Ricotta cheese is one of those things that you buy at the grocery store that is expensive and often tasteless. The store bought version is what usually leads people to the conclusion that they don’t like it and then they avoid it like the plague. I was this person as well until I needed ricotta for baking a few years ago. I obviously didn’t have any in my refrigerator and in a fit of laziness didn’t want to go to the grocery store for it so I Googled if you could make it at home and sure enough you can and I did. The result was something that I hadn’t expected. It was creamy, flavorful and satisfying. I’ve since converted many people with this recipe including my dad who I found one night after a dinner party in the kitchen eating the leftover ricotta with a spoon directly from the container.
The recipe calls for only four ingredients and takes about 30 minutes from start to finish with only about 5 minutes of active participation.
Start by combining whole milk, heavy cream and salt in a heavy bottomed pan like a Le Cruset or something similar.* Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).
While the milk mixture is coming to a boil, set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth (or a thin dishtowel) with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.
Pour the mixture into the cloth lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth (or wash out the dishtowel) and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.
Ricotta is so versatile, I use it in savory dishes like lasagna but also I use it like cream cheese on toast with different topping. My favorite is topped with sliced peaches, drizzled with honey and toasted pistachios and as fall settles in, I swap the peaches out for sliced pears and chopped pecans.
- 4 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth (or a thin dishtowel) with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.
- Pour the milk and cream into a stainless-steel or enameled pot such as Le Creuset. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).
- Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined (or a thin dish towel) sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth (or wash out the dishtowel) and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.
*(The pot I used is from the Martha Stewart collection at Macy’s and is such a great affordable solution for an enameled pot if Le Cruset is out of your budget.)
Cinco de Mayo always seems to sneak up on me. I usually end up wanting to celebrate but don’t want to put a lot of planning into it because it’s coming off the heals of Easter and spring feels like it’s here in full force with ALL the activities. Over the years I’ve discovered a few last minute tips and tricks to throw together a festive Cinco de Mayo celebration with minimal effort and all the fun.
Look around your house for decor that you most likely already have. Raid you kids musical toys and pull out thinks like maracas for photo props and also to add to the spirit of the party. I grab a basket that I usually use for magazines to corral them.
Create a fast and easy photo booth by draping fabric or outdoor blankets that you might have around the house as your backdrop. I used a colorful fabric from Ikea (above) to create this Photo Booth for less than $30 (fabric was from Ikea a few years ago).
Also, pull out those birthday dinner hats from Chevy’s – we all have one or two!
These signs were made with scrap wood and leftover white paint. If you aren’t feeling up to being crafty, you can totally skip doing something like this.
An easy way to add ambiance and get everyone in the Cinco de Mayo spirit quickly is to chill your favorite Mexican beer and Coca-Cola in outdoor tubs filled with ice. I also attach at bottle opener with twine to the handle of the bucket so there’s always an opener handy.
Brush off a few Ikea lanterns that you have hanging around.
Order take out from your favorite Mexican restaurant, let them do all the work. Or if you insist on doin the cooking yourself keep it super simple. Stick to simple recipes like marinated shrimp that you can grill up super fast on the BBQ.
Carnations will be your best friend for a party like this. You can buy them at your local grocery store, they’re inexpensive, give an instant, bright pop of color and will last for weeks after your party – just change out the water every few days to keep them looking their best. I used festive salsa and enchilada cans that I emptied out (and used for food prep) as vases here.
I’m all for regular plates and silverware and am conscious of my impact on the earth in my daily life but give yourself permission to keep life simple and use disposable plates and cutlery. I’ve seen some great biodegradable options out there, too.
Pick up an extra piñata when you’re at your local Mexican grocery store to use as decor.
Lots and lots of cold fruit sodas equals happy teenagers.
Before a party, I always cut up a lots and lots of limes because they can be used in cocktails, sodas, water, squeezed over shrimp and guacamole. They also are on sale at my market this time a year for 10 for $1, so I can stock up before a party.
Above all else, keep things easy, simple and FUN.
Remember your friends care more about seeing you than a perfect party.
Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Spring has officially hit Northern California which means it’s spring dress, sipping rose and grilling outside weather. Last night I was at a loss for dinner. I had just done a Costco run which meant I had the basics but I was tired and wasn’t sure what to make out of what I had. So I started with the spiralizing the zucchini that I needed to use up. I decided to make a quick pesto for the zoodles out of the basil I had in the backyard but after heading out to gather it, I realized I didn’t have as much as I needed so after doing a quick vegetable drawer raid, I decided to substitute the rest of what I needed with arugula. A few whirls in the Vitamix later, I had a easy pesto for my zoodles. I didn’t need all the pesto for the zoodles so I used the rest of it as a quick marinade for chicken thighs that I had in the fridge and grilled up after letting them marinade for about an hour. I diced up a container of cherry tomatoes and had a perfect colorful spring dinner that came together quickly and easily.
When I make a batch of pesto, I always have extra. Here are a few ways I like to use it up:
My favorite sandwich from a hole in the wall bakery in San Francisco is a grilled fresh mozzarella, tomato and pesto sandwich so that’s always first on my list to make with leftover pesto. You can also swirl a few tablespoons into your ranch dressing (I love this yogurt ranch) for salads and mayonnaise for sandwiches. I also fold it into meatballs and use as a sauce for noodles, diced vegetables, as well as marinade for chicken and fish. Pesto freezes well so I sometimes spoon into ice cube trays and freeze for future use. Note: I have ice cube trays that I use just for savory things like broth, pesto and minced garlic.
- 2 cups basil - washed and spun dry in a salad spinner
- 2 cups arugula - washed (I buy the bag of preached organic arugula)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
- 1 cup olive oil or avocado oil
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 lemon
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- Toss arugula and basil in a blender (or food processor) along with garlic, salt and pepper to taste, olive oil and pine nuts. Blend for about 30 seconds, then with the blender going slowly drizzle in oil until smooth. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides of your machine a couple of times until you get the consistency you want. Add the cheese and lemon juice and pulse a few times to incorporate.
You can substitute walnuts for pine nuts if you don't like pine nuts or don't have them at home. You can also leave out the cheese if you are dairy free.
Lemon isn't a traditional ingredient for pesto but I like to add it for a brightness of flavor and to also to keep the pesto from oxidizing and turning brown.
The end of summer is my favorite time to entertain. The days are warm but the nights have a cool, crip feel to them. Produce and flowers are straddling the seasons and guests are getting back into the swing of things after the summer season of vacations, weekends away, camping adventures and days by the pool. The end of summer produce and farmers markets make it easy to create a fresh and light menus that feel like summer but have a comfort food quality to them, like fresh baked pies, herbed goat cheese and heirloom tomatoes crostatas and rustic bean soups loaded with farmers market produce.
My personal favorite time of the evening is when guests linger at the table under white cafe lights and lighted votives while finishing dessert and sipping their last few sips of wine. It makes me the happiest when my guests are full, happy and are having a great time connecting with others at the table. It’s my favorite moment and the moment I live for.
As the summer comes to a close, there might be a couple more house guests coming your way. Here are a few tips to get your guest room (or office in my case) guest ready:
1. Layer bedding so they stay warm. I use an inflatable bed that sits as high as regular bed and uses twin bedding for me to make a nice bed. I like to open the house up at night so I provide an extra blanket or two incase it gets too cool for my guest.
2. Drape a throw on the end of the bed. Sometimes, your guest might want to read in bed in the afternoon and a throw is nice for them to curl up with, without having to unmake their bed.
3. Provide light for night readers. A simple, small table lamp works perfectly for this. Make sure you show your guest how to turn on the light when showing them their space.
4. Have a desk nearby for quick work sessions. I keep my desk clean and organized for guests to be able to use to send a quick email.
Last weekend I co-hosted a baby shower. Anne is from St. Louis and is going to have a shower there hosted by her family but we wanted to throw her shower here with a few of her California friends. So my friend and I set out to create an intimate shower with classic French details, lots of fresh flowers and really delicious food. Check out the details :