Making Homemade Ricotta

Some of the ricotta ingredients and tools
A new Mennonite community farm market has opened near where I live, and they sell whole, unpasteurized milk. By law, it is labelled "not for human consumption." I thought this milk would be perfect to use for making my own ricotta, a process which requires the milk to be heated, thus pasteurizing it in the process (according to the internet, milk is pasteurized at 161°).

Homemade ricotta is surprisingly simple, although my first attempt was a bit of a struggle; I realized later that I had measured the milk wrong! But some good came from this error - I discovered I could use less heavy cream than the original recipe called for. Also, I've written my recipe to make a larger quantity than the original made; same amount of work, so why not make plenty - it's so delicious there is no trouble using it!

(makes about 1-1/2 cups)
2 quarts (8 c  or 64 oz) whole milk
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 t salt
1/4 c fresh lemon juice*

Adding lemon juice to the heated mix makes it curdle
To prepare for straining, line a colander or other strainer with cheesecloth. As my photo shows, you can buy cheesecloth in the paint department. My friend Sherri  strains her homemade cheeses with cardboard/mesh paint strainers from the home store! Alternately, you can use overlapping flattened coffee filters, or, for a small batch, a cone-style coffee filter set over a tall bowl.

Heat the milk and heavy cream in a large saucepan over medium high heat. If you have an instant read thermometer (the type for making candy), heat to about 185°.

Add the salt and lemon juice, and stir. Reduce heat to low, stirring until the mixture curdles, which should be in about one to two minutes.

Remove from heat and pour the mixture into a strainer set over a bowl to catch the "whey". (I dispose of the whey by pouring it into my compost pile).

Straining the liquid off the cheese.
Let the mixture drain for up to an hour, then remove to a refrigerator container.

This is so yummy, just eaten plain off a spoon! You can, of course, use this ricotta in any recipe which calls for ricotta, such as lasagna. Or make an herbal spread as I did in my previous post, or mix with roasted garlic and chili powder for another delicious dip. I used some of this batch to make a chicken salad. I'll never be able to duplicate it, since I was using leftovers, but it was made with leftover grilled marinated chicken breast, chopped celery and scallions from my garden, a few spoonfuls of my homemade Caesar Dressing, a few spoonfuls of the fresh homemade ricotta, and about 1/4 cup of leftover homemade tabouli. It was delicious, with fresh garden lettuce, all wrapped in a spelt tortilla!

Chicken salad, with ricotta in place of mayo
* Apple cider vinegar, another acid, can be used in place of the lemon juice. I love the flavor with lemon juice, but I'll try the vinegar next time.


The Pea Report

Oregon Sugar Pod II (left) and Sugar Ann Snap Peas (right)
I'm harvesting big quantities of two varieties of heirloom peapods now. The ones shown in the photo on the left are Oregon Sugar Pod II. I took a chance on our mild winter weather and planted these seeds on January 29th, and the gamble payed off. I purchased these seeds from Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds. The plants are vigorous and highly productive. Equally sweet and crunchy are the variety shown on the right, Sugar Ann Snap Peas, which I planted at the end of February. The pods are fatter, with the peas developing larger inside. These can be eaten as edible pods or shelled... I don't bother with the extra work of shelling. I love peapods raw, with a dip or in a salad, as well as lightly stir-fried. I mixed some into a yellow squash casserole too (I'll make that recipe a future post, since I had a request for it when I served it.) I picked both types today, and I am going to experiment with dehydrating with a wasabi coating, like those wasabi peas from the supermarket, great for snacking.

Both of these peapods are considered "bush" varieties. The Sugar Ann plants were shorter - about 18" tall - but they were in a newer part of the garden where the soil is not as rich, so that might be why. Both types were easily supported in my usual manner of sticking branches about 30" tall into the garden soil among the emerging seedlings. The pea plants grab onto the sticks with fine curling tendrils, and are supported as they grow taller. If I only grow one type in the future, which would be smart if I intended to save the seeds, I'd choose the Oregon Sugar Pod II. Remember that pea and bean plants add nitrogen to the garden soil, and it is fine to rototil or turn the plants back into the soil when you are finished harvesting. Try an early planting of peas in your garden next year!


The Shocking Truth About Sugar

"Decadence" - original painting © Judy Lavoie
Obesity? Diabetes? Heart Disease? Cancer? Spend the next 15 minutes with this video and you might learn a thing or two about the horrible consequences of sugar on your health.

My philosophy of nutritional eating as part of a healthy lifestyle has long included the minimizing - or elimination - of refined sugar in the diet. I use this blog to share my knowledge, trying to help educate others about what ingredients to use and about how to prepare foods that are good for the body, avoiding foods which are toxic. There are so many healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened foods, and, once a balanced everyday diet is adopted, the craving for sugar is reduced.

There's no argument - sugar tastes good. Unfortunately we live in an age of over self-indulgence, and many don't want to give up anything that makes them happy. The American diet focuses on eating (overeating, actually) overprocessed food (most laden with sweetener) as a convenience in our busy lifestyles. Sugar, in its many forms, is an ingredient in so many packaged foods - even where you would least expect it. You have to search for salad dressing without sugar - even something like blue cheese dressing; soy milk (which everyone thinks is so healthy) sells much better in the sweetened vanilla version than in the "unsweetened" variety; there's even sugar added to frozen pea pods! I could go on and on.

Don't be foolish and think that "artificial sweeteners" are the answer to this problem. I get disgusted every time I hear the propoganda of an advertisement for Splenda. Their website says "It is made through a patented process that starts with sugar..." Well, it soon becomes a toxic chemical engineered by big industry (read about what it really is, in my ingredients list in the right column). But wait, there's more... now you can get vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber pre-added to your toxic sweetener! Anyway, I don't need to get any deeper into this topic - you know where it's heading.

Becoming aware is the first step in making positive changes, so please take a look at the video and educate yourself. Wishing you better health through nutrition!


Make the Creamiest Smoothies Ever!

If you make your own fruit or green smoothies, there's an unusual ingredient which will make them so creamy and smooth your tongue will smile! Add some ripe avocado. A powerhouse of nutrition, the avocado adds great benefits with no unpleasant change of taste to your smoothie.

I use one half of a pitted, skinned, ripe avocado in my Vitamix, with ingredients for about 32 oz of smoothie. The darkest green part of the avocado flesh, closest to the skin, is the most dense in nutrients, so be sure to scrape the skin clean before putting it in your compost pot.

The yellow-green color of this fruit might alter your smoothie color, which is no problem if you are making green smoothies. For all-fruit smoothies, if this color change bothers you or those you share smoothies with, experiment initially by adding avocado to a smoothie made with colorful ingredients, like blueberries or blackberries. Or add a big spoonful of unsweetened powdered organic cocoa or carob for a flavor boost and color mask.

Here are some avocado facts from Natural News
  • Avocadoes provide all 18 essential amino acids
  • Avocadoes provide the healthy kind of fat that your body needs. Like olive oil, avocadoes boost levels of HDL (the "good" cholesterol)
  • Avocadoes are an excellent source of carotenoids
  • Avocadoes offer powerful anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Avocadoes have a unique combination of Vitamins C and E, carotenoids, selenium, zinc, and phytosterols
  • Avocadoes are rich in omega-3 fatty acid