Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Over the past year or so, like many of us, I have tried to make the transition from heavily processed foods to whole foods.  Some of the most difficult changes has been switching from normal yogurt to greek yogurt, semolina pasta to whole wheat, white rice to brown, but especially my change from chips to nuts.  There have been several things I have learned from making the switch.  Firstly, not all whole foods are healthier calorie wise.  It's like choosing Splenda over regular sugar.  One teaspoon of Splenda has zero calories and one teaspoon of sugar as sixteen calories.  Which one is "healthier?"  We tend to confuse healthy with caloric intake, but in my opinion, I would rather eat something that comes out of the ground than a science project.  Please, please don't take what I am saying the wrong way.  I still use splenda, butter substitute, and low fat sour cream occasionally, but I try my best to be conscious of what I am putting into my body.

Secondly, portion control is very important when eating whole foods.  As I just mentioned, not all whole foods have a low caloric index, but like my Momma always says, "Everything in moderation."

The third thing I have learned is that you have to prepare whole foods....  This seems like a no brainer, but it really hits home when you get home late from work.  All you want to do is throw some bean burritos in the microwave and pour yourself a tall glass of Coke Zero.  It takes a conscious effort to get home, cut your vegetables, cook your rice, and grill your meat.  I have a few tricks to making it easier on myself.  I plan five meals each week before I go to the grocery store.  I have a list with all the ingredients I need for the week because multiple trips to the store is exhausting and time consuming.  Out of my five meals, four of them can be made quickly and the other one I consider a weekend meal.  For the weeknight meals, I choose fish, chicken breasts, or pasta and a cook the meat on my stove or in my crock pot.  Weeknights are not the time to be roasting a whole chicken unless you like eating at 8 or 8:30.  I know that planning takes a little effort, but I have found that it saves me so much time during the week when I don't want to think about cooking.  I know that I have my meal plan, I have my ingredients, and all I have to do is go through the motions.

I didn't intend to make this blog post about my cooking routine, but I hope it is helpful.  What I did intend to talk about is ricotta cheese.  Has anyone ever tried to buy ricotta cheese at Kroger?  I get so confused.  Do I want whole ricotta, low fat, part skim...the list continues.  Out of curiosity, I looked up online how to make it.  I had heard it was easy, but I didn't know how easy and delicious it would turn out.  The only ingredients are whole milk (or sweet milk if you are super southern), heavy cream, salt, and white vinegar.  Oh!  And keep in mind what I said about whole foods not always having a low caloric value.  This is my Homemade Ricotta Cheese:

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Can you believe that I made this??  Sometimes I even surprise myself, and I promise, you will surprise yourself too!

Count it!  4 ingredients: Whole milk, whipping or heavy cream, salt, and distilled white vinegar.

In a large pot over medium heat, add 4 cups of whole milk.

To the whole milk, add 2 cups of heavy cream. 

While your milk is coming to a simmer, set up an apparatus to strain your soon to be cheese.  There are many ways of doing this, but here's how I did it.  I got a colander and lined it really well with paper towels to drain off the excess liquid.  To catch the excess liquid, I placed the colander over a large bowl.  I have used cheesecloth before, but cheesecloth is about $4 for each sheet.  I had to find a more economical way.

Bring your milk to a simmer before adding the 1/2 tsp of salt.  I don't want to get too sciency on you, but if you add salt too early, it takes the milk longer to reach a simmer.

The milk is getting ready for the vinegar.  You don't want to heat the milk too high too quickly or it will burn on the bottom of the pan.  I have found that medium heat works well.  It is better to be patient than to rush it!

Add 3 TBSP of white distilled vinegar and let the mixture cook for about 1-2 minutes more.

The curds (Sorry!  Not a very appetizing name) begin to separate from the whey, and now it is time to strain your Ricotta cheese.

Slowly and carefully pour your cheese into your colander.  Allow the cheese to strain for about 30 minutes or so.  If you want your cheese more liquidy, you can stop it before then. 

Voila!  Homemade Ricotta Cheese.  It is so rich and creamy, it will make it difficult to switch back to the store brand.  It makes about 2 1/2 cups and stays good in your fridge for about a week.  I will use this batch of ricotta in my next blog post for veggie lasagna, but I have also used it for stuffed shells and several other pasta dishes.  One night for a rustic dinner, I grilled some country bread and topped it with the cheese and fresh tomatoes.  I have also brought it to a girls night with ritz crackers.  These are just a few ideas to get you started.  Let me know how you use it!