 170 degrees. (10) Remove the chicken from the oven and let it sit for approximately 10 minutes before carving. Resting the chicken is important to ensure that the bird retains its moisture and the juices do not run.

It’s Healthy

Unlike deep frying and pan frying, roasting does not require the use of oil. The added fat is limited to the butter used to moisten the chicken skin. You may be asking yourself how I am going to explain that roasting is healthier than grilling or sauteing. Instead of addressing that issue, I will simply begin to explain why:

It’s Delicious

Roasting a chicken is delicious because of the crispy skin that forms from the use of butter and a high oven temperature. The meat remains hot and moist and cooks evenly. A roast chicken is perfect for a dinner party because it can serve approximately five people (depending on the size of the bird) and also allows guests the opportunity to choose between white and dark meat. Who doesn’t love hot, crispy, and salty chicken?