I ricotta, You ricotta, We all ricotta!

Homemade ricottaHello, my name is Michelle, and I am a cheese addict. One of my favorite obsessions, errr, I mean foods, is cheese. I literally cannot live without it! We all need a little ricotta!

I was feeling inspired after a tasting at Austin’s new Italian food truck, Patrizi’s. Patrizi’s serves up fresh, traditional fare and offers patrons a piece of Italy right in the heart of Austin! I especially loved the pasta pomodoro served with fresh ricotta cheese and I thought “Why not make my own ricotta?” Pasta+Wine+Cheese=Brilliance!

Ricotta cheese can make plain, drab food taste like a decadent feast. It can liven up weekday dinners, satisfy a sweet tooth, and can be used in place of a variety of cheeses such as Parmesan. Needless to say, I will never buy store bought ricotta again! It is too easy to make and tastes far better than the stuff sitting on the shelf for weeks.

I made this batch of ricotta with whole milk and heavy cream I found at the grocery store. I would recommend using organic milk and cream if you can find it. I think it would make the cheese taste richer. If not, you can use products that are most convenient to you. It still turned out wonderful.

There are many different coagulates you can use to create the “curd”. I chose lemon juice over vinegar because I thought the taste would be fresher. You can certainly use a white wine vinegar if desired.Preparing Cheese

Straining cheese

I use fresh ricotta on pasta, pizza, as a topping for toasted bread, or as breakfast topped with honey, walnuts, and raspberries. If eating with crackers or bread, I highly recommend adding fresh, cracked pepper and lemon or orange zest. Simple, but out of this world!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

  • Servings: 8
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 75 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Cheesecloth

Directions:

Line a strainer with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Juice two lemons for the coagulate and set aside.

Heat milk, cream, and salt over medium-high heat until liquid hits a roaring boil. This will take about 15-20 minutes. Stir constantly to prevent scorching. When liquid starts to boil, lower heat to simmer and add three tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir for two minutes until the curd starts to form. Turn off the heat and let sit for one minute.

Pour curds and whey into strainer and cheesecloth. The whey will drain into the bowl. Let sit for one hour to pull the moisture out of the cheese. Discard whey (unless you want to use in other recipes) and refrigerate cheese. Ricotta will keep 3-4 days in a covered container.

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Cupcake and Champagne Sunday!

Champagne and cupcakes

Sundays are perfect for whipping up lovely sweets and enjoying the end of the weekend. Today, I decided it was cupcake and champagne Sunday!

I am very fond of springtime in Paris. Yes, I am still in love with the romantic notion of the city-I am such a sucker. I fell head over heels when I saw An American in Paris as a kid. I even had my wedding photos done in Paris 🙂 It is still my dream to spend an extended amount of time in the city painting and writing!

One of my favorite pastimes while in Paris is visiting the pâtisseries. The pastries are truly works of art. They are sometimes too beautiful to eat! Today’s cupcake recipe was inspired by the rich chocolate ganache frosting that is often used on French pastries. I love vanilla and chocolate together so I decided to make a vanilla bean cupcake recipe. And, of course, champagne goes with chocolate!Champagne and bubbles

Vanilla bean and chocolate ganache cupcakes made my Sunday decadent and we all need a little decadence before the work week starts again! So, put on some music, dig out your pretty plates and napkins, and Winedown!

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache

  • Servings: 12
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 28 minutes

Cupcake Ingredients:

  • Baking spray
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup room temperature butter (if salted butter then do not add additional salt)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 1/4 cups milk

Ganache Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees. Spray cupcake pan with baking spray.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and continue to beat until combined. Scrape vanilla bean into butter mixture and mix thoroughly.

Add flour mixture to creamed batter alternately with milk. Mix well after each addition. Beat an additional minute to make sure all ingredients are combined.

Spoon into prepared cupcake pan filling each cupcake halfway. Bake approximately 24-28 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing cupcakes from pan. Place cupcakes on wire rack to allow to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, prepare the ganache topping by heating the cream over medium heat until bubbles start to form on the edges of the pan. Do not overheat! Pour heated cream over chocolate chips and stir until chips are melted and cream is combined. Let chocolate rest for 5 minutes before using.

When cupcakes are cooled, hold the cupcake upside down and dip the tops into the chocolate ganache. Place cupcakes on a plate for 10 minutes before serving to allow the ganache to set. Top cupcakes with raspberries or strawberries for a little extra elegance!

Champagne and cupcake pictures

Italian Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels SproutsIn the rush to get your masterpiece of a main course done, it is easy to forget the side dishes.You can’t have a holiday dinner without side dishes! In my house, I have to have at least two to make the food trifecta: meat, veggie, carb. Somehow, the universe is in order when I have all three!

The perfect accompaniment to my smoked rack of pork is Italian Roasted Brussels Sprouts. I use this basic Italian recipe on a variety of oven roasted vegetables and they all turn out great! It makes a quick, easy, and healthy side dish to any lunch or dinner. Enjoy and Winedown!

Italian Roasted Brussels Sprouts

  • Servings: 6
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound brussel sprouts
  • 1/8 cup high quality olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking dish with foil and spray with cooking spray. Personally, I prefer Pam with canola oil. It doesn’t burn like other cooking sprays.

Wash and trim outside leaves from brussels sprouts. Place sprouts in baking dish and add olive oil, garlic, cheese, salt, and pepper. Toss well to coat. Place brussels sprouts in oven for approximately 35 minutes until roasted brown and tender.

Sprinkle extra Parmesan cheese on top if desired.

Smoked Honey Dijon and Herb Rack of Pork

Easter is fast approaching, and if you are like me, you will be cooking up a large meal for family or friends. Why make a boring ham when you can easily make my smoked honey Dijon and herb rack of pork!

I am a Southern girl, but my passion is Italian cooking. The best way to combine Italian recipes and my Texas heritage is to BBQ or smoke the meat! It gives the meat a nice intense flavor while still preserving the savoriness of the mustard and herbs. This is one of my favorite recipes to make for family style dinners or holidays. It feeds a lot of people and makes excellent leftovers!

And I can’t forget the wine! La Crema Chardonnay is a nice selection for smoked meats. It complements the smokey flavor and also adds depth. I have to say it is one of my favorite Chardonnays. Enjoy and Winedown!La Crema California

Smoked Honey Dijon and Herb Rack of Pork

  • Servings: 8
  • Prep Time: 50 minutes
  • Cooking time: 180 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 6 pound rack of pork
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon of minced garlic OR
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic finely chopped

Directions:

Rinse pork with cold water and pat dry. Place pork rack on cookie sheet and trim excess fat. I buy the Costco rack of pork because it gives me the best bang for my buck. You could also go to your local butcher and ask for a smaller rack of pork if desired.

Sprinkle both sides of pork with salt and pepper and allow meat to come up to room temperature. While pork is resting, combine Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, honey, dried thyme, and garlic in small bowl. Mix well.
Slather half of the mustard mixture on one side of the pork. Cover meat well. Turn rack over and slather the rest of the mustard mixture on pork. Let set for 20 minutes while preparing Big Green Egg smoker.Honey Dijon Pork Prep
Bring Big Green Egg (or smoker of choice) to 250 degrees. FYI, you can also roast the rack of pork in the oven at 250 degrees, but you will not get the added “smoked” flavor. I read that you can add a small pan of water and wood chips to your oven to mimic the smoke, but I have never tried it.

Place rack of pork on indirect heat. Smoke approximately 3 hours or to an internal temperature of 145 degrees for medium. Take pork off Big Green Egg and wrap in foil. Let pork rest 30 minutes.

Carve rack into individual pork chops. I use Shun knives in the kitchen and the Shun carving knife is great for cutting meat. I cannot live without a decent knife in the kitchen. They are expensive, but well worth the money!

Buon appetito! Look for my Easter side dish posts in the next few days!

Honey Dijon Rack of Pork