Sunday, 25 August 2013

Homemade Ricotta

There is absolutely nothing better in life than basking in the glow of accomplishment. And if that accomplishment is homemade cheese, you will not only feel like a more superior Laura Ingalls Wilder, you will have a delicious product to eat for the next four days. (If it lasts that long, because I nearly ate the whole ball tonight.)

You may have already noticed this, but I love cheese. But I love REAL cheese. Not pre-sliced, cardboard substitutes for cheese. We spent some time living in Arizona, and in Arizona they call these sliced cheeses “American cheese”. In Canada, they call it “processed cheese.” I’m not sure why it is America wants ownership of a cheese-like product that contains more chemicals than my bathtub cleaner (and we are not talking about green cleaner here) but apparently they do. It’s probably an issue with the French. You know how Americans feel about the French. They want everyone to know this is not the cheese of the FRENCH. (Totally just kidding all French and American readers. Please do not send us hate mail because, while I can definitely handle it, my mother’s delicate sensibilities cannot and she reads the same emails I do.)

I was unaware of the difference in terminology for quite a long time after we moved to Canada, and I continued to call it American cheese for some time.

Dairy mixture in a pot. 
I was actually unaware of many differences in terminology for a long time and also had a lot of trouble differentiating the French-English packaging issue (I was quite convinced for several years that Deli-Cinq and Five Alive were two different products, not just the front and back of the same can). Ordering a “Deli-Cinq” in Toronto was somewhat amusing for people, but it wasn’t confusing for them. However, saying “American cheese” was literally like speaking another language. Example- when I was about 16, I considered buying a pre-packaged sandwich in my school cafeteria. (This was before I sampled the delights of poutine, at that time I thought poutine might be the most disgusting thing I’d ever heard of). I am always vaguely suspicious of pre-packaged sandwiches because there are several dilemmas you face if you get one.

Q. Is that cheese processed? 
A. Most likely, unless you are in a fancy sandwich store. Certainly, if you are in a school cafeteria.

Q. Is that meat processed?
A. Yes, almost always, unless you are in a restaurant. If not, you face the secondary dilemma of is it chicken? Was it cooked properly?

Q. How old might that sandwich be?
A. Try not to think about it.

The sandwich I had picked up in the cafeteria was veggie, so I was unconcerned about the meat situation. But the cheese situation was an issue, because I wouldn’t eat it if it were sliced cheese. (I should say that it’s not because I’m like, “Ohhhh, processed food. Who eats processed food? I eat only food of the earth.” I don’t really care. It’s more of a texture thing. I can’t eat cold cuts or sliced cheese because they just really put me off. That’s all. I’m not trying to write some kind of sanctimonious asshole blog here. If you like processed food, good on you. Have a Kraft Single for me and roll it up with some sliced deli chicken.)

There was an awkward moment that ensued because of my 16 year old neuroses that went a little like this:

Curdled... as in, exactly what you don't
want to pour into your cereal.
Bailey: Picks up plastic-encased sandwich. Holds it up to the sky. “Excuse me, does this sandwich have American cheese?”

Cafeteria employee: Does not look up. “Yes, there is cheese on that sandwich.”

B: “Yes. I can see the cheese. But is it American cheese?”

C: Blank stare.

B: Becoming agitated at the non-instant response. “You know, American cheese. Like, did you, like, unwrap the slice from plastic? Or did you, like, you know, like, cut it off a block of cheese?”

Stage right: Best friend of Bailey, K., enters. Is wildly amused at the scenario and forming scene in cafeteria.

K: “Is it processed cheese?”

C: “Oh. Yes.”
Cheesecloth on a colander.

B: “Oh.” Places sandwich back down, in disgust. K looks at her in mortification and calls her a snob.

End Scene

So there you go. I don’t like processed cheese. I am proud to say that I am a cheese snob. At this point, I know you are thinking, “But even the real cheese you buy in the grocery store is processed on some level. GOD, PEOPLE HAVE REALLY GONE NUTS WITH THIS ORGANIC THING.” Of course you’re thinking that, because I have had this conversation before and I know that’s what people think. (But remember, I’m not judgmental of the processing issue, it’s the texture.)

Draining whey from curds. 
Do you know what is a great way to counter that argument, should you ever find yourself in it? Make your own cheese. It’s easier than you think. I have Googled it in the past and been put off because many recipes require a thermometer, and we know how I feel about things requiring precise measurements. So I never did it. But then my friend Zach, who is quite the culinary genius, made his own ricotta and put it on Facebook. I was so that I immediately messaged him and asked how he did it. I was lucky he shared with me. We have mutual culinary respect for each other, so in the end I got the goods.

Super easy. Here we go. Start with a heavy bottomed pot. Pour in four cups of whole milk and one cup of heavy cream. Bring to a simmer while stirring (don’t let it scorch.) Once it simmers, remove it from the heat and add 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Now this requires full credit to Zach. Most of the recipes I’ve seen on the Internet suggest vinegar. I’m sure vinegar is fine, but the fresh lemon juice is noticeable in the final product, and I think it really adds a nice brightness to it. Also add ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. If you wanted to be creative at this point, I am not one to stop you. Add fresh herbs, you could add honey, whatever you want. Let it sit for about 10 minutes while it curdles.
And that, my friends, is cheese. 

While that happens, lay a few layers of cheesecloth in a large colander and put that in the sink. Pour your curds and whey (how fun is that?) in to the colander and let it drain for two hours or so.

Now you have cheese! It lasts refrigerated for about four days. If you do any lovely recipes with your homemade ricotta, send us the pictures! @ladygirlstable or

Wine, always wine. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

Chorizo Huevos Rancheros

Hello food? It's me Diane. Hahah after a lot of soul searching, I realize that I'm not really a blogaholic after all. I just have too much time on my hands because of this bloody diet I'm on! All the times when I would have been happily munching away on something, I sit and stare at the four walls waiting to lose another pound. Don't get me wrong - I have no regrets at all. I've lost a ton of weight and I was feeling positive all the way until tonight when I made one of my favourite meals. And Mario got the real version of it while I had to settle for the "healthy" (read Diet) version. So I write blogs like they're going out of style because believe it or not, it takes my mind off food.

But the main reason I decided to go on a diet is because I'm going to Mexico with Kelly in November, and being a woman of some years, I wanted to have one last kick at the can. Not to ever wear a bikini again, but just not to have to waddle down the beach sweating and gasping for air while my thighs are still 3 feet behind me. And Mexico is such an enchanted place. I adore everything about it. The food, the culture, the beloved people, the art, but most of all the most amazing food on the planet!

Now I didn't set out to make my favourite Mexican dish right on the home stretch of my diet. Mario came home with a dozen farm fresh brown eggs yesterday. They still had farm bits on them. Hay and shit and tufts of tiny feather chicken type stuff. Or whatever. They were farm fresh and we'll leave it at that. I appreciate the freshest of anything, so I had no choice but to make eggs for supper! And I'm so blessed that I live in the vegetable growing capital of Canada, so during the summer months, my favourite little market stocks up lots of fresh Mexican ingredients to please all the homesick migrants workers we have in town. Yay for me! But God Bless those poor guys being so far away from home and missing their families. So let's get started.

You'll need:
Corn tortillas for your bottom layer

For the base:
A pack of fresh chorizo. Get the Mexican one and get mild unless you adore lots of heat
It looks like a chorizo of the dried variety, but read your label and make sure it's fresh. It's in the meat section as opposed to the deli section.
A can of pinto beans
1 finely chopped Vidalia onion
3 or 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of coriander
1 tsp of chili powder
freshly ground pepper. Hold off on the salt until I talk about that in a minute
1  chopped red pepper
1 chopped jalapeno pepper, seeds removed unless you want it really hot
1 can of plum tomatoes or I use my own that I jarred, or 2 freshly chopped tomatoes
And now for the salt - if you use canned, don't use any salt. If you use fresh, wait till the end to season as need be
zest of a lime
2 tablespoons of fresh chopped cilantro
Taste before you serve and add hot sauce if you like.
Add your fresh herbs in as you start your tortillas and increase the heat to a simmer.

Remove your chorizo from the casing and brown it on medium heat for about 8 minutes. Just like browning hamburger meat. Remove it into a bowl leaving as much fat in the pan as possible. Saute your onion in the fat for a minute or two, then add your garlic and chopped jalapeno and red pepper. Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder and pepper and let it sauté for a couple of minutes. Add your tomatoes and drained pinto beans, and the chorizo back in. Let it simmer uncovered for about half an hour until the liquid reduces to almost nothing. Your sausage will break down and your beans will plump up. Add your lime zest and reduce the heat to low.

For the next layer you'll need eggs, canola oil and about a cup or less of grated semi soft Mexican cheese. Or use Monterrey Jack if you can't get it. We'll come back to this because you'll do this step just before you plate.

So let's make a nice, fresh salsa for the top.
1 chopped tomato
1/2 finely chopped Vidalia onion
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
zest and juice of a lime
1 tsp of salt
Stir it together and let it hang out in the fridge till you're ready to plate.

So let's get the magic underway.
In a small skillet, heat a tablespoon of canola oil on Med heat. Put a tortilla in the pan for about 30 seconds, then flip it over and heat the other side for about 30 seconds. You want to heat and moisturize them sort of like a nice facial, but don't let them crisp. Do one for each person and set them aside under foil wrap to keep them warm. Now fry an egg in the canola oil sunny side up. Reduce the heat to Medium Low so the bottom doesn't scorch. I put a cookie sheet over it as a cover to let it steam and cook the top. But I'm a redneck that way. If you have covers for your skillet, by all means use that. As you see the egg is almost done, sprinkle some of your cheese over the egg and put the cover back on to let it melt.

To plate it, place a tortilla on the plate, add a layer of the chorizo mixture about 1/2 inch thick, but leave a circumference of visible tortilla so people can see just the edge (aren't I so Scientific?) Slide the egg over that and top with a spoonful of your fresh salsa. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro and a wedge of lime. And that's it! It's ridiculously delicious and it can be served for breakfast, brunch or dinner. Eggs aren't just for breakfast anymore!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Bongo Chicken Wings

I'll start right off by telling you that I don't have a photo of this one. They got gobbled up faster than I could turn off the barbecue. And this really isn't a recipe at all. Just really awesome chicken wings on the barbecue in the middle of the night when you still have a crowd up partying!

Hahah we just had our annual family weekend up at the cottage. All of the ladies in our family got to take out our matching zebra shirts and have a little bit of fun prancing all around in them. So I'll post a photo of that instead. Have I ever mentioned that my family are the most fun people on the planet? That's why we can only do this once a year!

You'll need lots of chicken wings. I like to buy the ones that already have the tip chopped off because they cook faster and nobody needs to be butchering chicken wings with sharp knives when you've had a few cocktails and are sunburned to a crisp from a whole day of fun and swimming and frolicking!

Preheat the barbecue.
Season the wings with Montreal Chicken Spice and salt and pepper.
Melt down 1/2 cup of red chili pepper jelly (you'll find it in almost any grocery store)
I doused them with my cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar too. But you can skip this step if you like because the glaze is what makes everybody dance with glee.

Grill the wings on medium heat for about 25 - 30 minutes until they're fully cooked and crispy, turning them often. Then put them into your saucepan with the melted chili jelly and quickly toss to coat, and serve them up!

Okay, so I told you it's not really a recipe at all. But in the middle of night, to serve such a treat makes you an automatic favourite at parties! Enjoy friends. Summer won't last much longer now.