Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Short post today

Very short post today. Nothing of real consequence (but then when ARE my post of any real consequence?). Hubby posted a short blog with pics of our homemade ravioli and our lemon ricotta pancakes. I hope to do a more interesting post soon. Until then, eat with gusto!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

It Was A Full Day

Yesterday was quite the day! So much going on - the fact that I am awake right now should fill you all with amazement. :)

Anyway, we did a lot of cooking and baking yesterday. It started off with making corn bread for a cornbread stuffing. We are getting together with some friends tonight for a themed dinner (New Orleans). So, I made Emeril Lagasse's Cornbread Stuffing. But first, I made the cornbread.

Next, I was planning on making lasagna for dinner last night. But first, we needed pasta. So, I made the Poor Man's Pasta recipe from Lidia's Family Table (I love Lidia!). She recommended this pasta for lasagna recipes.

Barefoot, cooking in the kitchen. :)

As I posted previously, I made ricotta cheese a few days ago and mozzarella after that. Here is the mozzarella.

The mozzarella just after separation - draining.

Stretching the mozzarella. It gets hot - thus the rubber gloves.

The finished mozzarella.

I had a whole bunch of whey left over, so I used some to make an Italian bread recipe included in the cheese recipe pamphlet. It made two huge loaves for bread with a very nice crumb. I can totally see making some really tasty garlic bread with this stuff.

The Italian Whey Bread - a bit brown, but still very good.

Then I started on the lasagna. Hubby helped by heating up some tomato sauce that we had made last summer. He added several herbs - basil, thyme, etc. It was very nicely reduced already, so all we really needed to do was heat it up.

The Sauce - tangy, lightly sweet, herby, delicious.

I shredded the mozzarella while Hubby browned some pork sausage (the only thing we didn't make) and added fennel seeds and other herbs to give it that Italian sausage flavor.

The pork sausage browning.

Then we assembled the lasagna - layering pasta sauce, pasta, ricotta, mozzarella, pork sausage, and parmesan cheese (ok, the other thing we didn't make). We topped it of with pasta, mozzarella and parmesan, covered with foil, and baked for 40 minutes. Then we uncovered it and baked an additional 20 minutes so that the top become brown, crusty, and oh so tasty!

Layering the lasagna

The lasagna was fantastic - great flavors. The pasta itself got a bit soft - not really surprising since we were using fresh pasta - but still quite nice. Gotta love it!


Finally, we needed to make the cornbread stuffing. This is an enormous recipe. I didn't have a baking dish large enough. But, the andoullie sausage smells so great when it is cooking. Lots of onion, green pepper, and celery - and the requisite "bam" of Emeril's Essence. We haven't actually tasted it yet (too full from the lasagna and didn't want to cut into the dish before our gathering today). But, it looks and smells fantastic.

Can't wait to try the cornbread stuffing.

It was a long and productive day around here. I will admit to collapsing on the couch when it was all done. But, I would have to say it was worth the trouble. I mean, I'm sure our great - great grandparents would have looked at the day and scoffed "I wish I had a day that easy!"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Last night, Hubby and I made our very first batch of ricotta cheese. Woot!

We had gotten the cheese-making kit a few months ago when visiting Shepherd's Way Farms during an open house. They make really great artisan cheese and are only about 20 minutes away. They had Ricki's Cheesemaking Kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company in Massachussetts. All I can say is that it couldn't be easier and the cheese tastes fantastic.

We bought some organic whole milk. We poured the whole gallon into the pot along with a teaspoon of citric acid (from the kit) and a tsp of salt (optional).

The milk in the pot.

Adding the salt.

We heated the milk to 195 degrees F, stirring often to prevent burning. It started to curdle and look like ricotta.

Once it reached 195 degrees, we took it off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Then we scooped the ricotta into the cheesecloth-lined colander over another pot to drain for 1/2 hour.

The cheese hanging to drain for 1/2 hour.

The ricotta in the cheesecloth.

The cheese is very tasty. It is a bit sweeter than what you find in the grocery stores. It is nice and light in texture. I am so excited to use it for lemon ricotta pancakes and in homemade lasagna. Additionally, the cheese kit has a recipe to use the whey leftover to make pizza dough or bread - so we've saved the whey to do that later.

Tomorrow we will be doing our first batch of mozzarella using Cedar Summit milk. Look for the post on that in the future.

In summary, I'm very excited to venture into cheese making. The simpleness of some types of cheese I think would lend itself to making a family activity out of it for those with kids. Try it out!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Slow Food and Sustainable Farming

Two weekends ago, Hubby and I attended a couple of conferences for groups that we are interested in: The Sustainable Farming Association of MN and Slow Food MN.

The first, Sustainable Farming Association of MN, had their annual conference on the St. Olaf campus in Northfield, MN. There were a few stands for vendors ranging from organic seed purveyors to other sustainable organizations. There were various seminars throughout the day, including a film made by a faculty member and student at Gustavus Adolphus College (my alma mater).

It was interesting, but both Hubby and I felt underwhelmed by it. First, the organizers touted a "farmers market" that would be onsite. I believe the we came across one stand that had some homemade jams and jellies. Other than that - nothing. Kind of sad, especially considering the number of local producers nearby. Second, there was a lot of "preaching to the choir" going on. I mean, I think most of those in attendance already buys into to concepts. A lot of people were going off with either "We need to support sustainable farmers." and "Peak oil, climate change, and economic instablility are all linked to the need for sustainable farming." But there wasn't a lot of discussion about what we could do on a personal, local, and political/national level. Third, I was disappointed that there seemed to be a lack of minority farmers and urban farmers - both of which are growing areas of farming in this state.

I do have to say that I was impressed by all that St. Olaf is doing in this area - their student farm and its relationship with the cafeteria, the wind turbines, their composting facility. The food was really nice - much better than when I went to college (but Gustavus is making strides there, now).

The other event was the Slow Food MN annual meeting. It was held at the McNally School of Music in St. Paul. It was a soup and bread potluck. We brought two loaves of No Knead Bread and a jar of our homemade strawberry rhubarb jam. The food was quite tasty and the group was very welcoming. The business meeting was a bit chaotic (some people were unused to parlimentary procedure), but they did get through it. I'm excited about the events they have planned - including a Hmong farm and food event, a chocolate event, and repeat of the foraged food event we attended last year.

There is quite a bit of overlap with these two groups (Slow Food and Sustainable Farming Association). It makes sense, though. A lot of the farmers are the same in both groups and the food-lovers like Hubby and me are interested in the same groups. All this had Hubby and I going "Why aren't these groups more integrated and working with each other more?" Thus, I will get more into that when I talk about Transition Towns in a future post.