Make it from Scratch Ricotta & a Recipe!

We get a gallon of raw milk each week from Windsor Dairy and this week, due to our camping trip, we had a little extra. So last night, I made a little over a half-gallon of milk into ricotta cheese. I keep trying to make mozzarella, and just wasn’t up to it because of the 10 pounds of green beans we needed to blanch & freeze from our co-op adventures last week. But ricotta is so easy!

  1. Pour a gallon of milk into a non-cast iron/non-aluminum pot, add 1 tsp salt (I have cheese salt, but I’ve read that any non-iodized salt–like pickling salt or sea salt–will work), and 1 tsp of citric acid. An interesting note for those of you who have been trying to make cheese like I have: I read that fresh farm milk needs more citric acid!! So if you’re using raw milk or other farm-fresh milk rather than something from the grocery store, you may want to double the citric acid.
  2. Heat the milk slowly to 195 degrees, stirring just often enough to prevent burning the milk. As it gets closer to 195, you will see the curd separate from the whey.
  3. At 195, remove from heat and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. At this point, you can do one of two things:
    • For a very dry ricotta, spoon the curds off into a cheese cloth to drain.
    • If you want more ricotta, or don’t mind it a bit more wet, you can spoon the curds off, drain, and then pour the rest through cheese cloth to get the last little bit of curd.
  4. That’s it! Put the ricotta into an airtight container and refrigerate if you can keep yourself from eating it with a spoon. Oh, and don’t forget to use the whey to feed your tomato plants or to make some yummy buttermilk pancakes (use whey instead of buttermilk!).

The following recipe, adapted slightly from the River Cafe‘s Green cookbook, is a bit time-consuming once you’ve podded & cooked the peas, made the ricotta, and heated the stock, but if you’re entertaining and looking for something delicious to serve that is both local and very home-made, this recipe is for you. I usually only make this once or twice a year, and it’s memorable every time.

Recipe: Pea, Ricotta & Lemon Zest Risotto

3lb fresh peas (1.5 pounds podded) (I’m going to try this with a mix of peas and broad beans, which will take a bit more cooking in the boiling water than what the peas will!)

250 g ricotta cheese, lightly beaten

finely grated rind of 2 lemons

6 c. chicken stock

3 cloves of garlic

200g unsalted butter

500g spring onions

400g arborio or carnaroli rice

2 T fresh basil

150ml white wine

50g Parmesan

salt & pepper to taste

  1. Heat the chicken stock to boiling and check for salt & pepper.
  2. Bring a saucepan of water to boil, add 2 t salt, the peas, and a clove of garlic. Simmer for 3-4 minutes & drain, reserving 150ml of water.
  3. Melt 150g of the butter in a large saucepan, and add onions to soften.
  4. Add the remaining garlic, then the rice, stirring to coat each grain of rice in the butter, and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the wine and stir until the rice is almost dry, 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add a ladle of hot stock and stir, adding another when the rice has absorbed most of the liquid.
  7. Continue stirring and adding stock for 15-20 minutes or until the rice is not quite soft.
  8. Add half the peas and stir.
  9. Mash the other half with the garlic and liquid in a food processor and add to the risotto.
  10. Stir in the basil, 2 T of ricotta, and the remaining butter and cook until the basil is wilted and the butter melted.
  11. Serve garnished with the remaining ricotta, lemon zest, salt, pepper & Parmesan.

Our 100-mile vacation (once more, with pictures!)

Friday morning, I chanced upon this blog post about taking a 100 Mile Vacation just hours before we walked out the door for our first 100 mile vacation this summer to State Forest Park in northern Colorado.

I have to tell you, for $44 in camping fees, a tank of gas, and a little creative packing to fit the two kids, the dog, and all of our gear in the Subaru, it was well worth it. Makes me feel even better to think that it might have been a lower-than-average impact vacation due to being almost exactly 100 miles from our home and to us doing some pretty primitive camping (pit toilets, no electricity, one water tap for the whole campground). I won’t try to calculate the water or electricity we saved, and I will admit that, probably due to a lack of bear-proof possibilities, there are no recycling bins in Colorado’s many beautiful State Parks, but man, it sure was a gorgeous weekend.

Some highlights included:

  • Seeing a moose! Yes, this is the moose-viewing capital of Colorado, and we ended our morning hike this morning by watching a moose browse a short distance away from the trail.
  • Watching literally dozens of hummingbirds at the Visitor Center feeders, and also enjoying one that kept trying to feed off of the red spigot of our solar shower (that we used not for showering on this short trip, but for warm water for dishes, face washes, etc.).
  • The beautiful, beautiful mountains and meadows of North Park.
  • An outing with the dog that did not involve him destroying anything, pooping in inappropriate places, or otherwise making a nuisance of himself (he was one well-behaved pooch and will likely sleep for a week to recover!)
  • Having a camp fire each night and each morning–it was downright chilly, which was a pleasant break from the high 90s we’ve seen down here in Lyons this month.
  • Did I mention that the children now think camping is the best thing ever? I guess they take after their parents.

The one thing I will mention is the pine beetle devastation. Boy, I had read about it, but I didn’t realize how pervasive it is up there. The Forest Service estimates that 90% of the lodgepole pines in Colorado will be gone in 3 years. And it seemed like the beetle-kill was approaching that in State Forest Park. I don’t know that anyone will be able to deny the need for better forest management (including allowing the natural fire cycle to resume, people!) once they see mountainsides that are literally covered with the rusty red of dead pine trees. Only a drive through Yellowstone after the massive fires of the ’80s could compare to how shocking this was. I’ll upload pictures tomorrow.

Friday Fun – Preserving pesto & peas

Last night, we picked up our first share of a local organic food co-op run by LoveLandLocal (and thanks to Nature Deva for telling us about it!). For a mere $120, we picked up:

  • 10 lbs green beans
  • 8 lbs organic peas
  • 1 lb basil
  • 10 lbs organic brown rice
  • 10 lbs unbleached white flour
  • 10 lbs unbleached bread flour
  • 5 lbs rye flour
  • 7-8 pounds each of garbanzo, pinto, & anasazi beans

    With all of this being organic, and most of it being local (OK, I admit that rice doesn’t exactly grow here in Colorado!!), I feel really good about the price we paid and it was fun going up to meet with the other co-opers, weighing the food, and then of course coming home to preserve it!

    So my Fun Friday recipe is for Basil Pesto. I made about a gallon of this last night and will freeze it in ice cube trays then vacuum seal the cubes in serving-sized portions so we can have fresh pesto all winter long.

    Blend the following ingredients in the food processor (you can use a blender, but I burned the motor out on our last blender making pesto in it, so beware!):
    2 c. basil
    3/4 c. Parmesan cheese
    3 T. pine nuts
    2-3 cloves of garlic (I tend to go heavy here, so you might want to use less if you aren’t a garlic lover)
    1/2 c. olive oil
    salt & pepper to taste

    We use this pesto on bread, pasta, and as a glaze/marinade for veggies or chicken. And the kids love it–I hope you will too.

  • Environmentalist, Locavore…Vegetarian?

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the choices we make in our day-to-day lives and what is really important. I’ve been drawn to trying to protect the Earth one way or another since I was little. My sister, brother, & myself created “The JA Club” (all of our initials are JA) when I was in elementary school and we did things like go around the neighborhood and pick up trash.

    My early endeavors into recycling were more motivated by the money we could get for turning in collected cans than by a strong desire to save the planet, but I’d like to think that was part of what lead me, a few years later, to write about the importance of the environmentalist movement in my college entrance exam. In college, I did lots of the usual college things–I helped my living unit participate in a campus-wide recycling initiative (no gas money this time though!), joined Greenpeace, and wrote letters on various environmental initiatives.

    During that time, I decided for a variety of reasons to become a vegetarian. Now, more than a decade later, I’m reconsidering that decision in light of new information and a commitment to local eating. As my husband put it, being  vegetarian is really a part of our world-view and so even transitioning into eating local, free-range, grass-fed organic poultry is bittersweet and something I’m sure Matt would never have done if left to his own devices.

    But it’s something that I feel compelled to do for the following reasons:

    Meat Replacements are…Bad for the Environment!

    This has been my real sticking point and there’s just no other way around it. The meat replacements that have become staple foods in this household are just not good for the environment. They are over-processed. They are shipped long distances in gas-guzzling refrigerated trucks, planes, or train-cars. They contain ingredients grown and marketed by  environmentally-irresponsible companies. They are now largely owned by some of those same environmentally-irresponsible companies.

    For example, did you know that Boca now uses soy produced, processed, and marketed by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM)? It’s sad, but true. Even if I opted for Boca’s organic soy line (organic soy foods, by definition, cannot be  from genetically-modified soy beans), I would still know that in some ways, my grocery dollar was going back to supporting Kraft (who owns Boca) and ADM, and I just can’t stomach that. Why? Because, as one of the largest middlemen between farmers and consumers in the United States, responsibility for the current crisis in food production and distribution rests firmly on their shoulders. I could write a book about this topic, but Michael Pollan already has, so go read the Omnivore’s Dilemma if you dare.

    Quorn products, much beloved in this household for their texture and versatility, are soy-free, but are also very processed and travel long distances to get to Colorado. Morningstar Farms is owned, like so many others, by a major (and majorly bad!) corporation: Kellogg. Take a look at who owns most organic food labelsGardenburger is owned by Kellogg and also does not exclude the use of GMO soy, although it does, like Boca, have an organic soy product line.

    Even locally-produced White Wave is not an environmentally-friendly soy source. Sure, they’re organic, but they’re owned by Dean, which also owns Horizon, which, frankly, although organic, uses factory farming techniques that are not just bad for cows, but bad for those of us who prefer clean air and unpolluted water.

    Meat Replacements Do Not Support the Local Economy

    And let’s talk a bit about “locally-produced.” I can’t find any information on where White Wave’s soybeans come from. As popular as the local food movement is here in Boulder County, I can’t imagine nearby Broomfield-based White Wave wouldn’t be touting their use of local soy unless they were, well, not using local soy.

    The fact of the matter is that I can get free range, grass fed, organic chicken and dairy products because I am lucky enough to live in a place where there are both consumers and farmers who value this type of food. It seems downright irresponsible not to take advantage of it if the environment is as important to me as I’ve said it is.

    Did I mention my pets love chicken livers? 

    So this week, I purchased, thawed, cooked, and boned a whole chicken for maybe the second time in my life (if you extend this to poultry and recall my turkey cooking experience from Thanksgiving 2007, that makes three birds that I’ve thus handled). I made Mole Chicken, made stock with the carcass, and although I couldn’t bring myself to eat the organ meats, the dog and the cat were in heaven (enough so that I’m considering making their treats out of chicken livers from now on!). And the children love the chicken. Gabriel more so than Lily, but he also has more teeth than she does 😉

    Eating (Vegetarian) Humble Pie

    Another reason that it’s taken me so long to post on this topic is that there is a certain amount of humble pie to be eaten. During NoMeatPo Week earlier this year, I wrote rather elegantly on why we were vegetarians (I was serious when I said this has been part of our world-view for many years). And I still strongly identify as a vegetarian. I doubt meat will ever be a daily part of our diet and I know already that despite the natural red meat that is available here in Colorado, we will not be experimenting in that direction.

    In the end, I’m happy with our choice to eat more local food, even if that does mean getting rid of some of our usual meat-replacement staples, going back on some strong statements about vegetarianism I’ve made in the past, and relearning certain cooking techniques. And I will still argue with my last breath that if you’re going to get your meet from McDonalds or from conventional producers, it is definitely better for the environment if you eat lower on the food chain, even if that includes eating Boca, Quorn, or other meat replacements.

    Learning all about local!

    Saturday was our second trip to the Farmer’s Market this season, and although I managed to forget my pencil and paper, I did consider it a research trip for our official foray into the 100 Mile Diet. And boy, was it a learning experience.

    Let me preface my remarks by saying that, although I lived in the city until September, when I moved to a town of 1500 people (still relatively close to a big city), I spent a lot of time on the farm growing up. I have relatives who farm for a living. I shoveled more than my fair share of poo when I was a horse-riding teenager. But even so, in some way I have lost my connection to the land.

    It’s so easy, in this day and age, to lose that connection, and so hard to rebuild it. For example, I’m learning that even if I want local eggs 52 weeks a year, chickens molt. When they molt, no eggs. So I either need to try to find a farmer with chickens that molt at a different time than my usual supplier, or do without eggs when the chickens are tending to their new feathers. Oh, and the milk required for making all the great local artisanal cheeses we’ve been trying in the past few weeks, requires a grass-fed diet. Guess what, that’s just not naturally possible in Colorado over the winter. No milk, no cheese. The cheese has to be aged 60 days, so our miracle almost-100-mile-diet cheddar (made in Durango, so definitely not within 100 miles, but at least made in Colorado) will not be available for a good portion of the year.

    Sure, we can get fabulous Haystack Mountain (about as local as you can get from Lyons to Niwot!) goat cheese all year ’round. That’s not my point. We’ll hardly starve without cheddar for a few months a year. My point is that we didn’t even think about this type of thing until just over a week ago when we decided to embark on this experiment. Even if you know where your food comes from (grass-fed dairy cows outside of Durango, for example), do you really understand where it comes from? What goes into the milk, how the cheese-making process occurs, how the cheese is aged? This is something that, on a basic level, most people knew about maybe as few as 100-150 years ago. Where has that knowledge gone? Evaporated into the ether of the local super-market, I’d wager…

    On a similar note, I spoke with the gentleman who is grinding grain at the market. I told him I thought the Winter Wheat flour I bought last week was too coarse for regular daily-bread-type baking and he agreed. He’s ground it finer this week–excellent! But then I asked the question that showed my lack of connection to the land: What about Rye? Grows in the winter, so if he doesn’t have it now, he’s not going to have it until next spring. But he will have barley soon. That sounds like a fun experiment. But can I live for a year without rye, when it’s the key ingredient in my killer pizza dough?

    OK, it’s not like there’s only one person who is grinding grain into flour within 100 miles of here, but my point is that we as a culture have gotten used to going the grocery store and buying a fresh strawberry even if the damned thing had to be shipped to us in a refrigerated truck/plane/ship all the way from Timbuktu. When it arrives, it doesn’t even taste like a strawberry, more like some sort of crappy replica of a strawberry. But you still buy it at King Soopers, eat it, and forget that strawberries are so much better when they’re sun-ripened and fresh-picked, which can only happen if you a) travel to Timbuktu in the off season or b) buy local!!!!

    I know my son is young to grasp all of this stuff, but he informed me that I must buy him a watermelon this weekend. When I told him there weren’t any at this time of year, he truthfully pointed out that our friends had had some just last week. Sigh. I don’t want to be the mean mommy that deprives my children of things like bananas, watermelon in April, or tater tots, but jeez, my children have a chance at naturally, and for the whole rest of their lives, nurturing that connection to the land, the seasons, and ebb and flow of the universe in a way that I, as an adult, am struggling to do. If I answer the hard questions about the lack of watermelon now, will they thank me for it later, or like the teenage daughter from Almost Famous did, castigate me for moving Christmas to July so it would be less commercial…