It occurred to me this morning after falling asleep during Flyboys, which is a good movie but clearly not good enough to keep me awake after a full day of Chicken Hysteria, that my dream of a bucolic country life is fading fast. After spending the past year reading and rereading and sighing over pictures of gently grazing farm animals over at Farmgirl Fare, I thought "Yes - I'm SO ready for this".
And yes really, I was - am. Ready I mean. What I hadn't figured on were all the things that go on OUTSIDE the pretty photos and while the smiling and industrious Farmgirl was off spreading anti-peck tar on her chicken's tails. No-one in their right mind takes pictures of that stuff. If fo no other reason than your hands, clothes and hair are covered with the stuff you're trying to get onto the chickens and who has the presence of mind to wipe hands on jeans and snap a few shots; certainly not me.
Last night after the day in Chicken Hell, while I was over there at Farmgirl, looking at the pretty pictures and mumbling "there's no-place like home" to myself, it occured to me that if my pre-rural life was not like the pretty pictures, why would my rural life be any different? I mean, when we lived at the tip of Manhattan, in one of the prettiest neighborhoods in the city, it got destroyed by terrorist planes while we watched. So seriously, what was I thinking?
I guess I was thinking that if I removed myself from hustle and bustle, serenity would finally prevail and I would instantly become calm and rosy cheeked. So okay, I have the rosy cheeks but that's menopause and it has nothing to do with the fresh air. And the calm, well, it's gotta be around here somewhere. But this morning as I chipped ice from the chicken's water thingies and made a mental note to go to town and get two water thingy heaters today, I realized with a start - that I would never have the Farmgirl's life. I would have mine.
And mine looks more like a Tim Robbin's Nightmare on the Farm movie than even the charming travails of the The Egg and I. And the sooner I accept this fact of my life - that there will probably ALWAYS be running around and bleeding, and frozen water bowls and overheating cars - the happier, or at least less hysterical, I will be. So... okay, today I buy chicken water heaters and seriously think about insulation for that coop...
Because I was too tired to do it last night but I really want you to have it, here is the recipe for the Ricotta. Try halving it if two cups of the stuff is too much for you. It's amazingly simple and you won't believe you haven't been making it all along - it tastes THAT much better than store bought. Oh, and I used un-homoginized local organic milk - but any good quality whole milk will do just as well.
Homemade Fresh Ricotta
I have worked on many variations of this recipe - trying it over and over again trying to get the right combination of taste, consistency, and ease of preparation. I have used readily available enzymes from the grocery store, vegetable enzymes from cheese distributors, fresh lemon juice, citric acid from the drug store, yogurt, and run-of-the mill, inexpensive white distilled vinegar.
This recipe is definitely a winner-a perfect ten. The vinegar in this preparation is what makes the milk form curds. If there is too little vinegar, the curds will not fully form and you will get a smaller yield. If there is too much vinegar, you will get an acidic tasting ricotta. Accordingly, the vinegar should not exceed 5 percent of the volume of moisture.
Ricotta is so easy to make and the taste so special that you will want to make it weekly to have on hand for eating and cooking. You will need to have a cooking thermometer for your first couple of attempts. The Taylor instant read pocket thermometer is my preference. It is reliable, inexpensive, and compact.
Yield: 4 cups
Preparation Time: 45 minutes (it took me less)
• 1 gallon whole pasteurized milk
• 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt (more if you want a saltier taste and if you are not going to use it for desserts)
1. Rinse the inside of the pot you intend to use with cold water (this helps prevent the milk from scorching). Place 1 gallon milk in large, heavy non-reactive pot on medium heat. Add salt and stir briefly. Allow milk to heat up slowly, stirring occasionally. Soon you will notice steam start to form above the surface and tiny bubbles appearing on the milk. You want it to reach 180-185 degrees, near scalding temperature, just before it comes to a boil. Check the temperature with your thermometer.
2. When it reaches the correct temperature, take the pot off the burner, add the vinegar and stir gently for only one minute. Add salt. You will notice curds forming immediately. Cover with a dry clean dish towel and allow the mixture to sit undisturbed for a couple of hours. You can also begin preparing your ricotta in the morning before going to work and let it sit until you come home.
3. When the ricotta has rested for 2 hours or more, take a piece of cheesecloth, dampen it and place it inside a colander. With a slotted spoon, ladle out the ricotta into the prepared colander. Place the colander with ricotta inside of a larger pan so it can drain freely. Let it drain for two hours or so depending on how creamy or dry you want your cheese to be.
4. Lift the cheesecloth up by the four corners and twist gently. If the liquid runs clear, squeeze a little more. If the liquid runs milky, there is no more need to squeeze. Place in a tight sealed container. Refrigerate. It will keep for up to 7 days. Ricotta does not freeze well.
I would advise against the use of low fat or part skim milk in making the ricotta. The flavor comes from the cream in the whole milk. For desserts, add 1 pint heavy whipping cream along with the milk. I use this variation when I am making ricotta for a dessert filling such as cannoli, cassata, or cream puffs. It is richer, creamier, and a bit more decadent.