Author Archives: Andrea

DIY Dairy: A Guide to Making Your Own Dairy Products

DIY Dairy collage

Lately I’ve been trying to manage three obsessions: The Olympics, The Hunger Games and Pinterest. All week I’ve been trying to find a way to weave these topics into my blog posts. Aside from delving into the obvious food-related questions—Do Olympians really eat MacDonald’s? (I hope not.) Do grooslings really exist? (Probably not.)—yesterday I suddenly realized that one thing my three obsessions have in common is that they inspire me to action.

When I watch Allyson Felix run—we’re the same age, height and weight (on a good days)—it inspires me to break out of my running rut and run harder than I thought I could. When I read about Katniss foraging for food, climbing trees and outwitting her opponents, it inspires me to be brave. When I pin DIY and craft projects on Pinterest, it inspires me to think outside the box and create something with what I already have.

Then I made another connection: even if I’ve been a little slow to jump on the DIY home décor movement, I’ve always had a strong DIY spirit in the kitchen. From pie crusts to soup stock, making food from scratch has always been immensely satisfying for me. In the past few years I’ve delved into making my own dairy products. Some of my ventures have been smashing successes while others have been, well, floundering failures. Today I’d like to share with you what I learned from my dairy experiences. I’ve analyzed six dairy products (whipped cream, crème fraîche, yogurt, ricotta, mozzarella and jack cheese) time involved, price, ease of making and taste. I hope my experiences with DIY Dairy will give you the confidence to try something new in the kitchen.

A few notes:

  • I based all of the prices off of Trader Joe’s products because it’s a national chain and where I buy most of my dairy products.
  • I try to buy organic dairy products whenever I can, so the price for homemade dairy products reflects the price of organic milk or cream.

Whipped Cream

Homemade whipped cream may seem so obviously a product that should be made from scratch that I almost didn’t include it. But through reading blogs and chatting with friends I realized that some people have never whipped their own cream.

Ingredients: heavy cream

Price: Cheaper to whip your own. Organic homemade: $0.21/oz. Store-bought: $0.26/oz.

Time: Less than five minutes with an electric mixer.

Taste: Home-whipped cream tastes better than store-bought because it doesn’t include stabilizers. Plus with homemade you can control the amount of sugar or add-ins, like vanilla, maple syrup or liqueur.

Verdict: Make it yourself! And if you miss the fun spray nozzle on the store bought canisters, invest in the iSi Mini Whipped Cream Dispenser, which dispenses whipped cream in less than a minute.

How-To: Whipped Cream Directions Scroll to the bottom of my cream puff recipe for instructions on whipping heavy cream.

Yogurt

Making yogurt at home has been a daily ritual for families throughout the world for hundreds of years. Sure, Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table sell electric yogurt makers for the home kitchen, it is possible to make cheaper, tastier yogurt at home without a fancy yogurt maker.

Ingredients: milk, existing yogurt or freeze-dried starter

Price: Cheaper to make your own yogurt. Homemade organic: $1.78/qt. Store-bought organic: $2.99/qt.

Time: 5-7 hours total, 30 minutes active.

Taste: In my opinion, homemade yogurt tastes very similar to store-bought yogurt. Homemade yogurt is runny (European style, according to Trader Joe’s), so if you want a thick, Greek style yogurt you’ll need to let your yogurt incubate longer and then strain it.

Verdict: While homemade yogurt is something I used to make regularly, I’ve started buying it at Costco because it tastes great, is a fair price and is organic. With the time I save from not making yogurt, I can explore making other things.

How-To: I’ve written two posts on making yogurt at home without a yogurt maker: How to Make Yogurt at Home Without a Yogurt Maker and A Step-by-Step Pictorial Guide to Making Yogurt.

Crème Fraiche

Whenever I see a recipe that calls for crème fraîche, I cringe a little because this cultured cream can be expensive and hard to track down. I was intrigued by recipes for homemade crème fraîche, but also skeptical that such a simple process could yield this pricey, hard to find thickened cream.

Ingredients: heavy cream, buttermilk

Price: Cheaper to make your own. Homemade organic: $1.57/7.5 oz. tub. Trader Joe’s sells a 7.5 oz. tub for $3.79, but I’ve seen tubs at Whole Foods for $5.99.  Note that that $3.79 Trader Joe’s crème fraîche is not organic, so by making it at home you can have an organic product.

Time: 12 hours total, 2 minutes active. You read that right—2 minutes active time! Crème fraîche is by far the easiest dairy product I’ve ever made.

Taste: I think homemade crème fraîche tastes great, but it won’t taste exactly like store-bought. I think the reason for this is the homemade recipe I make uses buttermilk as the cultures, while commercial crème fraîche uses special cultures (which you can buy online here). Perhaps if you have a palate attuned to the minutiae of crème fraîche you’d be better off buying it or the cultures to properly make your own, but I know plenty of bloggers who are just as happy to make their own using buttermilk as the culture.

Verdict: Make it! With a lower price and so little effort to make it, there’s no reason not to try it at least once. 

How-To: Combine whipping cream and buttermilk in a jar and set it on the counter overnight. The next day it will have thickened into tangy crème fraîche. No cooking involved! Check out this post for the directions. 

Ricotta

Ricotta is a staple of Italian cuisine, making appearances in everything from lasagna to bruschetta to cannoli. Rumor has it that ricotta is easy to make at home, but is it worth the time and effort?

Ingredients: milk, heavy cream, buttermilk

Price: Homemade organic: $3.27/15 oz. Trader Joe’s non-organic: $3.29/15 oz.

Time: 60-90 minutes total, 15 minutes active.

Taste: Homemade ricotta is hands-down much more delicious than store-bought ricotta, and I’m not alone in thinking so: I’ve read and heard this many, many times from food bloggers and friends. Store-bought ricotta is often gummy and heavy, while homemade is creamy and light.

Verdict: Make it! Though the price is virtually the same, homemade tastes much better. Also, the price quoted for homemade is organic, so in essence you’re actually getting more bang for your buck to make it at home.

How-To: Jennifer Perillo’s recipe on Food 52 has been my go-to recipe.  

Mozzarella

Let me preface this section by saying that I have not successfully made mozzarella cheese. I’ve tried three different batches, but to no avail. Mozzarella is supposed to be relatively easy to make, but I haven’t had any luck.

Ingredients: milk, rennet, citric acid

Price: This one is tricky. Trader Joe’s fresh mozzarella packed in brine costs $7.00/lb. Homemade organic costs $5.99-7.49/lb. for the milk, plus the price of citric acid and rennet.

Time: The recipe claims to take 30 minutes, but I’d budget 60 minutes just to be safe.

Taste: Can’t say! The curds I’ve made taste like mozzarella, but the texture is all wrong.

Verdict: Try it a few times if you’re up for a challenge, but if you’re like me, you’ll probably stick with buying it.

How-To: Ricki the Cheese Queen has very detailed instructions on her website if you’re game for making your own mozzarella.

Jack Cheese

I’m throwing this one in for kicks because I think you have to be pretty serious about making things from scratch to try making your own Jack cheese. My mom and I tried making Jack Cheese with the Cheesemaking kit from Ricki the Cheese Queen a few years ago and here’s our consensus.

Ingredients: milk, rennet, culture, calcium chloride

Price: Cheaper to buy. Trader Joe’s Jack Cheese: $3.99/lb. Homemade organic: $5.99 for milk, plus the price of rennet, culture and calcium chloride.  

Time: 3-8 Months. Okay, it takes 3-8 months if you cure it properly. The initial cheese making process takes at least 4 hours, but then you have to drain it, brine it and cure it. We only made it through the draining step.

Taste: Good, but we didn’t go to the effort to let it fully cure for several months so I don’t think we can accurately comment on its taste.

Verdict: Buy it, unless you’re willing to invest a lot of time and money (for the cheese wax and other special supplies) for a pound of cheese that may or may not turn out.

How-To: Here’s a link to the recipe on Ricki the Cheese Queen’s website.

Whew! That’s a whole lot of dairy. Even so, I’m ready to expand this list and try my hand at making fromage blanc, haloumi and mascarpone. Are you going to try to make any dairy products?

My Guest Post on NewlyWife

Hello Dear Readers! Just wanted to let you know that I’ve written a guest post today for the blog NewlyWife. If you’re tired of the same old tuna sandwich and looking for a way to jazz it up, then you’re going to like this post. I had a few step-by-step photos left over from the post so I created a super short stop motion video to give you a sneak peak of this tasty sandwich. Check it out!

Bruschetta with Roasted Vegetables and Homemade Ricotta

There are certain foods and recipes that food bloggers go crazy for—donuts, cupcakes, homemade marshmallows. And while those items are tasty in their in own time and place, the food trend I can’t stop talking about is homemade ricotta.

A few weeks ago I decided to make a vegetable tart that required ricotta. Instead of heading to the store for a tub of overpriced, sub-par ricotta, I decided to test what I had been reading on so many food blogs: ricotta is both easy to make and much more delicious than store-bought. Making my own ricotta for this veggie tart might not have been the most sane decision considering (1) I had never made ricotta before and the tart recipe hinged on its success (2) I would still have to go to the store to buy buttermilk and heavy cream to make the ricotta (3) my in-laws were coming for dinner in T-3 hours. But as is usually the case with me, the lure of making everything from scratch squelched any rational thinking.

Armed with Jennifer Perillo’s recipe that my friend Bethy had blogged about, I simmered milk, buttermilk and heavy cream, let it sit so the curds could develop and finally drained the whey from the curds.

Less than an hour after beginning the ricotta, I breathed a sigh of relief. Whew! It had worked! The ricotta was warm, creamy, rich, smooth, and delicious. The tart was successful and only on the table half an hour later than planned.

The ricotta recipe yielded more than I needed for the tart, so I incorporated it into meals and snacks throughout the week: scooped alongside oven-roasted peaches for dessert, smeared on bread with marmalade for a snack, and as a layer in these roasted vegetable bruschetta for a family party.

For this version of bruschetta, rub raw garlic onto toasted bread and top with a generous scoop of ricotta. Arrange roasted vegetables on top of the ricotta, sprinkle with feta and garnish with fresh basil. I roasted the vegetables in the oven, but you could probably save yourself some work by grilling them instead. And while you’re at it, double the amount of veggies and use them in my Farfalle with Grilled Vegetables and Fire Roasted Tomatoes recipe.

I may have been a little late to the homemade ricotta bandwagon, but I sure am glad I hopped on.

bruschetta 1

bruschetta3

bruschetta4

bruschetta5

bruschetta7

bruschetta8

Ingredients

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1” dice
2 colorful bell peppers, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds and stem removed
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1” dice
4 small-medium tomatoes, halved and seeded
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 bay leaves
one loaf of French or Italian bread, sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to brush bread
2 cups homemade ricotta
½ cup crumbled feta, to garnish
several basil leaves, to garnish

Prepare the Vegetables

Preheat oven to 450°F. For easy clean up, line a 9×13 inch pan with aluminum foil (or grease the pan well). Place the eggplant in the pan, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and stir to coat the pieces with olive oil. Roast the eggplant for about 15 minutes, remove from the oven and stir. Add the zucchini chunks and drizzle with more olive oil if needed. Stir and return to the oven. After 15 more minutes, stir the veggies again and check to see if they are soft, blistery and browned. If not, return to the oven and check every five minutes.

While the eggplant and zucchini are roasting, place the bell pepper halves cut-side down in a small roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Place them in the oven alongside the eggplant and zucchini and roast until skin blisters and begins to blacken, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove bell peppers from the oven and cover dish with aluminum foil. This helps steam the bell peppers and makes the skin easier to remove. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Remove foil from pan and use your hands to remove the skin from the bell peppers as best you can. Slice the bell peppers into strips and then into 1 inch chunks.

Place the tomatoes cut-side up on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until tomatoes are tender and being breaking down.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy skillet over low heat. Add the onions and bay leaves and sauté until soft and caramelized, at least 25 minutes. Stir frequently and add more oil as needed.

Alternatively, grill the vegetables until tender and slightly charred.

Assemble the Bruschetta

Toast the bread slices until golden brown either under the broiler, on a grill or in an electric toaster. Rub the raw garlic clove over the surface of the toast and brush with olive oil. Spread a generous amount of ricotta over each slice of toast and top with roasted vegetables and caramelized onions. Sprinkle a teaspoon of feta on each toast and garnish with fresh basil.

Mindless Eating: A Book Review

Have you ever found yourself saying, “I’m stuffed, but I still have room for dessert!” or “Why did I eat all those chips before dinner?” I know I have, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one. What is it that makes us eat despite our better judgment? In Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink, professor of Marketing and Nutritional Science at Cornell University, sets out to answer just that question.

Throughout Mindless Eating, Wansink provides examples of experiments he and his team have conducted to test the psychological aspects of people’s eating habits. Reading about the experiments was fascinating because it highlights the fact that most people don’t act rationally. It’s easy to chuckle at the participants’ poor decisions and think, “People can be so stupid. would never mistake chocolate yogurt for strawberry if I ate it in the dark. would never be fooled by a self-refilling bottomless soup bowl. would never be duped into eating five-day-old stale movie popcorn.” And yet Wansink is quick to point out that we all make these kinds of poor decisions or judgments in one way or another. (And yes, all of the aforementioned examples actually happened. Read about them in the book.)

bottomless soup bowl cartoon

Image source: http://mindlesseating.org/cartoons.php.

According to Wansink, how much we eat and when we eat is determined by scripts, cues and triggers that have become ingrained in us throughout our lifetimes. How many of us were taught to eat everything on our plates if we want dessert? What about the habit of sitting down in front of the TV with a big bowl of popcorn? Eating all your dinner or eating popcorn during a movie are not bad in themselves; it’s when we do them mindlessly that they can become bad. When we eat mindlessly, we’re more likely to overeat.  How do we kick the mindless eating habit? Sheer willpower, as most of us can attest, is futile in causing behavioral change. The key, in Wansink’s opinion, is reengineering small behaviors. In other words, replacing bad habits with good habits. And doing that takes baby steps.

we_eat_with_our_eyes

Image source: http://mindlesseating.org/cartoons.php.

Before we get into the baby steps, there’s another key principle in Mindless Eating that you should know about. It’s called The Mindless Margin. This principle asserts that we can eat 20% more or less than we normally eat and we won’t feel any different. If we eat 25% less, we’ll feel hungry; if we eat 25% more, we’ll feel stuffed. The takeaway: exploit—in a good way—The Mindless Margin. Eat 100 or 200 fewer calories per day and your body won’t even miss it. Over several months those missing calories will result in pounds lost. All other things being equal, eating 100 fewer calories per day will result in 10 pounds weight loss. How’s that for easy weight loss?

Back to the baby steps. At the end of each chapter in Mindless Eating, Wansink offers practical advice to combat the scripts and cues that cause us to eat. My favorite action items—food trade-offs and food policies—are from the last chapter.

In Wansink’s words, “Food trade-offs state, ‘I can eat x if I do y.’ For example, I can eat dessert if I’ve worked out; I can have chips if I don’t have a morning snack; I can have movie popcorn if I only have a salad for dinner; I can have a second soft drink if I use the stairs all day” (p 212).  Wansink put a name to a principle I’ve found effective in my own daily routine. For example, if I know I’m going out to dinner in the evening, I’ll have a salad for lunch. If I haven’t worked out, I’ll skip the La Boulange pastry.

The second tip for developing good eating habits is to instate personal food policies. Wansink lists the following examples of food policies: “serve myself 20 percent less than I usually would; no second helpings of any starch; never eat at my desk; only eat snacks that don’t come in wrappers; no bagels on weekdays; only half-size desserts” (p 213). The key to these policies is that they’re pretty small and therefore not too hard to turn into habits. Some food policies I’d like to implement include only eating at the dining table, not reading or surfing the web while eating and portioning out snacks into a little dish so I can keep track of how much I’ve eaten.

variety

Image source: http://mindlesseating.org/cartoons.php.

All right, you may be thinking, “This is all well and good, Andrea, but it sounds like a bunch of observation and theoretical stuff. Does it actually work? Has anyone actually done this?” Looking back on my personal experience, I would say yes, it does work. Throughout my college years I, like so many college students, gained weight. But for me it wasn’t the usual Freshman Fifteen culprits—pizza and beer—that slowly filled out my figure; it was the all-you-eat style cafeteria. Thanks to the variety of food and cafeteria trays that could hold several plates, bowls and cups, I’d fill up my tray with more food than I would’ve eaten at home. (Mind you, I was very good about eating my veggies.) After graduating from college, I returned to more normal portion sizes, fewer dinner choices and regular exercise. I wasn’t trying to lose weight, but by the following Christmas I had slimmed down quite a bit. In fact, I was even in denial about having extra pounds to shed. I didn’t make any drastic changes and I didn’t deprive myself of the sweets I love so much. Looking back, all I can attribute my weight loss to is portion control and regular exercise. As Wansink writes, “the best diet is one you don’t know you’re on.” Here, here.

Should you read The Mindless Margin? Absolutely. First, the book is filled with interesting case studies exploring human behavior, and second, I think anyone could benefit from understanding why we eat the way we do. In this review I’ve only scratched the surface of the tips for developing better eating habits. Even if you gain only one new insight from reading the book—and I think you’ll gain more than that—it just might be the tip that breaks the mindless eating cycle and sets you on the path to better eating habits.

Please note: I was not compensated in any way or asked to write this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

Farfalle with Grilled Vegetables and Fire Roasted Tomatoes

sausage and tomatoes

Fire roasted canned tomatoes are without a doubt one of the most delicious supermarket finds I’ve discovered lately. While plain canned tomatoes have their place—they’re my go-to if fresh tomatoes aren’t in season or look unpalatable—fire roasted canned tomatoes put them to shame. I first used fire roasted tomatoes in Heidi Swanson’s tomato soup recipe, and ever since I tasted their smoky, charred flavor, I’ve been dreaming of all the dishes they would kick up a notch—chilis, pastas, soups.

grilled veggies

sauce sausage pasta

A couple weeks ago I finally stopped dreaming of fire roasted canned tomatoes and incorporated them into this pasta dish. I love pasta dishes that are light on pasta and heavy on veggies, and this pasta fits that bill. I made a simple tomato sauce by pureeing a couple cans of fire roasted tomatoes (mine contained green chiles, which added extra kick). Then I added chopped grilled eggplant, zucchini, red onions and bell peppers.  Crumbled spicy Italian chicken sausage rounded out the mix-ins and added even more spice. I served the sauce with farfalle, but of course you can use any pasta you like.

farfalle with grilled vegetables and fire roasted tomatoes

If six servings of pasta is more than you need, consider cooking all of the sauce, grilled veggies and sausage but not all the pasta. Save the leftover sauce-veggie-meat mixture for another dinner and cook the pasta as you need it.

Serves 6

Recipe adapted from Everyday Food’s Ratatouille Pasta (June 2012).

Ingredients

1 medium Globe eggplant
½ medium red onion
1 red bell pepper
2 zucchini
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 (15 oz.) cans fire roasted tomatoes
4 spicy Italian chicken sausages
1 pound farfalle pasta
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup fresh basil leaves

Make the Farfalle with Grilled Vegetables and Fire Roasted Tomatoes

Preheat grill to medium. Slice the eggplant, zucchini and onion lengthwise into ¾ inch thick slabs. Thread the onion onto skewers if you’re worried they might fall apart on the grill. Cut the red bell pepper in half lengthwise and remove the stem and seeds. Brush the vegetables with olive oil and grill until tender and lightly charred. When vegetables are cool enough to touch, chop into bite-sized pieces.

Meanwhile, puree the fire roasted tomatoes with an immersion blender. Remove the casings from the sausage and crumble into bite-sized pieces. If the sausage is not already fully cooked, cook it in a skillet over medium heat. Combine the pureed tomatoes and cooked sausage in a large pot over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the chopped grilled vegetables and stir well.

In another large pot, bring several quarts of water to a boil. Salt the water generously, add the farfalle and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until done to your liking. Drain the pasta and add the pasta to the pot of sauce, vegetables and sausage. Stir well, and when all the ingredients are steaming hot, add the parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir until well incorporated. Plate the pasta and garnish with the basil.