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Homemade Ricotta and Ricotta Toasts

A few weeks ago I made my first batch of ricotta cheese!  It was so much easier than I thought it would be.  The recipe is from Fine Cooking. Thanks to the use of whole milk and cream it is rich and luscious.  While I am sure it would take your lasagna to the next level, I wanted to use it in a way that allowed it to really be showcased, not masked behind tomato sauce and heavy meats.  These toasts were the perfect way to use it.

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Many ideas I came across for ricotta toasts were sweet with ingredients like honey, figs, strawberries and grapes.  I wanted something that would qualify as dinner, so I decided on roasted asparagus with lemon and thyme and tomato and basil.  This will definitely be something I’ll make again this summer, it’s light but still satisfying.  I can also see adapting this to serve as an appetizer or as part of a brunch.  I’m helping host a baby shower in a couple months, and I think these would be perfect.

To make the toasts I took slices of hearty bread

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Brushed them with olive oil (butter is also great)

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And grilled them (a panini press or grill with do, as will broiling them in the oven.)

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Top with a tablespoon or 2 of the ricotta.

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Layer on some roasted asparagus.

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Sprinkle with fresh thyme and lemon zest, and maybe a bit of salt.

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Slice and serve.

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I also made some with slices of fresh tomato, chopped fresh basil and some sea salt.  I will never tire of that combination.  And it’s perfect for summer when fresh basil and ripe tomatoes are in abundance.

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Do you have any great toppings for ricotta toasts?  I’d love to hear what you’ve tried!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

From Fine Cooking

Makes 4 cups of cheese (can easily be halved)

Ingredients

  • 1 galllon of whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon flaky sea salt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Directions

  1. Fold cheesecloth to make 3 or 4 layers, wet and then squeeze the excess liquid out.  Line a colander with the cheesecloth and set in a clean sink.
  2. Put the milk and cream in a large pot.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot and slowly warm the milk and cream over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s 185°F, about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat, stir in the salt, and then slowly pour the lemon juice over the surface of the milk. Once all of the lemon juice has been added, stir gently for 1 to 2 minutes to encourage curds to form.
  4. Gently ladle the curds into the prepared colander. Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the curds to loosely cover. Drain until it reaches your desired consistency, 30 minutes for a soft ricotta and up to 24 hours for a very firm, dry, dense ricotta. 30 minutes to an hour created the consistency I liked for the toasts.  Be sure to refrigerate if draining the ricotta for more than a couple of hours. Transfer the drained ricotta to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

 

Daring Bakers: Lamingtons

The last post on Hottie Biscotti was the April Daring Bakers challlenge.  A full month of no posts!  I know you’ve been wondering just what has happened to me.  Well, I have just been doing a poor job of keeping up with the blog.  Honestly I don’t know when I would’ve posted next if I didn’t have a commitment to keep up with The Daring Bakers.  Blogging has taken a back seat lately.  Being a mom is a lot of work and sometimes (or a lot of the time this past month) sitting down and watching TV during nap time is more valuable and enjoyable to me than taking photos or writing a blog post.  Anyone else have dry spells in blogging?

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Anyway, I was glad to have this fun challenge to get me back here. I’d never seen or heard of Lamingtons before.  I’d never even made a sponge cake!  So, thanks for the great challenge, for having me try something new, and for getting me to blog, Marcellina!

For the May challenge Marcellina from Marcellina in Cucina dared us to make Lamingtons. An Australian delicacy that is as tasty as it is elegant.

I ate one of these with my afternoon coffee today and loved every bite of it.  The delicate cake with the thin layer of chocolate and slightly crunchy coconut made for a really special treat.  It’s basically a Mounds bar in cake form, so if you like those you should have no problem liking Lamingtons.

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Making the sponge cake is fairly simple when it comes to ingredients and baking, but it is tedious.  Having a stand mixer is super helpful since you beat the eggs and sugar on high speed for 15 minutes.  I was thankful to be able to turn on the timer and tend to other things while my mixer did all the work!  When you fold in the flour mixture it’s important not to deflate the eggs, but you also want to get all the flour incorporated, so there’s a delicate balance.  I don’t think that I achieved a perfect sponge, there were a few little pockets of unmixed cornstarch and baking powder in one part of the cake, but overall the flavor was incredible and the texture was light and airy.  And I don’t know what truly proper sponge cake should be like, so maybe mine was nowhere near acceptable.  But it worked!  So I’m going to call it good.

Here is my set up for dipping and coating the cake.  Doesn’t it look neat and clean?

Lamingtons

The chocolate glaze is delicious, a breeze to mix up, and easy to work with, at least at first.  The only problem I ran in to glazing and coating the pieces in coconut was that the delicate cake lost little pieces in the chocolate which, after about a dozen pieces of cake, made for a yucky mess that was no longer easy to work with.  So I ended up not even bothering to coat all the pieces.  My kids gladly ate the extra cake for dessert and felt very fancy.  If I really needed to coat them all I’d make a second batch of glaze that I could switch to once the first batch became not so wonderful.

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Here is the mess I made.

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But here is what came out of all that mess.  Totally worth it.

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Lamingtons

Makes 24

Ingredients

Cake

  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup castor sugar (I used regular granulated with no issues)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 2¾ cups unsweetened desiccated coconut, to assemble

Chocolate Glaze

  • 3 ¼ cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • ½ to ¾ cup milk

Directions

Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Prepare a 4 ½ cm (1¾ inch) deep 9”x 13” baking pan by lining with non-stick paper and greasing the paper.
  3. In a stand mixer bowl place eggs, sugar and salt. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high for 15 minutes.
  4. While the eggs and sugar are beating sift the cornflour and baking powder at least 3 times.
  5. After 15 minutes add vanilla and beat on high for another 5 minutes. The mixture should have at least tripled in size, be light in color and very foamy.
  6. Sift flour mixture over the egg mixture. I like to use a whisk but you can also use a large metal spoon to lightly fold the flour in. Some people like to use a wooden spoon but I find it too heavy. Heavy handling now will result in a flat tough sponge. If you are using butter, thoroughly fold it in now but lightly.
  7. Spread mixture into your prepared pan and smooth out evenly. Some cooks at this stage drop the pan onto the bench top to even out the air bubbles.  I did this, but just once and not from very high 🙂
  8. Bake in preheated moderate oven for 22-25 minutes. The sponge will rise quite a lot but then settle back down. Don’t be tempted to open the oven to peak.  When baked the sponge will have shrunk very slightly from the sides and should feel springy when pressed gently.
  9. Turn the sponge out immediately onto a wire rack to cool and reverse sponge so as not to mark the top. Allow to cool. It is best to keep the cake for a day before making the Lamingtons as the cake will be easier to handle.

Chocolate Glaze

  1. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a heatproof bowl.
  2. Stir in the butter and ½ cup milk.
  3. Set the bowl over a pan of hot water.
  4. Stir until icing is smooth adding more milk to thin the icing if needed. I find I need more than ½ cup but not quite ¾ cup of milk.

Assemble

  1. Dip each piece into the chocolate icing, let the excess drip off.  Keep the bowl over the pan of warm water to keep the chocolate smooth.
  2. Roll in coconut.
  3. Place on a wire rack and let sit for 2 hours.  Refrigerate or freeze.

Quick and Easy Cuban Paninis

As the new week approaches I start thinking about our week of meals, as I’m sure some of you do too.  I don’t typically plan well, often having to make 2 or 3 trips to the grocery store between Sunday and Friday.  If I want to make one trip on Sunday or Monday it helps me to plan out our meals and how I’m going to use leftovers.

Every couple of weeks I make a pork tenderloin (99% of the time it’s the pre-marinated kind from HEB, the Italian herb flavor) and we eat it with rice or potatoes and vegetables or salad.  It’s a really simple dinner and one that doesn’t involve a whole lot of work.  But since there are only 2 of us eating we always have leftovers.  While slicing the extra pork and piling it onto a salad is a great and delicious way to use it, sometimes I want something hot and melty, especially when it’s cold out.  That’s where these super easy Cuban panini sandwiches come in. cubanpanini2 Cuban sandwiches typically contain pork, ham, swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickles.  And that, along with some bread, is all you need for these paninis.  I used ciabatta rolls, but French bread is probably closer to true Cuban bread.  I love the flavor combinations in this sandwich and especially love the pickles.  They’re so wonderful warm, and the pickle juice gets down into the whole sandwich.  I do like pickles.  cubanpanini1 If it’s been a long day this is a super fast dinner and you don’t have to do any cooking if you’re using leftover pork.  Sometimes I make a salad to round out the meal, and sometimes I just put a bag of chips on the table, eat a few baby carrots, count pickles as vegetables and call it good.  Use a panini press if you have one.  If not, just treat this like a grilled cheese.  Press the sandwich down firmly with another pan while it’s cooking to press everything together.

The recipe below is for 2 sandwiches.  Just double or triple the ingredients to make the number you need.  I did not measure the amount of pork I used, but it was close to 1/4 of a whole tenderloin, about 4 thin slices per sandwich.  I opted for the higher amount of cheese and pickles in my sandwiches.  I also mixed up both yellow and dijon mustard, in equal parts, to spread on the bread.  Use what you like.  I do suggest cheese on both sides of the sandwich to keep things together.  Do you have any quick and easy dinners or delicious ways to transform your leftovers?

Cuban Paninis

Makes 2 sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 2 ciabatta rolls, other sandwich sized rolls or sliced french bread
  • pork, roasted and sliced, about 4 slices per sandwich
  • 2-4 slices of swiss cheese
  • 2-4 slices of ham
  • 4-6 dill pickle slices
  • mustard (regular yellow, dijon, or a half and half mix)
  • olive oil

Directions

  1. Heat panini press or large skillet over medium heat (or medium low if your burners run hot like mine).
  2. Spread some mustard on either one or both sides of the roll.
  3. On the bottom slice of bread layer 1 slice of cheese, a few slices of pork, 1-2 slices of ham, your desired number of pickles, a little more cheese and top with the other piece of bread.
  4. Brush or drizzle a little olive oil on both sides of the bread then place on the panini press or in the skillet.
  5. Press down firmly with the press or with a heavy skillet.  You’ll need to flip the sandwich if you’re doing it in a skillet, after 3 minutes or so depending on how hot your pan is, and repeat on the other side.  The panini press should let you know either by beeping or changing light from red to green, that it’s done.  Sometimes I let mine cook a little longer.  What you want is for the ingredients to be warmed, the cheese melted and the bread to be golden brown.  Slice sandwiches in half and serve.

Brown Butter Icebox Cookies

As often happens to me these days, I had the urge to bake, but not much to work with.  But if you have butter (and flour and sugar), you have everything you need!  I’ve expressed my love of brown butter before.  Brown butter has this nutty wonderful flavor and can transform a baked good or even a vegetable dish like these brussels sprouts.  Brown butter can turn something that is just so-so into something spectacular.

This shortbread-like cookie recipe comes from Gourmet.  Here is the link.  I didn’t change a thing about this recipe.  The resulting cookies were so deliciously buttery, crunchy, sweet and just the perfect touch salty.  I’m sad that they are almost gone.

The only tricky thing is browning the butter without burning it.  Just keep the heat moderate, stir consistently and take the pot off the heat when you start to get more and more browned bits.  Once the bits begin to brown the process speeds up, so watch it closely.  Just don’t let it burn or you’ll have to start over.  After you’ve browned the butter, let it cool in the fridge until it is solid, mine took about an hour and a half.  It doesn’t have to be hard like the stick of butter you took from the fridge, just not liquidy.  Does that make sense?

I liked the crunchy sugar on the edges of the cookies, but if you don’t have raw sugar on hand you can leave it out.  If you are going to use the sugar, cut about 1/3 of the log of raw dough, roll it in the sugar, pressing firmly.  Then slice into pieces for baking.  I found it was easier to roll parts of the log instead of the whole thing.  While a batch is baking, keep the rest of the dough refrigerated so it remains easy to slice.

Brown Butter Ice Box Cookies

From Gourmet.com

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar

Directions

  1. Cook butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it has a nutty fragrance and flecks on bottom of pan turn golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer butter to a bowl and chill until just firm, about an hour and a half.
  2. Beat together butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then mix in flour and salt at low speed until just combined. Transfer dough to a sheet of wax paper or parchment and form into a 12-inch log, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill, wrapped in wax paper, until firm, at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Roll dough in raw sugar.  Slice dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, arranging 1 1/2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake until surface is dry and edges are slightly darker, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

You Can Make Your Own…

Last week we picked up Rudy’s BBQ for dinner.  Last minute plans had been made and I just couldn’t pull together a meal for 7 with what I had on hand.  And I can’t meal plan fast enough to just run to the store and pick stuff up.  I agonize over my meals.  It might be a problem, the amount of time and energy I spend thinking about what to make for dinner.  Anyway,  I love Rudy’s.  I really and truly do, but they can be stingy with their accoutrements.  I ordered almost 3 pounds of meat and they gave us bags with all of 9 dill pickle slices, 4 slices of onion, and 9 pieces of bread.  Really, Rudy’s?  We did have plenty of sauce, though.  The biggest problem for me was the pickles.  I would have pulled some out of the fridge, but we just moved into this house, and so I haven’t stocked up on stuff like that yet.  When we moved out of our other house I had 4 different kinds of pickles on hand.  I like pickles.  I bought a jar of dill pickles last night at the grocery store.  So we’re good now.

Photo from kimberlybelle.com

This started me thinking about things I’d like to make from scratch at least once, just to see if it’s as good as store bought and worth the effort.  Of course I know that fresh pasta is probably better than the dry stuff, but I don’t know many people who make their own.  I think it’s just too much work, and possibly not worth the trouble.  Some people I know disagree with me…like old Italian grandmothers.

So, by the end of the summer, since many of these things are summer foods, I will conquer and report back to you the good, the bad and the ugly about making your own of the following foods.  Most of the foods I’m listing below are things I almost always buy at the grocery store, with little to no fuss, and ready to go.  Some of them are things I’ve just always wanted to make but never had the motivation to make.  If anyone has any other suggestions, tips, recipes, etc. please send them my way as I am always glad to get helpful advice!

  • Pickles (Dill and Bread + Butter)
  • Pickled Beets
  • Flour Tortillas
  • Gnocchi
  • Ravioli
  • White Sandwich Bread
  • Hamburger Buns
  • Ketchup
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Pretzels
  • Flaky Dinner Rolls
  • Croissants
  • Baguettes
  • Beef Brisket
  • Soufflé (Savory and Sweet)

I am going to stop there.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself and then abandon this idea entirely when I become overwhelmed.  There will be no rhyme or reason in how I approach this, so don’t expect the order in which I make anything to make any kind of sense whatsoever.  Check back for the first “You Can Make Your Own…” post, which might just happen to be pickles…or might just happen to be something else.  Can you tell I haven’t totally thought this through?

What I Want Wednesday

Have I really been this neglectful to my blog?  2 weeks without a post?  I am a terrible person and I promise to be better.  Things have been a little crazy around here getting our house ready to sell.  My house has never looked better!  We are leaving Amarillo and moving to Houston once we sell this lovely little place.  I have mixed emotions about the move.  It is bittersweet.

I am by no means a gardener, but I’ve been attempting to learn more about plants and gardening since having a yard I can work in.  If you’ve been to my house and seen my yard you are currently thinking, “She was working on that yard?”  Did I say I was successful?  Anyway, I really do want to be a good gardener.  I want to grow vegetables that I can cook with, and flowers that I can cut and arrange in a vase in my house, I want to sit and have a cup of coffee out among my lush and flourishing foliage.  But I should be realistic, I am no Ina Garten, and I live in Texas.

One of the things I really, really want is a functional herb garden.  I have managed to grow rosemary and so I never have to buy it from the grocery store.  I just head out back and snip a few sprigs.  It makes me happy.  Basil?  No luck.  Mint? I have some out back, and it’s doing well so far.  We shall see.  In my dream herb garden I want these.

Isn’t this a lovely idea?  Fresh herbs are such a great ingredient and garnish to savory and sweet things, and they are even greater when you can have the satisfaction of getting them from your own yard!  Here is a how-to from Bunny Hill Blog on making your own.  I may try this myself when we get to our new home…whenever and wherever that is.  I saw some already made on this Etsy page.  That may end up being the route I go if I get too lazy to search for old spoons, hammer them flat and then stamp them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Want Wednesday

This kitchen.

I always thought I wanted a clean white kitchen, but then I came across this while searching for kitchen chandeliers.  I want to put a tiny one above my kitchen sink.

It looks like that’s a 6 burner stove…no, wait…I am pretty sure it’s 8!  The backsplash behind the stove is lovely.  I think that there’s a wine fridge under what appears to be a microwave.

The butcher block island is enormous!  Oh, the prep work I could accomplish there.

The sink has one of those pull down sprayers.  I might even start to like washing dishes with that.

High ceilings, white chandeliers, clean lines, a wall of windows, plenty of room for mingling, glass front cabinets.  I want this kitchen.

What I Want Wednesday

These chalkboard place mats seem wonderful, versatile and oh so much fun.  At an adult dinner party they could be used as place cards, and kids can use them to doodle during dinner.  What am I saying?  Adults can use these to doodle during dinner.   And then after dinner you can use them to play Pictionary!

I can think of some creative people in my life (and you know who you are) who could really do great things with these.  My creativity would get me about as far as using more than one color to write someone’s name.  $33 for a set of 4 here.  I think these would make a fun hostess gift.

I do wonder how they stand up to actually being used as place mats.  Can they stand up to drips of grease?  Condensation?  Tomato sauce?  The sticky fingers of little children?  Even if they did only make their way through a few parties I think they would be a fun enough addition to be worth it.

What I Want Wednesday

Like most things I have posted about I do not need one of these drink dispensers from Crate and Barrel.  I just kinda want one.

We would need to have quite a few outdoor parties this summer in order for one of these to be necessary.  I like the idea of a dispenser with a faucet instead of a pitcher and I like that you can see the contents.  Even plain ice water with slices of lemon, lime and orange would be beautiful in this.  Margaritas or sangria would be more fun.

 

What I Want Wednesday

If you know me, then I know what you’re thinking.  “An apron?  Doesn’t she have enough aprons?  I’ve seen them hanging in her kitchen.  She doesn’t need another one.”  Yes.  I have too many aprons.

I just really love this one.  I love all of the aprons from Anthropologie, but this one looks like a sweet little dress complete with sweet little ruffles.  And it’s called tea and crumpets.  Adorable.  This one comes in yellow and blue.  Check out all their aprons here.